October 27, 2013

Recycling a Failed and Obsolete GMO for Africa


Western corporatism is pushing ahead with its attempt at a second colonization of Africa based on GMO imperialism. Toward this goal Monsanto’s been trotting out an old clunker, MON810 Bt maize. This is a maize variety which produces its own insecticide against the stem borer. It’s the only GMO which was ever approved for cultivation in the EU, where it’s grown primarily in Spain and Portugal. Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Luxemburg, and others have banned it.
Today MON810 is being pushed upon Africa in the guise of a “humanitarian” project. The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) program touts itself as seeking to provide African farmers with low-cost drought-resistant maize varieties. But while there are drought-resistant maize varieties, these are all conventionally-bred (and usually bred by the public sector) varieties. There’s no such thing as a drought-resistant GMO. What’s called a “drought-resistant” GM variety is really a public domain variety which corporations have pirated, engineered with the same old herbicide-tolerant (HT) or insecticide-expressing (Bt) trait, patented, and which they now fraudulently call drought-resistant. But the drought resistance is the pre-existing conventional trait and has nothing to do with the genetic engineering.
But that’s no matter, since MON810 was never called “drought resistant” over the 15+ years it’s been cultivated in Europe, South Africa, and elsewhere. Until now. WEMA has come under the umbrella of the Bill Gates AGRA project (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), a GMO propaganda front. Monsanto has “donated” MON810 to WEMA royalty-free. WEMA’s main action is now to distribute MON810 seeds, fraudulently calling them drought-resistant, and to advocate for MON810 field testing and commercialization throughout Africa. Field testing is already being done in Uganda and Kenya, while battles for “deregulation” (i.e., switching regulation from the public interest to the corporate interest, and then rendering it more aggressive and onerous on behalf of the corporate imperative) are ongoing in Tanzania and Mozambique.
Meanwhile in Egypt Monsanto pirated the local Ajeeb variety, engineered it with the same Bt-expressing gene (Cry1ab) as MON810, and patented the GMO variety as “Ajeeb Yieldgard”. Egyptian government studies have already found this variety to have a significantly different physiological makeup than the original variety, thus disproving yet again the “substantial equivalence” dogma which has always been the justification for not requiring safety testing of GMOs prior to commercialization. They also found that eating this GMO causes changes in organs, body weight, and serum biochemistry in rats.
So WEMA’s job is to push this obsolete and unsafe GM variety under the false guise of “drought resistance”, and in that way gain regulatory approval for it so that it can be widely commercialized. Of course Monsanto’s waiving of its usual tax applies only to the tests being run by the charity, not to the subsequent commercialization. Meanwhile the trials include every other aspect of the rigidly constraining patent regime.
What does this mean for Africa? We already know, since part of Africa’s already gone through the entire MON810 disaster now being prepared for the rest of it. South Africa was an early adopter of GMO technology, rushing to approve and commercialize MON810 in 1997 before it had even set up a bioregulatory system. The government encoded the usual requirements for “refugia”. This is an idea which could serve a purpose if ever seriously put into practice, but which has never been anything more than empty rhetoric in practice. Governments “require” farmers planting Bt crops to set aside a percentage of their acreage for a non-Bt variety. This is called the “refuge”. By providing a place where some of the target pests (in the case of MON810, the corn borer) can feed and survive without being resistant to the Bt toxin, it’s supposed to ensure that some of the reproducing insects aren’t passing on the resistance trait. This slows down the evolution of Bt resistant superbugs.
This refuge requirement, which concedes the inevitability of resistance development, co-existed from the start with denials that resistance would ever develop. So we see one of the many examples of how the GMO cartel engages simultaneously in mutually contradictory lines of propaganda. The refugia themselves have always been propaganda in that they’ve always been set at too small a percentage, regulators never seriously enforced them (which also allows the propaganda to blame superbugs on scofflaw farmers; but obviously corporatized GMO farmers aren’t going to self-enforce such a policy, which is exactly the outcome the system intended), and have happily yielded to every corporate entreaty to diminish the amount of the refuge required, or abandon the requirement completely.
Refugia have never been a seriously meant regulatory measure.
As if that weren’t bad enough, these meager refuge requirements were based on the assumption, since disproven, that resistance to MON810 in borers was a recessive trait. This resistance has since been proven to be dominant. So whereas South African policy ordered a 5% non-Bt refuge, the refuge would really need to have been greater than 50% in order to have any chance of working. And of course this would’ve had to have been enforced, which even the 5% requirement never was.
We can see that MON810 was a grossly inadequate product for South African farming. The results bore this out. Corn borers quickly developed such resistance that Monsanto eventually had to offer compensation packages to farmers who sustained greater than 10% destruction of their crop. Many farmers were suffering over 50% losses. Finally MON810 was withdrawn from the market for the 2013 season.
As usual, the government doesn’t react to such proof of the failure of a policy genre, in this case insecticide-expressing GMOs, with a rational rejection of the failed policy. Instead, as usual, South Africa’s only thought is to double down on what’s already proven to fail. Thus MON810 has been replaced by the “stacked” variety MON8903, which contains two Bt toxins. So it can fail twice as decisively, and in the process accelerate the development of this superbug. (Anytime a superweed or superbug evolves resistance to a particular herbicide, insecticide, or antibiotic, there’s an increasing chance that it’ll also develop a more general resistance to whole genres of these poisons. Thus waterhemp, in addition to now being widely glyphosate-resistant, is also demonstrating resistance to 2,4-D before the Agent Orange corn has even been deployed.)
MON810 lies on South Africa’s trash heap, but that’s all the more reason Monsanto’s ardent to deploy it throughout the rest of Africa. We already know how the story will play out, since we’ve already been through it once. We also know the usual story of the economic destruction of farmers, with some of them becoming debt slaves and the rest driven off the land and into terminal shantytowns. We’ve been through it many times. We know, too, the usual story of the destruction of the soil and water and surrounding ecosystems. This history, also, has already been played out in many places.
There’s no way the advocates of a “New Alliance” for Africa, led by Monsanto, don’t know that the guaranteed result will be human suffering on an immense scale. Therefore, this is the result desired by the cartel, by governments like those of the US and UK, by the corporate media and academia, by useful idiots like Bono, Kofi Annan, and others, and in general by the corporatist establishment.


1 Comment

  1. […] ahead as Bt-resistant borers and rootworms conquer the existing genes. I recently wrote on how MON810 was routed and driven out of the market by resistant borers in South Africa.   Corn borers were the original target of Bt-expressing […]

    Pingback by Stacking the Danger: SmartStax, System Failure, and the GMO Arms Race (1 of 2) | Volatility — November 8, 2013 @ 3:55 am

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