Slowly, Towards a Genetically Modified Biosphere
by Steve Sprinkle
We can begin with the premise that even if you don’t abhor the notion of genetically modified agriculture, you may have heard enough to be wary, doubtful. The novel biology is now so ubiquitous and by and large therefore passively accepted, that most consumers have every reason to be concerned even while consuming the products randomly, anonymously. Options are diminishing. Organic has been tainted for a decade, especially US domestic production.
For the past twenty years, a carefully orchestrated strategy designed to assure continued corporate supremacy in the trading of global food and fiber commodities has played out rather successfully for the proponents of genetically modified agriculture. A partnership between private and public organizations, like the Monsanto Corporation and the United States Department of Agriculture ( patent co-owner), transnational operations like Syngenta and cloaked authorities like the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, has succeeded in covering a great deal of the arable land on the planet with artificially , frequently transgenic, modified crops.
Nominally objective and purportedly neutral authorities, like the US Department of Justice, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization (UN), The US Food and Drug Administration, and the European Commission, have been overwhelmed by the power inherent to the commercial/regulatory consortium brokering the adoption of GMO agriculture. Decades ago, leaders in agribusiness recognized that the future of biotech was so immense it could rival and surpass the commercial value of petroleum. Since then they have worked to make it so.
The technology was promoted as the means to end world hunger, make food more affordable, greatly diminish the use of agricultural chemicals, and deliver target nutrients like Vitamin A efficiently. Twenty years later, more people are starving, commodities are more expensive to buy and to produce and the most significant GMO introduction obligates the farmer to use a chemical in order to derive the intended benefits.
Crops for livestock were easier for Biotech proponents to gain approval, and those crops dominate the agricultural landscape. 95% of all the soybeans are GMO and most of the corn as well, and are fed to livestock. GMO Cotton predominates on millions of acres worldwide, frequently with deficient production. Now more food crops, like sugar beets, and crops of significant land use ( alfalfa) have recently been released.
Government has pretended to provide oversight. The rampant results can indicate nothing else. The WTO and the multinational trade agreements that serve as its foundation create brave new economic rules that negate established, sane regulations under which individual nations have functioned, for example, to protect themselves from invasive species. When it comes to corn and Mexico, when US grown GMO corn started pouting into Mexico, millions of small farmers there were devastated. The notion of bias is immaterial: to raise an argument about conflict of interest is futile. It is like having a mafia don run the FBI. The program is such a done deal that real research on human health has never been truthfully contemplated. Environmental contamination, compromised crop genetics, a massive increase in herbicides, anti-trust and monopoly implications are generally ignored. Reports are given, research is provided and hand-wringing ensues, but expecting an outcome that mandates caution is naïve.
Control is pervasive, entrenched, compelling. Major party politics indicate no difference in perspective. New permissions are just as likely to be granted by Democrats as Republicans. Former Monsanto executive Michael Taylor now serves as the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods. Former Monsanto Vice President and current DuPont executive Linda Fisher has served as a Deputy Administrator at the EPA. Mickey Kantor is a former Secretary of the Commerce Department and is on the Monsanto board of directors. Biotech industry employees are scattered throughout the regulatory field in the public sector. They shepherd, protect and promote the industry from within. Objectivity has scant chance where decisions are made at the highest level.
You’re eating it because Biotech proponents convinced regulators that GMO crops were “ equivalent” to conventionally bred crops. The word encapsulates one of the most deft examples of intentional regulatory ignorance. A universe of potential research and evaluation evaporated once the false legitimacy of “equivalency” was cast in stone.
The two soybean plants appeared alike, but one contained the DNA of another species and was resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, by far now the most commonly used agricultural chemical. Perhaps 200 million pounds of the chemical are used every year world-wide. Monsanto developed it, still sells most of it under the trade name Roundup, and has a host of patented food crops bred to survive application of glyphosate. After Monsanto purchased the vegetable seed company Seminis a number of years ago, a line of Roundup-resistant vegetables, such as carrots, lettuce and spinach was created. These crops wait in the wings, ready to be released once consumer disaffection has been systematically worn down.
The Biotech Revolution was designed as an avalanche, yet a number of challenging strategists have been able halt the crush. Jeffrey Smith ( Institute for Responsible Technology), Andrew Kimbrell ( Center for Food Safety) and Mark Kastell, Will Fantle and Charlotte Vallaeys (Cornucopia Institute), among many valiant associates, have been successful occasionally in slowing but never halting the domination. Biotech foods entirely do not contaminate the dinner plate because of those few organizations and activists have been able to hinder the broader acceptance of transgenics in human food crops. A current key flanking maneuver has been launched by the Public Patent Foundation who filed suit in the spring of 2011 “ on behalf of 270,000 people from sixty organic and sustainable businesses and trade associations, including thousands of certified-organic farmers.”*
The real power to curtail and roll back the GMO flood lies with consumers. The organic food movement is, for example, such a stellar miracle because it is consumer driven. Japan told the US and Canadian wheat growers that if they switched to GMO wheat, Japan would not buy it. Since Japan buys 40% of the North American wheat crop, GMO wheat was not grown. The wheat people knew that the entire crop would be contaminated eventually. When the USDA’s National Organic Program was first proposed thirteen years ago, officials suggested that GMO crops could be permitted. Nearly three hundred thousand consumers said NO. Most of southern Italy has been declared a “ GMO Free Nature Park.” Huge swaths of Europe are GMO-free sanctuaries. The entire island of Hokkaido in Japan, all 32,000 square miles is GMO free.
If you don’t want it, stop buying it.
When you get an opportunity to influence the food business, writing a letter to a processor who probably has GMO ingredients in their “almost 100% organic” sauce, or educating a store manager, or telling a agriculture committee member of your state delegation to the US House or Representatives, or creating an all-organic lifestyle for yourself…you probably get the picture. We still can win.
Steve Sprinkle and his wife own and operate Farmer and the Cook in Meiners Oaks. He writes for Acres USA among other publications.