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Family Farmers Warn:
If Your Next Crop is GMO, It May Be Your Last

Rhonda Perry & Bryce Oates
Columbia, Missouri

Harvesting soybeans in central Missouri.
Harvesting soybeans in central Missouri. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
In Washington, D.C. family farm groups from across the country warned (November 23, 1999) that the use of genetically-altered seed could be the final blow to an already tenuous farm economy.

In a ten-point Farmers’ Declaration on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture released today, family farm groups caution that farmers who plant genetically altered seed are risking their livelihoods on a product that consumers around the world are overwhelmingly rejecting.

The declaration was crafted during a first-ever Farmers’ Summit on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture convened by Farm Aid on the eve of its annual concert in Virginia last September. More than 30 farm groups, representing tens of thousands of farmers, signed the declaration, including the National Family Farm Coalition, American Corn Growers Association and Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

Farm groups expressed concern over genetically engineered (GE) crops in a number of areas including increased corporate concentration and lack of seed diversity, farmer liability, and loss of markets. MRCC’s Rhonda Perry plants conventional corn and soybeans in Mid-Missouri. "For farmers, it definitely creates the potential for economic instability because it’s unclear what markets are going to be available for GE crops in the year 2000. Combined with the real possibility of contamination of non-GE crops and the corporate attempt to transfer liability to producers, farmers need to take a hard look at who is really benefiting from this biotech firestorm."

Already many critical foreign markets have closed their doors to GMOs, limiting trade opportunities for farmers who are struggling against low prices and bad farm policy. Gary Goldberg, CEO of the American Corn Growers Association, urged all farmers to weigh the pros and cons of planting genetically engineered seed before deciding what crops to plant this coming spring.

"Export markets in Europe and Asia are saying ‘no’ to foods produced from genetically engineered crops. Farmers know that they have to respond to consumer demand if they are to survive. Right now, farmers may decide it is best for them to also say ‘no’ to GMO seed," said Goldberg.

The declaration also says that inadequate testing of genetically engineered crops could open the door to farmer liability from damage caused by genetic drift, increased weed and pest resistance and the destruction of beneficial insects.

"Consumers are questioning the safety and viability of GE crops. There hasn’t been enough research on how these products will behave once they’re released. If corporate agribusiness continues to flood the marketplace with these untested products, the companies should be held liable, not the farmers, for the damage caused by seeds approved without adequate assessment of risks to farmers, human health and the environment," said Bill Christison, president of both the National Family Farm Coalition and Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

Another key concern is that GE crops have not lived up to their promise of higher yields and lower production costs. Howard County, Missouri, farmer Mike Hustedde planted 500 acres of Roundup Ready Soybeans in 1999. "You won’t see me planting anything genetically modified next year. It doesn’t make economic sense to pay more for seed and technology fees, and still get lower yields than I did planting conventional crops. Farmers were sold a bill of goods on this one."

The farmers called on Monsanto, DuPont, Novartis and other biotechnology companies to promote the sale of traditional commercial varieties over genetically engineered seed to farmers for the coming crop year until an independent and comprehensive assessment of the social, environmental, health and market impacts of genetically engineered seed is available.

Farm Aid Executive Director Carolyn Mugar said the summit conference and declaration mark a historic moment in the rising debate over genetic engineering in agriculture.

"Like the rest of us, family farmers are learning more every day about the potential for problems caused by genetically engineered seed. Their worries about these products should cause our country and the world to take a critical look at any proposed use of this untested new technology," said Mugar.

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Published in In Motion Magazine - November 28, 1999