Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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A victory in El Salvador: Farmers defy Monsanto

El Salvador seedlings

The Monsanto and Dow corporations, both chemical behemoths, nearly always get their way, by a variety of means and with disastrous consequences on almost every continent. But in El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America:

“The farmers, who have already been consistently outperforming Monsanto with their local seed, which is far healthier and more productive, have just managed to bring about a giant defeat of Monsanto by preventing it   from supplying El Salvador with its seeds.”

The full story is here.

A rare victory, and an inspiring model for farmers everywhere.

 

 


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Food fight, high stakes

In Independent Science News, January 12, Jonathan Latham sets out a stark bottom line for the survival of multi-cellular organisms – eg human beings – on this planet.

Industrial agriculture

Latham: “The project to fully industrialise global food production is far from complete, yet already it is responsible for most deforestation, most marine pollution, most coral reef destruction, much of greenhouse gas emissions, most habitat loss, most of the degradation of streams and rivers, most food insecurity, most immigration, most water depletion, massive human health problems, and so on. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that if the industrialisation of food is not reversed our planet will be made unlivable for multi-cellular organisms.”

So then, a matter of life and death. Jonathan Latham offers a recipe for survival.  It’s worth a try.

For a taste of how to feed the world on a human scale, visit with Ann Clark, plant physiologist and farmer, in Bold Scientists, chapter 2, Digging thistles. Read an excerpt here.


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New GM Crops: fields of insanity

A definition of insanity: If something clearly doesn’t work, do it again.  And again…

TRAUDT AERIAL SERVICEPhoto: Aurora Cooperative

The corporate leviathans that brought us GM crops promised no pollen spread. Fact: Any place these invasive crops are planted they spread pollen as far as wind and bugs can carry it, making it impossible to grow non-genetically manipulated crops for miles around.

The industry promised that GM herbicide-tolerant crops would need less chemicals to suppress competing weeds. Nature laughed. Fact: Very quickly, weeds developed tolerance to the most widely used herbicide, glyphosate. The resulting ‘superweeds’ already infest an estimated 70 million acres of US farmland, and they’re spreading rapidly.  It’s being called an agricultural crisis.  Another one.

The corporate solution to the new problem: Throw more chemicals at it. No surprise, chemicals induce dependency and generate enormous profits. The pushers are pushing hard – not that it takes much pressure – to get US government approval to sell the highly toxic 2,4-D herbicide/defoliant, infamous as a weapon of mass destruction in the US war on Viet Nam.

At the same time, the industry plans to release GM crops.2, corn and soybeans genetically manipulated to tolerate repeated dousing with multiple herbicides, including 2,4-D. Details here, in Wired: http://www.wired.com/2014/09/new-gm-crops/.

For a saner path, stop in for a visit with Ann Clark, plant physiologist and post-oil farmer, in Bold Scientists, chapter 2, Digging thistles. Read an excerpt here.


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Good news: Suicide Seeds Are Dead… in Brazil… for the moment…

In a great bit of news for World Food Day, a key Brazilian congressional committee today withdrew the consideration of legislation that would have allowed the sale and use of Terminator Technology, also known as suicide seeds.

Terminator seedsThe Constitutional Commission of the Brazilian House of Representatives was slated to consider Bill PL 268/2007 this morning, but decided instead to withdraw it from the agenda – taking into account the social concerns raised by the national and international mobilization in opposition to the bill.  Further, the President of the Commission pledged that as long as he is at the helm, he will not allow the bill back on the agenda.

“This should be taken as a victory for Food Sovereignty and Farmers’ Rights around the world. Social movements, farmers’ organizations and CSOs both in Brazil and internationally have made it crystal clear that Terminator has no place in our food, fields or future,” said Silvia Ribeiro, Latin American Director for ETC Group. “This is great news for World Food Day.”

The ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) does essential work with international grassroots allies like Via Campesina, to resist mad science and corporate control of food production around the world.

The full story is here.

This story and others  will be pursued in Bacon’s Garden: travels in nature, science and power, forthcoming from Between the Lines in spring 2014.


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Science is objective: true or false?

After teaching plant agriculture for 32 years at Guelph University, Associate Professor Ann Clark ‘retired’ in 2010 to a farm in eastern Ontario.  It would be her refuge and her lab.

Clark designed the farm to be “post-oil.”  Here she can try out experiments for which research Monsanto Business Incubatorfunding always eluded her.  Since neither of her teaching specialties, grasses and organic agriculture, tends to generate proprietary profits, the corporate funders that increasingly dominate research funding were not interested.

From the late 1990s on, Ann Clark became an eloquent critic of the impacts that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) can have on livestock, farm survival and the environment.  Unsought by her and unpaid, this new public role did not foster Clark’s career.  “Academic suicide, some of my colleagues called it,” she says.  “By their standards I’m not a very good scientist.”

By what standards can they judge as ‘not good’ a scientist who has inspired countless students, farmers and citizens with her knowledge and integrity?  “The problem is,” she replied, “I can’t accept one of the central tenets of their dogma: that science is objective.  When I got my PhD I fully believed that it is.  But then one of my PhD examiners backed me into a corner where I had to acknowledge that personal values will inevitably determine what questions you ask as a scientist, and the questions you ask will inevitably pre-determine the range of answers you’ll get.”

This view is powerfully confirmed by the ongoing battle over a study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini & his co-researchers, on impacts of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize and its associated herbicide Roundup.

Hours after the study was published in 2012, a vicious, well-orchestrated assault erupted against Séralini.  “This is so disturbing,” says Ann Clark.  “Very often industry research doesn’t ask the right questions.  He  asked some of the right questions, and for that he’s under attack.”

In response, Clark joined with eight other scientists to publish an open letter supporting Séralini, and to “raise the profile of fundamental challenges faced by science in a world increasingly dominated by corporate influence.”  Signed by an impressive roster of scientists in many countries, the October 2012 letter cites other researchers who’ve been attacked for studies questioning GMOs and Monsanto.

Read more:

Ann Clark’s vision of post-carbon farming and food production is here:  The future is organic: But it’s more than organic!

Corporate Push for GMO Food Puts Independent Science in Jeopardy.  Vandana Shiva, The Asian Age, December 2012.

Growing Maize Disaster (in Mexico).  ETC Group, December 2012.

FDA [Food and Drug Administration, US] Quietly Pushes Through Genetically Modified Salmon.  Anthony Gucciardi, Natural Society, December 2012.