22 January 2002
TOM WILEY ON "IDIOT FARMING" AND CORPORATE CONTROL
The latest SPLICE, magazine of the Genetics Forum, is hot off the presses. Here's one of the articles - US farmer Tom Wiley's powerful speech made during WTO protests last November.
EXCERPT: "In North Dakota, farming with GE crops has been described as "idiot farming." But, in the long run, what has that farmer, and agriculture world-wide lost? Besides, the right to save seed, the farmer will lose what it means to be a farmer. He will lose control over his own land as the corporations tell him more and more just how to farm. He will lose the choice to go back to conventional farming, because the GE seeds left behind during harvest, volunteers, will be there for years to contaminate any future conventional crop. As the weeds become more tolerant to the same chemical sprayed year after year, he will also lose control of the very weed problem he set out to solve."
For SPLICE subscription details: www.geneticsforum.org.uk
Tom Wiley is a farmer from near Jamestown, North Dakota. He has particular
reason to feel aggrieved at the GM industry. His conventional soya was
contaminated by GM crops in the surrounding fields. Though this contamination
lost him his contract with Japan, he has been unable hold anyone accountable.
He gave the following speech while with Greenpeace on the Rainbow Warrior
when it docked in Qatar to protest at the WTO (World Trade Organization)
talks in November 2001.
I am a farmer. Every spring I go out and scratch around in the dirt, put seeds in the ground, and wait for rain. Every fall I harvest what the earth has given me, sell my harvest, and save a bit of it to plant again next year.
I feed the world.
I farm in North Dakota, in the United States of America, but I have a kinship with every other farmer around the world. I know the eagerness he feels when the planting season approaches. I know the pride he feels when the sun is shining on his tall, green fields. I know the anxiety he feels when his crop turns brown from lack of rain. I know the delicious exhaustion he feels at the end of a good harvest season.
Today I am speaking for farmers everywhere. I am the only farmer who has been allowed to come to this event. One farmer, trying to speak for millions, to the few who are attempting to control our lives. Every farmer, from the time man first began to cultivate the earth, knew that he had to save some of his harvest to plant the next year. Even in times of famine, the seed grain is the last to be eaten, because in it lies all the hope for the future. Saving seed is a farmer's instinct, his duty, and his right.
That right is now threatened. The people who are meeting in these buildings, hidden away from the rest of the world, are, by their laws, regulations, and patents, stealing a basic right away from the farmers of the world.
Although in the USA today, most farmers are highly educated, traditionally the farming occupation did not require a great deal of formal education. In under developed countries today, many if not most, farmers have never been in a classroom. But, no matter what our education, we all know injustice when we see it and when we feel it. Telling a farmer that he no longer has the right to save his seed is UNJUST.
It is UNJUST to tell a farmer that he can no longer plant varieties of seed that his ancestors have planted for generations. It is UNJUST to tell a farmer he can no longer plant seeds from plants that grow wild in his native country. It is UNJUST to tell a farmer that he can no longer plant seeds that are acclimatised to grow well in the local environment of his own farm.
And yet that is what is happening around the world. Last year Monsanto applied for a patent on soya plants and their progeny which contain a marker gene that Monsanto identified as being associated with enhanced yields. Monsanto has not altered the marker, not even identified it or separated it. Monsanto merely discovered that plants containing this marker have a higher yield. These soy plants exist in nature. They are wild in China and Russia. This patent, if granted, could imply that farmers, who have been cultivating these varieties for years, would now have to pay a royalty to Monsanto if they saved their seed for planting the next year.
And, so far, these are not even genetically engineered plants! This kind of patent defies all common sense of justice, and strips farmers of inalienable rights they have had by law and by custom through all of history. The legal questions surrounding genetically modified crops are still being answered. The case law is just beginning to come about, but so far things do not look good for the farmer.
Last year Percy Schmeiser of Canada was found guilty of patent infringement, even though he has never bought a single GE seed from Monsanto or signed any technology agreement. What that case means for farmers is that if his crop is pollinated by his neighbour's GE crop, he has lost the ability to plant those seeds the next year. Even if he has lost a conventional crop market because of that accidental contamination (as happened to my conventional soybeans last year), he is liable to the giant gene corporation if he plants the seed he grew on his own land. And Monsanto is ruthless in defending its so-called "patent rights." In the USA and Canada Monsanto is suing hundreds of farmers. Many of the cases are settled quietly out of court because every farmer knows that a long, drawn out court battle with Monsanto could easily cost him his farm. As in the Nelson case in North Dakota, these cases are settled with a "confidentiality clause" so the public cannot find out the terms of the settlements and the farmer is really never able to publicly clear his name. Until now, when a farmer harms his neighbour's crops, as with chemical spray drift or escaped livestock, the offending farmer is liable to his neighbour. But with GE crops, the farmer who has been victimised by gene contamination is the one liable to the corporation who first created the GE crop. Again, it flies in the face of common sense.
In the short run, GE crops are easy for the farmer to use. He can control weeds in Roundup Ready fields by simply spraying with the prescribed chemical (also sold by the seed company). He doesn't have to till a great deal. He doesn't have to walk his fields and determine which weeds are out there. He doesn't have to figure out which chemicals to use on those weeds.
In North Dakota, farming with GE crops has been described as "idiot farming." But, in the long run, what has that farmer, and agriculture world-wide lost? Besides, the right to save seed, the farmer will lose what it means to be a farmer. He will lose control over his own land as the corporations tell him more and more just how to farm.
He will lose the choice to go back to conventional farming, because the GE seeds left behind during harvest, volunteers, will be there for years to contaminate any future conventional crop. As the weeds become more tolerant to the same chemical sprayed year after year, he will also lose control of the very weed problem he set out to solve.
The more-profitable, easy farming he was promised by the corporation could turn into a nightmare.
The farmer will also lose the more intangible, but very real, sense of closeness to his land. For many farmers, that closeness to nature and the dance of the growing cycles is what puts the joy into farming. The knowledge about his own land and the skills needed to bring in a crop every year, are something a farmer learns over a lifetime. In less developed countries especially, those skills are passed from father to son (or from mother to daughter). These skills, on which the world is dependent for its food, are endangered when corporations take control of agriculture.
Monoculture is a prescription for environmental and human disaster. History tells us so. Diversity must be maintained at the local level and that requires skilful farmers who have control over their own farms. The world depends on its farmers. Their rights and their way of life need to be protected. As the only voice of the farmer at these WTO talks, I call on the world leaders to be mindful of our natural and historic rights. We have fed the world from the beginning of time. Let us continue to do so.
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