Monday, January 28, 2008

An article you should read...

...describing the business practices related to GMO products.

The Food Revolution - Genetic Engineering, Part I
(originally published December 1, 2007)
Filed under Agriculture & Food, Industry, Health, GMOs by John Robbins

...Advertisements and glossy brochures, seeking to convince farmers to plant Roundup Ready seeds, speak proudly of “clean fields”—clean in this usage meaning enormous fields with nothing growing in them but soybeans or corn or cotton or canola. This is intended as a selling point, and many farmers go for it, but it is an odd use of the word. The fields are actually so chemicalized that they are virtually sterile, and they bear no resemblance whatsoever to a healthy, flourishing, and biodiverse ecosystem. The soil, relatively void of decaying plant matter, and often impoverished of the worms, insects, and bacteria that feed off it, becomes completely dependent on chemical fertilizers.

Ironically, we’re spraying our fields and food with a toxic substance to make use of a sophisticated technology that is largely unnecessary. There are simpler mechanical ways to deal with weeds, including no-till farming, mulching, and companion cropping. But of course, none of these Earth-friendly methods can be patented and sold for profit, and none fit with massive mono-cultures and reliance on chemicals, so they hold no interest for Monsanto and the other agricultural chemical companies that dominate the business of genetic engineering.(25)...

...One of the clearest independent voices in the sometimes raucous debate about genetically modified foods is Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly, published by the Environmental Research Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland. In 1999, the journal noted,

“Neither Monsanto nor any of the other genetic engineering companies appears to be developing genetically engineered crops that might solve global food shortages. Quite the opposite. If genetically engineered crops were aimed at feeding the hungry, then Monsanto and the others would be developing seeds with certain predictable characteristics: a) ability to grow on substandard or marginal soils; b) plants able to produce more high-quality protein with increased per-acre yield, without the need for expensive machinery, chemicals, fertilizers, or water; c) they would aim to favor small farms over larger farms; d) the seeds would be cheap and freely available without restrictive licensing; and e) they would be for crops that feed people, not meat animals. None of the genetically engineered crops now available, or in development (to the extent that these have been announced) has any of these desirable characteristics. Quite the opposite. The new genetically engineered seeds . . . produce crops largely intended as feed for meat animals, not to provide protein for people. The genetic engineering revolution has nothing to do with feeding the world’s hungry.” (40)

If genetically engineered plants were designed to reverse world hunger, you would expect them to bring higher yields. But there is no evidence that they do, and in fact increasing evidence that they do just the opposite. Ed Oplinger, a professor of agronomy at the University of Wisconsin, has been conducting performance trials for soybean varieties for the past 25 years. In 1999, he compared the soybean yields in the 12 states that grew 80 percent of U.S. soybeans, and found that the yields from genetically modified soybeans were 4 percent lower than conventional varieties. (41)

When other researchers compared the performance of Monsanto’s transgenic soybeans (the number one genetically engineered crop in the world in terms of acreage planted) with those of conventional varieties grown under the same conditions, they found nearly a 10 percent yield reduction for the genetically engineered soybeans.(42) And research done by the University of Nebraska in 2000 found the yields of genetically engineered soybean plants to be 6 to 11 percent lower than conventional plants.(43)...

...Dr. Vandana Shiva, one of the world’s foremost experts on world hunger and transgenic crops, is not convinced. The author of many articles and books on genetic engineering, she rejects the claims that biotechnology will help feed the world. The argument, she says, “is on every level a deception. First of all, the kinds of things they’re producing don’t feed the Third World. . . . Soybeans go to feed the pigs and the cattle of the North. . . . All the investments in agriculture are about increasing chemical sales and increasing monopoly control. . . . All this is taking place in the private domain, by corporations that are not in the business of charity. They are in the business of selling. The food they will produce will be even more costly.”(45)...

Similarly, delegates from 18 African countries at a meeting of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization responded to Monsanto’s advertisements with a clear statement:

“We . . . strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us. We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed. . . . On the contrary . . . it will undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.” The representative from Ethiopia added, “We strongly resent the abuse of our poverty to sway the interests of the European public.”(46)

Not that any of this has sobered Monsanto, which continues to promote genetic engineering as the answer to world hunger...

“Genetically engineered crops were created not because they’re productive but because they’re patentable. Their economic value is oriented not toward helping subsistence farmers to feed themselves but toward feeding more livestock for the already overfed rich.” — Amory and Hunter Lovins, Founders of Rocky Mountain Institute, a resource policy center (48)...

...For countless centuries farmers have fed humanity by saving the seed from one years crop to plant the following year. But Monsanto, the company that claims its motives are to help feed the hungry, has developed what it calls a “Technology Protection System” that renders seeds sterile. Commonly known as “terminator technology,” and developed with taxpayer funding by the USDA and Delta & Pine Land Company (an affiliate of Monsanto), the process genetically alters seeds so that their offspring will be sterile for all time. If employed, this technology would ensure that farmers cannot save their own seeds, but would have to come back to Monsanto year after year to purchase new ones.

At least Melvin J. Oliver, the molecular biologist who is the primary inventor of the terminator technology, doesn’t try to convince us that the point of the technology is to halt the spread of world hunger. “Our mission,” he says, “is to make us competitive in the face of foreign competition.”(50)

...As of 1999, twelve different companies had obtained more than two dozen patents on genetically sterilized or chemically dependent seeds.(54) It is unlikely these companies went to the expense of obtaining these patents or developing these systems if they didn’t have plans to use them. These agribusiness corporations recognize the astounding profit potential inherent in gaining a substantial measure of control over the food supply of any nation that widely adopts their company’s genetic technologies.

To these companies, the terminator and other seed sterilizing technologies are simply business ventures that have been designed to produce profit. In this case, there is not even the implication of agronomic benefit to farmers or nutritional benefit to consumers. “Monsanto’s goal,” says Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly, “is effective control of many of the staple crops that presently feed the world.”(55)
Robert T. Fraley, co-president of Monsanto’s agricultural sector, seems to agree. After the company bought up yet another competing seed company, he said,

“This is not just a consolidation of seed companies. It’s really a consolidation of the entire food chain.”(56)

...Meanwhile Monsanto and the other biotech companies are eagerly developing all kinds of genetically modified organisms, hoping to bring them to market. How do we know if they’re safe? David Suzuki says, “We don’t, and won’t for years after they are being widely used.”(64)

...You and I are repeatedly told by the biotech industry that genetically engineered crops are completely safe. The Biotechnology Industry Organization, for example, tells us, “Crops and foods improved through biotechnology have been modified with incredible precision. They have also been examined in advance in more depth and detail than any other crops and foods in human history. . . . Each and every food allowed on the market has been found to be at least as safe as the foods already available to consumers.”(66)

The insurance industry, however, does not seem to agree. To date, no insurance company has been willing to insure the biotech industry.

“How do commercial interests usually protect themselves from liability claims?” asks geneticist Dr. David Suzuki. “Through insurance. In fact, in our society, the litmus test for safety is insurance. You can be insured for almost anything if you pay enough for the premium, but if the insurance industry isn’t willing to bet its money on the safety of a product or technology, it means the risks are simply too high or too uncertain for them to take the gamble.”(67)

There is today no insurance whatsoever against the kinds of catastrophic losses and tragedies that could ensue from introducing transgenic organisms into the environment and into the human food chain. The insurance industry has consistently not been willing to place insurance premiums on the potential for loss that is involved.(68)


Garnel Ironheart said...

Genetic engineering of crops has been going on ever since people started planting seeds en masse. What do you think selective breeding is? You select out those species or breeds that don't yield what you want and you only continue to grow those that you do. Do you really believe that wheat grown today bears a close resemblance to wheat grown 2000 years ago?
The only difference is that the changes now are made in petri dishes in a lab instead of over several harvests.

Ahavah said...

Obviously, you didn't actually read the article. What you are describing is not what genetic engineering is at all. For example:

...For countless centuries, plant breeders have sought to alter the characteristics of plants in order to create desired effects. But they have always been limited to working with characteristics that were already present in the species. An orange could be crossed with a different kind of orange, but it could not be crossed with a gorilla. You had no choice but to deal with “apples and apples.”

In genetic engineering, on the other hand, genes are usually taken from one species and then inserted into another species in an attempt to transfer a desired trait. After the FlavrSavr, for example, the next engineered food in line to be grown commercially was a strawberry that had a gene from an arctic fish (the flounder) inserted into it to make the strawberry more frost-resistant. It, however, also failed...

Explain to me how flounder genes would have gotten into the strawberry through "several harvests."

GMO organisms are "mixed seeds" that we are forbidden to eat.

Garnel Ironheart said...

First of all, I did a research project in genetic engineering in my younger days. My task was to help develop non-radioactive tracers to attach to the genes we were implanting into corn so we could see if our technique was successful without using radioactive materials. So I know very well what genetic engineering is, probably better than most seeing as I have a degree in the subject as well.

So first of all:

>Explain to me how flounder genes would have gotten into the strawberry through "several harvests."

They wouldn't have. The farmers would have selected those plants which seemed the hardiest in response to adverse weather and selectively bred them. Instead, genetic engineering allows one to take a short cut and create the resistant plant in a quicker and more effective fashion.

>GMO organisms are "mixed seeds" that we are forbidden to eat.

Wrong. The teshuvos dealing with the subject clearly note that the prohibitions of kilayim or grating do NOT apply to genetic engineering because changes are made at the microscopy level where the halachah does not apply.

Ahavah said...

Monsonto, DuPont, ConAgra, et al. admit in their own publications how they "do" genetic engineering - the vast majority involves inserting genes from other species. That fact is not in dispute - not even by them. I can't understand why you continue to insist this has anything to do with natural selection - because it doesn't.

Some "short cut" - so short it could never happen in nature.

And nearly all of the genetic manipulation to date has been to allow farmers to spray proprietary pesticides and herbicides on the plants without killing them. It doesn't matter of the residue the plant absorbs kills people over the long term - they don't care about that. And neither do the rabbis, apparently.

A bunch of men with medieval educations claims this is not mixed seeds - a bunch of people who actually understand that an organism IS it's microscopic components says otherwise. Hmmmm... I think I'll believe the modern guys - you stick with the guys who still claim that mice spontaneously generate from dust in the desert.

If halacha didn't apply at the "microscopic" level then it would not be unkosher to eat carnivores, because digestion is certainly microscopic - and incorporating "energy" from what something eats is beyond microscopic, and yet carnivores and bottom feeders are not kosher for those very reasons. Go figure.

Sounds suspiciously selective to me. Why would inserting genes from pork or shellfish or other unclean creatures into fruits or vegetables NOT be unkosher? They don't even "reproduce after their kind," because Monsanto has built-in suicide genes to destroy a farmer's ability to save seed. Isn't that nice? Perpetual servitude - and you're sure Hashem is fine with that.

You can certainly eat GMO's if it makes you happy - after all, it's what's cheapest right? No ethical considerations involved, eh? No mysticism, no halacha - not even common sense. Must be nice to be so confident that CEOs of transnational corporations would never, ever sell you something that was dangerous for the sole purpose of profiteering.

Would you like to buy a bridge while you're at it?

Garnel Ironheart said...

I think you're the one who'll be buying the bridge. Read your article again and then take a step back. Yes, Monsanta and the other GMO corporations are not making manna for the Third World. But remember what I said about corporations. They're not in business to help people altruistically. I'm not speaking about moral or ethical obligations but simply financial and existential ones. Monsanto is in the business of making money for its shareholders from the production of GMO foods. Nothing more or less.

Thus you have to differentiate between "the message" and "the messenger". Monsanto isn't the most selfless company in the world, granted, but that doesn't change the fact that GMO has the potential, in the right hands, to revolutionize food supplies throughout the world. The question is why governments aren't funding such research.

Ahavah said...

If GMO technology had any real potential to feed the poor of the world, the government or the
UN would be funding it - that's the point. Why do you suppose governments in Africa decided NOT to accept GMO donations from the robber barons? They'd rather suffer hunger than accept that garbage, which is harmful both to their people and to their native crops.

"The Angolan government has hit back at critics of its move last month to ban unmilled genetically modified seed in donations meant for the hungry, saying that it has sound scientific reasons for doing so...."

"The Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa, banned all imports of GM organisms in August, issuing a statement to the press on 13 September: Simply because my poeple are hungry is no justification why I would give them poison."

And so on and so on. I recommend a book to you: Seeds of Deception, available online.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> If GMO technology had any real potential to feed the poor of the world, the government or the
UN would be funding it

Sure, and if the UN had any sense, it would be stopping the genocide in Darfur, demanding China withdraw from Tibet, working on ending poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Oh, it's not doing any of those things, is it. It IS spending time harassing Israel and funding any NGO it can find that hates us, mind you. So I'm not surprised it doesn't care about GMO's. If it could find something anti-Jewish about them, you can be sure they'd get top priority.

As for your robber baron comment, look at the recipients. The average African president is so corrupt he makes Hugo Chavez look like a Quaker. More and more NGO's are rethinking their African strategies because they have finally figured out that 95% of the money they send there winds up in presidential Swiss bank accounts. The REAL reason African leaders don't want MGO's is becaus successful crops would create a successful population that would want an accountable government and that is SO not in their interest.

Garnel Ironheart said...

"The Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa, banned all imports of GM organisms in August, issuing a statement to the press on 13 September: Simply because my poeple are hungry is no justification why I would give them poison."

I wonder when the last time he allowed free elections and a free press in his country was. I wonder how many millions he's corruptly stolen from his people. I wonder if his people are starving in the first place because he's an incompetent leader.

Ahavah said...

The political problems in Zambia and most of Africa stem directly from the fact that the white colonial governments "appropriated" all the best agricultural land for themselves and then claimed that since they "owned" it that they didn't have to give it back. Therefore several leaders have causes severe disruption of the economy with forceable land redistribution. But just turning over land to native families without giving them the financial grants to start farming didn't help. It's a mess, true. But it's not any different in substance to the fact that the transnational banking conglomerates own just about every house in this nation, and are gouging people in interest payments for them when they've been paid off 3 or 4 times over, now is it? Western culture isn't less of a mess - it's just hidden better for the time being. That, too, will pass. Land reform is something we're going start hearing about in the west before long, for obvious reasons.

Ahavah said...

Your comment about African leaders not wanting GMOs because it somehow benefits when their economy DOESN'T prosper makes no sense. As for transparency - that's a joke, right? Have you read every one of your parlaiment's members campaign and donation lists? The same robber barons and international fat cats that are running our country are running yours. Have you read Canada's budget? Canada's treaties? You don't know a thing about how your own government really works - when you do, then you can smugly say western governments are "transparent." In real life, they're about as transparent as mud.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Actually we just tossed out the Liberal party in the last federal election because of financial fraud. We then went and relected the Liberal party in the last Ontario provincial election because they committed fraud but they managed to pay off enough groups to get the votes they needed.

I would never say that Western governments are honest but there are two major differences between them and the Africans:
1) We get to choose a new set of thieves every 4-5 years
2) The rule of law says that once in a while, we get to put some of them on trial.
In Africa, this doesn't happen.
As for your "It's all the fault of white people" that doesn't explain Zimbabwe which was doing fine until a few years ago when Mugabe single-handedly started tearing the system apart and impoverished the country. It's really tiresome to hear the old "It's not my fault" excuse for Africa. Either they're capable of self-rule in which case they have to take responsibility for their problems, or they're not and colonialism was a good thing. To want the best of both in a little unfair.

Ahavah said...

Actually, that's exactly what I just explained - land redistribution issues. I didn't say they did a good job of it - I just said it needed to be done.

None of this, however, proves that GMO crops are safe, healthy, in anybody's best interest as currently practiced, or acceptable to Hashem.

Are we done now?

Garnel Ironheart said...

Only if you're not having fun anymore. We can move on.