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Farmer: 'I have sinned. I grow GM crops.'

(Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Terry Daynard, Guelph Mercury (Canada), 08/09/03 via Agnet:

Genetically modified (GM) soybeans and field corn are two of four crops we grow on our Guelph/Eramosa farm.

Roundup-tolerant soybeans permitted us to cut herbicide costs by $37 per acre compared to conventional soybeans. Despite lower total costs and reduced pesticide usage, weed control is better now - meaning better crop yields and quality Our GM corn is resistant to corn borer, an insect that damages both corn stalks, reducing yields due to harvesting difficulties, and ears, encouraging moulds and mycotoxins. In earlier years when we harvested corn with a 'corn picker, we spent hours removing mouldy ears before shipment because mouldy ears are poisonous to farm animals. GM insect-resistant corn has no borers, little mould and yields 5-20% more.

Thus, I was attracted to a recent Guelph presentation on GM crops by former British environment minister, Michael Meacher.

Mr. Meacher proved to be a well-meaning person, strongly committed to environmental improvement - but poorly informed. He said he'd done only limited reading, but was concerned with what he had heard.

Following a brief visit to Saskatchewan as a guest of some anti-biotech groups, Mr. Meacher told Guelphites that GM canola had no benefits and was being rejected by Western farmers - apparently not aware that GM canola acreage continues to grow in Canada and now represents about 2/3 of total canola acreage. If it has no benefits, why would farmers pay extra to buy the GM seeds?

One reason for his lack of knowledge was apparent: Meacher is coached by the Soil Association (a British anti-GM group) which co-sponsored his Canadian tour. Their literature distributed at Guelph proclaims, among other dubious "facts," that herbicide usage is not reduced nor yields improved with GM crops. Surely, I'm not the only farmer on this planet to experience the reverse!

Meacher did say that he had no concerns about the safety of foods made from GM crops. That must have irked the Greenpeacer, and other panel members present, who have fought hard to label GM foods as dangerous 'Frankenfoods.'

The remainder of the meeting involved questions and comments from the audience. It was the closest to a religious revival meeting that I've experienced in years.

I felt like a heretic in an evangelical tent!

One organic grower said that deer and raccoons will not eat GM corn. Strange, because they sure love our GM corn!

It was stated by several that human consumers do not want GM foods either, yet Jeff Wilson, a farmer near Hillsburg, has found that, given the choice between GM sweet corn versus that requiring insecticide to control corn borers, a majority of his customers prefer the former.

One person said allergies had increased in Great Britain, as had consumption of soybean products; therefore GM soybeans were responsible and should be banned. Though cautioned that this didn't prove cause and effect, the speaker said it was proof enough for him, and many in the audience nodded agreement.

A lady said allergies were up in some U.S. farm states. Though she knew not which states, and offered no information source, she said GM crops were responsible. More nods of approval.

There were comments about Roundup-tolerant wheat. I agree that we don't need this technology in southern Ontario; most Ontario wheat requires no herbicides now. But the insistence of some non-farmer speakers that the technology is of no value to farmers anywhere, and that farmers are unable to judge for themselves, seemed simplistic and condescending.

A greater Ontario need is for GM wheat varieties, now in development, which are resistant to fusarium - a mould which grows on wheat kernels producing mycotoxins poisonous to humans. I and many other farmers have had wheat crops rendered nearly worthless by fusarium.

There was lots of talk of global conspiracies. "Monsanto plans to take over world agriculture," claimed more than one speaker. (Remember when the Great Satan was Cargill?) Someone 'informed' the audience that a U.S. president and UK prime minister colluded with biotech companies to force a Hungarian researcher to retire (at age 67). High-profile skulduggery also delayed the granting of tenure for a University of California researcher. Serious stuff.

And, though Mr. Meacher and others claim that GM and organic crops cannot "co-exist," it occurs in Ontario with both corn and soybeans. Indeed, OntariBio, the host of Guelph Meacher meeting, has posted details on how to produce organic crops in reasonable proximity to, but with acceptable isolation from, their GM counterparts. Though I invited the former minister to view actual GM corn and soybean crops while in Canada, he said he had no time, as he was whisked into a car surrounded by Greenpeace and Soil Association handlers.

I left feeling disappointed. I'd anticipated an informed discussion on the relative merits of GM technology and its true implications for the organic niche market. Benefits for many versus the profits of a few. But, this was a religious experience, not an agri-food event.

And I guess, sinners such as we are, we'll keep growing GM corn and soybeans on the Daynard farm. We like the improved crop quality, reduced pesticide usage, and better yields and profits.