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April 13, 2014

Rootworms and GMOs

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A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences summarizes the spread of rootworm resistance to Bt poisons generated by GMOs. Two of the three commercial Bt traits against rootworm are widely ineffective. The problem is so severe that even a corporatist organization like the NAS feels compelled to discuss it.
 
This product failure, or to put it another way the triumphant counteroffensive of the rootworms, has been documented for many years now. It happened quickly following the commercialization of the first anti-rootworm GMO products in 2003.
 
The product genre is in response to an artificial problem, generated completely by the GMO regime itself. In a rational crop rotation and pest management system, as largely prevailed prior to the advent of GMOs in the mid 1990s, rootworm was seldom more than a nuisance to maize farmers. This pest only started becoming a serious problem when farmers were exhorted by Monsanto and the US government to grow corn every year. The Roundup Ready trait and the poison trait vs. the corn borer were alleged to enable this. The fact that it encouraged rootworm infestation, since now their larvae would find new corn to feed on the next year (which is what crop rotation is supposed to prevent, so that the pest can never become well-established), was an intentionally generated problem which Monsanto then answered with its rootworm-resistant poison trait.
 
Monsanto’s plan was not only to supply this artificially generated demand, but to use this demand as leverage for its “expanded trait penetration” strategy to force stacked products containing the anti-rootworm trait upon farmers who didn’t need it. In the face of a massive farmer outcry and whatever danger there was from the largely illusory Justice Department antitrust investigation, Monsanto backpedaled on this, and today there are plenty of Double Pro varieties without the anti-rootworm trait available. But these are still triple-stacks containing two anti-borer poisons, since borers have been waging their own victorious war against poison-based agriculture, and it’s a fact that the GMO regime can do nothing but try to fight the long defeat as slowly as possible.
 
The standard treadmill dynamic for both anti-weed and anti-insect GMOs quickly set in with anti-rootworm crops, as rootworms quickly developed resistance to the poison crops which pretended to suppress them. Now this new paper documents how quickly cross-resistance developed between two of the three anti-rootworm traits available. The first anti-rootworm Bt poison was Monsanto’s CryBb1 (“cry” means the crystalline form of the Bt toxin). This was the poison produced by the cells of the original M863 product in 2003, and it remains Monsanto’s anti-rootworm trait to this day. So much for innovation.
 
Rootworms developed resistance to this toxin, and then more quickly developed resistance to Syngenta’s modified Cry3A which is contained in its MIR604 product line, including the new Duracade line which contains a synthetic combo of Cry3A and an old anti-borer toxin. The paper finds that the Syngenta poison is similar enough to Monsanto’s that rootworms resistant to the latter were likely to also be resistant to the former, and that this is the likely reason for the accelerating resistance. Again, there’s the level of “innovation” among these geniuses. Sounds like such products as Monsanto’s Triple Pro and Syngenta’s Viptera wouldn’t be such good bets if you have a rootworm problem.
 
Only the Dow/Dupont DAS-59122 product line, containing the Cry34/35Ab1 toxin, still seems to be working for the time being. Of course the more GMO growers switch to the stacked varieties containing this version of the poison, the faster the rootworms will mop up that one too.
 
This is the same losing arms race as has already been occurring with the corn borer and with Roundup-resistant weeds. As the example of rootworm demonstrates, each new target for the GMO technology more quickly develops resistance to the product genre, just as this target does so more quickly for each new generation of the technological line.
 
This also gives the lie to the whole notion of “refugia”, which are stands of non-Bt corn which the EPA and similar regulators in other countries require poison crop growers to set aside. The idea is supposed to be that the non-Bt stand provides a “refuge” for insects without a propensity to resistance to survive and interbreed with the naturally resistant ones who have survived feeding on the Bt crop. Their offspring will be less likely to inherit the resistance trait, and therefore the overall conversion of the pest population to a resistant variety is supposed to be delayed.
 
As we see, the theoretical setting aside of refuges has done little to halt the march of Bt-resistant rootworms. Of course, such refuges were more of a political scam in the first place, since the EPA nor regulators in other countries have been vigilant about enforcing them, nor were they supposed to be. The idea of the refugia, as a way for regulators and corporations to reassure skeptics that the product will work, has always had more significance then their real world application.
 
This is proven by the fact that, in the same way that regulatory allowed herbicide levels in water and food is set not according to public health or any other scientific measure, but simply reflects whatever level will result from the amount of herbicides corporations need to sell and farmers need to spray, so the refugia percentages aren’t set according to any scientific measure, but at the lowest politically justifiable level.
 
Thus although USDA entomologists recommended 50% refuge planting if the policy was supposed to have any chance of being effective, the EPA originally set the requirement at 20% for single and then double trait Bt poison crops. Needless to say Monsanto originally opposed the refuge concept as such and has always lobbied for the lowest possible level. The EPA was happy to accept the cartel’s argument that stacked varieties, by incorporating multiple poisons, would attack target insects so many ways at once that the 20% refuge was no longer necessary and could be reduced to 5%. This “reduced refuge” requirement was inaugurated with SmartStax corn in 2009, and we have indeed seen rapid results where it’s come to rootworm resistance. No doubt this will hasten the toppling of that third Bt rootworm trait, since it too is part of SmartStax.
 
The entomologists are now back and saying “we told you so”. They’re being backed by some parts of the corporate media, which are singling out the reduced refuge policy as kind of anomalous policy “abuse”, along with the scapegoating of farmers standard in the propaganda of a GMO product’s failure stage. As always, the goal is to defend the honor of the insect resistance product genre, and of GMOs as such, by blaming a crisis which can’t be lied away on some extraneous factor.
 
But the fact is that pest resistance is inevitable when you present the pest with the same challenge year upon year upon year (corn-on-corn, as they call it). No matter what the crop’s defenses, the insect will always win. Even the best refuge policy, vigilantly enforced, would indeed only slightly slow down this process at best.
 
That GMO proponents have always denied this fact, and the parallel fact of inevitable and accelerating weed resistance, against which there’s not even the meager delaying measure of a “refuge” available, makes them perhaps the oddest group of evolution deniers we’ve ever seen. Odd, especially, given their absurd pretensions to be representatives of “science”.
 
What’s more, as I’ve written about many times, to believe that a government regulatory bureaucracy actually wants to enforce policy in the public interest, if such enforcement would hinder the corporate prerogative in any significant way, is to fail to understand the nature of this kind of bureaucracy. The EPA hasn’t “dropped the ball” on Bt refugia, or whatever term of expression one might use. It’s done exactly what we should expect: Under pressure from a wide array of public interest perspectives, it enacted a paper policy. It set the mechanisms of this policy at the lowest level of rigor it thought it could get away with, and has been lackadaisical about enforcing even this level. It then touted the policy idea as proof that farmers and the public could trust their judgement, and that things would be fine and work well as the Bt crop project went forward. The rootworms, as well as the borers, have answered.
 
The fact is that in addition to all their other proven and likely dangers, GMOs were always guaranteed to generate insect and weed resistance against themselves. They were always guaranteed to lead to nothing but an ever-escalating arms race, with the GMO products having to incorporate more and more endemic and sprayed poisons to be even the slightest bit effective. The products would have to become more and more expensive and be ever more poisonous to humans, livestock, and the environment. And the end result of this is guaranteed to be massive crop destruction and the wholesale abandonment of farmland to intractable weeds, as has already been happening in Georgia and elsewhere.
 
As I described above, much of this was premeditated as a form of planned obsolescence, and as a way of generating new demand, where it came to anti-rootworm crops as such.
 
Perhaps most of the cadres involved simply refuse to think about the inevitable end of this Tower of Babel, taking solace in the flat-earth fundamentalist mantra, “technology will think of something”. As we can see, it’s been working so well so far. Those who do think about it are simply psychopaths who expect to enjoy their own profits and power before the inevitable end. On Wall Street this way of looking at it is called IBGYBG – “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone”, so therefore let’s continue perpetrating these finance cons, constructing these pyramid schemes, blowing up this bubble, since by the time it all blows up we’ll have taken our fat bonuses and run. Individual cartel executives and investors must think the same way.
 
That’s part of why humanity cannot “coexist” with GMOs. That’s part of why our only option is total abolition. Nothing short of that can stave off the many modes of inevitable failure hardwired into an agricultural regime based on GMOs and poisons. As this example demonstrates well, we cannot rely on “regulators”, let alone the corporations themselves, to act in a way which makes any other course possible. It’s proactive abolition along with the affirmative building of the Community Food and Food Sovereignty movement, or else it’s a very dark future.

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April 11, 2014

GMO News Summary April 11, 2014

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*Pressure from farmers has caused Forage Genetics International (the Monsanto subsidiary handling this product) to postpone its commercial release of GM alfalfa in Canada, at least for this spring.
 
There’s some controversy over whether there’s a shortage of alfalfa seed, and if so whether this is on account of the harsh winter, or because farmers planted less of a seed crop on account of anxiety over the GM alfalfa struggle. FGI denies there’s a shortage of seeds, but is unclear about the reason for the postponement. Farmers opposed to the release because it will contaminate non-GM alfalfa and harm dairy animals and products are claiming credit for the delay.
 
Proponents of Roundup Ready alfalfa make the odd argument that it’ll be good for the export market, even though there’s far less of an export market for GM alfalfa or for any other GMO than there is for non-GM crops and products. (For example, US corn exports have been permanently depressed since the widespread adoption of GM corn.) They also perpetrate the bizarre circularity that it’ll be good for alfalfa seed crops, though this obviously could apply only to a seed crop of RR alfalfa itself. So this is really saying, “growing GM alfalfa will be good for growing GM alfalfa”. I’m afraid we’ll need a better reason than this, but this is indeed what almost all pro-GM “arguments” boil down to.
 
*As part of its budgeting process for the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), the European Parliament voted resolution demanding much stronger “conflict of interest” rules including a modest two-year “cooling off period” before a corporate agriculture/food cadre can go through the revolving door.
 
But it looks like what they really did was release the money after delaying it for a little while, and merely accompany it with this pious resolution. The EFSA has already rejected any change in its corruption policies.
 
To put that term another way, what we see here and with other corporatist government bureaucracies is not really a conflict of interest, or in other words this concept mistakes the real nature of a bureaucracy like the EFSA.
 
As for the cooling-off time, anyone who thinks this would be unfair to our upstanding revolving door types should explain why corporate non-compete contracts for ex-employees should be considered any less unacceptable.
 
*A pilot study commissioned by Sustainable Pulse and Moms Across America has found extremely high levels of glyphosate in the milk of US mothers and in urine samples from a cross section of volunteers.
 
These levels are higher than allowed European levels, and are higher than the levels found in city water systems and in the urine of European volunteers in a 2013 study. 
 
The participants in the study are people who have taken some steps in recent years to lessen their exposure to glyphosate and other poisons in their diets. We can expect that the poison levels would be even higher among people who haven’t taken any such steps.
 
This isn’t a full scientific study (though it’s more informative about human health than any of the industry conversion tests on GMOs and other poisons which are accepted as sufficient by regulators), but we can expect the hacks to irrelevantly accuse it of being an inadequate study. From day one, and to this day, one of the three main lies about the Seralini study, a fully conclusive scientific study of GMO and Roundup toxicology, is that it was a flawed cancer study, when in fact it never claimed to be a cancer study at all. On the contrary, it called for cancer studies to be designed and done.
 
*The farm minister of Denmark commissioned academic reviewers to assess the effects of glyphosate on livestock. Their review of the published evidence concluded that there may be harmful effects and that more study is needed. I suppose the “more study is needed” line is an improvement over the standard line of governments everywhere that no study is needed, but it’s still hardly a clarion call summoning society to action.
 
The review concluded that the two main ways in which glyphosate harms livestock are:
 
1. Glyphosate devastates the microbiome, the gut flora which are necessary for digestion and digestive system health.
 
2. As part of its intended action, glyphosate is a potent mineral chelator. This is how it kills plants, by preventing them from gaining mineral nutrition by binding up the minerals in an indigestible form. The evidence is that glyphosate also prevents animals from gaining necessary nutrition because their feed, mostly from Roundup Ready GMOs, is loaded with glyphosate residues and chelated minerals which are similarly indigestible to them. This leads to disastrous deficiency disease. It’s probably having a similar malnutritional effect on humans.
 
*The Dutch parliament has passed a law which will ban the sale of glyphosate formulations such as Roundup to “private individuals” for non-commercial use by the end of 2015. An existing restriction has all sorts of loopholes. The piece isn’t clear on whether municipalities will still be using the poison.
 
It’s good to get Roundup out of our neighborhoods, off our sidewalks, out of our parks, and so on. Often analyses of the health harms of glyphosate neglect this neighborhood use.
 
But this kind of ban is still just nibbling at the fringes of the poison problem, since the vast majority of Roundup is used for commercial agriculture, and it’s this use which really drives the poisoning of our soil, air, and water, and which is the main driver of the many ways glyphosate damages our health and makes us sick.
 
Nothing short of a complete ban and abolition of glyphosate will suffice for human health, livestock health, environmental health.
 
*In the latest political statement from Russia’s government on GMOs, prime minister Medvedev told an audience of farmers that Russia doesn’t need to grow or import GMOs, but can feed itself and build a vibrant export sector based on organic agriculture and food.
 
*Superbugs and superweeds are attaining ever faster turnaround times. According to reports of farmers and officials, insect pests are already gorging happily on the brand new Bt brinjal rollout in Bangladesh. This product was only newly commercialized in 2014, the first place on earth for GMO eggplant, and the government’s agricultural research institute first released the seeds to farmers in January. If these reports are confirmed it’ll set a new world record for GMO failure, already a hard-to-match hall of shame.

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April 4, 2014

GMO News Summary April 4th, 2014

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*Russia continues to express its ambivalence toward the Western-dominated GMO regime, as Vladimir Putin said some vague things about the dangers of GMOs and Russia’s need to control them within its own food supply and economy. This is within the context of Russia’s ongoing moves to limit the penetration of the Western-dominated GMO regime. This has included a labeling policy, a plan to set up a state “registration” system, scheduled to be announced in June 2014, and lots of media coverage of how organic and non-GM conventional agriculture can give Russia a food security and export advantage.
 
All this is part of the intensified jousting between Russia and Western corporatism. The showdown in the Ukraine, historically called the “heartland” or “breadbasket of the world” by geopolitical theorists, is a major escalation. The Ukraine conflict has major implications for humanity’s war against GMO corporatism. Cargill, Monsanto, and others have made major investments in the Ukraine. So far this invasion of Western agribusiness has been nominally on a non-GMO basis, although everyone believes there’s widespread illegal GMO plantings. As of summer 2013 a study by the National Association for Genetic Safety conducted in the Belgorod region of Russia right across the border from the Ukraine didn’t detect GMO contamination.
 
The West’s goal in targeting the Ukraine has been the same as its general goal since the end of the Cold War. The goal is to expand the same neoliberal corporatist domination which is destroying southern and western Europe to the former communist countries. Ukraine is meant to be plundered and dominated for the sake of this plunder in itself, and also to further hem in Russia and prevent it from reasserting itself as a rival to Western corporate power. That’s why the US and EU are so ardent to expand NATO membership to the Ukraine. (NATO, as has been made incontrovertibly clear since the end of the Cold War, is primarily an aggressive alliance, not a defensive one. It never contemplated a peace dividend for one second.)
 
In this case globalization-oriented Ukrainian kleptocrats seized power in a coup so they could accept an IMF loan which would be used to rip the country’s economy and polity wide open to the corporate “austerity” regime and the general onslaught of Western corporate aggression.
 
In the case of agriculture this will include a lifting on the Ukraine’s ban on foreign corporations owning farmland. In this way land-grabbing, usually associated most with the new campaign of racist colonialism being perpetrated by the West in Southern countries, will be brought to the Ukraine. The new corporate Gleichschaltung will also further corporatize Ukrainian policy on commodification, GMO seeds and patents, food safety, etc.
 
It’s easy to see why Monsanto and Cargill are bullish on the current situation, in spite of the chaos and tension. Russia rightly sees this US/EU/NATO/IMF campaign as a campaign of Western aggression, not just against the Ukraine but against itself. In addition to all the other geopolitical and economic aspects, we can add the GMO assault. If all goes according to plan, the corporate takeover of the Ukraine will turn the fabled heartland and breadbasket of the world into a GMO plantation, which will directly physically threaten (via contamination, if not in a more direct way) Russia’s own attempt to build a high-quality non-GM export sector.
 
Of course, Russia has only talked about revamping its agriculture along these lines. It’s at least as likely that Russia’s putting up barriers against Monsanto’s onslaught because it wants to participate in constructing a rival GMO cartel. Nor is any kind of export-based commodity agricultural economy sustainable.
 
But Russia’s public statements have at least demonstrated that they understand the threats and opportunities which are possible in this situation, which is more than most Western countries have done. Meanwhile the Ukrainians seem to have no vision for themselves at all, but can only imagine themselves as under the thumb of Russia or of the West. It’s certainly an extremely difficult position to be caught between two power centers.
 
But there’s no question at all that if one has to be temporarily dependent and subordinate, the deal Russia was offering is vastly better for the Ukraine’s 99% than the IMF liquidation and debt enslavement which is already commencing. And it should go without saying that from every point of view – today’s commodity economy as well as what will of necessity be tomorrow’s relocalized economies – Ukraine would be much better off investing in non-GMO and organic agriculture, in the same way many Russian groups and officials are arguing for Russia, than it will be if it turns itself into the next supine, demolished Monsanto victim. 
 
*Following the latest round of cotton crop failures in India (a growing problem since GMO cotton has become predominant), the state of Karnataka has announced it is placing a ban of indefinite length on the sale of Mahyco’s Bt cotton seeds. It will also institute a bailout of affected cotton farmers, just the latest example of where an Indian government has had to effect a spot bailout of cotton farmers. Usually these bailouts are just laundered corporate welfare for Monsanto and the rest of Big Ag, like US crop subsidies.
 
Mahyco is the Indian equivalent of Seminis, a large pre-existing company which Monsanto bought and turned into its subsidiary. The state government is blaming the widespread crop failures, in many cases as much as 50% of the harvest promised by the company, on poor quality seeds. Farmers are saying that many of the cotton plants fail to produce bolls, and that the allegedly insect-resistant cotton is readily attacked by pests.
 
These complaints, along with the fact that GMO cotton requires heavy irrigation (far more than non-GM) but has often been fraudulently sold to farmers in regions without artificial irrigation, have been common throughout the history of India’s disastrous Bt cotton experiment. Mahyco admits that non-target “secondary” insects are afflicting the cotton plants. This is a common and predictable effect of insecticide-expressing GMOs, along with the development of resistance among the target insect.
 
*A new Brazilian study of in vitro brain tissue exposed to Roundup provides more evidence of the mechanism by which glyphosate causes neurological toxicity and oxidative damage. The existence of these effects, among the many other harmful health effects of glyphosate, is not in question, only the precise way in which this poison harms us.
 
*A coalition of farmer and citizen activists and protesters has successfully pressured the new government of Chile to withdraw a proposed corporate seed enclosure law, called the “Monsanto Law”. Such laws, increasingly being deployed around the global South and also in the process of being tightened in Europe, seek to foreclose democratic and farmer control of seeds through strict patenting and registration rules and draconian restrictions on democratic saving, breeding, and planting of seeds which weren’t duly purchased under a corporate contract.
 
The goal is to eradicate all seed and germplasm diversity and decentralization and replace it with a tightly controlled, hierarchical, proprietary monoculture system. As with all of corporate agriculture, the goal is not to produce food or to feed anyone. On the contrary, everything corporate agriculture does is proven to hinder such goals, and is clearly setting up agriculture for collapse and famine in the not-distant future. The goal is always profit, power, control, domination.
 
Agroecology and Food Sovereignty, on the contrary, seek to produce food for human beings. What’s more, they seek to build strong, democratic communities, polities, economies. They seek to restore power to humanity by decentralizing power and putting it to human use.
 
But corporations seek nothing but to centralize power and use it to control, dominate, and destroy humanity. 

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March 21, 2014

GMO News Summary, March 21 2014

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*In a major ruling a Brazilian appeals court has invalidated the government’s approval of Bayer’s application for commercialization of its Liberty Link glufosinate-resistant maize. It ordered CTNBio, Brazil’s bioregulator, to conduct a full environmental review prior to granting the application and to provide better transparency for its approval process.
 
While this ruling immediately applies only to LL, it calls into question all other Brazilian GMO approvals, since CTNBio has never undertaken an environmental review for any of them. In theory this ruling should be extended to invalidate all prior approvals.
 
*A UN FAO report documents the spread of GMO contamination throughout the commodified food supply and the escalating number of incidents of shipments being rejected by import countries for so-called “low level presence”. This term has no stable definition, but merely indicated how much pollution a trader/miller/importer is willing to accept as trivial. The GMO cartel and its US government flunkey, of course, want to raise this level indefinitely and eventually render it moot by forcing globalized approval of all GMOs. That’s one of the core goals of the TTIP and TPP.
 
*The Mayan community of the Mexican state of Campeche has won a federal court victory against the central government’s approval of Roundup Ready soybean cultivation in their state. The court agreed that this centralized fiat decision violates the right of the indigenous community to control its own agriculture. In particular, the people of the community fear that GMO cultivation will harm their vibrant beekeeping culture.
 
Agriculture and food systems are naturally local/regional, and an economy based on natural exchange and demand-based markets and trade would reflect this. A sure measure of impractical and tyrannical centralization is the extent to which control of agriculture has been arrogated by centralized corporations and governments. Globalization compacts represent the most extreme manifestation of this usurping corporatization.
 
This court victory follows 2013′s big victory for Mexican agriculture and democracy as a whole, as the courts imposed a moratorium on government plans to approve field trials and commercialization of GM maize.
 
*Continuing the legal struggle over GMO alfalfa, the Center for Food Safety has filed a new lawsuit against the USDA to force it to obey the Freedom of Information Act. The CFS is trying to make public the details of how the Obama White House forced the USDA to go back on its original partial deregulation plan for Roundup Ready alfalfa and fully deregulate it instead.
 
This is the latest round in a sordid saga which highlights the unchanging nature of anti-democratic bureaucracy as well as the identical corporatist ideology and policy of Republican and Democrat adminstrations.
 
USDA originally approved Monsanto’s RR alfalfa in 2005. In response to a lawsuit from CFS and others, a 2006 court decision ordered the USDA to undertake a full environmental review, the first it would ever perform. This court order was similar to the new one from Brazil, with the difference that the Brazilian decision has much broader theoretical implications, while the US court in 2006 found that as a perennial which widely spreads its pollen, alfalfa was a special case.
 
The court order was upheld through a series of appeals, and the USDA finally completed its review in 2010. The review found that Roundup Ready alfalfa presented special contamination problems and should be approved only with special restrictions. This is “partial deregulation” in the parlance. This is a sham which could never work in practice. The record of Bt refugia proves that such restrictions are widely flouted with impunity, while even the restrictions placed on field trials don’t prevent GM contamination from proceeding, as demonstrated by many such examples as Oregon’s infestation of GM creeping bentgrass, or 2013′s discovery of feral RR wheat which escaped and has persisted since field trials ended several years ago. Under no circumstances could GM alfalfa commercialized under “restrictions” be prevented from broadly contaminating all alfalfa over time.
 
Trying to make a virtue of necessity, agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack brokered a political alliance between USDA and the industrial organic sector led by Whole Foods Market and Stonyfield’s Gary Hirshberg. The plan was to whitewash this partial deregulation plan by calling it a “co-existence” plan. Industrial organic, which wants someday for GMOs to be allowed under the “organic” certification, would be the lead marketers for the scam. USDA would fraudulently promise to rigorously police growing practices to prevent contamination, and to set up a compensation mechanism for the victims of such GMO trespass.
 
This plan to normalize Roundup Ready alfalfa by stages was too subtle for Monsanto, though, which simply prevailed upon Obama to override Vilsack. The USDA promptly ordered full deregulation, and a whole new poison and contamination front was opened.
 
Now CFS is back in court trying to get more details on how the executive fiat went down, but the basics are already known.
 
*Sri Lanka’s president has issued a ban on the sale of Roundup in the country following the recent study which documents the causal link between Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown origin (CKDu) in farm workers and a combination exposure to Roundup and heavy metals in the drinking water.
 
The government plans to launch a program to convert the country’s rice paddies to organic weed control and fertilization. This is a sane plan under any circumstance, and especially given the chronic epidemic being caused by these imported poisons.
 
*Pending a new law to ban cultivation of MON810 maize in France, the agricultural ministry has issued a ban on plantings until the new law is codified.
 
There’s lots about legal bans in this week’s news. While legalistic bans are not a substitute for abolitionism in concept or practice, they’re certainly an effective tool wherever attainable.
 
*This one makes me chuckle. South Africa’s government has been highly accommodating to the Monsanto agenda, in spite of the disastrous record of GMOs there.
 
Or perhaps some parts of the government are finally getting fed up. In response to a complaint from the African Center for Biodiversity, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ordered Monsanto to cease from an advertising campaign touting the benefits of GMOs in broad terms. When the agency asked Monsanto to submit evidence from independent science backing up its claims, Monsanto merely sent in links to its own website. Unusually for a government body, the agency rejected this as unsatisfactory.
 
Here’s part of the verbiage which was prohibited as fraudulent: GMOs “enable us to produce more food sustainably whilst using fewer resources; provide a healthier environment by saving on pesticides; decrease greenhouse gas emissions and increase crop yields substantially”. These are all direct factual lies which have been disproven around the world, everywhere GMOs have been commercialized, including in South Africa. But as anyone at all familiar with the propaganda environment has seen, these are also the standard lies of GMO supporters.
 
The quality of pro-GMO “science” Monsanto offered here is, of course, exactly the same as it is in the US. But while it’s not unprecedented for Monsanto’s advertising to be flagged as the consumer fraud it is (the company has been sanctioned in France and in New York state), more commonly such straight lies are waved through, as well as repeated by the government itself. The FDA and USDA both consciously see themselves as part of the Monsanto PR team. The FDA was the original purveyor of the Big Lie of “substantial equivalence”, which has since been disseminated worldwide. The WHO and UN FAO adopted wholesale the GMO safety ideology promulgated by the trade group ILSI (International Life Sciences Institute). The advertising depicted above is standard in most countries.
 
But it’s funny to see what happens the moment an advertising regulator drops the ideological agenda and simply looks at the fact. Monsanto is immediately recognized as an outlaw, totally beyond the pale.
 
 
*There’s growing skepticism and resistance among apple growers to the idiotic “non-browning” Arctic Apple being pushed by Okanagen Specialty Fruits, a company which should be subject to a total boycott dedicated to driving it out of business. Consumers don’t have such leverage with Monsanto, but as consumers we can certainly commit to a permanent embargo on one obnoxious industrial fruit company.
 
*The British government’s latest exercise in laundering Monsanto propaganda is a fraudulent “report” issued by the prime minister’s Council for Science and Technology (CST). (That kind of name is always a tip-off. Science and technological engineering are two completely separate things. In principle they have radically different mindsets and goals. The fraudulent conflation of the two always means science is being hijacked to serve mercenary technological instrumentalism. Genetic engineering is of course a form of technological engineering and in itself has zero to do with science.)
 
The “report” contains zero new findings or evidence, but merely launders cartel propaganda through the names of a list of allegedly “independent scientists” who are really on the payroll of the GMO corporations. As Claire Robinson of GMWatch points out, this report is nothing but a “sales pitch”, and it’s revealing that the CST evidently was unable to find a single person NOT having some career/financial stake in GMOs to participate in this report. Under fire, the government admitted that corporations largely control academic research today.
 
This is a typical example of the corporatization of credentialed personnel, who are not scientists in any meaningful sense of the term, but are merely mercenary technicians. This is typical of today’s “scientific” establishment. With GMOs we’re simply reprising the same history of corruption as when long lists of “scientists” assured us that cigarettes were safe, asbestos was safe, DDT, PCBs, dioxin, thalidomide. In all these cases, too, the majority of system-credentialed personnel parroted the party line upon demand.
 
At what point are we the people going to learn that these “experts” don’t know a damn thing and do NOT want what’s best for humanity?
 
*The people of Colorado have an initiative on the 2014 ballot which would legally affirm communities’ right to self-rule and invalidate the illegitimate, usurping preemption prerogatives of corporations, the state, and the central government.
 
This plan for publicity and civil disobedience based on community sovereignty is based on the anti-corporatist strategy of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). Here’s a good description of the philosophy and strategy written by CELDF founder Thomas Linzey during an earlier stage of the struggle, when Longmont was the first Colorado town to pass a ban on fracking. In November 2013 four more towns passed such bans. In 2014 four Oregon counties will have GMO cultivation bans on the ballot. These are examples of a nationwide movement of community self-assertion against corporate tyranny.

 
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March 15, 2014

The GMA’s FDA Preemption Plan for GMO Labeling

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I’ve been writing about the corporate gambit which wants the FDA to forestall the rising GMO labeling movement by instituting a “voluntary” labeling policy which would preempt stronger state-level policy. Failing this, the manufacturers and retailers would prefer a sham “mandatory” FDA policy whose only real strength would be the same preemption. At that point the corporate sectors would join hands with most of the NGO “leaders” of the labeling movement, in a typical corporation/NGO consensus.
 
Let’s look over the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) “summary of discussion draft” for a “voluntary” FDA labeling policy.
 
Title I purports to describe “Bioengineered Food”. Section 101 defines this to exclude all food which includes genetic engineering as part of the processing, but which does not actually include a GMO as an ingredient. So anything which used GE enzymes, yeast, etc. - a vast array of foods – would be excluded from the purview of this policy, and no one could ever apply any label voluntarily (e.g., “this bread was made without genetically engineered yeast”) or make it mandatory (“made with genetically engineered yeast”). All this would be preempted by the FDA.
 
(The lethal Showa Denko epidemic was caused by contaminants in an over-the-counter supplement which used genetic engineering in the processing. The contaminants were produced by the GE process.)
 
Presumably, though it doesn’t explicitly say this here, it would also apply to the gaping void in GMO awareness, meat and dairy from GMO-fed animals. It would probably also forestall BGH labeling once and for all.
 
So the policy applies only to GMO crops and directly engineered animals like the Frankensalmon.
 
Section 102 changes existing FDA notification policy. As things are, GMO developers don’t have to have any contact at all with the FDA. They deal only with the USDA, and the USDA grants commercialization approval. But the corporation may send a voluntary notification letter to the FDA. This letter says nothing more than, “we think this GMO product is safe”, and the FDA replies, “we understand that you think this product is safe”. That’s the entirety of FDA “oversight”. The Clinton administration had wanted to make this farce mandatory, but the cartel resisted even that, and the Bush administration encoded the coluntary status quo.
 
Now the GMA wants to revert to the Clinton mandatory notification. The reason for this is that one of the “principles” listed in the GMA draft is that the policy will “Mandate FDA Safety Reviews”. Of course there won’t really be any safety review whatsoever. But the GMA hopes that if the sham letter exchange is made mandatory, they’ll then be able to depict this in GMO propaganda as a mandatory safety review.
 
In the course of boilerplate about the FDA’s mandate to “protect the health and safety”, the draft reaffirms the FDA’s ideological dogma of “substantial equivalence”: “The use of bioengineering does not, by itself, constitute a material difference.”
 
So the FDA will pretend it’s on the lookout for “material differences”, when in fact it ideologically defines all material differences out of existence. (GMOs are self-evidently radically different in principle from the true crops from which they’re derived, as well as materially different in many unpredictable secondary ways.) The real teeth of this part are found here: “..or to prevent the label of the bioengineered food from being false and misleading.” This means that the FDA will severely regulate the content of voluntary non-GMO labels and force them to include pro-GM dogma like, “The FDA has determined that there is no material difference between genetically engineered food and other foods.”
 
Section 103 describes how all GMO labeling will be purely voluntary. Corporations will be able to apply “non-GMO” labels to anything with a so-called “adventitious presence” of GM material. This means, collateral contamination will be let through under non-GM labeling policy. Voluntary outfits like the Non-GMO Project will be encouraged or if necessary forced to allow their labels for whatever the FDA considers “low level” contamination. No one will be allowed to institute a more rigorous voluntary non-GM certification process. The goal here is to co-opt and discredit non-GMO labeling as such, and to help normalize the increasing contamination of food and agriculture with collateral GM contamination.
 
It explicitly says that GM-fed dairy, as well as food which used GE processing aids like yeast, could be labeled “non-GMO”. Labels cannot say or imply that “non-GMO” is better, or that GMOs are potentially harmful. Instead, the FDA will place restraints on voluntary non-GMO labeling as I described above.
 
The draft does include a vague passage which seems to give corporate producers free rein to make the label say anything they want, including touting an alleged GMO benefit or even the benefit of something being non-GMO. The FDA’s oversight is clearly to apply only to the organic and non-GM sector.
 
Section 104 is explicit on preemption: “This section would preempt any state laws that are not identical to the Federal program.”
 
That, of course, is the #1 goal of the whole corporate endeavor here. Under the guidance of Monsanto, the GMA originally wanted there to be no labeling policy at all.
 
Title II is on so-called “Natural Foods”. Here the GMA merely wants the FDA to encode the scam which allows the term “natural” to be applied to foods containing GMOs and almost any other kind of poison. As things are now, “natural” can be slapped on anything except for foods containing anything from a short list of specific additives. It’s therefore basically a scam term. There are retailers and manufacturers whose whole business model is to produce and sell conventional GMO-based food as some kind of “natural” higher quality food.
 
One of the goals of some labeling campaigns, California’s in particular, was to put an end to this consumer fraud by banning the use of the term “natural” for any food which contains GMOs. With this part of the proposal the GMA wants the FDA to preempt such a derogation of this terminological scam. Here too its call for preemption is explicit (section 203).
 
That concludes the GMA’s commentary on the legislative proposal. The rest of the draft is a combination of blather and straight lies, meant to provide talking points to supportive lawmakers and bureaucrats. It concludes with the list of “principles” which the policy will allegedly embody. “Mandate FDA Safety Reviews” refers to the scam I described above. “Require Federal GMO Labeling for Safety” refers to the part about “material difference”; you can rest assured that the GMO labels will be mandatory in any case where the ever-vigilant FDA considers it necessary. If the FDA says it’s not necessary, you can rest easy and go back to sleep, since the food is safe. “Create a National Standard for Voluntary Labels” refers to the Gleichschaltung of all voluntary certification programs such as the Non-GMO Project, like I described above.
 
It concludes with the two Orwellian and anti-democratic expressions of contempt for the people, “Increase Transparency” when it will do the opposite, and the hoary lie about “Preventing Consumer Confusion”.
 
Consumers, in fact, to the extent the information has been readily available to them, have been far less confused about GMOs than any other group. Unlike most others, consumers have rightfully been suspicious of such a counterintuitive product. Sure enough, 100% of the evidence to date has supported this consumer unease.
 
Monsanto’s default has been to oppose all labeling. But the fact that the GMA, under pressure from such members as Walmart and Coca-Cola, is now promulgating this proposal for FDA preemption is proof of how fearful the corporations are of the GMO labeling movement. There’s a growing consensus among manufacturers and retailers that FDA preemption is preferable to continuing to fight a scorched earth war against labeling at the state level. Monsanto itself supports the FDA’s existing draft guidance on voluntary labeling, which is hostile to it and would censor it as I described above. So Monsanto can be expected to support the formal enshrinement of this FDA “guidance”. The fact that the GMA is now calling for FDA preemption is proof that Monsanto is at least not actively opposing a formal FDA policy on labeling.
 
The proposal has some high-profile senatorial support. “Progressive” heroes Elizabeth Warren and Mark Udall are among the senators shilling for the GMA/Monsanto plan.
 
Part of the point of the GMA’s promulgation of this preemptive “voluntary” scheme is to position a sham mandatory FDA preemptive policy as the middle position, in case this voluntary policy is politically rejected as being too lax. Here is where the GMA would join hands with most of our NGO “leaders”, who have helped lay the groundwork by consistently representing a formal FDA policy as being the desirable end goal. So the likes of Just Label It, the Center for Food Safety, and Food and Water Watch implicitly agree with Monsanto and the GMA that the state-level movement (not to mention county-level bans) represents some undesirable “extreme”.
 
The GMA will do all it can to get the “voluntary” FDA preemption policy enshrined in law. But failing this, it will settle for a sham “mandatory” policy. In any event it wants to strangle the rising local and state movement, especially since the idea of outright bans on GMO cultivation is gaining, as more and more citizens come to realize that labeling would not be sufficient, and that since the enemy is going to fight so ferociously against the more modest labeling policy, there’s no reason not to escalate on our own side to a more sound, rigorous, and necessary abolitionist policy.
 
Meanwhile my recent series of posts on globalization and corporatist coordination of government bureaucracies should also be read as part of my ongoing analysis of how the FDA is inadequate in principle to effectively regulating GMOs. Therefore, to look to the FDA for any kind of good policy is delusional in principle. Nothing but a democratic movement of the people, taking direct action, putting direct pressure on manufacturers and retailers, and putting direct pressure on the lower levels of government, will be sufficient to defeat the GMO enemy.

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March 12, 2014

The TTIP and the “Right to Profit” (Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement)

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In 2012 US-based Lone Pine Resources sued Canada in the World Bank’s corporate tribunal under NAFTA’s Chapter 11 process, claiming that Quebec’s moratorium since 2011 on fracking was costing Lone Pine $250 million in lost profits. Lone Pine wants to engage in fracking right under the St. Lawrence River. Fracking is highly destructive, has been documented by the US government to cause earthquakes, poisons the groundwater and wells of whole regions, wastes tremendous amounts of water, destroys farmland where the wells are drilled, disrupts and terrorizes communities, wrecks local economies, and produces little gas. Most wells produce nothing, while the most productive fizzle out in a year or two, leaving nothing but wholesale economic, physical, soil, and water destruction in their wake. The main power function of fracking is as a typical Wall Street securitization bubble. Any sane region or country would ban it.
 
But according to NAFTA, none of this matters or has any standing whatsoever as a basis for legitimate public policy. According to NAFTA, public interest policy literally has no right to exist, wherever it gets in the way of corporate profit. 
 
Also in 2012, US-based Strongpoint Solutions filed a similar suit with the tribunal for $27 million. Although its complaint is somewhat vague, in effect it claims that Canada’s federal and provincial statutes against burglary, extortion, murder, and other acts interfere with its ability to offer such profitable services as contract murder. It claims these laws comprise “technical barriers to trade” and are according to NAFTA an illegal constraint on “investor rights”.*
 
I’ve previously written (parts one, two, three) about the provisions of the TTIP and TPP for regulatory Gleichschaltung (coordination) under corporate rule. While that’s meant to be a longer-term project, a more immediate and direct attack on democracy and politics will be these compacts’ souped-up corporate tribunals called “investor-to-state dispute settlement” (ISDS).
 
ISDS is a way for corporations to directly sue countries over any policy provision which allegedly costs them profit. The suits take place in secret tribunals presided over by corporate lawyers. These tribunals are lawless administrative courts outside of any kind of democratic oversight or accountability. They’re most similar to administrative courts which have been run by secret police organizations like the tsarist Okhrana and the Nazi SS. The process gives oligopoly corporations based in any country which is party to a compact special privileges over the rights of the people or of any legitimate business within any country which is also a party. It exalts the “right” to corporate profit as the supreme imperative of society, lofting it far above all other values, rights, goals of policy and law.
 
If the TTIP and TPP are ratified, their ISDS provisions will follow the NAFTA model for filing disputes. From the corporatist point of view this is an improvement over the older WTO model. Under less rigorous globalization compacts, when a corporate sector based in a country feels hampered by a law or regulation in another participating country, its government sues the other government in a WTO corporate tribunal. When, hardly ever “if” (the complainant almost always wins), the WTO finds the law in question to be a barrier to “trade”, it grants the plaintiff country the right to impose retaliatory tariffs on imports from the defendant country. These so-called retaliatory tariffs themselves are chosen in a way to penalize certain imports in order to support certain exports, so what the complainant wins at the tribunal is not so much a right to retaliate as a right to commit new aggression.
 
But from the point of view of the original surly sector, this is a highly convoluted process which doesn’t necessarily do IT any good. Thus at the behest of the Monsanto the US government sued the EU over its GMO regulations. In 2006 the US won at the tribunal and has since been able to impose tariffs on some EU exports, mainly some peripheral luxuries. This “win” therefore hasn’t done Monsanto and the GMO cartel much good.
 
But under the ISDS provision of NAFTA and the over 3000 multilateral and bilateral compacts based upon it, a corporation directly sues a government at a World Bank International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) tribunal. This tribunal is similar to a WTO tribunal, but instead of rewarding a government plaintiff with the right to impose a tariff, it rewards the corporate plaintiff with a direct monetary award, paid for by the taxpayers of the target country. This is meant to be (1) a direct corporate welfare conveyance laundered as a “judicial” award, and (2) a pretext to gut regulation and law at lower levels of government which isn’t sufficiently pro-corporate, and to impose a chill effect which prevents the enshrinement of such laws and regulation in the first place.
 
Chapter 11 lets corporations complain about any policy, law, regulation, court decision, which in any way allegedly infringes on any hypothetical profit the corporations can conceive. This has nothing to do with uneven treatment between foreign and domestic businesses. Even where the provision applies equally to all, it’s held to strict liability as far as how it impacts any corporation’s alleged ability to profit.
 
This is proof that globalization compacts are not about trade, but about power. If they were about trade, then a law which applied to everyone equally wouldn’t be a problem.
 
NAFTA also prohibits “performance requirements”, such as that in order to receive various permits a company has to commit to a region for a period of time, source local inputs, etc. In every way it seeks to enshrine a regime of 100% “rights”, i.e. license, 0% risks or responsibilities for the corporations.
 
The boorish quotes here exemplify the psychopathy of the concept of corporate “rights”.
 

Lone Pine claims the Quebec moratorium is an “arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of [its] valuable right to mine for oil and gas.” The firm says the government acted “with no cognizable public purpose,” even though there is broad public support for a precautionary moratorium while the environmental impacts of fracking are studied. Milos Barutciski, a lawyer with Bennett Jones LLP, who is representing Lone Pine in the arbitration, described the moratorium as a “capricious administrative action that was done for purely political reasons – exactly what the NAFTA rights are supposed to be protecting investors against.” It may seem unbelievable but this lawyer may be correct that Lone Pine’s right under NAFTA to make a profit is more important than the right of communities to say no to destructive and environmentally dangerous resource projects.

 
We see again how from the point of view of corporatism politics as such is an atavism, and such values as democracy, public health, environmental protection, are by definition “capricious”.
 
This notion of a “right to profit” is a piece of extremism by any measure. As the provisions are crafted, the “legitimacy” of this hypothetical profit only needs to be confirmed by any friendly government bureaucrat. All that’s needed is for an official with any relevant agency to tell the corporation that he expects it to be able to get a permit, qualify according to a law, etc., and/or that he expects the proposed corporate action to be profitable. No matter how bogus, no matter how suborned, this is enough to establish the profit as some kind of mystical reality. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the accounting regulators then let the company list it as some kind of Account Receivable or other asset.) Needless to say, even now it’s easy for a big corporation to find a regulator chummy enough to give this testimony. It’ll be even easier under regulatory coordination. Indeed, in that case regulators will have a duty to seek such mystical “profit” opportunities on the corporations’ behalf and notify them of these.
 
There’s something Kafkaesque about it – the people comprise the real defendant and will pay the judgement, yet are not allowed any real representation or to observe the proceedings. Their “representatives” are government bureaucrats who are on the side of the prosecutor, and who helped the prosecution prepare its case.
 
Beyond this, the concepts which guide ISDS and globalization and corporatist policy in general – “risk-benefit analysis”, “best practices”, core good regulatory practices”, “Regulatory Impact Assessment”, “market liberalization”, “equalization”, “sound science”, “necessity”, “effectiveness”, and so on set up an adversarial antagonism between corporate profit and human society, with a strong presumption in favor of the corporations.
 
This includes modes of measurement which are automatically in favor of the corporation. There’s nothing scientific or rational about anything like “risk-benefit analysis”, which is on the contrary a purely ideological concept. RBA is arbitrary by definition, in that is arbitrarily enshrines corporate profit as the only value. It can be meaningful at all only to those who adhere to this ideology. If you don’t recognize any right of corporations to a profit, or if you think profiteering shouldn’t exist at all, or if you think the profit motive is only a tool to be used to help increase human well-being, from any of these points of view RBA or anything like it would be absurd and depraved.
 
Humanity must reject the entire concept in principle. We must apply the constitutional corporatism test – do corporations with special privileges legitimately exist at all? We deny the right of corporations to exist at all, and we deny their right to a profit (let alone any other “rights”). Therefore we reject the whole mode of measurement and comparison these compacts fraudulently claim to enshrine. I say “fraudulently” because there could never be any measured result which this regime would consider so little a gain to the corporation as not to be worth the damage it would cause, or too big a loss to the people that it wouldn’t be worth any corporate gain.
 
Thus the goal is to enshrine a guaranteed income for any corporate con artist. If a corporation can envision a profit, it has a right to be awarded this profit in reality. The job of the government and the tribunal is to ensure this profit. This is an extreme manifestation of the fact that corporatism is not designed to provide good products and services, but to guarantee itself a profit and maximize its power. As I said earlier, corporations are not such good/service providers, but power-seeking organizations who hijack and use an economic sector as their base of operations for economic and political domination.
 
Meanwhile the “right to profit” is part of the mysticism of power, and any provision enshrining it is the essence of a command economy.
 
Both Canada and Mexico have lost cases totaling several hundred million dollars in “damages”. That’s in addition to legal costs (which aren’t awarded to the defendant even when it wins) and tribunal fees. Extractive sectors like mining and fossil fuels have been especially aggressive in using these tribunals. Over 50% of ISDS cases have been filed by extractive corporations against Latin American countries. But as the Lone Pine case described above exemplifies, extractors are looking to the CETA and the TTIP to open up Canada and Europe to fracking, and to tribunal suits against any country which tries to protect its people, economy, and environment.
 
Similarly, although Monsanto and the GMO cartel have had little to complain about in the US or Canada so far (Mexico may be a different story these days), they’re eager for the TTIP to give them the power to sue the EU over the many regulatory and political hurdles Europe poses to the GMO assault. Such suits would be win-win for Monsanto, since they’ll either win money awards, or better yet the existence of the ISDS tribunal will give the EC the final inducement it needs to jettison all concern with European democracy and directly approve many or all GMO applications, the way it has always wanted to.
 
The possibilities for lawsuits and extortionate “damage” awards are limitless. Eli Lilly is suing Canada for $500 million for what it views as an insufficiently strong patent for anti-depression drugs. Renco is suing Peru for $800 million over extraction permits. Canada is suing the EU over the European Fuel Quality Directive, which disadvantages its filthy tar sands oil (the same which is slated to be conveyed through the Keystone Pipeline in defiance of US law). Today there are over 500 suits pending before the World Bank tribunals.
 
Civil society, democracy advocates, real businesses, farmers, scientists, public health professionals, environmentalists, and many others, every part of human society and the human economy, have long pointed out that there’s no conceivable public need for this form of extra-constitutional, supra-legal form of tribunal. For any and all actual needs, existing national and regional law is more than sufficient. As in so many other cases, the reform point of view and the abolitionist position agree that ISDS and these tribunals shouldn’t exist at all and serve no purpose other than to aggrandize corporate power and domination.
 
This may bode well for the future of the TTIP in the European Parliament.
 

In June 2011 a European Parliament resolution on the EU–Canada negotiations stated that, “given the highly developed legal systems of Canada and the EU, a state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism and the use of local judicial remedies are the most appropriate tools to address investment disputes.” In July that year, the Commission’s own Sustainability Impact Assessment of CETA came to the same conclusion, recommending a state-to-state dispute process only.

 

 
The ISDS provision is so clearly hostile to democracy and economically bad for the people of any country that its inclusion in the TTIP has become a major rallying point for the opposition in Europe. It’s so inflammatory that in January the EC felt the need to retrench. It announced it would issue a public “consultation” in March, followed by a three month public comment period.
 
We already know this “consultation” will be a scam, since we’ve already been through a similar consultation on ISDS with the EU-Canada trade compact (CETA), set to go into effect in 2014. CETA is evil in itself, and is a forerunner of the US-EU TTIP. The Seattle to Brussels Network was able to see a leaked copy of the secret CETA negotiation text on “investment protection” and ISDS and compare it to the public “consultation” note. The public note is just a propaganda document which is much weaker and loaded with anodynes than the real text. It has boilerplate about a theoretical “right to regulate” and misleading definitions and depictions of the scope of the corporate powers being conferred.
 
The main point is that the real text gives coordinated regulators and tribunals vast discretionary power to interpret the provisions and their own powers to act on behalf of corporate imperatives. Much of the language is vague and meant to preserve this discretionary power of bureaucracy, much like with the regulatory coordination provisions. Also like those, it’s meant to postpone specific harsh measures for the subsequent administrative process, rather than daring to run the political gauntlet by including them formally in the compact.
 
The public CETA consultation note promises certain limits on the right to profit, on concepts like “fair and equitable treatment” (FET), on what constitutes an “investment”, a code of conduct for the arbitrators on the tribunal, a promise of transparency, and other anodynes. But the actual negotiation text is significantly different in each case, and in each case what the note says or implies is much weaker, or is mere vague boilerplate with no corresponding provision in the real text. The actual text also contains all sorts of preemptions of the constraints alleged in the note, such as “most favored nation” and similar clauses. Even if constraints on ISDS were initially to be encoded, these would be subsequently subject to “equalization”, “harmonization”, and other modes of destruction under the permanent ongoing regulatory coordination process.
 
We can expect the upcoming TTIP public “consultation” to be a similar propaganda ploy.
 
Meanwhile, as the EC negotiators made clear, it’s only the ISDS provision which is being delayed at all, and only this may in theory be changed. The rest of the TTIP – the negotiations over the sectoral assaults and the regulatory Gleichschaltung plan are at full steam ahead, and these will not be ameliorated one bit.
 
The TTIP (and TPP) as a whole is an assault on freedom, democracy, economic prosperity, and human happiness. It’s to be a major escalation of corporate tyranny, a major step toward corporate domination. As we should have abundant experience by now, all of its promises are lies, and none of its promised benefits will come true. It’ll only accelerate the corporate destruction of the real economy and what’s left of democratic politics, leaving behind only austerity, serfdom, hunger, disease, and an ever more severe police state.
 
We need to reciprocate the EC’s political ploy by seizing the opportunity of the sham “consultation” to expose the overall sham of the TTIP and engineer its political defeat. This is likely to be the last chance the politics of representative democracy gets.
 
[*Actually, that case is a rumor and may not really exist. But even if no such suit has been filed, I defy anyone who supports ISDS to tell me by what logic it shouldn't be able to succeed at the tribunal if it was filed.]

 
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March 8, 2014

“Coexistence” With GMOs Is Impossible

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Organic farmers don’t get the massive corporate welfare subsidies that GMO-based agriculture does, even though the latter is destructive of agriculture and the environment. Organic farmers also aren’t paid by society for their immense services in improving human and animal health, the soil, water, air, and environment.
 
That’s our basic situation, already a tremendous injustice and stupidity. And that’s the context where an added assault is going on, compounding all the artificial obstacles already in place against real farmers.
 
Organic and non-GMO conventional farmers in the US face a growing crisis as their crop is increasingly damaged by the trespass and contamination committed by GMO growers. The word “crisis” is not exaggerated, as the economic damage is severe, and as contamination proceeds, our ability to physically maintain the genetic integrity of real crops becomes increasingly questionable.
 
This is the context of the USDA’s attempt to promulgate a so-called “co-existence” policy. “Coexistence” (CE, as I’ll abbreviate it) is not a practical measure, and no one thinks it is. The corporations, the USDA, and the courts all concede that GMO contamination is inevitable and cumulative. The “stewardship” measures the government recommends are both physically insufficient and economically impractical. These measures are all examples of “voluntary” self-regulation which everyone knows doesn’t work. If you want to have capitalism, you have to expect everyone to act like capitalists. In that case the only conceivable restraint is regulator force. But we know the regulators are and see themselves as helpmates of the big corporations, not honest referees. The USDA’s panel, the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21), postulates GMO domination, i.e. the domination of a handful of corporations, as normative. This is standard government bureaucratic policy. (For those still mired in partisan consciousness, I’ll remind them that this is a typical part of Obama’s aggressive pro-Monsanto policy. Assisting the GMO cartel toward its domination goals is one of the realms with the most pure and complete concurrence between Democrats and Republicans.)
 
System terminology calls GMO contamination an “adventitious presence”, but this is a false euphemism, meant to imply the contamination is accidental and unintended. But the cartel, USDA, and courts all admit it’s inevitable and foreseen. Therefore it’s premeditated. We can call it “collateral”, as long as it’s understood that “collateral damage” doesn’t mean an “accident”, but refers to a premeditated effect, even if the effect is not technically “intended”. Of course in this case the cartel at least certainly does intend that contamination proceed. That’s part of its avowed goal to replace all non-GM agriculture with proprietary GMO agriculture.
 
CE is not practical or just and is not intended to be. On the contrary, the USDA’s notion of CE, which places all the responsibility and cost upon non-GM farmers to set up buffers, schedule their plantings so as to minimize contamination risk, and to buy extra crop insurance, is just another example of the familiar “altruism and self-sacrifice for you, egoism and selfishness for me”, i.e. for the GMO contractors. (As we must call those who grow GMOs. They exist under contract to Monsanto and other cartel members, they must obey Monsanto down to the fine print details, and their whole principle is to put agriculture under the control of idiot-proof technology algorithms. So they’re not “farmers” in any meaningful sense of the term. I stress that the technology is foolproof only in principle, but doesn’t work well at all in practice. But those who want to plant GMOs do so in the hope of greatly simplifying their task, so that they can stop being farmers and become the equivalent of managers of fully automated factories. The fact that the factory runs on poison and produces poison justifies any scorn we feel.)
 
Organic and non-GM farmers have been striving heroically to survive in this artificially created harsh circumstance, but so long as GMOs exist they’ll be fighting a losing battle. The USDA knows this, which is why it’s promulgating a CE policy, not as any seriously intended attempt to even slow GM contamination, but as a propaganda exercise. The basic goal is to convince farmers and citizens that CE is possible, and in this way to box out such ideas as that a legal ban or total abolition is necessary. It’s also meant to help provide legal cover to the trespassers and vandals, as the idea spreads of farmer lawsuits against the contractors who commit these crimes.
 
There’s no doubt at all about the moral and legal status here. When a contractor grows a GMO false crop and its pollen or seeds spread and contaminate the non-GM crops of a neighbor, he has trespassed on his neighbor’s land and vandalized his property. The same is true when he applies agricultural poisons and the poison drifts onto the land of anyone else. (This trespass and vandalism is set to increase exponentially as Agent Orange GMOs become commercialized. The herbicide 2,4-D is far more drift prone than even glyphosate, which has become ubiquitous in water, air, and soils.)
 
A government CE policy is meant to efface the entire history of morality and law and replace it with a GMO-friendly blank slate. It’ll implicitly reinforce the legally invalid way Monsanto and the cartel already force purchasers of GMO seed to take full legal responsibility for any contamination damage. Contamination is the predicted effect of the proper use of the product, so the seller can’t disavow responsibility for it within any legitimate legal framework. So far as I know no one’s tried to test this in court yet, since any small, resource-poor plaintiff like an organic farmer is likely to shrink from directly challenging the infinite resources of Monsanto. But if anyone did, we’d likely find the courts continuing to overthrow all conventional notions of law in order to uphold Monsanto’s prerogatives, as they’ve repeatedly done in affirming Monsanto’s lawsuits against innocent victims of contamination, refusing to force Monsanto to desist from this kind of action, and of course allowing patents on seeds, plants, and the products of life in general.
 
The USDA CE policy is meant to reinforce the theoretical liability of the growers themselves rather than the cartel, completely removing the cartel from the political/legal picture. It’s then meant to extend political and legal protection to the destructive contractors, shifting the entire economic and political burden to non-GM producers. It’s meant to render their position economically untenable, and politically put them in the position of being recalcitrant holdouts who won’t get with the GMO program, “luddites”. In Australia the Steve Marsh lawsuit is already being used by GMO proponents to argue that organic certification standards are too rigorous and need to be watered down. (And not just being argued by them. As in the US, the industrial organic sector supports the “CE” concept because it too wants the standards watered down. In 2011 US industrial organic, with support from secretary of agriculture Vilsack, tried to make a CE deal with Monsanto toward that goal. But Monsanto wasn’t interested.)
 
The fact is that industrial agriculture is physically unsustainable and totally destructive of the soil, water, and environment. GMOs, in addition to the poisons inherent to them, represent a doubling down on the whole unsustainable, destructive, obsolete, sclerotic paradigm. Only crackpot enthusiasts buy into the superficial notion that GMOs represent some cutting-edge technology. On the contrary, GMOs are part of an antiquated, backward, dinosaur, luddite set of ideas and practices. The AC21′s name is a fraud, as it does not look forward to the 21st century, but wants to keep us mired in the 20th until the industrial agricultural system completely collapses.
 
Agroecology, which means conventional breeding and sustainable practices enhanced and systematized by modern agronomic knowledge supplemented with advanced technology like marker assisted selection, is the cutting edge of agricultural science, knowledge, and practice. It’s the true bright future of agricultural technology, as well as the only possible way forward in the post-oil, post-aquifer period. Today’s organic agriculture strives against great economic and physical hardship to innovate toward this great goal. GMOs are the worst part of the system which economically cramps this entrepreneurship and sets up a bottleneck which is trying to jam all innovation. It does the same for the non-GM conventional sector, which has been attempting a resurgence as the failure of GM crops becomes evident.
 
So it’s GMOs and their supporters who are the luddite reactionaries trying to prop up the decrepit past and prevent, by force, the future from ever being born.
 
That’s the context in which the USDA has publicized its proposed “coexistence” policy and conducted a comment period on it, which just recently closed. As part of unmasking the whole concept as fraudulent, Food and Water Watch and OFARM (the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing) conducted a survey of certified organic farmers to find out their attitudes toward CE, their expectations about GMO contamination, what measures against it they feel compelled to take, and what economic damage they’ve already sustained.
 
Evidently farmers were more willing to say they personally have suffered than to say the whole thing can’t work in principle, as the number declines from “I have been harmed and/or fear personal harm” (84%) to “I think so-called ‘good stewardship’ practices can’t work” (68%) to “it’s impossible for coexistence to work at all” (48%). (Those are my paraphrases of the positions.) That’s an example of how theoretical consciousness lags behind personal experiences, and why a movement is needed to publicize the facts, make individuals aware of how common their experiences are, render confrontations with the system more generic in action and concept, and in this way induce a broad consciousness of the basic facts of our situation. That’s what the 19th century Populist movement in America was able to achieve among cotton farmers, and that’s how it was able to build support for the Farmers’ Alliance co-ops, help everyone understand what this co-op movement was up against, and develop a broad consciousness of the need for greenbacker money and strong support for such policy as the subtreasury plan.
 
Similarly, we need to build support for the community food sector, relocalized organic agriculture, non-GM agriculture in general, a completely new system for the production and distribution of seeds, and the total abolition of GMOs.
 
This report certainly should help everyone involved (all the “stakeholders”, as the system would say; in our case this includes real farmers as well as everyone who eats food) understand the economic attack on organic farmers. To summarize the numbers:
 
*To set up buffers as the USDA recommends costs organic farmers a median of $2500 a year, with some reporting losses of over $20,000 in a year. This buffer recommendation is imposed only on the organic farmer who is the victim of the trespass and vandalism, not on the GMO contractor who is the trespasser and vandal.
 
*To delay planting to try to evade contamination from neighboring crops (again something forced on the recipient of the contamination) costs organic maize farmers a median $5280, $3312 for soy farmers.
 
*Organic certification, including special measures taken to meet the standards, costs an average of $1350 a year. According to one estimate, about a quarter of this on the average is measures to avoid GMO contamination. By this measure, GMOs cost the average organic farmer $340 a year in certification costs.
 
*Farmers report taking other measures to prevent contamination such as monitoring what neighbors plant, additional cleaning of equipment, choosing not to plant certain crops, buying extra-expensive seeds, and having seed testing done. These add up to a median cost of $520 a year.
 
*20% of organic farmers reported doing their own GMO testing on-farm, which cost a median of $200 a year.
 
*The total annual median cost to organic farmers of ensuring their crop was free of GM contamination is $6532-8500 a year respectively for soy and corn farmers, less but still significant for other kinds of farmers.
 
Organic farmers report a growing incidence of contamination.
 
*31% reported that they or buyers had detected contamination in their crop. This includes 34% of organic maize growers and 35% of soy farmers.
 
*Of those, 52% had a load of grain rejected because of contamination, costing a median $4500. This includes 59% of maize farmers and 57% of soy growers. Several respondents reported much higher losses, one as much as $367,000. When these rejections occur, the farmer must then pay a “double freight” cost to take the load back, costing an average of $1000-2000.
 
The advent of GMO alfalfa, which even the USDA admits will inevitably contaminate non-GM, will greatly worsen this crisis.
 
The report briefly mentions how contractors are increasingly surly and unwilling to cooperate in even trying to coexist, which is further proof that CE cannot work. It also goes to show what liars many Americans are when they claim to care about privacy and property. As usual, they only care about their own privacy and property, and feel they have license to assault that of others. Real farmers and citizens who support non-poisonous agriculture had better reciprocate.
 
The abolitionist political platform has to include, as a transitional measure, strict liability for any and all corporate producers, shareholders, sellers, contractor/growers, of any GMO variety, for any and all contamination caused by that variety. Since it’s often difficult to figure out the exact source of the contamination, we must hold each member of the GMO regime strictly accountable for any contamination caused by it, just like with any other conspiracy law.
 
This is no “radical” position, but merely turns the existing position right side up. Since the cartel and its contractors want 100% license and 0% responsibility, we have to turn this right side up and say anyone who exercises this license must be held 100% responsible for its bad effects.
 
One farmer wrote: “If [GMO] was not here this would not be going on. It’s their contamination that’s the problem but we have to guard against something we have no control over. How do you even get a patent on something you can’t control? The whole object is control and that is not our [organic farmers’] problem.” (p. 5)
 
Since this patented material inexorably expands itself and seeks to turn itself into a commons, we must also declare that all such patents are invalidated on this ground (along with all the other reasons GMO patents are invalid). If a property owner voluntarily gives away his property as a gift, it’s no longer his property. The cartel itself acknowledges that GMOs inevitably contaminate their surroundings. It also, through its lawsuits against the innocent victims of this contamination, affirms that this contamination is part of its “property”, and therefore takes responsibility for it.
 
Therefore, since this is a freely chosen, formally avowed, and intended (collateral) result of the GMO endeavor, and since the GMO regime claims to be a benefactor of humanity, from all this it follows that this contamination process is a unilateral and voluntary divestment of any property right. All farmers are therefore morally and philosophically free to save and replant any GMO they choose. They’d be legally free in any jurisdiction which had the rule of law. This is simply a logical extension of the ongoing dissemination process which the cartel itself acknowledges is inevitable, for which it takes full ownership wherever it thinks this can be profitable for it, and for which it therefore takes full responsibility, even though it wants to disavow this responsibility wherever it chooses.
 
According to reason, logic, and morality, we mustn’t allow this cherry-picking of responsibility and irresponsibility. If Monsanto can claim its patent anywhere it chooses, then we must impose the costs of contamination upon it, wherever these costs are incurred. More, we must recognize that Monsanto has in fact relinquished its patent rights to the world.
 
(Not that we actually want farmers to take control of GMO seeds and keep replanting them over the long run. But if one’s going to plant GMOs anyway, it’s better to accept them as the gift Monsanto implicitly says they are than to pay for them.)
 
The report includes some recommendations, which unfortunately comprise a set of “reforms” still mired in the same CE mentality which the report documents as being futile. These ideas for some kind of GMO contamination superfund, or for “Better Coexistence” stewardship measures, are really no ideas at all, especially since the USDA clearly intends to continue in the opposite direction. This is further confirmation that coexistence cannot work, and that nothing short of total abolition will suffice.

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March 7, 2014

GMO News Summary March 7 2014

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*Fresh off its success in pressuring General Mills to return to its non-GMO formulation for Cheerios, GMOInside is launching a new campaign to pressure Starbucks to use only non-GMO organic milk. Other chains have already demonstrated this can be economically successful, as has Starbucks itself since it committed to using only milk without bovine growth hormone (BGH).
 
From the abolitionist point of view, the main points of campaigns like these are:
 
1. To help build a customer base for non-GM production, which will grow and become more economical as this customer base grows.
 
2. To counteract the propaganda which depicts GMOs as an unstoppable juggernaut with our own growing publicity campaign which ever more frequently shows people how GMOs are not only harmful but are easily stoppable, that there are alternatives to them.
 
For more on retailer pressure campaigns, see here and here.
 
(Along similar lines, the Smart Balance line of spreads has claimed it’s going GM-free over the next 90 days.)
 
*Legal controversy continues in New Zealand over the authority of regional councils to regulate GMOs under the precautionary principle. The latest ruling by an Environment Court judge affirms that the Bay of Plenty Regional Council can explicitly consider GMOs in its management directives under the Resource Management Act (which itself does not explicitly mention them), and therefore rejected the government’s attempt to preemptively suppress such analysis from the Council’s regional policy statement.
 
This kind of struggle, over the very concept of GMOs as a special kind of product which needs special policy consideration, is becoming more prominent as the cartel seeks to remove GMOs completely from even the meager regulatory oversight they currently have. In particular, the cartel hopes that the impending TTIP globalization accord will provide the mechanism for the total deregulation of GMOs, and the eradication of “GMO” as any kind of category at all. 
 
While American power hierarchy currently has little in common with that of New Zealand, we can still look to this as an example of an alternative arrangement to our own status quo. The movement to achieve and enforce county-level GMO bans is one attempt to bring an alternative into being.
 
*BRIC disunity? While Russia and China are definitely planning to prevent their agriculture from coming under US/Monsanto domination, and Brazil seems also to be taking measures to preserve its agricultural independence, India’s central government is a determined US flunkey. (And not just on GMOs.)
 
The latest move is the new Environment Minister’s approval of hundreds of new GMO field trials. As Vandana Shiva explains in this piece, field trials have little practical purpose, but are primarily political exercises. I’ve made the same point myself several times.
 
*But Brazil’s also still pondering breaking the global moratorium on Terminator seeds. A legislative attempt was allowed to die on the vine in 2013, but the new Judicial Commission and Congress may try again to push through a bill which would supposedly allow for a “limited” use of such seeds. In a typical example of regulator corporatism, Brazil’s agricultural research agency Embrapa has pushed the propaganda line that the Terminator’s purpose isn’t to enforce monopoly, but merely to prevent genetic contamination. Allegedly the approval would be limited to just a few kinds of trees (their plantations accelerating deforestation). But clearly this would be just the prelude to their general commercialization across all GM crop types, the camel’s nose in the tent.
 
*A new study provides evidence that the global epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin (CKDu) among agricultural workers is caused by a combination of glyphosate and heavy water. This is an example of the combined effects of poisons and other environmental factors.
 
The disease, manifesting the same symptoms, occurs in separate agricultural regions around the world – Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and elsewhere. This rules out any kind of local cause.
 
This is just one example of a highly toxic combined effect of an agricultural poison and a second factor. Such combinations are never considered or tested for in the regulatory process, and are ideologically denied by cartel and regulators alike.
 
That in turn is just one of the several ways in which we have proof that the regulatory process is inimical to the health of the people and environment. The impending TTIP/TPP intend to coordinate these regulators for far more aggressive action against us.
 
They’re systematically and intentionally poisoning humanity and the earth. Will we do anything about it?
 
*The protest of scientists against the politically motivated censorship by Food and Chemical Toxicology of the only fully comprehensive safety study of a GMO, the 2012 Seralini study, continues to build.
 
*A Seattle law firm is seeking wheat farmers to participate in a class action lawsuit against Monsanto for economic losses to Oregon wheat farmers in 2013 caused by the discovery of genetically contaminated wheat in Oregon. According to the announcement today (March 7) is the deadline for farmers to apply to join the class.
 
*Although establishment NGOs often do excellent journalistic work, and although abolitionists and fighters for freedom and democracy may often make tactical alliances with them, we must always be aware that in the end they’re part of the same corporatist system complex as Monsanto and the FDA, and identify with these far more than they do with the people or with the rising Community Food movement which constitutes the alternative to corporate agriculture. It’s our movement which is targeted for destruction by the FDA under the Food Control Act.
 
Where it comes specifically to GMOs, we can assume that NGOs will never fight for anything more severe than labeling, that they all want the FDA to be in charge, and that even the few who have expressed concern over FDA preemption will acquiesce in this as well.
 
But labeling, taken as any kind of sufficient end goal, is still part of “coexistence”. But we know coexistence cannot work, and that the abolition of GMOs is necessary.

 
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February 28, 2014

GMO News Summary February 28, 2014

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*GMO plantings are peaking in the industrialized countries, according to one of the cartel’s own leading propaganda purveyors. US plantings continue to decelerate, increasing less than 1%. For the first time there was a slight decline overall. The ISAAA’s report attributes the decline to decreased GM canola plantings in Canada and decreased GM cotton plantings in Australia. GM cotton plantings are also down in the US. In both cases the cause is drought, and the fact that non-GM varieties perform much better under any condition of less-than-optimal water supply, as India’s GM cotton farmers have learned to their great despair.
 
This bodes ill for the GMO juggernaut, which as the core project of global corporatism must continue growing and expanding or the whole thing collapses. The ISAAA and many corporate media outlets (but far from all; the GMWatch link is to a Bloomberg piece) put an upbeat spin on things, stressing an alleged big increase in plantings in the “developing” world. Overall global plantings are said to have increased 3%, driven mostly by Brazil’s GM soy plantings. Brazil was a later adopter of GMOs, which is a big part of the reason its plantings are still increasing.
 
We can see why Monsanto is so fixated on Africa as the last great colonial frontier. The GMO power scheme, really just a big plundering expedition meant to be permanent in all the regions GMOs can conquer, is as dependent as Wall Street on corporate welfare, a permanent US government bailout, inflated stock prices, and the general perception of omnipotence. This is because its product is as fictive as any finance scam, as worthless from any reality-based point of view, and even more completely larcenous and destructive.
 
*More good news from Oregon about people who are trying to take back their communities from corporate occupation. Josephine County joins Benton County and two others in placing ordinances on the ballot banning GMO cultivation and rejecting corporate and preemptive central government interference with local/regional democratic rule where it comes to GMOs. This kind of activism is part of the ultimate solution.
 
*Scientists and public health professionals in Bangladesh are objecting to the way the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) has rushed to commercialize four varieties of Bt brinjal (eggplant) in 2014 without having performed or required safety testing. The equivalent of India’s requirement for a 90 day sub-acute toxicity test would be meager and insufficient enough, yet even this is too stringent for Bangladesh “regulators” acting as de facto Monsanto cadres. Instead they accepted as compliance a set of industry tests done by Mahyco, which is Monsanto’s Indian subsidiary, upon a different Bt brinjal variety than the four now being commercialized in Bangladesh. As in every other country where GMOs have been commericialized (Bangladesh is now #29), the government does not perform or require any real independent safety testing, only at most some industry tests which don’t measure toxic effects.
 
Meanwhile India and the Philippines continue their moratoria on Bt brinjal, on account of fears that it will contaminate the world’s center of eggplant genetic diversity. Bangladesh has over 4000 native varieties, which in itself proves no GMO variety is necessary. This is purely about profit and power, including the intentional plan to destroy the existing eggplant germplasm diversity and replace it with a proprietary monoculture. The evil intent here can be seen in the disconnect between government propaganda, which has assured farmers they’ll have full ownership of the crops and seeds, and the language of the licensing agreement, which stipulates that Mahyco retains its full intellectual property prerogatives.
 
*Some strange goings-on in China. First there was a notice posted at the cafeteria of the education ministry building, warning of the dangers of GMOs and lauding the cafeteria’s non-GM policy. This could have been just an ad hoc initiative from a low-level officer. But the same can’t be true of a communique issued shortly afterward by the finance ministry, similarly warning about “serious threats to the health of the people” and announcing that their cafeteria will also be going GM-free.
 
These announcements come in the midst of an ongoing economic skirmish with the US, as Chinese customs has repeatedly rejected corn shipments contaminated with Syngenta’s MIR162 variety. The reason officials have given for these rejections is that MIR162 hasn’t been approved for import in food and feed. That’s true, but it’s also true of several other varieties widely cultivated in the US. Why is it only MIR162 which seems to be contaminating the shipments? Are the Chinese picking on a particular variety as some kind of signal to the US? Are these ministry announcements, making for flashy PR but not having much substantive significance, part of a propaganda war? Monsanto’s concerned enough about the situation that its CEO made a trip to China in December. All this follows upon a June 2013 deal China made to allow the import of Monsanto’s Intacta soybeans from Brazil. This deal came as a surprise after China had stressed its desire to import non-GM soybeans, to the point that Brazil’s soy industry trade group had publicly claimed it could fill that order. China’s seeming about-face came as a big disappointment to campaigners in the UK who have been trying to pressure British supermarkets to continue their commitment to poultry products from farmers who use only non-GM feed.
 
Instead of repeating the whole story I’ll link to my post from the time. The affair raises the issue of how viable Brazil’s non-GM soy exports really are. It must also be placed in context with Monsanto’s seemingly dire legal peril, as Brazil’s courts continue to threaten to shatter its entire business model in this, the one country pretty much single-handedly driving the global increase of GMO plantings, as I described above.
 
Brazil…China. And Russia, as I mentioned last week. I haven’t yet had the time to delve into the geopolitics and power politics of all this, so I don’t yet have much of a theory of what’s going on, other than that various power centers are trying to figure out how to assert their own power in the face of the US/Monsanto power bloc. None of these governments, we can assume, want to become Monsanto’s poodles the way the governments of, for example, Britain and India, and of course the US itself, have. (But it’s a safe bet neither of the governments or Russia or China, whatever they sometimes say, could ever be actually anti-GMO either. Most likely they want to shield themselves from the worst of the US/Monsanto onslaught while they try to figure out how to build their own rival cartel. If that’s true, the abolitionist position remains clear.) 
 
More on this to come.
 
*The US Geological Survey has published a study which found that 75% of air and rain samples collected in Mississippi in 2007 contained glyphosate residue. The study compared 2007 levels in the air and water of various agricultural poisons with levels from 1995. In 2007 glyphosate, the main ingredient of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, was by far the most common poison. This is entirely on account of the explosive surge in its use since the commercialization of GMOs. In pre-GMO 1995 its usage was so low it wasn’t even measured. For comparison, atrazine, metolachlor, and propanil were detected in 50% or more of the samples in both 2007 and 1995. This is a good demonstration of how the claim made for Roundup Ready GMOs, that they would lower overall poison use, was a lie. Instead, glyphosate use has skyrocketed while the use of other herbicides has remained steady.
 
*The annual report of the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) was boosterish as usual in its tone, though amid the hype it admits that GMOs don’t actually work. Specifically, they don’t increase yield, they’re not economically beneficial for farmers, and they increase rather than reduce pesticide use.
 
*California state senator Noreen Evans, with support from a coalition of farmer, consumer, and citizen groups, is sponsoring a bill to label GMOs. This will supposedly be a more sleek and clear version of the one voters narrowly voted down in 2012.
 
*GMO labeling campaigners have not been rewarded for trying to be “moderate” where it comes to the labels they demand. Their attempts to establish labeling for raw and processed foods but not for meat and dairy products were not according to inherent logic, nor did it make sense from the point of view of trying to claim transparency and the right to know as a principle. The moderation was supposed to be political and economic, on the grounds that labeling policies around the world are crafted in the same incomplete, inconsistent way. But not only has this not worked politically, but the so-called “loopholes” were attacked, perhaps with some effect, by cartel propaganda. (Campaigners in California didn’t help their cause when they produced awful publicity material embracing the enemy framing and saying things like “Loopholes are good!”)
 
Therefore it’s good to see that proponents of labeling in the US, and of better labeling in the UK (which already has labeling of raw and processed foods, but not of meat and dairy), are increasingly insisting that GMO labeling needs to encompass these products as well.
 
That’s what makes sense from the point of view of health aspects, as well as according to any principle of transparency, democracy, or just consumer choice.

 
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February 15, 2014

Monsanto Admits: 1. We Don’t Need Genetic Engineering, 2. We Don’t Need Monsanto

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Recently Wired magazine ran a Monsanto infomercial touting its alleged change of strategic course on vegetables. Monsanto, through its subsidiaries Seminis and others, is selling a line of high-end conventional vegetables dolled up as some kind of high-tech breakthrough. Contrary to the tone of the piece, these products, and the thinking behind them, aren’t new. The vegetables have been on sale for years. The only thing new is the expanded media blitz in Wired and other corporate media outlets.
 
The most interesting thing about this marketing campaign is the way it admits that genetic engineering doesn’t work and conventional breeding does.
 

Furthermore, genetically modifying consumer crops proved to be inefficient and expensive. Stark estimates that adding a new gene takes roughly 10 years and $100 million to go from a product concept to regulatory approval. And inserting genes one at a time doesn’t necessarily produce the kinds of traits that rely on the inter­actions of several genes. Well before their veggie business went kaput, Monsanto knew it couldn’t just genetically modify its way to better produce; it had to breed great vegetables to begin with. As Stark phrases a company mantra: “The best gene in the world doesn’t fix dogshit germplasm.”

 
That’s Monsanto itself speaking through its media mouthpiece. This is key, an admission of what GM critics have been saying for many years: It doesn’t work to try to engineer complex factors like nutritional content, perishability, drought resistance, salt tolerance, nitrogen efficiency, and the many other traits which have so long been touted in the media, in the form of hoaxes like “Golden Rice”. Such traits can be developed only through conventional breeding, as Monsanto now admits. The only things that ever worked in genetic engineering were simple, stupid, and brutal – plants that produce their own poison, and plants resistant to being sprayed with poison.
 
The reason for hoaxes like Golden Rice and frivolous misdirection like these boutique vegetables is to rehabilitate the Monsanto brand name and whitewash the GMO brand in general.
 
Monsanto and the corporate media are now reduced to a more narrow lie, that Monsanto can do conventional breeding better than others. This is based on fraudulent touting marker-assisted selection (MAS), which was developed over many decades by publicly funded research, as “the new Monsanto way” (as Wired’s lie would have it). MAS can be a useful supplement to conventional breeding, but is only as good as the uses to which it’s put. In recent years it’s been subjected to the same process as other aspects of agricultural breeding – public funding and university research are hijacked on behalf of the goals of the GMO cartel. Huge amounts of funding which could have gone to public interest MAS, or to the much less expensive but sophisticated techniques of conventional breeding, instead go to narrowly conceived corporate goals.
 
Thus, while MAS is a more intelligent and precise technology than genetic engineering, Monsanto puts it to a stupid and clumsy use, in the process sucking up critical research resources, impoverishing the range of germplasm which is researched at all, and trying to enclose this range. So Monsanto’s conventional breeding, in the same way as its genetic engineering, is neither innovative nor beneficial. 
 
But let’s go through the main examples and ask whether we need these products, do they work, are they safe, and whether or not we need Monsanto for anything.
 
*Biofortified broccoli. Dubbed the “Beneforte” broccoli, the main attraction is that it’s bred to be rich in glucoraphanin, metabolic precursor to the antioxidant sulforaphane. (Ironically, the #1 GMO hoax, Golden Rice, could be a potent retinoic acid over-stimulator, which may cause cancer. It’s also ironic that a glucoraphanin-rich vegetable has such an affinity with the same over-the-counter supplements the FDA has often scapegoated, including for a lethal disaster caused by genetic engineering, and which “professional skeptic” scammers like to beat up on even as they genuflect before GMO junk science.)
 
Glucoraphanin is denatured by cooking, and may require digestive support from a healthy microbiome (gut bacteria), which glyphosate and GMOs help destroy. So the touted high-glucoraphanin broccoli may be similar to the Golden Rice hoax also in that its nutritional enrichment may not be effective within the cuisine it’ll likely be part of. Want any special benefit from this broccoli? Get ready to eat a lot of it raw.
 
Excessive doses of glucoraphanin may also be harmful to the thyroid, cause goiter, and may actually boost free radicals instead of detoxifying them. Its touted anti-cancer properties may also damage healthy cells.
 
As always, there’s no substitute for eating a healthy diet mostly of unprocessed, unpoisoned, and as much as possible locally produced food. Only in that context could we get any supplementary benefit from this broccoli. But in that context we wouldn’t need it. Less expensive regular broccoli is at least as good and perhaps better since it doesn’t have any potential health downsides.
 
That Monsanto makes such a big deal out of how this variety is a cross between “commercial broccoli” (which kind is evidently a trade secret; they don’t want you to see how they pirated a public domain variety) and a wild relative from Italy is an acknowledgement of the importance of maintaining the natural germplasm biodiversity. While the “Beneforte” variety is not important to humanity, others which may be bred from this wild germplasm may be important. But wild brassicas, under threat from contamination by GM canola (cf. pp. 28-29), are just one of the many genetically beleaguered wellsprings of critical biodiversity.
 
The corporate publicity page touts how it was researchers from the publicly-funded John Innes Center who found and analyzed this wild brassica. So who created the Beneforte broccoli? In descending order of importance, each standing atop the foundation of the previous levels:
 
1. Nature.
 
2. Farmers working on broccoli breeding for thousands of years.
 
3. Public sector broccoli breeders in the 20th century.
 
4. Publicly-funded research in marker-assisted breeding.
 
5. Publicly-funded researchers at outfits like the John Innes Center.
 
6. Breeders at seed companies like Seminis, which the pesticide company Monsanto simply bought.
 
7. I can’t quite figure out which part Monsanto contributes at the end, in spite of the hyper-ventilating of Wired.
 
There’s even less to say for the “innovation” involved in the two other featured products.
 
*”Frescada” lettuce. It purports to be biofortified as well, so it’s a glorified vitamin supplement. But its real alleged feature is that under globalization conditions (mechanized poison-based growing, warehousing, transport, supermarket and big box retailing) it’ll maintain its texture and taste better than other industrial varieties.
 
The lettuce is sold “cored, trimmed, and ready to use”. Therefore much of its price premium is really for standard post-harvest value-adding, “convenience”.
 
So this is really a glorifed convenience product which will allegedly taste better and maintain its texture and nutrition better than other industrial lettuces under globalization conditions.
 
Again, it’s no substitute, either in taste or nutrition, for lettuce grown and distributed in a sustainable way. But it is far more expensive.
 
*”BellaFina” peppers. This is just silly. These have no feature other than smallness. My seed catalogs include several such varieties, such as Cupid in Johnny’s, and Shishito in High Mowing. There’s nothing new here but the branding hype.
 
For both of these varieties as well, Seminis did nothing but use the existing heritage of bred germplasm and technology in a corporate-directed way, to produce a pointless industrial product, and Monsanto does nothing but orchestrate the propaganda and collect the profits.
 
Meanwhile Monsanto isn’t guaranteeing that these products actually do any of the things claimed for them. On the contrary, in what’s standard procedure for Monsanto, all the risk and liability is shifted to the contract farmers. According to the piece: “Harvests [must] meet the standards of firmness, sweetness, or scent.” In other words there’s no reason to believe any of this even consistently works in reality the way they claim it does in the lab and in their test marketing. If anything goes wrong, the farmers will get the blame, as they have in the case of the epidemic of superweeds Monsanto generated with its Roundup regime. 
 
So that’s what’s up with Monsanto’s “going organic in the quest for a perfect veggie”, as Wired fatuously blathers? It’s an admission that genetic engineering doesn’t work and isn’t necessary, dressed up in the best virtue-of-necessity PR finery.
 
That doesn’t mean we should believe that Monsanto has given up on its prior avowed goal of enclosing all vegetables within the GMO enclosure. The fact that GM vegetables don’t work doesn’t differentiate them from herbicide-tolerant and insecticide-producing crops, which also don’t work. The fact that these are failed technologies hasn’t slowed down Monsanto and its government lackeys.
 
Even if for the sake of argument we were to believe Monsanto has given up on GE vegetables, the master plan remains the same: Pirate the germplasm, get Certificates of Protection (COPs), use market muscle to drive the non-Seminis etc. varieties out of the commercial trade, force growers to become indentured contractors. As usual the expensive new products are unnecessary at best, and likely to be hoaxes (e.g. glucoraphanin-rich broccoli). They’re boutique products with a fraudulent “hi-tech” aura meant to appeal to the Whole Foods contingent. (“Enhanced premium veggies for an elite buyer.”) Therefore they’re part of the propaganda of the industrial organic sector, which is meant to normalize GMOs (even though these aren’t GMOs).
 
Therefore, this “news” changes nothing from the point of view of abolitionism. It’s confirmation that genetic engineering is a shoddy, hyper-expensive technology which doesn’t work and was never necessary anyway. It’s confirmation of everything critics have always said, that conventional breeding is sufficient and superior to GE. Most of all it’s confirmation that corporations like Monsanto, with all the evils they perpetrate, are unnecessary, that they do nothing but steal (in this case, the public domain germplasm), enclose (the goal is to drive non-”protected” varieties out of the market), and destroy (the agricultural and wild germplasm; and as always everything which is destroyed by poison-based agriculture – the soil, the air, the water, forests, the environment, human and livestock health), toward their own power goals.
 
But the purpose of propaganda like this media campaign is to try to make failure look like success, theft look like innovation, and the prison walls of our agricultural economy look reasonable and normal.

 
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