Genetic Engineering and the GMO Industry: Corporate Hijacking of Food and Agriculture
January 3, 2012
“I recognized my two selves: a crusading idealist and a cold, granitic believer in the law of the jungle” – Edgar Monsanto Queeny, Monsanto chairman, 1943-63, “The Spirit of Enterprise”, 1934.
When rich companies with politically-connected lobbyists and seats on government-appointed bodies bend policies for their own ends, we are in serious trouble. It is then that our democratic institutions become hijacked and our choices, freedoms and rights are destroyed. Corporate interests have too often used their dubious ‘science’, lobbyists, political connections and presence within the heart of governments, in conjunction with their public relations machines, to subvert democratic machinery for their own benefit. Once their power has been established, anyone who questions them or who stands in their way can expect a very bumpy ride.
The power and influence of the GMO sector
The revolving door between the private sector and government bodies has been well established. Over the past few years in Britain, the media has occasionally shed light on the cosy and highly questionable links between the armaments industry and top people in the Ministry of Defence. In the US, many senior figures from the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) industry, especially Monsanto, have moved with ease to take up positions with the Food and Drug Administration. Author and researcher William F Engdahl writes about a similar influence in Europe, noting the links between the GMO sector within the European Food Safety Authority. He states that over half of the scientists involved in the GMO panel which positively reviewed the Monsanto’s study for GMO maize in 2009, leading to its EU-wide authorisation, had links with the biotech industry.
“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.’s job” – Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications. “Playing God in the Garden” New York Times Magazine,October 25, 1998.
When corporate interests are able to gain access to such positions of power, little wonder they have some heavy-duty tools at their disposal to (attempt to) fend off criticism by all means necessary.
Take the GMO sector, for instance. A well-worn tactic, certainly not exclusive to that sector, has been to slur and attack figures that have challenged the ‘science’ and claims of the industry. With threats of lawsuits and UK government pressure, some years ago top research scientist Dr Arpad Pusztai was effectively silenced over his research concerning the dangers of GM food. A campaign was set in motion to destroy his reputation. Similarly, a WikiLeaks cable highlighted how GMOs were being forced into European nations by the US ambassador to France who plotted with other US officials to create a ‘retaliatory target list’ of anyone who tried to regulate GMOs. Now that clearly indicates the power of the industry!
Champions of the poor: GM frontier technology
What the GMO sector fails to grasp is that the onus is on them to prove that their products are safe. And they have patently failed to do this.
No independent testing was done before Bush senior allowed GMOs onto the US market. The onus should not be on what Professor Shantu Shantharam, a leading figure in the GMO sector, calls the “anti-GM brigade” to prove it is safe (or unsafe). (Deccan Herald website).
Now that scientists such as Professor Seralini at the University of Caen in France are in a sense playing catch-up by testing previously independently untested GMOs, he is accused of “lies” and “deceit.” In fact, Professor Shantharam claims that:
“You people (the ‘anti-GM brigade’) have no shame. You are all disgusting enemies of the poor farmers around the world by trying to block a safe product of a frontier technology…”
Little mention there of the 250,000 poor farmers who took their own lives in the Indian cotton belt because they became indebted due to this “frontier technology” not delivering the results that the GMO industry has said it would. It is easy to thus conclude that if there is a ‘disgusting enemy’ it is the profiteering corporate-controlled terminator seed technology of the GMO industry that has resulted in mass suicides and the destruction of traditional farmer-controlled agricultural practices developed over thousands of years.
But this is symptomatic of the industry: it says a product is safe, therefore it is. We are expected to take its claims at face value, not least because the industry has gained an air of pseudo respectability: the US FDA sanctions such products. I use the word ‘pseudo’ because the revolving door between top figures at Monsanto and positions at the FDA makes it difficult to see where the line between the two is actually drawn. People are rightly suspicious of the links between the FDA and GMO industry in the USand the links between it and the regulatory body within the EU.
The impact of the corporate hijacking of food and agriculture
The corporations currently forwarding their GM agenda represent the so-called “Green Revolution’s” second coming. Agriculture has changed more over the last two generations than it did in the previous 12,000 years. Environmentalist Vandana Shiva notes that, after 1945, chemical manufacturers who had been involved in the weapons industry turned their attention to applying their chemical know-how to farming. As a result ‘dwarf seeds’ were purposively created to specifically respond to their chemicals. Over the coming years, agriculture became transformed into a chemical-dependent industry that has destroyed biodiversity. What we are left with is a monoculture, which according to Shiva reflects a monoculture of thinking. In effect, modern agriculture is part of the paradigm of control based on mass standardization and a dependency on corporate products: corporate monoculture.
The implications have been vast. Chemical-industrial agriculture has proved extremely lucrative for the oil and chemicals industry and has served to maintain and promote Western hegemony, not least via ‘structural adjustment’ and the consequent uprooting of traditional farming practices in favour of export-oriented policies, dam building to cater for what became a highly water intensive industry, loans, indebtedness, etc.