Pima County has better options than Monsanto

As a Pima County planning and zoning commissioner for the past 12 years, I have witnessed the county’s impressive record of sustainable land use, species protection, smart development practices and promotion of economic prosperity. Sometimes, to further the public good, the county says no to uncertain, risky projects.

Like the Rosemont Mine proposal, Pima County should say no to Monsanto and reject its bid to receive Foreign Trade Zone benefits and tax subsidies. Why would Pima County risk Tucson’s branding as a World City of Gastronomy, with its 4,000-year history of food crop evolution? Why would we welcome Monsanto with gifts and then reap the backlash by associating with Monsanto, one of the world’s most-reviled and -protested corporations.

Monsanto appears to be aiming for markets south of the border and elsewhere, for both sales of GMO seed and locating GMO seed production for export. Concerns about health effects aside, recent major studies comparing the North American GMO crop experience with the non-GMO crops of Northern Europe where GMO’s are largely banned, shows little difference in crop yields and chemical pesticide use. Promises of higher yields and less use of chemicals have been the two main arguments supporting GMO proliferation. Now being acquired by the German chemical giant Bayer, Monsanto can’t sell its unwanted GMO products there, so it is looking to the developing world .

As for Monsanto’s possible role in solving our invasive-species problems in Pima County, forget it. There are more sustainable approaches, and unending increases of chemical applications in the Sonoran Desert are not the answer. Herbicide-tolerant weeds and grasses are already developing, while collateral damage to the environment remains largely unmeasured. Does anyone really question that there is no scientific advantage to Pima County in approving this privileged trade and tax status?

Having returned from winter holidays in Oaxaca, Mexico, I witnessed firsthand the Mexican resolve to protect the past while preparing for the future by continuing to evolve its rich plant heritage. Many common food plants now enjoyed around the planet were cultivated first by the peoples of Mesoamerica. Corn, beans, chilies and squash have been the dietary mainstays in this region for thousands of years. Go to Oaxaca for one of the most tantalizing, delicious food experiences ever.

But remember, the Mexicans do not want Monsanto’s GMO corn. In fact, it’s a national law. We should be learning from Mexico, not the other way around, as Monsanto would want it. The Botanical Garden in Oaxaca is a good start.

If we are really concerned about starving populations, we should all do our homework on real solutions to food production in a time of global climate change. For example, The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, is pioneering the promising approach of perennial food crops. Currently, 85 percent of human food calories come from annual plants, seeded and plowed each year. Such disturbance is both costly and erosive of soil carbon and other nutrients as well as perpetuating plants that have poor resistance to global warming. Domestication of wild perennials and perennializing annual food crops promise long-lived plants with very deep root systems that can withstand the new temperature extremes and climate volatility we see with emerging climate change. These perennials are developed using age-old traditional techniques that are compatible with the more-sustainable path of “ecologically intensive” permaculture.

Pima County, please send a letter to the federal government explicitly saying Pima County objects to Monsanto receiving FTZ status. Say no to the unsustainable, resource-intensive, mono-crop industrial agriculture promoted by Monsanto.

Robert Cook is an economic analyst, planner, zoning commissioner and co-founder of Sustainable Tucson. article here at tucson.com

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