screenshot_2018-11-15-05-34-08Flipping through this morning’s Guardian [November 15, 2018] I came across a full-page ad trying to entice farmers to buy a new type of seed.  It presented young Island farmer Grant Doyle, standing in front of a field of corn under the word “FARMER”  with the subcaption: “It’s fun to do; it’s a job that doesn’t feel like work.”

Nice ad.  The Corn looks amazing.

“Fun to do?”  That certainly wasn’t my experience growing up on a potato and mixed grain farm in Maple Plains, and I can’t imagine many farmers having much fun during the past few weeks with our record-breaking wet Fall.  So I’m thinking: “Who’s behind this?  Can’t be a farmer!”

A little further down the page the ad moves from an enticing  “image” to the actual point with the words: “When the Doyles chose to grow Corn and Soybeans, they chose Dekalb brand seed.”  O.k., now I know where this is going – Dekalb is a recent genetically-engineered seed technology developed by Monsanto…but that’s not immediately obvious in the ad.

Like a lot of corporate advertising, when they are required by law to provide certain information they’d rather hide, they use a tiny little font that requires accompanying technology to read.  Well, I own such technology and used it to make the words legible! In part, it states:  “Round-up ready technology confers genes that confer tolerance to glyphosate [Round-up]…”  What the fine print doesn’t tell us is that Dekalb has also been genetically-engineered to confer tolerance to another powerful herbicide – Dicamba.   

This is the new “normal” within the world of GM crops, now that many of the weeds which glyphosate used to be able to easily kill all by itself have themselves become tolerant to that powerful cancer-causing poison.  For years, the solution to increasing tolerance to glyphosate was simply to add more and stronger applications… but that strategy has pretty much run its course. 

More recently, to keep the lucrative cash-cropping chemical train rolling, Monsanto has further tinkered with corn and soybean DNA to make it possible for farmers to now also apply other powerful herbicides in combination with glyphosate, including Dicamba. Who could have seen this coming? Well, actually, a lot of people.

Back in 2005 – when the PEI government held legislative hearings on whether PEI should become a GMO-free zone – I made a presentation to the committee and presented recent scientific research showing how the use of herbicide-tolerant seeds (which companies like Monsanto had promised would make it possible for farmers to use less herbicides) had actually significantly increased the amount of poisons being applied to crops.   Here’s a small piece of what I said to MLAs on the committee taken directly from the standing committee transcript:

“Now I’m sure this committee has already heard this claim from GMO proponents. However, it is a claim that is simply not supported by the available scientific evidence over time.  I’m leaving a copy of a study undertaken by Charles Benbrook,  titled Genetically-Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States, The First  nine Years. This definitive study proves that industry claims that GMO crops lead to pesticide reduction are both misleading and unfounded. The report draws on official  United States Department of Agriculture data on acreage planted the GE crop varieties from 1996 through 2004 and it’s coupled with USDA data on the volume of  pesticides applied to corn, soybeans and cotton. Although it is true that there was a net reduction in the use of pesticides in the initial three years of widespread GE commercial cropping from 1996 to 1999, in the last six years of the study there’s been a steady increase in the use of pesticides for the total acreage of GE crops in the United States.

As you can see from the data in this report – the uncontested conclusion is that – and this is a quote from the report – “GE corn, soybeans and cotton have led to 122 million pound increase in pesticide use since 1996.” Now why did this happen? Various factors are given in the report, but essentially the main reason given is because the ecological adaptations predicated by scientists have been occurring in the case of RoundUp Ready crops for the past three or four years and appear to be accelerating and certainly this is the evidence from another study, the same institute has done on the rapid change in the overall environment in Argentina. In other words, pests are developing immunity to the poisons as predicted.

Back in those days, Minister Richard Brown was a little more appreciative of my research than he has been recently. When I finished my presentation, he made the following comment:

Richard Brown (L): Thank you. Kevin, a pleasure. Like always, a great report you did. Now I know why you have a PhD.

The predictions made at the time about how increasing tolerance would make it necessary to eventually abandon a strategy of using genetically-engineered crops to control weeds hasn’t happened, but only because Monsanto executives decided it would be a more profitable approach to have their scientists engineer plants to withstand more and stronger types of poisons in combination with Round-up. What insanity!

Last week [November 11, 2018] it was announced that our federal government has finally decided to revisit the question of whether farmers should be allowed to spray glyphosate (Round-up) on crops after it was learned from documents produced in a US lawsuit that studies submitted to our government by Monsanto as “independent” were actually undertaken by Monsanto: “Troubling allegations’ prompt Health Canada review of studies used to approve popular weed-killer.

Monsanto’s Dekalb seed allowing farmers to use more types of stronger poisons is significantly increasing the problem of environmental poisons.  The following is taken from “New Dicamba Herbicide Wreaks Havoc Across the US”:

“The rapid emergence of chemical-resistant superweeds has led to the development and use of even more toxic herbicides. This includes 2,4-D and dicamba, both of which have been clearly linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma,1 a type of blood cancer originating in your lymphatic system. Lymphoma is the No. 1 cancer in the U.K.2 In the U.S., lymphoma accounts for about 4 percent of all cancers, affecting an estimated 72,200 Americans each year. Other documented health hazards associated with phenoxy herbicides such as dicamba include developmental and reproductive problems. This is particularly chilling considering the fact that use of these herbicides has risen several-fold since the early 2000s, and their use is now seeing a rapid increase as dicamba-tolerant crops are replacing glyphosate-resistant varieties. Dicamba has also been implicated in canine malignant lymphoma, raising the risk  by as much as 70 percent in some dogs following exposure. 

If PEI farmers rotating potatoes and grains (including soybeans) believe this new Monsanto offer is the way to go – and don’t accept the facts about how these deadly chemicals are an increasing danger to all Islander’s health  – perhaps the fact that Dicamba also causes malformations in potatoes will dissuade them from jumping on the high-tech DeKalb bandwagon. 

Manitoba farmers are already ringing the alarm bells.  The Manitoba Cooperator published an article last year titled “Dicamba drift a new danger for potato growers,” to alert growers of this new threat, citing research undertaken by Andy Robinson, a potato agronomist with North Dakota. From the article:

Weird Potatos

Oddly shaped tubers are a risk from both glyphosate and dicamba exposure. NDSU research shows both chemicals can affect tuber production. Photo: NDSU

“Robinson has completed a study looking at the impacts of dicamba and glyphosate residues on potato. Data will be included in a forthcoming publication, but the study showed that exposure to the two herbicides reduced marketable yield and size over multiple years.“These herbicides are not friendly to potato,” said Robinson.”

There are so many reasons why PEI has to move away from monoculture food production which relies on intensive chemical farming – the requirement to use more and more toxic chemicals with increasing potency is one of them. Dekalb is not a solution to the problem – it is the problem.