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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.