Burton on the Bay
Vol. 9, No. 39
September 27 - October 3, 2001
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Time to Face the Facts about GMOs
Of course, you’ll need to get them first - and for that there’s no better place than Bill Lambrecht’s Dinner at the New Gene Cafe

Science cannot flourish except in an atmosphere of freedom, and freedom cannot survive unless there is an honest facing of facts.
- Henry A. Wallace, 1888-1865:Secretary of Agriculture, later vice president under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Never mind that in the later years of his political career, Henry Agard Wallace was too far to the left for all but college students of the ’40s. He was a good secretary of agriculture. He knew farming.

Within the realm of crops and livestock, his words are certainly appropriate in these muddled times when many scientists - aided and abetted by more than a few farmers - are trying to put something over on us. “Us,” meaning you, me and any creature on the face of this earth who eats.

Skeptical as I am, in the end, when we reach the bottom line, they just might be right. But lacking is an honest airing of facts. One wonders what Henry A. - whose Progressive Party almost did in Harry S Truman in his reelection bid in 1948 - would have to say about the fuss over GMOs. They’re pulling tainted GMO wool over our eyes.

Curiously, many Americans - other than farmers and scientists - might not even be aware of what a GMO, genetically modified organism, is. Such is not the case with European consumers and others who, shall we say, are more picky about what they eat. They don’t appreciate genetic tinkering with what goes into their mouths. They have rebelled. They could upset the apple cart.

We Fought Bugs Hand to Hand
Agriculture has changed much since Henry Wallace was secretary of agriculture and I was a boy on a New England dirt farm during and just after the Great Depression. We didn’t know what genes were - never mind tinkering with them for among other things to control weeds and pesky insects and to embellish growth. Our solutions didn’t come from laboratories. They were practical, down-to-earth remedies passed on from generation to generation.

If potato bugs were a problem, the kids were sent into the garden with a coffee can partially filled with kerosene and a stick to knock the pesky insects into the fuel. If bugs were chewing on the tomatoes or other veggies, we sprayed with arsenic of lead, which poisoned slowly, or nicotine, which was swift.

At times when crows ferreted out the kernels of sweet corn planted in hills, we applied a bit of tar to the seed, which didn’t bother the crop but sure turned the birds off. To fight the ugly borers that could turn sections of an ear of sweet corn to a nauseating dark brown mush, after the harvest we pulled by hand - which wasn’t easy - the stalks that were left after much of the plant was cut for cattle.

That didn’t help the crop of the year much, but when those stalks and roots were burned, so were the borers. They wouldn’t be back. The same with cucumbers, squash and other goodies from vines. It wasn’t left to plants themselves to play a role in combat with pests. That was the job of the farmers, often their kids.

No Roundup, insecticides or pesticides back then. Weeds were fought with hand-pushed cultivators or hoes - and not infrequently via the back-breaking task of getting down on hands and knees and pulling them out, row after row. It had to be done in mid-day so the sweltering sun would kill the weeds before their roots regained a fresh toehold in the soil.

Come to think of it, after remembering the servitude of youngsters on a dirt farm a couple generations ago, I’d have welcomed genetic engineering. We kids could have played baseball while the genetically altered crops fended for themselves.
For Bugs (and Us), a New Ballgame

But now that we, the budding farmers of yore, are grown and past the time of hand-to-hand combat with pests, weather woes, weeds and such, we aren’t about to accept without question the fiddling around with the genes - in our corn, beans, grains, pigs, livestock and other things including cotton and tobacco. We want to know something about what’s going on.

In the past decade, genetic engineering, to use the highfalutin term, has taken over in much of the farmland across our nation - to the glee of the bean counters at biotech companies, Monsanto among others. It has come about as stealthily as the attack of the terrorists who toppled the World Trade Center and a wing of the Pentagon.

They who formulate the seeds are like mothers: ‘Don’t ask what it is, eat it, it’s good for you.’ But unlike mothers, they have their welfare, not ours, in mind. They want to make not just a buck but lots of them.

And they’ll do just that if the GMO way of farming wins out in the end - which at this point remains to be seen. A lot remains to be seen, and those who knowingly or unknowingly end up eating, wearing or smoking the products of genetic tinkering can get so much more than a glimpse of the background of it all in Bill Lambrecht’s new book, Dinner at the New Gene Cafe.

Better Not Miss Bill’s ‘Dinner’
Bill, co-founder of Bay Weekly, has taken a complicated subject and broken it down to what we can understand. He’s also added much interest, even excitement, as we witness the battles between the industry and the consumers. His is a story of arrogance versus ignorance: the arrogance of those who say ‘plant it’ to farmers and ‘eat it’ to us; ignorance on our part because we don’t know much about genetic engineering.

There could come a time when we won’t even have a choice. Even our government is helping to keep us in the dark. Would you believe those who sell products subjected to genetic tinkering are not allowed to caution us that they are? If they’re not, that can’t be advertised, either. That’s just one of a myriad of things you can learn about in Bill’s book.

You can learn how organic products play a role in all of this, how industry is gobbling up all the seed companies and the possibility of the gene pool of unadulterated original seeds going dry. We learn how consumers and some farmers have waged open and behind-the-scenes warfare against GMOs, and the price they have paid.

For the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bill has covered the issue of GMOs since the beginning. He’s lived, visited and talked with all the players, and he shares his insight in a straightforward way that keeps a reader on edge wondering: What can happen next? What will our next meal have in it? Will we wise up before it’s too late?

Do we realize that when scientists play games with genes they change seeds, which changes crops, which in turn changes what we eat? If we are what we eat, doesn’t this change us? Are the changes for better or worse? I’m not for change unless for the better - and there’s no way of knowing at this point. Alas, the jury is still out.

We learn it all could have been avoided here and elsewhere had not the industry been so greedy, impatient and evasive. Had there been an honest facing of the facts Henry Wallace spoke of.

And for a little suspense, read Bill’s report on his attempt to raise a tiny patch of pirated soybeans at his Fairhaven home in Chesapeake Country. It’s a darned interesting and informative read - especially for anyone who eats and wants to know what they’re eating.

Enough said …

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly