by Leah Zerbe, online editor for RodaleNews.com
Decades ago, corporations went out on a limb trying to convince farmers and the general public to buy into a new way of farming. The sell was a hard one: They had to gain the trust of growers, persuading them to buy into the package deal to grow genetically engineered seeds and spray them with the chemical pesticides the plants had been genetically altered to survive.
It was an obvious win for the companies selling the seed/herbicide package; after all, Monsanto designed the GMO seeds and the Roundup chemical sprayed on the crops. But with slick marketing tactics, salesmen also convinced the majority of nonorganic farmers growing corn and soy to buy into this system. One of the major selling points? They said it would drastically lower farmers’ reliance on the amount of older, more dangerous chemicals they’d need to use. Chemicals like 2,4-D.
Guess what? They lied.
Fast-forward 30 years, and GMO technology is falling flat on its face. Not to any weed scientist’s surprise, weeds have quickly adapted and developed resistance to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup. The result? Sixty million U.S. acres are infested with nearly-impossible-to-kill superweeds. (Hmm, this wasn’t mentioned in the original GMO sales pitch!)
And the scariest part is yet to come. Despite its own admission that it will cause up to a sevenfold increase in chemical pesticide use, the United States Department of Agriculture is poised to approve a new type of genetically engineered corn and soy seed—Dow’s Enlist Duo. These seeds are designed to resist glyphosate and one of the most dangerous agricultural chemicals on the market—2,4-D. (Yep, the same chemical Monsanto vowed GMO technology would help farmers avoid.)
Like glyphosate, 2,4-D (the toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War) is linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an immune system cancer. If the Environmental Protection Agency also gives this crop the green light, it could be in U.S. fields during the next growing season. It could be sprayed near your home and dangerously close to your child’s school.
2,4-D also threatens people growing the healthiest foods—produce like tomatoes, grapes, potatoes, and other farmer’s market favorites. Studies have shown 2,4-D drift can easily travel a half mile, where it outright kills or mangles many of these other cash crops (crops decidedly healthier than the corn and soy ingredients often found in processed foods or used as an unnatural feed for farm animals).
It’s time to start waving your organic flag, and waving it proudly! To save money on organic food, buy in-season food in bulk and learn how to preserve it, ask for seconds at the farmer’s market, and start your own organic garden. If you want to keep your air, water, soil, and body healthy, organic is the only answer—no excuses! Elect officials who care about this, educate your friends and family, and support state and national efforts to label GMOs. Knowledge is power, and each and every one of us is part of the solution.
If there’s no market demand for these pesticide-laced foods, farmers will answer by growing cleaner food. I have faith in that—and in all of you!
Leah Zerbe is online editor for Rodalenews.com. Prior to working at Rodale, she was the senior online editor at NBCPhiladelphia.com, where she headed up the station’s online “Going Green” initiative, wrote about center-city crime and traffic jams, and blogged about her beloved Philadelphia Phillies. She and her husband run a sustainable organic farm in Schuylkill County, where they grow vegetables, strawberries, herbs, and flowers and raise heritage-breed chickens.