The story of how this happened has shadowy alleys and dark hallways, medieval dungeons to be lost in and intricate mazes to maneuver. Oh, and don’t forget those villainous characters. You’re probably getting to know who they are by now.
We modern humans traverse a dark hallway known as the sixth great extinction event. It’s an unfortunate and painful fact of our lives that we’ve become accustomed to hearing about the latest animal species to be threatened, or gone. We’ve all had to turn away from the thought of the mighty and honorable polar bears swimming for days to find ice only to drown before reaching safety. The eastern cougar, indigenous to the eastern U.S., a powerful and beautiful cat, is one of the latest to fall.
But what about plant species? It seems perfectly logical that we must be losing plants at least as quickly as we’re losing animals. After all, habitat destruction is how we continue to “civilize” the world, overuse resources and create toxic waste. But the case with plants, and especially the plants that we rely on for sustenance, is that they are being lost at an even swifter rate than animals.
It’s not just the extinction event itself that is causing the loss of diversity in our food sources – it’s those characters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. Only these are not individual characters, they’re conglomerations of characters, huddles of hunkerous villains undermining good sense and rationality. They fly under the radar because they’re so hard to name; they’re known as the marketing media, agri-business and the bio-tech industry, among others.
The loss of agricultural species was put on the extra fast track due to a number of factors, not least the greed and good empire-building values of these fellows. However, the market demand for fresh, unseasonal fruits and vegetables, anytime, anywhere, immediately, also played a big part. That’s us, folks. Those marketing guys aren’t stupid. They had to sell vegetables that would hold up on long trips, resist non-native disease, and still resemble a fresh veggie when it arrived upon a distant shore. No wonder I wasn’t so crazy about vegetables as a girl. I’ve since found heaven in a Black Sea Man tomato, ecstasy with Purple Viking potatoes and peace in wild mountain huckleberries.
In India, farmers still grew indigenous oil crops like sesame, mustard and linseed – oils unique to the people and the land, unique for use by the body, as recently as 15 years ago. In 1998, a ban on imported soy oil was lifted and all the local mills that processed the native oils were closed. A million mills and villages were devastated, ten million farmers lost their livelihood and genetically modified soy monopolized a market that had kept the people and their farms sustainable for generations. It’s happening in a lot of places.
With the looming deregulation of genetically modified alfalfa in the U.S., the story enters one of those castle dungeons, a place from which we may not be able to return, a place we definitely don’t want to go, a place we may yet have power to walk away from if we act together and now.
Already a quarter of our agricultural land is dedicated to genetically modified crops. Despite the risks to humans and the earth posed by the corn, soy, canola and cottonseed already grown here, alfalfa presents new and potentially far more devastating effects.
First, alfalfa is a perennial crop – the first to be genetically engineered. It need not be replanted and once its DNA is altered, all alfalfa that comes back, forever and ever amen, will be altered as well.
Second, alfalfa is open-pollinated by those wonderful little winged protectors of our food supply: honeybees, birds, and butterflies. They will do what they were put here to do and in the process make the spread of the genetic modifications into neighboring fields and crops assured. Farmers attempting to grow organic alfalfa have no recourse when their fields are contaminated – as a matter of fact, they get sued for it!! And our fairy-like protectors? Well, they’re already dying from mysterious diseases; I shudder to think what may happen as they begin to ingest Roundup Ready alfalfa. Remember, this alfalfa makes its own internal pesticide. Actually, that’s the only reason it is made, so Monsanto can sell more Roundup.
Third, the number of potential contaminations increases due to the above very wonderful and god-given traits of alfalfa. Honey will be contaminated. Most honey in the U.S. is produced from alfalfa pollen. There will be virtually no GM-free feed left for the beef, poultry and dairy producers. It will all be contaminated. Most exports of domestic animal feed are exported to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Canada: many of these countries ban genetically modified ingredients and have made it known they won’t buy it. Any animal that is fed the feed will be contaminated. Are you getting the picture? It’s ugly.
Is this whole deal beginning to seem as stupid to you as it does to me? I mean, talk about shooting oneself in the foot. Or more likely the gut, which is where these pesticide producing crops tend to cause a lot of trouble. That would be your gut, and mine, the honeybees and the butterflies, the chickens and cows and don’t forget the soil.
And with 98% of seed sales coming from the perpetrators themselves, heirloom vegetables become ever more important for the future of our country, and maybe even our species. Heirlooms are the best of the best – bred for high nutrition, native disease-resistance, consistency and flavor. They’re what real food is supposed to be. This is the food you want to be eating when food is scarce – not genetically modified corn and soy made into food-like products. But what happens to this food as genetically modified crops take over the landscape? And what happens to the people who need the food for life? I’m guessing we don’t want Monsanto answering that question.