Dr. Rima introduces an interesting Bloomberg article and discusses some of the latest Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) developments in this Health Freedom USA Blog entry. Dr. Rima and Gen. Bert are traveling for the next several weeks, meeting with various food NGO and agency representatives in countries that want to protect their citizens, under the Precautionary Principle, from untested and unlabeled GMO products. This International Decade of Nutrition investigative tour will culminate at the Codex nutrition committee meeting in Canada, at the beginning of May.
Interesting Bloomberg article yesterday entitled, Big Bucks at Stake. What is remarkable is what Bloomberg recommends in the article… But first some background. The United States FDA approves GMO foods and feeds without any safety testing of significance. Early on in the process of releasing GMOs, the company which owns the patented gene provides the FDA with whatever edited data it chooses to show that the organism in is “safe”, no matter how weak, contrived or meaningless that data is.
No further safety testing is carried out by the FDA, nor are further safety data reviewed, IF they exist.
But, in the largest involuntary human experiment ever conducted, with zero informed consent possible, the world’s food, as it comes through the US food system, its seed system and its feed system, is contaminated with unlabeled, un-traceable GMOs. Any long term (or, for that matter, short term) effects will never be known because who is eating what GMO gene, promoter virus or bacterial marker sequence is totally unknowable. This is the effect of FDA refusing to require “truthful and not misleading” GMO labeling. In deed, the agency, in a true display of the arrogance of power, believes it has authority to censor even “GMO Free” labels!
At the forthcoming Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Labeling (May 3-7, Quebec City, Canada), the US will, once again, use it might, military and economic power, to try to prevent GMO labeling anywhere in the world.
The article below neatly sums up many of the dangers we are facing if we allow GMO crops and animals, foods and feeds, to exist in our world. Because their DNA is unstable and contagious, there is, in fact, no long-term co-existence possible between non genetically modified plants, animals, insects and, indeed, people, and the modified ones. Does any company have the right to modify the genetic make up of the planet for profit and control? The Biotech industry, of which Monsanto is a particularly horrifying example (but whose horrors are shared by Bayer Crop Sciences, Syngenta, Pioneer, DuPont, Pfizer and a host of others) believe that they have bought that right by patenting genes. The science upon which these patents rest is totally inaccurate and invalid. None the less, the practice will continue unless, and until, nations and individuals take the science seriously and ban or boycott anything which contains GMO or has been fed GMO, is made with, by or trough GMO technology or profits the companies which own these patents.
But to voluntarily boycott these “Franken Foods” we need to know what products contain GMOs and what products are GMO Free. We pledge to do our due diligence best effort to recommend only GMO free products to help support the work of the Foundation.
There is little time left for those of us who believe that genes cannot be patented (since they are not “new and useful” inventions, but rather simply recombinations of existing DNA data, available in nature and free for anyone to discover) and that the biosphere itself must not be contaminated.
Through Big BioTech’s enormous marketing propaganda campaigns, which include providing large funding (through fees and grants) to industry, government and university scientists alike, tainting them all with unresolved conflicts of interest, it is very difficult to find unbiased information and Codex Alimentarius, of course, contributes to this condition by continually permitting ever-growing encroachments by industrial toxins and the like into the food chain.
Click this the link below to join global voices for a total ban on all Genetically Modified Organisms. Please take this action once for each member of your family and pass it along to every person you know, urging them to do the same.
And please remember that the Natural Solutions Foundation depends on your tax deductible donations to continue our vital work for Health Freedom. Click below to set up a recurring tax deductible donation: Once your health freedom is gone, there will be no way to buy it back. Now is the time to share resources to keep health freedom free.
There is a great deal that you, as an individual, can do about this direct threat to your health and future, and the future of your children. The first thing you can do is voice your rejection of contaminated foods and corrupt policies which permit and promote them.
If you are not already a member (or if you’ve not been receiving a regular weekly email from us, suggesting that your email provider may be blocking us) please join our Natural Solutions Foundation’s Health Freedom Action eAlert.
The second action you can take is with your wallet: Make sure that you do not support GMO goods or companies that make it.
The third action, equally as critical as the previous two, is to disseminate this information. Contact Kathy Greene, our Volunteer Coordinator, at Kathy.Greene@usa.net and ask her for an Organizer’s Handbook, filed with helpful information about getting the word out to people who need to hear it.
Thanks for your activism. No one on the planet deserves to have their world contaminated and degraded for greed, by a hand full of ruthless death merchants.
———————————————— Big Bucks at Stake
April 24, 2010 Bloomberg reports:
“At stake are the costs to farmers who produce $80.3 billion a year in corn and soybeans, used in products ranging from Coca-Cola to cattle feed to ethanol. “Monsanto has become such a dominant player in the seed business that producers have real concerns that the price they pay for seed is going to be anywhere near reasonable,” said John Crabtree, a spokesman for the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska, a nonprofit group that provides services to farm communities. “The fear is that the sky’s the limit.”
These fears are not unfounded when you consider that prices on everything from the seed to the obligatory fertilizers and pesticides that are required to make the GM seeds “grow properly” have skyrocketed.
According to a report by Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the Organic Center in Boulder, Colorado, the influx of genetically modified seed has steadily ratchet prices upward. Seed used to be fairly inexpensive, in large part due to the practice of planting seed collected and saved from the previous year. With GE seeds, this ancient farming practice is no longer employed and farmers must buy new seed each year.
The 2009 Organic Center report, titled The Magnitude and Impacts of the Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premium, states that farmers who purchase Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 soybeans in 2010 will pay 42 percent more per bag than they paid just last year.
This is in stark contrast to the overall rise in soybean seed prices over the last 25 years, which was 63 percent. Between the years of 1975 and 1997, soybean farmers spent four to eight percent of their farm income on seeds. Last year, those who planted GE soybeans spent 16.4 percent of their income on seeds.
The story is the same for GM corn growers, who will pay just over twice the amount for the latest eight-trait “SmartStax” corn seed, compared to those planting conventional seeds. And GE cotton seed now cost nearly 6 times more than conventional. The report shows that the GE seed price premiums FAR exceed the organic seed price premium, across the board, for various crops. This should be an eye opener for anyone who still believes genetically engineered crops are the way to inexpensively feed the world… [Emphasis added – REL]
The only one who is truly benefiting, it seems, is Monsanto, who ended their fiscal year in 2009 with revenue of $11.7 billion. Over $7 billion of that came from sales and licensing of seeds and seed genes. [Emphasis added – REL]
So, is growing GM crops REALLY in the best financial interest of most farmers? Or are they simply being hoodwinked by fancy marketing that promises increased yield and reduced pestilence? Benbrook asks the same question, and has called for further studies to evaluate whether or not GM crop yields warrant the disproportionate difference in price. If previous studies are any indication, I believe the answer is no.
GM Crops Yield Unimpressive Results
In reality, GM crops create previously unimaginable profits for sub-par performance when compared to conventional or organic crops. And when you review the potential danger these crops pose to human and environmental health, the list is so disturbing you could easily say we’re all paying for poison when we buy GM food products. [Emphasis added – REL]
After 30 years of GMO experimentation, the data to shows [All emphasis added below – REL]:
* No increase in yields; on the contrary GM soya has decreased yields by up to 20 percent compared with non-GM soya. Up to 100 percent failures of Bt cotton have been recorded in India. And studies >by scientists from the USDA and the University of Georgia in 2008 found that growing GM cotton in the U.S. can result in a drop in income by up to 40 percent.
* No reduction in pesticides use; on the contrary, USDA data shows that GM crops have increased pesticide use by 50 million pounds from 1996 to 2003 in the U.S., and the use of glyphosate [Most frequently marketed as Monsanto’s dangerous herbicide, Roundup (c) – REL] went up more than 15-fold between 1994 and 2005, along with increases in other herbicides to cope with rising glyphosate resistant superweeds.
* Roundup (C) herbicide is lethal to frogs and toxic to human placental and embryonic cells. Roundup is used in more than 80 percent of all GM crops planted in the world.
* GM crops harm wildlife, as revealed by UK and U.S. studies
* Bt resistant pests and Roundup tolerant superweeds render the two major GM crop traits useless. The evolution of Bt resistant boll-worms worldwide have been confirmed and documented.
* Vast areas of forests, pampas and cerrados have been lost to GM soya in Latin America.
* Epidemic of suicides in the cotton belt of India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, more than 182,900 Indian farmers took their own lives between 1997 and 2007 as a result of failed GM crops. It estimates 46 Indian farmers commit suicide every day. * Transgene contamination is completely unavoidable, as science has recently revealed that the genome (whether plant, animal or human) is NOT constant and static, which is the scientific base for genetic engineering of plants and animals. Instead, geneticists have discovered that the genome is remarkably dynamic and changeable, and constantly ‘conversing’ and adapting to the environment. This interaction determines which genes are turned on, when, where, by what and how much, and for how long. They’ve also found that the genetic material itself has the ability to be changed according to experience, passing it on to subsequent generations.
* GM food and feed linked to deaths and sicknesses both in the fields in India and in lab tests around the world.
How Can YOU Stop Monsanto from Ruling, and Ruining, the Food Supply?
Allowing Monsanto to monopolize the market could have lethal consequences for all of us. Because not only is Monsanto doing what it can to eliminate competition from other agricultural biotech products, their end game is to do away with conventional seeds, period. As I’ve discussed in many previous articles, this is a threat to human civilization and would spell disaster for the entire planet. Fortunately, you don’t have to be directly involved in the legal or political end of the battle.
You, as an ordinary citizen, still have the power to make perhaps an even GREATER difference in how business will pan out for Monsanto – by steering the market demand toward non-GMO crops and foods. Every time you choose to buy a non-GMO product over a product that contains GM ingredients, you are making a dent in the empire that is Monsanto.
While you’re waiting for the leaders of the world to catch up, take advantage of local sources of organic foods as often as you can. You can also avoid GM foods by:
* Reducing or Eliminating Processed Foods. Some 75 percent of processed foods contain GM ingredients. Use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, available for free at www.NonGMOShoppingGuide.com.
* Read produce and food labels. When looking at a product label, if any ingredients such as corn flour and meal, dextrin, starch, soy sauce, margarine, and tofu (to name a few) are listed, there’s a good chance it has come from GM corn or soy,unless it bears the USDA organic seal.
* Buy organic produce. Buying organic is currently the best way to ensure that your food has not been genetically modified.
What Do the FrankenFood/FrankenCrop/FrankenAnimal Defenders Have to Say for Themselves?
The Natural Solutions Foundation, the leading Global Health Freedom organization, is proud to present this information to you. We protect your right to know about – and to use – natural ways to maintain and regain your health, no matter where in the world you live. Among your freedoms is the right to clean, unadulterated food free of genetic manipulation, pesticides, heavy metals or other contaminants and access to herbs, supplements, frequency devices and other means as therapies that may benefit or to protect your well-being without drugs and other dangerous interventions, if you choose.
For more information on our global programs, including the International Decade of Nutrition, and our US based ones, please visit us at www.HealthFreedomUSA.org and www.GlobalHealthFreedom.org and join the free email list for the Health Freedom eAlerts to keep you in the loop, informed and active defending your right to make your own decisions about your health and wellbeing!
Our activities are supported 100% by your tax deductible donations. Please give generously (http://drrimatruthreports.com/index.php?page_id=189) to the Natural Solutions Foundation. Thank you for your support.
Feel free to disseminate this information as widely as possible with full attribution.
Yours in health and freedom,
Reason Magazine may be a voice of libertarian politics and economics, but, at least on the issue of Genetically Modified Crops, it has made a serious mistake. Kerry Howley, a Senior Editor at Reason, http://www.reason.com/news/show/125722.html, has somehow forgotten a critical element when writing an ringing apologia full of industry propaganda for the apotheosis, the pinnacle in the triumph of free market over sense or, indeed, reason (and perhaps survival) itself. What he has forgotten is science. Fact, the handmaiden of science, lies trampled in the dust as well. And so does health, yours, mine and the planet’s.
In fact, although unbridled free market economics is the central chord of the libertarian song, the chorus is “As long as your freedom does not hurt me”. And therein lies the rub: Genetically Modified ANYTHING hurts me, and you, and every sufferer of Morgellon’s Disease and every biological function of the earth. But, at least until recently, it certainly has been good business!
But since when is damaging the biosphere not hurting me?
Since when is modifying bacteria which take up residence in our soil and in my gut with potentially lethal long and short term consequences, not harming me?
Since when is creating corn which ensures permanent male sterility and mixing it, unlabeled, into my food, not harming me?
Since when is altering crops to produce so much of a natural pesticide that farmers and their families die from the allergic reaction they experience to breathing the crop’s pollen not harming me?
Since when is introducing “food” into my body, without my consent, which increases allergic reactions, including deadly ones, by 50% not harming me?
Since when is modifying fish so that they are larger, more aggressive and breed earlier in their life cycle so that they will replace native, unmodified fish in the wild, leaving me no choice to eat non GM FrankenFish (because they have been made extinct) not harming me?
Since when is inserting unstable genes into my food which then, undigested by a gut not prepared by long acquaintance to digest them, wander around my body and insert themselves in unpredictable locations in my genes and those of a baby I am carrying if I am pregnant not harming me?
Since when is creating materials which infect and infest me with pseudo life forms bringing a new plague upon the earth, the horrifying and disfiguring Morgellon’s Disease, not harming me?
Since when is creating foods whose wandering genes turn on, or off, my own genes in a totally unpredictable way leading to disruption of the orderly process of genetic control in my body not harming me?
Since when is introducing genetic material which, in the random context of where it happens to land this time in this or that cell, produces proteins never before made inside of any living body (or, perhaps, outside of one, either) without my explicit permission not harming me?
Since when is lowering fetal survival rates though the food the pregnant woman eats during pregnancy, or ate during her own child hood, perhaps, not harming me?
Since when is introducing food into my children’s diet which, in laboratory studies, has been shown to cause damage to the gut, the kidneys, the immune system and the survivability of the young not harming me?
Since when is creating super weeds through genetic drift not harming me?
Since when is creating bugs which, in response to super pesticide production in genetically modified crops, have become resistant to pesticides and capable of new crop devastation without available control not harming me?
Since when is invading farms where non GM crops are growing and destroying their millennia-old genetic material (which I have the enzymatic capacity to digest) not harming me?
Since when is providing food which contains enzymes which confer tolerance for deadly pesticides to a genetically modified plant, but which, in my gut, may transform to produce the same deadly pesticide (a known cause of cancer, infertility and other highly dangerous conditions) they were altered to tolerate not harming me?
Who asked my permission to introduce these things into my body and my world. I would remind Mr. Howley that it is, indeed my world, as well as the world of his commerical free market buddies.
I do not recall signing an informed consent to be a trial subject for the greatest (and possibly most deadly) experiment in human history. Interestingly, I also do not recall signing a contract to allow the degradation and dangerous contamination of 75-80% of every bit of food that I eat with Genetically Modified ingredients. Do you recall signing those documents? So the libertarian chorus, “As long as it does not harm me” seems a little flat in this particular song. Dead flat.
When then-President George H. W. Bush declared that GMOs were equivalent to non GM food and determined public policy, do you recall any safety testing used to guide that decision? Neither do I. When the FDA permits GM foods on the market – that means in your body and mine – without ANY safety testing or a review of the internal safety assessment of the companies that have patented these foods, do they ask us to concur with their decision to allow GMOs in our food which are either under moratorium or banned in a large part of the world, developed or not? But here, in what is alleged to be the most developed nation in the world (with little to back that up in the health and food safety areas!), we are subjected to “foods” and crops and animals which are simultaneously declared to be exactly the same as unmodified foods yet sufficiently unique to patent. And those products of innovation and free market success are, according to the FDA’s website, to be judged in their safety and product liability through the sorting out process of the Court system.
Of course, without traceability there can be no liability. Without labeling there can be no traceability. Thanks for nothing.
So where is the free market, libertarian ethic here? What it comes down to in Mr. Howley’s underlying, structural view is that if you can get away with selling it, not only must that be a good thing to do (“free market”), but hey, “caveat emptor”, let the buyer beware – if they can get away with selling the stuff, they sell it, so it must be good. Of course, the ever-industry-friendly FDA and USDA tie the buyer’s hands and blindfold their eyes by making sure that the consumer has no knowledge whatsoever of what foods do and do not contain GM ingredients. They actually specifically prohibit such labeling because they know full well that consumers will shun the contaminated, altered and potentially very dangerous products which their industry friends have created if they know what they are eating or buying.
Full Free Market Speed ahead and Damn the Facts
GM food crops which have been modified for pesticide tolerance lead to more, not less, pesticide use. Since they are proffered by the maker of the very pesticide they tolerate so well, farmers are encouraged to use more and the free market gets another boost while the food supply, both the consumer’s and the farmer’s health and the environment all take substantial hits.
I attended a meeting in Africa at which Sylvia Matsebo, then Minister of Health of Zambia, was present and we had a chance to talk. I do not know when I have met a more clear sighted and dedicated woman in public life, unless it was the Minister of Health of Kenya, also present at that meeting. When President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia rejected GM food for his people, as referenced by the article below, I cannot but believe that Ms. Matsebo was at the head of his advisers, telling him what was good for his people, not for his pockets. Would that our advisers and our leaders had the courage and wisdom on this issue of President Mwanawasa!
In 2004, author Robert Paarlberg noted, “Roughly 90 percent of the cotton and soybeans produced in the US are genetically modified. Fifty or 70 percent of the corn is genetically modified. If you look at the products on a retail store shelf, probably 70 percent of them contain some ingredients from genetically modified crops. Mostly corn or soybeans.” Today the situation is worse with more products and more percentages of crops grown in the US and elsewhere modified to the point that the supply of GM ingredients to manufacture organic foods is not in jeopardy. For Natural Solutions Foundation concerns, see above.
Reason rests its comfort level with this technology on the assertion that Mr. Paarlberg makes that there are no studies showing the danger of GM foods. That is as patently false as the statement made to me, personally, in a meeting on June 9, 2005, by Dr. Edward Scarborough, the US Codex Contact Point, that there is simply no literature showing the impact of nutrients on health. I sent him, in response, a bibliography containing references to 10s of thousands of peer reviewed articles and books showing the impact of nutrients on health, a good part of them sponsored by grants, or conducted directly by, the US Government. He never responded, of course. My letter, and that bibliography, were published through our website, www.HealthFreedomUSA.org and the bibliography was referenced in our Citizens Petition to the FDA to compel them to cease their illegal “HARMonization” of US dietary supplements to Codex standards. You can join this legal challenge to US Supplement Codex policy here (http://drrimatruthreports.com/index.php?page_id=184).
Mr. Paarlberg exudes joy over the fact that plants modified to make their own pesticides do so at levels up to 10,000 time the amount made by the organism that manufactures it in nature. It is quite effective at the lower level in nature but at these enormous concentrations not only do insects, both crop pests and beneficial ones, die, but the impact on our bodies when we eat the food from the crops – or wear the clothing made from these fibers – modified in this way, is completely unknown. What is know is that the pollen can cause pneumonia and kill people exposed to it as happened in the Phillipines during cotton pollination time.
What is also missing from this enthusiastic recounting of the wonders of this technology is the 22,000 farmers who have killed themselves in the State of Gujerat (India) in their final grim protest against what this crop has done to them – driven them off the land because they cannot afford to pay the intellectual property tax added to the cost of the seed after they were given the seed free for the first year, destroyed their cultures and devastated their families. Somehow that does not count in the economium of free market thinking.
Happily publishing Mr. Paalberg’s unsubstantiated (and inaccurate) assessment that there is no damage to the environment, in the face of well-documented information to the contrary, and blithly accepting the premise that “gene flow”, aka “contamination” is no different from natural crop cross pollination (which does not require the payment of taxes to the “owner” of the natural gene), and the prohibitions against saving seed because of intellectual property rights which accrue to the owner of the patented genes), Reason has lost its reason.
On the issue of organic farming, things get even weirder. Instead of using vermicluture (adding worms to soil) and returning nutrients and soil organisms (or adding them for the first time) through natural means such as composting (every village produces waste: using it properly returns nutrients to the soil – see the Songhai videos here (http://www.youtube.com/naturalsolutions) – the answer of this industrial agriculturalist and Reason seems to be using synthetic fertilizers which deplete the soil more and more with each growing cycle, leading to green, but non nutritive plants. Both Mr. Howley and Mr. Paarlberg seem to have forgotten, or have never known, that organic agriculture replenishes and enriches the soil as a basic technique of food production, rather than wresting contaminated and demineralized plants from an increasingly devitalized soil. Their intentions may be good, but their information, and hence their conclusions, make no biological sense whatsoever. True, they make free market sense. That’s the problem, as I see it.
However, despite his frustration with the lack of penetration of GMOs in Africa, Mr. Paalberg genially recounts that he sees hope on the horizon “Just last week in Nairobi the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced that they would be going forward with the [GMO] drought-tolerant maize project.” Mr. Paalberg may find hope in that. I find it depressing and frightening in light of the aptly named “Doomsday Vault” in which native seeds are being stored by the hundreds of millions in the frozen wastes of Norway above the arctic circle in the bowels of a hollowed-out mountain. The Doomsday Vault was sponsored, in part, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the same people who brought nearly universal vaccination to the children of Africa.
If you are a believer in the wonders of vaccination, that is a generous and humanitarian project. If you are familiar, however, with the literature, not just the propaganda, on vaccination and the impact it has on human populations (autism, cancer, immune collapse, heavy metal poisoning, auto immune disease, etc.), then this “generosity” becomes a cause for concern. The concern is, in my mind, equal to the concern on learning that Mr. and Mrs. Gates have chosen yet another way to forward the biological nightmare of genetically modified foods in yet another vulnerable population.
The Natural Solutions Foundation will attend the 2008 Codex Committee on Food Labeling (April, Ottawa) where the African nations will deal, once again, with the US attempt to push unlabeled GM foods on them through both product and seeds. We will be actively engaged in supporting their leadership to prevent this effort from succeeding. In February, at a meeting on this issue in Accra, the African nations created a de facto coalition which elicited the support of Norway, Russia, Japan, the EU and Switzerland. They, unlike the free market folks, understand that governments have a role to play in protecting the health of their people from corporate desires to expand markets.
How fear of life-saving technology swept through Africa
Kerry Howley | March 28, 2008
In May 2002, in the midst of a severe food shortage in sub-Saharan Africa, the government of Zimbabwe turned away 10,000 tons of corn from the World Food Program (WFP). The WFP then diverted the food to other countries, including Zambia, where 2.5 million people were in need. The Zambian government locked away the corn, banned its distribution, and stopped another shipment on its way to the country. â€œSimply because my people are hungry,â€ President Levy Mwanawasa later said, â€œis no justification to give them poison.â€
The corn came from farms in the United States, where most corn producedâ€”and consumedâ€”comes from seeds that have been engineered to resist some pests, and thus qualifies as genetically modified. Throughout the 90s, genetically modified foods were seen as holding promise for the farmers of Africa, so long as multinationals would invest in developing superior African crops rather than extend the technology only to the rich. When Zambia and Zimbabwe turned away food aid, simmering controversy over the crops themselves brimmed over and seeped into almost every African state. Cast as toxic to humans, destructive to the environment, and part of a corporate plot to immiserate the poor, cutting edge farming technology is most feared where it is most needed. As Robert Paarlberg notes in his new book, Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa (Harvard University Press), in 2004 the Sudanese government â€œtook time out from its genocidal suppression of a rebellion in Darfur to issue a memorandum requiring that all food aid brought into the country should be certified as free of any GM ingredients.â€
Starved for Science includes forwards by both Jimmy Carter and Norman Borlaug, the architect of Asiaâ€™s Green Revolution and the man credited with saving more human lives than anyone else in history. Paarlberg, a Professor of Political Science at Wellesley and a specialist in agricultural policy, wants the West to help small African farmers obtain promising technologies just as it helped Asia discover biological breakthroughs in the 60s and 70s. Instead, he says, a coalition of European governments and African elites are promoting a Western vision of rustic, low-productivity labor.
reason: Was there a particular experience with African farmers that led you to write this book?
Robert Paarlberg: Partly it was the strong impression made on me by my own visits to rural Africa, working with African organizations, working with USAID, working with International Food Policy Research Institute. I started visiting small farms in Africa 15 years ago. Iâ€™d seen a lot of poor farmers in Asia and Latin America but absolutely nothing like this. There was simply no uptake of any modern productivity-enhancing technologies at all in some cases. And I wondered why I hadnâ€™t been aware of this. And then, when I saw more and more narrative in the NGO community and the donor community that was frankly hostile to science, I thought â€œI have to put this down and write a book for younger people in the donor community who may not remember the importance of technology uptake in Asian agriculture 40 years ago.â€
reason: You suggest that your understanding of modern ideas about food production arises from interactions with your students. What is it that they want?
Paarlberg: My students know just what kind of food system they want: a food system that isnâ€™t based on industrial scale monoculture. They want instead small farms built around nature imitating polycultures. They donâ€™t want chemical use; they certainly donâ€™t want genetic engineering. They want slow food instead of fast food. Theyâ€™ve got this image of what would be better than what we have now. And what they probably donâ€™t realize is that Africa is an extreme version of that fantasy. If we were producing our own food that way, 60 percent of us would still be farming and would be earning a dollar a day, and a third of us would be malnourished. Iâ€™m trying to find some way to honor the rejection that my students have for some aspects of modern farming, but I donâ€™t want them to fantasize about the exact opposite.
reason: Can you give an example of a genetically modified seed or organism, something in use today?
Paarlberg: Bt crops have been engineered to contain a gene from a naturally occurring soil bacterium that expresses a certain protein that cannot be digested by caterpillars. Mammals can digest the protein with absolutely no problem, but caterpillars cannot. When the caterpillars eat the plant, they die.
Whatâ€™s wonderful about this is that itâ€™s so precisely targeted at the insects eating the plant. The other insects in the field arenâ€™t affected. Using conventional corn instead of Bt corn, you have to spray the whole field and you end up killing a lot of non-targeted species. With this variety, you donâ€™t have to spray.
reason: That sounds less scary than â€œGenetically Modified Organism.â€
Paarlberg: The book makes the argument that the overregulation of this technology in Europe and the anxieties felt about it in the United States are not so much a reflection of risks, because there arenâ€™t any documented risks from any GM crops on the market. I explain that reaction through the absence of direct benefit. The technology is directly beneficial to only a tiny number of citizens in rich countriesâ€”soybean farmers, corn farmers, a few seed companies, patent holders. Consumers donâ€™t get a direct benefit at all, so it doesnâ€™t cost them anything to drive it off the market with regulations. The problem comes when the regulatory systems created in rich countries are then exported to regions like Africa, where two thirds of the people are farmers, and where they would be the direct beneficiaries.
reason: How pervasive are genetically modified foods in the U.S.?
Paarlberg: Roughly 90 percent of the cotton and soybeans produced in the US are genetically modified. Fifty or 70 percent of the corn is genetically modified. If you look at the products on a retail store shelf, probably 70 percent of them contain some ingredients from genetically modified crops. Mostly corn or soybeans.
reason: Are there documented safety risks that merit caution?
Paarlberg: There arenâ€™t any. Itâ€™s like the first ten years of aviation without a plane crash.
reason: What about environmental risks? Donâ€™t GM crops affect surrounding plantlife?
Paarlberg: The only impacts they have different from conventional crops are beneficial to the environment. They allow you to control weeds and insects with fewer sprayings of toxic chemicals. And they donâ€™t require as many trips through the field with your diesel tractor, so you burn less fossil fuel. And there is more carbon sequestered because youâ€™re not tilling the soil the way you otherwise would.
There are environmental impacts; there is gene flow. The pollen from a genetically modified maize plant will flow into a neighboring field and will fertilize the crops in that neighboring field. Some of the seeds, as a consequence, will contain the transgene, but thatâ€™s no different from pollen from a conventional maize plant flowing into the next field. Itâ€™s only if you decide arbitrarily to define gene flow from genetically modified crops as â€œcontaminationâ€ and flow from all other crops as natural. Only then does it start to become describable as an adverse effect.
The worst environmental damage ever done by American agricultural was the dustbowl of the 1930s, when we plowed up the southern plains to grow wheat, and all the topsoil blew away. The way we increased production back then was to expand crop area, which was environmentally disastrous. It was a calamity. That was the way we tried to increase production before we had high yielding crops, before we had high yielding wheat varieties, before we had hybrid maize, before we learned to increase the productivity of the land already under cultivation.
reason: Can you give us a sense of what an average African farmer in, say, Zambia, is currently working with?
Paarlberg: It would be a woman and her children primarily, and they would plant not a hybrid maize, but a traditional openly pollinated variety, and they would time the preparation of the soil and planting as best they could for when they thought the rains would come. But the rains might not come in time, or they might be too heavy and wash the seeds out of the ground. Itâ€™s a risky endeavor. They canâ€™t afford fertilizer, and itâ€™s too risky to use fertilizer because in a drought the maize would shrivel up and the fertilizer would be wasted. They donâ€™t have any irrigation. As a consequence, even in a good year their yields per hectare will be only about one third as high as in Asian countries, 1/10 as high as in the United States.
reason: Just as it used to be in Asia.
reason: Right, everywhere. But Asia has moved on in recent memory. The Green Revolution introduced new biological breakthroughs to Asian agriculture to the point where no one today thinks of South Korea as a rural backwater. Why was Africa not a part of this?
Paarlberg: One reason is that Africa is not easily irrigated. The big irrigated crops like rice arenâ€™t to be found in Africa and the big investments in the Green Revolution went into improving Asian crops like rice. The crops Africans grow werenâ€™t the crops that were being improved during the green revolution.
But I donâ€™t blame it all on the Asia-focus of the original green revolution; we have had plenty of time to invest in scientific research for Africaâ€™s crops, and to make investments in rural public goods like roads or power to make it affordable for African farmers to purchase fertilizer. But African governments have not done that job. In my book I show that typically African governments will spend less than 5 percent of their budget on agriculture even though thatâ€™s where two thirds of their citizens work. And if you donâ€™t have larger public sector investments than that, there is just not going to be any uptake in the countryside. But then I go around and show that you canâ€™t blame African governments, entirely, because prosperous donor countries are no longer supporting agriculture in Africa.
reason: No African government other than South Africaâ€™s has made it legal to plant GMOs. You call this â€œout of characterâ€ for the same governments.
Paarlberg: They have not yet enacted the law, set up the biosafety committee, and granted approval, which is the laborious process that [the United Nations Environmental Program] and the European governments have coached them into adopting.
Itâ€™s interesting. In no other area are governments in Africa particularly concerned about hypothetical environmental risks. They know better than to invoke the precautionary principle when it comes to unsafe food in open air markets. They know that they need to first get rid of actual food shortages and raise income; then and only then can they afford to impose the same extremely high standards of food safety on open air markets that are imposed on supermarkets in Europe. Yet curiously when it comes to GMOs they adopt the highly precautionary European standard, which makes it impossible to put these products on the market at all. I take that as evidence that this is not an authentic African response, itâ€™s a response imported from Europe.
reason: So the romanticization of bucolic farm landscapes unmarred by scientific advance has an American and European pedigree.
Paarlberg: Itâ€™s not what we do at homeâ€”only two percent of agricultural products in the US are organically grown. And many of those that are organically grown are grown on industrial scale organic farms in California that donâ€™t bear any resemblance to small bucolic farms. But itâ€™s the image we promote in our new cultural narrative. Itâ€™s something that affects the way we give foreign assistance.
reason: Many of the anti-agricultural science gurus you mention in your book have a spiritual dimension. Can you talk a bit about Sylvester Graham?
Paarlberg: Sylvester Graham, the father of the modern graham cracker, was opposed to the modern flour milling industry. He didnâ€™t like the industrialization of bread production, and he wanted women to go back to grinding flour. He was a religious man, a minister, and he had all of the narrow minded prejudices we might associate with a New England clergyman from the 19th century. He thought that women should stay in the home, he believed people should be vegetarians because that would keep their sexual appetite back. We sometimes forget what goes along with the food purist zealotry. Itâ€™s often zealotry about more than just a certain kind of food to eat.
In Zambia today there are expatriate Jesuits from the United States who have come to believe genetic engineering is against Godâ€™s teaching, though this is not a belief that is embraced by the Vatican. They believe that all living things, including plants, have a right not to have their genetic makeup modified. Of course we have been modifying the genetic makeup of plants ever since we domesticated them 10,000 years ago, but these particular fathers are focused only on genetic engineering.
reason: Isnâ€™t it paternalistic to blame Europeans for the decisions of African governments? Is this something African elites are at least as complicit in?
Paarlberg: Itâ€™s a codependency. The African elites depend upon Europe for financial assistance, they depend upon European export markets, they depend on NGOs for technical assistance, itâ€™s just easier for them to follow the European lead than to go against that lead. And to some extent the European governments depend upon having dependents in Africa that will, despite the difficult experience of colonization, continue to imitate and validate and honor European culture and taste.
reason: What exactly have European NGOs done to discourage productivity in farming? You quote Doug Parr, a chemist at Greenpeace, arguing that the de facto organic status of farms in Africa is an opportunity to lock in organic farming, since African farmers have yet to advance beyond that.
Paarlberg: Some of it is well intentioned. The organic farming movement believes this is an appropriate corrective to the chemical intensive farming that they see in Europe. In Europe, where prosperous consumers are willing to pay a premium for organic products, it sometimes makes sense to use a more costly production process. So they think, â€œWell itâ€™s the wave of the future here in Europe, so it should be the future in Africa as well.â€
So they tell Africans who donâ€™t use enough fertilizer that instead of using more they should go to zero and certify themselves as organic. Thatâ€™s probably the most damaging influence â€” discouraging Africans from using enough fertilizer to restore the nutrients they mine out of their soil. They classify African farmers as either certified organic, or de facto organic. Indeed, many are de facto organic. And their goal is not to increase the productivity of the organic farmers, but to certify them as organic.
I just find that to be lacking in moral clarity.
reason: But there are functioning organic farms. If I decide to buy only organic food from Africa, what will I be buying?
Paarlberg: It wouldnâ€™t be grown by small fair-trade-type poor farmers. It would be grown through a vertically integrated, probably European, company that would bring in the machinery, bring in the seeds, bring in the fertilizers, set up a production system that would more nearly resemble a colonial-era plantation than a small independent African farm.
reason: Weâ€™ve seen similar resistance to GMOs in India and Brazil, both of which now have legalized the use of genetically modified crops. What happened?
Paarlberg: Farmers were planting them illicitly before the final approvalâ€”thatâ€™s one reason they were forced into the approval. The technology worked so well that farmers were planting them on their own and you couldnâ€™t criminalize all Brazilian soybean growers so you had to approve them. Similarly in India, Bt cotton spread on its own and performed so well that the government was eventually shamed into approving it.
reason: You arenâ€™t just calling for people to get out of the way. You want increased aid for agricultural research. But why would any of this require aid? If itâ€™s going to prove profitable, shouldnâ€™t the incentive for private investment be there?
Paarlberg: The farmers who need the technology in Africa donâ€™t have enough purchasing power to be of interest to private companies. Or theyâ€™re growing crops that arenâ€™t a part of a commercial seed market that would interest private seed companies. The only way to reach them, really, is to consider the crops that they grow, for example tropical white maize or cassava. Itâ€™s a little bit like the orphan disease problem. Itâ€™s really something that has to be done as a public good by the public sector.
Thatâ€™s how the green revolution proceeded in India in the 1960s. It was a wonderful success, and it wasnâ€™t really driven by the private sector. It was driven by philanthropic foundations and public investment. Also you need not just seed improvement, but more rural farm-to-market roads, electrification, and things that really governments and only governments are incentivized and capable of doing.
There was a time, before scare stories about technology spread, when the concern was a much more legitimate one: that weâ€™ve handed this technology over to private companies to develop, and they wonâ€™t have any incentive to get it to Africa. And to some extent thatâ€™s still a legitimate concern. There was never any fear that Brazilian farmers or Canadian farmers wouldnâ€™t be able to get the technology, because theyâ€™re big commercial growers. The concern was originally that Africans would want the technology but wouldnâ€™t be able to get it because they didnâ€™t have the purchasing power or the investment climate that could attract private companies.
reason: The book is 200 pages of frustration. Are there any glimmers of hope ahead?
Paarlberg: Just last week in Nairobi the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced that they would be going forward with the drought-tolerant maize project that I describe in chapter 5 of my book. Iâ€™m very pleased that the Gates Foundation has seen the opportunity that this new technology provides. It would be too bad if drought tolerant corn were being grown in Iowa in 2010 and not available to the farmer who really needed it in Africa.
Drought in Africa pushes small farmers back into poverty whenever it strikes. They have to sell off all their household possessions to buy the food their families need until the next season. It blocks the escape from poverty that they might otherwise achieve. Anything that puts a safety net under crop yields is going to protect small African farmers from that periodic decapitalization and let them start accumulating assets for a change.