by Mat McDermott
January 27, 2012
In the past few days a number of
interesting articles have been circulating, all discussing
genetically modified crops and starkly different versions of the
future of food.
One one hand we have the state of
affairs in the US.
On the other we have the future
would like to manifest in Africa, all in the supremely
laudable goal of reducing poverty and hunger, which looks an awful
like the current situation in America.
It's not a pretty picture, for people, for farmers, for the planet.
First, in an excellent and
frankly a bit depressing
article for Mother Jones,
Tom Philpott says that agriculture in the US is at a
We (in the form of the USDA) say yes to Dow Chemical and
Monsanto and their "herbicide-drenched" version of intensive
agriculture. Or, if introduction of a new GM corn variety
designed to be resistant to herbicide-resistant weeds can be
stopped, "farming in the US heartland" can be pushed toward a
model based on biodiversity over monocropping, farmer skill
in place of brute chemicals, and health food instead of
This new GM corn variety is a joint project between Dow and
Monsanto, containing resistance to different varieties of
herbicide. It's hoped it will overcome this resistance by
dousing crops with two different herbicides, each targeting
weeds that are resistant to the other, and the corn being
resistant to both.
I specifically use the word
'hope' because the hope of Dow and Monsanto is that they
will be able to stay one step ahead of the superweeds they
hope don't develop, as plants develop resistance to high
doses of herbicide.
I'll leave it to Philpott and his eloquent exposition of
why, ultimately, this hope is likely to result in
Environmental Health News
highlights the failed hope of GM crop developers: That these
proprietary crops will stay where they are planted and not
somehow spread beyond the fields they are planted.
Such spread has been documented for a while, but this latest
is some pretty stark detail:
Throughout North Dakota,
little yellow flowers dot thousands of miles of
roadsides. These canola plants, found along most major
trucking routes, look harmless.
But they are fueling a
controversy: They prove that large numbers of
genetically modified plants have escaped from farm
fields and are now growing wild.
About 80 percent of canola
growing along roadsides in North Dakota contains genes
that have been modified to make the plants resistant to
I'll state it again:
80% of canola growing along North
Dakota roadways actually contains genetically modified genes.
Eighty percent. It was hoped this
That's a snapshot of where we are in the US. And it's where
Bill Gates hopes Africa will
head, bringing us to the third point.
We've covered the
Gates vision of African agriculture
before, so suffice it to say that Gates, invested in Monsanto,
supports a high-tech vision of agriculture, rather than the
low-tech, affordable, diverse, climate-resistant, and
just-as-productive vision supported explicitly by food activists,
and less-vocally but essentially by the UN as well.
told the AP (in the latter's
"he finds it ironic that most people
who oppose genetic engineering in plant breeding live in rich
nations that he believes are responsible for global climate
change that will lead to more starvation and malnutrition for
Resistance to new technology is 'again hurting the
people who nothing to do with climate change happening,' Gates
That "most people" who oppose GM crops
live in rich nations is a dubious assumption at best. In fact, some
of the most vocal critics of GM crops come from the Global South.
GM Watch has just gone into more
detail on this point, that people in developing nations want
genetically modified crops.
In 1998, African scientists at a
United Nations conference strongly objected to Monsanto’s
promotional GE campaign that used photos of starving African
children under the headline "Let the Harvest Begin."
The scientists, who represented many
of the nations affected by poverty and hunger, said gene
technologies would undermine the nations’ capacities to feed
themselves by destroying established diversity, local knowledge
and sustainable agricultural systems.
Developing nations also object to seed patents, which give
biotech firms the power to criminalize the age-old practice of
seed-saving as "patent infringement."
Thousands of U.S. farmers have been
forced to pay Monsanto tens of millions of dollars in damages
for the "crime" of saving seed.
Loss of the right to save seed
through the introduction of patented GE crops could prove
disastrous for the 1.4 billion farmers in developing nations who
depend on farm-saved seed.
My hope in all this is that both Africa
and the United States steer a different course than the one
advocated by Gates, Monsanto, Dow, and their ilk.
I give Gates the benefit of the doubt in
regards to motivation. His desire to reduce poverty, hunger, disease
is no doubt genuine.
his absurd statements on climate change
and renewable energy, his focus on high-tech agriculture, and
technological development in general - when clearly a less high-tech
approach would be just as or even more effective - is just
It's understandable, given Gates'
background, but it's still delusional. Part of that delusion is not
realizing that for opposition to GM crops often doesn't stem from
opposition to new technology at all.
It's most often opposition to this
specific technology, as well as genuine concern about corporate
control of food through that technology.