December 16, 2016
I read your opinion column today in the December 2016 issue (Page 16) of Wisconsin Agriculturist. Wow! I have to write a response.
As much as I like you, and am proud to be a Wisconsin farmer, your aggressive marginalizing of the organic movement is way off base. You are mimicking what those with profit motive say about GMOs, but that is far from the truth. Those with profit motive attempt to contain the debate to the genetically modified corn kernel or soybean itself. It is a half- truth that consumption has not been shown to be deleterious to animal/human health. But this is a little tricky. I cannot yet argue that consumption of clean corn or soy from GMO seed is unhealthy. But we know for certain that we are not eating clean food. Glyphosate is all over the food. As I am sure you know, glyphosate is the generic name for Roundup and other products that GMO seed is specifically designed to be tolerant of. It is carcinogenic and has derivatives that biodegrade to toxic compounds as well.
New scientific evidence shows that probable harm to human health could begin at ultra-low levels of glyphosate, e.g., 0.1 parts per billion (ppb). An FDA-registered food safety laboratory tested for glyphosate and its derivatives in common food products. The most interesting result was Cheerios with 1,125.3 ppb. The toxic derivatives for glyphosate are generally ignored by proponents of GMOs when discussing the biodegradability of glyphosate. This test report includes the derivatives. The lab reports can be inspected in PDF form.
Farmers are grossly misled regarding glyphosate toxicity and biodegradability. Unfortunately, there is no separating glyphosate from the ingestible product. Therefore, GMO products are legitimately regarded as dangerous. The human endocrine system is especially sensitive to very low doses of glyphosate. Emerging data is indicating that exposure to glyphosate may be the most significant contributing factor in digestive complaints (all those people taking Prilosec or generic equivalents), mistaken gluten intolerance, reproductive difficulties, autism, ADD and ADHD. Glyphosate, I predict, will become identified as the biggest food safety issue on our planet. We will all be questioning how intelligent people could have let this happen. It is the profit motive, akin to the tobacco industry's years of denial. One in five male adolescents now is diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. The growth of autism and the use of glyphosate since 1970 are identical curves when scales are suitably adjusted. Causality is now being proven.
In the same issue of Wisconsin Agriculturist, Mike Travis wrote about soil stewardship. I see this as curious in light of the heavy emphasis on GMO farming. Glyphosate is not only an herbicide. With repeated annual dosing, it kills nearly anything living in the soil ... earthworms, nematodes, everything. Please take a moment to look at the soil in a field that has had GMO corn and soy rotations for years. Compare it to an organic field (no glyphosate or other petrol-chemicals). The difference you will find will be remarkable — the former being hard, lumpy, poor moisture retention, and void of biological matter; the latter being loose, rich smelling, and alive with worms, good bacteria, etc. To speak of soil stewardship and GMO farming on the same land is nonsensical.
I have more to say on this and related issues, but I will stop here for fear too much length will cause you not to read (grin). I also will be writing to Dannon to thank them for having the intelligence and spine to fight those motivated by profit at the cost of safety.
Thank you for considering my input.
Be careful what you wish for
I have been a Wisconsin farmer all of my life and have read the Wisconsin Agriculturist for decades. When the dairy herd was dispersed five years ago, I had more time to pursue other interests. Anthropogenic climate change has been high on that list — especially its impacts on agriculture.
Humanity is on a collision course with the laws of physics. We have been provoking Mother Nature by testing the limits of the atmosphere to hold our emissions, thereby tinkering with Earth's operating system. This cannot end well. However, there is tremendous opportunity here, because farmers are key to solving the climate problem. We can pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and, some have suggested, obtain celebrity status for our efforts. To do so involves change — in some cases, rapid and uncomfortable change. Simply put, we will change, or we will be changed by nature. The laws of nature cannot be repealed.
Climate change, a topic we pay far too little attention to, was mentioned in the November issue of this magazine. However, I was left wanting. Climate change was treated as some sort of beneficial phenomenon which would move the heart of the Corn Belt to Wisconsin and propel us into a new era of bounty — an era of extended growing seasons and enhanced carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, resulting in a “bright future for Wisconsin corn yields.” Be careful what you wish for. If we would listen to the science, we would have a good idea of what is coming our way and don’t need to be “waiting to see what the future holds.”
Climate change, which is the result or manifestation of global warming, is not something we should eagerly anticipate. Its risks are profound. Its costs are crippling. The science tells us that not only are we warming, but also we are warming at an alarming rate, and that unless we drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we will continue to warm. Our venture onto center stage of the Corn Belt could be short-lived. When this "climate change, global warming" genie gets out of the bottle, we may not be able to put it back. There is such a thing as being too late. The procrastination penalty for not acting looms large.
What do we do? For most people, the only lever they have to pull is the carbon emissions one. Farmers are in a unique position to actually bring carbon home to the soil, where it belongs. How? By building humus, which has the added benefit of improving the productivity of our soils. This is accomplished with no-till, cover crops, diversification, longer rotations, including more perennials and careful management of nitrogen fertilizers. I was encouraged by the article's embrace of conservation tillage. Recreational or unnecessary tillage should be a thing of the past. It destroys humus and releases carbon to the atmosphere.
No one said this would be easy, nor do I have all of the answers. We have much to learn and difficult choices to make. Those choices need to be informed choices. Let’s hope the farm press is up to the challenge, steps up to the plate and provides us with accurate information to make those choices.
The challenge is how to bring about this change when the mere mention of the words "global warming" or "climate change" evoke the most visceral, negative reaction from half the country. Yet the clock ticks, our options become less palatable and the need for draconian change more likely. I struggle with those realities.
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