Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Genetically Oddified Morgue-anisms*

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ Fall 2000 \ English Editorial

By Jean English
Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener

The pesticide treadmill has become a pesticide-genetic engineering rollercoaster, as evidenced by genetically engineered Bt cotton and canola. The cotton apparently is gourmet fare for stink bugs, which Monsanto says can be taken care of with such deadly insecticides as methyl parathion. And three varieties of GE canola have, on their own, in the field, combined their GE genes to produce new plants that contain all three of the once separate genes for resistance to herbicides. The recommended solution to these triple-herbicide-resistant plants popping up where they’re not wanted? Spray the rogue canola with 2,4-D – yet another toxic pesticide. Wasn’t genetic engineering supposed to reduce the use of pesticides? The "need" for a toxic biotech-pesticide cocktail that is being seen in the field makes you wonder what’s not being seen: What’s going on within plants with novel genes inserted into them? What’s going on inside of us when we eat those plants? How are these new genes interacting?

While working on this issue of The MOF&G, I was excited to report how New Hampshire organic farmer Eero Ruuttila harvests the highly nutritional lambsquarters and purslane that grows wild alongside his crop fields and gets $8 per pound for it in Boston … but disturbed to report that proponents of GE want to delete such systems in Third World countries by introducing such things as rice engineered to contain beta-carotene, which could wipe out indigenous plants and systems of agriculture that already do or could provide beta-carotene.

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho says that GM crop "are not safe, not needed and fundamentally unsound. Far from helping to fight world hunger, they are standing in the way of the necessary global shift to sustainable organic agriculture that can really provide food security and health around the world." (Special Educational Forum organized by Congressman Tony Hall, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, 6/29/00) As many activists have pointed out, while 800 million people are undernourished worldwide, another 800 million are obese. Clearly, we have a political, cultural, food distribution and weight distribution problem!

I wonder: Maybe, through their many, many problems, GE crops are paving the way to the shift to sustainable, organic agriculture. In July, USDA estimated a 20% drop in GE corn acreage and a 6% drop in the GE soy acreage in the United States, and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman has pointed out that, "Whereas most other sectors of agriculture are losing farmers, the number of organic farmers is increasing by 12% a year." (ATTRAnews, April 2000) Congratulations, activists, on your success! Keep up the pressure!

Another small victory: After my daughter had been at a Maine camp for a few days this summer, I received a letter from her saying that she was looking forward to eating at home, because, unlike at camp, she’d know what was in her food and where it came from. We have reported in the past on Maine camps that promote local, organic food and gardening, such as Tanglewood 4-H camp here in Lincolnville. Camps that don’t do so are missing a tasty opportunity to educate campers about health and environmental issues.

In the June-August 2000 MOF&G, we reported that asparagus will yield half a dozen or so spears per plant per season, based on average yield data. Garden writer Arley Clark subsequently wrote, "Surely a well-fed asparagus bed provides more than six or eight spears!" She’s right, of course, although my own plot has yet to reach the 100 edible spears per plant per season (May 6-July 4) that Arley says come from a well weeded, fed and mulched bed. Still, national averages, which reflect widespread commercial production, are almost always much lower than yields in well tended home gardens. Off to feed the asparagus …

* Thanks to John Sidik for the title of this editorial.