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Weed resistant crops (genetically modified) have been around for about 15 years.  In that time, weeds have developed a resistance to Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate), which has led farmers to apply ever more toxic herbicides.  Bio tech companies are responding to this “need” for more chemicals, but this solution is unsustainable as weed resistance will continue.  Putting a blind eye to the repercussions of more poisons in our environment, Big Ag applied to the USDA for approval to market 2,4-D resistant corn.  2,4-D once made up half of the mix used in the Vietnam War – Agent Orange.

The dangers of 2,4-D are well documented.  Exposure to humans can cause skin sores, liver damage and sometimes death.  2,4-D is also a potential endocrine disruptor, and studies have found that men who applied the chemical had lower sperm counts and higher sperm abnormalities.  Food&WaterWatch notes that “although [the] FDA considers Dow’s 2,4-D corn as safe as conventional corn varieties…and not materially different from corn currently grown the the United States, the FDA’s Biotechnology Note for 2,4-D-resistant corn lists several amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals that differed from conventional corn and were statistically significant…A description of differences without data showing these differences are safe is inadequate, especially when scientists from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research suggests that following 2,4-D treatment, 2,4-D tolerant plants may not be acceptable for human consumption.”

Scores of farm, food, public interest, consumer, fisheries and environmental organizations have appealed to the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to deny the planting of 2,4-D corn, stating that it would increase the use of 2,4-D to over 100 million pounds a year.  According to the letter sent to Vilsack, scientists at the U.S. National Cancer Institute have found that farmers who use 2,4-D and related herbicides are more likely to contract non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that kills 30% of those afflicted.  Sweden, Denmark and Norway have banned 2,4-D based on these studies, but the U.S. government refuses to act, stating that these studies fail to “definitively” link 2,4-D to NHL.

Aside from direct health concerns, 2,4-D is also known to drift.  In one incident in California, one 2,4-D application drifted 100 miles, damaging 15,000 acres of cotton and an entire pomegranate orchard.  It has been found that 2,4-D is 400 times more likely to cause non-target injury than Roundup.  An EPA toxicity research project found the herbicide to be “very highly toxic to freshwater and marine invertebrates.”  The potential for conventional farmers to lose crops increases, while organic farmers risk losing crops as well as certification.

Given all the concern, the protests from farmers and environmental organizations and various scientific studies, the USDA, in January of this year, approved Dow Chemical’s request to start marketing its 2,4-D resistant corn and soy.  This despite the fact that the USDA acknowledged that these 2,4-D crops could indeed cause “significant environmental harm.”  The USDA apparently believes that organic and GE crops can both be grown without either adversely affecting the other.  They’ve even coined a new regulatory term, which is “coexistence.”  No small wonder when Big Ag operatives have been appointed to the USDA in recent years.  Michael Taylor, Margaret Miller and Islam Siddiqui, all former Monsanto employees, currently hold substantial positions with the USDA or the FDA.  Tom Vilsack, although never employed specifically by Big Ag, showed a decided preference for large industrial farms and genetically modified crops when serving as Governor of Iowa.  For his efforts, he was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industry lobbying group.

It is then that I look with a cynical eye at the report issued by the USDA’s “Census of Agriculture” showing that large farms that receive government payments have more than doubled in the last five years, while the number of medium sized farms fell.  Tom Vilsack expressed concern, even while being part of the machine that supports and encourages Big Ag.  The use of 2,4-D apparently has great potential for further reducing the viability of non-industrial sized farms as well as organic, showing the government, and Tom Vilsack in particular, to be hypocritical promoters of American agriculture when actually supporting the role of Big Ag in shaping our environmental and economic future.

When I started this blog, I approached it as an opportunity to educate myself and others about the dangers of industrial agriculture.  Having spent my career as a chef, and one who was overweight, I also wanted to provide weekly recipes promoting the foods and methods of cooking that allowed me to lose 50 pounds.  I encourage home cooking, use of organic ingredients and diminished use of meat products.  The recipe this week, although it contains pork ribs, a meat I rarely employ, is a good example of slow food and an excellent winter stew.

Garbanzo Bean Stew with Pork Ribs and Rosemary

2 cups dried garbanzos, soaked over night

6 cloves minced garlic

1 28 oz. can of organic, fire-roasted whole tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen

2 tbls. fresh minced rosemary

1 qt. home made chicken stock

1 lb baby back pork ribs, separated

3 tbls olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

parmesan cheese for garnish

Pour the garbanzos into a large soup pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook for about 1 hour.  Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, brown the ribs, then add garlic and rosemary, stirring them in for about a minute.  Add chicken stock and pureed tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook for about 1 hour.  When the water level in the garbanzos has decreased, add the rib mixture to the pot and place, covered, in a 325 degree oven.  Cook for at least two more hours or until the garbanzos are thoroughly soft and the meat falls off the bone.  You can simply pick the meat off the bones using a fork.  De-grease the stew with a spoon and cook until desired consistency.  Taste for salt and top with freshly grated parmesan.  Serve with a good French bread and salad.

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