Farmers call out Monsanto’s risky business | Pesticide Action Network
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Farmers call out Monsanto’s risky business

Paul Towers's picture

With recent news that USDA intends to greenlight new pesticide-promoting crops, farmers across the country are calling on Monsanto’s shareholders — owners of the world’s largest producer of genetically engineered (GE) seeds — to change business as usual.

Facing risks to their health and livelihood from herbicide-resistant crops coming down the pike, farmers will speak directly to shareholders at Monsanto's annual gathering of investors in St. Louis next Tuesday. The request to shareholders? Pass a resolution requiring the corporation to accurately report the risk associated with increased exposure to their pesticides.

Margot McMillen, a farmer from Callaway County, MO — and a leader with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and National Family Farm Coalition — will lead farmers to present the resolution directly to shareholders. Margot is more than qualified for the task, as she has first-hand experience of damage to her crops from herbicide drift

Margot joins other farmers in highlighting concerns about the dicamba- and 2,4-D-resistant GE seeds hitting the market (if USDA approves them) and driving up use of these old and harmful pesticides. Farmers, farmworkers and rural communities, in particular, will bear the burden of increased exposure to the chemicals.

We at PAN are working to keep new herbicide-resistant crops off the market. And along with colleagues from Food and Water Watch and SumOfUs, we're standing with farmers to support the shareholder resolution and demand corporate accountability for the damages Monsanto & Co's products impose.

More of the same, but worse

Monsanto is by far the largest seed company in the world, controlling a quarter of the global seed market. It's also the world’s fifth largest pesticide producer. And of the GE crops pending USDA approveal, it produces dicamba-resistant seeds and has a cross-licensing deal with Dow to use 2,4-D “traits” in its products.

While professing to serve farmers through glossy advertisements and the bought-and-paid-for World Food Prize, Monsanto pushes seeds that leave farmers tethered to pesticide-resistant crops — and require more use of increasingly toxic chemicals.

The company’s aggressive promotion of RoundUp-resistant crops has led to widespread adoption of the seeds. And the resulting surge in RoundUp's use (main ingredient: glyphosate) is evident – millions more pounds of pesticides are used across the country.

Farmers now face a disastrous epidemic of RoundUp-resistant “superweeds” that have taken over entire fields across the U.S. countryside — at least 60 million acres. Corn and soy farmer Troy Roush (profiled in the movie “Food, Inc.”) testified before Congress about this problem back in 2010, when he was vice-president of the American Corn Growers Association:  

"During the first few years we were able to rely exclusively on RoundUp Ready technology for weed management, applying glyphosate for burndown and again to eliminate weed pressure after the crop emerge. However, due to problems with glyphosate tolerant weeds, the skyrocketing costs of RR seeds and the price premiums being paid for non-GE soybeans, we have since returned to using conventional varieties on approximately half of our 2,600 soybean acres.

The diminishing effectiveness of glyphosate, as demonstrated in the dramatic increase in glyphosate tolerant weeds, destroyed any benefit from the technology."

Weeds are indeed a problem, but Monsanto's proposed "solutions" compound it. Pesticides designed for use with new GE crops — intended to fix the mess left by RoundUp — are antiquated and hazardous. And as with the RoundUp seed line, 2,4-D and dicamba crops will lead to a dramatic surge in the chemicals' use.

As Margot said: “I started arguing against the non-solution proposed by [Monsanto]. They’re telling my neighbors to start using an herbicide that’s more volatile and deadly than RoundUp.”

The trouble with drift

In addition to more "superweeds," crops with engineered resistance to 2,4-D and dicamba present problems when they are immediately applied: they drift from target plants to destroy non-GE crops nearby. Both immediate “spray drift” and lingering “volatilization drift" pose problems. And broadleaf plants, like grapes, tomatoes or even non-GE soy, are especially susceptible and can be destroyed by pesticide drift — adding more burden to already struggling rural economies.

Health professionals have cited concerns about the impacts of drift-prone pesticides on farmers and their families, especially children. According to U.S. officials, 2,4-D is a reproductive toxicant, suspected endocrine disruptor and probable carcinogen.

Farmers are busy people, but they are taking the time to voice their concern about Monsanto’s risky business. This coming Tuesday, they're speaking up about the problems with GE crops and increased pesticide use — telling investors they want a better plan from the company to secure a healthy, prosperous food supply.

Paul Towers
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Paul Towers is PAN's Organizing and Media Director. He is the primary liaison with press and supports campaigns to protect bees, children’s health and challenge corporate control in the food system. He serves on the steering committee of Californians for Pesticide Reform, a statewide coalition that supports policy change for safer food and farming. Follow @PaulAtPAN