GM seed and Roundup not all they’re cracked up to be

The Christian Science Monitor carried a short piece on Monday about the growing number of farmers choosing to shun genetically modified (GM) crops.

The reasons vary, but cost is a big one. According to the article, the price of corn seed rose 32 percent last year, and soybean seed went up 24 percent. The high cost of seed has farmers complaining loudly and the federal government looking into anti-competitive practices at agrichemical companies like Monsanto.

Another problem farmers are dealing with is herbicide-resistant weeds. Nature finds a way, and weeds are defying Roundup, the infamous herbicide that Monsanto sells alongside its GM seed. 

As the article points out, farmers are not exactly turning against biotech seeds and Roundup, but a growing number are asking questions:

The US Justice Department is looking into complaints of anticompetitive practices in the seed business, where seed giants like Monsanto have raised prices, bought up or pushed aside smaller seed companies, and emphasized genetic engineering over traditional plant breeding.

Most farmers grumbled but stuck to biotech seeds anyway, though many refused to buy the latest and most expensive version that Monsanto was pushing.

“A lot of it, to be perfectly honest, is herd mentality,” says John Gilbert, a farmer in Iowa Falls, Iowa, who regularly plants conventional seeds. “They believe Monsanto when they say it’s going to yield more.”

Experts say the technology has been hyped and that yield increases have come almost entirely from traditional plant breeding. Monsanto doesn’t dispute this.

Of course, if farmers want to plant conventional/traditional seeds, it’s not so easy anymore. For one, the seeds are becoming harder to find. And if your conventional seed crop is planted next to another farmer’s biotech/GM seed crop, forget it. The pollen flies, and then your crop is contaminated… and you’ve got Monsanto on your doorstep, because now you’re growing the company’s seed without paying for it.

Monsanto already has a plan to address the cost complaint: Next year it will offer farmers “more seed options and lower prices for those who want to try out its latest varieties.” Anything to keep that monopoly, I guess.

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Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Godspy.com. Zo

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