Friday, February 15, 2013

The Gen on GM

There is so much real lying and bad behavior coming from the government and corporations some of them are based on actual facts that actually happen that almost anything is possible and believable. We've had enough experience where the mainstream media either helped the government and businesses to lie or failed to do its job and ask all the questions it should have. We live in a crazy world with a lot of real evil. So people look for foul play everywhere. There are many who are anti-genetic modification and socialists do not to discourage people from asking questions but we must be rigorous in assessing the messages, particularly if they are conflicting. Nor should we be have so open minded that our brains fall out. It was Marx who said "doubt everything". The internet can often give a loaded view of opinion. Genetic Modification is seen as controlling the food agencies. As socialists we are naturally cynical of capitalist motives. We see it in many spheres such as the pharmaceutical drug companies in need of strict oversight of their research results and their products because they desire to maximise profits over safety regardless of known risks.

Almost none of the crops or animals produced for food are natural. They have been artificially selected over millenia without much genetic knowledge, resulting in genetic drift and inbreeding, making them more susceptible to disease and other problems, hence e.g. potato blight. Proponents of GMO agriculture believe that genetic modifications can be used to increase yields or solve other problems like creating crop strains that store longer. They believe that the right modifications could help end hunger and increase economic growth. GM is not the solution to world hunger, it never will be. The problem of world hunger is not a shortage of food. There is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone well. GM isn't a miracle cure that will produce plants that make super bountiful harvest in the poorest of conditons.

Socialists hold no love of the big corporations. We fully understand the well-justified suspicion of big business. The only reason GM companies are peddling this technology is to make massive profits. That is the prime motivation for any corporate company. They do NOT care about feeding the world more efficiently nor about the many environmental questions which surround their products, if they can get away with it. Agriculture has evolved to benefit large companies and landowners. The focus is on maximising profit, not feeding the poor or saving the planet. Safe and sustainable production of food is a goal that all would agree with. The concerns are now about the cornering of such an essential to life by monopolies and commodity markets, which affect world stability for ALL countries. GM experiments only began to find cheap solutions to the problems that this monoculture, profit-focussed farming had created in the first place. Permaculture systems have already shown that we can grow a surplus of crops without the need for GM. "...when yield is measured in pounds per acre,small peasant and family farms regularly out-produce plantation agriculture.  Even the United States Department of Agriculture admits this. But because smallholders generally cultivate poly-cultures (multiple species and varieties in the same field at the same time) their per-acre yield of a *single* crop species is necessarily lower than an acre of monoculture -- after all, some of the field space is taken up by other crops. When the net primary productivity of all crops in the polyculture is considered, monocultures usually come in second in productivity....In reality, none of the industrial plantations actually grow food for the hungry -- they grow feed and fuel for the meat and energy appetites of the planet's middle classes. Contrary to corporate myth, smallholder agriculture -- not industrial agriculture -- feeds most of the world." We already produce enough for 10 billion and we still have almost a billion going hungry. They are hungry because they are poor and can't afford to buy the food already being produced.

We oppose the technological lock-in. (The way that once used the producer HAS to buy the related products, and next year's, seed from the same supplier.) This is essentially an anti-trust problem not a matter of unsafe food. They are doing it for the benefit of their shareholders - that's their main concern. It's called Capitalism. GM is about profit, it is and that's one of the major problems. The crops are produced to produce revenue for the GM companies, by fostering dependence on their seed supply, there chemicals, and their intellectual property. The effect on human health and the ecosystem is an after thought. Socialism will not produce single-generation seeds as the GM companies are selling to farmers in India. The crops are deliberately engineered to produce infertile seeds and the farmers are forced to buy from the GM companies again the next year. But in capitalism many seed companies, including the organic ones, sell only F1 hybrids which produce sterile seeds. The Plant Patent Act of 1930 in the USA and similar legislation elsewhere allows plants developed by sporting, mutation, hybridisation or seedlings to be patented provided they are not uncultivated or tuberous. This gives the patent-holder the right to exclusively reproduce the plant asexually or license such rights. The real risk to wild salmon is not GM salmon but anti-biotic fed farmed salmon.

While critics of GMO food have highlighted risks of using GMO seeds to the environment, to public health, to food sovereignty, and to the livelihoods of small-farmer producers UNORCA seem most concerned with the potential damage that GMO corn can have on the global diversity of the genetic stock of corn. At issue is the cultural significance of maize to the farmers, who call themselves the People of Corn. "In our country there are more than 60 native species and thousands of local varieties of maize which . . . carry important virtues thanks to their selection and adaptation by indigenous peoples over more than seven thousand years" The major concern is the potential for the GMO corn to lead to the genetic contamination of native and organic varieties of corn. UNORCA believes that there is “a grave risk that transgenes could contaminate our criole and native varieties of this grain, especially because there are no barriers to the wind and the insects that are responsible for cross-pollination." This could result in a loss of diversity in corn varieties.

Scientific America reported earlier this month, the current global corn crop is becoming increasingly susceptible to a fungus that is highly carcinogenic and can poison and kill people and livestock. The fungus, aspergillus, causes aflatoxicosis, a condition in which victims are fatally poisoned; this is expected to become more prevalent as a result of climate change. There is to date no conclusive evidence that a traditional corn variety could be more resistant to the fungus than a genetically engineered one, but the fungal infection is just one of many possible reasons to preserve the biodiversity of global seed-stocks as one of these varieties could prove to be resistant. Fungus contamination is a true threat, having destroyed half of the corn crop of Missouri last year, up from last year, when it destroyed eight percent of the state’s corn crop.

In the US a lot of GM crops are self certified by the companies that produce them. Much of our criticism of the pharmaceutical industry is the same. We recognise Big Ag and Big Pharma for what they are - profiteers. There's little wrong with the science of GM, it's the business model that's rotten. So far we do not foresee any real health issues from GM but remember Carl Sagan's words of caution "The absence of proof is not proof of absence"

In Europe GM undergo "endless trials and tests and endure endless amounts of bureaucracy. Yet new breeds of standard crops have no such problems, even though they are often created by exposing them to doses of radiation. This is done to create new mutant breeds which you can then grow to see if any have features you like. None of the regulations that we had to meet in creating golden rice were imposed on these plant breeders. Yet this is the standard means by which new crops, including organic crops, are created. It is manifestly unbalanced."  It took 13 years to get the go-ahead for GM potatos although they were not for human coonsumption but for the industrial use of their starch content. According to BASF's Jennifer Moore-Braun, it wasn't just the lack of enthusiasm among European consumers and farmers for growing GM poatoes - it was the lack of political support, with no sign of that changing. "No-one from the political side supported it. There were no signals from the European Commission that any change was likely" Ultimately the reason BASF has stopped producing GM potatoes is because they could not achieve a profitable share of the market. BASF said it was moving its biotech headquarters to the United States where domestic laws on it are different from other parts of the world and halting the commercialisation of GM products for the European market.

This discussion on GM is not just an abstract scientific exchange but a real world political issue for many. Monsanto plans to plant one million hectares of maize corn in Mexico. The National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasant Organizations (UNORCA) and La Via Campesina (The Farmer’s Way), an international organization of peasants and small farmers advocating for food sovereignty, condemned it as a betrayal of the peasants in the interest of foreign multinationals.

According to the official statement by UNORCA "there is not a single technological, economic, or ethical reason in benefit of the Mexican population nor of the majority of rural producers that justifies the imminent authorization of commercial planting of GMO maize in Mexico...The key to increasing food production in the countryside, reducing poverty and ending hunger does not lie with GMOs. This is an extremely costly technology, which does not increase yields, causes more dependence on imported seeds and farm chemicals, and provides no advantage to confronting the challenges of climate change . . . Mexico’s agro-food crisis is not of technological origin but rather is a product of an economic model, where hunger is not a result of scarcity, but rather of lack of adequate income to access food.”

UNORCA explains that maize is the main food product consumed in Mexico, accounting for 39 percent of protein and 53 percent of calories in the country. They claim that the public health effects of “transgenic tortillas” have not been adequately researched and that the precautionary principle should apply. The precautionary principle says that there should be clear proof that something is not harmful to public health or the environment before it be allowed.

"Smallholders can't afford the expensive seeds, fertilizers, Roundup, 2-4D (Roundup-ready corn is designed to allow the widespread application of Monsanto’s best-selling pesticide without damaging the crop.) and all the attendant pesticides that GMO crops now require. Further, they are not needed. The science and practice of agroecology allows farmers to manage the agroecosystem itself to manage pests and maintain soil fertility by increasing, not decreasing biodiversity...Smallholders that switch over to GMO monocultures risk going broke and starving. Further, monocultures do not produce food for smallholder families or their communities but for the global commodity markets where small farmers are unable to compete with the market power of the industrial plantations."

 India is also a very particular target for growing GM because of large scale rejections of GM crop in Europe, many parts of Africa and Latin America. For these corporations, there are only two big potential markets – India and China. "Everybody knows it is impossible to influence Chinese policy because they are very determined about what they want and what not. India is perceived as a soft target with a big market and therefore a huge amount of propaganda is directed towards India and Indian policy making"  according to Suman Sahai, geneticist, Padma Shree awardee and winner of 2004 Borlaug Award for contribution to agriculture and environment ." As a scientist, geneticist, this is my subject. It is the scientists who are asking for regulation and precaution right from the beginning. The (GM) industry is trying to cut corners on regulation because adequate bio-safety testing costs money. It is my firm belief that had this technology been purely in public sector it would still be in the laboratory. It would only come to market after it was sufficiently and properly tested. If you want to engage in science and technology that has a downside – any potential risk of the GM product having an allergenic component – but potential for benefits, then you have to be super careful to evaluate safety."

Pushpa M Bhargava, biotechnologist, Padma Shree awardee and founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad "In science, we go by evidence. Nothing has been added to the evidence that we have for or against the GM crop. Opinion is completely irrelevant in science if it is not based on evidence, existing or new. In science, if we ever change our opinion we always give reasons. Firstly, we must make a socio-economic assessment whether there is a problem at all. We had a problem in case of cotton but not for brinjal at all. Secondly, we must see if alternatives are available to the GM technology. In case of cotton, there was a problem but there were alternatives – integrated pest management, bio-pesticides and organic agriculture. So we didn’t need it. Third, if it turns out that we need GM crop we must go through a very strict safety assessment. This has not been done for any GM crop (in India). Nearly 30 tests need to be conducted. Out of these, about six tests have been done and that to, done badly. So for all practical purposes, no safety assessment has been done. Therefore, a moratorium [in India] on GM crop is justified.

Vandana Shiva, another Indian environmentalist writes:
"Safety has emerged as an overpowering conce­rn - safety of women and children, tribals, farmers and rural communities, safety from nuclear hazard, and en­vironmental as well as health hazards of GMOs. Across India, protests and movements are also growing about the safety of people's resources and wealth - their land, their forests, their rivers, their property - in the context of the violent resource grab that is the basis of the new "growth" economy. Sadly, this culture is shrouded in the garb of neo-liberal paradigms of economics in which there is no life, no values, no ethics, no community, no society, no people, no justice, no place for equality, dignity and people's rights, no place for freedom and democracy, just money and markets...
...The movement for nuclear safety is a movement for freedom - we do not need nuclear energy when the sun and wind are so generous; we do not need GMOs when biodiversity and ecological agriculture produces more, safer and better food.
For two years in a row, at his address to the In­dian Science Cong­re­ss, Prime Minister Manm­o­han Singh has tried to criminalise the citizen's movements for nuclear safety and biosafety. But his is not a lone voice. He is an echo of the stru­c­tu­red money-making sy­s­tem that wants no bre­­a­ks in its money-making, including the break that is necessary for ensuring safety. That is why he called for a "structured" debate on nuclear energy and GMOs, not a democratic debate.
A nuclear industry des­perate to make profits at any cost must cri­mi­nalise communities and citizens insisting on their democratic right to safety and freedom from hazards. A GMO industry desperate to make pro­fits at any cost will extract royalties from poor farmers even tho­ugh the royalty extracti­on pushes farmers to commit suicide.
It will try to dismantle biosafety laws and replace th­em with a deregulation framework of the Bio­tec­h­nology Re­gu­latory Au­th­ority of India (Brai). It will criminalise real scientists and put PR spinners in the position of pretend scientists, using all the power of money to control the media for its false, unscientific claim that without GMOs we will all starve, and that GMOs are safe.
At a meeting on the new biotechnologies cal­led "Laws of Life" in 1987, when I asked the representatives of in­du­s­try what safety tests they had done on the GMOs they were planning to release in the environment, I was told that safety issues could not be addressed be­ca­use that would slow do­wn the commercialisation of GMOs and lead to lo­sses of markets and pr­ofits. For 25 years, the in­du­stry has tried to ignore and suppress iss­u­es of biosafety.
For 25 years, we have kept the is­sue of safety alive as an issue of science, freedom and democracy. One aspect of that safety as freedom is the right to say no to hazards im­po­s­ed in the name on pro­g­r­e­ss. The other aspect is to create sustainable, sa­fe and just alternatives. Safety is freedom beca­use everyone - women, children, indigenous cu­l­tures, ordinary citize­ns, life-forms that weave the tapestry of biodiversity - has a natural ri­g­ht to safety...
... there is no antidote in the system. The antidote will come from a change in values and worldview, from people's movements for ch­ange from capitalist pa­triarchy to earth democracy based on the rights of all people."

Vandana Shiva is director of Navdanya and the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy. Hers is a compelling argument against the use of GM crops on various levels - impoverishment and poisoning of the soil from chemical fertilisers and herbicides needed in conjunction with GM seeds; unnecessary release of greenhouse gases adding to the climate change problems from use of same chemicals; failure of GM crops to deliver what they promise in terms of yields, control of insects/bugs and weeds, often giving rise to super bugs and super weeds within a few short years. Navdanya was founded about 25 years ago and they work with 1,000s of small farmers in a number of states in India (they also have an informative web site) where the philosophy is organic and mixed crop farming. Their research shows conclusively that this method of farming is far superior to both small scale monocrop and industrial scale GM farming for both yield and income.
For instance, after all purchasing factors are taken into consideration (seed, fertilisers, herbicides, fuel for machinery) then biodiverse ecological farming using native seeds yielded incomes 2-3 times higher than small scale monoculture and an amazing 8-9 times higher than industrial systems using genetically engineered seeds. The point of mixed crops, diversity, is that of resilience; this kind of farming protects against frost, drought, too much or too little rain, too early or too late rain - unlike monocrops which if affected by the weather or a blight etc is vulnerable to the whole lot being lost.

 241,679 farmers in India committed suicide between 1995 and 2009.  400 a day attempt suicide and fail. The cause is mainly debt. Farmers' wives are not included inthe statistics. The Monsanto Bt seed has flooded the Indian market, to the extent that in some Indian states it is now impossible to buy non-Bt seed, despite the unconvincing evidence to its efficacy. With no choice and convinced by blanket advertising and misleading demonstrations made in ideal conditions, 95% of farmers take loans and invest in GM Bt seeds that, the New York Times (16/10/12) report, “can cost three to eight times the cost of conventional seeds”. In addition to authorized distributors a black market has thrived, that as shortages appear, can set “prices as high as 2,000 rupees ($38) per packet, leading to a profusion of bootlegged seeds illegally marketed as genetically modified products.” Again not an issue of safety but of capitalist monopoly.

150 scientists have written a letter to the environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan on Saturday raising concerns about genetically modified (GM) crops. Their primanry concern is that Ministry of Agriculture is allegedly making a case for GM crops by stating that the technology is 'absolutely needed' for India's food security. The scientists in their letter said that there are "many serious scientific and policy fallacies" in the argument. The letter tries to dissociate the issue of food production with shortcomings of distribution. "Food security, is a problem not only of production but of distribution and access/purchasing power. Today India's paradox of overflowing godowns/rotting grains, with 320 million people going hungry is well-known. The world over and in India, most of the hungry people are ironically partaking in the food production process. Clearly hunger is a more multi-faceted problem than what can be fixed by using a particular seed or cocktail of chemicals," it explained. The letter said: "An overwhelming majority of countries worldwide do not grow GM crops. They are grown on a mere 160 million hectares that comprise 3.2% of the global agriculture land. Just four crops cover 99% of the area under GM crops: soybean (47%), maize (32%), cotton (15%) and canola (5%)." They quoted US Economic Research Service's report for 2011, which says: 17.9 million households were food insecure at some point in the year. "This means that an unprecedented 50.1 million people (1 in every 6 Americans) live in food insecure households in this nation that has the largest area under GM crop cultivation in the world, after having begun commercializing crops with this controversial technology way back in 1996." It said. Who the scientists are and what their qualifications are is not included in the article unfortunately. But the challenge they present is social issues not scientific. GM as a cure for hunger as promoted by its advocates is indeed in question.

However, apart from the cost Bt cottonseed demands a great deal more water (which in many countries is being privatised), a fact that is being hidden from Indian farmers
unable to read the English instructions and water warnings on seed packaging.  With poor irrigation, most farmers rely on rainfall to feed crops. When the monsoon rains fail, so does the crop, leaving the farmer with a massive debt to service.

Corporations are eager to "commercialize the countryside" as the article  GM is just one way they use and we can add land-grab as another.

Conventional Herbicides/ Insecticides failed in what the companies had promised. Super weeds and decreasing yields are the result. Now GM crops increased chemical usage in American agriculture by 183 million kilos since the beginning of its adoption there. "Two thirds of GM crops approved in the US contain the hitherto unidentified viral gene, but although regulators have insufficient information to determine if it is safe for human consumption EFSA has opted for a retrospective review rather than a ban."

"...when yield is measured in pounds per acre,small peasant and family farms regularly out-produce plantation agriculture.  Even the United States Department of Agriculture admits this. But because smallholders generally cultivate poly-cultures (multiple species and varieties in the same field at the same time) their per-acre yield of a *single* crop species is necessarily lower than an acre of monoculture -- after all, some of the field space is taken up by other crops. When the net primary productivity of all crops in the polyculture is considered, monocultures usually come in second in productivity"
In reality, none of the industrial plantations actually grow food for the hungry -- they grow feed and fuel for the meat and energy appetites of the planet's middle classes. Contrary to corporate myth, smallholder agriculture -- not industrial agriculture -- feeds most of the world.

But GM needs investigation and we support the research. But as always the problem is acquiring scientific information. One vested interest with the cash provides the funds for the research and holds back the details for "commercial confidential" to other researchers. We have to distinguish between genetic modification development used for the public good, and those that are motivated by profit for  whatever will sell well, for instance  a tomato with 6 month shelf-life and no flavour.
Genetic modification of the Escherichia coli bacteria to produce Human insulin has immeasurably enhanced the lives of millions of diabetics.  The disease preventitive qualities of enriched Vitamin A rice cannot be ignored. GM is not going away, nor can the endless flood of new technologies be stopped. We need to be better educated. The emphasis probably shouldn't be on health risks to us. It is the potential effects on wildlife and food chains that have more serious implications because no one can predict the effects. As one critic notes
"...If the companies had really sought from the start to develop traits useful to people and farmers, rather than to create massive profits for themselves, it might now have become a technology to change the world..."

It is conceivable that the two billion or so smallholders that presently feed over half the world could be replaced by 50 million industrial farms. These could (albeit not terribly sustainably) produce enough food to feed the 10 billion people we expect on the planet by 2050. But in capitalism where would all the displaced farmers go? There is no new industrial revolution on the horizon to sop up all this surplus labor. Urban migration rates are already far too high and above required labor needs, generating droves of unemployed 'refugees' of industrial agriculture, who have lost the means to sustain themselves and their communities.  Why is the science of ecological sustainable agriculture  and its tremendous potential consistently ignored? Quite simply, Big Money. The monopolies in the fuel, chemical and agri-foods industries must dominate global markets and continually expand their land-based operations in order to ensure a 3% compound return rate to their shareholders. If they don't, their stock will fall. Staying in the game requires monopoly control of the world's seeds, inputs, grain and processing.

There is sufficient economic and social, sufficient evidence to be guarded against the expansion of GM agriculture within the capitalist system and enough to be cautious in suggesting that it will be used extensively in a socialist society. We start from where we take over, which means that for a time GM animal feed and elsewhere in the food chain will continue to used, but it doesn't mean for always. It also may involve expanding GM. Who knows what a neutral unbiased science concludes when there are no vested interest, or pressing time-lines? We now have GM salmon about to make its appearance on the supermarket shelves. Not to feed a hungry world  but because it reduces a company's costs and increases its profits. The threat to safety is out-weighed by the bank balance. But we should not restrict our criticism to simply GM. The existing farmed salmon is already an environmental threat with the over-use of anti-biotics. The contradiction is while we all depend upon food and farming the whole food industry is a danger to life on Earth. Health and safety issues arise almost daily, the latest being adulteration of cheap burgers. There is a million and two different environmental campaigns with the common feature that it is the £ and the $ against the "precautionary principle"

Our fight is to show that for 99% of our current and future needs we have enough already. Abundance already exists. If faced by a shortage of one material we have alternative sources which does not involve the intensification of the extraction process for the original source to the detriment of the environment. Report after report explains that more conservation and less waste is a better solution than constant growth. Our case against capitalism is a "holistic" one yet many still wage all their individual battles and wars as isolated individual campaigns . We are not anti-GM or anti-fracking and we are not pro-organic and pro-local food. We are anti-capitalist because commercial vested interests is the fundamental problem of the science, not the particular technologies.

No comments: