In The Way Of Progress

Girl prepares to blow us a kiss at Cai Be farmers’ market in the Mekong Delta

My dander became elevated on reading an article by Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail entitled “Frankenfoods” have moved on. When will opponents?  

In this article Mr. Saunders argues that genetically modified crops, GM crops for short, are what the world needs to feed itself. He mentions that recently the left-wing Guardian newspaper has written no less than three articles in support of GM technology and implies that those opposed to GM are dwindling in numbers and misguided or otherwise addle-brained, often right-wing, “fundamentalists”:

Opposition to biotech has been left to revanchist agrarian conservatives such as Prince Charles, a handful of fundamentalist green groups and people who believe what they read in the tabloids.

Mr. Saunders defends GM as the new way of doing things driven by altruism, not profit:

But today, the frontier of biotechnology is in the sphere of international development and public interest. The research lab facing protests last Sunday was Rothamsted, a non-profit, entirely government-funded, public-sector institute. What its scientists have created there is a strain of wheat that repels aphids, potentially ending the deadly developing-world problem of entire crops being destroyed by aphid infestation. It is one of hundreds of “pro-poor” GM initiatives designed to create a new range of crops that will allow Asian and African countries to eclipse the West in food production. That’s vitally important because the world has faced food shortages since 2008, for the first time in three decades.

This is, in my opinion, a naive argument. It considers the huge Big Agriculture corporation, Monsanto, as an irrelevant and outdated sideshow despite Monsanto’s still huge influence on the worldwide food industry.

More problematic, it considers Canadian farmers also to be irrelevant and indigenous farmers in Africa, Mexico or other poor places to be in the way of the newly-cleansed biotech Green Revolution.

The new GM philosophy is that we have been victims of nature for too long. It is time for our species to dominate nature and mold it to our purposes. What mis-guided, even if possibly well-meaning, HUBRIS!

Small farmers are an impediment to this approach. Even if new aphid-repelling wheat turns out not to be collaterally injurious to other insect species as Monsanto’s Bt corn was, the monoculture technology that GM technology tends to empower is antithetical to every good thing about indigenous farming. Indigenous farms feed indigenous farmers and their communities. Medicinal crops are planted among a variety of staple food crops. The land on which they grow remains rich. It continues to be full of nutrients and tiny microorganisms that support the growth of completely wholesome, nutritious food plants. Pollinating insects thrive. It is dignified hard, hand-using, human work, not without its troubles and failures, but work that is in better balance with nature and satisfying for those who do it.

So, even in the first world’s dreamy, non-profit system the corporate monoculture approach that will dominate despite the best intentions of  scientists will continue to destroy small farmers because it is capital-dependent. The situation is, in fact, much worse. Big Agriculture buys or, through the corrupt people who have capital,  steals land from small farmers. The bigger farm system requires government management that often ruins the farmers further by its incompetence and corruption.  Food is bought from farmers at low prices and stored until higher prices occur or spoilage ruins the stored grain. The profits usually go to monied middlemen. Driving indigenous farmers off their land in order to “feed the world” is an end that does not justify its means, even if that end were not as highly unpredictable as it has, up until now,  been. Economists don’t understand how to succeed by getting their hands dirty. They shouldn’t determine how food must be grown.

Devlin Kuyek, author of The Great Food Robbery, presents several other problems with Big Agriculture in an interview with the Pambazuka News. Please read it for an introduction to the bigger, even uglier, picture.

Big Agriculture drives small farmers into insignificance, poverty, and suicide. Suicides among Indian farmers have annually been in the several thousands for decades.

How can anyone look at today’s world and not see that a sustainable natural world is the victim of our technology? Nature is obviously OUR victim. Of course, in the end, we will be victims of a ruined planet, our Gaia, that might well be  (appropriately?) indifferent to our coming predicament.

In the end we will be victims of ourselves. Unfortunately, there will be a lot of other highly evolved losers.

We in the first world cannot understand the dignity and the critical environmental balance of the sweaty, back-bending poor farmer. Biblically, we look at his/her predicament as Adam’s curse. We want to give them nice clean buttons to push. We have grown up separate from the natural world and look down upon work such as this. The best among us want to free everyone from such “primitive” toil, forgetting that it is sustainable and in harmony with its ecosystem.

Our lifestyle, clearly, is not.


Author: mytiturk

Travelbug Minstrel: Strum for my supper, croon for my cuppa Search for a sign, write for my whine

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