Taxpayers are subsidizing the use of genetically modified seeds through a strange arrangement between the Department of Agriculture and chemical giant Monsanto that was enthusiastically endorsed by Congress in 2000, the Chicago Tribune exposed in a report today.
The corn seeds are manipulated so they produce pesticides that ward off insects, or resist herbicides so farmers can kill nearby weeds.
The deal was made possible when Congress agreed to give farmers a break on federal crop insurance if they planted crops that resist pests and produce higher yields, making them less vulnerable to crop failures, and U.S. taxpayers less vulnerable to large insurance payouts. That, the seeds do.
But environmentalists and green food advocates have long argued that genetically modified seeds may be dangerous in ways both subtle and obvious. Subtle, in that plants can hybridize, introducing human-injected genes ("genetic drift") into natural ecosystems with unknown consequences. Obvious, in that farmers using herbicide-resistant crops can spray more pesticides, increasing the use of the toxic substances (though the use of crops that grow their own pesticides would reduce the need to spray).
In practice, however, this deal may do less to increase the use of genetically modified seeds than it does to give farmers big and small a break on insurance payments. Between 2000 and 2007, the use of genetically modified corn seed grew from 25% of acres planted to 73%, even without discounts on federal insurance.
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