GMOs, Food Security and War

I have been thinking about something I posted on facebook yesterday. I shared an article that reported that Putin, of Russia, stated to the US that the GMO issue will lead to World War. That is very scary. My first thought was, “Is Russia going to bomb our corn? Should we call Iowa?”

 

For those that are new to the issue, GMO stands for “genetically modified organisms.” GMOs are found in our food and other crops. Many of us are eating GMOs and very few of us know because GMOs aren’t labeled. There are GMOs in most cereals. There are GMOs in what most of our cows are fed. There are GMOs in our clothes. There are GMOs in Girl Scout Cookies. There are companies that own patents for genetic modification to things like corn, wheat, sugar beets, soy beans and cotton. American farmers, that have gone against the proliferation of GMOs, have been met with terrible consequences. There are too many examples to name.

 

Corporations have used biological technology to change the DNA of seeds and plants, and to manufacture seeds that grow with resistance to certain circumstances and certain chemicals. They have gotten patents on their “inventions.” They own those patents.

 

It sounds very American. It sounds like entrepreneurship. It sounds good on the surface. It really does. Initially, the GMO patents were heralded as the answer to world hunger. We were going to save the world. But since their proliferation, GMOs, and the resulting fall-out, have made many countries ban these modifications because they do more harm than good. Many countries have banned GMOs.

 

We aren’t talking strictly obscure countries. We are talking about countries that that folks from the USA can find on a map. We are talking France, Germany and Italy. Even our neighbor Mexico has banned GMOs in certain circumstances. Even Switzerland, known for its obscure neutrality in WWII, won’t plant GMO crops. We have some real girth in politics fighting against genetic modification in crops.

 

In the US, there have been many efforts to label GMOs but those efforts have failed. They have failed at the state level and they have failed in Congress. The corporate lobby has proved too powerful.

 

California, my state, the state where I am from, recently tried to pass a ballot initiative to label GMOs. It was called Prop 37. It failed because companies like Monsanto and Dupont put out ads that said that, because the new law wouldn’t label pet food, we shouldn’t bother with labels. People bought it. And the people lost. (That is my over-simplification but most Californians will probably agree that it’s accurate.)

 

The recent Russian outrage against GMOs shouldn’t come as a surprise. If any political entity should comment on food security (or lack thereof), it’s the Russian federation. They know, from USSR first-hand experience, what it is like to lose an entire region’s wheat crop. They know what the consequences are. The country knows what happens when its people starve. They know how unstable a country and power becomes when it is hungry. I’m not being vague. There is no more USSR.

 

The headline of the article about Putin’s comment on GMOs made it seem like, if America doesn’t stop the proliferation of GMOs, Russia will drop a bomb on us. It sounded pretty threatening.

 

After pondering for a night, I don’t think that Russia was giving the USA a war threat. I think that Putin was speaking only from an historic, academic experience, not from a political platform. I think he was trying to help.

 

Before we get carried away. Let me be clear: I’m not with Putin or Russia politically on almost any issue. I’m a gay. So Russia and I pretty much vehemently disagree on most issues.

 

But, on the the GMO issue, we may find some common ground.

 

I think Putin actually meant well. I don’t think that he was posturing for war. I think that he was simply explaining history.

 

Historically, empires fall when they are hungry. This is not conjecture. This is fact. Google it or read “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. Study the northern block of present-day Africa. Or ask someone who lived through the 1980s in present-day Ukraine or Belarus. Hunger sucks. And nationally, it creates instability.

 

GMOs have proven to be a threat to farmers, a threat to food security, and therefore, a threat to national security.

 

Because GMOs create a farming vacuum by instilling fear in farmers about crop proliferation, GMOs create an inherent prelude to food insecurity. Because a small few own the right to GMO crops, which spread their seed through pollination to other plots of land, GMOs create an inherent prelude to food insecurity. Because our government and our court system has recently historically sided with large corporations on the GMO issue, GMOs create an inherent prelude to food insecurity. When the people have no control over their food and their access to food, it creates an inherent prelude to food insecurity.

 garden

Food insecurity has caused a great many empires to fall. GMOs further food insecurity by stealing seeds, by hindering farmers, and by making it more difficult to grow crops. The GMO empire has put family farmers on their knees and has left family gardeners with questions. GMOs, and politics surrounding GMOs, have hurt those that feed us. Farmers are afraid.

 

When when farmers are afraid, food goes unplanted. And when food goes unplanted, people go unfed. And when people go unfed, countries go hungry. And when countries go hungry, political instability takes over. And when political instability takes over, war is the result.

 

I don’t think Putin’s warnings were out of of line. I think they were completely accurate.

 

 

State of the Union

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has said on more than one occasion that the American people are the most entertained and the least informed in the world. Listening to the mainstream media on Tuesday, leading up to the State of the Union address, I had a hard time figuring out if the story was about the State of the Union planned for the evening or the recent Oscar nominations. The airwaves were all aflutter with who was going with whom and who was bringing the popcorn. At one point my smart phone notified me that the minority speaker rejected the advances of some republican’s across-the-aisle reaching. First of all, gross. Secondly, I don’t care. I don’t care who Lieberman sits next to and whether or not McCain brought Goobers.

I’m all for the new the clamoring towards bipartisanship and launching a kindness revolution. I’m for talking with and getting along with neighbors. I’m for fostering community and building friendship. I am not for trying to reason with someone’s whose stance on climate change is Genesis 8. I am not for an energy policy launched by someone who has been blowing corporate oil for the past few decades. And I am not for the fanfare and party hats as our elected officials tell us that they will continue the path down the current paradigm—but they will do it holding hands.

Many parts of the speech made my stomach drop like riding a rickety rollercoaster at a state fair. If we think about international relations with any measure of social responsibility, our foreign policy is atrocious. The president’s mention of Tunisia’s recent upheaval, characterizing it as a great step for democracy and indicating that we’re supportive, was obnoxious. If we look at Iraq as an example, Americans know that we don’t get involved in other nations’ so-called democracy unless that nation happens to have oil reserves.

The Unites States of America built an embassy in Iraq larger than Vatican City but neither the Iraqi people nor the American people reaped any benefits from our nations’ conflict. The Iraqi people traded a dictatorship for a police state. The American people watched their sons, daughters and tax dollars go off to war and what returned, if it returned at all, came back forever changed. Ascertaining that we can conclude success in Iraq is ridiculous unless success is measured by how high we can stack dead bodies. The fact that we are finally leaving the sovereign nation we invaded almost ten years ago, so that the people there can fend for themselves and attempt to rebuild their toppled cities is not a cause for celebration. The whole debacle has been a terrible tragedy on any moral level.

But perhaps more glaring about the State of the Union address was not what was revered but what was glossed-over. The mention of Afghanistan hardly got two sentences. The organization Rethink Afghanistan published that, “During the time it took President Obama to give [the] State of the Union address, the U.S. spent another $13,764,244 in Afghanistan, according to the National Priorities Project’s Cost of War counter.” Even if our nation has no morals whatsoever, really doesn’t care about the human cost of war and has no regard for anything but the bottom line, Afghanistan is still a ridiculous endeavor. To reiterate the words of poet Jovi Radtke, “If we think about the war in purely economic terms, America has a credit card bill the size of Afghanistan.” Obama talked a lot about investing in America’s future. By anyone’s standards, building bombs and shooting Afghanis aren’t good investment decisions.

When it comes to foreign wars, our pockets seem to be bottomless. When it comes to investing in our own people, money suddenly becomes scarce. When Obama proposed that we freeze domestic spending, many people felt as though the buzz word in that sentence was “spending” and, perhaps, fiscal conservatives felt that this might be a good idea. I’m not a mathematician and even I can tell you that the way America has been borrowing against the future, with its massive deficit and outlandish spending, is not a viable approach to fiscal soundness. We have to cut back and I know that. But the buzz word was “domestic” Put another way, continuing to burn through hard-earned American money in Afghanistan is fine but money that goes back to the United States should be enforced with a mandatory stasis for the next four years, especially at a time when a record number of people are approaching retirement age and a record number of people are being born. It’s like someone sitting down to do their household budget and deciding to cancel the cable and the phone but still paying for the next-door neighbor’s dog food.

Sadly, all commentary about the economy, and how our money should be spent, is useless. The money doesn’t exist. It has been spent already. Nicole Foss, co-editor of The Automatic Earth (http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/), explains in her economic lectures that, for the last century, we have been spending what is essentially a global inheritance. The incredible amount of energy returned from oil production is from a source of sunlight and ancient fossils steeping for millions of years. We came across the incredible inheritance, divided it (usually by force) amongst the perceived more-deserving nations and we blew our wad in a little over a century. Many people still believe that we can continue the rape of the earth and that the economy will continue to grow the way it has for the last few decades. I am not the first person to point out: on a finite planet, there is no such thing as infinite growth.

Still, when I finally think that Peak Oil has hit the mainstream, and that the inevitable attrition and restructuring of how we use energy will start to develop with some level of common sense, an elected official or some other important decision-maker opens their mouth and gives me a delusion-check. Let’s pretend for a minute that there are enough resources and enough energy to build a completely new energy infrastructure and move into clean energy resources such as wind or solar. Even if this were true, Obama said himself that China has the largest solar research facility in the world. Even if there were resources to start a revolution toward sustainability, we are not heading in that direction. Our president gave us cute little allegories about people like the Allen brothers who turned their Michigan furniture shop into a solar shingle factory. Obama failed to mention that solar panel manufacturing companies in the US are being bought out by Chinese companies left and right and that our government has no real foundation to implement a plan for any sort of energy transition that might help us more from our dependency on oil to something more sustainable.

It has become more and more clear that the earth’s resources are finite, that growth is not perpetual and that the rate of our use of the earth’s resources are depleting them so quickly that we will face very serious consequences. Our elected officials could be truthful about this fact, reason with the American people and start a serious plan for the coming transition. Instead, they are maintaining the status quo and continuing down the harmful path that put us in this position in the first place. Rather than expressing the reality of our dire energy situation, Obama just furthered the infinite-growth fallacy and remarked, “We can have economic growth and use more energy while transitioning to ‘clean’ sources like nuclear and clean coal.” I think Richard Heinburg’s dissertation on said remark via facebook summed up my thoughts exactly: “Not.”