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From The Socialist newspaper, 26 February 2014

Genetic modification: A means of making profit, not feeding the world

Mira Glavardanov

The Environment Minister Owen Paterson, in his speech at this year's Oxford Farming Conference, said that Europe is risking becoming a 'museum of world farming' if it doesn't open the door to genetically modified crops.

He also said that decisions about adopting GM technology have to be based 'on science', and called all opposition to GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and 'politically motivated'.

Politically motivated

US capitalism and imperialism have been nothing but politically motivated to use GMOs to boost big business profit.

GMOs are an extreme model of capitalist, industrial, chemical agriculture. Food is already commodified, dependent on the world markets and speculation, and seen as a means to profit, rather than a source of life.

GM seeds are patented, which by definition means exclusion of 'unauthorised' use. Big corporations like Monsanto get a monopoly position and control farmers' practices, forcing farmers to buy new seeds every season.

GMOs are plants whose DNA has been altered by inserting the DNA from other species of plants, animals, bacteria or viruses.

Genetic modification (GM, also GE - genetic engineering) is very different to traditional crossbreeding which farmers have been practising for thousands of years by choosing the best traits and crossing different varieties of the same species.

GM is an alteration that can only happen in a science lab, made possible with the advances of genetic science in the last century.

The discovery of DNA has brought about many useful developments but in agriculture, what we are witnessing is a corporate use of biotechnology as a tool for domination and takeover of the global food system.

There is talk about GMOs being needed to feed the growing population, so much so that it might appear that biotechnology was born out of some great need, and good intentions on the part the of food industry or governments. But nothing is further from the truth.

Enough food is produced to feed the world right now. In fact, enough food is produced to feed a much larger population.

The problem is not the amount of food, but in distribution of food. People are hungry because of poverty which prevents access to food, not because there isn't enough food produced.

The phrase 'feeding the world' was in fact coined by what is now the largest GM corporation, Monsanto.

Their intention from the start has not been to feed the world, but to conquer a monopoly position in the world's food supply.

Monsanto developed an agricultural herbicide called Roundup in the 1970s which became their best selling product; however, as the patent for Roundup was going to expire, they needed something to replace its revenue.

Market monopoly

One of the first GM crops they developed was GM soya resistant to Roundup, so that farmers could spray it without killing the crop.

This is how Monsanto insured increased sales of Roundup, and also how Roundup was saved from competition once the patent expired, because they could now sell the herbicide and the GM seed as a package.

As Monsanto moved into biotechnology they began to portray genetic engineering as ground-breaking technology necessary to feed the world.

Incredibly, they also managed to get a patent on GM seeds, which was the first ever case of patent being awarded to a life form.

After less than two decades from the introduction of GM crops in the US in the 1990s, around 90% of all soya and cotton grown, and 80% of all corn is GM, mainly Monsanto's.

This is a staggering example of the market monopoly. They could not have done this without the help of a succession of US governments.

The film, the World According to Monsanto, shows President Bush Senior telling Monsanto executives "we're in the de-reg [ulation] business".

Since then, there has been a permanent revolving door between the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and Monsanto.

There is very little evidence of any benefit of GMOs for farmers or consumers. Quite the contrary, there is a lot of evidence worldwide that GMOs deepen poverty and hunger and dependency.

Farmers get locked into stringent contracts when they buy the seeds; they are banned from saving seeds, which is a normal practice, but have to buy them anew every season. Seeds are becoming corporate owned and controlled.

Considering that there is no food without seeds, the enormity of this situation becomes apparent. By losing the possession of the seeds, small farmers are losing their livelihoods; this is especially detrimental for poor countries where small farmers feed their own families and whole communities.

In countries which have adopted GMOs full-on, small farmers are often forced to become labourers on their own land, or move to city slums.

Farmers are not growing food for their own use, but animal feed for exports; it is a contradiction that half of the world's hungry are made up of farmers. Around 270,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995 due to indebtedness.

GMOs are a political issue rather than a strictly agricultural one and therefore we as socialists need to discuss this international phenomenon and develop our programme on agriculture.

Although a small percentage of commercial GM crops grown globally are actually grown in the EU (mainly in Spain, Portugal and Romania), people in the UK are very much exposed to them through animal feed imported from South America.

Recently almost all UK supermarkets lifted the ban on GM feed citing increasing difficulty in sourcing non-GM feed.

No independent thorough studies have ever been done on GMOs. Not just that - the only assurances of GMO safety come from the industry itself.

They in effect ban any independent research by making their seeds inaccessible to independent scientists.

Any responsible government would stop approval of GMOs until thorough, publicly funded research was accomplished. But the Con-Dems are in bed with the industry.

We are also seeing constant attempts to 'harmonise' seed laws in the EU. That is, an increase in regulation of sharing, exchanging and trading in seeds.

This leads to a loss of traditional seeds, because growing them becomes unviable for small seed companies, with the consequence that only certain commercial varieties remain available.

This results in poorer diets on one hand, loss of biodiversity and nature's ability to evolve or guard itself against climate change, but also to an ever increasing consolidation of the global seed market to a very few commercially orientated seed companies - including Monsanto. Of course, the same companies are lobbying hard for the changes of the EU seed laws.

Opposition

In 2012 the G8 launched the so-called 'New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition', which African countries are bullied into joining, and which uses private and public funds (US and UK aid!) to 'invest' in African agriculture.

Many in Africa are rightly calling this initiative 'a new scramble for Africa', or 'new colonialism'.

There is a lot of opposition worldwide to GMOs, and growing, among small farmers (La Via Campesina is a movement that organises small farmers around the world) but also ordinary people who are concerned about food they eat.

In Argentina activists have just managed to halt the construction of a Monsanto seed plant. Tasmania extended the ban on GMOs indefinitely.

In Hawaii, due to pressures, a judge has signed into law a measure that prohibits biotech companies from growing any new GM crops.

In the US there is a growing awareness and pressures to have GM food labelled. The EU Parliament has just rejected approval for another variety of GM corn to be grown in Europe.

These are all recent victories due to anti-GMO activism, but the pressures from the powerful GM lobby are relentless and are unlikely to be seriously weakened any time soon.

Capitalism's monster

There is a united global anti-GMO movement called March against Monsanto, and there have been two marches so far on the same day in hundreds of cities worldwide, including London and other UK cities. The next march is being organised for May 2014.

It is a shame that, although they have a somewhat anti-capitalist tinge, it is not recognised fully that the problem is not simply some greedy GM corporation, but a capitalist system that has created this monster.

On the other hand, the working class and socialists haven't so far taken up this issue in a major way either.

But with agriculture politicised by GMOs, it has become very relevant, not just politically but also more directly through the food we eat: it is the working class and the poor who are most exposed to GMOs in the food we eat.

Have you got any comments on these issues? Write to:

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In The Socialist 26 February 2014:


Socialist Party news and analysis

Stop cuts carnage

End housing crisis: Rich landlords are real scroungers

Floods show planning and investment needed

Tony Blair: The not-so-secret adviser to the rich

Them and us


Socialist Party feature

Great 1984-85 miners' strike remembered


International socialist news and analysis

President ousted: what next for Ukraine?

Venezuela: Chavism and the Right call for 'peace'


Socialist Party workplace news

PCS enters Scotland independence debate

Hospital workers fight for fair pay

Striking seafarers make gains

Workplace news in brief


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

'Welfare reform' - an avalanche of misery

Atos - not capable of assessing work capability

Budget bloodbaths show TUSC needed

Nuneaton students demand proper wages and hours

Appeal: Help Socialist Party offer real alternative


Readers' comments and reviews

Genetic modification: A means of making profit

Wales: A Land of Whose Fathers?

Marxism in Today's World

Film review: The Lego Movie


 

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