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October 14, 2017

Monsanto Stole Everything, Innovated Nothing

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There’s many reasons to abolish Monsanto and GMOs. They’re agriculturally and environmentally totalitarian. They inevitably contaminate all other crops and the environment. They accelerate soil, water, air, and habitat destruction. They aggravate and accelerate climate change and every other environmental crisis. The more that GMOs are field tested and commercialized, the longer they exist at all, the worse their ecological ravages shall become, and the more we’ll pass points-of-no-return where the contamination shall become significantly malign and irreversible.
 
GMOs are economically and politically totalitarian. The GMO cartel is leader of the corporate agricultural onslaught dedicated to driving all people off the land. The cartel is escalating what’s already a non-competitive monopoly concentration in the seed sector. It aggressively uses this position to build horizontal and vertical monopoly power, enforce its dictates up and down the food production and distribution chains, drive non-GM seed varieties out of the market and out of existence, greatly jack up seed prices, force obscenely lopsided “contracts” upon farmers, persecute farmers with harassment, thuggery, and lawsuits, and get governments to enact repressive seed laws designed to escalate and accelerate this whole process.
 
That’s just one way the agribusiness cartel has seized control of governments around the world. Under capitalism, governments intrinsically are controlled by corporate power such as the kind of control being exercised by the GMO corporations. The unique threat to humanity and the Earth posed by such corporate control over agriculture and food render corporate control over government particularly nefarious. People can waste time trying to argue about the malevolence of corporate power in other sectors, but there can be no argument here: Humanity must purge this clear and present danger to our freedom, our democracy, and our literal survival.
 
Pesticides/GMOs also present a clear and present danger to our health. All independent studies, as well as almost all the corporations’ own rigged studies, find reason for concern or alarm. The genetic engineering process itself, and the massive pesticide residues in our food and water, wreck our microbiome (our internal gastrointestinal microbial community which with our bodies comprises as symbiotic joint organism cooperating for mutual health), cause gastrointestinal inflammation which leads to every kind of disease, trigger escalations in allergies, asthma, autism, and every other kind of autoimmune disease, cause cancer, organ damage, infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects. These are just the best documented effects. Glyphosate-tolerant crops also are nutritionally denuded. To ingest the processed foods made from these merely adds to the nutritional deficiency already inherent in diets centered on such “foods” and adds to the many diseases this can cause or aggravate.
 
Most of all, the fact that governments and corporations always have refused to perform legitimate full-length scientific safety studies on GMOs is strict proof that governments and corporations believe the results of such studies would be devastating to the GM products. In the same way that Monsanto and the US government have known since the early 1980s that glyphosate causes cancer, so they’ve always known or suspected the severe health dangers of GMOs. That’s why they’ve systematically refused to test them and disparaged the very idea of testing them. That’s proof of bad faith which can come only from the worst suspicions of the worst. Here we must agree with Monsanto, any real safety test of any GMO would give evidence of the worst.
 
The most amazing thing is how all this is over such a pathetic, worthless product. GMOs are cheap, shoddy, worthless, highly expensive products which don’t work for any purpose which could actually help people. Their yield is poor, no improvement over non-GM conventional agriculture; they require far more pesticides than conventional agriculture; they systematically help weeds and insect pests build resistance to pesticides, and thus resistance to themselves, uncontrollable by the same poisons which were alleged to be the reasons for having these GMOs in the first place; the “special” GMOs – those for drought resistance, vitamin fortification, nitrogen-fixing, etc. – are all media hoaxes.
 
 
Another big hoax is that Monsanto and other agrochemical corporations have accomplished any of this so-called “innovation”. In reality, the existence of GMOs, for worse or worst, has been the work of not-for-profit operatives who then had their work stolen or otherwise lifted by the big corporation. I’ll list some examples which include all the big milestones in the development of the main GMO types. My main source is the pro-Monsanto corporate history, Lords of the Harvest by NPR corporate-liberal columnist Dan Charles (page numbers will be tagged DC), with some additional information from The World According to Monsanto by French investigative journalist Marie-Monique Robin (MMR).
 
1. The most commonly used vehicle for insertion of the transgene into the target genome is to attach it to a plasmid from the bacteria Agrobacterium tumefaciens which in nature is a parasite that inserts itself into the DNA of plant hosts. The extracted plasmid with an attached transgene can accomplish the same genetic transfer with many kinds of plant cells. Monsanto did nothing to come up with this idea or to figure out how to do it. Instead, Monsanto took the basic idea of using A. tumefaciens and some DNA snippets from a hired consultant from academia, Mary-Dell Chilton (DC 18).
 
2. Once a mess of transgenes has been shotgunned into tissue cultured plant cells (no matter which insertion method used, bacterial plasmid or gene gun, it’s a purely brute forcible, messy, wasteful, scattershot process with no hint of “precision” about it), the engineers need a way to identify which cells have successfully received the transgenic insertion. The most common way to do this is to include within the “gene cassette” (the transgenic material being inserted) an antibiotic resistance gene which was extracted from another bacterium. (Thus genetic engineering contributes to the corporate campaign of antibiotic abuse and intentional spread of antibiotic resistance, all dedicated to eradicating antibiotics as an effective medical treatment.*) The engineers then douse the lot with the antibiotic, usually kanamycin. The cells which survive are those which successfully received the insertion.
 
But it was technically difficult getting the bacterial gene to work in the recipient plant cells. Monsanto couldn’t figure it out themselves. In order to render the kanamycin antibiotic resistance marker active, they took the idea of using the promoter and terminator sequence from A. tumefaciens itself, along with some more genetic snippets, from another consultant, Michael Bevan (DC 18-19).**
 
3. Early in 1983 Monsanto rushed to patent the A. tumefaciens insertion process even though they knew it was prior art. Charles quotes Monsanto patent lawyer Patrick Kelly: “We knew that Schell and Chilton were going to be [at an upcoming conference], and they were going to generate a set of publications which would be held as prior art.” In the demented world of intellectual property, a patent usually is awarded not to whoever can prove they were the first inventors of something, but merely whoever gets their patent application in first. (This time Monsanto didn’t get things all their own way. It turned out Chilton and Schell had also filed patent applications, and multi-decade litigation ensued.) (DC 21-2)
 
4. In nature, genes will be actively expressive or not (“switched on” or “off”), and at varying levels of expression, depending on timing and environmental conditions. This is an exquisitely developed evolutionary mechanism. In defiance of evolutionary safeguards, and therefore existing in a state of evolution denialism, in contempt of evolution, genetic engineering is dependent upon artificially forcing the transgene to be switched on at full power at all times, 24/7. This requires that the transgene for the particular trait have a special genetic promoter harnessed to it. The main workhorse promoter used in genetic engineering is the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus promoter (CaMV35S). Once again Monsanto couldn’t figure out any of this, the idea or how to do it. For the idea to snip and deploy the CaMV promoter they engaged in corporate espionage. They lifted ideas and data from Calgene and from a Rockefeller Institute consultant. Monsanto then used laboratory brute force to get the thing to work, and in 1984 they patented it (DC 34-5).
 
5. Consultant Roger Beachy was studying viral cross-protection among plants, wherein a plant exposed to one virus may develop resistance to others. Although in the long run little came of it, at the time the idea of using viral transgenes to induce broader viral resistance seemed to be a promising line of research. Monsanto didn’t know how to do it, but they were able to exploit Beachy’s work. (DC 35-6)
 
6. Everyone had the same idea for a synthetic Bt gene. Only Monsanto had the financial resources for the laboratory brute force to do it quickly (DC 46). Any other mode of social organization besides the private corporate person could have done so just as easily.
 
7. Hired consultants did all the work engineering bovine growth hormone (BGH), which became the Monsanto product Posilac (MMR 91).
 
9. Monsanto’s flagship product since the 1970s has been the herbicide Roundup, and its primary GMO product has been the Roundup Ready line. To this day, despite desperate hype campaigns, Monsanto remains financially dependent upon the Roundup Ready system. Yet Monsanto never was able to isolate and engineer glyphosate tolerance. (Calgene did figure out how to do it (DC 67).) This was in spite of years of extremely expensive, futile attempts. But in the end nature handed them the genetic tolerance as a gift which had evolved among bacteria in the polluted ponds surrounding a lowly glyphosate factory. (DC 68-9)
 
 
We see how it was nature, messed with by consultants dependent upon the socially built infrastructure of technical research and development, who did all the work. Monsanto, evidently, did nothing but reap the right to tax all this. So who created GMOs? In descending order of importance, each standing atop the foundation of the previous levels:
 
1. Nature, which always provides the near-absolute basis and resources for all human endeavor. That right there absolutely demolishes any claim that profit ever can be justified.
 
2. The common project of society, which completes this basis. No “individual” (let alone any corporate “person”) ever has accomplished anything requiring the existence of any infrastructure, other than as a networked part of the ecological and socio-ecological basis.
 
3. Farmers carried out the empirical practice of ten thousand years of selecting seeds, developing crop types, breeding landraces. Empirical farmers built 100% of this foundation. Empirical farmers are 100% responsible for developing agricultural crops in the first place and deserve 100% of whatever credit this warrants. And these farmers largely were dependent upon the social structures of those ten thousand years, albeit not as much as modern industrial agriculture and corporations are dependent upon the modern social structure.
 
4. The modern science of plant breeding, completely developed and almost completely practiced by public sector plant breeders.
 
5. The public funded most research in genetics and genetic engineering. The public paid for the corporate state to construct the planned economy of industrial agriculture and food. The public has always funded most of the propaganda for this system. All corporate sectors are elements of a planned economy of neoliberal globalization wherein all the corporations are completely dependent upon corporate welfare, starting with the planned monetarist system itself, in order to exist at all. Big Ag is second only to the finance sector itself in this absolute dependency.
 
6. Within the sector itself, the corporation seldom does any actual work, but exploits a galaxy of consultants and contractors (cf. Naomi Klein’s No Logo). Monsanto exemplifies this paradigm to perfection.
 
7. I can’t figure out what Monsanto contributes at the end.
 
 
So there we have it. Monsanto and corporations like it do nothing but steal and enclose natural and human resources, usually perverting and destroying them along the way, and use these to build massive power for nothing but to escalate their campaigns of robbery and destruction.
 
Genetic engineering (and poison-based agriculture as such) is a shoddy, hyper-expensive, destructive technology which doesn’t work and was never necessary for any human purpose. Corporations also are extremely expensive and destructive, a pure loss and plague on civilization. The Big Ag corporations like Monsanto therefore redouble the evils they perpetrate, the thefts (public domain crops) and enclosures (the goal is to drive non-“protected” varieties out of the market and eradicate all crop biodiversity and bio/cultural diversity as such), the destruction (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), all toward their goals of power and control.
 
 
 
Propagate the new and necessary ideas. Only these can be the seeds of the next ten thousand years.
 
 
 
 
*Remember this next time you see someone shrieking about the alleged threat to public health from a handful of non-vaccinators. Demand to know what he’s doing about the systematic campaign of governments and corporations to wipe out antibiotics via their profligate abuse in CAFOs and genetic engineering. This is a campaign which intentionally generates maximal antibiotic resistance among pathogens. Of course the cultists do nothing and say nothing about this. On the contrary, they actively support all the crimes of corporate agriculture including the campaign to wipe out antibiotics. This proves that they couldn’t care less about public health, and that their hysteria and hatred toward non-vaccinators has zero to do with public health. Rather, as authoritarian cult members they’re enraged by this form of civil disobedience as an affront to their statism and scientism. These fundamentalists see non-vaccination as blasphemy against their religion. So the surface arguments about vaccination are just a proxy for a religious culture war. That’s why the techno-cultists, insofar as they shriek about non-vaccinators, should be called proxxers. Always let your first thought be: “These supporters of the CAFO/GMO system want to eradicate antibiotics. They want antibiotics to cease to exist.”
 
 
**This business of hiring consultants brings us to a far bigger truth. We’re often told that society has to allow profiteering and intellectual property and corporate personhood in order to encourage necessary innovation. Now, much so-called “innovation” is worthless and destructive and humanity would be much better off without it. But let’s say for the sake of argument that a given innovation is worthwhile. Similarly, corporate personhood is perhaps the worst idea humanity has ever had: It serves zero purpose but legally to shield criminals from liability for their crimes, and gamblers from having to take losses. But’s let’s say for the sake of argument that even the corporate form is worthwhile. Still, must this corporation be allowed to own patents and profiteer?
 
Monsanto never thought so. That’s why they felt they could do just fine hiring consultants for nothing but a fee, no percentage at all. And they turned out to be right: Consultants were willing to work, to “innovate”, for nothing but the fee.
 
Given that fact, if society decides that it does need corporations to perform certain tasks, why shouldn’t society hire these corporations in the exact same way, as consultants, as contractors, for a fee, while retaining control of society’s own common property? We have the incontrovertible testimony of the corporations themselves, led by Monsanto, that this would work just fine. So why is anyone stupid enough still to believe that society must offer “personhood” and “property rights”, profiteering sovereignty, the right to tax, to private actors in order to get them to innovate? The fact is, even if you think the services and products of corporations are worthwhile, and even if you think only corporations can most effectively deliver them (another disproven lie), that’s still no reason to give them a cut of what only nature and the common labor produces. You can just hire ’em for a fee. Does Monsanto believe this? They’ve counted on it!
 
 
 
 
 
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4 Comments

  1. Excellent piece Russ.

    also, this just came out:

    ..Monsanto and the Biotech Industry [have] Turned Natural Bt Pesticides Into GMO “Super Toxins”..

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/13/have-monsanto-and-the-biotech-industry-turned-natural-bt-pesticides-into-gmo-super-toxins/

    by Jonathan Latham

    ..”altered GMO toxins are more potent in their toxicity and effective against a broader range of species. But Monsanto curiously omitted this information when it applied for a regulatory exemption from EPA for the toxin in MON863. Instead, Monsanto argued that that the Bt protein in MON863 was toxicologically equivalent to the natural Bt protein precursor.

    This is a resurfacing of the historic contradiction that has marked biotechnology since its inception. Claiming to be identical to old methods when safety is the issue, [but then] novel when the question is patents.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 14, 2017 @ 10:38 am

    • Thanks. I saw the Latham/Hilbeck review, good stuff from them as usual. What with the glyphosate cancer firestorm and the ongoing collapse of both herbicides and Bt to resistant weeds and pests, both far more publicized, it’s a timely reminder that the Bt endotoxins, as Monsanto themselves call them “super-toxins”, are themselves a potent poison of unfathomed health dangers. (Of course the Bt endotoxins are always left out of the accounting when the pro-GMO activists spew the “less pesticides” lie. Just one element of many in their fraudulent accounting.)

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/bt-overview/

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/gmos-increase-pesticide-use/

      Comment by Russ — October 14, 2017 @ 11:30 am

  2. What are a few steps each of us can take toward the abolition?

    Comment by VernonHuffman — October 14, 2017 @ 9:58 pm

    • You and Dana and the others in Oregon have been doing good work toward that eventual goal. We all need to scale that up, first as a campaign of ideas. As for our personal lives, well my answer to anyone is “commit your life to the cause”, which is a very very hard sell in this Mammon theocracy where even the people who superficially have the right ideas and good intent still are objectively Randroids in the way they view the world. That was one of Lawrence’s main points, why I cited him the other day. Even sort-of sympathetic people fundamentally don’t understand someone like me who really has no private existence and am fundamentally a political animal, a public citizen. So all I can do is keep propagating ideas which are fundamentally against the whole grain of this theocracy, and try to find fellow atheists versus Mammon/technocracy/scientism who want to work on that atheism-propagation project. That. I think, is one of the basic building blocks necessary to build a true cultural, spiritual, existential movement decidated affirmatively to the necessary agroecology/food sovereignty transformation, negatively to the total abolition of poison-based agriculture.

      Well, that’s the ultimate need. As for what an individual can do right now:

      1. Take on as much of the propagation work as one can.

      2. Become active in building up the community food sector as much as one can. Growing some of one’s own food in a garden is a good first step, and of course the actions quickly scale up from there.

      3. In one’s personal lifestyle get as independent of the system, as “off-grid” (using that term both literally and metaphorically) as possible.

      4. To the extent one has to remain enmeshed in the system for the time being, at least be clear in thought and word that it’s under duress. I still have to drive a car, but I never think or say anything other than that the car as such has to go. That’s as opposed to the climate crocodiles who wring their hands and then tout hybrids as some kind of answer. No, that’s just a more pernicious form of climate denialism.

      5. In general: Do the most good you can, and never do anything evil. I have never once heard of an example of an evil action that was necessary in any way. That’s always a lie.

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/three-good-actions-and-no-evil-actions/

      Much of this focuses on ideas and propagating ideas, which stands to reason since (1) I’m forced to be a writer, lacking for now any greater scope for action (in Eric Hoffer’s terminology, I’m an activist by nature who’s been forced into the role of the “man of words”), (2) for now there really is no greater scope for action in America, since the necessary movement doesn’t yet exist in any tangible, coherent form (or I should say, any rudiments which may be cohering are not yet visible to the general dissenter culture).

      So it follows that the first, prerequisite step toward building this movement is to propagate the necessary ideas for this movement. Not even, at first, to convince people, but to force the existence of truly alternative and practicable ideas into the public consciousness so that, when the cultural tipping point suddenly comes (and history demonstrates that we have no idea when it will come or what proximate cause will trigger it) and lots of people are suddenly looking for a new idea, this set of ideas will be one of the sets laying around ready to be taken up.

      Toward that great goal, the second necessary preliminary step is to form at least the nucleus of a future mass movement in the form of coherent organizations, of whatever size attainable, which will undertake whatever wedge actions are possible for the time being but whose primary action will be to propagate the ideas as far and wide as possible.

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/gmo-labeling-and-movement-strategy-4-of-6-the-organizations-we-need/

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2017/05/29/abolitionism-part-one-the-need-for-the-movement/

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/abolition-movement-part-two-basic-goals-for-organization/

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2017/06/03/abolition-movement-part-three-the-daily-action-of-pioneers/

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/action-note-blueprint-for-an-agitation-and-pressure-group/

      And then all this must take place in tandem with building up the community food sector (we especially need more local retail producers, and processing infrastructure, and political organization against the state’s repressive campaigns). The community food movement already exists as a vibrant movement with great scope for all the action one could desire (I’ve personally worked at a farmers’ market, herbal medicine garden, and am director of two community gardens). We need for the whole shebang, from organic horticulture to market gardening to abolition of pesticides/GMOs to a global agroecology transformation, to evolve into one coherent cultural force.

      Comment by Russ — October 15, 2017 @ 2:53 am


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