Mark Bittman, the notorious NYT food columnist/writer, Luddite, elitist, and nauseating proponent of doing your homework and applying rigorous common sense, has been stirring the stew regarding whether we should be notified about the presence of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our food, or not.
The stew is bubbling quite a bit, in response. (In case you can't tell, I admire him quite a lot.)
I have something to add to the stew, which is a little crude (and I don't have time to do a re-write) but which is to the point.
Below is an essay I zipped off in October 1999, as a heartfelt response to picking up a Future Farmers Of America newsletter, and finding that what was then being dubbed "biotech"; which includes GMOs, was being presented to high school kids as the certain, and bright, future.
It's a big topic. I'll let the conversation start here. This, incidentally, is my bit mentioned long ago in "once and future topics" on "where have all the mammoths gone?"
Why Biotech Has No Clothes
I’ve noticed a highly disturbing trend recently; the Biotech mavens, pushers, junkies, and corporations have stolen a march on those few of us who would like a little calm discussion before completely destroying the bottle that once held the genie.
If you take a look at any publications aimed at our mainstream agricultural youth, you will find article after article stating that Biotech is our only hope to feed our growing world.
No discussions. Just the flat statement: there is no alternative. Occasionally an interviewee will have the grace to preface the statement with “I believe...” . But what always follows is: “ we simply have no alternative if we don't want people to starve to death.”
And the kids are receiving this wisdom from above quite cheerfully, even willingly passing it on, to those outside the farm community who couldn’t possibly understand the internal necessities and holy mission of the food system.
Population control? Don’t be ridiculous. And shut up about China, they’re still godless communists, and horrifying. Don’t try to tell me they’re just people, like us, struggling to deal with a near impossible problem.
Questions about who benefits from Biotech? Huh? Obviously, corporations would only do what is good for all of us. Why, just look at what wonderful things have already been done for dairy farmers! They’re so much better off now that Biotech has increased milk production; and the vets have so much more work to do, too.
What is happening now is in fact an echo of an earlier phase of human development.
I can hear precisely the same argument going on about 10,000 years ago.
“Our tribe is expanding! We will simply have to hunt more, and longer hours.”
“And with this new tool our hunters have developed, the wonderful Bow, so much more powerful than the quaint old spear-thrower, we can clearly feed all our people!!”
“Look, there’s that herd of mammoths we’ve never been able to harvest before!! After them!!”
Meanwhile, some moron in the background was mumbling “Gee, look at all the grass. And all the grass seed. Sure, a grass seed is smaller than a mammoth, but, there really is a lot of it. I bet we could eat grass seeds.”
Echoes come: “What an amazing, ludicrous idiot! We’ve always been mammoth hunters, and always will be! He’s just a damfool dreamer; no concept of hard reality. Besides, nobody would ever want to eat that stuff; we eat mammoths. Always have, always will. Period.”
Luckily for you and me, once that very last herd of mammoths was eaten, someone remembered this idiot.
We’re in the same place now. We’re about to run out of mammoths (soil and water), the women in the tribe are pregnant, and the mammoth hunters have a new tool. Soon our soil and water can be remembered in museums, right beside the mammoths. And the whole world can look like Iraq, the birthplace of agriculture.
(Being polite and kind people, we will refrain here from pointing out that the wonderful bow, over the years, has killed vastly more men, women, and children, than it ever did mammoths. An excellent tool, the bow; very powerful. Alas that tools have no conscience of themselves; the sharp knife cuts anything; neither knowing nor caring what it cuts, or who is wielding it. So who is the conscience to be for the new Biotech bows? Giant multinational corporations? Ah, well, that’s all right, then! Thank goodness.)
(We will also quietly refrain from pointing out that the “world will starve” statement is a lie, and a myth, used very effectively to make people feel guilty about arguing. The world has a tremendous surplus of food, and will for a long time to come. So much we burn tons of food to fuel our cars; so we can drive to the lake, to play on our jetskis. People do starve; but not because the world has no food for them; they starve for political reasons, and because of a lack of timely compassion. The World is NOT hungry; the World is mean.)
(In fact, while Biotekkies proudly state that they will be able to increase production of crop x by as much as 5%! (gosh) the fact is that in the 3rd World, sometimes 30-40% of each year’s crop production is WASTED. Lost. It rots, after harvest. Due to inadequate storage facilities and systems. Yes, it really is that much; almost never less than 20%. Unfortunately, there is no real money to be made by helping developing nations build appropriate transportation and storage. Nor scientific careers and reputations.)