Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book review: Seeds of Destruction by William Engdahl

What do you think about using advanced biotechnology to develop a few plants that are resistant to highly toxic pesticides, and then laying waste to the environment with said pesticides, so that when the "dust clears", the only plants left standing are your proprietary super-resistant crops?

What do you think about genetically modifying plants so they don't produce any seeds -leaving the entire world perpetually dependent on your closely-guarded terminator seeds for each next season's food supply?

What do you think about patenting the genes of your special genetically-modified crops, and then spreading the pollen from your patented crops into the wind next to your competetor's land? When your pollen fetilizes your competetor's crops, you can take him to court for patent infringement! If you are a big company like Monsanto, you can afford lots of lawyers. It's a great way to run little family-owned farms out of business... then you can buy their land cheap - Bonus!!

Does that really happen? Here's a chart of 2005 Monsanto-initiated patent infringement lawsuits against small independent farms, who all describe Monsanto employees blowing or spraying pollen onto their land:
Monsanto 2005 patent infringement suits by state

If you have anything like "morals" or "ethics" or an abiding sense of natural law, these ideas are probably abhorrent to you. But of course these ideas were not developed with ethics or morals in mind; they are part of an aggressive business model that has been in development since the 1970's, and has been kicking the asses of family-owned farmers, while benefitting large agribusinesses like Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta. I don't know if you can make out the text on the graphic below, but it shows all the suppliers of commercial farming seeds in the USA (for 2008). Although it looks like there are about one hundred suppliers, the ownership traces back to just six companies, with by far the largest fraction centralized to just three: Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta.
centralization of seed suppliers

A generation ago, there were hundreds of independent seed suppliers, providing small farms with "heritage" seeds that had been carefully bred over generations. With the seed market now so overwhelmingly dominated by just three players, some form of price fixing is almost difficult to avoid... and that's if the big players really want to avoid it. Between that and the economies of scale favoring large agribusiness, small farms have taken a beating these past forty years.
food is a weapon

That's a shame, because when food production is spread out among thousands of small producers, the market is driven by true stochastic numbers, which make prices more stable and more fair (as in "fair market value"). Concentration of the market into the hands of a few suppliers and producers distorts market forces, diminishes stability, and makes the entire market more vulnerable to corruption, cronyism and other nonmarket influences. It also makes a nation more vulnerable to coercion by holding its food supply hostage.
Henry Kissinger wrote a point paper in 1974 about exactly that. Henry Kissinger?? Yeah, that's right. I bet you weren't expecting that name. He wrote about food as a "soft weapon" that could be used to manipulate friends, or a hard weapon to starve enemies. By a crazy, crazy coincidence, Kissinger's long-term employers, the Rockefeller family have been one of the largest investors, developers and promoters of proprietary genetically-altered agricultural products worldwide. It seems this old robber barron family is concentrating its efforts toward oligarchical control of the world food market, just as they established oligarchical control of the world oil market 100 years ago. (it kind of makes you wonder why they are storing non-GMO seeds in vaults up in the arctic)

That's really what's at the heart of this book. Control of the world food's supply is partly a business ambition, partly political, and partly maniacal class/race-based warfare (aimed particularly at India, indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin and the middle classes of developed nations). Kissinger and associates have been fostering gene modification technologies since at least the 1970s, with an aim of "weaponizing" (his term, not mine) the food supply. As he cheerfully notes: "Control oil and you control nations. Control food and you control people".

food is a weapon

And it doesn't get much clearer than that. Seeds of Destruction is about the already highly-centralized world of agribusiness, and how agribusiness is just one small aspect of a much larger unfolding story of worldwide genocidal class warfare. This is a story about capitalism without ethics, and how third-world nations who treat farming as a ECONOMIC activity, rather than a SURVIVAL activity are essentially "bringing a knife to a gunfight".

What can you do?
This part is in another review of mine... I didn't put it in here as "filler", I put it here because I really believe in this.

Am I just going to raise your concerns about GMO, and then tell you there's nothing you can do about it? Not at all. If you would be more comfortable avoiding genetically modified foods until more substantial information is available about their long-term effects, there are things you can do to avoid them. Most important it to avoid buying from big agribusiness. Don't shop at WalMart or Safeway. Become informed about what foods contain Monsanto and DuPont products, and then boycott them. For that matter, boycott Rockefeller-dominated institutions such as Exxon-Mobil and Chase Manhattan Bank! Learn about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Buy from producers in your community, at your local farmers' market. Not only will you be keeping productive jobs in your local community, but if you get to know the people who grow your food, you will have opportunities to talk with them. Unlike with ConAgra, you can ask the person who actually grew your food about the things that concern you: were pesticides used?, was the seed stock genetically modified?, etc. If you don't like the answers you get, you can tell them "I'd like to buy from you, when you stop using GMO seed". CSA farmers as a whole are very responsive to their customers' preferences, and (at least in my area) consumer sentiment is decidedly pro-organic, and GMO-avoidant. With a minimal degree of effort, I have found local (i.e. within 50 miles of my home) producers to supply me with organic, non-GMO products, representing about 3/4 of my total groceries each week. That's not bragging- I'll bet you can do better. In fact, I hope you do! If you do, please post a comment and tell me about it.

-Good Luck!



Public officials formerly employed by Monsanto:

1) Justice Clarence Thomas worked as an attorney for Monsanto in the 1970s. Thomas wrote the majority opinion in the 2001 Supreme Court decision J. E. M. Ag Supply, Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.|J. E. M. AG SUPPLY, INC. V. PIONEER HI-BREDINTERNATIONAL, INC. which found that “newly developed plant breeds are patentable under the general utility patent laws of the United States.” This case benefited all companies which profit from genetically modified crops, of which Monsanto is one of the largest.

2) Michael R. Taylor was an assistant to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner before he left to work for a law firm on gaining FDA approval of Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone in the 1980s. Taylor then became deputy commissioner of the FDA from 1991 to 1994. Taylor was later re-appointed to the FDA in August 2009 by President Barack Obama.

3) Dr. Michael A. Friedman was a deputy commissioner of the FDA before he was hired as a senior vice president of Monsanto.

4) Linda J. Fisher was an assistant administrator at the United States Environmental Protection Agency‎ (EPA) before she was a vice president at Monsanto from 1995 – 2000. In 2001, Fisher became the deputy administrator of the EPA.

5) Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was chairman and chief executive officer of G. D. Searle & Co., which Monsanto purchased in 1985. Rumsfeld personally made at least $12 million USD from the transaction.

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