Fooling Mother Nature: still not a good idea

Mother Nature is in the news of late, and she doesn't seem happy.

Monsanto, the Great Satan in the eyes of the environmental movement, is making headlines with huge profit increases and yet another David-versus-Goliath lawsuit in Manhattan filed by organic and family farmers who fear the health consequences of the company's genetically modified food crops.

Scotts Miracle-Gro, a lesser Satan in the garden, tried to polish its image with an arranged marriage with the National Wildlife Federation, only to have the nuptials hastily canceled when Scotts pleaded guilty to knowingly selling tons of bird seed tainted with pesticides.

Meanwhile, theU.S. Department of Agriculturemoved the lines on its plant hardiness zones a little further north — meaning more of those tender plants we tried in the garden will survive our milder winters. But the USDA pointedly said that this is not evidence of global warming.

Oh, and pythons in the Florida Everglades are eating all the mammals they can find — a food group which, last time I looked, would include humans.

First, on the matter of Monsanto. The multinational is the world's leading producer of the herbicide glyphosate, sold under the name Roundup. It is also the leading producer of genetically engineered corn, wheat, soybeans and alfalfa, called Roundup-ready crops because you can spray huge areas with the stuff, but only the weeds will die.


There is fear that all this spraying is producing super-weeds and super-bugs and new plant diseases, not to mention what it might be doing to the wildlife that swims in or drinks from contaminated water sources. And there is research suggesting that ingesting the genetically modified grains has resulted in an increase in livestock infertility.

Environmentalists and safe-food activists are calling on President Barack Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to stop the planting of Roundup-ready crops here and the strong-arm peddling of them abroad. But because there is such a revolving door for Monsanto executives and posts in federal agencies, nobody trusts the government to do the cautious thing here, especially when the company plays the "end world hunger now" public relations card.

While Monsanto markets to the farmers and the super-farmers, it has licensed Scotts Miracle-Gro to sell Roundup to the home gardener, and I admit that I use it on sidewalk and driveway weeds. And I like Miracle Gro plant food. It could be my imagination, but it seems to increase the number of blooms on my annuals.

But it looked pretty disingenuous for Scotts to try to buy some green cred from the National Wildlife Federation days before the corporation would be fined millions of dollars for selling bird seed contaminated with pesticides. I mean, really?

The guilty plea gave the NWF a graceful way out of the deal, but the firestorm on social media might have scotched it in any case. Garden and environmental bloggers and birders took to the Internet immediately and in great and angry numbers. It was Bank of America's debit card fee redux.

Now, about that map. It took long enough, and a couple of failed tries apparently, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its first zone hardiness map for the United States and Puerto Rico since 1990. If you cross-check the new interactive map (available only online) with the old one, you can see if winters have indeed been as mild as you think they have been where you live.

The map was charted using temperatures over the last 30 years — instead of, perhaps, the last 20 — which critics say was done to dilute the evidence of global warming. And, as it addresses only winter hardiness, the new map says nothing about the heat and humidity, as well as the arid Augusts and Septembers, of our growing seasons here in Maryland.

At the end of the day, your local nursery is better at telling you what will grow in your micro-climate than the USDA.

And finally, if the alligators in the Florida Everglades don't get you, the pythons and the anacondas might.

I am not sure if that has anything to do with genetically modified food, the poisoning of birds or global warming. It might just be poor pet stewardship. But, to paraphrase that butter commercial from another time, "It's not nice to fool around with Mother Nature."

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is

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