November 28, 2010

The Seed War (part 2)


In part 1 of this piece I described the neoliberal corporate-government plots against seeds and the accumulated agricultural practices of ten thousand years. The Food Tyranny bill which may be voted upon as early as tomorrow is potentially part of this assault. It will expand the power of both the corporatized FDA and the WTO globalization cadre.
We should take this not only as an assault on food freedom but as an example of how the WTO is intended to serve as the blueprint for corporatized government everywhere. The unconscionable contracts of adhesion it forces upon the politically weak populations of the Global South with the connivance of indigenous kleptocratic “governments” were a trial run for the imposition of corporate domination in the West itself. We’ve already seen how in every case where it was a power struggle between multinational corporations and the peoples of the world outside the West, the globalization cadre acted as a weapon against the people.
Western governments of course were aggressive promoters of this process, and the middle classes of the West shamefully approved it. That’s because they were foolish enough to believe these governments were “their” governments, and not like the corrupt governments of the victim countries who acted as local agents for the rackets, against their own people. Now the peoples of the West are reaping for themselves what they thought they sowed for others. It turns out the US government is exactly as corrupt on behalf of rootless, alien globalization against the American people as those of Romania and the Ivory Coast were on behalf of Smithfield against their own peoples.
The Food Tyranny bill explicitly subordinates all US food policy to the WTO and extends the domestic range of the rootless ruling principles of the Codex Alimentarius. It legally defines all food within America as being technically imported, as coming under Maritime Law, and any production or distribution of food contrary to the law’s provisions is technically “smuggling” according to this law. What we see here is nothing less than a major step in this domestic government’s explicit abdication on behalf of the anti-democratic, anti-sovereign alien globalization bureaucracy.
I don’t mean the abdication of power, of course. Just as the “libertarians” want, the government intends to continue acting as bailout bagman and thug enforcer on behalf of the corporations. But it wants to abdicate all authority to the globalization cadre itself, since this is explicitly a totalitarian branch of corporatism completely detached from the nominal national sovereignty. The corporations want to effect an actual secession of power and authority from sovereignty. The globalization ideologue Dani Rodrik described this as the “trilemma”: It’s not possible to maximize corporate power through globalization authority other than as a zero sum game assaulting national sovereignty and democracy. He was simply honest enough to say aloud what every globalizer always knew and intended, that globalization is the vicious class war of all rootless elites combined against all the peoples of the world. It’s the vicious war of extermination on sovereignty and democracy in themselves.
This food bill is just one example, but wherever the rackets can achieve a global market, the same process is already advanced or intended to advance. The whole world is to become one big Free Trade Zone concentration camp. (That’s of course economically impossible, since how could the impoverished inmates also serve as the consumer base? But this contradiction never stopped capitalism before. It’ll simply drive itself to its own eventual destruction this way, but it will also do all it can to destroy us all in the process.) It’s all about power and domination.   
When the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia, in addition to pre-emptively assaulting the cities on behalf of the farmers (supposedly to turn the tables and do unto others before they do unto you), they also embarked upon their own version of Stalinist collectivization, their own war upon the farmers. This involved forbidding the growing of indigenous rice cultivars, the knowledge of which was the basis of the Cambodian food supply and in a broader sense the human culture of the country. Instead the regime mandated the growing of imported Chinese varieties which were ill-suited to the conditions of Cambodia, and completely alien to the knowledge and culture of the peasantry. The predictable result was an 85% decline in production. But this was a price the Khmer Rouge was willing to pay, since over the short run the point wasn’t to maintain production. It was to impose power. Since a key power tactic is to completely uproot the people, detach them from every frame of reference, every anchor they have, and force them to look to the regime itself as the one and only stable point amid the chaos, it follows that destroying all existing knowledge of food production and forcing the people to start from scratch is a potent way to enforce domination over them.
This same Khmer Rouge strategy has been imposed by capitalism (and industrial communism) right form the start. The goal has always been to drive people off the land and into slums. This maximizes the number of people who are completely detached from any food production whatsoever. Meanwhile those who still do farm are to be subjected to the forces of capitalist production. That means the constant revolutionization of the procedures, technology, and basic concepts of production. Synthetic fertilizers, the crop lien, dependence upon cash crops, mechanization, collectivization, dependence upon federal subsidies, the chemicals of the Green Revolution, total monoculture, dependence upon global markets, the fencerow-to-fencerow Stalinization of American farming, the rise of Monsanto, and now GMOs – all of these are milestones in the history of the farmer’s complete passivity in the face of power imposed upon him from on high. What the Khmer Rouge did was firmly in the mainstream of this whole process (their only innovation was to reverse the ideological line: they weren’t extracting for the cities, but drove people back out of the cities).
In all of this, domination of food, and in particular the eradication of all food culture, is the totalitarian goal. Stewards of heirloom seed varieties have long consciously seen themselves as stewards of human culture and history itself. They saw how they were literal culture warriors in a very real war of extermination on culture itself. In 1994 Michael Pollan wrote an article which first tried to bring this to the mainstream.

The alternative seed catalogues paint the “F-1″ hybrid, in particular, as an environmental menace and make a point of refusing to handle the dread seed. In the last few decades F-1 hybrids, which are simply the first generation produced by the crossing of two plant varieties, have become the stock in trade of the commercial seed industry, and they are gradually crowding traditional “open pollinated” varieties (ones pollinated by bees, birds or wind instead of plant geneticists) out of the marketplace. According to the Seed Savers Exchange, an organization established in 1975 to encourage backyard gardeners to preserve certain open-pollinated varieties, almost half of all the nonhybrid vegetable varieties on the market just 10 years ago have been dropped from mail-order catalogues. This often results in extinction, since many domesticated species will not survive unless they are planted over and over again by humans……

These are not the only ways in which modern hybrids remake nature in the image of capitalism. Given heavy doses of fertilizer, F-1 hybrids grow swiftly and produce high yields. They also produce genetically uniform plants. What could better suit factory farming than a robust field of identical tomato or corn plants genetically coded to ripen all at once, thereby facilitating mechanical harvesting?

But the same uniformity that smoothes capitalism’s way into the farm and garden also violates one of nature’s cardinal principles: genetic diversity. A field of genetically identical plants is much more vulnerable to disease, as American corn farmers discovered in 1970 when a blight decimated the nation’s crop, which had grown dependent on a few genetically similar hybrids. After such blights, breeders have historically turned to traditional varieties of corn, found in places like Mexico, to refresh the gene pool and provide new resistance. But what happens when Mexican farmers have been sold on fancy new hybrids and their traditional varieties have become extinct?……

To order Illini Xtra-Sweet would be a vote not just for a particular kind of corn but for a kind of agriculture—indeed, for a kind of culture. You could probably deduce a great deal about contemporary America from the genes of Illini Xtra-Sweet; for example, that this is the product of a capitalist economy whose farms rely on petrochemicals (which most hybrids require to thrive) and are typically located a long truck ride away from their consumers, who prize sweetness over nutrition and tend to boil rather than roast their corn……

Hudson’s catalog is such a vast, teeming democracy of seeds that it makes room for common weeds such as mullein and burdock, four varieties of leaf tobacco (including one grown by Zapotec Indians), even seeds for giant sequoia trees. As one of his cranky, enlightening catalogue essays makes clear, Hudson believes in preserving human as well as genetic diversity—hence the Zapotec tobacco and the Mandan Bride corn, both of whose genes encode specific cultural practices he’s bent on saving. And who knows, one of the old Indian varieties he carries might turn out to contain a trait we will desperately need someday, perhaps the gene that will help us adapt corn to a warmer, drier climate.

Unfortunately, Pollan’s warning has not been widely heeded.
More recently, we had a stark case study in what happens when corporate globalization is given total power, violent and bureaucratic, to impose exactly what it wants. When the US attacked Iraq, part of its extermination campaign was against all Iraqi culture. As Naomi Klein described in Shock Doctrine and several articles, the goal was to wipe everything clean and impose a blank slate upon which corporate domination could be directly and fully encoded. One example was the assault on seeds and indigenous farming. The seed bank at Abu Ghraib, a priceless repository of thousands of years of Mesopotamian cultivation, knowledge likely to be of critical importance in the age of climate change as more arid conditions expand, was attacked and destroyed by a mob.
Iraq’s agriculture was disrupted in general, as always happens in a war. When the farmers tried to rebuild, they were confronted with a typical globalist Catch-22. The same invaders who had destroyed their agricultural heritage now offered them aid in the form of proprietary seeds. At the same moment Paul Bremer, the US equivalent of Hans Frank in the General Government administrative zone of Poland, decreed that all proprietary globalization “law” applied in the case of Iraqi agriculture. This was a direct violation of international law, but we see what kind of law of the jungle really prevails with globalization.
Bremer’s Order 81 applied all the strictures of patent domination to the farmers who were at that moment being offered the choice of accepting the proprietary seeds or facing total ruin. (All other aid was conditional on taking the patent deal. It was a textbook example of an unconscionable contract of adhesion, in other words no contract at all according to human law.) This domination includes the truly obscene notion that when through natural inertia, negligence, or deliberate release, the patented seed spreads to the fields of a farmer against his will, he’s declared objectively in violation of the patent and subject to draconian legal penalties. This obscenity has already been enshrined in Canada. So Monsanto’s agent here tried to accomplish directly, by main force, what they’re trying to accomplish more gradually and insidiously everywhere else, including at home in America.
How is it possible that if your neighbor is negligent and lets his pollen spread to your field, or if Monsanto deliberately disperses it there, or if the wind simply blows, that you become a status criminal, an IP violator? Why, on the contrary, isn’t Monsanto guilty of a tort against you, by strict liability? The answer is that it would be under any accountable, human rule of law. But the law has abdicated. This is the anti-sovereign corporate law, which is an exact inversion of human law, just as the corporations are existentially anti-human, their very existence an affront to human dignity. They’re literally satanic according to Judeo-Christian theology.
What is to be done? Since this post was about seeds, let’s consider what is to be done about seeds. One thing’s clear – we cannot rely on seed vaults like the one in Norway. Even if these weren’t vulnerable to corporate domination, the basic idea is wrongly conceived – one big fort rather than a decentralized dispersal.
What do most individual plants do? They don’t hoard their seeds at one spot in the soil. They disperse them as widely as possible by all sorts of vehicles.
So the real Seed Banks we need will have to prize resiliency and redundancy over reinforcing one site as a hard target. They must be outside of official control mechanisms. Our seed banks have to be our own stewardship and propagation of our own heirloom seeds. Here’s one innovative idea for a legal framework for the seed commons. It would apply existing cooperative licensing to enshrine a system where anyone can innovate and sell his innovation, but not control the subsequent innovations of the buyer, and so on virally.
So it’s a fair dispensation in itself: If you’re truly innovative, you can benefit from your invention, but you can’t clamp a stranglehold on further innovation stemming from your work. Contrast that with IP concept and law: Maybe there was once innovation, but now a few monopoly rackets hoard the patents. They want no further innovation at all, only the strictly controlled “innovation” of their own tyrannical processes.
(This P2P concept highlights the essential fraudulence of all IP law applied to plants. The commons licence is correctly based on the fact that you have the right only to your own particular contribution to the collective effort, and only in proportion to it. Anyone who contributes anything to a plant variety is merely adding an increment to thousands of years of work, all of which is in the public domain, not to mention millions of years of nature’s work. So on its face the very concept of a seed patent is absurd, and would clearly be inadmissible under any legitimate rule of law. The very fact that we have to seek legal alternatives like this seed commons license is proof of the corruption and corporatization of the general law.)
We have to grow heirloom plants, save and trade heirloom seeds. We have to engage in guerrilla gardening. If we have extra seed we should simply spread it wherever it might grow. Who knows what kind of attics our heritage plants may need as shelter. These are political acts. They’re acts, not just on behalf of food sovereignty and food freedom, but on behalf of freedom itself. 


  1. […] The Seed War (part 2) […]

    Pingback by The Seed War (Parts 1 and 2) « EUROPE TURKMEN FRIENDSHIPS — November 28, 2010 @ 9:58 am

  2. http://farmwars.info/?p=4321

    Read the whole speech. Devastating.

    Comment by AR — November 29, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  3. Senate passes the bill 73 to 25.

    Chamber of Commerce, that well known advocate of consumer protection and regulation, endorses the bill.


    Comment by Tao Jonesing — November 30, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

    • The hits keep coming.

      Comment by Russ — November 30, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

  4. Kent Whealy’s 9/26/10 speech: http://farmwars.info/?p=4321

    Comment by AR — November 30, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    • Sorry your comments got caught in my spam filter. (I sometimes don’t check it every day.)

      That’s quite a story. It’s a good example of how we shouldv’e been susprocious of Svalbard just according to the basic fact of how ill-conceived it is. Even if we didn’t know the bad record of the organizations in charge of it.

      As for this SSE action, I didn’t know a bout a power struggle there. I’ll read the whole thing when I have time.

      Comment by Russ — November 30, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

    • AR, Thanks for sharing. That is a truly disturbing story, er speech. I trust it’s not just sour grapes (pun intended). Seems to me that he should have started his lawsuit for his writings and research soon after his “termination” date of October 21, 2007. Anyway, I wish Mr. Whealy and his plant interests well.

      Comment by tawal — December 1, 2010 @ 2:29 am

  5. […] on this) would argue that the contract’s fine.   (I wrote more on the War on Seeds here and here.)   I repeat that no one trying to set up a network of seed banks for democratic and […]

    Pingback by Seed Savers Exchange, Svalbard, and Corporatism « Volatility — August 17, 2011 @ 2:09 am

  6. […] corporate seed enclosure on its own battlefield. This kind of thing is at best a supplement to decentralized, confederated heirloom seed banking and direct action against proprietary seeds. Meanwhile Creative Commons, Copyleft, etc. comprise a good alternative to the intellectual […]

    Pingback by The CELDF Strategy, and Similar Actions « Volatility — May 19, 2012 @ 3:02 am

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