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Synthesis/Regeneration 19   (Spring 1999)

Family Farmers Warn of the Dangers of Genetically Engineered Crops

by Bill Christison, U.S. National Family Farm Coalition and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center

[Bill Christison delivered this speech on July 18, 1998, in St. Louis, Missouri at the First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation: Genetic Engineering. —Ed.]

We want to thank the Gateway Greens and the co-sponsors for making these important meetings a reality. How appropriate that this first international meeting should be held in the hometown of Monsanto. I am encouraged by the international participation at these meetings. I am sure we can learn much from you all.

Just one word about our organizations. The Missouri Rural Crisis Center is a statewide organization of 4,000 families. Our primary focus is social and economic justice for all. The National Family Farm Coalition headquartered in Washington, DC has more than 30 farm and rural organizations from 35 states as member groups. Our purpose is to coordinate, facilitate and disseminate information.

Personally, I am a fourth generation family farmer and our primary crop is soybeans.

The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you, none of this is true.

A few short years ago, I began to hear about biotechnology as it relates to agriculture. At first, it was BGH which our organizations vigorously opposed. Then I began hearing about a genetically engineered soybean which would withstand the chemical Roundup, a product brought to fruition by Monsanto. First, I wondered if this was a soybean that I should consider raising on my farm. The advertisement sounded good . . . use a single low cost chemical. The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you, none of this is true.

The first problem-they wanted us to sign a production contract which limited what we could do with our production. It is our practice to produce our own seed for the following year's planting. Because the contract forbids this, it would have cost us three times as much for seed. And then there's a problem of paying a patenting fee of several dollars per bag. We found chemical cost for our farm would escalate to a minimum of twice as much and we should not be applying less chemical, but actually more chemical. Then we found GMO seed actually produces a lower yield because of the varieties that had been altered.

Last year's yield book in Missouri printed by Pioneer Seed Co., a seed company with 45% of the market, shows a five-bushels-per-acre average reduction in yield from GMO varieties.

A further problem . . . we have weeds that are resistant to Roundup already. The acceptance of GMOs by the U.S. farmer is predicated on the fact that farmers are hard pressed to survive financially, and have become acclimated to the idea that new technology is good technology.

We need a larger gene pool in production agriculture in order to assure food security.

There is collusion across the United States between USDA, our land grant university system, and the Monsantos of the world to facilitate this new world order which will bring about the globalization and industrialization of agriculture.

One of our problems is the revolving door effect at USDA where corporate bosses have unlimited access and serve in important government positions of authority. They then go back to the board rooms of corporations to further exert their influence. It is the mandate of our land grant universities to do research and development on improving crops and better animal production. However, little work is being done to introduce new and improved public varieties. In fact, our land grant university system has become little more than an extension of the corporate laboratories.

Monsanto and other leaders of biodevastation do not have all of the answers that they need. But I believe if unchecked, they have enough power, knowledge and money to totally disrupt the order of nature. I believe the damage to the flora and fauna of this earth will be irreparable. We can only wonder at this point what the final results of gene manipulation might be. The narrowing of the species could have devastating impact on food production around the world. This fact has already been demonstrated several times.

The real truth is that gene manipulation is not necessary to increase the total supply of food produced and in all probability gene manipulation will result in less production long term.

I believe the Monsantos of the world are the worst offenders of public trust. Only time will tell what the results of gene manipulation will be. It is absurd that any corporation or individuals could believe they have the right to patent life forms. Surely, God is amused at their vanity. In reality, these promoters have only a very small percentage of the knowledge necessary to accomplish their goal successfully.

... the revolving door effect at USDA where corporate bosses have unlimited access and serve in important government positions of authority.

I think the renowned scientist from the Open University in London, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, was correct when she made the statement that gene manipulation is much worse than nuclear weapons as a means of mass destruction. Monsanto has a closet full of skeletons already. A young man who helps on our farm is there because his father died prematurely. The cause of his death was Monsanto's herbicide, Lasso, according to the attending physicians. This product was finally removed from the market.

Family farmers have much to lose and little to gain from gene manipulation. Besides food safety, health and environmental issues, the loss of biodiversity could put us in the position of looking down the gun barrel of disaster. We should not forget so easily the damaging effect that corn blight had on the nation's corn crop a few years ago caused by a lack of biodiversity. We need a larger gene pool in production agriculture in order to assure food security.

Soybeans are the second largest crop produced in the United States. 50% of the crop is exported, 40% of that export goes to Europe, and I know first hand that the consumers in Europe do not want GMO soybeans. We believe Europeans will be forced to use alternative products if we do not supply that market with clean soybeans. This would bring about increased economic pressure on family farmers in the United States.

Multinational grain corporations say it is impossible to separate clean soybeans from GMOs in order to label, yet they have no problem keeping soybeans and corn separate.

Based on the 1992 Agricultural Census there are 1.9 million farmers in the United States-that counts everyone who has gross sales of over one thousand dollars of production. This is out of a total U.S. population of 260 million people. That means that farmers account for less than 0.73%. The startling fact is that only 333,000 farmers or 0.13% of the population is producing 83% of the food and fiber in the United States. Remember, these are 1992 figures and the impact of our farm bill, vertical integration of the livestock industry and trade policy mean even fewer farmers today.

In Missouri alone, the number of family hog farmers dropped over 50% from 1994 to 1997 with national numbers of hog farmers declining from 207,908 in 1994 to 138,000 in 1997.

One of our primary problems is bad agriculture policy at the national level. This policy encourages concentration and vertical integration. It benefits the mega corporation's take-over of the production of food and fiber in this country.

I firmly believe corporate agriculture and gene technology will both fall under their own weight given enough time, but at what cost will that be to the environment and the people of the earth? We must make every effort to sound the alarm before it is too late.

In the United States we must make our voices heard in the political process. We must demand our land grant universities fulfill their mandate. We need a labeling law immediately. We must get serious about providing an alternative supply of clean soybeans to countries that want and need those products.

It is absurd that any corporation or individuals could believe they have the right to patent life forms.

In this room right now is the nucleus of the power to make these wishes a reality. Our number one priority must be to educate farmers on the hazards of GMOs.

Second, we must educate consumers. We can do this if farm, environmental and consumer organizations would join hands and work together.

The only way food security throughout the world can be ensured is through bio-diversity and independent family farmers that receive fair prices for their production along with a fair trade policy.

Bill Christison, president of National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), is a fourth-generation family farmer from Chillicothe, Missouri. Bill and his wife Dixie, operate a 2,000 acre farm on which they produce soybeans, corn, wheat, hay and cattle. He is also president of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC), a grassroots farm organization with over 3,600 member families. MRCC is a NFCC member group.

Bill is strongly opposed to use of genetically engineered soybeans and has worked actively to develop alternative marketing channels for farmers who wish to avoid using Monsanto-produced seeds. During the 1980s farm crisis, he was active in winning passage of federal credit legislation that enabled tens of thousands of family farmers to reschedule their debts, and has assisted numerous Missouri farmers in successful credit appeals and bankruptcy restructuring.

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