Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Failure of GM: Plenty of Pigweed.....Now What ?

It was only going to be a matter of time before Nature would catch up with the overabundant use of glysophate, or Round-up (made by Monsanto) as it is commercially known, in particular on GM corn, GM soybean and GM cotton fields. The New York Times is warning of the "Rise of the Superweeds" analogous to the rise of the Superbugs in Medicine. About 22 states and many millions of acres are apparently affected with uncontrollable growth in particular of 'Pigweed' which seems to thrive on just loves Round-up.( .... Irony of History.....the Revenge of the Natives......)
Monsanto must have anticipated the inevitable failure of the devious combo of Genetically Modified Seeds plus Round-up for a long time. It started experimenting with a 'souped-up' Roundup almost 10 years ago, to manage the problem of 'superweeds'. Indeed, according to Monsanto own press releases, company sales representatives are encouraging farmers to mix glyphosate and older (=leftover) herbicides such as 2,4-D, a herbicide which was banned in Sweden, Denmark and Norway over its links to cancer, reproductive harm and mental impairment. 2,4-D is also well-known for being a component of Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide which was used in chemical warfare in Vietnam in the 1960s. Imagine that......Agent Orange finally coming fight the Superweeds..... A dark sequel to Vietnam. 

Now let's look at the vilified Pigweed for a minute. First the name, 'Pigweed', sounds as a easy target of demonizing. Who could possibly appreciate something so base as 'pig' and 'weed' combined ??

Before we go any further, I would like to re-enstate the true and dignified name of "Pigweed": it is "Amaranth". The word comes from the Greek amarantos (Αμάρανθος or Αμάραντος) the "one that does not wither," or the "never-fading". The 'never fading' aspect may not just refer to the flower (as the wikipedia suggests) --which indeed keeps its deep reddish or rust color for a long time-- but it may actually refer to the sheer tenacity of the plant itself. It grows in a large variety of soils (from acidic to alkaline) and climate (from hot to cold),  Amaranth comes back without being planted, and it grows in dry soils.... thrives even in fields treated with glysophate......never fading..... 

My own relationship with Amaranth began around 1983.  I wanted to make a special bread for my business, the Cloud Cliff bakery, at that time just a tiny venture in the Barrio of Santa Fe. I was looking for something.....indigenous, hardy and full of protein and rare nutrition (such as minerals and vitamins). Through the Rodale Institute, I stumbled upon the humble Amaranth, once considered a 'sacred plant' with taxes in the Aztec empire meted out in bushels of Amaranth. In fact, when rated by nutritionists for general nutritional quality, amaranth scores significantly higher than other common foods such as milk, soy, wheat and corn. Amaranth’s digestibility score is an impressive 90 percent, much higher than problematic foods such as soy, milk and wheat.
amaranth...ancient grain for our future....(magnification about 8X)
Amaranth seeds contain 5 percent to 9 percent high-quality oil, again, much higher than the common grains. Found in the amaranth oil are tocotrienols—a relatively rare and very beneficial form of vitamin E—and squalene, another rare compound reported to have anti-cancer  properties. I started finding ways to bake with Amaranth: The seed is small and hard and it requires some processing to be able to add it to food and be digestible. In my case I settled on germinating the seed to soften it before adding it to  bread. Experimental plots in New Mexico and Nebraska provided the Amaranth grain.

Cloud Cliff's "Aztec Amaranth bread" became my first commercial best seller, and people loved not only the taste, they enjoyed the health benefits as well. I have had many anecdotal comments on this over the years. So even now, after 26 years, I still bake with Amaranth, and I highly respect it and see it then and now  as "an Ancient Grain for our Future".

Calling Amaranth "Pigweed" or "Superweed"  really is an attempt by Monsanto and others who fall into the trap,  to make an ideological statement. In 1984 when the New York Times first discovered Amaranth, October 16, 1984, Jane Brody wrote about Amaranth like this:

Agricultural researchers are cautiously hailing this relic of antiquity as ''the grain of the future'' for its potential to provide protein, vitamins and minerals to people worldwide, including the United States.
Amaranth contains more protein than other common grain foods (the tiny seeds are 16 percent protein, as against 12 to 14 percent for wheat) and the quality of that protein - its ability to meet human protein needs - exceeds that of protein in soybeans and even milk. Unlike other grains, amaranth is rich in the essential amino acid lysine. When combined with corn, for example, which is deficient in lysine, a ''protein score'' of nearly 100 results.......

Now, 26 years later the NYT classifies that same Amaranth plant as "Pigweed" and labels it as the main invasive "Superweed". This is an example of how language is intended to manipulate perception. In other words: Classifying Amaranth as a Pigweed and a Superweed is an ideological statement in order to make the proposed solution (Agent Orange) seem rational.
perfect amaranth in soy what ??

We need to look at this problem of invasive Pigweed very differently and luckily in this case we have a great opportunity to do so. Amaranth protein filled seed heads weigh up to 2 pounds and are relatively easily harvestable. In so many ways we already devote too much acreage to GM Corn, GM Soy and GM Cotton, and now Nature is offering us a gift in the form of Amaranth. Amaranth grows great where others can't. Challenge is not to destroy it, but rather find ways of processing it into flour, bread, candy, and high quality green roughage (ala spinach) and distributing it into a market that is protein and nutrition scarce and feed a populace.

Sadly it seems to me that before the advent of corporate agriculture, farmers used to be more self reliant and cunning. They have always seen opportunities where others didn't or couldn't care. History is filled with examples of this, but let me just quote one:

Rye came into the world suddenly in the form of a revolt of the lowly. In Pontos, on the shore of the Black Sea --a city surrounded by excellent wheatland-- grain ships were loaded to take seed to southern Russia. A few weeds that none regarded became mixed with the seed. But Behold! when time came for sowing, the soil proved too harsh for the wheat, and the weed flourished mightily. Rye had abruptly become a cultivated plant. The sowers intelligently exploited the accident, and within a few hundred years rye had spread to many soils that had been exhausted by continual crops of wheat.....(H. E. Jacob, 1944)

So I propose to adjust our combines and diets and start processing the mighty Amaranth into food. We potentially have millions of acres of it.....
Amaranth is a gift from God, and we better learn how to use it.


  1. This is quite thought provoking! The image of the seeds brings to mind birdseed that winter 'feeders' like so much, but actually, I think that is millet. The animal kingdom has been so disrupted/corrupted by human interference. I wonder what part amaranth might play in the decline of birds and bees?

  2. Wonderful blog. We eat weed amaranth as well as lambs' quarters (both get called 'pigweed') in early spring before the garden is truly happening. I have also grown grain Amaranth and Quinoa as grain. Growing them was easy, processing after harvest was something else. They ended up as chicken feed. I may try again.