Searching for Corn in the Crystal Ball

Searching for Corn in the Crystal Ball

What is the future of food?

I often wonder what the future of farming may become.  Indeed, the future of farming is in fact the future of food.  But I strongly hesitate to state that farmer’s are holding our life source within their dirt worked hands.  If individual family farmers are responsible, dare I say that individual consumers/buyers/shoppers are even more responsible? And that Corporations, government agencies, politicians, and agribusinesses are even more liable at the opposite end of the rope?  If a farmer is pulling for more pay, equal rights, sustainable and organic practices against billion dollar seed, pesticide, and processed food companies, who do you think will pull more weight?  If I am planting organic seeds and dustings from a neighboring farm cross into my field yielding the growth of genetically modified organism plants (also referred to as “GMOs”), I can be sued from those seed companies.  How can a small-scale farm survive when the US court system supports the patented seed companies regardless of how a seed ends up in a field?  In viewing The Future of Food, a movie directed by Deborah Koons (2004), I found myself constantly confronted with the questions above. The movie emphasizes current scientific practices within food production yet puts less attention on methods of preserving sustainable food practices.  Nonetheless, the value of pertinent and essential information provided by Koons and select experts within the fields of agriculture, microbiology, political science, and corporate current issues, cannot be understated.  Everyone should have the right to know what is in his or her food because everyone eats.  Everyone has to ingest something whether it is whole food or processed synthetic matter.

As the introduction explains, “We used to be a nation of farmers but now it’s less than 2% of the population in the United States so a lot of us don’t know what it takes to grow food” (Koons, 2004).  In Vermont, regardless of an increasing total state population, the number of family owned farms decreases by hundreds each year.  Unfortunately, in 2011, the skills that “it takes” to grow food are more aligned with successful marketing, banking, understanding government subsidy programs, and loan applications, rather than labor, plant knowledge, and farming traditions.  As we (a world farming community) narrow the varieties and types of plants we rely more and more upon pesticides and herbicides and corporate dollars.  Koons explains that there used to be 5,000 varieties of potatoes grown worldwide and 7,000 types of apples in the 19th century.  She goes on to state, “97% of all vegetable varieties from the 20th century are now extinct” (2004).  Of those conventionally grown 3%, farmers are sold seeds that promise a higher yield, more production, less cost, and more profit.  Instead, the farmers enter a game of monopoly: buying seeds from the one dominant supplier (Monsanto), being required to register those plants and pay fees, having to use only the specific branded herbicide or pesticide, and producing crops that become increasingly dependent on those chemicals.  Once the soil has been drenched by Round Up and other similar poisons, the rape has occurred; there is no forgetting, no turning back the clock, no cleansing, and no reversal.

The powerhouse Monsanto, whose multi-billion dollar arms have not only bought out competing seed companies but also own 11,000 patents, regains an almost unavoidable dependence from US farmers.  “The company that sells you herbicide also sells you the seed,” Koons suggests, “and whoever controls the seed controls the food.”  (How incredibly powerful and frightening is that reality? Clearly, action must be taken to advocate for a n alternative route).  We are living on the edge of a cliff overlooking the free fall to genetically modified foods comprised of manipulated DNA, bacterial infections, and Monsanto’s own monster creations.  The vision of GMOs becoming disregarded usual “food” scares me; I want to know that I am not eating GM food when I pick up an ear of corn in the supermarket.  I want to have the choice and the ability to decide what I want to eat but in the US (who seems to somehow trail behind developing countries in its government’s stance on banning GMOs) I am not provided such a choice.  All countries within the European Union (as well as other countries) have required that all GM foods be labeled.  Without labeling there is no tractability, which means that there is no liability.  The discerning fact is that you, as a consumer, could be suffering allergic reactions to a GM ingredient but you may never know what is causing your ailments and never find relief.              There are currently 10 million acres of GM food crops planted in the US in secretly located testing plots.  Wind blows across fields, trucks spread seed through open tarps, humans eat food and dispose of the remains in the trash, out of car windows, through sewer lines, and garden compost.  How can we assure that no GM crop seeds will spread? Can we ever really be secure about their seclusion?  It is not a matter of knowing where they will spread but when. Clearly, the USDA, EPA, FDA, Supreme Court, Congress, and “those in high places” are not narrowing the roadway to GM foods.  Companies are allowed to do their own private testing and are able to voluntarily provide results to the government (Koons, 2004).  In 2002, Ex-President George W. Bush signed the largest government crop subsidy bill which Koon’s titles “the GMO seed rebate,” which gave the biotech industry $20 billion tax payer dollars.  I do not know the exact figure, but I feel confident to assume that less money was given to organic farming initiatives.  The message is becoming an advertisement of consolidating major corporations (such as Kraft with Nabisco), an increase in GM activity, the weakening of public safety and input, and the loss of unaltered, real food.  One agricultural scientist admitted, “In the next 10 years all of the food in the retail level in the world will be controlled by 6 firms, only 1 of which will be American: Wal-Mart” (2004).

Thankfully, I work at a locally owned natural food market (Healthy Living Natural Foods in South Burlington, Vermont), which promotes and values local, sustainable, organic producers, farmers, and companies.  We do order produce from Mexico and I do find myself eating berries from Argentina from time to time, but the majority of our food travels from the borders of our state. The people who we do business with practice traditional as well as modern farming methods with an emphasis on environmentally friendly practices.  The money spent on organic products is increasingly rising and organic farms are on the rise but the fight for their existence is not an easy battle.  I was impressed to learn that Nebraska, among other states, has passed laws banning the corporate ownership of farms.  “Let’s keep it in the family” is valuable but I may advocate, “Let’s also keep it real.”  I am pessimistically hopeful that eventually organic or local or even improved “conventional” products will become the status quo.  I am saddened to know that we live in a society and in a time when deep-fried, synthetic, man-made, commercially produced, and chemically manipulated “food” is everyday- people do not blink at exhaustive lists of impossible-to-pronounce components but perhaps one day they will.  Why can’t an ear of corn simply be an ear of corn?

Koons, D. & Butler, C. . (2004). The Future of Food [documentary film]. USA: Lily Films.

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