As Kavitha wrote about in her dispatch, farmers' dependence on large agri-business companies for seeds is causing a great threat to our planet and our existence. THINK ABOUT IT: food is at the very basis of survival for every single human being on the planet; the seeds from which all our food grows are in great danger! Diminishing biodiversity means that the world is coming to rely on fewer species of plants for its food supply. Relying on fewer species increases the risk of famine because if one of the species fails due to climate change or pests in a given year, there were be very few others to depend on. Unfortunately, these few species of plants that are being grown and sold are being controlled by large companies, often more interested in making money than in our long term health and survival.
Large agri-business companies like Monsanto and Novartis provide seeds to farmers and gardeners around the world. Most of the seeds they sell have been altered through hybridization or genetic engineering to contain traits that make them highly marketable and appealing like quick growth or high yield. Usually these traits are not based on nutrition or quality, but on what will sell the most. For most self-pollinating plants, farmers can save seeds year after year to replant, but this is not the case for hybrid crops. The seeds produced by hybrid crops do not resemble the parent. Farmers that can afford it, in the U.S. and other developed areas, will often buy seeds to make their job easier (they have no need to clean and sort and store the seeds from last years crop). Since the large agri-businesses only provide certain seeds for sale, farmers end up mono-cropping, or planting only one variety of a crop on their lands.
Genetically engineered crops are a very controversial issue these days, and many people all around the world are questioning whether to even allow them to be planted or sold in their countries. Genetically engineered crops are fairly new and many feel that the effects of these man-altered species in our environment or in our bodies has not been researched thoroughly enough. Long term effects cannot be known yet. Many genetically engineered crops are engineered to be dependent on a chemical pesticide like the Roundup-Ready Soybean, which is dependent on Roundup, the world's largest selling pesticide. This kind of trait engineered into the seed is becoming more common as the large multinational chemical companies, like Monsanto who makes Roundup and the Roundup Ready Soybean, have been buying up the seed companies. Talk about a money making strategy!! Farmers are lured into buying the seed from the company because of some desired traits and then they are forced to buy the pesticide that makes the seed work from the same company!
The most controversial of all genetically engineered seeds now is a new technology for seeds that has been patented by the USDA and Monsanto, US Patent 5,723,765 "Control of Gene Expression". This patent has been seen as such a threat to the world's future food production that it has come to be known internationally as the "Terminator" technology, after the man-made techno-killer in the Schwarzenegger flics. Terminator technology is a design that would genetically alter seeds so that after planting them, they will not germinate or produce seeds that can be replanted in the coming year. This ensures that farmers will have to return year after year to the company to buy seeds, since saving them will not be an option. To make matters worse, to initiate the technology, farmers must spray their fields with a chemical first. Where do you get that chemical? You guessed it! From the same multinational who's selling you the seeds.
This terminator technology is especially threatening to poor or small farmers, like those in developing countries, where people have depended on saving seeds for centuries because they are too poor to buy seeds (like the farmers of Quispillecta). Why should this technology effect them if they can't buy it? Because the frightening reality about genetically engineered crops is that the pollen from a field planted with engineered seeds could drift with the wind and affect crops of neighboring fields. Therefore, even if a farmer never buys the new seeds, they could be left with a sterile field and be forced into buying the seeds for their next years crops. This has already happened in the United Kingdom, where test fields of Monsanto's genetically engineered canola (or rapseed) seeds have infected neighboring fields. The UK is currently considering bringing Monsanto up on charges of violating environmental pollution laws.
Proponents of the technology say that it will ultimately lead to improved crop production, a necessity with the world's growing population. The real dilemma that remains is how can we insure it will be safe and will be used for the good of the planet and not for the good of the bank accounts of the businesses that will ultimately profit? Imagine the prospects: what if the large scale farmers that are accustomed to buying seed instead of saving it find only terminator seeds available for sale one year? They buy the seeds--lets just say seeds for corn--and the associated chemicals, and wait to see the results. In the meantime, that same year, the pollen from these very fields infects the neighboring fields of the smaller poorer farmers. The next year the small farmers find that their corn seeds are useless and that they won't germinate. So, those small farmers that have enough money also buy terminator seeds from the big multi-nationals. They spend even more money buying the necessary chemicals. Unfortunately, the wide variety of corn they are used to saving year after year is not available for sale and they are forced to only plant one variety of corn. Within a few years, the poorest farmers are out of business because they can't afford to pay the price for seeds, and all the other farmers are planting only one variety of genetically engineered corn and using chemicals that are effecting the soils and the rivers. With only one variety of corn being planted, not only the farmers, but everyone that relies on the corn from those farmers, are at risk (for it would only take one certain disease or a unusually harsh year climactically to wipe out the entire harvest, and cause wide scale famine). Add to all that the uncertainty of genetically engineered foods.
It has taken billions of years for plant species to evolve into what they are now. Within a short while, the entire world could be relying on plants engineered by humans that have only been tested in a laboratory for a few years.
There is growing negative sentiment all over the world as protesters voice their concern to genetically engineered foods. From India to California, protesters are burning fields of genetically engineered crops for fear they will infect neighboring fields. In Brazil, second only to the U.S. in soybean production, there has been a federal ruling against the planting of the Roundup Ready Soybean upon further investigation. All over Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and South-east Asia, consumers, chefs, supermarkets and politicians are calling for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods because they don't want to be at risk by eating them. In San Francisco, the CEO of Monsanto, Robert Shapiro, received a pie in the face from protesters concerned with the disastrous possibilities of terminator technology.
Pressure continues to build across the globe for an internationally coordinated anti-Monsanto Campaign. For additional in-depth information on these news items and further info on how Monsanto is "Under Attack," link to: http://www.purefood.org or
http://www.icta.org. The United States is one of the few countries that is not considering a halt on the planting of or selling of genetically engineered foods until more research has been conducted. For example the Superior New Leaf Potato, is already available for sale all over the country. This genetically engineered potato is registered as a pesticide by the U.S. EPA, because a hormone the potato contains that wards off beetles in the field. Yet you can buy a bag of these potatoes with out any clue that you're eating something that is considered a pesticide! Why is that? Because the FDA is in charge of labeling foods, and the EPA of labeling pesticides, thus the potato, which is a food, is not labeled a pesticide. Make sense to you? It doesn't to us either! If you think that genetically engineered foods should be further tested before put on the market, or if you think that genetically engineered foods should at least be labeled as such so that you know what your buying when you buy it, join the thousands that have already written to the USDA demanding their Right to Know: Send your letters directly to the USDA through special web page:
http://www.rafi.org/usda.html or snail mail directly to the United States Secretary of Agriculture:
The Honorable Dan Glickman,
Secretary of Agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture
200-A Whitten Bldg.
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington DC 20250
Or contact the Pure Food Campaign (PFC), a non-profit, public interest organization dedicated to building a healthy, safe, and sustainable system of food production and consumption in the U.S. and the world. The PFC's primary strategy is to help build a national and international consumer/farmer/labor/progressive retailer boycott of genetically engineered and chemically contaminated foods and crops. E-mail them:
To subscribe to the monthly electronic newsletter, Food Bytes, send an e-mail message to: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following simple message: subscribe pure-food-action.
Also join the Hexterminators: Super Hexterminator, Super Rat Girl, Super Hex Man, Super Seed Girl, Miss Mutanto, Mutanto Corporate Devil and Super Mom. A U.S. based multi-national conglomerate devoted to the extinction of the terminator. Email them: email@example.com
Visit their website:
Other Web Sites devoted to the topic:
(S.A.G.E.) Students for Alternatives to Genetic Engineering
S.H.A.G. Super Heroes Against Genetix