Volatility

March 20, 2015

GMO News Report March 20th 2015

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*Good article on the current status of the land-grabbing onslaught, with special focus on Mozambique. As we knew all along, land-grabbing, like globalized corporate agriculture in general, has zero to do with food production and is about nothing but profit for the finance sector, Big Ag, and the corrupt governments of the target countries.
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*The most direct cause of the impending extinction of the monarch butterfly is the destruction of its larval food source, milkweed, by herbicides, in particular Roundup. A letter from 52 House members to Obama correctly points out that nothing short of “a sea-change in how the federal government address the use of herbicides, especially as applied to herbicide-resistant crops, vital monarch habitats will simply continue to disappear”. The letter implicitly wants to use monarch’s listing under the Endangered Species Act as the weapon to force a phase-out of herbicide-tolerant GMOs.
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I have my doubts about that. As I’ve written many times before, it’s one thing to muster a coalition to pressure the likes of the EPA or FDA to act against a specific industrial project or poison in an ad hoc way. It’s something different to expect the government to act against a whole genre which is not only tremendously profitable to a powerful corporate sector but which is critically important to the continued propagation of capitalism itself. Herbicide-tolerant GMOs are an example of these latter cases.
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If people want to try to use the ESA to fight for the monarch, that’s great as long as they’re conscious of the fact that no kind of ad hoc “habitat preservation” can work here. The problem is a systemic industrial practice. Thus the goal is not to preserve territory but to eradicate a practice. Meanwhile, the letter correctly points out that individuals planting milkweed, while a fine thing to do (I’ve done it too), is no systemic solution. To view that as sufficient would be an example of the same kind of delusion as that changing one’s light bulbs, in itself, is a meaningful action vs. climate change.
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*Here’s a good report on the Australia GM contamination case, now headed on appeal to the supreme court. It confirms the flippant attitude of the government toward the contamination that all rational observers, for example the insurance companies, considered inevitable. The pro-Monsanto judge who issued the initial decision against Marsh also implicitly acknowledged that “co-existence” is impossible and contamination is inevitable.
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*The Pakistani small and landless farmer union Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek is vowing to fight back against the country’s new draconian seed law. This law was unconstitutionally passed by the National Assembly even though in Pakistan agriculture is a state matter. (There’s a similar coup being attempted in India, where the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority bill would usurp constitutionally declared state agricultural power and override it with central government preemption.) The law will enshrine the patent and taxation rights of Monsanto and other global corporations and would force a licensing system upon all seed marketing. The farmers have fiercely resisted equivalent bills at the state level. This policy and a similar pending Plant Breeder Rights bill (which will intensify the intellectual property licence being enshrined by the seed law) will further impose upon farmers the industrial model which is already a proven failure in Pakistan, just as it is in India. The goal in both countries is the same, to liquidate small farmers, drive them off the land and into shantytowns, and concentrate the farmland into large industrial plantations controlled by the corporations.
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As always with seed privatization laws, this one has no provision for quality control or farmer recourse in the case of failed or fraudulent seeds.

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July 18, 2014

GMO News Summary July 18th 2014

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*A new analysis of 343 studies comparing crops grown organically to crops grown conventionally finds that the organic foods are greatly superior nutritionally. In particular they have much higher levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants.
 
This great difference in nutritional profile is probably on account of the differing ways the crops are grown. Crops grown with massive applications of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides are in effect coddled and have to do little work for themselves. So they put their energy into producing higher levels of sugars and starches. Their way of life makes them fat and bloated, and therefore they’re greatly inferior as food.
 
Organic crops, by contrast, have to make an honest living. They have to work to extract real nutrition from real soil and to defend themselves against pests and disease. Of course the knowledge and skills of organic farmers helps them. The result is that organically grown plants produce higher levels of phenols and polyphenols, including the antioxidants so important for preventing heart disease, stroke, and cancer in humans.
 
Of course these organic crops are also not laden with agricultural poisons the way conventional crops are. Organic crops are only 1/4 as likely as conventional to have any pesticide residues at all, and these residue levels are on the average 10-100 times lower. Presumably these very low residues are the result of the general contamination of the environment, for example from the pesticide drift which the USDA wants to make a vastly worse problem.
 
Conventional crops also contained twice the levels of the toxic heavy metal cadmium. 
 
This study, carried out by a team from Newcastle University, analyzed many more studies using many more parameters than that of the tendentious 2012 Stanford paper which whitewashed the poison problem and claimed that the nutritional superiority of organic crops had little meaning for health. This bogus study was the signal for a slew of high-profile corporate media pieces, in Time, the NYT, and elsewhere smearing the idea of organic food. We’ll see what the response is to this new, vastly superior study.
 
*New science establishes how neonicotinoid insecticides, already heavily implicated in the decimation of honeybee populations and other environmental and soil destruction, are decimating birds as well.
 
Industrial seeds, generally GMOs designed to generate crops suffused with insecticidal and herbicidal poisons, are also coated with many other poisons including neonics, which are increasingly necessary to make up for the failure of endemic Bt insecticide. Neonics also suffuse every cell of the crop. The ways this harms human and animal health are unknown and have never been tested.
 
Neonics, like all the rest of these poisons, are necessary elements of poison-based industrial agriculture, which is based upon agronomically unsound and destructive corn-on-corn and other deranged monoculture planting schedules. This is necessary to prop up agriculture as a commodity sector.
 
Meanwhile an agricultural system based on producing food through rational crop rotation and decentralized agroecology practices would be far more productive and healthy and require none of these destructive and expensive poisons and other extraneous inputs.
 
*Another example of the accelerating failure of GMOs in the field, this one from Brazil where resistant caterpillars are badly damaging Bt corn. The piece includes the usual admonition about how non-GM refuges within Bt plantings are supposed to work. But the fact is that even if such refuge policy were enforced (in Brazil it’s not even mandatory, just recommended; in the US it’s officially mandatory but indifferently enforced and widely flouted), the 5-10% refuge generally suggested is far too small to have any effect even in principle. Refuges would need to be 50% or more to conceivably work for long.
 
But the fact is that refuge policy was never intended to work, and was never anything but propaganda meant to reassure skeptical farmers and citizens that regulators had a rational plan. In fact the only rational plan which has ever existed was how to systematically lie on behalf of this worthless, anti-innovative, luddite product, GMOs. The Bt refuge scam is just one example, but look to literally anything else ever said on behalf of GMOs and you’ll see a similar scam. For example my concluding item.
 
*A similar example from Pakistan, where Bt cotton, including Monsanto’s brand-name Bollgard II and Roundup Ready Flex stacked varieties, is increasingly useless against resistant bollworms. Farmers are having to spray expensive pesticides in addition to paying for the expensive seed. This is the kind of financial destruction of small cotton farmers which has produced a massive suicide wave in India.
 
Bt levels are always chaotic and unpredictable even in the highest quality GM seed. (There’s one measure of what a low-quality product GMOs really are.) But the seed distributed in countries like Pakistan seems especially low quality, often producing little or no Bt toxin at all. This apparently includes not just various knockoffs but the Monsanto name brand.
 
We must always keep in mind that just as in other corporate sectors, with seeds as well the big corporations which control them seldom did any actual innovation or production work, but contract out all the work. The corporation only provides the brand name, does the lobbying, controls the patents, reaps all the profit, and exercises control of the entire process. The one thing it doesn’t do is any actual constructive work. So when we ponder GM seeds, especially in the global South, we should always keep in mind that these are often of much lower quality than even the crappy ones sold in the US. This is just one of the many ways GMOs are a scam and a hoax. Also relevant especially to places like India and Pakistan is how any GMO depends upon large-scale artificial irrigation (in itself a huge conveyance of corporate welfare for the Big Ag corporations) to have any chance of performing the way the advertising brochure claims. But most small farmers in these countries lack access to such irrigation. That too affects, for example, Bt cotton’s actual expression of the pesticide.

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May 16, 2014

GMO News Summary May 16th, 2014

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*The farming trial of Bt brinjal (eggplant) in Bangladesh has turned into a fiasco, with the twenty farmers who received the seedlings lamenting their participation in the government trial. The seeds haven’t yet been released for commercial sale, but instead the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), with much fanfare, provided selected farmers with the seedlings and gave them technical support throughout the trial. The crops are a joint project of Monsanto and BARI. (That means a “public private partnership” where the government does all the intellectual work, the taxpayers pay the costs, and the corporation pockets the profits.)
 
The result, by all accounts, has been dismal. The crops grew poorly and were attacked by pests. The government claims “only” secondary pests attacked, the farmers say the crop’s endemic Bt poison performed poorly even against the target fruit and shoot borers. Of course even such instantaneous attacks by secondary pests would constitute a significant speeding up of nature’s inexorable counterattack against GMOs. Usually where a Bt crop temporarily functions against the target insect, it takes a few years for secondary pests to fill the vacuum and ravage the crop. Either way, heckuva job BARI! It’s a new world record for GMO failure.
 
Unfortunately we can’t just laugh at this. That GMOs are a failure for farmers is par for the course. But a far more dire problem is that Southeast Asia is the world’s center of origin and diversity for eggplant. Over thousands of years the farmers of India, Bangladesh, and other countries have developed thousands of eggplant varieties superbly adapted to every regional vagary. But the scorched earth monoculture model of industrial GMOs threatens to contaminate, level, and eradicate this vast genetic diversity. The legal and economic structures of patented seed are designed to wipe out all non-patented seed. The goal of the GMO cartel is to eradicate natural brinjal biodiversity and replace it with a perilously narrow genetic range of patented varieties. When these inevitably fail, as this first release is already failing, the result will be the complete collapse of the crop.   
 
*The EFSA wants to nearly double the allowed daily human intake of glyphosate, a poison which is known to cause birth defects, reproductive failure, endocrine disruption, DNA damage, organ damage, and cancer. As always, regulator-approved exposure levels are based not on scientific evidence of safety, but simply on how much exposure industrial agriculture is forcing upon workers and eaters.
 
Also as always, what meager regulator appraisal there’s been has been only on the so-called “active ingredient” glyphosate, and not on the far more toxic commercial formulation Roundup which is used in real life. The adjuvants and surfactants, alleged “inert ingredients” in Roundup and other commercial poisons, by themselves or in synergy with the “active” ingredient are often far more toxic than the active ingredient itself.
 
*Mi Zhen-yu, a Chinese general and former coordinator of military science, has published an article in the government newspaper “Science and Technology Abstracts” criticizing China’s increasing dependency on poison-based agriculture and the health harms which are already manifesting, and the worse effects likely to come. (This newspaper is part of the Chinese equivalent of the corporate media. It’s telling that a government publication prints such a criticism of agricultural poisons.)
 
He singles out two factors: How China is increasingly shifting from its historical soy cuisine, based on using fermented soy as a condiment, to the use of cheap soybean oil directly in food, and to the Western pattern of using soybean oil in processed food; and the massive application of human-toxic glyphosate to the GMO soybeans China imports. Glyphosate is designed to suffuse the cells of the plant, and it becomes an inextricable, omnipresent part of the tissues of Roundup Ready crops. Studies demonstrate how RR soy contains very high endemic levels of glyphosate and its breakdown component AMPA, which are not found in soybeans which are grown organically or in non-GMO conventionally grown soy.
 
Zhen-yu also emphasizes the fact that since glyphosate is a potent mineral chelator, Roundup Ready crops are nutritionally denuded. The transgene enables them to survive the herbicide application, but they’re not unscathed. Symbolically of the effect industrial food has on people, an RR GMO survives but in a weakened, malnourished state. This chelation and subsequent malnutrition, along with glyphosate’s hindering of the EPSPS enzyme which is critical for nutritional assimilation, is how glyphosate kills plants. Roundup Ready GMOs merely have mechanisms which help them grimly endure the toxin.
 
The article surveys the scientific evidence on Roundup, tallies the declining health of Chinese in recent years concurrent with China’s switch from being a soybean exporter to importer, gives examples of typical government collusion with the poisoners, points out the systematic refusal of governments and corporations to perform ANY safety study on GMOs and their associated poisons, and adds Zhen-yu’s voice to the growing chorus of scientists, public health professionals, farmers, consumers, and citizens calling for real studies to be done on GMOs and their companion poisons like glyphosate.
 
Of course we already have sufficient scientific evidence to draw a conclusion about poison-based agriculture. The presence or absence of the political will to abolish it will in the end be a measure of political consciousness and moral courage. Science can only supplement this. Meanwhile hack scientism does all it can to help repress morality and ensure that the only politics of agriculture and food are the anti-politics of corporatism.
 
*The Chinese army has announced a ban on sourcing of GMO grains and oil, according to a city grain bureau website report.
 
In considering this and previous moves by Chinese government ministries (see here, for example), I assume that no one in the Chinese hierarchy really cares about the health or environmental hazards of GMOs, nor that they care about the socioeconomic effects on farmers. Rather, I assume that their main perspective, which is correct from their point of view, is that this is a power struggle with the US corporatist system. GMO propagation is a critical strategic weapon of Western corporatism. The Chinese, and probably the Russians, want to prevent their own agriculture from being subsumed in the Monsanto-dominated Western regime, while they figure out their own agricultural strategy for the era of oil’s decline. This may include trying to build their own rival GMO cartel.
 
Meanwhile in 2013 the Chinese agricultural ministry went against expectations and approved Monsanto’s Intacta stacked GM soybeans for import from Brazil. This followed a diplomatic dance where the Chinese were saying they wanted non-GM conventional soybeans, and Brazil’s industrial soy trade group was claiming it could fill that order.
 
While Brazilian production of conventional soybeans has been increasing for years, apparently the country would still struggle to produce enough to supply both Europe and China, and China felt it had no choice but to grudgingly approve Monsanto’s soybeans for importation. Unless this is part of a power struggle among different Chinese ministries. Monsanto has been assiduously lobbying in China, trying to find allies there.
 
*Pakistan’s Lahore High Court has ordered the government to stop approving GMO varieties and to impose a moratorium on growing of approved varieties until a rigorous regulatory review system is in place.
 
In particular, the order affects the recent decision of the National Biosafety Committee to approve for sale several dozen varieties of Bt maize and cotton.
 
The ruling was in a case brought by the farmer group Kisan Board Pakistan. The farmers are complaining mostly about the poor quality of the seeds the government has previously approved for sale, the extremely low germination rate the government allows, the often low levels of Bt expression which usually fail to kill the target pest and serve mostly to select quickly for resistance (such lemon Bt seeds have always been a major problem in India as well), and the fact that seed vendors and packaging often fail to inform the farmer that Bt seeds require far more water than conventional seeds and therefore won’t work in rainfed fields. massive consumer fraud on this point has played a big role in the Indian farmer suicide epidemic. The suit also established how the government is incompetent to assess or regulate the health and biodiversity implications of GMO cultivation.
 
We see how wherever the GMO peddlers can get away with it, they cast all product quality control to the wind. But then, this is congenital to the industrial seed sector. The very first American Seed Trade Association convention in the 1880s was dedicated to the question of how to prevent regulators from requiring seed sellers to warrant any kind of quality standards whatsoever. So it goes to this day…  
 
*Vermont has once again confirmed its reputation as a social pioneer by becoming the first state to pass a real law (without “triggers” which essentially render the thing little more than a propaganda exercise, as in Connecticut and Maine) which will mandate labels on products which may contain GMOs, starting in 2016.
 
It’s part of Vermont’s honor to thus become the first state threatened with a lawsuit by the liars, louts, and thugs at Monsanto’s political combat wing, the Grocery Manufacturers Association. It’s a testament to how the pro-GMO thugs have zero right or even argument on their side that their entire position is based on legal technicalities (that state-level labeling allegedly usurps the prerogatives of the federal government; of course this is false both in terms of human sovereignty and in terms of the constitution as well), along with the standard rhetoric that the people are too stupid for democracy – labels will “confuse” the childish consumer. In truth consumers have a vastly better record than any cadre in how they’ve viewed GMOs – with a rational, prudent “show me” attitude, rather than the fundamentalist dogmas of supporters and the conformists and cowards among the “professional classes”.
 
The law includes setting up a fund to fight the expected lawsuits. The fund can receive public donations. of course in a better, more just world, agribiz and corporate contract growers would be taxed to pay for this self-defense measure on the part of the people.
 
(The GMA is also pushing for a federal preemption law, the DARK Act, which would try to quash the state-level democratic movement.)
 
This is a good step, but it’s still too modest. If the policy is enacted as planned, all it’s going to require is an unobtrusive line below the ingredients list saying something like “This product may contain genetically modified organisms”. It’s not going to have “GMO!” emblazoned across the front of the package in big neon letters. It’s possible the main effect will be to lull the worries of many of the people who became interested in the problem, just as may be the main effect of the toothless Connecticut and Maine laws.
 
If this is going to have any effect, then the work of the labeling movement has only begun. Once the packages have the obscure labels on them, the job of the movement will be to catalog these and publicize the list in a more
 
*The people of Jackson and Josephine counties in Oregon will vote on 5/20 to start regaining control of their farms, communities, and ecosystems when they vote on initiatives to ban GMO cultivation and impose other restrictions on poison use. In Benton County the campaign is underway to gather signatures for the November vote on their own Local Food System initiative.
 
*Wonder what the community rights movement is all about? Read this excellent FAQ.

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