February 13, 2013

GMO Action Imperatives; Lessons of the Wetteren Case


A judge in Belgium has convicted the Wetteren 11 of charges related to a non-violent action where they dug up a GMO potato field trial and planted real potatoes. The judge agreed to the prosecutor’s characterization of the political demonstrators as having formed an illicit conspiracy. The defendants refused to attend the proceedings after the judge refused to convene this as an actual trial, instead letting the prosecutor run it as a purely administrative, technical, “civil” matter.
The public prosecutor and the research consortium (Flemish Institute for Biotechnology, University of Ghent, HoGent and the Flemish Agency for Agriculture and Fishery) chose to have this debate in court via direct summons and civil proceedings.

The group of activists had prepared a thorough defence. This was based on calling up expert witnesses, video testimonies from scientists, and video footage from the action in order to prove that 1) the action was covered by the principle of freedom of expression, and 2) that action was necessary in order to protect the precautionary principle. The action in Wetteren was carried out to protect the environment, public health and small-scale farming.

Without any further discussion, the judges refused to hear these testimonies or to view the video footage. The testimonies, however, were crucial to emphasise the political nature of the action. The judges therefore denied the defendants their legal right to an appropriate defence, as well as the opportunity to question the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture.

This, of course, was tantamount to finding the defendants gulity before the trial began. As the Red Queen put it, “Verdict first, trial afterwards!”, and if the accused never commit the crime, “That would be better!” The judge refused to hear evidence on the substance or merits of the issue or of the action, even though it’s a well-established principle of law that the people mustn’t obey unjust laws, and have the right to break the law in extreme circumstances. Thus, in a rare example, an English jury found Greenpeace demonstrators not guilty on the grounds that their “illegal” action was a necessary response to a clear and present danger. Historically, juries have a good record of acquitting direct actions when the judge informs them of their options. In the Kingsnorth case the judge said the action could be found justified if the trespass on a corporation’s “property” was necessary to defend the property of people.
Where it comes to GMOs, this imperative couldn’t be more clear-cut: The USDA itself admits that once GMOs are in the environment, contamination of related crops, including those of organic farmers, is inevitable. That’s why the USDA promulgated the doctrine that GMO corporations and tenders have a presumptive right to trespass upon and destroy the property of others (organic growers and many others with an interest in not being contaminated), cannot be sued for this or otherwise sanctioned, and that on the contrary the burden of the full cost of trying to defend oneself is 100% upon the victim. Indeed, when this inevitable and intentional contamination occurs, Monsanto is allowed to sue the victim for patent infringement. In 2012, when a broad alliance of farmers and Food Freedom groups sued Monsanto and the government to turn this abominable policy right side up, the system judge rejected the suit, ridiculing the damaged plaintiffs in the process.
What could be more clear, that we shall never achieve justice, reason, safety, or simple human decency within this system, and shall have to seek it outside? 
Getting back to the Belgian case, the prosecutor and judge also refused to charge a large number of “voluntary defendants” comprising a list of civil society organizations from farmer groups to trade unions to consumer and environmental groups to some politicians and professors, who called themselves co-conspirators after the fact and demanded to join the defendants in the dock. The people recognize that the prosecution here was not just of this particular democracy action, but intended to set a precedent vs. all direct expressions of democracy.
The defendants have explained (to the people, not to the court, which has refused to listen or to allow any substantive defense) how the secretive and unaccountable machinations of the “regulatory” system do not serve public health or democratic accountability, but only the corporate imperative. We can add that the mainstream media is in fact a corporate propaganda ministry which systematically propagates Monsanto’s lies and suppresses the facts and truths about GMOs, and about food corporatism and industrial agriculture in general. It also systematically neglects and, increasingly, slanders organic agriculture, which is the only solution to humanity’s artificial food crisis.*
Groups have been calling for a democratic debate about the introduction of genetically modified crops for years. Environmental and agricultural organisations including Friends of the Earth, Landwijzer, Greenpeace and the organic Bioforum have been campaigning constantly for sustainable agriculture and emphasising that GMO’s cannot be a part of this. They objected to the potato field trial which they described as unwanted and useless. Above all, they highlighted the environmental risks involved in such an experiment. Three experts from the Biotechnology Safety Council gave negative advice regarding the potato trial. They emphasised the environmental risks linked to the trial and pointed out that it was scientifically ungrounded. In August 2012 a judge in Ghent ruled that the GM field trial itself was actually illegal because there was no justification for the fact that the ministers in charge did not allow for objections or for minority positions on the Biotechnology Safety Council to be considered.

The action took place after all these other attempts from people to express their views had been systematically swept aside. The structural problems in agriculture, and the consequences of the use of genetically modified organisms have still not been openly discussed in Flanders, and public debate about the issue is systematically avoided.

Nor can “reform” be accomplished within “representative” electoral channels. We know that our elections are frauds. In the US or Canada, one can vote for Monsanto or Monsanto. (Meanwhile in the Wetteren 11’s European Union, there’s an “elected” parliament which is purely advisory with zero actual legislative power. It’s more purely cosmetic and fraudulent than the tsar’s early 20th century Duma, and has far less power than the kaiser’s Reichstag.)
Of course, this case is a good demonstration of what we can usually expect from the system courts, in procedure and outcome. The fact is that the system comprises organized crime, and that corporate and government agencies are criminal gangs. They automatically view any kind of democratic combination as an affront to their sense of entitlement and a threat to their prerogatives. Their goal will always be to use their illegitimate power to criminalize any manifestation of democracy, and of any human value.
Conversely, citizens must start by recognizing the elemental illegitimacy and fraudulence of all system institutions, and the folly of trying to achieve real change by working through system channels. As today’s defendants pointed out, they and their allies did all they could to get action within the system where it came to the pointlessness and likely harms of this GMO potato trial. (We can say the same of the Rothamstead GM wheat trial in Britain – totally worthless, gratuitously harmful, done only as a corporate welfare handout and as a political exercise in the alleged ubiquity and irresistability of GM crops. These field trials often serve the same purpose as the aimless marching of SA formations in Weimar Germany – they usually had no particular destination, but were merely for intimidation and propaganda purposes. So it is with most GM trials today.) It was only when the system made it clear that there was no process, but only the fraudulent simulation of one, and that the system viewed its task as to serve the Monsanto imperative no matter what, that these activists decided their task was to serve the freedom imperative no matter what. So they undertook non-violent direct action and pulled up the crops, in the same way that anti-Nazis in the Weimar time tried directly to challenge the Brownshirt domination of the streets.
The message: We reject the legitimacy of Big Ag and GMOs, and we don’t believe there’s anything necessary, fated, or irresistible about them. Some criminals chose the pro-GMO policy, the people can make the opposite choice, whenever we want. This action was a counter-demonstration on the part of those who value freedom, democracy, and natural economic autonomy, vs. a propaganda event set up by the corporate planned economy and its political Big Government flunkey regime.
So we have procedural disenfranchisement, political dispossession, media blackout and slander. What’s left for us to do? What can we do?
The primary task is to organize a coordinated Community Food movement, with a generally agreed upon set of principles and strategy, while tactics would be decided upon at the local level. (Operational goals and publicity** might be partially standardized and partially vary locally.) One advantage such a movement would have over the 19th century Populist movement would be that the Farmers’ Alliance comprised cotton farmers who were necessarily participants in commodification agriculture (and therefore had no choice but to seek to revolutionize or “reform” it), while we not only can but must desire to dispense with industrial ag (a completely separate and alien sector from Community Food) completely. An aggressive abolition campaign against GMOs and CAFOs could be part of this movement.
Meanwhile, propagating the more revolutionary ideas of Food Sovereignty (as defined by Via Campesina and other Southern indigenous farmer movements; the term’s already somewhat obfuscated in North America) might be, for the time being, the province of individual writers or a separate organization. The idea would be that the experience of fighting for Community Food against the corporate state’s increasing repression would make the CF movement an educational vector of radicalization, in addition to its inherently positive actions and results.
This will be the only way to systematically propagate a disciplined set of ideas, truths, and facts about food corporatism and corporatism in general, and about the need to rebuild our polities and economies on a natural, rational, resilient local/regional basis. 
*There is no natural food crisis. Today’s agriculture produces far more than enough food for everyone on Earth, although much of it is toxified and of inferior nutritional quality. Meanwhile even today organic agriculture could produce more food than Big Ag, of vastly higher quality, under much healthier physical, environmental, socioeconomic, and political circumstances. This margin shall become infinite with the end of the fossil fuel age, as industrial ag becomes physically impossible.
**The reproduction of Field Liberation’s press release at GMWatch is given a headline regurgitating the prosecutor’s slander. Why anyone would want to do this is a mystery. But it’s a typical example of the current lameness of our movement. It’s a good example of the elements of publicity which will need to be standardized and applied in a disciplined way. You know, NOT regurgitating system propaganda, terminology, framings?


  1. Good post, Russ. I’m glad to see some more fighting words from your pen/computer :).

    To think I ever believed transgenic products could coexist with real food…I hope when the time comes, I’ll have the spunk these folks have.

    Comment by DualPersonality — February 14, 2013 @ 10:06 pm

    • Thanks DP. We’re all going to need that spunk.

      Comment by Russ — February 15, 2013 @ 3:54 am

  2. Russ, my state (VT) has some folks working on a GMO-labeling law. It did not pass last year, but will probably be re-proposed. I have mixed feelings about this, because food that has to be labeled is probably still not as local as it needs to be. Plus, with all of the food-labeling fraud going on worldwide, I have little hope that truth-in-labeling can be maintained over the long term. While a worthy effort, it still seems like playing on the big boys’ turf. I know it’s a step in the right direction, but it seems to assume that most food will continue to be industrially-sourced.

    There’s to be a series of forums held around the state re. GMO labeling. I’ll probably attend, but I was wondering what advice you might have for this sort of public opportunity. I assume there will be much preaching to the choir already.


    Comment by Lidia — February 15, 2013 @ 12:00 am

    • Hi Lidia,

      I agree completely with your ambivalence about labeling. Like you say, it implies the continuation of industrial ag and food commodification, and globalization as such, and merely seeks Better Consumerism within that framework.

      Now, if people saw it as a temporary measure within the framework of an ongoing movement to abolish industrial ag and build Food Sovereignty, that could be good. If people saw the campaign for labeling as primarily a movement-building action, an occasion for public education, for democratic participation in a grassroots action, and to help build a permanent grassroots organization, that would be good. (POE as I call it – Participation, Education, Organization.)

      But clearly many of the advocates see it as a panacea. They at least claim to expect miracles from it: Labeling = the end of Monsanto. This is highly doubtful, not least because just because a labeling initiative or law is passed doesn’t mean it will be enforced with any alacrity. It’s still the same old pro-Monsanto government which would be in charge of enforcement. That’s why I always said getting the California initiative passed was just the first and easiest step; that then the real work of vigilance and forcing enforcement to follow through would begin. That, too, was a reason why the campaign needs to be, even more than just an intrinsic campaign, the building ground of a permanent grassroots organization.

      Then there’s the fact that most if not all of these initiatives and laws are riddled with loopholes, categories of food which don’t need to be labeled. That usually includes GMO-fed meat and dairy. Actually, labeling would apply mostly to the same corporate-manufactured processed foods we ought to be getting out of our diets and economies regardless.

      When we combine the picayune content of these labeling proposals with the fact that their advocates do often call them a sufficient panacea, and with the fact that the California effort was designed like a one-off electoral campaign rather than as a process of building a permanent grassroots organization, we gather a sinister picture of what’s going on here. Namely, GMO labeling often looks like another kind of liberal fenceline patrolling, meant not so much to fence GMOs out as to fence anti-GMO activism in.

      Sure enough, Vermont was previously the scene of a scam. Facing a groundswell of anti-GMO verve among the citizenry, the government hijacked this groundswell by going through the motions of proposing legislation (which I’d bet was conceived and drafted in a lame way, though I don’t know the details), then saying, Br’er Rabbit fashion, “please Monsanto don’t sue us!” When Monsanto then made this briar patch threat, the governor, crying crocodile tears all the way, rued how “we can’t pass this law because mean old Monsanto will sue us.” The legislature then quashed the law it had never intended to pass in the first place. The whole thing was just a pantomime. (I may be getting the course of events in Vermont and Connecticut a little mixed up, but it was the same basic briar patch scam in both cases.)

      In reality, of course, it’s doubtful that Monsanto, 100% government-dependent, without even the slightest iota of a natural base, would actually sue a government that really intended to make life difficult for it. (Of course a lawsuit the government never intends to really fight could be the occasion for a different form of the scam.) Regardless, it’s the duty of a government (so the good-civics textbooks tell me) to fight for the public good, even if the going got rough. So no matter how one looks at it, these state governments have abdicated, and intend to continue doing so.

      So it follows that getting legislation introduced, and getting initiatives on the ballot, are just part of the time-dishonored, field-failed, disproven set of within-the-system tactics, alongside petitions, “voting” etc. The liberals will keep saying, “that doesn’t work, so let’s try it again, and again, and again, and again, forever and ever!” The goal is to ensure that nothing is done until we’re enslaved once and for all.

      The real answer is that we need to build a true Food Sovereignty movement, which is also an abolition movement. No goal short of the total abolition of GMOs will suffice. We know for a fact that GMOs cannot be prevented from contaminating other crops and the environment at large. We know that GMO corporations and their government thugs are totalitarian in intent. It’s proven that neither organic agriculture, nor the environment, nor our political and economic freedom, can co-exist with GMOs. But labeling, in itself, is another version of the “co-existence” scam.

      I’m not saying all this to oppose labeling activism. But I would be suspicious of anyone who’s implying that it’s a panacea. I’d say, “If we get this passed, then what’s next? How will we organize the necessary public education and government pressure work? How do we prevent ourselves from being co-opted and corrupted like the anti-tobacco groups?” If they have no coherent answer, you know it’s a scam. In that case the goal is just to go through the motions, but even if the thing passes it’s just meant to be cosmetic. In that case the corporate liberals would then say indefinitely, “we got the law passed, now you have to be patient and give it time to work.”

      I’d be suspicious of anyone viewing, running, organizing things like an electoral campaign. I’d say, “First of all we need to use actions like this toward movement-building. In what ways are we building permanent organizational and publicity structures? What underlying principles dictate our support for labeling, and how are we working to propagate those principles, as a way of life for our cadres, and as public education?” If they have no coherent answer, or directly say “this isn’t movement-building, this is a one-off campaign”, you know it’s a scam, or at any rate that they have in fact no coherent principle or strategy, just a vague feeling and a handy tactic. Needless to say, this mindset will never win the grueling, vicious war of attrition it will take to bring down Monsanto’s tyranny.

      Most of all, I’d want clarity on the ultimate goals. Do labeling advocates really support Community Food and Food Sovereignty? Do they really oppose food corporatism? Do they really seek to constitute an abolition movement vs. GMOs and industrial ag as such? Nothing short of this will work for humanity.

      Does labeling have a coherent rationale at all? We mentioned how, in itself, it still rationalizes industrial ag, food commodification, unhealthy processed foods, passive consumerism, and the “co-existence” scam. In the end, it still rationalizes food corporatism and “market solutions”. These are all unsustainable evils, politically, morally, and practically. But in itself the kind of solution labeling purports to be sees these evils as normative.

      Once again we see how corporatist “solutions” cannot solve problems generated by corporatism, and are not intended to. If taken as a self-sufficient panacea (and as I said, the evidence is that most of its advocates and organizers see it that way; so it seems at the website you linked, although it’s a good educational resource), GMO labeling is part of the same instrumental, non-holistic NPK thinking which is destroying humanity.

      The organic place of labeling activism, as part of a movement to restore the primacy of organic agriculture, would be as a movement-building opportunity. It would provide the occasion and the practice to build a permanent movement structure. It would also provide the forum for movement and public education about not just labeling, and not just the evils of GMOs, but about the evils and unsustainability of the entire corporate food sector. It would bring home the need to build Community Food as a full-scale economic and political movement.

      I hope some of this helps to organize your ambivalent thoughts. Let us know how the meeting goes, and what it sounds like people want to do. Meanwhile I’m going to turn this comment into a post.

      Comment by Russ — February 15, 2013 @ 5:22 am

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