Monday, October 03, 2005

Dominant traits II: Why GM soy looks set to swamp Europe

Maverick Farms lies on a dirt road halfway up a steep hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Twenty years ago all the land around here was agricultural. Each family generally had a couple of milk cows, a pig or two, and a garden plot to feed themselves; for cash, they planted cabbage (to be sold to a nearby sauerkraut factory, long gone) and tobacco.

All of that has changed. The word "farm" has become a marketing tool to move real estate, and little else. The only other entity with "farm" attached to its name on our road is "Clark's Creek Farm"--a suburban-style subdivision.

Our area is a magnet for SUV-driving second-home seekers and the real-state flacks who serve them. Up the road from us, the dirt flies as machines rip into the mountainside to create new lots for fancy homes. Starting at about 7:00 a.m., the rooster's hoarse cry is drowned out by the steady roar of giant trucks careening up the mountain, carrying construction material and machinery.

Nearly everyone up there wants the road to be paved--it would make construction so much easier, and you could comfortably drive your SUV faster than 20 mph to get up and down the mountain. We say: Hell, no. We're joined in our refusal by two neighbors, people with deep family roots in the area who don't want to see our holler turned into a suburb of Orlando or Charlotte. We refuse to sign the papers that would force the road's paving.

In the end, we will lose and the developers and second-homers will win. They will have forcibly created the logic that makes the road's paving "necessary." Carve enough mini-mansions into the mountainside, cram the road with enough construction trucks and "utility" vehicles, and of course it will have to be paved. It will become a safety issue. The road as it is will have to be condemned; a handsome strip of asphalt will rise up in its place. Progress! And goodbye to our chicken shed and springhouse.

I tell this bitter story to illustrate what's going on with genetically modified (GM) food in Europe. Bear with me.

An organization called Agricultural Biotechnology Europe, a PR front for Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, et al, recently commissioned a study of the costs to food conglomerates of pursuing a "GM avoidance" strategy.

First some background. Because of high-profile campaigning from the likes of Greenpeace, a large swath of European society has rejected GM food and demands that it be labeled as such at the supermarket. Those demands have forced grain-processing giants such as Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill to do something they hate doing: make distinctions in what they consider to be a sea of sameness. No longer can a soybean be a soybean be a soybean. Now they must separate GM from non-GM--a service for which they naturally charge a premium.

The dilemma mostly centers on soybeans, which Europe mostly imports from the Americas. The continent grows most of its own corn, which thus far is almost totally non-GM.

When Roundup ready soybeans first sprang to life in US fields in 1996, ADM and Cargill solved the Europe problem by diverting US soybeans away from the European food market (though they kept GM soy flowing into the animal-feed market), and sent the Europeans Brazilian soy. At that time, Brazil had banned GM seeds.

In the meantime, Roundup Ready soy gained a foothold in Brazil, as farmers bought the seeds on the black market from Argentina and then saved them for future planting, thumbing their noses at Monsanto. Then, earlier this year, the Brazilian government approved the planting of GM crops. That means the supply of non-GM soy has been shrinking.

For European food conglomerates bending to consumer pressure to produce "non-GM" food, that will mean higher prices for non-GM soy, the study argues. Already, the study reckons that 51 percent of the soy grown globally is GM; and fully 90 percent is "dominated by GM-origin material," meaning soy that's stored without any careful separation of GM and non-GM material. So supplies of non-GM soy are already tight.

Right now, non-GM soy draws a 5-10 percent premium over GM soy on the market. As supplies dwindle, the study says, the premium could go as high as 25 percent. (Interestingly, Brazilian farmers get no premium for growing non-GM soy; all the extra cash now accrues to the processor, the study reports.)

Bottom line: If you want GM-free processed food, you must pay Archer Daniels Midland a nice premium. I predict that as the premium grows, European consumer resistance to GM food will fade--and Monsanto's seeds will take over the Brazilian savanna much as they have the Midwestern plains and the pampas of Argentina.

And here is where we arrive at the conceptual link between land politics in my area of North Carolina and food politics in Europe. Just as developers and vacationers here have created the necessity of fulfilling their goal--turning our road into a suburban-style throughway--the GM seed trusts have overwhelmed the food system with their seeds, creating conditions that will eventually force acceptance.

Like so many BGJ posts, this one will end with a plea for consumers to remove themselves from the commodity system as much as possible by avoiding the supermarket and seeking sustenance at the farmers market and from backyard and neighborhood plots.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10/03/2005 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

Thank you for the post. For the past few years (and especially this past one), I have been trying quite hard to remove myself and family from these monopolies of food giants. Your plea is not on deaf ears here and I will pass it on!

I think it is unnerving to think we have, in this country, allowed only a few groups to have control of our food. I really don't think many people understand this (just as the 2nd home/SUV drivers don't understand what they are doing to the Blue Ridge Mtns & other rural/wild areas). It is my hope that we can educate them before it is too late.

Keep up the great work here (I love your blog!)

10/03/2005 04:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had a reply from OFCOM about my complaint re: Scooby-Doo's buried pro-GM issue. Read their reply in full on my blog, therandomthink.

10/18/2005 07:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just using your blog to inform about a campaign against monsanto.

It's a french initiative to associate Crimes contre l'humanité with monsanto in google...

Last week, they seized the bank accounts of a anti-GMO farmers Union in france (Confédération paysanne)

12/06/2005 05:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We think we can't fight the giants but in Aesop's fable it was the little mouse who nibbled on the trap to set the lion free. We just need to be more tenacious and get more people on our side. Greed drives big people nuts, y'know, at the expense of the little people.

8/17/2006 11:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.

A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.





To read the complete article please follow either of these links :




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