I live in West Texas, in Borden County, which is on the southern edge of the high plains where over 3.6 million acres of conventional cotton are grown. My family has been farming in the area since the 1920s. We became certified organic in 1991. When my husband was alive, we farmed about 3,000 acres. I am presently farming only my family land which is about 500 acres. I am a member of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, which represents about 30 families and 20,000 acres in organic production.
We have to live alongside huge farms that are using transgenic seed (GMO – Genetically Modified Organisms). It is estimated that transgenic cotton production in our area is over 80% of current acreage. World-wide the estimate is now over 60%.
LaRhea Pepper’s husband Terry Pepper and his brother Carl Pepper
As an organic cotton grower, I have three concerns with the transgenic technology. FIRST: We lose about 10% of our organic crop every year, through no fault of our own. I have experienced drifts of Roundup from neighboring farmers that are spraying their transgenic cotton. Despite the care that is taken by our neighbors, when they overspray their entire fields with Roundup, there is drift that ends up stunting the growth or killing our organic cotton. In practice, Roundup is more volatile than people think. This results in production losses, and in some instances, the loss of the crop as organic.
Chemical drift from Round-Up was not as big an issue prior to transgenic production because the custom was to spot spray the weeds rather than overspray. Despite the claim that transgenic production systems will reduce chemical applications, in our area usage is actually increased. It's clear to me that Genetically Modified production systems have failed to deliver on their promises to reduce chemical inputs and increase profitability.
While the chemical drift issue is a problem - the farmers, our neighbors, are doing their best to be responsible with the transgenic technology.One of the key issues is the inability and lack of the transgenic technology to be controlled. Monsanto has created a huge issue due to their inability to control their technology that causes contamination of our seed supplies with their transgenic seeds, and that poses a threat to my ability to be an organic farmer. SECOND: Our seeds are being damaged by trespassing transgenic technology. Even with segregation in ginning and seed cleaning, random sample tests are indicating some levels of transgenic contamination. We have to take extra precautions in sourcing seed in order to reduce this threat and impact, creating additional costs. This is not only the case here in the US, but in other countries as well. In some countries where the government is responsible for distributing the seed, some farmer groups have lost certification and the ability to grow organic cotton due to the contamination levels. We have to do more testing and contracting for special seed, paying extra for segregation in ginning and seed cleaning. For crops that are pollinated by the wind and by bees, this is a more volatile and dangerous situation.
It is my personal belief that Monsanto has released technology that they cannot control; that has secondary impacts that are not only damaging to other famers and communities, but for me, as an organic farmer, is nothing less than criminal trespass.
THIRD: The socio-economic impact that the transgenic technology is having on rural communities. Instead of several small, family owned business selling seed and farm inputs, Monsanto's seed monopoly has put these companies out of business taking profit out of the farm community, contributing to poverty in these rural communities. In addition, farmers are hiring fewer people to work on the farms, impacting schools that are losing students as well as the loss of teachers and other supporting jobs. I feel that Monsanto is violating our rural communities.
All this and creating secondary issues for the farmers that are using the transgenic seeds. There is weed and pest resistance calling for stronger chemicals to do the job and cotton as a weed that cannot be dealt with in a rotational system. There are also been comments from my neighbours that is no greater profit at the end of the day due to the cost of the seed and additional inputs.
I know some farmers would like to go back to non-transgenic seeds, however, like a drug addict they are on a treadmill, and have been party to the death of an infrastructure that would support the diversity they need.
BOTTOM LINE—there are no benefits for either customers or farmers -- only the company producing the GMO's and the chemicals that are utilized.
In my mind, genetically modified production systems represent a real danger to biodiversity and life on our planet. There is simply no empirical evidence that genetically modifying a crop is having a positive impact on crop production. Genetically modified organisms also create unacceptable economic and environmental risks to organic farmers.
Transgenic engineering in agricultural seeds has caused negative and irreversible environmental impacts through the release of the organisms which have never before existed in nature and that cannot be recalled. Pandora's Box has been opened and there is contamination in the gene-pool of key cultivated crops.
Having agri-chemical companies dictate seed availability and release genetically modified organisms into a commercial environment takes away the choice of consumers and farmers to grow and eat crops free of genetic manipulation. We have a right to know what is in our food and we have the right to choose food and fiber that is pure!
I believe that organic agriculture offers a very real and positive alternative. There are already millions of organic farmers, clearly delivering on producing safe and healthy food and fiber. You can support them with your buying decisions and use the power of your purse to keep organic growing!