Archive for the 'GMO' Category

10
May
10

Lions and tigers and superweeds … oh, my!

florence in the garden

Florence scours our overgrown garden for callaloo

Who could have seen THIS coming?

A recent New York Times article on the rapid growth of “superweeds” notices that some species have done exactly what Darwin noticed living things do: under herbicidal assault, they adapted.

Now Roundup, Monsanto’s crack for farmers, is having trouble killing pigweed, and the expensive herbicide/seed program  isn’t looking like such a good deal anymore. But the large-scale farmers have a lot invested in industrial farming,  so many are just layering new poisons onto the Roundup, and are even encouraged to do so by Monsanto, which, the Times reports, “is it is taking the extraordinary step of subsidizing cotton farmers’ purchases of competing herbicides to supplement Roundup.”

Michael Pollan, one of the Room for Debate voices in a Times discussion on the subject, points out that this should come as a surprise to exactly no one.  “A product like Roundup Ready soy is not, as Monsanto likes to claim, ‘sustainable.’ Like any such industrial approach to an agronomic problem — like any pesticide or herbicide — this one is only temporary, and destroys the conditions on which it depends. Lucky for Monsanto, the effectiveness of Roundup lasted almost exactly as long as its patent protection.”

The Times parrots without comment the claim that no-till agriculture with “Roundup Ready” seeds is “environmentally friendly.” True, it reduces erosion and lessens runoff, but I don’t think everyone really understands what really goes on in this kind of agriculture. (Interested in the details of how glyphosate works? Check  out this fact sheet from beyondpesticides.org (pdf). “Environmentally friendly”? I’m not so sure.)

And here is where I would like to make a rather bold suggestion: Why not just call the superweed callaloo and eat it?

Pigweed is amaranth, after all, and amaranth is edible and nutritious, both as  leaves and seeds. When we first moved to Kentucky, Florence, our friend and one-time babysitter (from a past life when we were both had jobs and 401ks and benefits in New York), came to visit us. She looked into a field of what we called pigweed, and saw callaloo, a delicious green from her youth near Ocho Rios, Jamaica. She waded in, harvested a few large bags, trimmed it and cooked it up with lots of garlic and hot peppers and it was delicious.

I wouldn’t encourage anyone to eat the pigweed laced through with Roundup of course. And I’m not sure the resistant palmer amaranth is the same variety of amaranth that we enjoyed. But if there are varieties of a “superweed” that are edible and nutritious, a smart farmer might take the hint from mother nature and grow the native plant that doesn’t need massive doses of chemicals to thrive.

Or not. Even if that farmer is dead-set on continuing with the commodity crop (and of course that’s where the (subsidy) money is), The redoubtable Rodale Institute has been  doing some great work with organic no-till methods.

Advertisements
22
Feb
10

GMO vaporware in Africa

african corn farmer

In the conventional wisdom, Billl Gates has gone from geek, to megalomaniac software mogul bent on world domination, to a man so rich he can SAVE THE WORLD WITH HIS MONEY!

I cannot argue with his decision to dedicate his life to making things better through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but sometimes trying to make things better makes things worse. And that’s if your intentions are pure to start with. Mix in a partner who might have other motives, and well, you see where this is going….

This Grist article by Tom Laskawy discusses a recent venture by the Gates Foundation that sounds great on its face. The goal: to feed Africa. The method: GMO seed technology from DuPont’s biotechnology arm, Pioneer Hi-Bred.

Laskawy quotes a DesMoines Register news item, which mentions that DuPont rival Monsanto is involved in a simliar venture:

Pioneer Hi-Bred is joining with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help scientists in Africa develop genetically engineered corn varieties that would allow poor farmers increase their yields with less fertilizer.

The aim of the project is to increase corn yields by 50 percent over the average now reached by African varieties, said Paul Schickler, president of Pioneer, a Johnston-based unit of DuPont.

… Pioneer’s arch-rival Monsanto Co. is two years into a similar project with the Gates foundation to develop drought-tolerant corn that is to be made available to small-scale farmers in eastern and southern Africa.

Both Pioneer and Monsanto have agreed to make the seeds available royalty-free to small-scale farmers.

Lawkawy is skeptical.  And the not-so-fine print shows he has reason to be:

As for Pioneer, they will first use advanced conventional breeding techniques to improve yields, and then add their genetically engineered genes later. The conventional version should be ready by 2014. The transgenic version? Eventually.

From his years as CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates knows well the name for this kind of product: vaporware. It’s hard not to think that Monsanto, Dupont and their ilk are turning into the Bernie Madoff of agriculture. Convince gullible foundations along with the federal government to send billions in research dollars their way based on a promise of magically awesome results. Sometime down the road, of course.

And of course the irony here is that a non-GMO solution exists, the development of seed varieties by local, African researchers such as the Nigeria National Variety Release Committee, who “developed the [improved] varieties through conventional plant breeding by tapping naturally-available traits.”

Wouldn’t it be simpler, and cheaper, wonders Laskawy, to just spend some foundation money (most likely a fraction of what goes to DuPont) on getting locally adapted seeds into local farmers’ hands?

_____________________________________

Note: You can find a good summary of objections to Gates’ faith in GMO technology here.




Ineffable beauty, unspeakable evil, and all sorts of crap in between

Twitter Updates

wordpress analytics