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September 09, 2005


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You say anti-corporation / anti-capitalism like it is a bad thing.

I am unsure how ones positive stance on the concept of genetically manipulating foods indicates a pro corporation/capitalism stance. You are conflating two very different issues, as are the birkenstick wearing, granola crunching treehuggers.

Corporations are formed to benefit their shareholders, not their customers. They are not benevolent altruistic organizations that just want to feed the world, it's all about the Benjamins.

Not trusting the nice people who gave us Agent Orange is not the same thing as being against the notion of improving the food supply and Monsatan's spin can be just as dishonest as the radical eco-freaks who clearly despise them.


Naked Ape

PS: I must confess, I worked for Monsanto(specifically in the Roudup Ready Canola marketing program). They requested, in all seriousness, the ability to edit historical sales information in their datawarehouse, to better disguise the fact that they had been (rather deliberately) missinforming the corporate HQ about sales figures for the previous decade. I would not trust these folks as far as I could spit a rat, but I am sure their PHds are much more scrupulous than their MBAs. They would have to be, unless they were acredited by Patriot University.

I second Naked Ape, and would add that the even longer version of the Percy Schmeiser story includes Monsanto sending a private investigator onto Schmeiser's farm, without a search warrant, to gather samples of his crops for genetic testing. So if you're a farmer and you commit a crime (patent infringement) you get nailed, if you're a multinational corporation and you commit a crime (trespassing, theft, destruction of property) you get off scott free.

Also note that Schmeiser is obviously not a woo-woo himself, and it's certainly not his fault that he gets used as some kind of example by the anti-GM crazies. He's a bit of a folk hero up here, for standing up to the ridiculous notion that because a seed was created with one technology, genetic engineering, it is fundamentally different from seed created by careful breeding. Farmers should have the right to save and replant their seed from year to year, period. That's a political position, not an anti-science one.

I agree with the previous commenters. Very simply, the struggle here is not anti-science, it is about patent-based monopolies that can easily swing huge amounts of wealth away from farmers to corporations. It's not much different than when farmers were impoverished by railroad monopolies, with the same accusations of anti-corporatist/anti-capitalist irrationalism.

Corporations, capitalism, and intellectual property are fostered by governments to serve public purposes, such as generation of wealth. Of course they will sometimes have harmful side effects, and when they do we need not blidly suffer them, but should intelligently resolve the problems or use an alternative solution.

The most obvious alternative solution to patenting agricultural biotechnology, which has worked well for more than a century, is public research by public agricultural universities. The classic example is hybrid seed corn. Because the techniques were publicly developed and not patented, large numbers of COMPETING seed companies applied this technology, as opposed to a monopolistic development such as Roundup-Ready.

Farmers cannot benefit much from saving seed of hybrid corn, nor do they have access to the parent stocks to create their own. But it's not a problem because there is no monopoly in hybrid seed, and the market works well. Where there is a classic market failure, such as a monopoly created by patents, it's not surprising that farmers want to use their traditional appropriate technology of saving their own seed. It happens to be illegal in this case because of unique, recent legal and technical developments.

Farmers are generally not anti-capitalist nor anti-corporatist: indeed, most are capitalists and have incorporated their farms. They are against developments in legal privilege that will make them vulnerable to monopolies. They've seen it over and over again. Milk distribution, railroads, meatpacking trusts, grain elevator and other middleman monopolies, and now new sorts of patents. And companies like Monsanto are attempting to disable traditional farming technologies such as saving seed; by gratuitously adding genes to make crops unable to produce fertile seed. Why? To further disempower farmers, and enable Monsanto to extract more wealth from them with monoplistic patents.

None of this serves the public interest as well as simple alternatives that preserve competition in markets. We should not let intellectual property be used as a tool for controlling the basic sources of productivity, agricultural or otherwise. This isn't much different really than the Open Source movement in its aims or economics.

I am impressed and pleased to see how much thought earlier commenters have given to parsing the technical, social and political issues involved here. Even if (perhaps especially if) some anti-GM advocates tend to play fast and loose with the truth, those interested in setting the record straight should be very careful with their terms. It may not help the debate, for example, to say

The true (short) version is that Schmeiser stole the seeds.

No, he didn't. Farmers being sued by Monsanto are accused of violating their contractual agreements not to save seed, and can also be sued for patent infringement. Even if Schmeiser and Nelson did violate their contracts and infringe Monsanto's patent, it is still reasonable to question whether society should encourage those contracts, and those provisions of patent law, as a matter of policy. Conflating breach of contract and patent infringement with theft just muddies the waters.

This, to me, is not about protecting wealthy American farmers (poor "little" Oakhurst Dairy...) or even wealthier public companies like Monsanto.

The obstructionist approach that environmental groups have taken towards GM crop R&D is killing (through starvation) and disabling (Golden rice anyone?) countless thousands of Africans and Asians as we speak. Dithering about patent infringement and the rights of fat and happy US farmers is a cruel joke.

The fact is that environmentalists have a zero tolerance policy towards capitalism. Despite the learned folks contributions here, that is what this is all about.

No different than their opposition to hydroelectric power in areas where dung is the only fuel, opposition to western factories and industry where there are no jobs. And on and on. Simple, maybe, but true.

Greenpeace and the US farmers lobby. Ha. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Great post Skeptico.

I have to agree with paul on this one. Trust the public to try to silence any voice of reason that speaks against the environmentalist belief system. GM saves millions of lives and all they have to do is complain for the rich white American farmer. Shame on you !

Reading the comment section, anti-GMO is obviously not a science issue but a politically motivated one. Stop pretending that "frankenfoods" are unnatural or unsafe, just admit that you're anti-corporate/anti-capitalist and pretend that there's a scientific controversy with its use. Who would've thunk it, ultraleftists using the same strategy as ultra rightwing creationists?

I love how the "capitalism uber alles" types project their own biases on everybody else in reflexive villification.

Corporations and their employed scientists are the ones playing politics: they are seeking political protection through patents for monopolies. Still more, they are seeking to prevent the populace from protecting itself from the side effects of their creations. That's a long tradition that predates GM, and we've seen it over and over in mining, chemical, and other industries.

Now sure you can find some idiotic arguments. But what we are all owed is some credible reassurance that (a) the particular applications of GM technologies are pretty likely to be benign and (b) that the people who are displaced by the new technology are compensated out of the new increase in productivity. That's a fundamental of social justice, and makes a win-win situation out of new technology.

Apparently for you, social justice now applies to western farmers but not to the the poorest people in the world.

The wacky left continues its downward spiral.

Say hi to Joe Hill!

What better example of reflexive villification could I ask for?

I write one brief note, and I'm accused of hating the poorest people in the world.

Somebody throw that trained seal a fish.

Helping poor people is hardly ever the goal of capitalists or corporations: the poor have too little money to make it worth while. Which of course is why more money is spent researching antiacids than cures for malaria.

GM has nothing in particular to do with helping poor people. Claims that GM will help them (such as "golden rice") have always turned out to be window dressing, PR, and strategems for locking up intellectual property in new ways.

GM is just one technological tool. It doesn't matter which tool is used to help the poor: what matters is that society dedicates efforts to helping the poor and improving their condition. Once that dedication is created, then the appropriate tools can be used.

Reflexive villification! What an interesting phrase. As in "reflexive villification" of "capitalists", i.e. "anyone who does not agree with Mike".

And what part of my comment included the word "hate"?

But let me rephrase. Wouldn't want to hurt your feelings. You clearly prioritize the needs of wealthy Western farmers over the third world poor with your simplistic capitalist bashing. See, you don't hate them, your just misinformed.

Golden rice is a remarkable Vitamin A delivery system and could help prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of childhood blindness per year, but its just "window dressing". And I'm glad that you mentioned malaria - its a comparable subject. In the name of raptor preservation, millions of Africans have died from malaria in the last several decades because of the DDT ban. Now corporations get screamed at for not developing a "cure" for a disease that was and is easily preventable.

"GM is just one technological tool." Name me one, just one, alternative provided by any group that does not fall into your dreaded "capitalist" category that has any reasonable, practical alternative to GM technology in helping to end hunger. Just how is it that you propose to build your "society dedicate(d)...to helping the poor"?

Your game is to worry about "intellectual property", a capitalist conceit, while condemning capitalism and corporations.


Don't mean to be nasty here, but you just have nothing practical or constructive to offer.

Bark. Bark.

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