Lately, there has been a lot of brouhaha around RoundUp being used on farms. It has been used on farms, homes, and in landscaping for decades. Thanks to the manipulation of the media and “organic” science, it’s at the forefront of farm talk.
So why do farmers use herbicides on their farms?
I remember my dad telling me a story about his first venture into growing papayas. He had heard of an old Japanese man who grew the sweetest papayas in Waiahole Valley. He decided to go and visit him to learn what he did to grow them that way.
My dad asked him, “Ojisan, what makes your papayas so sweet?” The old man simply said, “The sun must hit the ground. My dad was puzzled by his response. He thought to himself, what does that mean?
Like many Japanese men, the Ojisan (grandfather) was one for little words. He didn’t go into a lot of explanation but just repeated that the sun must hit the ground. As my dad observed his field, there was very little weeds and the trees were planted some distance apart. With the trees nearly 10 feet apart, he could see the maximal exposure of each leaf towards the sun. He could also see that by planting it this way, the sun hit the soil.
My dad took this advice to his own field to try out. He kept the ground free of weeds with Roundup and planted them as the man instructed. Plowing the weeds isn’t good because it disturbs the shallow root system and the microorganisms in the soil. Too much weeds fosters too much moisture in the soil making the roots prone to rotting. The weeds also compete for nutrients and stresses the crops. Stressed roots create multiple problems for fruit production. He simply grows a cover crop then later plows it in to prep his field. When the crop is well composted in, he preps it for planting.
With just a pinch of fertilizer, my dad carefully planted he evenly plotted the field out. He learned that he needed specially bred seeds from the University of Hawaii to grow the best possible fruit. He learned from my grandpa’s first venture into farming that you can’t simply save seeds and plant it.
My grandpa had saved seeds from a Big Island Kapoho papaya to find that it produced golf ball sized papayas after months of tending to his field. He had planted over an acre of this papaya only to have to destroy it. My dad surveyed the field and shook his head in dismay since he had learned from his study of agriculture the importance of selecting the right seed.
When it was time to plant his fields, careful planning went into undertaking this endeavor. My dad had money invested into land and equipment that needed to be paid off with the crops he grew. He carefully tended his crop and followed the advice of the old man.
Tending a crop means going in and taking a backpack sprayer and spot treating the weeds so that they don’t overrun his field. This is a far cry from the alleged “dousing” that farmers are accused of. The weeds must be kept down or the young trees can’t compete against these fast growing things.
After several months, the trees will flower and fruit. It takes about a year before a field is ready to produce fruits. A farm isn’t an instant money maker unless you are a farmer.
When it came time to harvest the first fruits, he could see the difference in the consistent size. Then he cut into the fruit and tested the sugar content. Sure enough, the reading gave a brix of 14-15, indicating a very sweet flavor like no other.
My dad’s pride came when customers fell in love with super sweet papayas. The consistent sweet flavor created a following of customers for decades. Many flock to the markets seeking his papayas. It’s this simple act that has kept him farming for life.
It’s easy to get scared of the things you read on the internet about what farmers do. The reality is that Google can’t tell you everything about their practice so. There is science in everything that we eat and that same science in the way farmers farm. My dad uses his knowledge learned in textbooks and via observation to grow those tasty fruits. It takes precise actions and careful cultivation to get a product that consumers will eat. There’s science being practiced in every aspect of growing and preparing a single papaya before it ever gets to the store.
In everything that we eat, there is science. You might not see it or realized it isn’t even labeled. The base ingredients have an array of science incorporated in how it’s grown and processed. Not many people sit there and think about it. If you like what you eat, thank that farmers who grew it for you. They deserve our appreciation.
If you look closely at the image above, you can see tiny rings on the skin of the papaya. It looks like no big deal but in reality it’s the most dreadful thing a farmer can find. It’s caused by a little bug called the leafhopper. It flies around fields and takes little tastes of plants only to infect it with the virus. One could spray for these critters but once a plant is bit, sprays are ineffective.
Beneath that healthy looking plant is a disease that slowly weakens the it over time. Many farmers would see these rings on their fruit and think nothing of chopping down a tree with lots of good looking fruit on it. These trees are loaded with papayas. It’s money sitting on those trunks. The leaves show no sign of disease so a threat doesn’t appear imminent.
As time goes on, the virus count starts to increase in the plant and the leaves eventually become mottled and disfigured which impairs photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is how a plant converts light into food. Impaired leaves can’t produced food for the plant. That affects the trees’ ability to produce fruits. As the disease progresses, fruits become more covered with the ringspot. The quality of the fruit also declines as a result. The papayas are unsaleable as a result of the virus.
So what’s a farmer to do? The most economical thing to initiate is killing the virus infected trees to prevent a vector source. The other thing that can be done is trying to breed a stronger plant to resist the virus. One has to have the good plants that can be crossed if any exist. If there aren’t any signs of virus resistance found, other things are tried. Cross protection was trialed by using the weak version of the cucumber mosaic virus to inoculate the plant. The problem with cross protection was the varied production in the papaya trees and inconsistent fruit quality. Farmers did not want this option.
There isn’t a whole lot a farmer can do at this point. Some farmers move field locations to escape these pesky bugs but that’s also risky because it means clearing more forests and no certainty that the virus will not hit. All the hours of preparing a field with clearing it, setting in the irrigation, fencing it, and other work needed isn’t guaranteed that you’ll get anything.
For the papaya farmers of Hawaii, there really wasn’t much left in terms of options to grow their crops. Papayas are really a main staple fruit for many of our locals. For decades, people would line up at the small Chinatown markets for my dad’s arrival with his cases. I learned how dedicated these old folks were when I had to do a delivery there and was 10 minutes late. I got scolded and canes shaken at me for not being there on time. Then when I helped to unpack the cases, they came at me like a mob of gray and white flurries of herbal smelling hobblers. They were determined to get their papaya. Some were so determined that if they didn’t get the one they wanted, they whacked their fellow customer’s hand with their hand carved wooden canes. I didn’t know whether to laugh or be afraid of the mob. Even at the local Times Supermarket, retirees would wait outside to watch for his delivery truck and alert the produce folks when it came. Many customers were dedicated to supporting our farm by choosing his papayas with the distinctive Kamiya papaya sticker. We have made so many friends through the selling of our papayas over the years. These people are so appreciative and supportive for our farm and we are thankful that we can provide these labors of love to them.
So when you’re crops are failing and dying, your customers whom you’ve known for years, are left with nothing. Their favorite comfort food is no longer available. It’s hard to turn them away and tell them that you have nothing. With no income from the farm, it means the family farm needs supplemented income since leases, utilities, maintenance, and other costs remain. A farmer’s livelihood is in danger. My dad always knew this about farming and worked a day job as a result. Farming was his after 3 p.m. job. It didn’t matter if he worked some 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. This is what he loved. So many other farmers share his passion that few people can really appreciate much of the time.
To hear that the disease might threaten my dad and brother’s farm gave me that feeling of sinking again. My brother said that he felt really sick finding the disease in the fields again and had a flashback of going with my dad and taking the machete to rogue out tree after tree. He almost fell panicked by seeing the rings on his fruits. I felt so afraid knowing that maybe something really bad is happening that the virus mutated or something else is happening. Luckily, he saved all of the trees affected and took them to get sampled at the lab to see what was happening. It turned out that all of the infected trees were the Kamiya type that weren’t crossed so they were non-GMO.
When people go on the social media and start telling me that any farmer can go organic and should, I know that they know nothing about farming. They know nothing about losing your livelihoods to diseases. Their farm life is based on what they read and not real life experience. They can spout all kinds of “facts” and try to dictate how farming should be but they know nothing of the realities of what it takes and why farmers want science to sustain them. The story of the Hawaii papaya is a great example of how science saved a crop and can even helps save other farmers’ crops. It’s a tool that we simply can’t dismiss with bad information and misconceptions.
What’s even more disturbing is that a key University of Hawaii professor is telling his fellow anti-GM activists that the coat protein used in papayas are pesticides which makes it subject to safety issue. I thought that their accusations that Dr. Gonsalves created the PRSV virus to make GM necessary was bad but this is even worse. Even alleging that papaya farmers are selling an untested, unsafe product is their continued attack against small farmers.
If you want farmers to be sustainable, we’ve got to restore our faith in science and the experts who help them grow our food.
Everyday while chatting with Cornell Alliance for Science fellows, I’m starting to realize a very peculiar pattern of intentional misinformation throughout the world. The activists are quite skillful in how they craft their message to fit their audience and their pattern is evident. They say one thing but do another and alter their message depending on the region they are attempting to manipulate.
Here’s just a few observations I’ve observed while listening to claims and tracking down the origins.
1) GMO contamination
While the Hawaii papaya farmers were being ravaged by diseases and scientists worked furiously to come up with a solution, the Greenpeace activists were trying to find their fundraising cause. They tried to use deforestation however it wasn’t creating much noise. It was the success of the Hawaiian papaya and possibly the Thai papaya that made Greenpeace realize a new fundraising opportunity. Back in 2004, they also made the claim that growing crops organically, would solve the ringspot disease. It’s 2015 and farmers are still getting hit by the ringspot virus and there’s no solution offered.
These activists are doing the same thing claiming that GMOs will contaminate their crops but what good is a crop if it’s not disease resistant and what will keep farmers growing their produce? The disease pressure will always be around because of the source of it is an aphid. Piling more soil around the base was touted as way of resisting it but logically, how is that going to prevent the virus from getting into the leaves? The best way to address this issue is not making up solutions by systematically studying it with science. That’s something that threatens the entire anti-GMO stance.
With the news that some serious diseases affecting crops in Africa may be solved through biotechnology, it’s not surprising that this same pattern of misinformation is arising there too. There was a recent story that Bill Gates was introducing a terrible strain of virus to the continent to destroy their crops. It’s the typical fear mongering bit that they love to use. The activists are spreading even more rumors that this virus will contaminate crops, which is exactly what they did with the Thai and Hawaiian papaya. Meanwhile, the bad virus is devastating crops and treating food supplies. The invasive species being introduced to the world isn’t the virus but the introduction of dishonest, wealthy, Western activists. They are the real danger because they don’t contribute any type of solution to the actual problem at hand. Then again, they really don’t care because they don’t even know what cassava is!
I’ve been told by my fellows from Africa that their activists tell farmers and the public that consuming GMOs will cause people to turn gay. I did find a source of this claim online on an obscure blog.
“They’re Putting Chemicals In the Food To Make People Gay”.
Professor Tyrone Hayes has a very controversial theory about homosexuality and men! According to the Professor, he has scientific proof that the government has been putting chemicals in food that turns people gay. He says,’ They are definitely putting toxic chemicals in our food but do you think the Professor may be on to something in his research claiming that some of those chemicals intended purpose is to make people gay?’
It’s the same pattern of of the anti-GMO movement that uses science and misinterprets it for their uses. Basically, they took the research of Tyrone Hayes and extrapolated it directly to humans. There’s no mention that his results could not be replicated which is a key problem with many of the studies the activists use to promote their agendas. It’s also interesting that the pesticide Hayes was studying isn’t just used in GMO crops but has been something used in agriculture for nearly 50 years so it’s not exclusive to biotech at all but of course they make it out to be.
3) It’s the Right to Know!
I’ve always been skeptical of the activists’ rallying cry that they have the right to know. One of the reasons why I didn’t think it was sincere was when my hometown Representative Jessica Wooley make a bold statement that biotech products aren’t regulated at a public meeting and it justified her seeking to label GMOs. In the US, the public is told to ask their legislators that they have this right to know and force others to label their products in an attempt to attack the corporations. While they are demanding this right, there’s fear mongering happening around the media by these same people.
Then again, every once in a while, these activists, including the Babes Against Biotech, do show their honestly about this right to know.
I also love how they are great misinterpreters of information much of the time. When the Attorney General Doug Chin signed on the Vermont Labeling Lawsuit a few weeks ago, I decided to send my concerns about his action. I’m glad to learn that it’s not what the anti-GMO activists made it out to be.
The supposed right to know clearly isn’t being told to developing countries’ leaders. It’s being altered to suit their needs and implying that the US and the EU label to show harm. Can anyone say they never saw monster corns with teeth folks or babies coming out of corn husks? That right to know label means one thing in the US but it becomes a license to the anti-GMO folks to misinform the rest of the world.
4) GMOs means Monsanto
Take a look at these photos and see if you know what they are. Can you recognize what’s being shown in the photo?
If you don’t know, then you can’t say you know about biotech very much. This is a cassava plant infected with brown streak virus disease. This is a staple crop in certain parts of Uganda, Kenya, and other African countries and its getting hit by this devastating disease the renders the crops inedible. Even the wild pigs don’t eat the tubers when it’s affected by disease. Farmers who grow these won’t know it’s extent until it’s harvested and entire fields go bad.
So what’s the problem with thinking GMOs equates to Monsanto? This research to solve this major plant problem has nothing to do with Monsanto and is being researched by the public sector in the respected countries. The government, not a corporation, is trying to solve the pathology to determine a solution for combatting it. The idea of saving it is pretty similar to that of the inoculation of the papaya with with mild ringspot virus.
Then there is also the banana diseases affecting much of these regions. A banana plantation usually has a span of 25 years of production but due to various diseases, a plantation can die off in a matter of months. Bananas are a staple crop also in these areas and with that being gone due to disease, not only can farmers not grow food, the people have nothing in the way of income to support their families. Like the cassava, banana research is taking place through the government and not Monsanto.
5) GMOs means Pesticides
In yet another launched attack against this technology, when GMOs could not be proven harmful, the activists moved the goal posts yet again and stated that using GM technology equates to using more pesticides. It’s not surprising that they ignore certain data that the insecticide use has gone down tremendously with the adoption of these crops and herbicide use has gone up. They also obscure the fact that with herbicide use comes less energy inputs as well as less tillage that contributes to erosion and loss of topsoil. These people also jump on the IARC classification that it causes cancer and don’t really put it into perspective that pickles, being a hairdresser, and other things are also found in that classification.
The anti-GMO folks are experts in doubt and fear. They make people so afraid of pesticides but never really put the importance of it into perspective. In some cases, the fear indeed is deadly. One example I learned of is the use of DDT for malaria control in the developing world. Just recently, it’s estimated some 42 children have died daily in Uganda from malaria because of the policy to not allow the spraying of it. The environmentalists in the US and UK complain about DDT use and don’t see the deaths and suffering their anti-pesticide message harms people. You can bet that if the situation was reversed, they’d be demanding the right to pesticides. But then alas, it’s not in their backyard so they really can’t think beyond that.
“Feed the World” Message is Bunk to the Anti-GMO Activists
There’s clearly a tactic and strategy that the anti-GMO folks are using here with what they do in one country and what they warp it to in another country. It’s ironic that they demand transparency and yet truly have no trust of any government body or scientist for that matter. They are out to protect their own conspiracies around corporations and maintain distrust among their followers. Providing knowledge and learning is once again detrimental to their bottom lines. Scaring people so much so that they can no longer think of others is a scary society to live in.
Although the messages about biotech applications to feed the world sound so altruistic and great, it really doesn’t resonate with many people at all. I’ve seen so many activists state that there’s no need to attempt such a feat since there’s too much food going to waste. The problem with that is there still is hunger and malnutrition around the world and sitting on your bum proposing that doesn’t change it. What’s wrong with giving people in their own countries the right to decide what food crop they want to grow and cultivate? Who are we as well fed folks telling them that they can’t use biotech to fight plant diseases and pests? Why can’t we allow them home rule?
As much as many Europeans and Americans don’t embrace the feed the world message, they forget that much of our food has come from around the world. Our corn came from Mexico based on research in unraveling the genetics of teosinte to the modern day corn cob. Our rice has its origins in China. The wheat we consume has its origins in Southwestern Asia. Oats appear to have originated in Asia Minor or Southeastern Europe. Chocolate isn’t even from America but can trace its early origins to Mexico. Even the breadfruit tree in Hawaii likely has its origins somewhere in the Pacific. The new superfood, quinoa, is an Andean plant but now stocked in every store around. The latest and greatest foods tend to come from distant places from our country and yet we aren’t allowing them to make decisions on what tools and technology they can use.
So despite the Western countries controversy over biotechnology in agriculture, the issue of food is clearly a global one. We all eat products from all over the world. That means that we need to think globally about everyone’s food supply because we are all connected to each other because of the origins of our food. To stand well fed and announce that you don’t care about what the rest of the world eats is hypocritical because most of the food you ate is likely a product of something from around the world. If you eat globally, then you’d better start thinking globally. Lastly, be an honest global citizen!