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Posts Tagged ‘Monsanto’

Monsantoing the line

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

“Democracy is an abuse of statistics.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Following on from the last post (Evidence? What evidence?) on the lack of depth and rigour in much of what passes for scientific analysis these days, we veer back again into the dirty tricks department.

This from George Monbiot writing in The Guardian, Tuesday May 14:

The Fake Persuaders
Corporations are inventing people to rubbish their opponents on the internet

Persuasion works best when it’s invisible. The most effective marketing worms its way into our consciousness, leaving intact the perception that we have reached our opinions and made our choices independently. As old as humankind itself, over the past few years this approach has been refined, with the help of the internet, into a technique called “viral marketing”. Last month, the viruses appear to have murdered their host. One of the world’s foremost scientific journals was persuaded to do something it had never done before, and retract a paper it had published.

> > read on

What is even more interesting is the extent to which this form of ‘marketing’ seeems to have acquired tacit acceptance even amongst those who are holding it up to us as a shining example of corporate immorality. The thing is, we already have a perfectly good term for ‘viral marketing’. It’s called fraud, and there’s pretty clear and long-standing legislation available in most countries for dealing with it.

Further reading on Monsanto’s style of doing business:
The Ecologist

Can organic farming feed the world?

Saturday, August 6th, 2005

Organic farming

This question was the subject of the Soil Association Scotland’s Lady Eve Balfour Memorial Lecture last month (July 13) in Edinburgh. Speakers were Colin Tudge, author of So Shall We Reap, and Sue Edwards, director of the Ethiopian Institute for Sustainable Development. (The lecture was also given in London the night before and has been subsequently published inResurgence Magazine.)

As it turns out, the question might more usefully be framed “Can modern farming methods feed the world?”. Start digging below the surface of the agribusiness PR machine and a disturbing picture emerges.

Effects of modern farming methods

Effects of modern farming methods

Aside from all the health implications of artificial fertiliser pollution (see Time for a Change of Heart?), large-scale monoculture has enormous ecological implications which pretty much guarantee that it’s ultimately unsustainable. The bumper yields promised by selective crop breeding, genetic modification and artificial fertilisation are turning out to be largely pie-in-the-sky. GE crop varieties are becoming susceptible to disease even faster than conventionally engineered varieties. Attempts at large-scale agricultural management with the aim of securing our food supply have been highly inefficient – the EEC’s Common Agricultural Policy is generally accorded about as much respect as an appallingly bad joke – and successive managerial disasters have been compounded by tying the system up into greater and greater inflexibility. The supermarket shelves of the West have been kept stocked at a huge cost: enormous wastage on the one hand, and a progressive impoverishment and restriction of the agricultural sector on the other.

But it goes much deeper. Lack of attention to the quality of the soil itself is something that can’t be remedied by any amount of superficial dressing. Impoverished soils don’t hold nutrients or even water for very long, or support all the other kinds of life that are essential to the functioning of a healthy and resilient ecosystem. Loss of biodiversity results in a degraded ecosystem which has little or no flexibility to respond to change. Since 1945 almost 11 per cent of the Earth’s land area, about 12 million square kilometres (4.6 million square miles), has been moderately to severely degraded. Every year farmers abandon 70,000 square kilometres (27,000 square miles) of formerly arable land because the soil no longer supports crops.

In contrast, Sue Edwards (who also happens to be the wife of Dr Tewolde Egziabher, Head of Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Authority) showed what could be done when land reduced to virtual desert is properly cared for using local traditional methods of agriculture – which, after all, have sustained humanity for all but the last half century or so of its roughly 10,000-year existence – plus a little help and adjustment from what has been learned in other sustainable agricultural systems in other parts of the world. Substituting compost, including composted animal wastes, for direct application of animal manure has been one of the most significant and beneficial changes.

Dr Tewolde B G Egziabher

Dr Tewolde B G Egziabher, Head of Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Authority

Her husband Dr Egziabher, widely acknowledged as Africa’s chief biosafety and biodiversity expert, was originally to have given this lecture himself, but had to cancel at the last minute in order to attend an international meeting on biological patents (see Canadian assault on biosafety). What’s going on here is simply criminal. Not content with chaining most of our own farmers to lifelong contracts for seed supply (see Percy Schmeiser vs Monsanto), agribusiness is seeking to hold some of the poorest people on the planet to ransom, prohibiting them from collecting and growing their own seed and forcing them to make annual payments for the privilege of obtaining the means to eke out the barest subsistence level of existence. Seems what the West gives with one hand, it takes away with the other …

So can we instantly return to organic methods of cultivation and solve the problem? Not without reversing some of the post-WWII population trends and society’s attitudes to agriculture and the food we eat into the bargain. Organic farming is more labour-intensive. The proportion of the US and UK populations now working on the land is just 1%, and even at that, the farming community is hard-pressed to survive against the demands of the processors and retailers, the dictates of agribusiness, and the regulations of the agricultural policymakers. Farming barely rates a score on our social scales of fashionable and aspirational occupations. Next time you see a supermarket advertisement trumpeting ever cheaper prices and better value, ask yourself who’s really bearing the cost. Steadily improving profits says it’s not likely to be the supermarkets.

It all seems depressingly reminiscent of our societal attitudes towards healthcare. Our values seem hopelessly upside-down. We’re happy to pay huge sums of money for overseas holidays, second homes, additional cars, the latest piece of technology or a cosmetic makeover, yet grudge a fraction of that amount for food and healthcare. Surely it should be the other way round? Shouldn’t the fundamental building blocks of a healthy existence be top of our personal spending and qualitative priorities, not devolved to the responsibility of a state dominated by profit-driven corporate agendas? And complaining about the state and the extent to which big business milks it for all it can achieves nothing either. Until each of us take personal responsibility for adjusting our priorities and spending patterns, we surely can’t expect the collective to reflect that adjustment. No matter to what extent big business tries to manipulate public spending patterns to safeguard its revenue streams, ultimately the choice is ours – each of us individually – and ours alone.

Back to basics – and what could be more fundamental, more salt-of-the-earth common-sense, than comments like these? (From Voices from Knox County.)

“Why is it that when somebody gets deathly sick with cancer or something, and a doctor recommends that they go on an organic diet? I think all these people know that there’s a difference.”

“If you get on a chemical system, the only way you can keep going is to keep adding more and more powerful chemicals. If you get on an organic system, it will perpetuate itself. You don’t need to keep adding more and more fertilizer because it is a natural system. It’s like the difference between paying interest on a loan and getting paid interest on your savings.”

“The nice part about organic is that it’s economically viable, and the reason is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money, because the Good Lord designed the cycles of nature in order to do it itself.”

More reading:
Interview with Dr Tewolde B G Egziabher
G8 approach to global poverty is simplistic
Compromise, Hell! – Wendell Berry

Percy Schmeiser

Percy Schmeiser

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard