Of all of the things we could say about Monsanto and GMOs, I feel that the real bone of contention is very simple to understand – why are GMOs exempt from labeling? In seeking to answer this question, I wanted to do more than just complain about it in an eloquent way as per my usual routine, but to understand the problem in its entirety and express what this meditation has ultimately led me to conclude. The simplicity of the question seems like it would lend itself to a simple answer, “Why don’t we label GMOs?” This rabbit hole, as I am sure you are all very aware, is contaminated with intense propaganda, which is now becoming popularized by our most beloved celebrity scientists. For example, Niel DeGrasse Tyson was asked recently for his perspective on GMOs by a French journalist. I was expecting him to say something funny, but instead I found his response even more disappointing than the return of the Twinkie. In what I consider a radical departure from the scientific method, and a rejection of his formerly level-headed self, Tyson arrogantly berated the journalist with a wide range of extraordinarily strange ideas that have come to engender all of the stereotypes associated with the GMO debate.
Here’s what Neil DeGrasse Tyson has to say about GMO foods:
“I’m amazed at how much objection Genetically Modified foods are receiving from the public. It smacks of the fear factor that exists at every new emergent science where people don’t fully understand it or don’t fully embrace it’s consequences and therefore reject it. What most people don’t know, but they should, is that practically every food you buy in a store, for consumption by humans, is genetically modified food. There are no wild, seedless watermelons. There’s no wild cows… You list all the fruit and all the vegetables and ask yourself, “Is there a wild counterpart to this?” If there is it’s not as large, it’s not as sweet, it’s not as juicy and it has way more seeds in it. We have systematically genetically modified all the foods – the vegetables and animals – that we have eaten ever since we cultivated them. It’s called ‘Artificial Selection.’ That’s how we genetically modified them. So now we can do it in a lab and all the sudden you’re going to complain? If you’re the ‘complainer type,’ go back and eat the apples that grow wild – you know some of them they’re [this big] and they’re tart – they’re not sweet like red delicious apples. We manufactured those. That’s a genetic modification… So we’re creating and modifying the biology of the world to serve our needs. I don’t have a problem with that because we’ve been doing that for tens-of-thousands-of years. So chill out.”
Obviously many of Tyson’s assertions range from mildly irritating to blatantly ignorant, but his claim that humans have been engaged in genetic modification for thousands of years is the supreme fallacy here. How can anyone say there is no difference between Genetic Modification and Artificial Selection? I’m sure I don’t have to inform this audience that the difference is rather huge, but I feel nevertheless obligated to articulate our collective annoyance.
As anyone who was exposed to high-school science classes will remember from working out Punnett Squares, influencing the ratios of dominant and recessive genes is what we refer to as Artificial Selection. But here is the critical difference between Artificial Selection and Genetic Modification: You can’t alter tomatoes with Arctic fish genes, with the aim of producing frost-resistant produce, by means of cross pollination because fish don’t produce pollen. You cannot implant the genes of a spider into those of a goat through Artificial Selection, because spiders cannot breed with goats. No matter how hard you try, there is no way to persuade corn stalks to excrete toxic pesticides by means of Artificial Selection. In fact, the cross pollination pioneered by the likes of Gregor Mendel could not possibly ever create corn hybrids containing human genes to feed spermicide to the third world with the goal of sterilizing entire populations as Syngenta have done. And I’m sure it would come as news to Mendel that his methods were capable of producing potatoes that glow in the dark when they require water, because this too is not possible through artificial selection. One is natural, the other is not.
Shooting microscopic flakes of gold and employing E-coli to penetrate healthy cell walls to implant foreign genetic material is as far removed from artificial selection as consent is from coercion. Nevertheless, the dogmatic scientific priesthood insists that these two methods are synonymous, and this delusion is not merely the dismissive opinion of one arrogant television star; this is the accepted world-view of the orthodox scientific community at large. It is taught every day to students at universities throughout this nation, including students here at our very own University of Montana. It’s also the world-view espoused by influential publications like MIT’s Technology Review.
Speaking of which, in January of last year , the cover story for MIT’s Technology Review magazine read, “Buy Fresh, Buy GMO: Population Growth and climate change will make it harder to feed the world. We need to overcome our fears of genetically modified food.”
We need to overcome our fears? If this is really about ‘fear’ then MIT might just as well run with an article concerned with how we need to overcome our fear of Nuclear Weapons – or how we need to overcome our fears of DDT – or how we need to overcome our fear of Agent Orange, because these inventions all have one thing in common – Monsanto peddled them, effected millions of lives with them, and always swore they were safe. And they always had a study to prove it, because Monsanto has bad-science, down to a science.
And the first sentence of that headline, brings us to the next popular myth: “Population Growth and climate change will make it harder to feed the world.” The claim that “we need GMOs to feed the world” is effective propaganda because it appeals to our collective sense of food anxiety, as well as our recognition of starving peoples. 1 in 7 human beings on planet Earth right now are not getting enough to eat, which means of course that over a billion humans are starving to death at this moment. This public debate mischaracterizes the problem because it ignores the causes of it and focuses only on the symptoms. The idea of alleviating worldwide starvation with GMOs only holds together so long as the biotechs can play on the public’s ignorance of the truth – that there is already enough food to feed everyone – every man, woman and child on the planet twice over – they just can’t afford it. There’s a big difference between a food shortage, and worldwide economic austerity. The difference between the two is as large as the gulf that exists between Artificial Selection and Genetic Modification. Anyone who says otherwise is deluded.
But The biggest scientific delusion of all is that science already has all of the answers. As Rupert Sheldrake puts it, “For more than two hundred years, materialists have promised that science will eventually explain everything in terms of physics and chemistry. Science will prove that living organisms are complex machines, minds are nothing but brain activity and nature is purposeless. Believers are sustained by the faith that scientific discoveries will justify their beliefs. The philosopher of science Karl Popper called this stance “promissory materialism” because it depends on issuing promissory notes for discoveries not yet made.” [Sheldrake, 9]
In this case, the discovery that has yet to be made is that GMOs are safe. Monsanto claims that the public must prove that their products are dangerous. Shouldn’t Monsanto have to prove to the public that their products are safe? That’s what drug companies have to do. That’s what cosmetic companies have to do. That’s even what car companies have to do. The only industry that is not required to prove their products are safe is the weapons industry, because their products are designed to be the opposite of safe. And as the advent of Agent orange and the Hydrogen bomb illustrate, that’s exactly what Monsanto is – a weapons manufacturer.
I find it interesting that in over a century of creating death, Monsanto has never changed their name. When Blackwater got themselves into hot water, they changed their name to XE services, and changed it again to Academi, and that mercenary organization is only 18 years old. Monsanto was founded in 1901, and has never felt the need to hide from their toxic reputation by changing their name. This is proof enough for me that they’re not dependent on a strong image to remain powerful.
Of equal interest regarding Monsanto’s century-long reign of terror is our society’s memory lapse concerning their history. Every time Monsanto comes out with a new invention, they declare that it is completely safe, and repeat that lie until the truth becomes impossible to ignore, at which point they play damage control.
To control the public debate they categorize this movement as anti-science. They denounce legitimate scientific studies that illustrate the dangers of their inventions as, “junk science.” And my personal favorite, they say concerns about GMOs are nothing but a “conspiracy theory” – a phrase that is commonly tossed around explicitly to silence those who speak the truth.
The scientific priesthood may label gatherings like this as “anti-science,” and FOX News may declare us to be nothing more than a bunch of tin-foil-hat-wearing-conspiracy-kooks. That’s fine, but I challenge the these powers to answer me this:
-If GMOs are safe, why aren’t we labeling them?
-If GMOs are innocuous, why are mandatory labeling initiatives like those of 64 other countries resisted with multi-billion dollar propaganda campaigns?
-If GMOs are harmless, why do the Biotech companies file huge lawsuits against communities, cities, and even entire states who push for such referendums?
-If GMOs are wholesome, why are they forbidden in most of Europe?
-If GMOs are benign, why does China turn away entire shipments that may be contaminated with them?
-If GMOs are nontoxic, and Monsanto is such a benevolent entity, then why are whistle blowers persecuted so extensively?
Even Norman Braksick, president of Monsanto subsidiary Asgrow Seed Company, was quoted in the Kansas City star on 7 March 1994 saying, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” That’s coming from an insider. But whenever information like this comes to light, the scientific clergy smiles arrogantly with the pretentious condescension only they can deliver, pats the “complainer types” impatiently on the head, and assures laypersons that if they ever expect to speak intelligently about this subject, they’ll need a deeper understanding of chemistry, physics, and statistics.
I recognize that scientists are basically the same as everyone else – one of my closest friends works as a chemist. Even scientists who have chosen to work for corporations like Monsanto are still human beings and thus ultimately deserve the same basic dignity and respect all humans should be afforded. I just wish more of them would get on the right side of history. There comes a time when denial and complacency are no longer suitable excuses for engaging in blatantly unethical behavior, no matter how unconscious it may be, no matter how small any individual role may seem, no matter how justified it is believed to be. It was not very long ago that the Nuremburg trials affirmed that simply following orders is not an acceptable excuse for crimes against humanity. If that comparison seems extreme, let’s turn our attention to the 300,000 Indian farmers who have committed suicide as a direct result of Monsanto’s copyright shenanigans – declaring seed as intellectual property.
This is perhaps the most insidious genocide of which I am aware, because it doesn’t kill will death camps – it kills with austerity. This is why Ghandi recognized that the deadliest form of violence is poverty. The genocide we’re witnessing is a system that sets you up to fail and mocks you when you don’t succeed. It makes millions feel as though suicide is not only an option – it’s a given.
This in part is why I reject the claim that Genetic Modification of our food supply without our consent is somehow comparable to “playing God.” Let us make no mistake about this – Monsanto is not playing God. Monsanto is playing Satan. There’s a big difference. Genetic Modification as conducted in a laboratory is quite literally the rape of nature, and please pardon the expression because I am very aware of the power of that word, especially since Krakauer’s recent visit [to Missoula]. I use it deliberately because pollination is the plant’s natural sexual function that produces genetic variation in subsequent generations. Disrupting the delicate dance that nature has entrusted to the honey bees with this distortion that actually requires a gun to inject foreign genetic material, is nothing short of the literal rape of nature.
Beyond that, the menace of compulsory consumption of something that has known health impacts – health impacts which are rigorously suppressed by the corporate monolith – is nothing less than a crime against humanity. Phenomena such as leaky gut syndrome, the astonishing proliferation of bizarre food allergies, inflammatory diseases, as well as infertility and yes, cancerous tumors, are just some of the problems linked to Monsanto’s toxic products.
I feel it necessary to remind the scientific community, that it is not anti-science to question established beliefs, but central to the discipline of science itself. At the creative heart of science is a spirit of open-minded inquiry. Ideally, science is a process, not a position or a belief system. [Sheldrake, 25] To the employees of Monsanto I ask: how long do you need go down this road before you see where it leads? More than 22,000 people work for Monsanto, and I’m absolutely certain that the vast majority of them have no idea what the corporation’s agenda is at the top of the Monsanto pyramid. After all, 130,000 people were involved in the Manhattan Project, and most of them never really understood what it was they were working on. But word is getting out and today is proof of that. Therefore there should be strong social pressure on our best and brightest to not work for Monsanto. And those already working for Monsanto who have a conscience would do well to take a hint from Thoreau and abandon their post: If the conscientious Monsanto employee who recognizes the crime currently at foot asks, “But what shall I do?” the answer is, “If you really wish to do any thing, resign your office.”
MAKING AN OFFER WE CAN’T REFUSE
Science isn’t the only tool Monsanto employs. Does anyone here remember a bill pushed through Washington back in 2009 called the Food Safety Modernization Act or HR 875? The stated goal of 875 was to ban organic farming or even private back-yard gardening. Thankfully this bill failed, but as long as the present power structure remains in place, we can expect more bills like it.
And that’s just the start of it.
You may recall the SWAT-style paramilitary raid on California-based Rawsome foods back in 2011 coordinated by 9 different agencies resulting in the arrest of Healthy Family Farms owner Sharon Palmer who was charged with nine counts of criminal conspiracy and thirteen counts of operating without a license.
Or how about the August 2013 SWAT raid on an organic farm in Arlington, Texas that resulted in the seizure of 17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants, as well as native grasses and sunflowers.
Authorities regularly employ a number of ridiculous excuses to justify these draconian measures, claiming that the grass in the front yard was too tall, or that the bushes were growing too close to the street, or that piles of chopped wood were not properly stacked, to explain such bizarre behavior, as if an unkempt lawn is reason enough to terrorize residents with military force. Though many excuses are employed to legitimize these actions, it is simple enough to see what is really happening.
We’re not on the road to the theatre of the absurd – we’re sitting in the front row.
If present trends continue, I strongly expect to see headline’s in FOX News declaring that Amish farmers possess pitchforks and other deadly weapons of mass destruction. CNN will declare that the inevitable economic threat of decentralizing our food system cannot be overstated. The US State Department will warn that if more people are allowed to discover the benefits of organic foods, they may get addicted to other natural health foods and harder street vitamins. It will not only become mandatory to consume GMOs, but organic produce will be scheduled alongside heroin and cannabis, and the illegal possession of organic produce will be punished severely. They’ll declare organic as a gateway food, proclaiming that foodies are healthy hooligans hopped-up on ‘hazardous organics.’ Frenzied headlines on MSNBS will alert the nation that black markets are popping up everywhere; that some nefarious food cooperatives operate as private clubs or highly questionable barter systems; that normal citizens growing food for neighborly trade may face felony charges of possession of organic foods with intent to distribute. Dateline NBC will run a special on mobster food syndicates that operate outside of the reach of the corporate-run government entirely. Our television screens will glow with the figure of a familiar news anchor announcing that, “operating in the bright sun- lit streets of communities across the nation, a shadowy world of mercenary farmers-markets continues to grow out of control, peddling unapproved food stuffs using illegal currencies exchanged in elaborately orchestrated racketeering rings.” They’ll complain that the wooden coins exchanged at farmers markets are not only counterfeit, but make tax revenues difficult to extort from the population.
They will encourage the masses to embrace the fanaticism of learned-helplessness that Big Brother knows best – that citizens aren’t smart enough to make proper health choices – to reinforce the lie that Michael Taylor’s FDA protects us from our neighbor’s chicken eggs that are actually laid by birds that eat bugs and worms. They’ll run advertisements that ask us, “Do you actually want your eggs coming from worms instead of FDA approved genetically modified chicken feed? Worm eggs are just gross, aren’t they? And organic crops are grown where we bury our dead – in the germ-ridden dirt of the Earth.”
At that point it won’t be long before they do what they always do when it becomes clear they’re losing the debate, and have exhausted all other alternatives, and use the dreaded “T” word. Given our recent history, I don’t think it is unreasonable to anticipate the possibility that organic farmers, food activists and holistic medicine practitioners may be labeled as potential terrorist threats. There have already aims by some intrepid politicians to categorize boycotts as an act of terrorism. I wonder how they’ll announce an All Points Bulletin for GMO activists. Perhaps they’ll be “considered to be armed with information, and extremely healthy.”
Exacerbated by our limited political energy by virtue of the fact that most of us work full-time or beyond to make ends meet and therefore do not have time to properly research the lies of green-washing campaigns claiming that GM crops are the only way to feed the world, millions of educated, well-meaning people continue to recapitulate the popular myths hypnotically repeated in every form of mainstream media running through our society. I don’t blame them. I used to be one of them. None of us entered this society with an innate knowledge of corporate chicanery, and all of us were individually shocked when we came to grips with the inescapable obviousness of the truth. Though it may test our patience well beyond our previously conceived limits, it’s up to those who understand the truth to transform this mass ignorance as gently as possible, keeping in mind that denial is not contemptible – it is simply the first stage of grief.
But let us not confuse compassion with complacency, or liken acceptance to apathy. Non-violent protesting is not synonymous with inaction, any more than ignorance is bliss. We cannot have peace without justice. Our civilization cannot afford to tolerate Monsanto’s crimes against humanity any further. Let’s remember that Monsanto has unfathomable political and financial power, and if we expect our intentions to make a difference, then words must be supplemented with actions. If the world’s peoples are serious about alleviating this problem, reform will entail far more drastic action than merely boycotting GMO-laden products. Keep this conversation going. You can ask restaurants where their ingredients are sourced from, and make similar inquiries with grocers. You have the power to vote with your wallet and demand non-GMO options. Some have chosen to express their outrage by placing the skull-and-cross-corn stickers on products containing GMOs, and Europe’s courageous example lays the tracks for the United States to become a GMO-Free-Zone.
GMO free zones could lead to the eventual outlawing of Monsanto’s toxic products, and eventually the outright liquidation of the entire Monsanto Corporation. But given their present financial and political dominance, that could take a long time to come to fruition. So in the meantime the mandatory labeling of GMOs is a first step worthy of taking. We don’t even need to make them stop producing GMOs yet, but food corporations that peddle Monsanto’s toxic products should be forced to at least label them at a bare minimum.
If they complain that labeling will effect their profits, you can point out to them that we label cigarettes as carcinogenic and people still buy them and smoke them. The difference between GMOs and cigarettes I feel, is that Monsanto has not yet figured out how to make their frankenfoods addictive.
Those who stand against Monsanto must learn to organize as effectively as those who manage Monsanto. To do that, this movement would do well to keep in mind, that no populist movement in history has ever overcome societal evils by asking politely or calling their representatives in congress. If we go home today patting ourselves on the back for doing a good thing and waiting until the 2016 March Against Monsanto to think about this issue again, defeat is a likely probability for this movement.
The gears of big business are not going to stop. These corporations cannot be reasoned with, for the language of corporations is money. It is apparent at this point that introducing the concept of ethics to the ownership class may be an exercise in futility. They do not speak our tongue, and therefore, for there to be any effective communication, the only way to get a clear message through to them is to effect their profits.
In the analogy of sport, getting into fist fights on the field does not win the game. This is not a game, but like the scoreboard that determines the outcome of a game, success will mean dramatically effecting Monsanto’s bottom line as well as that of corporations like them.
If Montana is to ever become a GMO Free Zone, our communities will have to write their own legislation and rigorously enforce whatever restrictions the people enact. Unfortunately, as with any other significant social movement in history, I sincerely doubt that change is possible unless a few thousand people are willing to get arrested. I’m not encouraging anyone to break the law, but as we have seen, you don’t have to be breaking any laws for the corporate monolith’s goons to come after you.
If the problem is properly understood, American society will ultimately have to make a choice between what is easy and what is right. Those in the media entrusted with the duty of acting as society’s eyes and ears will have to choose between what will make them popular and what is right. And our law enforcers have perhaps the most difficult job of all, for it is they who ultimately must decide for themselves whether what is legal outweighs what is right. As Martin Luther King said, “We must never forget that everything Hitler did in Nazi Germany was legal.” In that way, our enforcers will have to ask themselves one very important question – Is there anything the politicians could enact into Law that you wouldn’t enforce? Is there any order that you would refuse to carry out, or will you do absolutely anything your bosses tell you to? Are you capable of disobeying immoral orders?
When I learned that Montana riverbeds are still being sprayed with DDT, I wondered how long this had been going on for. When I learned that Missoula’s Parks and Recreation department uses Roundup in all of our parks I wondered where the public outrage was. When I heard that Monsanto had an experimental GMO wheat operation in Great Falls, I wondered why Montanans had allowed it, or at least burned those fields when it became too late to stop it. But at least the conversation is happening on a mass scale, creating a momentum that will eventually become a tidal wave since more people will eventually open their eyes to what is happening as it becomes more difficult to ignore and deny.
Rallies like the March Against Monsanto are absolutely essential to get this message circulating to more people. I don’t think the significance of the annual march can be overstated. This conversation is happening everywhere on this planet right now, and I guarantee you that makes the executives at Monsanto very nervous. No doubt they’re going to hold meetings and brainstorm how they can make the annual March against Monsanto illegal. But it’s too late. The cat is out of the bag, and they’re gambling themselves into a bottomless abyss that will catch up to them eventually.
 Sheldrake, Rupert. Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery. New York: Deepak Chopra, 2012. Print.
Gabrielle Lafayette is a journalist, writer, and executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
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