A Nine Billion Straw Revolution

» May 21st, 2014

A vibrant discussion has developed around my recent piece on GMOs, both here at The Pitchfork and in Slate. When people discover that I’m both an advocate for animals and sympathetic for some forms of agricultural biotechnology, they’re often miffed. Vegan advocates are supposed to be crunchy hippies waving the organic flag and foraging for purslane, right?

Well, not exactly. While I get that Monsanto is the Devil Incarnate and that Big Agriculture benefits immensely from the production of GM corn, soy, beets, cotton, and canola, I am also deeply wary of opposing any technology that could be of tangible benefit to the future of an exclusively plant-based form of agriculture. For starters, if we expect 9 billion people to eat a healthy, diverse, plant-based diet, we will need industrial agriculture. The world’s poorest need it the most.

Biotechnology can make the right kind of industrial agriculture more ecologically and economically equitable and efficient. If we want both the poor and the rich to eat a wide array of crops grown all over the world, we must be prepared to develop global food systems that produce a great deal of foodstuffs with as few resources as possible. GM technology might not be a silver bullet, but it’s a tool in the toolbox dedicated to helping plants deal with drought, floods, and the many fluctuations that characterize agriculture in the age of anthropocentric climate change.

As with most matters in life, what’s critical here is management and regulation. With the world’s leading health organizations having declared transgenic technology to be no more or less dangerous than traditional plant hybridization, structures should be put in place to encourage the intelligent and humane application of biotechnology. Will some one profit at someone else’s expense? Yes. Does this disparity have to be egregious? No. More to the point: would anyone have a problem with GMOs if they were used to produce a broader diversity of nutrient rich beans for African farmers to consume and export for human consumption?

I’d love to think we could all live a one straw revolution. But I’m afraid the revolution will have to be more ambitious in scope. I’m seeking a 9 billion straw revolution.

49 Responses to A Nine Billion Straw Revolution

  1. Erika says:

    I’m sorry, but I cannot support ANYTHING Monsanto is producing. My father and I both have Agent Orange from his time on the front lines in Vietnam (I contracted it genetically). It has left our emotional health in utter ruin. I’ve suffered from ADHD, Eating Disorders, and severe Depression – which have all been linked to side effects of the chemical. It’s horrifying to not know why you suddenly go mad, and so infuriating when you find out the cause. So many years struggling, wasted. Why do you think Gen X had so many ADD/ADHD, Eating Disorders, Bi Polar, etc, etc, etc kids? A ton of this is attributed to a majority of our fathers serving time in Vietnam before our conception. I would urge you to look outside of this particular scientific box for a solution. It’s already proven it’s inhumanity and greed. Why would you ever trust it again after Vietnam? Did all those lives lost not mean anything to this country? Americans always want quick fixes, but they disregard detrimental long term effects. Case in Point: Agent Orange. It did what it was supposed to do, and it did it well, which was destroy life. Clearly Monsanto’s good at that.

  2. Laura says:

    With regrets, I agree with you; with the chronic growth of the human population, biotechnology remains necessary to grow enough food for all 7 (soon to be 8) billion people. And that should exclude growing hay & grain to feed millions of “farm” animals daily since that is outrageously wasteful, irresponsible, cruel, foolish, etc., all bad, including the ruining of land (manure lagoons etc.) and the shockingly foolish waste of precious water.

    Organic, locally grown produce is great when you can get it at a reasonable price, but other times the Walmart broccoli and bananas will fill the bill.
    Just nothing from China (land of Melamine etc.) to be eaten or applied to the body; that’s where I draw the line.

    On a side note, I’ve never seen a good reason for the human population to continually grow. “Quality, not quantity,” that’d be a great way for people to think. Fix what you have before multiplying it, then there’s less “need” to multiply it.

  3. Laura says:

    Hello again, James: Sorry to bring this up here but your last article isn’t here. You apparently removed your piece on Karen Dawn and her book. I wonder if it’s for the same reason I had huge 2nd thoughts about promoting her due to what I read here: http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/article.php?article=25019 …where she (as does her friend Peter SInger who is also for using animals “humanely” when he says it’s “needed,” including his “Heavy Petting” bestiality persuasion piece) states that some “non-lethal” research using animals could be justified if really necessary to help people; thus her book title, “Thanking the Monkey,” which I suspected had that insidious meaning, and it does.

    Friends of animals who say there are certain permissible uses of animals, deemed permissible by them, not by the animals? I hate to have issues with such a lighthearted, loving lady, but issues I have. Do you or anyone else agree?

    If anyone wants troublemaking me to stop commenting here, just say so and I’ll stop. I don’t enjoy having these concerns, nor stating them where they’re not wanted.

  4. Hope Bohanec says:

    James, I think that a key phrase in your piece is this, “With the world’s leading health organizations having declared transgenic technology to be no more or less dangerous than traditional plant hybridization…” An entire post needs to be written about this. Progressives and foodies regard GMO’s as the devil incarnate, even more so than pesticides, which, to my knowledge have been proven much more harmful. (Please correct me if I’m wrong) Science is showing that the proposed dangers of GMO’s are overblown. People need to be educated on this. You would be perfect to enlighten us. :)

    While on the subject of GMO’s, I’m exceedingly annoyed at the amount of resources, energy and money that is spent on the labeling campaigns. There is already a label for non-GMO’s, it’s called organic! Organic foods are GMO free, if you want to avoid GMO’s, eat certified organic food, which people should be doing anyway. No need for another label.

    • Sailesh Rao says:

      Hope, the environmental harm caused by the production of Round-up Ready GMO crops is well understood.

      You’re probably right that all non-organic processed foods sold in the US contain Roundup-Ready GMO foods, but this fact is not widely known. It’s not as if food manufacturers don’t know how to make non-GMO processed foods, for they routinely make them for the European market, but they don’t market these in the US because GMO corn and soy are cheaper (because of externalized costs to the environment). It would be better for people’s health if they bought more rice/beans/fresh produce instead of these GMO-laden really cheap, processed foods. And clearly, these GMO-laden really cheap, processed foods (I’m including really cheap soft drinks saturated with GMO corn syrup in this category) are one of the primary causes of the obesity->diabetes->(heart disease/stroke/cancer) crisis in the US, which means that GMO foods are indeed harmful to public health as well. Unfortunately, many scientific studies are either too narrow in scope or are funded by Big Ag to connect the dots on this issue, but surely, we can put two and two together.

      For these reasons, I view Roundup-Ready GMO crops as the agricultural equivalent of Mountain Top Removal Coal mining. They are both grotesque violations of Nature and Life.

  5. James,
    “As with most matters in life, what’s critical here is management and regulation.” How is it that we can ever control gmo pollen once released into the environments and “taken in” by non-gmo plants?

    Also, one of the best reasons to go vegan is of course we no longer use the majority of cropland as food for animal agriculture output. That decreased anthropogenic sources of GHGs by 18 to 51% as you know-thus reducing the harms to the poorest of the poor. To say that we should employ GMO technology to feed the poor tugs at our hearts but not our brains. The increased yield example you used does not account for the increased use of fertilizers before the plant structure cannot bear the increased weight. I’m just saying we all know the many causes of hunger and GMOs are not the first choice on my list.

    • James says:

      Will,
      It’s extremely difficult–to the point of impossibility–for a plant contaminated with GMO pollen to survive under natural conditions. Look into it. And think about it—GMO’s are entirely designed to be kept alive by human intervention. Like a domesticated dog let loose into the wild, they do poorly without constant attn. In any case, good to see you commenting here.
      James

      • John Maher says:

        Huh? No one should offer an opinion on this until they are completely familiar with endosymbiotic theory and horizontal gene transfer mechanisms sued to create GMOs and ‘naturally’ occurring HGT. Portions of nucleotides will survive in the “wild” and become part of the genetic sequence in an unrelated wild species DNA as opposed to a junk sequence. Whether or not they are expressed as a genomic sequence and are activated by epigenetic means is another matter.

        Please everyone do not drink the purple Koo-Aide promise of a better tomorrow through GMOs without doing the reading first.

      • Mountain says:

        If domesticated dogs do poorly in the wild, why are there tens of millions (probably hundreds of millions) living successfully in the wild around the world? Also, why did a dingo eat my baby?

  6. Sailesh Rao says:

    If we are really concerned about human population, then why are so many countries, including almost the entire European Union, offering incentives to their women to have more children?

    http://mentalfloss.com/article/33485/5-creative-ways-countries-tried-their-birth-rates

    Clearly, a liberal immigration policy would suffice to overcome their demographic problems, but they don’t seem to embrace it. Is that due to a fear of the “other”?

    In any case, I respectfully disagree with the premise that humans cannot feed themselves without GMOs and industrial farming. It may be hard to imagine in the face of Big Ag’s relentless, self-serving propaganda, but Dr. Vandana Shiva has clearly laid out a compelling case for small, organic farming in her book, Soil Not Oil.

    http://www.amazon.com/Soil-Not-Oil-Environmental-Justice/dp/0896087824

    It is well worth a read. Humans constitute less than 0.5% of the animal biomass on the planet and all told, humans are currently using up around 50% of the photosynthetic output of the planet. This is 100 times worse than the average utilization achieved by all other animals, birds and insects in Nature, mainly because of our obsession with animal foods. Surely, we can do better?

    As Einstein said, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

    • Mountain says:

      Sailesh, you and I don’t agree on much, but we agree on this– humans can feed themselves just fine without GMOs and industrial agriculture. I don’t want them banned or forbidden, I just want people to know that we can feed the world without them.

      First, population isn’t nearly the problem some think it is. As Sailesh notes, the population of the developed world has already stabilized. The population of the developing world is still growing, but even there, growth has slowed down considerably. Overall, the world’s fertility rate is half what it was fifty years ago, and is projected to drop another 20% by 2050, at which point it will be stable. That should leave us with a stable population of 9 billion.

      9 billion may sound like a lot of people, but we have plenty of land to feed them all. There are 3.5 billion acres of cropland in the world. Organic farming yields enough food to feed 2-3 people per acre, so we can feed roughly 9 billion people with croplands alone, as long as we don’t waste those crops by feeding them to animals. Once you add in all the pasture and forest land in the world, we have well over 8 billion acres of farmable land. Again, with yields of 2-3 people per acre, we have enough land to feed roughly 20 billion people. Luckily, we won’t have to.

      Long story short: population growth has slowed and will soon stop, and we have plenty of land to feed the inhabitants of our future world.

      • Sailesh Rao says:

        Thank you for your input, Mountain. I’m eternally grateful that we don’t all think alike. As such, I don’t expect to agree with everything that I read, but I strive to consider it seriously.

        Please keep writing!

      • Dylan says:

        I think “feed the world” might be over used. Regardless of how optimistic you are about population growth, general governance, reduction of animal use I would still think a world with orange trees resistant to citrus greening would be much better (environmentally, nutritionally) than one without. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to just surviving.

  7. Marc says:

    To me, a critical aspect of being an advocate for nonhuman animals is to work to reduce the human population. We are already taking up too much of tbe planet in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to feed the current population of 7 billion.

    • James says:

      What do you propose we do to reduce population?

      • John Maher says:

        Pentti Linkola has some answers for that one. Whether one agrees with him or not he did not avoid tough the questions.

      • Marc says:

        Follow the Chinese policy of having no more than one child (although unfortunately they are showing signs of backtracking). As I see it, all domesticated species are overpopulated. We need to encourage spaying and neutering of humans as well as cats and dogs.

        • Mountain says:

          The one-child policy had little, if anything, to do with China’s population slow-down. Taiwan (made up primarily of Chinese people) does not have a one-child policy. They had explosive growth rates, like China, in the 40s and 50s when they were a poor island. As they became a prosperous nation, birth rates plummeted, dipping below replacement level by the 1980s.

          This pattern has been seen all over the world, but obviously Taiwan is the closest to China, both geographically and culturally.

      • Mountain says:

        I propose we continue to help the world develop and watch the fertility rate continue to drop. The world’s fertility rate was 4.95 in the early 1950s; it’s now 2.36. Anything below 2.1 and population will decline.

        In the developed world, where people have education, healthcare, and job opportunities, the rate is already below 2.1. In the developing world, as opportunities improve (the most recent decade has been a noticeably prosperous one in Africa), that number will continue to drop.

        So, let’s continue to build free and prosperous societies (especially for women), and the population will reduce itself.

        • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

          Mountain said,
          “So, let’s continue to build free and prosperous societies (especially for women), and the population will reduce itself.”

          Agreed.

          Hans Rosling explains: http://goo.gl/R7k1q9

          Prioritize education of women and children, a highly worthwhile humanitarian endeavor in it’s own right, and population reduction happens by itself without fruitless discussions that make us sound like misanthropes.

          • Marc says:

            I agree that empowering women is a critical part of reducing population. As a misanthrope I see the need to reduce human monopolization of the planet. How many more forests and grasslands must we destroy as we try to feed billions more?

          • Mountain says:

            @DieBremer, thanks for the support and the link.

            @Marc, I want to be clear that when I mentioned pasture & forest as part of the 8 billion acres of farmable land, I was only counting pasture & forest that are already being farmed, not turning pristine grasslands and forests into farmland.

  8. Keith Akers says:

    This is a hard issue for me to get interested in because the parameters of the question are more important than the question itself. GMOs are a technology formulated to address a condition of scarcity (or perceived scarcity). Rather than get enmeshed in the details of GMOs, pro and con, we should instead be asking about limits to economic growth generally and how we approach these limits as individuals or as a society.

    Check out Craig Dilworth’s book “Too Smart for our Own Good.” Historically, GMOs are another technological gimmick to deal with a condition of scarcity. Humans are good at this sort of thing, and in the past it has led to the invention of such things as fire, agriculture, the wheel, birth control, and gumball machines. Historically, the result is generally — it works! The condition of scarcity is alleviated, resulting in an increase in well-being, resulting in increased population. This is not quite Malthus, because Malthus did not really deal with technological advancement.

    But increasing population always results in a new scarcity, which results in new technological advances, etc. etc. etc. So James, my question to you would be: fine. Suppose that GMOs, properly managed and supervised, turn out to be fine. Suppose that we feed 9 billion, 10 billion, 12 billion.

    Now what? Don’t we have to break out of this cycle at some point before the earth’s resources are completely depleted? In fact, haven’t we already pretty much overshot the earth’s resources? Aren’t fossil fuel shortages and water shortages much, MUCH more critical than even coming up with “dream” crops, GMO and perfectly safe? Shouldn’t we be worrying about “limits to growth” rather than the technical details of the latest magic elixir?

    • John Maher says:

      @Keith. Bad assumption. GMOs are a means of extracting value from agriculture through creating an artificial monopoly through patents, tying distribution of seeds to pesticide purchases, and tying those to crop financing schemes. In other words capital seeks rent and hooking farmers on GMO terminator seeds is a way of producing all the aforementioned revenue streams. Bog AG such as ConAgra gets the other segment of value.

      GMOs are not an altruistic effort to combat scarcity via technology, but to create a monopoly with tying arrangements on seeds, pesticides and financing and ride that pony until it drops.

      The last two paras you wrote were good.

      • Marc says:

        I agree, I would focus on the last two paragraphs of Keith’s comments. Whether or not GMOs have economic or biologic problems, why are we looking for ways to feed more people? We have already lost many species and are continuing to lose more as the human population increases. And we are making life increasing difficult for the species who survive.
        John, I am not familiar with Pentti Linkol. What does he propose?

        • John Maher says:

          @Marc Linkola, not a vegan but someone who is concerned with species survival, wrote “Can Life Prevail?” recently reissued in paperback and proposed, inter alia, that all countries turn in their nuclear weapons to the United Nations which would then collectively decide which human population centers to target for elimination in order to prevent complete ecological collapse. Strangely, Linkola is not a mere anti humanist but feels universities should survive and transform the consciousness of such humans as remain, which would be on the order of less than one million. The area where Linkola lives is very beautiful but one can see encroachment from human development and when I saw this I understood why Linkola wishes to preserve what remains of the less hybridized natural world. I am interested in his work as I am concerned by the question of whether it is possible to respond to ecological collapse without ecofascism. Sadly some of the wrong sort of deranged people find Linkola compelling merely because he wants to kill humans when they should be properly focused on why he wants to do so and how this might become politically possible.

      • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

        John Maher said,
        “GMOs are a means of extracting value from agriculture through creating an artificial monopoly through patents, tying distribution of seeds to pesticide purchases, and tying those to crop financing schemes.”

        You’re projecting and it’s an impediment to the subject. For example, what you wrote has little to do with Golden Rice.

        Patents, seeds paired with pesticide, and financing schemes all exist outside of genetic engineering. If it biotechnology were banned tomorrow, they would continue to exist.

        Genetic engineering offers applications that weren’t possible before or that can speed results over traditional breeding. Corporations, intellectual property, and all the rest are our existing systems of social organization.

        Many advocates claim genetic engineering is needed to “feed the world”, but it doesn’t necessarily have to pass such a litmus test.

        Biotechnology has the potential to create a blue orange which might be neat. That’s enough for me. Maybe non-browning Arctic Apples are a good aesthetic idea. If new breeding techniques can contribute to alleviating agricultural or social problems that’s good too.

        • John Maher says:

          Golden rice is a Trojan horse based upon fears of Thiamine deficiency and a feel good mechanism to avoid responsibility for proper diets. It is the gateway, along with free trade agreements, to adding an intellectual property cost component to food and consolidating production within BigAg. It is all about ordering, controlling and monetizing every aspect of human life including the bacteria in the human gut biome which will be modified to exposure to GMOS after time.

          Your comment “Genetic engineering offers applications that weren’t possible before or that can speed results over traditional breeding. Corporations, intellectual property, and all the rest are our existing systems of social organization.” is a series of generalizations and conclusions not supported by a well-reasoned argument. Rethink that one.

          Also social “good” needs to be redefined here. Maybe social good means reducing the human population and its destruction not feeding more humans. Saving humanity may mean killing off “[A]lleviating agricultural problems” do you mean more pesticide for lower yields than labour intensive farming? Critically flawed monoculture practices as opposed to diversity? Destroying habitat to farm more GMO soybeans for hogs?

          L’Orange Bleu is a great Moroccan cafe in NYC’s SoHo by the way.

          • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

            Or, if I’m a plant breeding scientist that wonders what sort of contribution I can make to the world with my skill set, inserting a worthwhile nutrient into a food staple sounds more doable, than the overwhelming socio-political task of reforming global policies that lead to poverty and hunger for millions of people far outside my sphere of influence.

            Supporting statements that aren’t generalizations:

            • Integrating beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, into rice isn’t possible with conventional breeding methods. We can dispute whether it’s a good idea, but I’m just covering means and methods.

            • The orange industry acknowledges that traditional breeding may provide a solution to citrus greening, but they are under pressure to find an expedient solution before the problem becomes devastating. We can debate all aspects of the orange industry, consumer demand, and food systems, but in the context of their operations, an expedient resolution to the orange industry’s business model may benefit from biotechnology.

            • “Corporations, intellectual property, and all the rest are our existing systems of social organization” seems self-evident otherwise you would not rally against them. I’m open to discussions about how to improve or abolish them if there are better alternatives, but there they are. That’s what we got.

            Yes. I’m running with humanistic assumptions that choosing people for “killing off” is not a social good even if it conflicts with other social goods that then need to be managed. That’s a bias I hope most people share and not something that needs to be redefined. There isn’t a chair at the discussion table for staunch misanthropes on this.

            John Maher said,
            “Critically flawed monoculture practices as opposed to diversity?”

            False dichotomy. Better than worse monoculture and striving to diversity if that is indeed beneficial.

            John Maher said,
            “Destroying habitat to farm more GMO soybeans for hogs?”

            False dichotomy. Restrict agricultural expansion, restore natural habitats, grow more soybeans on existing land with less impact that may or may not require biotechnology, and pursue social change efforts to reduce consumer demand for pork.

            It’s far from utopia, yours or mine, but it starts where we are, not where we wish we were, and follows with positive proposals that have a possibility of being enacted, not dismissed outright as being unrealistic or undesirable.

            John Maher said,
            L’Orange Bleu is a great Moroccan cafe in NYC’s SoHo by the way.

            I ate at L’Orange Bleu once, over a decade ago. The first and last time I ate oysters.

          • John Maher says:

            @ Bremer Staats Musiker

            Your last comment was better reasoned and I will only pick on a few small points.

            “John Maher said, “Critically flawed monoculture practices as opposed to diversity?”

            AND BSM Responded “False dichotomy. Better than worse monoculture and striving to diversity if that is indeed beneficial.”

            AND JTM countered: This is incoherent. better than worse monoculture? We have not defined what worse might be and your comments questions crop diversity? So if all plants on earth were soybeans that would be great right? No food security issues involving pathogenic viruses or bacteria and mutations affecting yield there. No effect on wildlife. No effect on human gut biome of uniform diet of the same crop.

            “John Maher said, “Destroying habitat to farm more GMO soybeans for hogs?”

            BSM responded: “False dichotomy. Restrict agricultural expansion, restore natural habitats, grow more soybeans on existing land with less impact that may or may not require biotechnology, and pursue social change efforts to reduce consumer demand for pork.”

            AND JTM countered: but clearing more land is exactly what is happening and it is being used to feed hogs to China and India. Worldwide we vegans are losing ground every year in absolute numbers and per capita meat consumption.

            So where you conclude: “It’s far from utopia, yours or mine, but it starts where we are, not where we wish we were, and follows with positive proposals that have a possibility of being enacted, not dismissed outright as being unrealistic or undesirable.” I note that in both statements cited you start at precisely where you wish we were.

      • Keith Akers says:

        “Extracting value” is a way of proceeding against perceived scarcities, in this case a “scarcity” on the part of the elite. There aren’t enough McMansions, or enough of something else, I suppose. So this IS a technical solution designed to address scarcities. I basically don’t see the point of getting involved in a debate over the technical efficacy of GMOs. You’re trying to drag me back into it but I don’t see any attempt in your comment to provide me with reasons for wanting to do so.

        I’m not fighting the idea that technology is used to benefit the elites. But that’s always been the case, even in the 1970′s and 1980′s. Back then, technology benefited the elites but people didn’t notice it as much because some of it trickled down, we had a more progressive income tax, and we actually had a middle class. James is saying, hey — let’s use these new technologies to benefit the masses instead of the elites, and appropriately regulated (he is asking) what’s wrong with that? (To which, by the way, I have yet to see an effective reply.)

        So James, at least, sees GMOs as a way of addressing the question of scarcity for the benefit of everyone. We could argue motives, of course, but I’ll bet that the people who came up with “fire” and “the wheel” also were trying to advance their own class interests (whatever “classes” existed in those days). Motives are irrelevant; the fact is that a perceived scarcity (for someone) was being addressed with a technological answer rather than by restructuring society or our ideas of what it means to be human.

        My response to both of you is that while this debate is not entirely uninteresting, it is MUCH less interesting than the underlying problem that we are facing scarcity and we are reacting with a technological solution. I see some references to eco-fascism and suggestions for “humane genocide” (not by commenters here, but by the crazies on the internet). While I strongly disagree with these people (I don’t think they’ve really thought this thing out), they are at least trying to deal with the right problem.

        • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

          I understand and appreciate what you are saying especially as you have described it in here. The scarcity model is a useful construct.

          I’d just offer caution against viewing every situation with a single lens. In fairness to you, James did use scarcity as a rationale, so it’s not like you pulled it out of thin air.

          But, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

      • Dylan says:

        This is nonsense. Monsanto is able to sell and license the two most popular GM traits at a premium because farmers value the trait and are willing to pay higher prices for seeds with those traits. Round up ready crops obviously increased sales of Monsanto’s round up but they no longer own the patent. Bt crops only reduce the need for insecticide.

        There are no terminator seeds. That this factoid is so often repeated is a reflection of the distance the anti-gmo community is from reality.

        • Mountain says:

          Well, there are terminator seeds. They are not commercially available (due to fairly massive opposition), and Monsanto has pledged not to commercialize them. But they do exist.

          Also, let’s not reserve all of our bile for Monsanto. The USDA was actually first to develop the concept, and Monsanto wasn’t the only seed company to develop the technology. Thanks, USDA!

          • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

            Anti-GMO proponents deliver “fairly massive opposition” to Genetic Use Restriction Technology, while at the same time protest GMO gene spread that would be contained by it. Organic proponents concerned about “genetic purity” would benefit since genetic “contamination” is drastically reduced if offending crops cannot continue past one generation.

            But too many people believe idea’s like,

            “the possibility that the terminator may spread to surrounding food crops or to the natural environment is a serious one. The gradual spread of sterility in seeding plants would result in a global catastrophe that could eventually wipe out higher life forms, including humans, from the planet.”
            — from Stolen Harvest by Dr. Vandana Shiva

            Genetic spread happens, but not akin to a contagious disease. The physics trained Dr. Shiva is demonstrating her ignorance of basic biology and evolution. Survival of the fittest is a misnomer, it’s survival of those that propagate. In nature, sterile organisms that rely on sexual reproduction don’t propagate so well.

            Children understand how this works with neutered pets. If Fee-fee is properly spayed, it’s highly unlikely (understatement!) that you’re going to come home to a surprise litter even if Fee-fee shares your home with thirty intact tom cats. Even if by Immaculate Conception, Fee-fee does give birth to kittens that inherited her sterility it would take another act of the divine for those cats to produce offspring.

            And if you don’t accept that illustration because it’s with animals and not plants, please note that seedless watermelons and bananas are “seeds of death,” as Dr. Shiva would call them, from genetically sterile plants that have not neutered anyone or eradicated all life on Earth.

          • James says:

            Vandanya Shiva’s work has been shown repeatedly to be thoroughly unreliable.

    • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

      Keith Akers said,
      “GMOs are a technology formulated to address a condition of scarcity (or perceived scarcity).”

      This seems like an assumption that’s overstepping a simpler starting point.

      Genetic engineering is a newer breeding technique. Full stop.

      The first commercial GMO was the Flavr Savr tomato. The idea was, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if supermarket tomatoes breed to ship well and look good didn’t have to taste so bland.”

      Seems like a stretch to say that the Flavr Savr tomato was formulated to address scarcity. Sure, it’s a technological gimmick, but we’re communicating through a technological gimmick and it’s not so bad.

      • Keith Akers says:

        In this case, there was a perceived scarcity of supermarket tomatoes.

        It’s a bit surprising to see so much resistance to the idea that we face scarcities. The elites, who control the overall economic process, are of course addressing their scarcities first. The response was a technological one.

        • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

          Yeah. That’s a stretch. Supermarkets had plenty of tomatoes in the 90s and there was no perceive scarcity. Flavr Savrs were to be a product upgrade, the perceived scarcity being taste if you really want to shoehorn it.

          And that’s what’s happening. You are starting with Dilworth’s theory and then using it to explain everything in such a way that can’t be falsified. It’s on par with Freudianism and the reason why psychology has abandoned it. No matter what the patient’s problem, the Freudian diagnosis was delivered from the top down theory of repressed infantile sexual desires. It sure seems to explain everything, except that it’s mostly wrong and brushes aside important granularity.

          Does humanity face scarcities? No doubt. Was genetic engineering “a technology formulated to address a condition of scarcity?” Partially yes. Partially no.

  9. Mountain says:

    “As with most matters in life, what’s critical here is management and regulation.”

    No. Not by a long shot. What’s critical here is diversity and the freedom to innovate. Give farmers the freedom to figure out what crops and what kind of farming work best for their particular land. Management and regulation get in the way of that. Considering how often top execs from Big Ag end up has head administrators in the FDA, EPA, and the USDA, more regulation just means more power in the hands of Big Ag.

    If you think management and regulation are so critical, feel free to advocate for government to manage and regulate academic discourse. I’m sure you would appreciate government agencies regulating what you may teach in your classroom, and what you can say when giving talks around the country.

    • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

      Perhaps you are reading too much into James’ advocacy for management and regulation.

      Of course I can’t speak for him, but my impression is that he means “appropriate and prudent guidelines” not necessarily “oppressive bureaucracy.”

      Um, James is employed at Texas “State” University.

      • John Maher says:

        Jumping back in here I argue Mountain is actually critically understating the framework of biopolitical control and coercion which exists while you are merely restating the neoliberal worldview. The concept of the University and the Open are under more incremental control every year and this is a huge issue which is off topic which we will not go into bit only mention for purposes of exclusion. Like the donkey, the rooster and the other critters in the Brothers Grimm story all on the road to Bremen, the structure of power is not what it seems to be when you first start out and what awaits you is not what you have been told. They picked up a copy of Foucault on the road and did not like what it revealed to them. Maybe we all should

      • Mountain says:

        @DieBremer, I am undoubtedly reading too much into James’ advocacy of regulation. I’ve been reading his blog for a very long time, and am regularly annoyed by his assumption that regulation is a good thing. The most appropriate thing would probably be to shrug my shoulders and get over it, but I’m more inclined to argue against that assumption.

        The problem is that regulation is not “appropriate and prudent guidelines;” it’s a form of law, enforced by a regulatory agency, backed by the threat of force. And regulatory agencies will inevitably be captured by big players in the industry they are supposed to regulate. George Stigler won a Nobel Prize for his work in this area (regulatory capture).

        It doesn’t matter if there are good intentions behind regulations, they are enforced by human beings working in government, who are just imperfect as human beings outside of government. Companies can exert control of regulation through intentional corruption, unintentional corruption, or simply a shared worldview and regular interaction. So you get ranchers guiding BLM policy, Big Ag guiding USDA policy, Monsanto guiding FDA and EPA policy, prison guard unions guiding drug control policies, and on and on and on.

        And I know James works for Texas State University. And I don’t know the details of how things are run at TSU, but traditionally even state schools have respected academic freedom, and not attempted to regulate how and what professors teach in the classroom. And certainly, they don’t provide “appropriate and prudent guidelines” for what James can say when acting as a journalist or animal advocate.

        • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

          Academic freedom is regulation.

          The Bill of Rights, protecting personal liberty, is regulation. Freedoms enforced by a regulatory agencies backed by the threat of coercion and violence. Good intentions made compulsory, mandated by fallible and corruptible human primates working in ungainly bureaucratic government.

          I’m not sure what your feelings are on the Bill of Rights, but on the whole, I think the legislation establishes prudent and appropriate guidelines, that yes, are laws.

          You’re advocacy would benefit from different framing. Instead of saying there should be no agricultural regulation, a statement that’s just going to be ignored especially for a business sector whose products are destined to go into people mouths. You should propose farmers’ individual security against abuses of power similar to academic freedom in state universities, because like educators, a canon of protected freedoms are necessary for farmer’s to do their job well.

          • Mountain says:

            You are technically correct that academic freedom and the Bill of Rights are forms of regulation, but by that definition, any government other than pure anarchy is a form of regulation. When people speak of “regulation,” they’re usually referring to the alphabet-soup of regulatory agencies and the regulatory state that has developed over the last 80 years or so.

            There’s a very important difference between the two forms of regulation: the Bill of Rights regulates what the government can do, not what citizens can do. The First Amendment begins with “Congress shall make no law…” Other Amendments refer to rights that shall not be infringed, abridged, or in other ways tampered with. Academic freedom works the same way, limiting the ability of governors to regulate the content of academic discourse.

            It’s possible my advocacy needs different, but I think most people intuitively grasp the difference between the “regulation” of the Bill of Rights, and the regulation of the (USDA, BLM, EPA, FDA, FCC, HHS, etc.) regulatory state.

  10. Sailesh Rao says:

    Here’s a well-researched article by Ellen Brown on Truthdig about Monsanto and GMOs:

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/monsanto_the_tpp_and_global_food_dominance_20131128#

    As Brown reports, Roundup blocks the uptake of Manganese in living cells. Perhaps this is why the USDA has stated that 56% of Americans are not consuming the Estimate Average Requirement (EAR) of Manganese in their daily diet.

    I feel compelled to act, not just write. I’m joining the worldwide March Against Monsanto (http://www.march-against-monsanto.com/) tomorrow!

  11. Jimmy Videle says:

    Hello James,

    It has been a long time since I posted. Good to be back. I am sure everyone is probably tired of this issue, but it comes back up, because well it came back up.
    I am an organic farmer(which means no gmo seeds)-turned veganic farmer (which means the use of no animal products to produce my veggies and fruits+ no gmo seeds). Saturday the 21st I was at anti-specieist vigil with another veganic farmer friend and your name came up as being a proponent of gmo’s. We both find this discouraging.
    Whether Monsanto or an environmentally sensitive company, gmo’s cause serious risks to farmers for the ability to save their own seed (in corn’s case), since the pollen would cross-contaminate. With all the money that bioengineering spends to create a gmo seed, less money would be needed to create a variety of open-pollinated seeds in the fields around the world, encompassing all regions that would be genetically better and here is why:
    Each year a farmer saves seed, that seed has data stored in its nucleus of the growing conditions of where it grew. Weather-drought or too moist, pest pressure, fungal pressures, weed pressures. Those crops each year, by saving those seeds, would have internal knowledge and each year could become stronger, more vigorous and healthier. Before modern agriculture, and scientifically developing hybrids (circa 1920??)and now biotech seeds, this is how it was done since the dawn of agriculture maybe for 100,000 years in some parts of the world.
    The problem with science is that humans are trying to predict nature (we are not very good at this), where it is the purpose of the seed to do this, as it is necessary for its survival; for a seed wants to grow, produce a flower and produce more seed.
    Soy being round-up ready, and spraying glyphosphate, is causing glyphosphate resistant weeds, thus making companies create stonger formulations of weed killer to modify the seeds with. This is a problem. Again humans trying to outsmart nature, doesn’t work.
    Again, if we took all the money out of bio-engineering and created localized rotational open-pollinated seed farms. We could create seeds that are adapting to the fast pace change of our 2015 planet.
    I am not a scientist and maybe all the world’s health organizations have stated that there is nothing dangerous with GMO’s, but I also agree with someone else that posted, that there may not be enough evidence yet to show that they are dangerous. Remember at one time, health organizations were saying smoking was good for you (1940), and there are some still saying that drinking milk and eating red meat is good for your health as well.
    We can feed 9 billion people, with an open-pollinated system. Up until 1900 (1.5 billion people) we were doing just fine.
    I am interested in your thoughts,
    Thanks,
    Jimmy Videle

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