A couple of news items this past week caused me to start thinking about how much food production has changed in my lifetime. I’m old enough to remember when a large portion of Oklahomans raised most of their own food.
My grandparents in Eastern Oklahoma were a good example. They worked a small, rock-strewn farm all their lives, made enough to pay off the mortgage, raise a bunch of kids and still had time left over to enjoy life to an extent which seems rare these days.
They never owned a tractor. My grandfather farmed with a team of horses, a plow and an old wagon. He never even learned to drive. They had a flock of chickens, canned everything, kept a smoke-house full and yet always seem to have the time to go to the creek and fish.
Of course they worked hard during planting, weeding and harvest times but the remainder of the year their lives seemed leisurely and casual. I remember that on most Fall or Winter mornings, my grandfather would take his old double-barrel shotgun and his dogs and head down the hill.
Right now you’re probably asking yourself what this is about, other than the nostalgic ramblings of an old man.
It’s about the fact that we’ve relinquished control of our food production — turned it over to big corporations which make decisions
based on what’s good for the bottom-line, not what’s good for us.
The two items I mentioned illustrate the effects this could have on our food supply.
First, is the discovery of another case of Mad Cow Disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) which is itself the stuff
of science fiction. The disease is caused by a substance called a prion, a kind of mutant protein. It is a totally new kind of disease
mechanism and is not alive in any usual sense. It is always fatal and there is no treatment nor vaccine. If you get it, you’ll end
up with a brain that looks like a sponge, but by then you’ll be a vegetable, or dead.
Although the experts say that the recent case was caused by a ”random mutation,” the disease is usually transmitted through
feeding ruminant remains to cattle. The FDA estimates that farmers feed one to two million tons of poultry litter, which may contain ruminant materials, to their cattle annually. People can contract a fatal form of the disease by eating meat from cows with the disease.
The other item concerns a growing problem with one of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn products, it is losing its resistance
to the plant-damaging rootworm and corn experts are worried about long-term corn production. Corn is critical not only for food but for animal feed and ethanol production.
Monsanto is the world’s largest seed producer, with 23% of the market and farmers have increasingly been relying on corn that has
been genetically modified to be toxic to corn rootworm pests. The experts are also concerned that there is a scarcity of non-biotech
There was a time when farmers saved the seed best adapted to their soil and climate to replant. These seeds were called “land races”
and provided for a rich crop diversity. While one field might suffer from a particular disease or pest another field would thrive.
Corporate hybrid seeds have no such diversity.
For years, some scientists have been warning about the dangers of monoculture (the planting of the same seed species across the country). In 1970 the Southern Corn Leaf Blight cut production by 15% and cost farmers billions of dollars. Some states lost 50% of
their corn production.
Monsanto has also had a problem with “super weeds,” weeds that have developed resistance to their popular herbicide, Roundup. Where the herbicide once killed weeds easily, now, even heavy usage fails to kill these mutant weeds.
In addition, a Huffington Post article stated recently, “In a study released by the International Journal of Biological Sciences,
analyzing the effects of genetically modified foods on mammalian health, researchers found that agricultural giant Monsanto’s GM corn is linked to organ damage in rats.”
None of this is particularly reassuring considering it concerns what we’re going to eat or maybe even whether we’re going to eat.
There is a real argument for raising our own food, and for buying locally and supporting area farmers and ranchers. We need to re-take control of our food supply.
My mother always said of the Great Depression, “We didn’t have any money, but we always had plenty to eat.” I wonder whether we’ll be able to say the same if there is another world-wide depression.