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Friday, May 28, 2004

This GMO Stuff Pisses Me Off!

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled recently in favor of axis-of-evil charter member Monsanto in its suit against a family farmer in Saskatchewan. Genetically-modified "Roundup Ready" canola seeds from neighboring farms had taken root on the guy's farm. He saved the seeds from those plants and used them for the next year's crop. Monsanto sued him, claiming that their patent on "Roundup Ready" canola was violated by the farmer using the seeds without paying Monsanto a royalty.

If you don't know what "Roundup Ready" crops are, you should. Monsanto manufactures the widely-used herbicide Roundup, used to kill weeds and unwanted grasses on farms and in backyards. It's hard to use on farms, however, since it tends to kill all plants in its path, weeds and crops both. So the evil geniuses of Monsanto screwed around with the genes of canola, corn, and other crops, and developed genetically-modified versions which are basically immune to Roundup. This means farmers can soak their fields in Roundup, killing all the unwanted weeds and grasses without killing the crops.

The problem? For starters, you're buying crops that have been soaked in poison. Next, one farmer's crop can be the next farmer's weed. If Farmer Jones' GM (genetically-modified) canola seeds blow into Farmer Smith's traditional wheat, Smith won't be able to get the canola out using Roundup or similar herbicides. And the mechanical methods used to harvest most crops these days are generally not usable on mixed-crop fields. So Smith ends up growing canola too, even though he wanted to grow wheat. But if he does grow GM canola, he'll have to pay Monsanto a royalty.

Worst of all, the Roundup-ready gene may spread to other plants, including weeds. And of course weeds are highly adaptable, and the heavier use of Roundup in the GM fields inevitably leads to Roundup-resistant weed strains. An arms race between Roundup and the weeds begins, and the environment and consumers are the losers.

Monsanto and the other gene-meddlers generally try to answer all criticism by claiming that GE (genetically-engineered) foods haven't been shown to be harmful to humans (you've already been eating them for probably eight years). While that's probably true in most cases, it hasn't really been proven. Worse, that argument is intended to cause people to ignore what I consider to be more important issues. GM crops are leading to increased use of Roundup and other herbicides; they threaten biodiversity by introducing plants with an unfair genetic advantage, just like many plants that have been imported into non-native environments in which they have few natural enemies (think dandelions and kudzu, for example). So GM crops may not kill you when eaten directly, but eventually they'll kill you by seriously damaging the ecosphere and killing untold numbers of plants and animals along the way.

All of this crap has been introduced in a huge way in the US, Canada and elsewhere in just the last ten years, with little fanfare except a few stupid "isn't that cool" articles praising the technology in business magazines and the like. By modifying crops, Monsanto and others claim the right to patent them, and thereby receive royalties from everyone growing them, intentionally or not. This gives the corporate ghouls at Monsanto an outrageous amount of control over people's food supplies.

The Organic Consumers Association has lots of dirt on Monsanto--the effect their frankencrops are having, their connections with the Bush administration, their court cases. They've also got some actions you can take to try to put a stop to this crap.