All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

This Hallowe’en, I’m going as Monsanto

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My friend Gary Jones, a teacher in the school of Horticulture at Kwantlen, circulated an email this morning with a link to a petition against Monsanto’s latest.  For Gary to do so – he really doesn’t like bugging people, and he hates electronic media – there must be something really big irking him.

Monsanto has created a new brand of GMO corn: this time, a sweet corn variety.  Which means that this new variety is going to hit the grocery stores shelves any time soon – without any labeling, since there is no labeling requirement for genetic modification anywhere in Canada or the US.

GMO corn has been around for awhile, but all its varieties have been, until now, for animal feed or for industrial markets (hello, high-fructose corn syrup).  This is the first entry of Monsanto into the fresh vegetables market, and it must be stopped.

The petition against it (here) is from the makers of the movie Fresh, a new movie about natural foods (and the grassroots movements around it).  You can watch a trailer here.

I have signed the petition.  So it may come as a surprise to read that I’m not against GMOs.  Properly done, the technique is merely a way to speed up traditional plant breeding.  For instance, using genes from wild papaya, the crop has been saved from a virus that would otherwise have destroyed the orchards.  Crossing genes from wild bananas into modern (and seedless) bananas would go a long way ensuring that our cavendish variety (a clone) doesn’t get wiped out by a virus like the Gros Michel banana was in the 50s.  And research on flooding resistance in rice may be key to preserving one of the world staples against the upcoming wild swings in climate.  (Tomorrow’s Table, a 2008 book written by an unlikely couple: an organic farmer, Raoul Adamchak, and his wife, Pamela Ronald, a researcher specializing in genetic modifications, make for excellent reading on the topic.)

But transgenic modifications – implanting genes from one species into another – is something else altogether.  Not that I’m against it, in principle; but I think that much is still poorly understood, and its creations should not leave the lab or the research field, in the very least.

But when it comes to implanting genes that code for pesticides, like Bt-corn, or genes that confer resistance to pesticides like Monsanto’s Roundup – whoa.  This is of a different order of concerns altogether.  These plants are nothing more than another one-way to a pesticide treadmill.  Already most common weeds ahve developed resistance to Roundup (Monsanto’s trade name for glyphosate) – this means that people who would choose to use the herbicide under selected conditions can no longer do so.  And we really have no idea how these genes may spread – and what else they may be coding for.  And, of course, the seeds and pollen are mixing freely with non-GMO stock, threatening (and in some cases ruining) the livelyhood of organic farmers.  If Monsanto owns those seeds, as they claim, I’m still hoping for the first trespass case against them by organic farmers (get those seeds off my farm!  or else!  God knows, Monsanto has bullied enough farmers with just this argument in the past).

But even if GMOs could be found, across  the board, to produce environmentally benign, healthful plants, I would still sign the petition.  The key problem with the current GMO model, as I see it, is the ownership of seeds across generations (farmers that use GMO are not allowed to use the seeds produced by their own GMO crops).  This leads to a stifling of intellectual property, to a damper on the traditional role of the small farmer as a seed breeder and developer, especially in the third world.  And ultimately, it leads to corporate ownership of all our food sources,  and our future  ability to feed ourselves.  We don’t want to starve because some corporation executive messed up gambling with our food plants.  If the “Occupy Wall Street” is teaching us anything, it is that corporations cannot be trusted with society’s best interest, even if they mean well.  And Monsanto is not one that means well.


Written by enviropaul

October 18, 2011 at 10:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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