Just another example of how industrial ag’s endless cycle of pairing new herbicides with new GMO strains leads not to a stable, safe ag system, but to poisonous unintended consequences:
Farmers are locked in an arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weed killers.
The dicamba system, approved for use for the first time this spring, was supposed to break the cycle and guarantee weed control in soybeans and cotton. The herbicide — used in combination with a genetically modified dicamba-resistant soybean — promises better control of unwanted plants such as pigweed, which has become resistant to common weed killers.
The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster. Critics say that the herbicide was approved by federal officials without enough data, particularly on the critical question of whether it could drift off target.
This is a perfect representation of a badly broken system, where profits, regulatory capture and the false lure of better farming through technology are devastating farmlands and the environments around them. Organic ag (or “regenerative ag” to be more cutting-edge) isn’t perfect. But it is definitely a superior model, which is why paying a bit more is worth the cost (eat a bit less, which is also good, to compensate).
The more your read about it, the more objectionable it becomes:
Monsanto and the US farm biotech industry wield legendary power. A revolving door allows corporate chiefs to switch to top posts in the Foodand Drug Administration and other agencies; US embassies around the world push GM technology onto dissenting countries; government subsidies back corporate research; federal regulators do largely as the industry wants; the companies pay millions of dollars a year to lobby politicians; conservative thinktanks combat any political opposition; thecourts enforce corporate patents on seeds; and the consumer is denied labels or information.
But even people used to the closeness of the US administration and food giants like Monsanto have been shocked by the latest demonstration of the GM industry’s political muscle. Little-noticed in Europe or outside the US, President Barack Obama last week signed off what has become widely known as “the Monsanto Protection Act”, technically the Farmer Assurance Provision rider in HR 933: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act 2013
The key phrases are a mouthful of legal mumbo jumbo but are widely thought to have been added to the bill by the Missouri republican senator Roy Blunt who is Monsanto’s chief recipient of political funds.
But at least it’s not going down without a fight:
According to an array of food and consumer groups, organic farmers, civil liberty and trade unions and others, this hijacks the constitution, sets a legal precedent and puts Monsanto and other biotech companies above the federal courts. It means, they say, that not even the US government can now stop the sale, planting, harvest or distribution of any GM seed, even if it is linked to illness or environmental problems.
The backlash has been furious. Senator Barbara Mikulski, chair of the powerful Senate appropriations committee which was ultimately responsible for the bill, has apologised. A Food Democracy Now petition has attracted 250,000 names and sections of the liberal press and blogosphere are outraged. “This provision is simply an industry ploy to continue to sell genetically engineered seeds even when a court of law has found they were approved by US department of agriculture illegally,”says one petition. “It is unnecessary and an unprecedented attack on US judicial review. Congress should not be meddling with the judicial review process based solely on the special interest of a handful of companies.”
Some day (hopefully), this sort of over-reach and the near-complete subjugation of Congress to corporate interests and money will outrage enough Americans that real change will be possible.
I guess today must be corporate (un)democracy day. Since I’ve already hit up the livestock industry, and its seeming power to keep the details of its highly questionable use of antibiotics to itself, why not hop on over to the lobbying of the GMO industry, courtesy of Mark Bittman:
Genetic engineering in agriculture has disappointed many people who once had hopes for it. Excluding, of course, those who’ve made money from it, appropriately represented in the public’s mind by Monsanto. That corporation, or at least its friends, recently managed to have an outrageous rider slipped into the 587-page funding bill Congress sent to President Obama.
The rider essentially prohibits the Department of Agriculture from stopping production of any genetically engineered crop once it’s in the ground, even if there is evidence that it is harmful.
That’s a pre-emptive Congressional override of the judicial system, since it is the courts that are most likely to ask the U.S.D.A. to halt planting or harvest of a particular crop. President Obama signed the bill last week (he kind of had to, to prevent a government shutdown) without mentioning the offensive rider  (he might have), despite the gathering of more than 250,000 signatures protesting the rider by the organization Food Democracy Now!
Bittman goes on to explain how crop seeds that are modified to tolerate weed killers like Roundup (so more Roundup can be used), in the long term lead to the development of weeds that are also resistant to Roundup. It’s sort of like the way in which the use of antibiotics in livestock leads to bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and another great example of how short term thinking tends to overwhelm consideration of the long term.
Presumably that will inspire Monsanto to develop additional GMOs, to try and stay ahead of the weeds, which will then catch up again, prompting Monsanto to…. Well, you can see how this goes.
Today the Tumblr site produced:
—Sh*t GMO Companies Say. Who knew food engineering could be funny (and scary)?
—a beautiful photo of a Galapagos seal contemplating a Galapagos crab.
–And a look at Nat Geo’s detailed and sobering investigation into the connection between religion and the slaughter of Africa’s elephants.
See you tomorrow, and don’t forget to check out the Tim Zimmermann, Writer Facebook page.