In mid-April, famous anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva was paid nearly $20K by my hometown university to speak on campus. While I can appreciate her passion for the environment (we all have that common ground), I have always been disappointed with her ability to connect to real American family farms. Here are eight things I wish she knew:
1. Behind the “blank faces” of “industrial ag” are real people. About 99 percent of farms are family owned by people who care. Regardless of size or fancy label, the soil is their livelihood, and farmers do everything in their power to protect the planet. Less than 2 percent of the population produce the food for 100 percent of people and animals. Agriculture is an industrial-scale business, just like cell phones aren’t made in someone’s basement. As a community, we have billions of mouths to feed. Show some respect.
2. Farmers are able to do more with less. Livestock have better care than ever before thanks to modern research & technology. Less chemicals and medicine are being used than in decades past. Erosion has been reduced by over 50 percent since the 1980s. Farmers today are able to produce more with fewer resources, using less space and water while feeding more people than ever before. Technology has improved every aspect of our lives, and agriculture is no exception.
3. The environment and proper stewardship not only affects farmers’ profits, it’s their livelihood and family history. For many farmers, this is the land they worked with their grandparents. It’s where they raise their children. The better they take care of the soil, the better it takes care of us. Farmers understand this and do the best they can to protect this valuable resource. It’ll never be perfect, but they deserve a ton for credit. (Did you eat today?)
4. Monsanto isn’t even really a chemical company anymore, and they have no control over us whatsoever. Farmers have hundreds of seed companies to choose from. No one forces us to do anything, and Monsanto sold off their chemical division a long time ago. They focus mostly on seeds, some of which are off patent.
5. GMOs do great things for farmers and the environment. Thanks to GMOs, (everything we eat has been modified, btw) farmers can produce more crop on less land. They allow us to eliminate insecticide sprays, use fewer and safer chemicals, save crops from disease, be better tolerant of weather elements, fortified with more nutrients, reduce food waste, producer a higher quality crop, allow farmers to utilize no-till farming more effectively, while preserving our precious topsoil. The list goes on. Just think — if GMOs were bad, 95 percent of certain crop farmers wouldn’t be growing them!
6. There are over 4,000 uses for corn. While Shiva went on to rail against corn and soy, she fails to mention that it does way more than feed us and livestock. Corn is in everyday products like fuel, makeup, plastics, tires, fireworks, medicine, etc. American farmers are the No. 1 producers of it in the world, grown and exported to help families everywhere in a very affordable and efficient way.
7. “Factory” farming is a slang term that should be thrown on the manure pile. As noted above, 99% of farms are family owned, and owned by people who really care. Sure, farms are bigger than they used to be, but that doesn’t mean that the farmers’ values have changed. Many larger farms have on-site 24/7 care from real welfare experts and veterinarians, have camera monitoring, climate controlled environments, activity monitors, etc.
8. Farmers are wonderful, salt-of-the-earth people who are intelligent, green, and underappreciated. Without farmers we would be starving and naked! The next time you see one, say thank you!
Sometimes people want to stand up for farmers, but the information they spread isn’t true. Shiva has been debunked for years, and it’s disappointing to see her get a platform at universities. The best thing anyone can do is get their information from real farmers, connect with them and spread their message. You talk to your mechanic about your car, your dentist about your teeth. Doesn’t it make sense to tour real farms to learn about farming? Ask questions of them and what they do. You just may be pleasantly surprised.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.