GM crop madness in the USA

South West Farmer October 2002 - Michael Hart

I visited a beef lot, a fairly small one - only 3.000 cattle in concrete yards, open yards with not enough shelter for more than 20 percent at any one time, with little or no bedding so they are lagged in shi...manure.

They are fed a diet of maize silage and a maize grain mix, with a 40% protein pellet added called "Dairy Beef Finisher". I was shown the label from the protein mix. It contained antibiotics, growth promoter and meat and bone meal.

Having read the whole label, I was astonished to find no mention of a withdrawal period considering this was a finisher ration. So I asked if they did indeed withdraw it before sending cattle for slaughter. The question was met with a blank stare and then "Hell no!" I then asked whether they used hormone growth promoter - yes was the answer, they are all pelleted (slow release 'pellet' injected into animal for long term treatment - Adrian) and guessing my next question they tried to keep to the withdrawal period but it was not always possible to do so.

I asked him about the muck on the cattle which gave them a nice covering of what he called 'tags' - no they didn't clean them before slaughter but they had to agree an allowance for the 'tags' with the buyer. We then had a discussion on BSE and e-coli, clean cattle, growth promoters and antibiotics. He couldn't understand how we could produce beef without the last two, why we have to sell clean cattle just because of "little ol bug like e-coli 0157" or why US farmers might start questioning the use of meat and bone meal in animal rations?

Big Bucks in Big Bucks

When mad cow illness is only a disease in the UK, he was really shocked when I explained that all the EU countries now had it and even Japan has had several cases. I then pointed out that five miles down the road, the United States Department of Agriculture was culling 25,000 wild deer in an attempt to stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease - a spongiform disease in deer and elk. Spread, it would seem by the feeding of the wild deer ration, including meat and bone meal to improve antlers in order to get more trophy bucks to shoot.

The remains of road killed deer as well as waste from wild and farmed deer being processed for consumption are sent to the rendering plants so it is being recycled just like BSE. This food for deer has just been banned to try and stop the spread.

As we left the beef lot we started to talk about the recent big meat recall in the US with 18 million pounds of beef recalled due to contamination with e-coli 0157 and which has caused several deaths.

The answer being put forward by the meat companies to stop this occurring is to irradiate the meat to kill the bugs rather than do anything about not getting it on there in the first place.

The meat in supermarkets has on the label a warning that this meat may contain harmful bacteria so make sure you cook it properly! I wonder how British consumers would react to that? I asked questions about traceability as I had noticed a lot of cattle had no ear tags or other identification. The simple answer is there is none. Any identification is for the farmer's own use.

That evening I spoke at a public meeting well attended not just by farmers but by members of the public. It was excellent, discussing European and US farming. I also helped set up a forum between farmers and non-farmers similar to the ones the Small and Family Farms Alliance helps to set up here to promote a better understanding of agriculture.

Grip of GM companies

I had asked the Family Farm Defenders if they could arrange some visits with farmers growing GM crops. I visited a number of such farms and spoke to the farmers. They were growing roundup ready soybean and maize, some were also growing BT(?) varieties that contain genes for producing insecticide to control pests.

Every farmer I met was unhappy with GM crops. They all said they were using more than one spray of roundup to control weeds, some up to three passes. And even then it was not fully successful. Most of them claimed that they had weeds that were roundup resistant but what they didn't know was if it was natural or by transfer from the crop of roundup ready genes.

I saw plenty of examples where it had not worked and where roundup ready soybean was a weed in roundup ready maize. All the farmers claimed they used more chemical than before, some are now mixing Atrazine with roundup for spraying maize to get weed control, which defeats the point of GM crops.

So it would appear that after several years of growing GM crops the claim for using less chemicals as a reason for using them is proving untrue. They also said the yields were at best equal to, but more often below conventional crops. However the seed cost more and the spray cost was now higher, which begs the question why keep on doing it? The answer is very frightening and very simple. Because the biotech companies own and have patents on the inserted genes, you cannot use them without their permission - so if you have them in your plants without telling them you have stolen their 'goods' and they will if they detect them take you to court and fine you.

No one objected to paying a royalty on seed, if you say, used home saved seed. However if you stop growing GM varieties, the problem is in cross contamination either in the field or in the seed because if the companies detect their genes, you will have used it without their permission. You will then be taken to court and fined.

Beware Legal minefield

These companies have the right to enter your property for samples to test for the genes. They also test at the stores and the mills when your grain is delivered. So it is safer in financial terms to grow a GM crop using more chemicals, getting a lower yield from more expensive seed than it is to risk growing a conventional crop which might get or be contaminated by some genes you cannot see or detect yourself which if detected by the biotech company will mean a large fine.

So far no one to my knowledge has yet successfully defended themselves against having genes in their crop from contamination and with huge legal costs to do so, few will fight anyway. Which means these farmers are trapped in a system in which they see no way out but to remain growing GM.

The farmers are in the power of the biotech companies and have no way out of their grip. If we commercialise GM crops here and use them, we will also be trapped in their very powerful grip.