Saturday, March 19, 2005

It'll make your blood boil

I was having a good night last night--enjoying a potluck of tasty organic food with others committed to organic agriculture and getting elected to the board of the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, a statewide organization that joins farmers, retailers and consumers together to promote the organic agenda.

Then, we got to the educational part of the evening, a screening of "The Future of Food," a documentary about genetically engineered crops and the corporations behind them. What I saw wasn't just troubling; it was horrifying. The best summary comes from one of those interviewed in the film: We are conducting the largest biological experiment on humans and the ecosphere ever performed, and there are virtually no controls. Those of you who have been following the issue will know many of the facts the film recites. What you won't be prepared for is the emotional impact. It's as if someone is telling you that the structure of life as we know it is being altered in ways that will wipe out life as we know it.

It's one thing to pollute the environment. It's another to alter its living building blocks in order to make us all prisoners of large corporations bent on controlling everything we grow and eat. The film does present alternatives toward the end; but frankly it's not enough to lift the pall that develops during the first part of the film. Still, I think it's essential viewing for those concerned about genetically modified foods. It will shake anyone with an open mind out of his or her complacency.

Now, for those who oppose the appropriation and pollution of the genetic commons, it's important to see that we can win. To that end I list here reasons I think genetically modified crops are doomed to fail. Those crops will do a lot of damage in the meantime, but we shouldn't at all feel that our efforts in opposing them will be in vain. The industry wants us to think this way so that we will be passive and give up. Here's my list:

1. The genetically modified seed companies have managed to enrage large numbers of consumers, farmers and activitists and many government officials worldwide. (The companies can purchase the necessary government officials the United States to do their bidding, but this is very much more difficult to do in places like Japan and the European Union.)

2. GMO crops are designed to provide profits and benefits ONLY to the companies that make them. The consumer gets nothing except the risks and the farmer gets nothing except slavery to the seed corporation. This is hardly the way to endear yourself to your customers. The revolt is in progress and growing.

3. Genetic research is enabling us to produce all the traits we want in crops through traditional breeding techniques. Much of the work being done is unpatentable. Patentable work done by foundations in this area will likely have an "open source" license attached that prevents anyone from ever appropriating the work for their own exclusive profit. Why get your seeds from Monsanto when you can get ones that will do everything you want and more, and you can save your seeds to boot?

4. GMO crops are designed to be heavily dependent on petrochemically-based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Monsanto's Roundup comes to mind. As oil and gas deplete, the cost of raising GMO crops will skyrocket. Ultimately, it will be cheaper to go organic.

5. Maybe we'll get lucky, and all of these developments will destroy the GMO seed industry before any truly gargantuan catastrophe occurs. I am not hopeful on this count. Testing in the United States is voluntary, and all of that testing is done under the auspices of the seed corporations. Every day people have allergic reactions, some of them severe, without knowing whether they might be linked to GMO foods. Some GMO foods such as Starlink corn have been linked to such allergies. For now the problems appear to be amorphous and dispersed. But it seems inevitable that a huge public health crisis which involves perhaps thousands of deaths directly traceable to GMO foods will occur before those crops are completely discredited and abandoned. These people will end up being the largest known group sacrificed on the GMO altar. But such an event would wake up the world once and for all to the dangers of transgenic crops. From there it will be all downhill for the GMO seed companies.

The fight against GMO crops is a fight we can win. There have already been many casualities, and it grieves me to say that there will probably be many more before these crops are vanquished. That's why we have to press all the harder starting now, confident that the factors I've mentioned will ultimately put the wind at our backs.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

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