Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 23, 2005

GM Bullshit

Gen manipulated corn is save. It is thoroughly tested. The controls are strict. There are self regulating elements in the industry that will not fail. The government strictly controls the gen companies and will inform the public immediately in case any irregularities occur.

You do believe this bullshit? Here is news:

US admits GM crop cock-up

A US biotech company has admitted that several hundred tonnes of non-approved GM corn produced from its seed have been sold over the past four years. The Bt10 seed was planted accidently instead of the Bt11 variety, and although developer Syngenta says that its admission of the error to US regulators last year confirms that monitoring procedures are effective, critics claim the opposite.
Since late 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture - the bodies jointly responsible for GM regulation - have been in talks with Syngenta as to how best to deal with the error, and "how and when information should be released to the public". Regarding said release, the US administration is reported to have taken a keen interest in the damage-limitation procedure.

That the White House is also involved comes as no surprise, given that the US and EU are enjoying an ongoing punch-up over GM crops. Bt11 was approved for importation into the EU in 1998, and the US hopes it will become one of the first GM crops for widespread cultivation across the Pond. Syngenta declined, however, to say whether Bt10 had inadvertantly landed on European shores, or indeed to list any countries to which it may have been exported.

This was no accident and this was a massive cover up, but aside from that, the problem is different.

For thousands of years farmers have saved some of their fruits to seed them the next year. They selected the best looking, the best tasting, the most profitable crops for this. To the GM-industry this is a problem as the can sell their product only once. So they make their seeds impotent. Thereby it is impossible for a farmer to uses the crops from their seeds to use these as seeds in the next planting period. They simply will not grow.

There is no necessity for this plant behavior. Gen manipulated crops may be useful to harden seeds, for example, against salt in the ground. We will probably need such crops to prevent future mass starvation, even if there are some negative issues with them.

But the impotence of the crop is an additional gene manipulated "feature" with the sole purpose of monopolizing the markets. It is not needed to add other desirable qualities to these plants. It is dangerous for the population if, for whatever reason, such seeds may not be available for a planting season. There will be no alternatives if only impotent crops have been grown.

There is resistance to such schemes. But this can be broken. Just conquer the worlds early bread chamber and change the laws for Plant Variety Protection. This wording is  of course pure newspeak as the law is forbidding the thousands of years old diverse selection process of the Iraqi farmers and mandating to buy from the GM monopolies.

Breaking laws in cooperation with the government and not to inform the growers and consumers about accidents is just another way to avoid resistance.

Posted by b on March 23, 2005 at 19:31 UTC | Permalink


Todays WaPo story on the issue:
Syngenta Says It Sold Wrong Biotech Corn

and the Nature story that seems to be the first one:
US launches probe into sales of unapproved transgenic corn

Posted by: b | Mar 23 2005 20:25 utc | 1

It's also a good thing that these GM seeds won't reproduce. I know that farmers are further indebted by terminating seeds.

However, I'm more concerned about bizarro genes infecting normal plants. I would be very happy if these Frankenwheats killed themselves off.

Posted by: citizen | Mar 23 2005 20:34 utc | 2

"I know that farmers are further indebted by terminating seeds." sorry - but what does this mean exactly?

I wonder how much control the companies have over their GM seeds. Are they all genetic clones? Anyone care to provide insight as to how such things are created in quantity?

Posted by: aschweig | Mar 23 2005 20:46 utc | 3

Sorry aschweig. I read last year about new laws in Iraq requiring farmers to buy their seeds from specific sources, big companies like Archer Daniels Midland. I am quite sure many of these farmers had to buy seeds that will only produce one generation. Which means those farmers will have to pay cash money to buy seeds every years as long as they are not given affordable access to normal seeds.

Other farmers outside of Iraq are going through this too. Farms can make a living for families as long as they buy as little as possible for cash. Once they have to buy even their seeds with cash (rather than keeping the best ones form last year) they are screwed, on the way to expensive debt if not already sinking in it. The alternative is factory agriculture - which makes money till it finishes creating a desert. Sustainable farming only works when it can get mostly off the cash grid.

So terminating seeds indebt farmers and ruin farms.

Posted by: citizen | Mar 23 2005 21:06 utc | 4

There are oh so many layers of BS in the attempt at forcible marketing of GM cultivars. It is quite a deli sandwich, or a Damascene blade if you like a more poetic and dangerous metaphor.

One is the claim that these crops offer any kind of cost-advantage to farmers. In fact they have so far>produced lower yields at higher costs [PDF] than conventional, iteratively-selected cultivars.>The industry is in trouble [PDF] which may explain some of its flailing.

Another is the attempt to use the uncontrolled dissemination of these "patented gene sequences" to acquire legal bully-power over farmers, using intelprop law to coerce tribute from farming families or from third world countries (i.e. India, Africa, Iraq). The intelprop claim and its implications are discussed>here by E Ann Clark, scientist and farmer (pdf papers cited above). The Terminator technology to which B refers above is just one facet of this attempt to command and control all agricultural activity. By prohibiting seed saving the agribiz corps hope to lock farmers worldwide into the same abject cycle of overcapitalisation and indebtedness that has destroyed US family farming. The end goal imho is to reduce all farmers to sharecropper status, or to buy up the land of bankrupt farmers at fire sale prices and consolidate a complete corporate monopoly over food production and distribution. [Google for Percy Schmeiser...]

Another layer of BS is the claim that these intelprop "rights" can/should be asserted over the genetic assay of crops that have been optimised over millennia by the patient labour of generations of peasant farmers throughout the third world. This is not morally dissimilar to the situation where someone on a bus sneaks a skin sample from your kid, analyzes it for genomic info, and then claims that their ability to do this analysis means they own your kid and you now have to pay them royalties, and your kid will owe them more royalties when s/he in turn has a kid.

Yet another layer of BS is the disingenuous and ill-supported claim that these GM crops are "safe". As Douglas Adams wrote, this is clearly some new meaning of the word "safe" of which I was previously unaware. Further immiseration of farmers worldwide is anything but safe, in terms of the food security of billions of people. Further, among the broken promises of the gene-vandals is the lie that e.g. Monsanto's "roundup ready" crops would save farmers money by reducing the amount of herbicide used -- they are quite obviously engineered to encourage massive overuse of glyphosate, and no wonder since Monsanto also owns the patent on that. Glyphosate overuse has been associated with increased incidence of fusarium, a serious soil disease. A fusarium outbreak is no joke.

Engineering the signature of Bt Th into cultivars means that it gets expressed in pollen, which then exposes all pollinating insects to this natural pesticide. Impacts on e.g. monarch populations have been studied and are disturbing. Latest results from> the only substantial field testing of GM I know of (in the UK --- no such open/public testing has ever been done in the US) are negative:>the GM ag paradigm is hazardous to beneficial flora and fauna on farm land.

Aside from messing with essential populations of pollinators and soil organisms without which agriculture fails, there is the issue of gene transfer to non-target flora or fauna. For example, if the gene sequences that encourage glyphosate resistance migrate into weed species on which farmers are using glyphosate, then so-called "super weeds" are produced which invalidate the whole herbicide regimen on which the roundup-ready scam was based. This of course leaves the biotech boys in a strong position to claim that they, and only they, can pull the next high-tech rabbit out of the hat and "save us" -- from the consequences of their own cupidity and our stupidity in trusting them the first time around. In the animal realm, what if GM salmon engineered for higher growth rates (10x normal has been claimed) escaped into the wild> Tank tests indicate that they successfully kill and eat normal salmon, but they themselves are allegedly engineered to be sterile. One or two might not make a dent, but a serious release (thanks to flooding from extreme weather perhaps?) might release enough to decimate natural salmon populations. If they are not in fact sterile (gee, the biotech boys have never, ever lied to us, have they?) then they might well usurp the normal salmon's place on the food chain.

And we have not even talked yet about any possible direct risks of ingestion, the potential for allergic or toxic reactions to foreign proteins or other inclusions embedded in heretofore innocuous foodstuff.>Arpad Puzstai whose research suggested possible dietary deficiencies or toxicities arising in lab rats fed GM potatoes, has effectively been blackballed and driven out of the British scientific establishment. Whether he is truly a crank who produced sloppy results, or a lone whistleblower who will be vindicated in the end, remains to be seen; the bottom line was that the official UK position at the time was pro-GM (obedient to the Cousins as always) and dissenting views had to be marginalised if the biotech boys were to force their products on a skeptical public. Arpad had to be discredited, and he was.

One more pungent whiff of BS in this whole sorry affair (tens of millions of taxpayer and private dollars wasted!) is the repeated claim that the biotech boys are "only trying to help," that they are providing miracles to an ungrateful world dominated by stupid Luddites who selfishly wish to deprive humanity of the wonder-crops that will eliminate hunger and malnutrition (also halitosis, the heartbreak of psoriasis, and traffic jams I am sure). The big hoo-ha over Golden Rice was a good example. This "vitamin A enriched" rice could "solve the problem of widespread juvenile vision impairment" in poor third world countries, yeah right. A regular serving of dark leafy greens would do it far better. To get enough vit A for therapeutic purposes, the average third world kid would have to eat more Golden Rice per diem than the impoverished parents could possibly afford, enough to render the kid both obese and permanently constipated.

Even if scientists reach this goal, a woman would need to eat 16 lbs. of cooked rice every day in order to get sufficient Vitamin A, if golden rice were her only source of the nutrient. A child would need 12 lbs. More realistically, three servings of ½ lb. cooked golden rice per day would provide only 10% of her daily Vitamin A requirement, and less than 6% if she were breast-feeding.
(By the way, the biotech boys have not got a variety of GR that actually grows outside temperate climates -- so much for the Third World, much of whose poverty sore-spots are tropical and subtropical.) The implication (that poor people are too stupid to eat their veggies) is racist and insulting, particularly coming from the mad Taylorists whose "green revolution," herbicides and monocultural practises -- plus diversion of agricultural productivity to cash crops for Western consumption, plus enclosure and displacement of peasant farmers, plus dumping of low-grade Western junk food on third world populations -- has disrupted and improverished local food economies throughout the third world.
A pre-school child’s daily requirement of vitamin A can be met with just two tablespoons of yellow sweet potatoes, half a cup of dark green leafy vegetables, or two-thirds of a medium-sized mango. And unlike golden rice, these vegetables supply other micronutrients as well.

GM ag is the biggest effin' scam since the Pet Rock -- just as absurd but far more sinister. Its only purpose is to extend intelprop Enclosure into the biotic realm and give the legal, technomanagerial and investor classes total monopoly control over agriculture. I agree wholeheartedly with EAC (liberally cited above because she is a damn good writer as well as an expert) that GM ag is a high-tech bandaid applied to an agricultural system so deeply dysfunctional that trying to keep it going is stupider and more expensive than rethinking it from the ground [ahem] up.

Even if golden rice is successfully developed, many question whether it is an efficient use of scarce public funds. An educational project in Bangladesh begun in 1993 by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has helped landless families develop home gardens with vitamin A-rich crops such as beans and pumpkins. This successful program grew to involve at least three million people by 1998. A public education campaign in Thailand that utilized radio, posters and street theater taught farmers the advantages of growing the ivy gourd, another good source of vitamin A. A project in the Jiangsu province of China has helped spawn a huge increase in rice/aquaculture systems, which resulted in 10-15% increases in rice yields and, more importantly, 750 kg of fish per hectare of rice paddy. The fish also helped reduce the incidence of malaria by consuming mosquito larvae.

There are innumerable small-scale projects such as these throughout the developing world, only we rarely hear about them. And they don’t get nearly the amount of funding that they deserve. According to Hans Herren, Director of the Kenyan-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, "half of Rockefeller’s agricultural money now goes to biotechnology." Herren, recipient of the World Food Prize in 1995, helped avert famine in Africa through introduction of a natural predator that eliminated a serious cassava pest. And this elegant solution didn’t cost farmers anything. One must wonder how many other low-tech, sustainable, people-centered solutions to hunger and malnutrition go unfunded thanks to government and biotech industry obsession with the hugely expensive technology of genetic engineering.>[pull quotes from a FoE summary paper]

Yes, this is a rant, major rant, megarant. Sorry about the length of this post but B barely scratched the surface of this lunacy. imho this is the Tulip Craze of our time, combined with the last chapter of Conquest and Enclosure. The GM scam is truly obscene -- vast resources being diverted to a frivolous display ot technical tinkering in search of a market to rip off, while the most essential and cost-effective ways of restoring food security to hungry people go unfunded and unmentioned.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 23 2005 21:18 utc | 5

Thank you DeAnander. Every paragraph is a gold mine here, and I've just barely peeked at the links (excellent, and very encouraging if the pharmaceuticals really do let biotech sink on its own). I'll be munching on this barsnack for a while.

Posted by: citizen | Mar 23 2005 21:47 utc | 6

Fully agree with citizen. Thanks, DeA (and Bernhard for touching the right spot).
So far, I have only looked up "Pet Rock," the hot gift of Christmas 1975, as I have learned.

Posted by: teuton | Mar 23 2005 21:53 utc | 7

Thanks also, for all your effort, DeAnander. Hey, teuton, wait till you get to the chia pet!

Geeez. No more salmon?

Posted by: beq | Mar 24 2005 0:21 utc | 8

that was quite the hectic lunch break, folks :-) thanks for the kind words... pls forgive typos... type in haste, repent at leisure...

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 24 2005 0:23 utc | 9>here is a rather dry, legalistic view of the issues raised by the latest corn feedstock contamination fiasco (btw this is not the first incident of its kind -- google for "Starlink corn contamination" and I think you will find some history circa '98, '99...).

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 24 2005 0:28 utc | 10

if you like salmon you should have been around in these parts in the 19th century. Skilled farm hands usually got in their contracts (which included food) that they would be served other food than salmon at least 3 times a week. Those were dirt poor days and those who could fled to America, but at least when there was enough food to go around, they did have good food.

Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Mar 24 2005 0:59 utc | 11

in these times article Plowing for Profits - U.S. agribusiness eyes Iraq’s fledgling markets

Posted by: b real | Mar 24 2005 4:14 utc | 12

If anyone read the Guardian art. De cited above - which has better political information but less scientific info. than one in the current Enviro. Section of the Independent - it's clear that the EU is a bad idea now when the Pirates are in control. (Anything that puts governance at a further remove makes it that much easier for the Pirates to Hijack.) Although the tests in Britain showed conclusively that genetically mutilated organisms are a disaster - though you'd have to be brain dead to even need to test the "idea" of having zero respect for Evolution (putting fish genes in strawberries......get serious) - it's going to be shoved down everyone else's throat over there:

"The European commission will today reluctantly give the go-ahead for other GM seeds and plants to be used commercially in Europe and demand that Austria, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Greece lift national bans."

That's insane. If the French haven't murdered Jose Bove yet, there's hope. If millions of Euros turn out to demonstrate opposition to Iraq, I hope they consider this equally worthy of massive demonstrations...

Posted by: jj | Mar 24 2005 6:02 utc | 13

@ A swedish kind of death | March 23, 2005 07:59 PM

"Those were dirt poor days and those who could fled to America..." That is why I am here and not there. :-(

Posted by: beq | Mar 24 2005 10:49 utc | 14

BTW>this article has popped up at the appropriate moment... a fairly comprehensive tour of the false promises and high risks of GMO ag.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 27 2005 1:01 utc | 15>Coverup -- US/UK in cahoots to obfuscate whereabouts of 170,000 tonnes of contaminated GM maize

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 1 2005 21:28 utc | 16

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