Monday, April 1, 2013
When I decided a few months ago that I was going to try my hand at gardening this spring, I didn't really think of it as a radical act. It appears, however, that it may be just that.
Recently, there's been a lot of talk about the new legislation that President Obama signed - the main intent of which was to keep the federal government from shutting down. Unfortunately, in order to get opposition support, a rider was allowed that supports Monsanto, the giant biotechnology corporation and the main proponent of genetically modified (GMO) foods and genetically engineered (GE) seeds.
HR33 is called Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013. The rider, called by its opponents the "Monsanto Protection Act," was added to the main bill by Republican Senator Roy Blunt, from Missouri. It's worth noting that Monsanto is headquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri. It effectively "strips power from federal courts to halt the sales and planting of genetically modified foods even if health concerns arise," according to an article in Newsmax. The language of the bill was written in collaboration with Monsanto, the main beneficiary of the bill, which is disturbing, I think. Even more disturbing is that many members of Congress had no idea that this rider existed when they voted on the bill! Looking at the full text of the bill, I must say that I cannot find the exact language in the bill that upsets people so - I will have to do more research on this. For now, I have to take the word of people who read stuff like this and know what all the legal language actually means.
I had to ask a friend what was the difference between hybrid seeds and genetically engineered ones. He said that hybrids are produced when two compatible are cross-bred to produce a plant that has the best qualities of the original plants. The seeds from hybrids don't always produce plants with the hybrid qualities, in the short term. Genetically modified seeds are those which are altered in the lab at the molecular level using gene cloning and protein engineering. The seeds from these plants cannot be planted the following year, guaranteeing that farmers will have to order new seed each year. You can see why a company like Monsanto would want to do this.
Part of the problem with GMOs is their potential. We simply don't know what the consequences may be in terms of human health when we eat these foods. We don't know the full consequences to the environment, either, although we are beginning to find out. (See below.) Another problem that worries people is that at present GMOs are not labeled here in the USA, so we don't always know what, exactly, we are eating. A third issue is that genetic engineering tends to reduce genetic diversity, and we all know from even a basic study of genetics that it is diversity in the gene pool that strengthens it. Additionally, GE crops don't yield as much as conventional ones.
Once GE seeds are planted, natural cross-pollination ensures that plants from heirloom seeds and other plants that grow in the wild will be contaminated by the GE varieties, with unintended consequences. For example, milkweed, which is the staple food of Monarch butterflies, was cross-pollinated by genetically modified Bt corn, rendering the milkweed toxic to the butterflies.
Another huge worry is that GMOs require huge amounts of pesticides to grow, since genetically engineered plants are not as hardy against drought, fungus, and insects as natural plants. The use of pesticides brings about even more problems. It has been theorized that neonicotinoids, pesticides that are used to coat the seeds of corn before they are planted, are killing the bees. The chemicals don't kill the bees outright. What happens is that the huge machines for planting corn use air pressure to move the seeds through the machinery. The exhaust from the planters contains dust that gets sprayed onto surrounding plants. It's the dust that kills the bees, with "levels of neonic pesticides: 700,000 times more than what it takes to kill a honeybee," according to Christian Krupke, an entomologist at Purdue University in Indiana.
If bees and butterflies, natural pollinators, are being killed off, we definitely have a problem.
As a way of making a statement against giant corporations controlling the food supply, I guess you could call gardening a rather radical act, after all.
Fortunately, one can still plant a garden using heirloom seeds that have been collected from gardens in previous years, and that's what I intend to do. I want to use a box garden that my dad built to do a "square-foot garden." My worry is that my folks' backyard is right next to a farmer's field, and if he plants corn this year, I'm wondering how that will affect my garden. In fact, no matter what he plants, how will the pesticides he uses affect my garden?
Looking at charts of what types of plants work well when planted in the same garden, I've chosen to plant carrots, potatoes, spinach, onions or leeks, radishes (specifically, the Japanese daikon that looks like a white carrot), spinach, and lettuce. I'm going to try to grow some tomatoes separately. One site online tells the best time to plant each crop, which takes some of the guesswork out of it for me, a first-time gardener.
This week I will see about planting some tomatoes indoors. Next week, I will try to plant some leeks indoors. At the end of May, I will plant spinach, carrots, daikon and potatoes, and I will re-plant the leeks. I don't have to plant lettuce until July, it says.
In the weeks ahead, I will try to keep the readers of this blog updated on the progress of my garden. If you have any comments or advice, please be sure to leave it here. I need all the help I can get. :-)