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Friday, December 7, 2012

The Future Is Spring, and It's On Its Way Now

Very welcome mail

Director of corporate communications for Monsanto, Phil Angell, summed up his company’s take on the issue in a report by food author Michael Pollan for New York Times Magazine in 1998: "Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job." - New York Times, 1998, quoted here.
Hurrah! Hooray! My first seed catalog of the winter has arrived, the big, beautiful Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds 2013 Pure Seed Book. Right away in the early pages, before even getting to the seeds, I find a 2-page spread on news of GMOs. The piece was reprinted from the Summer 2012 Heirloom Gardener magazine, so if you don’t get the seed catalog, look up the magazine to read the entire article.

GMOs are not like cigarettes or atomic testing, in that we’ll have to wait years to find out that they’re not good for us. The results of this experiment on environmental health are already coming in, and they’re saying once again, “Don’t mess with Mother Nature!” Genetic modification of seeds is NOT the “same” as plant and animal breeding or cross-breeding, either. Yes, humans have developed new strains of plants and animals for ages through selective breeding and hybridization. This way of producing new varieties is doing what nature does in a more focused and intentional way. Genetic modification is entirely different.

To modify a plant or animal genetically, cell walls are invaded, and genetic material from species that would never have interbred with the host are inserted—sometimes even animal material into plant cells—along with all kinds of chemical suppressants. The lethal cocktail is designed to make insure survival of the invaded cell and to make it resistant to chemicals that will later be applied to soil and plant to “help” it fend off weeds and pests.

Mouth-watering images of real food
Weeds and insects have not been successful on earth because they give up when threatened. When the environment, natural or manipulated by man, tries to kill them, their evolution speeds up, and so it has done to combat the threat posed by GMOs. More than 40 varieties of new plant diseases have evolved to meet the chemical threat, and insects are evolving, too. Meanwhile, animals fed on GMOs—lab animals, livestock, and pets--are developing all kinds of problems, including infant mortality, immune disorders, and higher death rates.

Europeans have been less than enthusiastic about GMOs from the start and are still trying to come to terms with the new biotechnology. Here is the European Commission's definition of GMO, by the way:

GMOs are organisms with artificially altered genes to change their characteristics in some way.
To date the most well know but also controversial application of GMO technology is related to food crops, for example food crops that are altered to produce pesticidal proteins from within the plant.
But GMO technology is also used for biological and medical research, production of pharmaceutical drugs and experimental medicine.

 Russia recently said no (enough troubles without needing to import more), and  Zimbabwe has said no to food aid containing GMOs, saying “You cannot use the Zimbabwean population as guinea pigs.” So far, Americans have allowed themselves to be used as guinea pigs, and they roll over and play guinea pig in the name of scientific and entrepreneurial freedom, willing to endure real harms and to put future generations at risk in the name of an abstract good that most of them will never share. We don't even require labeling on our food that would indicate what products contain GMOs.

I call the good abstract because, as the article points out, “GMOs give no consumer benefit.” The benefit is to the companies producing seeds that are protected by patent, seeds that cannot be saved from year to year, so that farmers switching to GMOs are more and more dependent on chemical companies for each year’s seeds, herbicides, and pesticides.

I believe strongly that the health of Americans relies on the independence of farmers and their ability to produce healthy food, but the article in my beautiful new seed catalog is upbeat and happy, because what with more and more countries saying no to GMOs, and what with the disappointing results on them coming in, it’s hard to see how even their corporate producers can hope to rake in profits much longer. And of course, if profits vanish, so will the deadly products.

We all, of course, have a very personal stake in this. This is a case of bad news for a corporation being good news for the future of the earth and its inhabitants. Hope! The thing with feathers

Earth's bounty, ours to cultivate
David asked me, "Are you going to become a crank in your old age?" I told him I'd be no crankier than I'd been at age 18. Someone else asked me if I weren't crankier than David. No, we get cranked up about different issues (with some overlap, of course), but I am (and he is, too) basically much less cranky than in our youthful days. We are readier to understand and to forgive or to shrug and accept a lot of things. Not all, though. By no means all. We are neither of anywhere near Zen master stage.


Gerry said...

Heh heh. You are singing my song. - Crankypants Gerry

P. J. Grath said...

AGAIN you give me cheer, Gerry! I am not the World's Last Crank! I have a bookseller friend in the U.P. who prides herself on being a curmudgeon, so she's one of us, too, right? Funny how one person's "cranky" is another person's "passionate." Word choice--what a different it makes!

Dawn said...

I am definitely crankier than I was as a young person. I have no patience for time wasters at work. Actually, I have no patience for work at all.

I still think a little house in the woods eating mostly my own food grown where I knew what was in it would be a good thing.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, I think that (1) loving the work you do and (2) feeling appreciated and valued in it are key to not being cranky. This is why, for me, some days are definitely more cranky and other less so. But ah, yes, the fantasy of retreating from the hard, cruel world! I know it well!

Kathy said...

Yep, you are singing the song of many of us! Thank you, Pamela. May we continue to persevere...