Since I'm in a new food regime, learning how to cook better and more foods, and exercising like a maniac, my foodie interests are taking an interesting turn. In the back of my head there has always been some Biome stuff, but the questions around GMO/Monsanto are reaching a peak. Check back with me next year, I will have nailed most of it. Today marks article number two.
So over at Quora I've started following Justin Ma a young PhD in tobacco breeding and genetics at NC State. My first expert. Even though I'm more interested in water as a Biome subject, I think the GMO problem is more knotty. It might overtake. The contrast between the two with regard to market accelerations and regulatory restraints is interesting. Everybody loves overpriced, overhyped commercially modified drinking water in the face of drought. Everybody hates overpriced(?), overhyped(?) commercially modified food in the face of famine. Is water simpler than food? Is waste food so much worse than waste water? Does food matter more simply because it's more expensive to produce?
Anyway. We'll start with Monsanto and Bayer and find some fellow travelers as well. This first pass may sound doofy in a year or so, but coming at it fresh gives me a chance to be bold and without qualification.
- GMOs kill bees
- BT Cotton made Indian Farmers commit suicide
- Taleb's Risk on Monoculture
- Big Ag kills diversity
One thing I'm simply not going to deal with is whether or not GMO foods are safe for humans. That's just stupid on its face. Of course they're safe or else you couldn't sell them because nobody would eat them. As much as I hate falling back to the Carlin position, 'Everything causes cancer'. But aside from that, there's penicillin and peanuts. The first will kill me, the second will cripple my daughter. Neither are genetically modified anything.
Ma helps get through some false dichotomies with regard to identifying the market correctly. Consider the following:
First, the basic answer: GMO production will continue to grow, and more crops will continue to have GM traits incorporated into their breeding. At the same time, organic production will likely continue to grow due to the market demand for them. Both will continue to grow because they're defined categories, vs. the general practices we have now. GMOs have been driven by producers. "Organic" foods have been driven by consumers.
One, this is a false dichotomy, as many of mentioned. It depends on your definition of organic. Organic refers more to production practices, while GMOs refer to genetics. While you can't have USDA organic with GM crops, you can certainly practice what might be classified as organic techniques on GM crops. And what you definitely can have are non-GMO crops that are non-organic - this likely constitutes the majority of production in the world, with the exception of Africa. (A little known fact: Europe, by the way, sprays more pesticides and apply more fertilizers than the Americas, due to their subsidies.)
So 'organic' vs 'GMO' doesn't mean anything real. And I am beginning to see cracks in the USDA and certainly a lot of confusion around how Americans perceive that their foods are produced. The fact is that we've been marketed so much food in so many different ways all of our lives that we are living in total isolation from food itself. We don't really know where it comes from, what processes it goes through (or why), and who does what to it. The bottom line is that everybody trusts the label, and the stuff that's not labeled. Well, as I observed at a New York City farmers market, the more dirt on the vegetable the higher the price. Myself, I'm just beginning to know a good avocado from a bad one, and how to time the yellowing of bananas, so I'm not much better. But we're all learning together aren't we?
Speaking of dichotomies, it will be useful for me to get down into the product sets. Part of the GMO'ification of various seed-sets (better vocab soon come) is the embedding of pesticides, and others is some genetic hybridization presumably for flavor, texture, color and/or hardening to grow in previously adverse climes. The third way is for sterilization that makes previously 'seedable' crops now only 'graftable'.
As for the monoculture stuff and Taleb's risk analysis, that's something I too will follow. He says, essentially, that the long-term risk of catastrophic crop failure is not worth any short term benefit. It's like planting roses on a volcano.
I'm also going to defer to farmers who blog, like this guy, who says common sense stuff like "don't take your advice on the farming business from Willie Nelson", and more importantly will talk specifically about the terms and conditions of his purchase of seeds from Monsanto.
Independently of this, I've been skeptical of both E85 and soy milk.
So that get's us under way. More later.