Obama Administration Parroting Monsanto
Posted by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Jill Richardson, who blogs at La Vida Locavore, is getting to be one of my favorite writers and thinkers about matters agricultural. Here is the first part of her latest article on Alternet. This is one of those pieces I wish I’d written — and that’s the highest praise one writer can give another.
Don’t stop here. Read the whole thing. A link to the rest is at the bottom of this excerpt.
Why Is the Obama Administration Parroting Monsanto Talking Points?
When key government officials start touting the need for biotechnology there’s reason to be concerned. Roger Beachy, the Chief Scientist of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), recently told Smartplanet.com that biotechnology is needed to maximize food production and reduce the use of agrochemicals. “With a greater number of people,” he said, “we’re going to have to have more crop per acre. If we don’t, we’ll have to expand [agriculture] to our parks, forests, and golf courses.” And at first it might seem strange to hear a top government official parroting talking points from Monsanto’s Corporate Responsibility page … until you read his resume, that is. His last job before joining the USDA was as founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a non-profit research institute co-founded by Monsanto and the Danforth Foundation.
Now, another explanation why Monsanto and Roger Beachy have similar talking points could be that both are correct and they are simply explaining the facts about the future of food and agriculture. Do we really need biotech to feed a growing population?
Nope, turns out that we don’t. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, genetically engineered (GE) seeds, to date, don’t translate to more crop yields. And worse, GE seeds have meant the uses of more, not less, chemicals. Jack Heinemann, a professor of genetics and molecular biology, agrees. He points out that no GE crops, to date, were designed with the goal of increasing yield, and while “yield benefits have been observed” they’ve occurred “sporadically and in a year-, location-, and crop-dependent manner.” He does not find evidence for decreased pesticide use in GE crops either.
About the prospect of future, drought-resistant varieties of crops, Heinemann dismisses them as a pipe dream because “the physiology of stress tolerance involves the interactions of many different genes working in a complex, environmentally-responsive network… genetic engineering is unlikely to produce reliable drought tolerance in most crops grown in actual field conditions because it is unable to mix and match so many genes at once.” (A Mexican peasant might also add that non-GE varieties of drought-tolerant corn already exist in Mexico, the birthplace of corn, where indigenous peoples have developed them via seed saving over centuries.)