When I was still in high school, an enormous event happened in a neighboring community. Disneyland opened.
Relatives from the far northern prairies now had another grand reason to visit, other than soaking up the California sunshine, and my family promptly concocted our own personal Disney tour agenda and schedule. First a stop at the railroad station just inside the main gate to board the train which circled the park, allowing an enticing glimpse of each separate, themed kingdom. Then a stroll down Main Street and a turn to the left into Adventureland to board the Jungle Boat Cruise. Followed by a tromp over Tom Sawyer’s Island in the middle of Frontierland, which was reached either by Indian canoes, Huckleberry Finn’s raft or the grand Mark Twain steamer boat. Next we entered Fantasyland where we flew with Peter Pan and explored Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and finally, Tomorrowland where we boarded the Submarine to explore watery worlds.
Of course there were other marvelous exhibits and rides interspersed in this visit to Uncle Walt’s Magic Kingdom and one of my favorites was Monsanto’s House of the Future. As a revolving stage turned, highlighted by happy tunes, we sat and marveled at the scientific advancements we could soon expect. All manner of space age improvements. The promise of devices to enhance our life, one of which they called the “microwave oven.” And all of this through the great benevolence of something called “Monsanto!” It had a grand, magnificent sound – like Magic and Matterhorn and Mickey.
Fifty-eight years later, Monsanto is still out in front, working their magic for our future. Or are they?
I thought about that promise last week when their name and the subject of GMO’s came up in a surprisingly adversarial e-mail onslaught of Master Gardeners and Master Gardener interns in Minnesota. The topic of the week in the MG core course had been Weed Abatement, and it covered the gamut of herbicides and pesticides as well as good gardening practices and integrated pest management.
GMO’s incidentally, refer to “genetically modified organisms,” which means that the “hybrid” in question has had it’s DNA altered by genetic engineering to make it more disease, pest or chemical resistant. It might include genetic material from animals, bacteria, as well as different species of plants. And who is one of the bigger players in creating this better new world of the future? You guessed it. Monsanto.
And so the Master Gardener question was asked (and consequently set off quite a heated debate) – “How are we incorporating this knowledge into our program? And what should we know? And how does it affect us?”
I was, frankly, caught off guard and surprised about the diversity of opinion. But I might add – hurrah for challenge, examination, cross-examination and discussion! And let’s not forget about Critical Thinking?
I am hardly an expert in this delicate and complex subject, but since it affects our health and our world, I offer the following reflections.
On the pro/thank-the-gods-for-Monsanto side is the argument that “-to condemn all GMO crops is like trying to turn the clock back.” And – “GMO’s have contributed to our quality of life and millions of people in Africa are alive because they have GMO corn to eat.” Or – “farmers have been able to produce record crops because of the GMO seeds which are pre-treated with herbicides and pesticides.”
In a further controversy last year, the passage of a proposition on the California ballot would have required that all genetically modified foods for sale be labeled as such. After all – China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India, Chile, and many European countries, already have those guidelines as law. Monsanto kicked in 44 million to defeat the measure and it failed. It was also determined that they had given 10 million in research grants to the University of California at Davis. That’s a lot of microwaves.
On the con/what-were-the gods-thinking side of the argument, this past November I read in the Twin Cities Star Tribune that many farmers in Minnesota had experienced crop failures and were going to be forced to use more – and sometimes more toxic – chemicals to protect their crops. And “Why?” – the article went on – “Because pests have done what nature always does – adapt. Just as some bacteria have become resistant to antibiotic drugs, a growing number of superweeds and super bugs in the nation’s farm fields are proving invulnerable to the tons of pesticides that go hand in hand with genetically modified seeds.”
Also in the Star Tribune last year – “Between 1999 and 2010, the same period in which so-called GMO crops became the norm for farmers, the number of monarch butterfly eggs declined by an estimated 81 percent across the Midwest, the researchers say. That’s because milkweed – the host plant for the eggs and caterpillars produced by one of the most gaudy and widely recognized of all North American butterflies – has nearly disappeared from farm fields, they found.”
Now I’m in the food fight too.
MONARCH! MICKEY! MILKWEED! MATTERHORN! MAGIC!