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Flash in the Pan

The old screw-and-sue



Not too long ago, the Croatian tourism bureau implored the world to “Come to Croatia and eat safe, non-GMO food.” The U.S. Embassy in Croatia quickly sent a letter to the Croatian government, demanding that this reference to genetically modified organisms be removed from its tourist literature, or all U.S. aid to Croatia would be cut off. The reference was removed.

From a marketing standpoint, you can’t blame Croatia. Surveys from around the world show that the vast majority of humans would choose non-GMO food, if given the choice. In a non-Stalinist free market in which consumers have choices, this should spell SOL for GMO. So it’s no wonder that the agriculture corporations that hope to cash in big-time are working so hard against labeling food for GMO content.

Now the U.S. government is threatening a trade war with the European Union if they carry out the labeling campaign that the majority of European consumers want. The fact that the U.S. puts pressure on other countries’ attempts to label their food suggests the clout that American GMO corporations have with their own government, and hence, with the world. Case in point: at a UN conference on food security this past summer, Monsanto representatives were part of the official U.S. delegation.

Despite the backing of the U.S. government, people and nations the world over are resisting the American bullies and just saying no to GMOs. Their reasons are many, from health to environmental to spiritual. But all seem to share a common denominator of disgust at the force with which the technology is being shoved down their collective throat, as well as skepticism at claims that the technology is safe and containable—much less understood.

It seems unrealistic to think that the human thirst for scientific discovery—and the related passion for tinkering—will leave the world’s genomes uncharted. And it seems highly likely that the tinkering will enable important medical advances, as well as the development of other useful products and technologies. And it may very well be possible to conduct experiments in such a way that they are indeed contained. However, based on the corporate GMO track record, it doesn’t seem remotely possible to expect that for-profit corporations, whose primary mission is to make as much money as possible, can reliably behave themselves in the exploration and implementation of genetically modified organisms.

Consider what happened in Saskatchewan, when Monsanto and Aventis led the charge into the GMO canola frontier. Some farmers chose to grow it, some farmers didn’t. But canola pollen is carried by the wind, and a cloud of GMO pollen soon landed on non-GMO canola in faraway fields, contaminating the crop. This is what happened to Percy Schmeiser, a non-GMO canola farmer, who had to sell his crop for a lower price because it was no longer GMO-free. Adding injury to injury, Schmeiser was then sued by Monsanto for growing its proprietary canola. “It’s the old screw-and-sue business model” says my friend Cliff Dweller. Within two years, Canada had completely lost its non-GMO market, and Canadian canola now commands a much lower price.

Rejection by the world’s consumers has meant some hard knocks for GMO companies, who are showing signs of weakness, if not desperation. Monsanto’s 2000 annual report indicates that they are now betting the farm on their new GMO wheat product, appropriately named “Maverick.” The geographic epicenter of the company’s push to implement Maverick is Montana, the Dakotas, and southern Canada. Although wheat is not wind-pollinated like canola or corn, and hence, not subject to the same wind-driven contagion, other aspects of wheat production do prove to be just as uncontrollable. Consider the infrastructure of silos, grain elevators, rail cars and barges that are used to store and ship the wheat to the ports whence it is shipped overseas. If GMO wheat enters this system, then the system is contaminated, and Montana’s non-GMO wheat market is blown, pure and simple. The same is true for North Dakota, where eight out of ten of the state’s biggest wheat customers have declared in certain terms that if North Dakota allows GMO wheat to be grown there, they will purchase their wheat elsewhere.

This doesn’t seem to register as a problem for Monsanto. At least, not their problem. Nor is it their problem that, according to the American Corn Growers Association, the decline of corn exports due to GMO contamination has cost growers over $800 million in the last five years. In fact, from the corporate perspective, contamination could prove to be the solution. Because once all of the fields, storage, and shipping facilities are contaminated, then there will be no distinction between GMO and non-GMO, no need to label or argue about it, because it will all be contaminated. Perhaps that’s why the U.S. is trying so hard to dump its worthless GMO corn on the starving nations of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Once these anti-GMO nations are contaminated, they will have no choice but to jump on the bandwagon.

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