Issue 192: July 2001


Food and Drugs:
The Construction of Dependency

by Brewster Kneen

It has been the Ram’s Horn editorial policy to stick fairly closely to our original food/justice agenda – which was first focussed on sheep farming 20 years ago, hence the name. In recent years we have had to give biotech far more attention than we enjoy, but we hold the biotech/drug industry responsible for this. They set out to conquer nature, including us, and we feel, like any good weed, that we have no choice but to resist.

We have, in the past, described industrial agriculture as the construction of dependency. The same can be said for ‘2modern’ medicine. In more recent years it has become, more deliberately I am sure, a process of creating addiction. Addiction requires a fix, and those in a position to deliver the fix can reap handsome profits, or as they say these days, shareholder value.

So now we find our original agenda stretched as we try both to adhere to it and to adapt to our changing environment. We know we have a dedicated and influential readership that has followed us as we were pushed by the likes of Cargill into analyzing trade and corporate control and by Monsanto into developing a critique of genetic engineering. Now we ask you to travel with us a road that was first paved with pesticides and now carries human drugs, xenotransplants, gene therapy and other increasingly costly and esoteric technology for the control and ‘improvement’ of life for the elite.

With corporate consolidation and concentration, it is no longer possible to draw a line – if it ever was – between food biotech (GE crops), drugs for human consumption, genetic screening and gene therapy, and reproductive manipulation. If PPL Therapeutics is genetically engineering pigs with human genes to produce spare parts for human use (xeno-transplantation) what is going to happen to the pork? It’s more likely to enter the meat trade – in one form or another – than the garbage dump or incinerator.

With what the biotech/drug pushers are pleased to call "neutraceuticals," or crops and animals engineered into drug factories, the line disappears altogether, just as it does with genetic screening and selection and the production of carefully selected and ‘improved’ embryos, including human.

Let us first consider what is misleadingly called ‘conventional’ agriculture in North America. The crops it grows have been designed to respond to artificial stimuli (synthetic fertilizers) and to require ‘protection’ (by means of pesticides) from what would, under more normal circumstances, be their natural environment. Lacking a ‘home’, they become, by design, addicted.

The export model of this approach to food production was the Green Revolution. The short-strawed, high-response hybrid rice that was the vehicle of this cultural invasion was dependent on irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. The formerly self-sufficient farmer in turn became dependent on the suppliers of the international aid which enabled him [sic] to purchase seeds, irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. The victim was hooked, in other words, by means of ostensible ‘aid’ programs. Such programs, not inadvertently, also displaced women farmers from their traditional lands and practices, such as seed selection, conservation and sharing in favour of men who were assumed to be ‘head of the household’ and who were in any event more amenable to the new ‘technologies.’

When the condition of dependency was sufficiently established, including the restructuring of the farm and food economy, the aid programs were cut off, abandoning the farmers to either become dependent on credit to maintain the addiction of their crops or to attempt to return to their now-demolished traditional self-sufficiency and crop diversity. Suicide by drinking pesticides has been a far too common expression of the despair at being unable to provide for their families either way.

The introduction of genetically engineered crops is simply the latest chapter in this history of colonization.

Like all drug addictions, including tobacco, the addictions of industrial agriculture have been exploited to amass individual and corporate fortunes. These, in turn, have been gathered into ever more powerful drug cartels. Now they manufacture and dispense patented drugs for their patented engineered crops and their farmers and the general public. Diseases requiring drug treatment are created as readily as herbicide tolerant crops. Turning PMS (premenstrual syndrome) into PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) is a fine example.

Eli Lilly is now promoting the drug Sarafem, approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to treat PMDD, which the company describes as a mental illness. But Serafem isn’t a new drug, it is simply repackaged Prozac. Prozac had $2.6 billion in sales last year, but Eli Lilly’s patent on the drug runs out in August. With Sarafem, the firm now has a separate patent to cover use of the drug for PMDD through 2007, allowing it to partially offset losses in sales, which could be as high as one billion dollars in the first 12 months following the introduction of generic competition. So doctors will soon be able to prescribe a cheaper generic version of Prozac for their patients while women seeking Serafem will pay a premium. Lilly has spent close to $2.3 billion in marketing and administrative costs for Serafem, much more than the research and development, which is about $1.5 billion.
— CBS MarketWatch, 7/3/01; WSJ, 23/2/01