Issue 263: March/April 2009


 Signs of Spring

Yes, we missed March – slipping a little, what with Cathleen away out west for almost two weeks, and Brewster trying to finish his book, The Tyranny of Rights. Now the promise of Spring is giving the lie to those who think that the meltdown of Capital means the end of the world. Maybe the World As We Know It, but that model is due for a trade-in, anyway.

Most prominent among the signs of Spring in food-related matters is the incredible proliferation of local/regional/organic/holistic foodie activities and projects. Of course as the snow melts we get not just crocuses and returning songbirds, but uncovered dog turds too; and so we also see a concerted, not to say frantic, effort by the biotech industry to claim that it alone holds the keys to the storehouse of food for all.
The messages that appear in the press in various guises (and disguises) bear a striking similarity to one another, as if they were emanating from a central bureau – which they more or less are: the closely-knit ISAAA, BioEuropa, BioteCanada, CropLife, etc. With the wealth of the Rockefeller-Gates-Buffet collegium (philanthrophy oligopoly) behind it, the biotech-agrotoxin-drug industry can well afford to commission and encourage letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, ‘scientific’ statements and so on. This industry campaign bears a striking resemblance to past tobacco industry campaigning in defense of its toxic products, a fact of which they are probably as aware as we are. The spectre of defeat looms large, thanks to the emergence of a public consciousness, around the world, about what is important and necessary – and genetic engineering of food crops accompanied by increased agrotoxin requirements of corporate seeds is not.


Nevertheless, that is the panacea being touted to fix the food crisis, the economic crisis, and global warming or climate chaos. When food prices began to skyrocket last year, this was variously attributed to drought in Africa, speculation in food commodities, using foodlands to grow crops for fuel, or an increase in meat consumption in Asia. In addition to the genetic engineering of food crops, the proposed ‘fixes’
include an increase in food aid, increasing food production and bailout of the financial system. None of these, or all of them together, will actually resolve the ‘crisis’ because:

• They do not address the corruption and plunder of capitalism and the failure of capitalism to function according to its own ‘immutable’ laws.

• They do not eliminate or diminish corporate control of global food.

• They do not address climate change and global warming, and will therefore surely exacerbate an already perilous situation.

• They do not put an end to the ideology and pursuit of economic growth that is going to kill us all unless we halt it. An economy of enough – a ‘subsistence perspective’ as Maria Mies put it – must become the rule, personally and politically.

Underlying each of these is energy consumption – and the need to reduce it. Industrial agriculture requires high energy consumption. Economic growth requires increased energy. Corporate control requires high energy consumption due to its high degree of centralization and global sourcing and distribution. Energy consumption causes climate change and global warming.

“Nobody has really thought yet about how and if we can mitigate climate change in agriculture,” admitted Dr Josef Schmidhuber, head of the global perspectives study unit at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indicating that although there is a lot of talk about averting the impact of climate change, no policies have been implemented yet to solve the problem.

“It starts and ends with governance, with convincing key decision makers to change strategy,” said Hans Herren, president of the Washington DC-based Millennium Institute. “We know what the solutions to climate change are, but they are not put into practice because governments are in bed with the biotechnology industry. They are more interested in making a quick buck than in the long-term benefits of farmers.” Herren believes industrial agriculture is “bankrupt by definition” because it costs too much energy to produce: “For every calorie you produce you have to put in ten, if you look at fuel, fertilizer and labour needed.” Chemical-heavy agriculture has been systematically destroying soils, says Herren, by causing mineral depletion, erosion and reducing soils’ ability to retain water. “For small-scale farmers, water is far more important than having a pest-resistant, genetically modified plant, which is only resistant to one particular type of pest anyway,” he said.
– IPS, 26/2/09,

None of which seems to deter the cartel bent on solving the world’s problems by increasing their own control and profit – always couched in the language of sustainability, of course. You could call it The White Man’s Burden version 2.1.

For example, at the fourth meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in Germany: “CropLife International’s aim is to assist the Parties in implementing the Biosafety Protocol in a way that carefully balances the need for beneficial technology being available to those wishing to use it while avoiding any adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. . . Farmers choose biotech seeds for a wide variety of reasons, from increased production and yield, to improved food quality from crops that are resistant to pests and viruses; from increased income, to reductions in the environmental impacts of agriculture; as well as more predictability and stability in crop production.”
– CropLife International Press Release, 12/3/08

Meanwhile, Swiss-based Syngenta, with more than 24,000 employees in over 90 countries “dedicated to our purpose: Bringing plant potential to life”, has crawled right up there with Monsanto in its pursuit of control of seeds and food. The company’s CEO, Mike Mack, laid out Syngenta’s corporate philosophy recently: “Our innovative products allow us to unlock the potential of plants, enabling us to do more with less – feed more people, produce more fuel and fibre, while using less water and decreasing the carbon footprint of agriculture,” he claims. Syngenta has, according to Mack, “technology that can provide the solution to the persistent and growing problems in food security and environmental sustainability . . . for us at Syngenta, technology means an entire portfolio of products, techniques and expertise that bring out the best in biotechnology, crop protection products and seed care. . .

“Now is the time to stand firmly behind corn and corn ethanol. . . We simply must keep supporting this crop as corn provides many answers to global agricultural problems. Investing in future corn yields creates healthy markets, successful farmers and food security. . . Plants can be an efficient and truly renewable way of translating the sun’s energy into our gas tanks, and with technology we don’t have to be forced into a no-win choice between growing more food or producing more fuel. . . A great part of the solution isn’t confined to biotech per se, but must include . . . crop protection technologies. This is especially pertinent when discussing climate change, as the application of effective herbicides will be an essential component in a growing trend of conservation tillage agriculture. . .

“There is only one major problem on the horizon: That’s the hostility of regulators in some parts of the world to both biotech and crop protection products . . . This is particularly true in Europe, where governments are beholden to non-governmental organizations and where the discussion of genetically-modified plants is more often based on superstition rather than science. . . If we embrace science, however, we can have a future of bounty – we can feed a growing population and fuel an energy-hungry world economy while protecting the environment.”
– Syngenta Press Release 27/2/09

The insistence that GE is essential for growth of crop productivity (whether fact or fiction matters little) is the big stick used to drive farmers to GE seeds. Corporate control and profit are not mentioned as the primary reason, of course. The fetish of growth will kill us all – whether it’s economic growth or cancer.

“Economists say declining wealth is prompting more Canadians to save money, marking a profound shift in the psyche of a generation that has never seen such a major market correction. . . The concern is that consumers will hamper growth as they cut spending.”
– G&M, 17/3/09, emphasis added.


#263: March/April 2009 TOC
Signs of spring: and hope in the resurgence of interest and action to create a sustainable local food system
Promises and Propaganda: EuropaBio says biotech promises to solve water problems
Following the footsteps of tobacco: looking at the biotech propaganda strategies
- The complete propaganda machine: Monsanto enters the blogosphere (to control the messaging, of course)
- Monsanto funds scholarships and a journalism training course
- University of Regina associate dean shills for biotech
 Ingo Potrykus continues to seek Vatican blessing for biotech
Growing Resistance: A message from Kenya in support of the resilience of local varieties
- Mexico City to protect historic maize varieties
- Brazil Soy State loses taste for GMO seed
- Non-GE soy demand growing North and South
Sweet Treats:
- Industrial Gelato
- Industrial Ice Cream
Farmworkers: a story from tomato central, Immokalee Floride
"Changing the Vocation of the Land": Venezuela's Chavez moves to protect environment