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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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11 Comments

  1. I’m going to have to spend some time reading all your recent posts! Just scanned this one: what chance is there, really, that Americans will support any kind of abolition campaign? Americans are the most brainwashed of all the developed world’s citizens. I see almost zero chance. A vocal minority might be willing to support abolition, but then:
    What actions are supporters of abolition willing to take? It cannot be limited to the realm of politics, but must include actions that meaningfully stop the spread of contamination, and will actually stop the planting of GMO crops.
    It seems hopeless now, but at least you are documenting the problem.
    I have to say that I see nothing much in the USA that is stopping the decent into totalitarianism, and total corporate takeover.
    One of the reasons I am now actively considering emigration, and pursuing it. Of course, the problem will follow me wherever I might go, but nations with actual working democracy of some kind stand a better chance.
    I’ll still stay engaged, though, because we’re all in this together.

    Comment by publiusmaximus — March 10, 2014 @ 6:17 pm

    • As I’ve been describing, I think abolitionism, along with any possible civil disobedience, is the “negative” complement to an affirmative movement to build agroecological practice, the Community Food economic sector, and the political movement for Food Sovereignty.

      If I were to sum it up in a nutshell, my proposal is to build a movement similar to that of the 19th century American Populist movement, using similar means – alternative economic structures, an aggressive publicity campaign, and the conscious effort to build a movement culture. The Populists succeeded in building a vibrant movement and came close to attaining some of their political goals. The main reason they failed was that they had the structural weakness of being necessarily dependent on the larger system (they were mostly commodity cotton farmers), and on account of this were forced into electoral politics before they were ready.

      A movement like I describe would have an advantage in that it is not dependent on the commodity system, but on the contrary is explicitly seeking to break free of it. This should help give it extra time to build itself before facing any imperative to enter electoral politics at any higher level of the government hierarchy (as opposed to the local level).

      In all this I’m taking it for granted that those who commit to this idea know they’re in it for the long haul and can’t expect any instant gratification. I think that’s the #1 pathology we’re up against, that almost everyone who’s interested in political action at all basically assumes that any idea must start and end with fielding a presidential candidate in the next election, and otherwise the idea’s worthless. This is stupid, to say the least. It’s really not even a political way of thinking, but a celebrity/fan way of thinking, which I believe is the real nature of most “political” engagement in America today.

      Comment by Russ — March 11, 2014 @ 5:29 am

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