Free the markets

. . .or, why can’t we be more like the savage socialists across the pond?

Marion Nestle recently pointed out that in Europe food must be labeled as containing GMO’s. The system isn’t new, and it springs from a general distrust of GM agriculture in much of the world. Nothing, however, stops a company from using GM ingredients or consumers from purchasing GM products. Their presence is labeled with the allergens. Looks like a free market where the informed consumer can make choices, promote competition and generally play a part in the all important invisible hand mechanism.

I have no idea whether ingesting GM crops will damage humans, but we’ll find out for sure in a few decades. Like in the pharmaceutical industry, long-term testing mostly consists of selling it to us and seeing what happens. And we will see what happens, because planting percentages of GM crops is large and growing. Corn is at least 50%; soya is close to 90%; and canola/rape is 75%. The US plants 63% of all GM crops, with Argentina trailing by a wide margin at 21%.

Contrary to what you might read on the internet, not all of the applications are scary. Golden rice is probably one of the noblest developments in agriculture’s history, but it still amounts to fiddling the latch on Pandora’s Box. No, genetic modification is not “just like hybridization”. Hybridization is strictly controlled and promoted evolution. Genetic modification is winding evolution up and letting it go. The 50% number that Ms. Nestle quotes for GM corn is almost certainly much, much higher, and i’ve read reputable reports stating that more than 90% of corn at sorting tests positive for GM markers. The modifications don’t stay where they’re put because plants cross pollinate; in fact, genetic modification of crops travels like the wind…literally. And since some of the modifications give plants a distinct advantage, they are unlikely to go away.

You can just go ahead and figure that most of the food you eat contains GM ingredients. Even the farmers who don’t plant it end up reaping it, and when they do the Monsanto snoops will surely find out. That leads to a lawsuit that the farmer will inevitably lose, which leads to a settlement that always includes a strict gag order. The snoops and the lawyers will be from Monsanto because Monsanto is the GM agriculture industry. And the law will be on Monsanto’s side because it has infiltrated government to a degree that makes the MIC weep with envy. Without hyperbole, Monsanto makes Halliburton look like the Salvation Army.

This is the company that brought us Agent Orange, PCBs and an illustrious list of other banned substances. It is the same company that managed to get and defend a law in Pennsylvania that forbade dairy farmers/producers from labeling dairy “growth hormone free”. (Monsanto developed rBGH if you hadn’t guessed.) This is the company that applies for patents on interesting finds from the national seed bank. And when you read the stories of farmer suicide in India, think Monsanto. They have vertically integrated to such a degree that the farmers generally kill themselves by drinking a Monsanto product. After being sold/coerced into purchasing Monsanto seeds that they cannot save under threat of patent infringement, the farmer will find out that the increases in yield will also cost a great deal because the yield increase is dependent on inputs besides the seed…inputs that, coincidentally, Monsanto sells. When the loans taken to pay for the great leap into a glossy, full-page ad in The Economist come due and the harvest isn’t the shining utopia promised by the green revolution, nor are there any seeds for next season, the farmer kills himself.

It’s been said that a revolution tends to devolve into a tyranny worse than the one which it overthrew. If the green revolution were the one in Russia, Monsanto would be Stalin.

And here is the most significant problem. Monsanto and the promoters of GM agriculture claim that it feeds a hungry world by increasing yield. Except that it doesn’t. The majority Monsanto’s GM crops are designed to resist Round Up. Theoretically, being able to cover everything in Round Up to keep weed growth down will increase yield. But higher yields don’t have anything to do with Monsanto’s modifications: it’s about selling Round Up. Tests have been run in which the GM crop yields less than a traditional hybrid. (In one case, a supplement boosted the GM crop to equal the hybrid, but needing to supplement suggests that more changes have occurred than just being “Round Up Ready”…of course, i’m not a research agronomist.) When confronted with these results, Monsanto countered that it hadn’t designed the crops to increase yields in the first place. Precisely, except all of the advertisements and editorials claim yield improvements.

It’s not just the poor, Indian cotton farmers who are in a bind. American farmers are on Monsanto’s treadmill, and so are you. One company controls an astoundingly large percentage of the food you eat at its source: the seed. We won’t see GM labeling laws because they might hurt Monsanto’s business, and there isn’t a politician in America who will poke Monsanto…not for love, nor money, nor the sanctity of free markets.

Worse, if in two decades we find out that one of these modifications is quite dangerous to humans or the environment, we will likely find ourselves in a situation where there isn’t any alternative. Evolution will have adopted the modifications. Monsanto will have made its profit. And we’ll all be left holding the bag…which in this case could well be an empty one of the grocery sort.


~ by Lex on August 27, 2009.

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