Let's make Monsanto cry


We've had fresh evidence recently that the people behind Monsanto either don't consider the possible negative consequences of their products or don't care. I would think the last thing we would want is to become dependent for our food supply on Terminator technology, i.e. plants that produce sterile seeds which force farmers to go back to — guess who? — Monsanto for the seed to produce next year's crop. What if there are other unforeseen consequences of the tricks scientists have played to create these seeds that don't become evident until the legacy seeds, the ones that work the way nature intended, are hard to come by? We know from previous history that seeds have a way of winding up in fields other than the ones in which they were planted.

Red Jenny alerts us to the re-introduction of a private member's bill I can get behind. It would effectively outlaw Terminator technology in Canada. Jenny's post has links you can follow if you want to support this legislation or even just learn more about the issue. The Canadian government has been carrying water for Monsanto and in support of Terminator seeds on the international stage for quite a while, going back at least as far as the Paul Martin government. The NDP and the Bloc are already in support of banning Terminator seeds but if the Liberals are going to get on board, I'm betting it will take a lot of yelling and screaming to get their attention.

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So why would the liberals change - and thus speaks to trust - sure we will do this, and we all know what happens - vote for us and we will change this or that.

So why would the liberals change...

Ignatieff would turn on a dime if he thought there was something in it for him.

There's something profoundly odd about this post.

Wasn't one of the objections to GM plants the danger that their genes might spread beyond the fields they were planted more broadly into the natural world? Someone did something to meet that objection and...Never satisfied, are you?

And "Terminator" technology.... childish, not? I'm old enough to remember a Left that didn't approve of this type of word game, that objected strongly, for instance, when Ronald Reagan dubbed a new nuclear missile the "Peacemaker." The catchier the wordplay, the weaker the cause behind it -- not an ironclad rule, but a good first approximation, as "Better Dead than Red" and a host of other examples demonstrates.

GM is here to stay, and your squawking won't change that one bit. It's funny, though, and for that you deserve thanks.

I say we all gather tomorrow for a Seedy Sunday.
S'pose we make the rendezvous chez mahigan - what say you?
p.s. don't forget to invite Mom, she'll love it!

One of the objections to GM plants was indeed the danger that their genes might spread beyond the fields they were planted more broadly into the natural world. Guess what? They did. They continue to. It's becoming widespread, actually. Ancestral Mexican wild corn has been found with Monsanto genes. The feared "superweed" immune to herbicides, derided as alarmist naysaying, has come to pass.

As to "terminator" technology vs. "Peacemaker" missiles, it seems to me pretty obvious the distinction to be drawn. A nuclear missile is pretty much by definition a "warmaker"; it kills people, destroys bunkers and cities and ecosystems. Calling it instead a "peacemaker" is Orwellian, seeking to convey an impression precisely the opposite of the reality. "Terminator" seeds by contrast are reasonably well named; where normal seeds will grow a plant which makes seeds which will grow plants and so on continuing down the generations, a "terminator" seed will grow a plant which stops right there. It "terminates" the cycle of growth. This is not Orwellian, nor is it misleading. It is perhaps striking wordplay, but I don't think the Left have a responsibility to use boring words just because attention-catching ones annoy their enemies.

My personal good first approximation is that the more someone concentrates on slogans, ad hominem, and generally avoiding the substance of the issues, the fewer facts it can be assumed they have at their disposal. So we have sunsin saying we're "never satisfied", "childish", "funny" and "squawking", relying on slogans such as "GM is here to stay", and concentrating on our choice of descriptor for Monsanto's "the next generation is sterile" seeds. And we have him mentioning vaguely one forlorn "fact"--the notion that "Someone did something to meet that objection". Which turns out not to be the case, at least if we're assuming he intended to convey that the someone was someone relevant and the something was something effective. Hmmm . . . try a wee bit harder next time, maybe?

Side note: The "superweed" is of course not immune to *all* herbicides, just Roundup, the herbicide Monsanto engineered immunity to for their GM crops.

I am as opposed to genetically modified seeds as anyone - with a special animus for the 'terminator' variety, so do not take this as any kind of support for Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Archer-Daniels-Midland Co or any of the other megga-corps who's mission is first to maximize return to their stockholders and only second to aid in the production of (much needed) food.

Slipping into a visual cliche I think of the waving wheat field of western Canada. Enough food there to feed a world, increased by good management practises, modern mechanical aids and (yes) the addition of commercial fertilizers/disease/insect control. The delights of farming are no longer bucolic.

But, from what I understand, these field do not provide seeds for the next year's crop. It is cheaper for the farmer (and increasingly it is not a family farmer, but a corporate farming concern) to buy seeds marketed by the above corporate giants. Every spring they purchase enough seeds of the required variety and quantity - the seeds are cleaned, consistent and 'ready to use'. It actually costs less to use the purchased seeds than it is to use those from last year's crop. The ROI is better if last year's crop is totally sold and new seeds are purchased.

I still actively condemn those corporate giants for many of their practises, yet the farming facts from the field should be taken into consideration. Were I an exec from the supply firms, the idea of a 'terminator' seed would be very attractive and really make no difference to the food grower.

skdadl - we had our Seedy Saturday back in February. We rural folks need a head start 'cause we get kind of busy at this time of year;-)

I have a nice fat file on Monsanto including their attacks on seed cleaning facilities to remove the choice of farmers to use their own seed as well as some horrendous legislation introduced in the US by Monsanto friends in Congress that would make seed cleaning so prohibitively expensive that farmers couldn't afford to do it anymore. Unfortunately, the 80 hr work weeks kind of get in the way of posting it.

There is also no reason why the terminator genes could not spread to non GM crops just as the Roundup resistant genes already have. Guess who the main beneficiaries of that would be.

And now, with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty "Hi-yo, Tractor away" he disappears to tend to some decidedly non GM crops.

croghan--true as far as it goes, in North America. And to the extent that you agree that in North America we should basically admit that both the family farm and the concept of a rural community are dead and we should shrug at the various problems caused by the farming practices of agribusiness, OK fine for here. I'm not actually all that sanguine about any of this stuff; I think this model is causing more problems than it is worth and needs to be transformed, although not in a simple return to the past. The fact you point out, that an agribusiness enterprise would have little trouble with terminator seeds, is just another sign of the very short time horizon modern corporations work within.

But much of the world doesn't work that way, and the Monsanto types are in the process of trying to make one size fit all because their shareholders would make more profits if it did. That isn't proving to be good for the food producers or the food consumers or the environment of Latin America or Africa or India, although it is doubtless good for shareholders.

mahigan, that was macadavy, not moi, on the subject of teh Seedy Sundays, although I'm sure I agree with you both.

Me, it's as much as I can do to save one beautiful Arctic blue willow, although I think I have found the guy who can do that. And I do not think that Monsanto has yet thought to appropriate the genes of plants so purely lovely that Monsanto probably thinks they have no reason to exist. Hah!

Sorry skdadl - coffee first then comments. Remember that Monsanto now owns Seminis, a major producer of fruit and vegetable seeds. Seminis sells about 3500 varieties of fruit and vegetable seeds in more than 150 countries. It controls about 40% of the US vegetable seed market and 20% of the global market. Monsanto says they are not planning to GM vegetable seed because it isn't profitable but may do so in the future. A major distributor of Seminis seed in Canada is Stokes.

PLG - back to the future in the business model of farming is not necessarily difficult or impractical. There is a Canadian study (I have it somewhere but don't have time to look for the link) showing that a substantial percentage of Canadian farms are not profitable and are unlikely to become so. However, there is no correlation between size and profitability.

We are probably headed into two widely divergent models of agriculture. Industrial agriculture will continue to exist as a high capital, high volume, low profitability per unit endeavour. Alternatively, the only profitable model left for what we think of as the traditional family farm is high labour, low capital, low volume, high unit profitability ventures.

In other words, industrial agriculture will continue in products that are priced in pounds per dollar while smaller scale specialized operations will do well in products priced in dollars per pound. While wheat farmers will do well to see a return of $150/acre, specialty crops can produce returns of several $K/acre.

There are two impediments to the establishment of the second model - a culture long used to a cheap food policy and an a serious lack of resources available to those interested in establishing or converting to a specialized, non industrial model. Start looking for your local farmers' market or community agriculture options.

Got to run.

mahigan - wtg kiddo, somehow I just knew you're a 'seedy' guerrilla gardener like me. Which is why I love these guys & gals here in my town: http://www.cityfarmer.org/
Warning: Totally retro HTML website which is completely Java/Flash-free.
BTW - Let's keep a place in our hearts (and gardens) for those heritage dog roses my Mum loved so dearly: "Now Dougie don't mow those roses, they're a lovely brier patch for the bunnies!" Direct quote from she to me circa ten years of age and me keen to 'clean up' the back half-acre down on the Magaguadavic. We wee bunnies all need a brier patch to snuggle down in safe and sound sometimes, an' me Mum never forgot that - 'nuff said!

Much as I'd like to pop over for a look at Red Jenny's place, blogspot pages are blocked at my work... can someone post the legislative links here, purty please?

Muchas gracias!

The main page on this issue at the website of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network is here while this link takes you to a page where you can send an appropriate email to various politicians.

The legislation comes from NDP MP Alex Atamanenko whose parliamentary website is here.

The introduction to terminator technology for those who want to explore the issue more deeply is here and there appears to be an abundance of additional info at that site. I doubt that you'll get "fair and balanced" at a site called banterminator.org but I suppose you could contact Monsanto's marketing department if you really want to hear the other side. ;-)

May be of interest .... why Canada is important in the world food picture is because of a man named Charles Saunders, working at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa.


Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century, Charles Saunders, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's 'Experimentalist', developed Marquis wheat, which did as much as the railroad to open up the Canadian Prairies to settlement. In 1911, Marquis wheat was judged as the best hard spring wheat in North America by prairie farmers. Developing crop varieties that will flourish under Canadian weather conditions has had an enormous impact on the people of this country.

The strains of wheat Canada used ripened too late to compete with the American, and therefore more southern, growers.

Marquis wheat, developed by Saunders, has a shorter growing season and allowed our prairies to compete with anybody.

It was genetically altered by means available in the early 20th century.

It was genetically altered by means available in the early 20th century.

Which consisted of selective breeding and cross breeding - things no one really objects to because all you are doing is taking advantage of the natural genetic variability in the gene pool of a given species. Humans have been doing this with plants and animals - with varying degrees of success - for millennia.

Traditional plant breeding was such an incremental affair that the likelihood of a catastrophic "Oops" was rather remote. When you start doing interspecies gene splicing like splicing fish genes into tomatoes so they can sit longer on a store shelf before rotting, the likelihood of that catastrophic Oops increases significantly.

As an aside, that natural genetic variability has been a great asset in many ways. Because of it, we may soon see streets lined with stately American Elms again. Researchers are fairly confident that they have discovered an Elm with a natural resistance to Dutch Elm Disease. Tests on offspring of this tree have been going on for a few years in the US and the first test specimens may be in Canada this summer. This is essentially the same way that rust resistant wheat was developed.

Thanks, Pogge!


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