Just as I believe that no one benefits from Republican Party policies but rich white men, so too do I think that proponents of GMO crops are either paid by Big Ag to vilify anyone questioning the value of those crops or are allowing themselves to be misled by propaganda issued forth by the very companies that profit from them. But that is neither here nor there. Vociferous proponents of GMOs are becoming more and more irrelevant as the two truly biggest players, the consumer and the farmer, are slowly changing the face of agriculture in this country. Public distrust of GMOs is growing. A Pew Research Center study conducted this year shows that 57% of Americans believe GMOs are unsafe. The study made no claims on the veracity of the majority belief; it simply illustrates a fact. And industry is responding. A recent example of how consumers shape the market can be found in the approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of AquaBounty’s genetically altered salmon. Immediately after the announcement sixty grocery store chains, including Walmart and Costco, have stated they won’t sell the product. Other chains include Safeway, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Given the strength of consumer demand, more and more farmers are switching from growing GMOs to organic, and most are doing so simply to satisfy their bottom line.
Even though the market for organically grown products is relatively small, it continues to grow as demand dictates. The number of organic farms in Iowa, for example, grew to 612 last year, making it “the 10th-largest producer…in the United States.” According to Ginger Harris, a statistician with the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), “Iowa is definitely playing a role in this sector of agriculture. People find it profitable being in organics, so Iowa producers are meeting market demand.” Joseph Reilly, an administrator with NASS, said farmers “expect to expand U.S. organic production in the coming years.” A specific example of a farmer switching from growing GMO corn and soybeans to farming organic comes from Soper Farms, Inc. of Emmetsburg, Iowa. The Soper family works an 800 acre farm and switched to organic in 2010. The transition wasn’t entirely smooth and took about three years before it was successful, but in the end Soper Farms managed to increase their net income from $180 per acre with GMOs to $578 with organics. Harn Soper, manager of the farm, added that they “reduced their costs by as much as 40 percent by eliminating expensive GMO seeds and chemical pesticides and fertilizers.” Harn further stated that “the benefits of going organic were more than financial. We don’t have superweeds…we use nature and crop rotations to deal with weeds.” Harn also noticed an improvement in the soil.
The economics of switching from GMO crops to non-GMO crops is dependent on more than consumer demand. Farmers are beginning to see that the costs of growing GMO crops are rising. An Iowan corn breeder, tired of dealing with superweeds, stated recently that “the insect and herbicide traits are losing effectiveness with increased resistant rootworm and weed species. Growers are tired of paying for input costs that are reduced in efficacy and funding additional forms of crop protection.” And despite claims by Big Ag that non-GMO yields are smaller, farmers such as Harn Soper and the corn breeder have noticed that “the yield performance of non-GMO hybrids is similar to or greater than traited (GMO) hybrids.” Farmers across the country evidently agree that growing non-GMO crops is beneficial. Seed companies report selling more non-GMO seeds than ever before. Tim Daley of Stonebridge, Ltd., says that ‘some companies have seen a 50 percent increase in sales of non-GMO seed, and some have said they’ve sold more non-GMO seed this year than in the last five.” Iowa State University weed specialist Bob Hartzler says that “there is continual and accelerating growth in organic. There has been more conversion to organic by farmers recently than I’ve ever seen.”
Consumer demand coupled with increasing costs and inefficiencies of GMO methods may very well mean the eventual demise of large-scale GMO farming. Indeed, Monsanto’s “earnings fell 34% in its first fiscal quarter” and its “shares have decreased nearly 3% since the beginning of the year.” As people become more skeptical of genetically altered foods, real or imagined, the market will simply follow. Walmart not only is stocking more organic products but is also cutting costs so people can afford the food. McDonald’s has been losing money for years, and in fact closed more restaurants than they opened last year for the first time. They, too, are considering adding organic options to their menus. General Mills recently paid approximately one billion dollars to acquire Annie’s Homegrown, a maker of all organic products, and nearly everyone is saying no to the GE salmon. Walmart is still, in my book, an evil giant, and Annie’s foods, even though organic, are still all processed with high amounts of sodium, fat and sugar, but it is the perception people have that organic is better, and if purveyors of food wish to maximize their profits they will follow the will of the people. And farmers wishing to make the most of their acreage will also follow the market. When the USDA approved the GE salmon, a sense of futility settled in briefly. Then I saw that, despite the power of Big Ag to impose its will on our government, what the majority of consumers demand determines how the market will respond.
Recipe of the Week
This soup is of Tuscan origin. It’s a little different, but I found the taste to be quite good and it’s entirely vegetarian.
Tuscan Soup with Farro, Garbanzo Beans and Wild Mushrooms
1 large leek, white part only, chopped
1 cup organic canned tomatoes, pureed
1 cup dried garbanzo beans
1 cup farro
1/2 lb wild mushrooms, chopped. I used chanterelles, which were silken and very tasty
2 tsps. fresh thyme, minced
lots of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Soak the garbanzos over night in plenty of cold water. Pour all the soaking water and the beans into a large soup pot and simmer until done, about two hours. While the beans cook, saute the mushrooms and leeks in about 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil. Add the thyme, and when the beans are almost done add the mushrooms and leeks to the soup pot. The cooking water is serving as the broth, so make sure you have at least three cups in the pot when the beans are done. Add the tomatoes and the farro to the simmering water and cook for about 1/2 hour. When the soup is done, add salt and pepper and another 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. It’s good the way it is, but sprinkling with a good pecorino adds a nice flavor.