When Farming Goes Corporate


photo: J. Novak

At TreeHugger, genetically modified organisms (GMO) have long provided reason for concern. Large monocultures, which are typical of GMO, can be riddled with pests. As a result, monocultures are often dressed with a toxic cocktail of pesticides so that they can survive the onslaught. In addition, monocultures can deplete the nutrients in soil and lead to erosion. But the problems with GMO go way beyond freakishly round, tasteless tomatoes. According to New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg, GMO "represent the final transfer of the collective farming wisdom of the human race into corporate hands." In a recent article in Yale Environment 360‏, columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg explains what happens when you eliminate the role of the farmer in farming and farming goes corporate.

"Genetically modified crops are rigorously licensed forms of intellectual property. Every seed is a binding contract with stiff penalties attached," says Klinkenborg.

Farmers are essentially giving up the wheel to corporate entities that research, develop, and mass produce seeds. Tracts of land planted with commercial seeds are pushing out local crop varieties and erasing the knowledge gained from 10,000 years of farming.

High Tech vs. Low Tech Farming
Klinkenborg argues that high tech genetic modification is on track to replace low tech farming methods. While many remain nostalgic for the pastoral farming culture of yore, few realize that having large monoculture crops planted across an increasing amount of our agricultural land has serious implications for our food supply.

For example, different species of rice don't just taste different. Each species reacts differently to climatological variation. As conditions change, a genetically modified mega-chain of rice or corn could suffer under a particular change more dramatically than another. Thus, the failure of just one species to effectively adapt could cause a widespread blight, which, in turn, could lead to famine.

Adaptability in cultivating and harvesting a particular type of seed can be just as important as having access to a diversity of seeds in the first place. I recently observed that the underlying issue is that keeping heirloom seeds in seed banks could become an ineffective means for preserving plant species when farmers no longer know how to cultivate different variations of a crop.

A Flawed Agricultural Industry
Klinkenborg's concerns are not limited to the consequences of placing rice and beans on the genetic assembly line. In fact, Klinkenborg's underlying objection to this trend is that it is symptomatic of corporate America's influence on American agriculture. "[I]t is more than resistance to a type of seed. It is also resistance to a model of agriculture whose failings are all too plain," he said.

More on Genetically Modified Crops:
Why GMO Foods Have Failed at Producing Healthy Food for More People
Do You Know What You Eat? Greenpeace's Ads Against Genetically Modified Organisms
Out, Monsanto! No GMOs in National Wildlife Refuge, Says Federal Judge

Tags: Agriculture | Farming | Genetically Modified Food

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