The archetype of Faust is deeply imbedded in mythology and human culture. From Job to blues guitar legend Robert Johnson, who supposedly sold his soul to the Devil—the source for the song, “Cross Road Blues,” which later inspired Eric Clapton—always some offer is presented. The temptation is that of a quick fix for a problem or unimaginable riches. In exchange, the person cashes in his integrity. Of course, everything that results from such a bargain turns sour and the person ends up with neither riches, nor soul—a living corpse, hollowed of conscience, warmth and dignity.
Many people recognize these “faustian bargains” when they appear and make the correct decision. But when such “bargains” are made in the halls of corporations that have wide-ranging influence over vast segments of the population, the land, the water, the air, poor decisions wreak damage that may be unlimited and uncontainable.
A Faustian Bargain in Our Fields
That is the very sort of damage we are witnessing now, across the United States and around Earth, in farm fields, along interstate corridors and highways, and in our own communities and back yards, thanks to lab-based modification of various species’ genomes. Most of the damage has been invisible, except to the extent it has played out in the lives of individuals, like Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, or cotton farmers in India, or the traditional seed-cleaners, who work with farmers who save their nonpatented seeds to replant and who’ve been sued out of business, or the untold numbers of eaters who have digestive issues—include increased immune vulnerabilities in that—because of ongoing exposure to food contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which do not break down in the gut.
Sometimes, it seems that people don’t understand the concept of the “free lunch,” namely that there is no such thing. Everything is calculated in exchanges of energy—and intention, which is just one of many forms of energy. This applies to air, water, soil, and human relationships. Action leads to reaction leads to more action leads to more reaction.
We think that our individual actions apply just to us. But this is far from reality, which is more along the lines of Chief Seattle said years ago: “Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
From Genetically Diddled-With Plants to Poisoned Soil and Water
One part of the bargain I’m referring to—GMOs—are the plants themselves. Glyphosate-resistant commodity crops include corn, soy, cotton, and rapeseed (Canola), and sugar beets, while glyphosate-resistant produce crops include papaya, yellow squash, zucchini, and recently approved (by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) GM alfalfa, which is used for animals as well as often suggested by herbalists for pregnant women who drink it as a nourishing tea. The GM alfalfa has another attribute: It’s a perennial, which means it can exchange DNA year-round, so will never be interrupted by the usual annual planting requirements of the others. Some crops, such as GM sugar beets, readily exchange DNA with other plants in the same family, including table beets and chard.
The other part of the Faustian bargain is the glyphosate itself. It is not biodegradeable; it persists in the environment, in the soil, where it upsets soil ecology. (See this Acres USA interview with plant pathologist Dr. Don Huber for more information about glyphosate and GMOs.)
Think of the soil the way you think of your gut. Healthy soil supports the microorganisms that keep plants healthy and vigorous. In the same way, a healthy human gut helps the person to maintain vitality and ward off illness. When the populations of healthy organisms are disturbed, that opens the door to a loss in the body’s capacity to nourish itself through food as well as assaults on its vitality. The same is true with glyphosate’s impact on soil and the plants that are grown in it.
Not only that, but glyphosate also harms aquatic life and, given the water cycle, it’s likely that it makes its way into groundwater, into streams, creeks, rivers and eventually, the Bay. This article provides an all-around look at what 40 years of glyphosate have wrought.
Farmers—and the companies that push GM technologies and glyphosate—aren’t the only ones fostering increased vulnerabilities in the environment. Many municipalities as well as the “weed warriors” who go after “invasive” plants also use glyphosate to rid certain areas of plants.
No Bargain Needed—Just Labels
This year, efforts to stop the spread of GMOs are growing. One of the key actions is a ballot initiative push in California—as well as proposed legislation in other states—to label products that include GMOs. The rationale behind such efforts: If Americans know which products contain GMOs, they’ll be less likely to buy them. That assumes, of course, that Americans understand the effects of ingesting GMOs on the ecology of their bodies.
The overall picture for these issues appears to be darkening somewhat, too. Weeds have developed resistance to herbicides such as glyphosate, which is prompting companies to tag-team the weeds by engineering crops that now tolerate more than just glyphosate. In other words, herbicidal cocktails are being sprayed. Dow’s approach is the pending release of a GM corn that is resistant to 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange, the chemical that still wreaks havoc on the lives of Vietnam veterans as well as Vietnamese whose land was sprayed with Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
To get more information about the effects of GMOs on human and environmental health or to join in efforts to require GMO labeling, visit the Organic Consumers Association’s Monsanto pages here or go to the Institute for Responsible Technology.