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GM seeds and diversity

Someone mentioned an interest in a post on GM foods, which is what I´ve been working on for some years now in Mexico. Perhaps this will elicit some echoes.

Currently, there is an intense, well-orchestrated and highly financed campaign on behalf Biotech Corporations (Monsanto, Pioneer, Bayer, Cargill) and many irrigation farmer organizations to introduce GM corn seed immediately in Mexico. “We can´t wait” they say.

I just attended a nearby conference in which people who defend native corn were portrayed as misguided romantics who want Mexico´s indigenous people always to remain quaintly poor. They criticized their notion of progress and refuted all scientific claims about possible dangers of GM seeds. The speakers painted visionary pictures of a civilization on the verge of a new and glorious era that would change our customs and cultures forever, a period in which we would eat our medicine in tortillas (each according to his-her needs), in which there would be liberty and justice for all. A Neo-Comtean paradise at our fingertips.

I am no luddite, and am grateful to all farmers, but I am very nervous about the potential impact of genetic contamination of Mexico´s most strategic grain (I understand that the US does not allow GM wheat, unless I am under-informed). Seven thousand-plus years of evolutionary biology should not be taken lightly. I believe we are deeply indebted to the indigenous peoples who invented and shared ixim, sunnuku, centli, maisí, corn in Meso-America and have been its stewards for millenia. Yet there is little more than contempt for them, their ways, their understanding. Armando Bartra has called the denial and sabotage of maize “Food racism- racismo alimentario”.

Monsanto has offered magnanimously to “donate” a massive seed bank to some Mexican NGO (probably just out of the oven) to ensure the safeguarding of native seeds, but there is never any mention of those who provided the seed in the first place, those who gave them the raw material for their “intellectual property”. (Here, I am sadly reminded of the case of the Canadian soy seed farmer who lost her livliehood to Monsanto in a lawsuit because her plants were contaminated by their “intellectual property”).link text

The bottom line is that GM corn is being systematically legislated down our throats and that financial gain for some is being placed before genetic integrity, biological and cultural diversity or any other consideration (surprise, surprise).

The dilemma is complex: Irrigation farmers are already addicted to hybrid seed that require high levels of agrotoxics, and have no native seed of their own to plant, even though they would probably fare poorly in their already depleted soils. The promise of high-yield crops together with the promise of low agro-toxics use raises many an eyebrow, and could hold promise for the future, but humanity should be convinced through impartial research that there are no significant genetic dangers, either to humans or to other living organisms before we proceed to plant such crops.

The idea of “seeding” seed with pharmaceuticals, or ethanol rich proteins is also perturbing. “Hey, Honey, what´s for dinner?”

For most indigenous farmers of the Americas, maize is still a sacred crop that their life depends on. They plant enough to ensure their subsistence and that of their communities. The commercial value of the grain is of little interest, as they continue to exist on the fringes of the global glut economy. I have often thought that the imposition of GM corn is akin to the massive slaughter of the buffalo in the latter half of the nineteenth century. “Maybe at last we can civilize the savages.” Here, there is a sense of living under the gun.

I earnestly feel that we owe it to ourselves to take the time to find some kind of solution for what seems to be a “my way or the highway” situation. If we are incapable of coming up with something that works for the different groups involved, not to mention our own digestive tracts, our world will become increasingly gray, unsurprising, insipid, unhealthy and melancoly.

I believe in beauty, how bout you?

some links for Spanish readers link text

by David Lauer at 2007-10-08 02:24:34 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Chihuahua , Mexico | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Thanks for posting this David, I’ll read properly and respond later!

by Nicola J Cutts | 08 Oct 2007 12:10 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Good that you posted this David, it’s interesting stuff. The gulf that exists between the US and Europe over genetically modified foods is quite staggering. For example, labelling food as containing genetically modified ingredients is not allowed in the US. In the UK and Europe you HAVE to label any food that contains GM ingredients. Also in Europe there seems to be much more of a debate over the possible side effects of GM, and the tests done in the UK showed that some GM crops do have a detrimental effect on the surrounding flora and fauna. I see that genetic modification has shown up as a suspect in the Colony Collapse Disorder that seems to be wiping out Bee colonies in the US at the moment (apart from organic ones, which don’t seem to be affected). It’s beginning to look like the spread of GM around the world is a bit of a done deal. Shame that.

by [former member] | 08 Oct 2007 20:10 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
In Mexico the initiatives to label foods containing GMOs was defeated by the biotech companies, who called it “discriminatory labeling”, if you can believe it.

Since 2004, I´ve been trying to get this show exhibited in Mexico´s major urban centers so that lots of people can see it, and reflect on it (I´ll get some more images posted in the galler so that you can get a better idea) but I feel that the proposals have been blocked. The reasons could range from a weak visual proposal (you tell me) to racism and political motivations.

I think we really need an open, informed, public debate about this new phase in technology, because the consequences could be disastrous and irreversible, as well as potentially positive for humankind. My heart is with the indigenous people, and I try to keep my head open to the technological possibilities.

www.kwira.org (website in Spanish)

a couple of links

by David Lauer | 10 Oct 2007 17:10 | Chihuahua, Mexico | | Report spam→
Hi David I read your post and I thought I’ll add to it a little. I’ve been researching GE over the last 4 years and the fact is that the lobbying groups are growing stronger and stronger. Despite the opposition from people and many scientific groups. The problem of GM food is a complex one. It all comes down to control over global food resources. India had the same problem with Monsanto trying to take over the seed market and they were unsuccessful – they have lobbied the Indian government through american trade agencies and so on. I refer you to the “Corporations” documentary movie released on DVD which describes in detail the whole story. Greenpeace is very active in the fight against GM foods and their website has a huge section on the subject. Check the Australian one. I have read all the files and I will never look at the world in the same way again. I’ll mention a few concepts which have disturbed me the most:
1. Terminator gene – created in laboratory, this gene is manufactured into Monsanto seeds. Farmer buys seeds,plants them,then plants grow, give fruit and immediately the terminator gene switches on like a self distraction mechanism and causes the death of the plant. Trick is the farmer now needs to buy more seeds. At the prices set by Monsanto. Now imagine if the freak crops contaminate the good organic ones until we have no “real” plants left.
2. No research – governments have allowed the use of GM technology for human consumption with no decent research available. What was done on rats showed colonic collapse but since Monsanto done the research their scientists have dismissed it as nothing to worry about. The GM crops have no mineral content and vitamin levels are very low. The protein levels that were supposed to be higher are actually lower.
3. Bees are dying – it is of epidemic proportions. The reason they are dying is that : GM crops have preprogrammed resistance to certain pests, the absence of which have allowed certain bacteria to spread in gazillions, the bacteria is affecting bees eventually causing their death. Einstein said – If all bees disappear from the world, human beings will only have 4 years to live. Bees die, plants a year later,animal the next, and finally humans. The end.
4. Seed banks – these have been set up and are an outright biopiracy. Especially active in Africa where large masses of fertile land are taken over by US corporations under some corporate responsibility programme in the name of preserving the habitat for the world and subsequently the biologists are moved in to collect all the plant species for genetic patenting. They are being patented in US patent office, just check their open archives brrr. Subsequently US Aid, world bank and other agencies are sending food aid to africa – yes you guessed it : GM maise, GM rice, corn etc – these will eventually contaminate and destroy the natural crops and the real problem will start.
5. GM crops were supposed to be the answer to african hunger crises and that was the official excuse for developing it. The fact is that hunger in africa is a much larger problem than it was 10 years ago.
6. 5 companies in the world own all the plant patents, seed banks and GM patents. They are the same companies that manufacture pesticides. They also manufacture your medicines. They are the pharmaceutical companies or they holdings or their mother companies.
7. The food aid to africa is given in exchange for contracts (for US) with african governments. Not free I’m afraid. The only country to oppose was Zimbabwe as they did not want to contaminate their natural biohabitat. The simple option would be to give money so that poor african countries could purchase food from south africal countries where food is aplenty. Infact the south is capable of feeding the whole continent.
7. Australia – the biggest testing ground for GM. In 2001 due to public pressure the government decided that labelling will be enforced and granted a two year faze in. The lobby was so strong that this labelling never actually came to be. However the state governments legislated the ban on GM canola and GM soy. Sadly it is all in jeopardy as the manufacturing lobby is pressuring the government to lift the bans. I took part in action against lifting of the bans 3 months ago.
8. Europe is in the same boat. Whilst UK is very strict and has banned GM food, the push is on weaker developing countries to accept GM foods. Poland (where I’m located at the moment) has banned GM food amidst EU treats that it has to accept all food with EU stamp on it.
In conclusion I realise that my post is perhaps emotionally charged and a little chaotic but that’s exactly how my mind races when I contemplate all this. As great as it is to read, watch and get angry it is time to take a stand. Greenpeace does what it can, but there needs to be a people action against this major nature violation or we wont have a world to take a stand. Bees and Einstein.

by Aggie Michaels | 10 Oct 2007 18:10 | Warsaw, Poland | | Report spam→
Well, it seems that we have rather limited participation in a discussion on a topic that threatens to change the face of the planet forever.

I have just attended a seed sovreignty symposium in New Mexico where some people are beginning to get involved in this issue, and others who have been involved for a long time have gathered to share their experience and vision.

I think one problem is that people don’t understand the implications or the technology, or they downplay the consequences or just plain think GMOs are great.

It’s great for us to get emotional about these things because it shows that we still care and appreciate the difference between food grown with love and passion, and mechanically produced carcinogenics.

In a few days I will attend a fair El maiz que todos queremos, the corn we all love (want), in the Sierra Tarahumara, where the harvest has been good these days. I’ll let you know about what is said there. I’m certain that there will be a strong spiritual component, as there was at the seed sovreignty conference. People belittle spirituality in agriculture and think it’s but a romantic notion, but they are most probably disconnected from the earth and perhaps from life itself. It comes down to a battle between those who promote and/or accept the commodification of everything and those who still feel some kind of spiritual connection to the world.

by David Lauer | 14 Oct 2007 05:10 | Chihuahua, Mexico | | Report spam→
i don’t want to sound too negative,i share your your very valid concerns about the harmful effects of GM.however,i agree with andrew,the monster has already been unleashed,and i don’t think it is possible to put it back in its cage.(andrew,i don’t know if you are still covering this,but i am pretty sure they are planting gm test crops in vojvodina)

by Michael Bowring | 14 Oct 2007 10:10 | Belgrade, Serbia | | Report spam→
The monster has been unleashed, Michael, but the question is how resistant the native seeds are to the gm seeds. We don’t know that yet. The biotech industry is spreading information to the effect that native corn is not at all affected by transgenes, which is probably a lie. There are significant regions that continue to raise native corn, but potato, cotton, tomato, and rice are all gm crops. About 90% of soy is genetically modified, but there is also a growing movement to protect seeds and legislate against genetic contamination of native plants. Europe has been better at resisting this disastrous trend than the Americas, partially due to more informed consumers and a greater number of consumers with economic clout. What can you say about the Americas with Bush calling the shots?

It is not going to be easy, but people are not going down without a fight. And its not over yet by a long shot.

by David Lauer | 16 Oct 2007 05:10 | Chihuahua, Mexico | | Report spam→

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David Lauer, photographer, translator David Lauer
photographer, translator
Chihuahua , Mexico
Nicola J Cutts, Photography/Digital Nicola J Cutts
Sheffield , United Kingdom ( LBA )
Aggie Michaels, Photographer, student Aggie Michaels
Photographer, student
Warsaw , Poland ( WAW )
Michael Bowring, photographer Michael Bowring
Belgrade , Serbia


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