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[imgcontainer]Patrick Moore, a proponent of GMO crops and a climate-change skeptic, tells a French television journalist that glyphosate weed killer is safe to drink, then refuses to drink it. The argument grew out of a discussion of whether glyphosate causes cancer. A World Health Organization panel says it is “probably carcinogenic.” Monsanto, the manufacturer of the chemical under the brand name Roundup, says the WHO analysis is false. [/imgcontainer]

A neighbor stopped by the other day.

He and I are about the same age, both of us christened in the church at Langdon on the same day in 1950. We talked about Medicare and collecting Social Security, farming, and then the conversation turned to our dads. His dad lived longer than mine, dying of a malady the doctors said would likely never kill him, while my dad likely died of something doctors warned him of for years.

Some of us have choices and some of us don’t.

Using tobacco is a choice people make just as farmers choose to grow it.

Back when Dad started smoking, puffing on a pipe or cigarette was considered glamorous … movie stars did it. Life cycles were shorter then. People had all kinds of diseases that never killed them because something else got them first.

No one realized the health implications of smoking.

Thanks to Social Security requirements, the official age of retirement became 65. But in 1940, only 54% of 21-year-old American males lived to collect their federal stipend. 

Tobacco probably helped keep the number of Social Security recipients low. It didn’t help longevity when large tobacco companies began marketing directly to young people and manipulating nicotine levels in their products while denying there was anything addictive about tobacco.

They even testified to that before Congress.

Years have passed since the tobacco settlement, when those corporations that made ridiculous claims about addiction and nicotine finally paid for the truth. But some kids around here still place chemically refined tobacco products into the most sensitive parts of their bodies while we as a society know full well the awful price many of them will pay.

It’s become a fact proven over time.

I’ve heard it said that tobacco farmers made a lot of money when the allotment program was in effect and could sustain their families on only two or three acres. (In farming terms, making “a lot of money” means having enough to survive.) In that sense, tobacco farmers did make money. And they defended their living by pointing out that unregulated foreign grown tobacco would replace our domestic product with something that could easily contain pesticide residues or other harmful chemicals.

Maybe even before big corporations put their additives into the mix.

The allotment program has since ended, and tobacco controversies have quieted down some. It is what it is.

But chemicals and big corporations are in the news again lately because of genetically modified crops and the chemical they are treated with. That’s because the International Agency for Research (IARC) has said that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, probably causes several forms of cancer.

 Health revelations about Monsanto’s top product seemed all the worse when the subject of an interview in France claimed glyphosate was safe enough to drink, but refused to swallow some on camera. Thanks to that interview, the bar is set.

Glyphosate is not as safe as water, but modern science tells us it’s in baby formula, breakfast food, the air, and yes, even drinking water itself.  Critics of the IARC study, including Monsanto, have cried foul.

Still to be decided, though, are long-term implications of human exposure to a corporate profit center.

Speaking as a farmer who has achieved the original target age of Social Security despite his lifetime exposure to several banned pesticides, I can only conclude that some people are more at risk than others. Genes, especially human genes, are hard to predict. Take cholesterol for instance.  Latest research points out that cholesterol is not unhealthy, but becomes a good fat gone bad when circulatory systems become inflamed by chemicals, disease or environmental factors. Maybe it’s not the fat in our food or our genes, but the stuff in our food that affects fat’s behavior in our bodies.

There’s not much research into whether or not GMO crops affect human health. Any time claims are made, the seed and pesticide industries rise up as a whole to debunk it. The one undeniable fact for everyone – except chief deniers – is that Roundup Ready genes and increasing resistance by many weeds to glyphosate have resulted in the growing environmental presence of one particular farm chemical, disproving early claims that glyphosate dissipates harmlessly without accumulating in soil and water.

Oddly, claims that GMO crops result in less pesticide use than ever before persist as their main justification for existence.

That sounds a little like early corporate claims that tobacco isn’t addictive.

 But who am I to judge?

After years of claiming that sequestration of GMO crops like corn and soybeans from non-GMO counterparts is uneconomical and just plain silly, consumer preference has realigned economics so that more farmers are earning their living growing traditional crops for better money, while keeping them separate.

Whether or not people are choosing for the right reason remains to be seen. Are they worried about water pollution from glyphosate, or are they worried about the health implications of genetically modified crops.

In most consumers’ minds, the two issues are inseparable.

Right or wrong, regardless of the reason or even accepted scientific fact, with awareness comes choice.

Maybe that’s why tobacco companies now devote themselves to building markets in third world countries, where … quite coincidentally … people haven’t got a clue.

Richard Oswald, a fifth generation farmer, lives in Langdon, Missouri, and is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.

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