By John H. Browne
On a radio show this week- The Takeaway- I listened with a growing sense of sadness as one of the early opponents of GMO field testing in Britain basically did a 180º and made a case FOR GMO (while also belittling Vandanna Shiva, a former “ally”). Mark Lynas, the guest, has taken a position at Cornell, one of America’s premier agricultural (and ornithological) research universities. I doubt that it could have happened if he had maintained his anti-GMO position. Well… I had to write Something. Here’s a start– but ONLY that– because I have a great deal to say about this issue, including the fact that, in a National Biotech conference where I proposed the idea that Monsanto was GMO-ing crops that also had Federal subsidies and price supports, their business model was simply using farmers as a “pass-through” to get at Federal money, a Monsanto V-P (two seats away) jumped up and threatened to punch me out! Right there! Right NOW! OK… so here’s what I wrote to the Takeaway. I was REALLY sorry to hear another capitulation by a “scientist” buying into the “all genes are created equal” BS that I recently heard from Neil deGrasse Tyson. To me this represents the fulfillment of the “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” meme that has infected Western culture in its eternal search for the “god particle”, and that has been heightened and magnified by the field of organic chemistry for at least a century. There are maybe 80,000 “compounds” that are”new” to the world. They are “tested” for “safety to humans” (if AT ALL) as isolated entities. Synergy is ignored, unless/until an obvious “bad” response is discovered somewhere… inside a human being or (of less importance!) in an ecosystem. WE- the LIVING- now exist in an environs permeated with ‘our’ creations… the halogenated hydrocarbons, the myriad plastics, the “off-gases” of refineries and factories of all kinds of ‘products’… without a care, apparently, to any result of this ‘soup’ until Someone comes along and points a finger at Something Specific. Then the economic wrangling begins. Capitalism has the final word… which I believe may be the determining factor with the capitulation of “scientists”, generally, on questions like “is GMO a Good thing?.. or NOT?” Our chief Method of inquiry about the world around us is Deductive Reasoning (the ‘soul’ of Scientific Method). It’s about determining results from observations in a structured way to isolate/eliminate as many factors that may affect the area of Study ‘adversely’ (based upon the conditions present) with regard to the hypothesis under consideration. What is generally neglected in this approach are Synergy, and the physical limitations of humans, generally (that we attempt to overcome with tools of many descriptions)… including our individual longevity. What is euphemistically known as “the Business Cycle” continues to have a greater and greater effect on ALL our endeavors in Science; and it has the outward appearance of a Very Brief lifespan. So, something like the PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE immediately runs afoul of the “Biz Cycle”… and, in capitalist economies, you can imagine the outcome.
I have attended a National Biotechnology Conference, and have watched this trend develop as the Land Grant colleges have seen their funding for agriculture research go from the Public to the Private sector, with predictable results. I have also witnessed the ruthless attempts by certain corporate sectors (and individuals in those sectors) to discredit, and defame, ANY scientist who challenges THEIR In-house “science”, with regard to the efficacy & safety of their products. Scientists are NOT, generally speaking, “political activists.” But when one ‘strays’ into an area of the nature described above, they are going to be excoriated (to put it mildly)… and their careers threatened. They will have NO defenders, generally, because institutions are ‘malleable’ (as ‘malleable’ as the current Congress) when it comes to “money issues”; and the Truth is simply another ‘variable’ to many people… who generally come down in support of “Truth” that furthers their careers… and avoid proximity to ones that may be damaging. For every Marie Curie there are 10 million scientists who are “glad it wasn’t Me”.
There are TWO issues that I have with GMO, which go to the biological and cultural roots disturbed by this practice. The first is that the meddling with genetics on this “micro-insertion” level, and in particular with genes that have evolved in different “Kingdoms”, is a way of aggrandizing human endeavor and belittling NATURE. Life on earth goes back over a billion years… as do the EVOLUTIONARY MACHINATIONS of this LIFE. As a life-form, we humans have availed ourselves of the other life-forms to sustain us, and of the petrified and “composted” life-forms to power our industry. Now, we feel it proper to tamper with the internal designs of LIFE, to OUR ‘betterment’ (especially if one is a “corporate person”), and ignore “lessons” from our past endeavors. While “Nature abhors a vacuum”, and an ecosystem will continue as long as Life exists, we have wreaked havoc in the “macro” world (one prominent example being the passenger pigeon, among a myriad others). There’s still an ecosystem without them. Do we know the difference? Do we CARE? Why, no… as long as WE Continue. The other big issue I take with GMO is this: since the end of feudalism, farmers were free- and Eager- to save their own seed. It’s a natural occurrence, based upon the husbandry and observations of the farmer, as to what seed to save for planting the next crop. The plants have a relationship to the farmer, and the farm, in all its micro-worldness… ie the seed produced from local plants becomes more “location-specific”, with regard to soil qualities, weather, aspect, microorganisms present, etc. This is a Political issue as well as a cultural one. The GMO “model” changes all that. They have even gotten the Land-Grant schools to promulgate this “buy new seed- save nothing” meme for them (ie the GMO-seed-producing corporations). Essentially what we are seeing is a return to feudalism… this time, Corporate Feudalism. This ‘trend’ is exacerbated by the practice of corporations buying farmland and orchards, and eventually replacing the farmer with a “manager”… who is beholden to his employer, and has no reason- beyond financial gain- to “care about” the farm or the orchard or the pasture for its own sake. The “farm” simply becomes a “factory”. So, the move from slavery and feudalism to Freedom is being turned around, and headed back into the past. This is a huge social- and Cultural- issue, that isn’t even being questioned in the public sphere, except perhaps by a few “windy old cranks” (whom I humbly honor for their vision). Rather than see a day in which young families can again raise a family in a rural world that now has the benefits of our electronic universe and an improved infrastructure that made life such a trial in the past, we have a depopulated “heartland”, where gigantic machines and banks and corporations- and USDA ‘policies’- have eliminated “the work force” and are slowly squeezing out the last Real FARMERS, as well!
There will continue to be population growth… which modern farming practices totally ignore, as they pursue an 18th Century ideal of “one man-and his machinery- can do ALL THIS!” With today’s methods and access to markets, a family can thrive on the fraction of the acreage it once took. No one (who’s rational) can deny that the land of a farm Benefits by the caring proximity of the farmer. So will any remaining “wildlife”… since they will be seen as a natural (and aesthetic) “enhancement” to any ‘place’, rather than “a damned nuisance that costs the stockholders earnings”… by existing on ground (or unfilled wetlands) that could produce ‘a crop’. The current Federal “bribes” to leave marginal lands unplowed will have to grow larger, or they will be plowed and converted to some salable “biomass”, to benefit those with a financial interest from a distance. I’m not describing some imaginary future. THIS is what’s happening Today… and every day… everywhere in the USA. ^..^