June 7, 2021- I read an article, in the current issue of National Geographic Magazine, about a sizable number of Old Colony Mennonites, settling in rural, forested areas of Mexico, and clearing huge swaths of the forest, so that they could plant Transgenic (GMO) soybeans. The process includes aerial spraying of glysophate-a poison that has been shown to lead to metastasized cancer, when ingested through air and water. There has been conflict with the indigenous people of the region, the Maya, who have used the land for small farming and to raise bees. The Mayan bees have been dying off, since aerial spraying of glysophate began. The Mennonites say they have bees that can thrive, despite the presence of glysophate.
I have friends in Pennsylvania who are Mennonites, and who are committed to keeping the Earth both productive and in a relatively pristine condition. They are horticulturists, and much of their produce is raised in greenhouses. I am not aware of any widespread use of glysophate in their operation. So, the NGS account set me to thinking: Why are the settlers in Mexico so adamant about their mission?
People being creatures of habit, with deeply engrained genetic memory, it helps to trace the residential patterns of a group. The Old Colony Mennonites came from grasslands of central Europe and Russia, via Germany, and settled in the prairies of central and western Canada. They are accustomed to large farming operations, worked by large families. They are also given to hard work, relying on Biblical Scripture for guidance and practicing prudent business. A treeless prairie is turned into productive cropland, with relative ease, compared with the forest-which, whether tropical or temperate, is alien land. Thus, with no regard for any value the rainforest may have, the trees are cleared. The land becomes grassland, or cropland.
This has been repeated since the first nomads emerged from the steppes of Central Asia, millennia ago. The treeless land of their origins formed both their mindset, as to the status of the environment and as to the approach that should be taken towards any environment that differed from their native grasslands. Forests were meant to be cleared; deserts were meant to be irrigated; mountains were meant to be either terraced or laid low. The Old Colony Mennonites are no different, in that respect, from all who migrated before them.
That said, there remains the one thing that could lay both them, and their neighbours, low: The poison, that their interpretation of Scripture says is essential to maintaining their way of life. Glysophate has been shown to lead to several cancers, most commonly Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. While only a longitudinal study, of the people of Campeche and Tabasco, will likely convince the leadership of Old Colony that this practice is dangerous, such intransigence is going to cause harm to the very people for whom the leaders say they are engaging in large-scale farming: Their children and grandchildren. Even if the leaders can claim to be unconcerned about their neighbours, an unlikely scenario, for them to be blithely placing crop yield, profit and Manifest Destiny over their own families’ lives, proceeds from sublime to ridiculous.
We can debate the merits and pitfalls of transgenic farming for days on end, but the use of pesticides that are deadly to all life should no longer be up for discussion: Mexico, along with most other civilized nations, has banned the use of glysophate. Predisposition to dominance aside, it is time for the Old Colony members to stop its use, and seek to use methods of crop protection that are not lethal to humans, or bees.