A Journey to DC to Protect Farmers & Fight for Seed Freedom

Posted: January 9, 2013

En route to DC, we discover Monsanto’s influence at one of North Carolina’s conservation regulatory agencies

On January 10, Carol Koury, founder of Sow True Seed, and colleague Cathryn Davis Zommer will travel to Washington, D.C. to join family farmers in the appeal of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) vs Monsanto et al, a court case filed to protect farmers from genetic trespass by Monsanto’s GMO seed.  This seed can contaminate organic and non-GMO farmers’ crops and expose farmers to abusive lawsuits. In the past two decades, Monsanto’s seed monopoly has grown so powerful that they control the genetics of nearly 90% of the five largest commodity crops: corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets, with alfalfa newly threatened. The Federal Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has agreed to hear oral arguments in the appeal of this landmark case to decide whether or not it will move forward.

Carol and Cathryn are joining hundreds of organic farmers, seed companies, and concerned citizens to voice our concerns about GMOs. We believe now is the time for Americans to wake up to the very real environmental and health issues associated with genetically engineered seed.  The disturbing connection between biotech companies like Monsanto (creator of Agent Orange and DDT) and the U.S. government are being revealed even in our own state of North Carolina. The link is stronger than any of us could have imagined, as we personally learned this week.

GMO SOYBEANS = CONSERVATION?

En route to DC, we dropped by the NC Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ 69th Annual Meeting in Durham, NC.  We had heard from a concerned District Supervisor that Monsanto donated 100 bags of Genuity ® Roundup Ready 2 Yield® soybean seed (retail value: $25 per bag, a $2,500 total donation) to a silent auction, with all proceeds going to conservation and education programs in North Carolina.  Oh, the irony!

We believe promoting conservation of our soil and water would start by banning (or at least labeling) GMOs, the very seed donated by Monsanto. Since many North Carolina residents have no idea there are GMOs in their food due to lack of labeling and public awareness, this GMO soybean donation raises fundamental concerns about transparency and disclosure.

It is difficult to believe that not only was their seed donation accepted, but Monsanto executive Stewart Sherrick was actually invited to speak during the opening address of the annual meeting; to expound on the future of agriculture to the 492 District Supervisors and a number of incoming NC state legislators.

It seems certain that Monsanto’s future of agriculture is quite different from the vision of most family farmers.  Many farmers and consumers are unaware of the potential damage genetically modified seed is doing to our bodies and our environment.  The average American diet contains an ever growing percentage of GMOs, since the patenting of the seed in the 1980s.  In tests in labs with rats (no official long-term human studies exist), the results of eating a primarily GMO diet were numerous growths, infertility and liver issues.

There are three mantras about GMOs that biotech companies want us to believe: 1) it’s the only way to feed the world 2) less pesticide will be used and 3) the yield will increase. But after thirty years, there’s no proof  for any of these assertions.  Instead, yields have decreased, pesticide use increased, and experts increasingly support local agriculture methods as a sustainable and efficient way to feed the world’s burgeoning population.  It’s only the GMO seed companies that gain from the technology, through seed price increases and the never ending need for more expensive chemical concoctions.   How did they end up at a Soil and Conservation meeting?

TIME TO ORGANIZE IN NC

We spoke to a number of friendly, hard-working folks at the meeting, and the majority of them are inspired by the agriculture of our grandparents when seed was true and our resources were protected, not by today’s test tube seeds. We perused the silent auction and nowhere did it mention that the donated soybean seed is genetically modified– patented, illegal to save and reuse, and not scientifically proven safe for human consumption. The donation is simply called “soybeans” — if we don’t task our government agencies to correctly label and discuss GMO soybeans, who will? The long-term cost of this donated Roundup Ready 2 Yield® soybean seed to North Carolina will be too high to pay when we are unable to save our own seed like every generation did before us.

The biotech takeover of our seed is continuing, as European biotech company BASF (who was kicked out of Germany where GMOs are facing increasing political opposition) announced plans in 2012 to build a new Plant Science Division in North Carolina’s Research Triangle where they will work on developing genetically modified potatoes with Monsanto. North Carolina is becoming ground zero for test tube crops. For generations, farmers have saved and replanted seeds, and should be able to continue to do so free from fear of GMO contamination.  Conservation efforts should protect our land, water and wildlife, currently exposed to the high levels of pesticides and herbicides required when growing crops using GMO seed while advocating for consumers who have little choice about eating GMO foods. We are beginning to organize at the state level for GMO labeling, and will be sharing with you ideas on how to get involved very soon.

Our visit to the NC Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ 69th Annual Meeting raised serious concerns that the work in our state is just beginning, and we were heartened by our conversations with fellow North Carolinians who also recognize the importance of growing our own food using true seed, sustainable methods, and community commitment.

CALL FOR LOCAL ACTION

Join with other North Carolinians demanding GMO-free crops in our state.  This month, we are asking everyone (January & February 2012) to go to their county commissioners monthly meeting (typically 2x per month) and give a 3-minute talk about GMOs, requesting that they put forward a resolution to label GMOs in NC.  Sow True Seed will be doing this on January 15th at the county commissioners meeting for Buncombe County, and ideally ALL counties in NC will have one representative to speak about a resolution to label GMOs, an important step to making sure we know what is in our food.   Is that representative YOU? Consider it!  Information about this issue can be found at Food Democracy Now or at the Institute of Responsible Technology, just to name a few.  We will be sharing more ideas with you about what to present, how to find your county commissioner meeting, etc. in the next week or so.

We are now continuing on our journey to Washington, DC and will have an update for you on Friday from there.  If you and your friends or family are able, please join us for the Food Democracy Now rally  at 10am in Lafayette Square on Thursday, January 10th – after the court room, we’ll see you there!

Meanwhile, talk to your neighbors, eat local and organic as much as possible, and let’s start taking our state back from big Ag.

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