Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Where's the accountability with GMOs?

I've participated in many, many debates on the pros and cons of GMOs. I'm a skeptic. I'm not totally convinced that GMOs are safe and I believe that they need to be labeled, clearly, with references so that every shopper can make up their own minds about consumption. I also believe that the patent protection should be removed and that strict liability should be applied to their producers and distributors and even the farmers. Yes, the farmers. Once everyone involved is clear about liability and where it points when someone gets hurt, either directly or indirectly, I doubt very seriously that many would want to sell them for fear of ginormous lawsuits.

Proponents of GMOs believe that it's a grand idea to shoot isolated genes into foreign genomes, get a patent on the seed for some novel benefit that has yet to be proven, and collect royalties from anyone who grows seeds with the same genes, even if by accident downwind. Injecting isolated genes into a foreign cell is just one way to do it. They use viruses to insert a desired gene into a foreign cell's DNA, too.

First, let's dispense with the notion that these novel "inventions" deserve any patent protection at all. The means and methods used to transplant foreign genes are not so novel. It turns out that gene migration is quite common in nature. Genes migrate from one species to another through many vectors, including viruses. GMO scientists are doing nothing new that hasn't already been done by nature.

If ADM were truly feeding the world with their toxic chemical laden agriculture, we would not see reports from the UN, supposed bastion of commercial power and protection, reminding us that small scale, organic farming is the best way to feed the world. There is even mounting evidence that organic farming can help to reverse global warming through carbon sequestration. Note that most pesticides and herbicides come from petroleum bases and that comes from oil, and the oil, mostly comes from the middle east. Buying organic reduces our dependence on foreign oil.

Let's not forget that the sole purpose of the gene, any gene, is to replicate. Every genome in every animal has one prime directive that rises above all other causes: replication. Genes replicate by design and will find every practical means to replicate. We know that humans will make any excuse to replicate, and that arises from the power of genes.

Since genes by their very nature replicate, there is no reason to think that patents are required to spread the benefits of the so-called inventions from the likes of Monsanto, ADM and Dow. Once created, replication will take over. Besides, whatever research such companies do has already been paid for by tax dollars, that by happy coincidence, come from average people like you and me. Only 9% of federal revenue is from corporations. You know who pays the rest.

The sole reason for the existence of the patent system is to advance the sciences and the arts. The people who advocated for the patent system when this country was born believed that innovations would proliferate with patent protection. Unfortunately, even highly respected authorities have trouble showing anything more than "common sense" to support the maintenance of a patent system. For some reason, it's really hard to find empirical evidence to show that patent protection actually increases the rate of innovation. Two authors of a report from the Federal Reserve Bank find that the evidence in support of a patent system is so unconvincing, that they recommend the abolition of patents. All of them. I agree with them.

In any case, the gene patents at stake in soy and corn (to name two) not only fail to advance the sciences and the arts, they are giving rise to seed monopolies that place control of our food supplies in the hands of a very few, very powerful interests. That set does not include average Americans.

The use of these GMO seeds is concurrent with increasing use of weed killers, particularly, glyphosphate, a product from Monsanto. Dow Chemical is offering seeds that protect against Agent Orange. They want to use Agent Orange to kill weeds within our crops?

Few if any of the GMO apologists are talking about the superweeds that are created when the weeds finally develop resistance to the weed killers. Funny how they didn't mention that in the face of adversity, life adapts. Who will pay to deal with the invasive species that arise from over use of toxic weed killers? The chemical companies? I doubt it. Remember, they don't want the food labeled. That means they don't want to assume any liability whatsoever for the potential damage from GMO consumption. It would follow that they don't want to assume liability for their weed killers, too.

The monoculture that arises from very large scale farming is the reason we are led to believe that we need GMOs. The monoculture creates a big fat target for pests and viruses. You know, like Windows. Windows holds a 95% share of desktops in computers. Windows is more widely studied by criminals than any other operating system because it's everywhere. The monoculture of Windows has made it easy to hack for fun and profit.

The same has become true of the giant farms and their monoculture crops. Large scale agriculture has given rise to acres of farmland where all the food has essentially the same genes. This makes for real fun for viruses, which can spread quickly on that farmland because everything growing there has the same genes. In the wild, viruses can't spread that quickly because of the diversity of the genes out there. The monoculture farms we have now are not natural.

Small scale organic farming would create biodiversity in our farmland. Small scale farming would also spread out the risk of farming failures from a few really big farms to millions of little farms everywhere. The concentration of farming is not only bad for business, it's bad for national security. Millions of little neighborhood farms everywhere mitigates the risk of large scale farm failures in the event of a terrorist attack on them, something we need to do if we're really serious about limiting terrorism.

Despite all this, big business has a really hard time taking responsibility for the damage they create as they pursue the big bucks. Once power is accumulated among the chosen few, they will fight any effort to redistribute that power with all their might. The primary purpose of large scale farming isn't about feeding people. It's about power over people.

It's worth nothing that this isn't just a problem with newfangled tech like GMOs. This seeming lack of responsibility is duly noted in the oil industry, too. BP had to be wrestled to the ground by the Obama administration before they became willing to put any money into cleanup and reparations for the Deepwater oil spill. If there were no public outcry, I doubt anything would have been done.

When asked about safety, Monsanto will promptly point to their lap dog, the Food and Drug Administration and say, "See that little puppy over there? They're responsible for making sure our food supply is safe. Why don't you talk to them?" Monsanto can count on their captured regulatory agency for protection from liability for their own products. All they have to do is hold out the promise of a cushy job in a corner office somewhere to a hapless regulator and they get their wish.

I've been around long enough to see that the Reagan Revolution, after 30 years, has brought us monopoly capitalism. Monopoly capitalism means that the corporations don't have to listen to the people for their protection comes from the government. It is only when governments and corporations are reminded by the people where the real power comes from, that they listen.

Every state constitution will tell you that all power resides in The People - its usually right in the preamble, you know, at the beginning, so it must be really important. The People have to remind the leaders about this from time to time. Howard Zinn says that protest is what we see when the institutions that are supposed to serve us, courts, legislatures and administrations are insufficient to respond to grievances. We're seeing this over and over, from the World Trade Organization whenever they have a meeting somewhere to Ferguson, Missouri. We saw hundreds of thousands of people gather in protest of the Iraq War, a war over oil. The same oil that is the base stock for the pesticides used on our farms, for crops that require special genes to survive the pesticide.

I can't remember where I saw it, but I saw a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson where he said "we should not become tyrants of the land". Genetically modified organisms and their corresponding chemical pesticides are the ultimate expression of the tyranny that Jefferson warned us about. With that tyranny comes zero accountability from the people who impose that tyranny upon others.
Post a Comment