Monsanto says "Bend Over," Whole Foods says "Here's the Vaseline..."

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Monsanto logo
This is an old style study skills summary of an article Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, wrote for the Huffington Post. I urge you to read the original. But here's the short version, laid out with headings and sub-headings, for easy skimming.

 

Whole Foods logo

 

 

 

Thesis: Organic Elites Surrender to Monsanto

 

Who's doing this? Reps from

-Whole Foods Market

-Organic Valley

        -Stonyfield Farm

 

What exactly are they doing?

-recommending the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically engineered herbicide resistant alfalfa

-recommending co-existence with GE crops in general

-which don't require pre-market safety testing

-and don't need to be labelled

-calling for public oversight of GE crops

-to make Monsanto dish out hush money to farmers with contaminated crops

-despite federal judges having repeatedly ruled that government oversight on this issue is a joke

 

Why is this bad? Because this will

-spread mutant genes and seeds across the US

-contaminate organic alfalfa fed to organic animals

-increase the use of the herbicide Roundup, also a Monsanto product, thus

-poisoning farm workers

-a Swedish study shows Roundup doubles farm workers' cancer risk

-adding toxins to the soil food web

-leading to the evolution of Roundup resistant super-weeds

-which'll need even more toxic herbicides, like 2,4 D

 

Why are they doing this? Because

-the CEOs of Whole Foods and Stonyfield

-are friends with Tom Vilsack

-Secretary of the USDA

-formerly governor of Iowa

-Whole Foods and Stonyfield made contributions to his election campaigns

-he travelled the campaign trail in a Monsanto corporate jet

-are tired of petitions, activist pressure, boycotts

-believe the battle against GMOs has been lost and are willing to take coexistence as the only consolation prize

-even though the EU has mandatory GMO labelling laws, and pretty much no GMOs

-because consumers don't trust or want GMOs

*****-two thirds of Whole Foods' $9 billion in annual revenue comes from selling "natural" foods

-which sounds like "organic," but isn't

-most "natural" meat, dairy and eggs from from factory farm animals raised on a GMO diet

-many customers don't appreciate the difference between "natural" and "organic"

-Whole Foods has made no attempt to make the difference clear

-so customers pay premium prices for "natural" foods

-"ch-ching!" says Whole Foods

-"hey, how come no one's buying my stuff anymore?" says the organic farmer/ rancher

 

What Can We Do? Go Local

-Don't wait for the US federal government to do the right thing

-the US Supreme Court recently granted corporations & billionaires the right to spend as much as they want (anonymously) on advertising and campaign contributions

-Clarence Thomas, former chief counsel for Monsanto, cast one of the decisive votes

-Pressure your local retail stores (including Whole Foods) to label their products

-Pressure your local government reps to push for GMO and CAFO labelling laws

-Sign various petitions, which Cummins links to at the end of his article, which you can get to by clicking here.

 

Test on Wednesday.

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26 comments

  • Comment Link naturegirl Tuesday, 21 February 2012 02:39 posted by naturegirl

    The Huffington Post article says "the CEO of Whole Foods" but doesn't mention a name. The Center for World Spirituality lists John Mackey, Chairman and CEO of Whole Foods as its Chair. Is this the person being referred to in the article?

    http://www.ievolve.org/leadership/

    ...about halfway down the pag

  • Comment Link Jonas Tuesday, 21 February 2012 22:07 posted by Jonas

    Hey, thank you for the update on Monsanto and Whole Foods... However, I'm not so into the whole metaphor of your title (that receptive anal sex is compromising or humiliating).

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 21 February 2012 22:08 posted by TJ Dawe

    According to the wikipedia entry on John Mackey, he's not at the top anymore:

    On December 24, 2009, Mackey resigned from the position of Chairman of the Board of Whole Foods Market. On his blog he said, "John Elstrott will now take the title of Chairman of the Board, which will accurately reflect the authority and the responsibilities that he has had for many years."

    This is corroborated on Whole Foods' website: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company/leadership_board.php

    so John Elstrott would be the man.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 21 February 2012 22:14 posted by TJ Dawe

    Jonas - fair point. What I was going for was more to illustrate the complicity between Monsanto and Whole Foods. Actually, priority number one was catching the reader's eye in the busy marketplace of Facebook and Twitter. I'm open to suggestions on improving the title. I certainly don't want to imply there's anything wrong with consensual anal sex.

  • Comment Link nature girl Wednesday, 22 February 2012 00:21 posted by nature girl

    Thanks for clarifying, TJ.

  • Comment Link Jonas Wednesday, 22 February 2012 20:46 posted by Jonas

    Hi TJ,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond and for clarifying. I do very much appreciate the effort you've taken to illustrate complicity between Monsanto and Whole Foods.

    I suppose I am in general quite sensitive to sexual metaphors, not because there's anything inherently wrong with them, but in how they can reveal either any projected (unmet) needs of their authors, or else they reveal my own projected fears and sensitivities as I impute their authors' meaning upon them.

    In this case, I have no innovative or catchy alternative suggestions. other than a call for consideration. Any chance you've read Robert Augustus Masters' piece "Eros Undressed"? -->http://robertmasters.com/ESSAY-pages/eros.htm

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 23 February 2012 23:41 posted by TJ Dawe

    Jonas - I hadn't read that piece, but wow. I'll have to check out more of his stuff. Sr. Chela's quotes Masters a few times in this Beams article "Those Crazy Bitches" - http://www.beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/680-those-crazy-bitches

    Language, especially as it reveals psychology, is a particular interest of mine. As George Carlin pointed out, we think in language. Language reveals thought. My primary career is in writing and performing monologues. The show I toured in 2008 was titled Maxim & Cosmo, and looked at the myriad ways women get the short end of the stick. There was a big section devoted to language, particularly swear words, and how they reveal a deep anti-body and anti-woman bias.

    So I'd be lying if I claimed to have been entirely ignorant of the ramifications of the somewhat sensationalistic title I chose for this piece. It capitalizes - somewhat - on the unpleasant currency of homophobia in our culture in order to hook more readers.

    But discussing this makes me wonder why the image is immediately sinister. Why shouldn't the personifications of two giant, powerful corporations have perfectly pleasant consensual anal sex? Why should those personifications automatically be male? If the title was "Monsanto says 'take off your panties' Whole Foods says 'Here's a condom'" - why does that create so much different of a picture? Actually, what kind of a picture does that conjure? Monsanto's still in the power position, issuing a command.

    And to split this hair even finer - why is it automatically Monsanto and Whole Foods having sex with each other? Monsanto could be telling you the reader, or you the consumer, to bend over, and Whole Foods could be offering you the Vaseline.

    This is what happens when you tease apart the possible meanings of a phrase that popped into your head.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Friday, 24 February 2012 07:07 posted by Bergen Vermette

    well this thread took a surprising topical turn. interesting observation Jonas.

    like TJ I was oblivious to any compromising or humiliating undertones of the title, but can see what you're point to. It'd be cool to hear your thoughts, if it interests you, on another thread, Are Rape Jokes Funny?

    http://beamsandstruts.com/bits-a-pieces/item/638-are-rape-jokes-funny?

    As I said over there, it seems that male rape jokes are generally acceptable in society, whereas female rape jokes most certainly are not (in good taste anyhow). This eye-grabbing title of TJs plays off this reality it seems. Now whether that's okay or not is entirely another can of worms (as you've rightly opened here). But it's just an interesting observation that as a society, we seem to be generally okay with this contradiction (male rape, ha-ha. female rape, no-no.).

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Friday, 24 February 2012 07:36 posted by Bergen Vermette

    okay so i really came over here to out myself and stir the pot a little.

    I'm fully in support of GE technology and GE foods and GE crops.

    There. I said it. Let my lynching begin!

    In the case of TJs post, I think that we'd be well off to make some distinctions between the GE technology itself, and companies like Monsanto that operate under (or without) a certain ethics.

    GE is not Monsanto. What Monsanto does is usually pretty self serving, often despicable, and always good for an angry facebook posting. But GE, like many technologies is a wide open field of possibilities - many of which are dangerous, but many of which are very inspiring, hopeful, and frankly, much needed.

    I'm in the middle of writing a few articles for Beams right now that speak to these points and more. And will post 'em up when they're done. In the meantime, if anyone cares to, a few reasonable folks I'd recommend checking out are:
    (and by reasonable, I mean not fully radicalized on either side of the GE debate)

    Stewart Brand: Founder of Whole Earth Catalogue, environmentalist, 60s icon. Wrote a recent book, Whole Earth Discipline: an ecopragmatist's manifesto. Takes a balanced view of GE. very readable. enjoyable. lots of good quotes and links.

    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2009/10/15/stewart-brand-whole-earth-discipline/

    Mark Lynas: environmentalist and climatologist. used to vandalize GE crops with his buddies and famously threw a pie in the face of "climate denier" Bjorn Lomborg. has begun thinking differently on GE lately, often to great dismay of his old buddies. his blog is informative and readable.

    http://www.marklynas.org/?s=GMO (this is the search results for GMO)

    Tomorrow's Table: very good introductory book written by a husband and wife team. husband is an organic farmer of 30yrs. wife is an award winning biotechnologist, working mainly on GE rice for developing countries. they offer a very balanced and insightful approach, including cool twists like cooking recipes that consciously mix organic and GE foods. I liked their call for permaculture based GE.

    http://www.amazon.ca/Tomorrows-Table-Marriage-Genetic-Engineering/dp/0195301757

    lastly a couple of (what I think are) inspiring quotes from GE proponents:

    "A new generation of artists, writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses, might create an abundance of new flowers and fruit and trees and birds to enrich the ecology of our planet. Most of these artists would be amateurs, but they would be in close touch with science, like the poets of the earlier Age of Wonder."

    Freeman Dyson, physicist and mathematician, and all-around cool thinker

    "The canvas of life itself is the new instrument of aesthetic design... What might we create with it? We use the alphabet to engender alphabetic rapture with Shakespear, what are we going to make with life?"
    Jason Silva, Journalist and filmmaker

    "Our decisions about agriculture and conservation need to be based on outcome measures that relate to land use, water use, water quality, human health and wildlife habitat. Sometimes conservation-friendly agriculture will entail GMOs, and sometimes it will entail organic farming. We should follow the data, not our prejudice."

    Peter Kareiva, chief scientist at the nature conservatory

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Friday, 24 February 2012 23:48 posted by TJ Dawe

    Br. Bergen, I await these articles of yours with eagerness. Same with reading the articles your various links will take me to.

    And thank you for bringing up the very important point that GE and Monsanto are not one and the same. I firmly believe that no technology is inherently good or bad.

    The equivalence is easy to make, though, because GE crops are the result of a fair bit of scientific research and development, so they're the product of big corporations who stand to make a lot of money from them, and because they stand to make a lot of money from them, certain considerations are liable to being blurred or ignored.

    So a few questions to ask in regard to GE crops:

    -how much pre-market testing have they undergone?

    -how much influence do their purveyors have with the institutions that approve them?

    -is there any way to administer government oversight that isn't a joke?

    -is there any way to discern their long-term impact on human health (scientists recommended the hydrogenation of margarine for decades before discovering it's carcinogenic)?

    -is there any way to discern their long-term impact on the environment?

    -does genetic engineering result in effects like those described in Cummin's article, where more toxic herbicides and pesticides are added to the soil, upsetting the food web, and spurring the evolution of stronger weeds and bugs?

    -is there any way to keep GE crops from contaminating non-GE crops, given that seeds are blown in the wind?

    -will corporations like Monsanto continue to sue organic farmers whose crops have been contaminated with GE seeds from neighbouring farms, and win?

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Sunday, 26 February 2012 08:40 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    So with regards to the title, I think it's metaphorically appropriate: someone is definitely getting fucked here.

    TJ, I appreciate you bringing this up. It's a complicated issue and hard to keep track of who's selling/buying from who -luckily I live in Victoria and have friends who are farmers so I try to stay as local as possible.

    Bergen, I'm gonna have to disagree with you here, but you already know that. I'd challenge you to a fight about it but I'm pretty sure you'd kick my ass.

    My concern with GMOs is over use and population growth. It's a touchy subject and not one I'm super interested in debating, but thought I'd put it out there. In general, traditional local agricultural practices "should" be enough to sustain a population within the natural ecosystem's carrying capacity. We, as clever humans, have used technology to artificially enhance the world's carrying capacity to a point where we are a pathogen in numbers. Yikes! I don't really know what to do about the implications of this statement, but I believe it to be true. This is why I don't think GMO's are part of the solution.

    They're like bottled water: use only in emergency.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Monday, 27 February 2012 23:03 posted by TJ Dawe

    Amy Jean - excellent point. Not too long ago I listened to an interview on NPR with Barry Estrabrook, author of the book Tomatoland: How Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.

    http://www.npr.org/2011/06/28/137371975/how-industrial-farming-destroyed-the-tasty-tomato

    Here's a quote from it: "In order to get a successful crop of tomatoes, the official Florida handbook for tomato growers lists 110 different fungicides, pesticides and herbicides that can be applied to a tomato field over the course of the growing season. And many of those are what the Pesticide Action Network calls 'bad actors' — they're kind of the worst of the worst in the agricultural chemical arsenal."

    In the early 60s, a tomato has 30 - 40% more vitamin C, more niacin and more calcium.

    It would be delightful if genetic engineering could give us tomatoes that needed no pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, that tasted better than the cardboard tomatoes sold in supermarkets today, and that had all the vitamin C, niacin and calcium of yesterday's tomatoes, but so far, they haven't. Will they? They will if it's profitable, but consumers buy tomatoes by size, not flavour or nutritional content.

    Also, we want every kind of fruit and vegetable, now, not just when it's in season. and the carbon footprint of doing that is huge, and problematic. And there have also been seven successful prosecutions of Florida tomato growers for slavery. Yes, slavery. Not sweat shop conditions, but slavery. To give us in the prosperous First World cheap food.

    So there's an overall mentality that's the real problem. Can genetic engineering be used in accordance with a healthier mentality? Bergen? Any thoughts?

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Tuesday, 28 February 2012 09:50 posted by Bergen Vermette

    @ TJ

    these are all important questions. most have complicated answers, some have none at all. I'll give it a shot where i can...

    from your first comment to me:

    - first, the tricky thing with this debate is just how polarizing it is. you can find studies to back up both sides of the debate pretty easily. so when i tell you below that "there are no documented health risks", you'll easily be able to find a dozen websites and articles saying I'm wrong. I'm taking the position of the most balanced sources I could find, following about a year of heavy research. these sources could still be proven wrong in the long term, but so could the other side. I think it's important to read as widely on the subject as possible as deciphering "research from rhetoric" is damn hard in this case. truly the values of the researcher are very important here (in fact I've got a whole piece written about just this point), and the data is coloured by biases on both sides.

    - at the moment I think it's best to think of GE as "its potential is huge, but the current reality is flawed". That said, in most ways GE is slowly improving and is departing from many of the valid criticism levelled during the 1990s (which, if you look, is where many of the most aggressive critics are still drawing their data and when society drew its conclusions on the technology).

    - equivalence of corporations and GE:
    part of this "big potential, crappy reality" is the "equivalence" of Big Agra, like Monsanto, and GE technology. The large majority of GE crops have so far been developed by big companies. For this reason, they are geared toward a specific type of crop, grown in specific regions, under specific methods (i.e. commercial crops like soya, wheat, canola, cotton; regions/climates like the US and Canada; under industrial farming methods that use things like monocropping and Roundup). However, for the last 5 years or so, there has been a big upsurge in national agricultural research. this is important because national institutes develop crops for local climates, needs, and contexts. This is happening in China, India, Brazil, and to a lesser extent Egypt and South Africa. There's also a growing number of universities and 'biohackers' developing specific strains that don't have the commercial appeal of the big crops, but may be hugely beneficial in developing contexts, such as drought resistant and fortified sorghum and cassava.

    - premarket testing:
    in many instances GE crops undergo more stringent testing than the rest of the foods we eat. this is particularly true in Europe, where there was a complete ban on both foods and crops until very recently. testing has uncovered, for example, nut allergies in potential GE crops and prevented those crops from ever reaching market. of course, no government testing or oversight can ever catch all dangers - as evident from the BSE disaster in the UK and the many ecoli outbreaks in our existing food system.

    - i don't know how much influence "their purveyors have with the institutions that approve them". i would guess a great deal, as is the case with all agricultural lobbyists. the whole industry is in need of a giant overhaul, in my opinion, and I put this in the "crappy reality" file, for sure.

    - government oversight:
    I'm not sure. I image it's mostly a joke. although the independent organic and fair trade certifiers have seem to be doing okay. i think they are under constant fire from the industry too though, aren't they? can anyone else comment here?

    - long term health impacts:
    the short answer is no, there's no way to know. the long answer is, well long and frankly merits an entire post. the main point is that *to date* there have been no documented health risks associated with eating GE food. some of these foods may turn out to be like the margarine example you gave, or possibly like cell phones, if those turn out to cause tumours. but there seems to be consensus that to properly test long term impacts you'd need something like 50+ years of rigours testing. i don't feel that the risks outweigh the rewards here. Would it have made sense in the 80s to ban cell phones until proper longterm tests were done? We'd have missed out on a huge benefit to society, and particularly to developing countries who have benefited immensely. This brings up "the precautionary principle" which is discussed at length here:

    http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/gm-crops-developing-countries

    Stewart Brand's summarizes the short-term health debate here:
    “The most massive dietary experiment in history has taken place since 1996. One enormous set of people – everyone on North America – bravely ate vast quantities of genetically engineered food crops. Meanwhile, the control group – everyone in Europe – made the considerable economic sacrifice of doing without GE agriculture and went to the further trouble of banning all GE food imports. It was great civilization-scale science, and the result is now in, a conclusive existence proof. No difference can be detected between the test and the control group”

    - long term impacts on environment:
    again a whole article is needed here. there are many dangers, but there are many dangers with farming in general. there are also many potential environmental *benefits* from GE. to keep things short here're a few summarizing quotes from the articles im writing

    “risks and benefits need to be evaluated case by case, comparing the potential risks with alternative technologies and taking into account the specific trait and the agroecological context in which it will be used”.
    World Development Report, 2008

    According to Janice Thies, director of graduate studies for soil and crop sciences at Cornell, there is “substantial evidence” that farming practices can negatively affect local ecosystems, and “this argues for a cautious approach to the release of any crop that bears a novel trait. Equally, it is an argument for a cautious approach to any extensive change in agricultural practices” not just transgenic agriculture (author’s emphasis) (Thies & Devare, 2007: 99).

    - does GE cause super weeds:
    yes it certainly can. this also relates back to the association with Big Agra. GE crops today generally offer two types of pest resistance. the first is an immunity to synthetic herbicides and pesticides, like roundup. the GE crops are immune, so they get sprayed with roundup and all the critters die. this creates stronger pests over time and we are seeing the effects of this now. not cool.
    the second is the insertion of the genetic trait Bt. this is a naturally occurring pest deterrent that is found in soil. in fact, organic farmers use it in their crops too. GE crops express this deterrent and do not need to be sprayed. this saves farmers money, saves the environment, and increases yields. eventually, critters will begin to develop immunity to this as well. but that's true for *anything*. we need to use a variety of pest control methods, and update them as we go, otherwise nature catches up. it always has.

    - can we keep GE from contaminating non-GE:
    proponents will tell you yes, but really that's not true. there's no way to prevent it. this is not necessarily a bad thing though. (again whole article needed here). for example, farmers have been breeding new stains into there existing ones since the beginning. you have to do this or the stains become "tired" from inbreeding. farmers in india (Gujarat) and Brazil have already been breeding Bt into their existing crops from some of it's pest control qualities. these are called "stealth seeds", basically pirated GE (more on that in the article).

    - will corps continue to sue organic farmers?:
    probably. because they're bastards. and that's a problem with policy, not GE technology.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Tuesday, 28 February 2012 10:11 posted by Bergen Vermette

    @ Amy
    I very much disagree with your point here, but think it's understandable given the social consensus on the poor and unchecked population growth. (we still have a lot of Malthusian tendencies, unfortunately)

    Your point comes very close to saying, 'let the poor die', although knowing you, I know you'd never advocate that. The truth is, populations in the developing world are not going to stop rising until at least another 2 Chinas (2 billion) are added to existing numbers. That's a result of existing momentum. It's not something we can stop by changing something today.

    Knowing there is going to be such an additional strain on already strained resources, I feel we need to look at all available options and to use each accordingly. There's going to be times when GE is inappropriate and times when it's very helpful. Predetermined outlooks on a largely (though not totally) technology is just stubborn, in my opinion.

    As for local agricultural practices being enough to meet population needs, I'm not sure that's true in all cases actually. But it's a long debate, and you say you want to skip it so I'll gladly oblige (have been writing enough already!).

    I leave with this quote from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (an independent - and quite balanced - group from the UK), which I linked to in the above comment to TJ:

    There may be "a moral imperative for making GM crops readily and economically available to people in developing countries who want them."
    The Nuffield Council on Bioethics (Nuffield, 2003: v)

  • Comment Link Lindsay Robertson Tuesday, 28 February 2012 20:34 posted by Lindsay Robertson

    I had a friend and neighbour who studied and worked with the agricultural department at the University of Guelph. It had a huge agricultural program then, (not sure if it still does), but with her experience, education and intelligence, she fully believed that genetically modified food would be a necessity to properly feed our growing world population. Not a popular opinion in our circles at that time, but I trusted and respected her so I was willing to hear her out, and there were some valid points (as Bergen has pointed out) for this way of thinking.

    But she also shed some light on some pretty serious systemic flaws that prevent this kind of science from actually doing any good. One big one is the private funding of a lot of the “research”. Research needs to be funded of course, but the problem with this is that the companies doing the funding are invested (literally) in the results. So the researchers and scientists are “encouraged” to get certain “results”. So you can see where this is going… If the private companies don’t get the results they want (ones that make them money), they pull their funding. If they do get results they want, the research is potentially inaccurate. And this is happening at the University level and beyond.

    Not to mention that the companies who fund the research are not motivated by a desire to feed the hungry, or to provide healthy food, but by profit. And profit alone. Now I’m not against companies trying to earn a profit, in fact I think it’s necessary, but when that’s the only bottom line, we have a problem.

    So can genetically modified foods be a good thing? In theory yes, they probably can. But in practice, it doesn’t look that way to me. Not yet anyway.

  • Comment Link Dawn Odenwald Tuesday, 28 February 2012 22:28 posted by Dawn Odenwald

    I wonder if North Americans would take to eating less than perfect produce again? And by this I mean produce that comes with all the irregularity of nature.

    Is this why GE is so acceptable, because we want to buy a tomato that is perfectly smooth, the same size and shape as the ones beside it, not a blemish in sight regardless of how this was achieved?

    A friend used to ride his horse out in the Ladner area. He came across piles upon piles of disguarded produce, usually tomatoes and melons. He was finally able to ask the driver one day why - what is wrong with all this produce? The answer - its not perfect, we can't sell it when it is blemished.

    I am aware of the other aruguements posted here, and to pick a side, I am leary of GM foods and dislike Monsanto's influence over our food supply. But have we on some level gotten what we've asked for - food that looks perfect?

    A question: (which I do not know the answer to) How much of the GE produce is feeding the world, and how much is simply feeding North America?
    Are GM foods really needed to feed the world, or to cater to North American 'tastes'?

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Wednesday, 29 February 2012 08:23 posted by Bergen Vermette

    @ Lindsay

    The point about private development vs public is key in my mind as well.

    Like I was saying in the beefy comment above, there's a big gap between the potentials of GE and the reality. This gap is largely due to the private interests that dominate the industry and the kind of choices they naturally make given their purpose (profit, market share, etc.)

    I don't think we'll see many of the benefits GE coming out of Big Agra. There's a few exceptions, like possible relaxation of patent restrictions for the purpose of developing "pro-poor" technologies. But even this is so that the *public* sector can step up and do the good work. Big Agra still has it's eyes elsewhere. So we definitely need more public (as has been happening in India, China, Brazil, and elsewhere [see previous comment]). This ties into Dawn's points too..

    @ Dawn

    Right, the large majority of GE "produce", isn't produce at all. It's commodity crops like wheat, soya, canola, and cotton (though the cotton is grown more in India & China than N.America). So it is feeding people, but not in the sense of subsistence agriculture that many communities depend on. There's also the issue of related health effects like possible obesity and diabetes related illnesses from crops like F1-corn and the high fructose corn syrup it's used to produce. These are matters of the industrial food supply, however, and while it's something that GE has been understandably associated with, it's not at fault (in my mind).

    Can GE foods really "feed the world"? I'd say no. No silver bullet here. But they can play an important part. In areas with increased salinity, for example, or drought prone, or flood prone, or what ever, GE can help to breed strains with novel traits to overcome these problems and increase yields. Combined with sustainable agricultural practices like permaculture, intercropping, decreased pesticide spraying (from, for example, the expression of the Bt bacteria gene). they might prove a valuable tool in improving livelihoods in developing communities.

    This potential is offset by the current reality that, as you say, GE is pretty much used for North American tastes at the moment (not Southern needs) (except the case of Chinese and Indian cotton production, that seems to be doing okay).

    A good book that discusses this is Robert Paarlberg's, Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa. He comes of as a bit of a dick, but his research is sound. If his tone doesn't rub you wrong, the first chapter of the book is linked below. It's titled, Why Rich Countries Dislike Agricultural GMOs:

    http://www.socialsciences.cornell.edu/0609/PaarlbergWHY_RICH_COUNTRIES.pdf

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Monday, 05 March 2012 00:43 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Bergen,

    Thanks for bringing forward the blogs and links around GE food. I have found Mark Lynas's blog to be very interesting, and I am sympathetic to his arguments. Looking forward to your future articles on these matters.

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Tuesday, 06 March 2012 07:15 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    Bergen,
    It's taken me a while to want to read the rest of this, but I'm glad I did. A few things, but first a statement:

    The globalization and industrialization of our food system CREATED POVERTY. There is no moving forward with this system: it needs to go.

    1) People Die all the time -
    I appreciate your consideration of my personality in your response Bergen, but I'm actually worried about where you're coming from. I might ask, "are you trying to save all the people in the world?" Your response to Dawn shed some light on that question, "Can GE foods really "feed the world"? I'd say no. No silver bullet here. But they can play an important part.", but I'm still wondering what your underlying goal is here?

    I would not suggest we "let the poor die" in fact all people of all nations are dying right now. There are tornadoes, tsunamis, and other examples of extreme weather associated with climate change that will control our population here on Earth weather we like it or not...

    WE got ourselves into this mess, and we can't fix it with more of the same. And so I would also ask, "are you trying to support the over consumption of natural resources model that got us into this whole mess?" Because GM opens the door to a whole host of opportunities for continued OVER consumption and exploitation for profit. I'm not saying NO absolutely, I'm just really concerned about what you're actually arguing *for*

    My main underlying concern is the survival of our species on this planet. If we don't work towards changing our consumption patterns, economies, and ways of being on this Earth we will all suffer -- not just the poor, but yes, they will not doubt suffer the most. It is therefore our responsibility to share resources/technology to assist them with the affects of Climate Change.

    2) Local SUBSISTENCE agriculture -
    *SO* If GM can in fact work to procure subsistance agriculture in local communities that have been devastated by our methods of over-consumption, then by all means, YES.

    Do we need to END these agro-business farming practices that *created poverty* in the first place -YES.

    I was glad to see you reference to permaculture, I may add biodynamic agriculture and other traditional land and resource management systems. (I feel the word *sustainable* has become a tag-line and can be thrown around with little meaning; It can mean many different things to different people.)

    From an Integral perspective, I'm not suggesting we go "back into the past", but I do thingk that the industrialized model of agriculture has to GO and good riddance. (Now I don't mean to get into a big globalization discussion here, I'm sure that some trade of food is good - I mean who doesn't love tropical fruit in winter... but it would need to be cut WAY WAY down, and within reason: for example within a set distance or something of the sort.)

    But for the most part, I vision a future where people depend on their local community for food production. And if GE can REALLY help to facilitate that transition... then I'll be open to it.

    Activism
    Maybe I'm a brainwashed Environmental Studies major, but I try to be open to new ideas, and so far you haven't really convinced me of anything new here. So far my statement still stands: use only in emergency.

    I think Vandava Shiva has some good things to say on the food issue. To be transparent, I haven't read any of her work for a few years so I'm not even sure where she stands on the GM depate currently - but I trust her opinion, experience and expertise.
    http://www.vandanashiva.org/

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Tuesday, 06 March 2012 07:15 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    That's meant to say

    3) Activism - ...

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Sunday, 11 March 2012 03:53 posted by Matthew Lewis

    @ Amy
    I am interested in exploring your statement 'The globalization and industrialization of our food system CREATED POVERTY.' I think you mean to say that poverty has increased as a result of the globalization and industrialization of our food system, is that right? If that is the case, I am not so sure that this is true.

    Here is an article by Krugman that argues that globalization and industrialization have reduced poverty (it doesn't deal specifically with the impact of this process on our food system, but that might be impossible to disentangle fully). One of the points is that daily caloric consumption has increased in Indonesia markedly since 1970 and that the number of malnourished children in that country has dropped as well. As a measure of poverty, calories consumed seem like a strong metric.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/1997/03/in_praise_of_cheap_labor.2.html

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Monday, 12 March 2012 07:37 posted by Bergen Vermette

    To address Amy's points:

    1) No, I'm not "trying to save all the people in the world?" That seems a strange question to ask. I'm interested in food production, both in the North and the global South. I think that GE, in specific forms, iterations, and contexts, is an important addition to the production of food for hungry humans.

    2) What is my goal? To open the conversation on GE in a way that presents a wider argument that the usual 'Frankenstein Food' vs 'wonder technology'.

    Frankly, the tone and overt suspicion in your comment is exactly the reason why I think this subject needs to be opened up. If someone like myself tries to speak reasonably about GE, they're looked at as some sort of traitor or fool.

    But if someone takes the time to read the literature for themselves, a very different picture starts to emerge. (The *balanced* literature - here's a good one http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/gm-crops-developing-countries). Truthfully, I came to this topic looking for more info to attack GE. I left with a much more balanced view, realized I was wrong in many assumptions, and now see that GE is both potentially harmful and potentially beneficial.

    3) you say "And so I would also ask, are you trying to support the over consumption of natural resources model that got us into this whole mess?"

    Seriously Amy?

    Look GE doesn't, as you also say, "open the door to a whole host of opportunities for continued OVER consumption and exploitation for profit". That's simply not true. Do you mean to say that the *system* currently promoting GE technology has something to do with that?

    For example, I completely agree that the commoditization of food, patenting of genetic materials, excess spraying of pesticides, poor soil management, and monopolization of the agro industry - are functions of a system in major need of an overhaul. But you may be equating all these things with GE because GE grew up in this system and its current iterations support much of it. But as I've said before, these are policy issues that also relate to the reality of where most of the GE research is done (privately, with companies that profit from the current system). It has NOTHING to do with the technology, per se.

    In fact, GE has the potential to mitigate some of the issues listed above, including reduced spraying of pesticides, and improved soil management.

    3) "If we don't work towards changing our consumption patterns, economies, and ways of being on this Earth we will all suffer"

    I agree completely. It is possible for me to hold this statement true, and still advocate for GE technology. They are not in contradiction, regardless of what the 'Frankenstein Food' folks would have us believe.


    4) Different farming methods.
    Thanks for your addition of biodynamic agriculture. I'd not heard of that before you mentioned it, but interestingly, the next day I had the privilege of an hour long meeting and presentation with the head of the UBC Organic Farm. She spoke at length to a variety of different farming methods and we had a long talk about organics vs GE.

    She is an organic farmer of several decades, an academic with a PhD in agro, and a damn interesting lady. We spoke about the degree of emotion in the farming community and how in many cases it's almost impossible to have a reasonable conversation.

    For example, I might say I eat organic. But there's so many problems with organics that the next person will look down on me and say they only believe in permaculture. The next looks at both as idiots and stresses the need for biodynamic. Other, says only indigenous land management practices are supportive of the land. Others chide people for short hand use of the word sustainable. You can't win. Everybody else is wrong.

    So I asked her straight up which of these is the best method. Her answer seems very reasonable and very inline with 'integral' thinking. She said that it depends on the context. And that every method had it's proper role and place, even industrial agriculture. even GE.

    I asked if she thought GE was okay. She said that she wouldn't grow it herself, due to a mix of personal preferences, legalities (apparently organic certs are a real bitch to keep), and the context of where she grows. But she believes that it offers important benefits in many scenarios.

    I also asked if organics could feed the world. She said "that's the wrong question". The right question is, "can we feed ourselves". This is the topic of her research, and ties into local food sustainability, which depends on context. Very interesting stuff. I took a bunch of notes and can go into more sometime, if you're interested.

    5) As for Shiva. Don't get me started on her. That's another article begging to be written.

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Monday, 12 March 2012 18:29 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    @ Matthew -- I'm gonna make this short... the article you references has it's data based on 1970 statistics... I'm talking pre-industrialization, pre-colonization. From a cultural ecological perspective communities were (in general I don't have articles to quote here, just a major in Anthropology from UVic), more sustainable based on traditional food sources.
    Post-colonization/industrialization, these ("under developed") communities were pushed from their traditional systems of land and resource management into systems of oppression, dependance and exploitation of resources. They no longer had land to farm for them selves, they were "convinced" into farming cash crops... making way for further exploitation now that these communities were no longer able to sustain themselves and dependent on money to purchase what they could once source for themselves. (This is a generalized statement.. obviously some medicines, and trade of goods showed benefits, but in general, the systemic oppression lead to more poverty and bigger problems, debt, etc.)

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Monday, 12 March 2012 18:57 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    @Bergen. Thanks for your response here Bergen.

    I have to say, I saw Wade Davis speak on Wednesday and burst into tears on my way home; I sat at the base of a cedar tree and stared at the totem poles for a long time, outside the Royal BC Museum where Davis has just sold out the IMAX theatre. He called for environmentalists to *embrace* Shell oil and *bring them in to our cause*. I was overwhelmed by that statement within that context. I realized I still have a whole lot of "shout" in me and anger and still struggle with the call to embrace all peoples.

    If you get me on a grounded day, I'm probably one of the most compassionate and loving people I know - if you get me talking about the tar sand, NG pipeline, or the destruction of our food systems or the protection of our children I can get really worked up -- angry.

    In church yesterday the man filling in for Bruce, don't know his name, he said that we need to get angry when we see our values not being upheld-- but we need to be angry in a way that is fair. I'm trying Bergen, I really am, and I think that much of what I said is in line with what the lady at UBC farms has said to you -but she said it face-to-face. When she said "how do we feed ourselves" she is speaking to the need for local subsistence agriculture, for each community around the globe, this is also the point I am trying to make.

    I think it's great that you are taking a stand in your research and daring to push in from the other side of the argument within a context and peer group that is, in general, against GE. I guess I would just say it is also important to make clear your values, concerns and vision for what GE could do within an integral context -- I still have a lot of fears around the role it currently plays in our world society.

    So... how to be angry and fair: Well I agree, it's context dependent and like I said, "I vision a future where people depend on their local community for food production. And if GE can REALLY help to facilitate that transition... then I'll be open to it. "

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Tuesday, 13 March 2012 01:04 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Thanks Amy, very grateful that you're down to dig into things here, and to stretch the possibilities of the position you're willing to take. Thanks for that, and I hope I can return the favour. Looking forward to more in the future...

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Tuesday, 13 March 2012 16:38 posted by Matthew Lewis

    @Amy
    Thank you for expanding on your point, it did not occur to me that you were considering the era prior to industrialization and colonization. Globalization is often referred to as a contemporary development, so I hope you'll excuse my misunderstanding.

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