Organic and Independent Farmers Feel Under Assault

Posted by By at 3 February, at 07 : 01 AM Print

On a trip to New England last week, my niece treated me to some really good salsa. It was made in Maine, we were in New Hampshire, and I’m now home in Pennsylvania, way south of where I can buy some.

On the other hand, there are several Mexican stores almost within walking distance of home where maybe …

Meanwhile, I was in the local discount grocery store the other night and picked up a container of Marketside Chipotle salsa. It actually has a nice flavor, and adds a pleasant bite to my favorite chips which, the way I eat the stuff, are simply devices for scooping large dollops of salsa the way I otherwise would use a soup spoon to scoop my favorite ice cream.

If fresh salsa is what you seek, you probably won’t find it in a container marked “Manufactured for Marketside, a division of Walmart Stores Inc.” On the other hand, the tomato, onion and pepper growing season is a few months away in south central Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, oral arguments were heard Tuesday in a federal court in New York City in a case that will have a great effect on production of fresh food. An organization named Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association and 82 other plaintiffs and a total 36 organizations have sued Monsanto in an effort to block the genetic engineering company from ever again suing farmers for infringing its genetic seed patents.

The growers do not want to tinker with the genetic designer’s patents. What they want is for Monsanto to stop suing farmers for growing corn, soybeans and other crops onto which pollen from Monsanto seeds has been wind-blown, or for allowing their plant-genes to be blown onto Monsanto-seeded fields.

Monsanto has made farmers in many areas afraid – or bankrupt – by suing the farmers for “genetic trespassing” – either because the farmers plants have infiltrated fields planted with Monsanto seed, or because the farmers have grown crops polluted with Monsanto genes.

When I was young, jeans were what you wore to keep your knees from wearing out while you picked strawberries. Ah! That homemade strawberry shortcake, piled high with berries picked that afternoon and covered with a heavy coat of cream, whipped special for the purpose a few minutes before it was served.

The plate of spaghetti and homemade meat sauce, followed by a garden-sized fresh berry desert was a marvel to behold. (He was, I think, 80-something when he departed this life, smoked two packs of Tareyton cigarettes a day, and was slim enough to hum in a high wind. There’s a message there, I think, about naturally occurring genes.)

That kind of desert usually followed corn-on-the-cob, and neither was for consumption in winter. Trucks were not new inventions, but we had not yet arrived at a point that summer crops could be trucked to winter grocers from wherever it was summer – and it’s always summer somewhere.

We also learned about crop rotation, a system of growing, say, corn, then beans, then potatoes or other root crops, each in successive years, allowing one crop to replace nutrients used by the others. It kept down bugs, and kept the ground alive. Mono-culture – the practice of growing the same crop on the same piece of ground every year – does neither.

Some companies figured out how to make fertilizer from natural gas and insecticides from oil. Then they had to figure out how to alter plant genetics so crops could survive and even flourish, sort of, in the manufactured environment. Synthetic fertilizers kill the soil. Bugs become resistant to, for instance, Monsanto’s Round-up, which must be modified to deal with the mutated bugs, which means seeds must be modified to enable their productivity in a bath of the new bug killer.

Monsanto calls it the Roundup Ready System.

The big agri-companies have done their bit to finance government, in return for such services as the FDA arresting a Pennsylvania Amish farmer for selling unprocessed milk to willing customers in Maryland. Towns in Maine have a right to their own ordinances governing agriculture, so the state Department of Agriculture has sued small farmers for not using mandated equipment to package their wares.

Coming soon to a farm near you.

Meanwhile, also Tuesday, the San Diego, Calif. city council legalized chickens, bees, goats and other crops and critters being grown within the city limits. There was some opposition. For instance, the county Public Health and Environmental Health departments were concerned that allowing city dwellers to raise goats could mean people would start drinking unpasteurized goat milk. And some people just are not used to the idea of chickens clucking around on their sidewalks.

And last September, Chicago City Council amended its zoning to allow community gardens up to 25,000 square feet, which could allow limited commercial farming within the city.

I am glad I don’t live in a city, though I also am glad some people do. As a friend noted several years ago, it’s good there are people who like living in cities because there are things I want that cities have; it’s nice to go there to get them and come home, and not have to actually live there.

Some ordinances we suburban and rural dwellers have been talked into passing are more for the good of Big Agri-Business than for our own health. And while it’s encouraging to see San Diego and Chicago approving people growing their own groceries, it’s disconcerting to see the response of Monsanto, et. al.

I’m still looking for fresh salsa – and for the results of the organic growers’ suit against the food-genetics designer. But watching a lawsuit progress, especially against a well-lawyered company, is like watching paint dry. I expect I’ll find the salsa first.

Photo by tcd123usa
This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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