Christian O'Connor | Williams College
I grew up in a home with a vegetable garden that my mom nurtured like one of her own children. I knew that these vegetables were grown without chemicals, and I knew how they ended up on my dinner plate. Unfortunately, cash crop production in the United States lacks such transparency, and most Americans (including myself) are almost completely oblivious of what we are actually eating more often than not. Current government regulations suggest voters have not prioritized heightened transparency, allowing big seed companies, such as Monsanto, to push their own agendas and to dominate food policy politics.
In 2008, the lobbying efforts of Monsanto and other seed companies convinced the USDA to stop tracking pesticide use in America. As a result, Americans today are both uninformed and have no way to become informed of what chemicals may be contaminating the food they are eating. However, the data that does exist from pre-2008 paints a gloomy picture of pesticide trends. For cotton, and soybeans, two of the three major U.S. crops, herbicide use increased dramatically: Cotton went from 2.09lbs/acre in 1996 to 2.37lbs/acre in 2008, and soybeans increased from 1.19lbs/acre in 1996 to 2.28/acre in 2008. This increase in herbicide use coincided with the widespread adoption by farmers of genetically modified seeds produced by seed companies like Monsanto. Such genetically modified seeds have been a burden on farmers (the price farmers must pay for seeds has gone up 50% since 2001) and did nothing to reduce the amount of nasty chemicals in major crops.
Many have voiced optimism about the potential of genetically modified organisms ‘GMOs’ to reduce pesticide use. In Bangladesh, GMOs have reduced pesticide use and increased yields for eggplant, one of nation’s biggest crops, helping poor farmers earn a living. However, the verdict is not out on the health effects of such GMOs, and certainly not all GMOs are created equal. GMOs do reduce insecticide use in corn crops, but they accomplish it by infusing a naturally occurring pesticide into the corn itself. As the scientific consensus on GMOs lags behind due to a lack of transparency and data, the only thing we know for certain is that GMOs are lining the pockets of U.S. seed corporations, and rampant, unregulated pesticide use persists in U.S. crops.
In order to solve the great mystery of what actually goes into our crops and their effects on our bodies, federal law must mandate greater transparency in crop production processes. However, change is not merely a question of laws but a question of values. Every day, when we sit down to eat, often with the people we cherish most in this world, do we really want to be slowly poisoning ourselves in the process?