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Impact of Genetic Engineering on Farming

by Carolyn Raffensperger

I would like to describe the impact of genetic engineering on our 3400 acre organic farm. It would be helpful if these sorts of observations could be confirmed (or not) by research.

There are three main changes that we have seen in North Dakota.

1) We can no longer plant crops that are insect or wind pollinated which are known to be genetically modified. Accordingly, we did not plant canola this year. Canola had been a good crop in our rotation. This limits the diversity of foodstuffs both on farm and in the market place. How many farmers are changing their rotations because we can't "fence in" GMOs and keep them off our land?

2) Different pesticides are being used with GMOs which cause alarming damage across the landscape. Because of weather changes, SE North Dakota is now part of the corn and soybean belt. Pesticides used with "Liberty" Corn cause root systems to grow up instead of down. This, apparently, makes plants grow topsy turvy - the crown ends up pointing down to the earth. Other pesticides, particularly herbicides, are rejuvenated in rain. Because we live in the windiest state in the Union, the damage is ubiquitous. Of course, GMOs are not the only "cause" of new herbicides. However, they are part of the industrialized approach to agriculture which promotes chemicals which are antithetical to life.

3) The timing of herbicide spraying has changed. Farmers now spray for the entire season instead of just in the spring. While GMOs are just one of several factors instigating season-long spraying, they are a significant factor. This means that both plants and humans are exposed to pesticides from April through September.

I find it ironic that I am expected to feed the world but can't expect to feed my own family because of herbicide damage to orchards, vineyards, gardens and farms. An unscientific survey among organic farmers in the upper midwest indicates that herbicide damage has increased on our land over the past 3 years.

Some of you may know that research has shown that babies conceived in the spring in rural Minnesota (just next door to North Dakota) have a higher rate of birth defects. Does this mean that we need to issue warnings that we should not conceive for the six months of April-Sept. because of the risk of birth defects?

Damage resulting from GMOs is not hypothetical. One of the other longest standing organic farmers in North Dakota is now asking if he will be able to continue farming and gardening, not because of the economic crisis but because the chemical damage on his farm and garden is so serious. He raises all the food for the 3 generations of family on his farm. He raises seed for garden supply companies. And he raises small grains.

Unfortunately, if we want organic farming to continue, we will need to intervene ... and soon.

Carolyn Raffensperger
Kirschenmann Family Farms



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