Volatility

February 22, 2016

Indian Agriculture, Crises and Solutions

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India’s Bt cotton debacle continues, as Punjab and Haryana states struggle to find solutions for the disasters afflicting the cotton crop, most recently epidemics of whitefly depredation and leaf curl disease. Whitefly is a so-called “secondary pest” which is not affected by the poisons endemically produced by Bt cotton. How do farmers struggle to deal with whitefly and other secondary pests? Spray, spray, spray everything. In other words, they must do exactly what pro-GMO lies claim is no longer necessary. But then GMOs are designed to increase pesticide use. Only a moron could ever have believed that a pesticide corporation would want to sell a product (GM seed) which renders his primary product (pesticide) obsolete. On the contrary, it was always obvious that the newer product was also meant to increase sales of the older one.
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The two state governments have formed a joint committee to come up with a plan. It sounds like they get the point: “We expect to replace 15-20 per cent of the area under Bt cotton seed with the traditional one this year and in the next few years to take it to 50 per cent. Co-existence of Bt and non-Bt crop would curtail the chance of spread of epidemics like white fly, as the two crops are resistant to different kinds of diseases. Monoculture in agriculture is the cause of widespread diseases in plants. [My emphasis – Russ.] Presently, 95 per cent of the cotton grown in Punjab and Haryana is the Bt variety and this triggered the quick spread of disease.” They’re wrong about co-existence over the long run, but this would be a great step in the right direction. The main hurdle to overcome is availability of high-quality open-pollinated cotton seed. As we’ve seen most recently with sugar beets in America, one goal of corporate agriculture, especially the GM-based paradigm, is to monopolize seed production and drive all other seeds out of the effective marketplace, in part by economically preventing any further work on them and planting of them. Under such a regime of negligence a seed variety may quickly disappear completely.
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But wherever governments are willing to undertake such a paradigm shift in the kind of seed economy they support (don’t hold your breath in the US), they can give a big boost to the traditional seed and its agroecological improvement. Especially where agroecological work on seed is done via participatory plant breeding, this embodies the essence of agroecological food sovereignty practice, the application of science to regional conditions and needs. This is the gold standard for seed, the kind all legitimate farmers dream of. If Haryana and Punjab can boost desi (open-pollinated) seed production to support 50% of the cotton acreage, that’ll be enough for a tipping point which will quickly drive the worthless and expensive Bt seed completely out of the market. We could turn the calculus, “co-existence is impossible”, right side up and make it work for us rather than against us, as it has worked hitherto.

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January 26, 2016

The USDA/Monsanto Deliberate Campaign to Contaminate All Alfalfa

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If successful, this campaign would lead to a Monsanto monopoly on alfalfa seed and render organic meat and dairy impossible under the current USDA standards. The USDA has always wanted GMOs to qualify under the organic standard, and has long seen GM alfalfa as a mode of attack to bring on this result.
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Persistence Proves Intent. If the US government and Monsanto see that this surging contamination is an inevitable direct effect of their action in deploying GM alfalfa and they continue with the deployment, that proves that this contamination is part of the intended effect. The major effects of a large-scale action are always an organic whole. It’s never true that a necessary government policy has ambivalent results. On the contrary, the major effects are always the desired effects, because if the government desired different effects, there’s always an alternative which could preserve the “good” effects without the allegedly “bad”. There’s really no such thing as “collateral damage”. That’s just a propaganda distinction to help with the lie that some effects weren’t sought by the policy-maker and are deplored by it. But if there really were major effects which the government did not anticipate and found bad, it would change the policy so as no longer to produce those effects in a major way. Persistence proves either that the effect, if truly unanticipated, is nevertheless welcome, or else that it was anticipated and consciously intended all along. Morally and practically it makes no difference. The major effects of an action comprise an organic whole, so anyone who wants one characteristic effect of an action will anticipate and want its other effects and will welcome any major effect he didn’t anticipate.
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In the case of GM alfalfa there’s no question that USDA and Monsanto had full prior knowledge of its extremely high rate of contamination. It’s a perennial pollinated by wide-ranging bees. So as soon as GM alfalfa is planted it’s off on an imperialistic campaign for the next 4-8 years. Indeed, the USDA was aware of contamination of alfalfa seed stocks just from GM field trials at least as early as 2005. There’s zero doubt that the rapid contamination was consciously anticipated.
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As for the contamination effect being desired, if the US government didn’t want to contaminate the entire alfalfa crop it would not have allowed and encouraged Monsanto to deploy the product. Some alternatives within the capitalist framework include the ante-biotech status quo, encouraging integrated weed management, government subsidies for hand-weeding labor instead of herbicide, encouraging greater organic production. Of course there’s a vastly better alternative to globalized corporate agriculture as such, but here I’m just sticking with options available to the USDA given its capitalist premises. The fact is that the government would not have set up the system the way it has in such a way as to maximize contamination, if it did not want to maximize this contamination.
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Monsanto’s own interest in total contamination is of course obvious and I assume uncontroversial. If Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene can contaminate the rest of the alfalfa crop such as to render unattainable any of the benefits organic or non-GM conventional growers hope to gain – an organic premium, overseas markets for non-GM hay – then the company could expect farmers to take on the “if you can’t beat’em, join’em” mindset and just adopt the Roundup Ready system. There’s already ample precedent for this surrenderist attitude among farmers and academics. Monsanto often has explicitly stated its totalitarian goals.
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What about the USDA? In general, a corporate regulator is designed to second the goals and actions of the most powerful corporations. Monsanto, stupid and clumsy as it’s been in many other ways (public relations, farmer relations, attitude toward agronomy), has been particularly adept and aggressive at imposing its will on government and making regulators want to serve it. (This makes it particularly bizarre and counterproductive when people still look to regulatory agencies to put limits on corporate action and uphold any value other than corporate power. A coherent, disciplined, aggressive, ecological populist movement can sometimes pressure government agencies from outside, against their will, to do what it wants. But this is only because as a coherent cultural and political movement it possesses power, never because the regulator wants to do it or inherently feels like it should do it. On the other hand a mass of consumerist atoms, no matter how many of them come together for a superficial comment period or petition or gripefest, or for a one-off superficial political campaign, can never exert such pressure because they don’t constitute coherent, directed power. That’s part of why there’s zero chance of an FDA GMO labeling policy being anything other than a preemptive sham, and why it’s madness or treason for those who claim to oppose GMOs and pesticides to want such a thing.)
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More fundamentally for our kind of example, the ideology of regulators of agricultural poisons is based on the Poison Principle. This means that no matter what the problem, the only conceivable solution is poison, more poison is always better than less, poison doesn’t just solve problems but is actively good, all comparative study is to compare only poison with poison and never poison with an alternative to poison, and that the regulator’s job at all times is to maximize poison production, sales, and application. In Poison Spring E. Vallianatos describes working in the “Benefits and Use” division at the EPA, where these terms were religiously understood to mean “benefit” for the corporations and the biggest industrial farmers, and “use” of poisons (starting from production and marketing) always to be allowed, encouraged, and maximized. Vallianatos’s whole book is devoted to detailing the strategic and tactical execution of this ideology on the part of the EPA and the horrific real world results. He remarks that at its founding the EPA was staffed largely by former USDA cadres who imported the USDA’s poisoner ideology. Jack Kloppenburg’s First the Seed is one of several excellent books describing the USDA’s extreme culture of poison-based and crackpot high-technology “solutions”.
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But for the supply-based corporate capitalism which is the fundamental paradigm of the globalization system, and therefore for the regulators, the problem is never anything more or less than the maximized production of the corporate product, and the solution is “finding” a market for this supply-driven production, through some combination of propaganda, incentives, public subsidies, threats, extortion, legal coercion, and violence. For example, the USDA offers special financial incentives to alfalfa growers who maximize their Roundup use, provides them with legal cover for transgenic trespass while stripping the victims of all legal protection, and threatens non-compliant alfalfa growers with GM contamination and economic extinction. This is because the USDA is suffused with the poisoner mindset and poisoner ideology. The USDA wants to maximize poison deployment. Therefore to the average USDA cadre, alfalfa with maximal roundup is better than with less or none. This is ideological and is prior to any mundane “corruption”, though there’s lots of this as well.
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For a more specific case, the USDA has always wanted GMOs to be part of the official organic certification. The agency included GMOs within its original proposed standards in the 1990s, and only a massive outcry from the farmers and consumers who were forcing the agency to adopt an organic standard in the first place forced it to back down on “GMO organic”. But to this day the USDA has never relinquished this wish. When it tries to define “new” kinds of GMOs such as those which have been “gene edited” as not being GMOs at all, this is primarily to excuse them from all regulatory oversight. (In itself this is a strong manifestation of the poisoner ideology. It’s rare to see a bureaucracy seeking so ardently to lessen its own power.) But it’s also toward the hope that CRISPR and other such GMOs will become certifiable as organic. (And also of exempting them from being subject to labeling if this ever were preemptively centralized under FDA control.)
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In the specific case of alfalfa, organic meat and dairy farmers are dependent upon a reliable supply of non-GM alfalfa for hay. If this supply became too unreliable or were completely eradicated, organic meat and dairy farming as we have it might become impossible. We already know that the USDA would like to force GMOs into the organic certification, and we already know that the USDA is aggressively pushing alfalfa GM contamination policy. It follows that a primary goal of the USDA, in addition to maximizing glyphosate use on alfalfa as such, is to disrupt permanently the supply of non-GM alfalfa in order to render the existing structure of organic meat and dairy impossible. At that point either consumers will have to submit to weakening the standards to allow GM feed for organic meat and dairy, or else we’ll have to give up organic meat and dairy completely. Since the “organic” brand is so important to so many, and since consumers have a history of pliability on such things, the most likely outcome is the submission and adaptation. Let’s recall how industrial agriculture flacks and government supporters used the occasion of the Steve Marsh lawsuit in Australia to argue for the weakening of Australian organic standards to allow more GM DNA presence. In a similar context, the general attitude toward the Syngenta/China flap wasn’t to criticize Syngenta’s lies or the commodity stream’s inefficiency and inflexibility, but rather to condemn the buyer for his preferences and call upon him to abandon those preferences. This is always the attitude of corporate fundamentalism. I haven’t yet seen such specific calls in the US as a result of the alfalfa contamination scandal, but if this call is not being made yet it soon will be.
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This outcome would further three primary components of USDA ideology, to serve the big corporation, to render agriculture more “hi-tech”, and to maximize poison deployment.
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Another basic measure of USDA ideology, intention, and desired goal is its fraudulent “coexistence” policy. The agency knows coexistence is impossible and is consciously lying. Its own Environmental Impact Statement on GM alfalfa (which the agency never wanted to perform in the first place but was forced upon it by a lawsuit) concedes the inevitability of full contamination and therefore the impossibility of coexistence. All the evidence before and since has confirmed the prognostication of the EIS. Also and to say again, the agency recommends that the law place the full legal and financial burden on the victim of transgenic trespass and vandalism. This is contrary to all common sense notions of law and is contrary even to most law as it still exists in the US. It’s a radical doctrine which clearly seeks to encourage and maximize the trespass and contamination and evinces a fundamental contempt for the target. It’s crystal clear that the USDA thinks non-GM alfalfa has no right to exist at all and that it should not exist. No one who didn’t think that way would ever have concocted such a policy, allowing the deployment of GM alfalfa, in the first place. In reality “coexistence” means incremental surrender of all non-GM agriculture to the total domination of GMOs, with the pace of erosion and surrender to be as fast as possible.
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Here again we see that the agency wants only to serve the big corporation, to render agriculture more fraudulently “hi-tech”, and to maximize poison deployment.
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As for Monsanto’s own attitude toward organic agriculture and food, it would probably like to see it cease to exist. But a gradual erosion of standards and expectations with an ever higher regulatory allowance for contamination and eventually formally allowing GMOs under the standard would also be a good outcome. But the existing organic system is odious to all agrochemical companies.

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August 1, 2015

The DARK Act and Going Forward, Labeling and Beyond

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A few more thoughts on labeling and the DARK Act.
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1. I oppose the DARK Act because it’s an intensified centralizing preemptionist legal assault on democracy and community rights. Not just state-level labeling but any kind of lower-level bans on pesticides and/or GMOs as well as initiatives supporting food sovereignty and community food would be outlawed. While in theory this could help hasten a motion toward the civil disobedience/extralegal mindset, in practice this isn’t happening much so far.

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2. As for the effect on labeling in itself, this isn’t as important since the labeling-as-panacea mindset is something we need to get beyond anyway. If anything, I think the idea of labeling as something martyred to corporate power is more useful than the thing itself could ever be.

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3. We already know from examples like that of Scott Faber and Just Label It that labeling advocacy is compatible with a basically pro-Monsanto position. Indeed, labeling advocates used to point to how in Europe Monsanto made a virtue of necessity and pretended to embrace labeling. Of course Monsanto didn’t mean it, but the point is that although Monsanto doesn’t want labeling, it can coexist with it if necessary. Now that kind of “coexistence” is further disproof of the notion that labeling can enable a peaceful coexistence between GMOs and any kind of healthful, democratic food and agriculture.

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The fact that labeling advocates have always touted how their proposed policy can coexist with Monsanto also puts in perspective any claim they ever had that Labeling = Anti-GMO.

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4. I’ve already written many times about why labeling is physically and politically insufficient. Also, non-GMO labeling deals with only one kind of agricultural poison, but lets through many others. The rise of a non-GMO testing and certification sector generates yet another group with a vested interest in the continuation of the GMO regime. Here I’ll make one more point about the politics of it. To whatever extent people are supposed to see labeling as sufficient, and therefore the fight for it as sufficient, it can only function to misdirect energy and passion and delay the abolitionist consciousness and movement. We can be sure that wherever labeling is actually enacted, the party line from both the mainstream system and from professionalized labeling advocates will be, “Now we have to give the labeling system time to work. For now go about your business and stop worrying about it.” This is meant to buy time for Monsanto, and we don’t have time, perhaps many years, to waste.

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5. On the other hand, many people fear and loathe GMOs and other agricultural poisons and want to get rid of them, and turn to labeling because that’s the only action they see being touted. They turn to it because they haven’t yet been able to see an alternative.

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6. So where we talk about labeling, and where we support and get involved with labeling campaigns, and where we oppose measures like the DARK Act on behalf of the idea of labeling, our goal has to be to encourage the latter mindset and oppose and discredit the former. The goal is to use the idea of labeling, and the example of its suppression by Monsanto’s system, to move the discussion and consciousness along the vector from “better consumerism” and “coexistence” to abolitionism.

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April 3, 2015

GMO News Report April 3rd, 2015

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*The EPA is unlikely to change its pro-poison course of action on account of the WHO’s recent admission of what everyone has long known, that Roundup/glyphosate causes cancer. But it is being forced to change its official policy by a far more implacable foe, the 32 species of Roundup resistant superweeds triumphally marching across the American heartland. According to Reuters the EPA will be formally requiring farmers to adhere to a stewardship program when they purchase Roundup. This theoretical stewardship will be similar to that the EPA is already imposing on the new Agent Orange corn and soy types being released in 2015.
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This EPA stewardship requirement is likely to be a scam of the same character as the agency’s “refuge” requirements for Bt-expressing crops. The refuges are set at too small a percentage and aren’t enforced, and are therefore widely flouted, even at those inadequate acreages. But the idea of the refuges lets the EPA pretend to have a policy in place to prevent the development of Bt-resistant superbugs, and when these superbugs inevitably evolve, it gives Monsanto and the government a convenient way to scapegoat the farmers for not honoring a policy which was never intended to be honored. Similarly, Monsanto and the corporate media scapegoat farmers for using “too much Roundup”, which is an absurd lie. Farmers have never used a drop more of Roundup than the amount urged upon them by Monsanto and the USDA.
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This ability to scapegoat farmers is one of the reasons superweeds and superbugs are allowed to be acknowledged in the media discourse instead of being directly lied about the way pesticide use (GMOs really increase it) or yields (GMOs yield less than non-GM) are.
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*Field trials are set to begin in Maharashtra state in India, where in 2014 the government broke earlier promises and issued No Objection Certificates (NOCs) for the open-air trials. Monsanto, its Indian partner Mahyco, BASF, and others plan to test types of GM corn, cotton, chickpeas, and rice.
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*Remember the Friedman Unit? Charles Margulis of the Centre for Environmental Health has put together a timeline documenting the similar golden rice unit. He rightly calls it an example of vaporware. I’ve long been calling golden rice a myth and boondoggle and a hoax.
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*Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has filed a petition with the USDA calling upon it to end its harassment of staff researchers who perform science which may or does lead to results contrary to corporate interests and lies. The PEER brief cites the effects of glyphosate and neonicotinoids as areas where honest research is especially subject to persecution. The USDA denies the charge and claims its existing complaint and review procedure is adequate, though the numbers it gives are self-refuting. According to Reuters, “An agency spokesman confirmed that from May 2013 through April 2014 eight complaints were filed. Five of those were deemed worthy of investigation and one was deemed to have merit, the agency spokesman said.”
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Given how hostile the USDA environment is for whistleblowers, and how thankless their task, this is one of those contexts where my default is to assume that someone who files a complaint is telling the truth. So the fact that only one complaint “was deemed to have merit” is strong evidence for PEER’s point, that the USDA’s existing system is a sham. Meanwhile the fact that only eight complaints were filed in the first place is eloquent testimony to a climate of fear and self-censorship, and of the overall self-conformity.
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*As the EU’s new “subsidiarity” policy on GMO approvals and opt-out bans goes into effect, pro-GMO activists continue with their bureaucratic shenanigans. That’s the basic purpose of the policy – to provide a propaganda fig leaf while EFSA approvals are “streamlined” and a legalistic catch-22 is set up against any long-term abolition policy. Meanwhile IFOAM has again denounced “co-existence” as a scam and called for EU member state bans on GM cultivation as the only rational policy. This is of course the truth. Note the huge difference from the US, where even county-level bans are widely considered to be “radical” even among GMO critics. Yes, we American abolitionists have a tough row to hoe.
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*A Monsanto cadre speaking to an audience mostly of agricultural students confessed that Monsanto maintains “an entire department” dedicated to lies and smearing the science which continually piles up against Monsanto’s products. Author Stephanie Hampton of the Benton County Community Rights Coalition calls it Monsanto’s “Discredit Bureau”.
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This incident again confirms that Monsanto continues its pattern of systematically lying about the many severe harms caused by its products. One of the most extreme examples of today’s depravity is the way so many people refuse to believe that corporations like Monsanto or Dow will always lie about the safety of their products, whenever they consider this necessary to hang onto “even one dollar of profit”, as a secret internal memo cried out in the course of Monsanto’s decades-long suppression of data about the hideously toxic effects of PCBs on human beings. Monsanto and its supporters today continue this infinitely vile crime against humanity.

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