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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Aggessive Marketing

From Today's Alternative News via Michelle:
A new report by GRAIN and Focus on the Global South has found that new legislation in Iraq has been carefully put in place by the US that prevents farmers from saving their seeds and effectively hands over the seed market to transnational corporations. This is a disastrous turn of events for Iraqi farmers, biodiversity and the country's food security. While political sovereignty remains an illusion, food sovereignty for the Iraqi people has been made near impossible by these new regulations.

"The US has been imposing patents on life around the world through trade deals. In this case, they invaded the country first, then imposed their patents. This is both immoral and unacceptable", said Shalini Bhutani, one of the report's authors.

The new law in question [2] heralds the entry into Iraqi law of patents on life forms - this first one affecting plants and seeds. This law fits in neatly into the US vision of Iraqi agriculture in the future - that of an industrial agricultural system dependent on large corporations providing inputs and seeds.

In 2002, FAO estimated that 97 percent of Iraqi farmers used saved seed from their own stocks from last year's harvest or purchased from local markets. When the new law - on plant variety protection (PVP) - is put into effect, seed saving will be illegal and the market will only offer proprietary "PVP-protected" planting material "invented" by transnational agribusiness corporations. The new law totally ignores all the contributions Iraqi farmers have made to development of important crops like wheat, barley, date and pulses. Its consequences are the loss of farmers' freedoms and a grave threat to food sovereignty in Iraq. In this way, the US has declared a new war against the Iraqi farmer.
This claiming of the world's food crops as proprietary was accomplished by stealth in this country, with Monsanto being the primary burglar and Repugs and Democruds being the accomplices. In Iraq, this theft of people's right to food was an armed robbery.

You've probably seen the definition of chutzpah: A guy who kills his mother and father and then begs for mercy from the court because he's an orphan. Until recently, I thought that probably the prime example of engineering chutzpah was the story of the Chicago River. The Chicago River originally flowed, like most rivers, downhill. In Chicago, that meant that it flowed into Lake Michigan. But the Chicago River was Chicago's main sewer, so by 1890 Chicagoans found that what they'd flushed during the week was washing up on the beaches of Lake Michigan when they wanted to go swimming on the weekend. So did Chicago's engineers develop a state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant, or figure out a way to safely compost the sewage so it could benefit the abundant agriculture of the area? If that's the way you think, you'll never get far as an American engineer! No, the American way was to TURN AROUND THE RIVER, so that it now flows FROM Lake Michigan back to the Des Plaines and Illinois Rivers. So when Chicagoans flush, they don't have to see it on their beaches--instead, Peoria gets the pleasure.

So, that was my definition of engineering chutzpah--until I started reading about genetically-modified organisms. With hardly any debate, Monsanto and their ilk have quietly taken over America's farms with GM corn, soybeans, canola, and many other crops. Farmers can't use these crops without paying Monsanto. But these crops tend to spread, and Monsanto actually sues farmers who grow their frankenfoods unintentionally.

There is a red herring in this debate--whether GM foods are safe for human consumption. Even though we never got a chance to approve the experiment, the experiment has been performed, and, by and large, GM crops appear to be relatively safe. (If they weren't, I wouldn't be able to write this nor you able to read this, since GM foods dominate in American markets--almost all processed foods have at least some GM content.) So, candidates like Bush and Kerry will try to downplay concerns about GMO's by saying that they're safe for humans--and they probably are--to eat. Where they aren't safe is in their threat to biodiversity and food security.

Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" corn gives it a distinct advantage over natural corn because the R-R corn can be drenched in (Monsanto's) Roundup weed killer without killing the corn. So R-R corn will have higher yields, since it doesn't have to compete with weeds. And so many farmers will end up growing R-R corn, most intentionally, and other strains of corn will disappear. But eventually Roundup resistant weeds will arise (some of them probably even evolved from the R-R corn itself), as will new types of insects who have a special taste for R-R corn. If the old, natural strains of corn are gone, the nation's entire corn crop may be at risk. Biodiversity provides protection against such devastating crop loss; GM crops destroy that biodiversity.

The related concern is food security--if your right to grow food is owned by a (vile evil scumbag) corporation, then it is always prone to having its price raised or being taken away from you entirely. No one should be able to patent food crops, or biological organisms in general. In case you aren't aware, that last sentence is in direct contradiction of official US government policy which is supported by both major-party candidates.

And attacking a country for which your only remaining excuse is the "march of freedom," when you are taking away the people's right to even hold on to their own food seeds? That's chutzpah.