Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-4-1349 7828

May 2007 # 3

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Back to Editorials 2007

Johnny GM Seed

I don’t think I’ve ever written a “Dear John” letter before but here goes.

John Roskam,

Institute of Public Affairs

Level 2, 410 Collins Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Dear John, 

I read with interest your most recent opinion piece in The Age newspaper. You tackled the thorny issue of genetically modified crops and how we should not fear them nor care about their impact other than the fact that they will make farmers richer and the rest of us healthier. In fact, you say, GM cropping will deliver a “rosy future” for us all. However, I don’t think you quite understand the real issue or the real outcomes of pursuing the GM fad. 

In your op-ed article you begin by drawing a rather long bow by equating the development of the penicillin vaccine with GM research and development. You argue that both penicillin and GM are “artificial” but how the global population has benefited from penicillin based drugs so why should we be worried about GM crops. Both, you say, have and can benefit all of us. 

You then go on to say that those of us who resist the imposition of GM foods base our resistance not on science but on some form of “misunderstanding”. Not only that, the other concern, which you dismiss, is that opponents of GM crops are opposed to the role the multinational drug companies play in promoting them. 

You then go on to dismiss the notion that GM crops will affect the “clean, green” image of our farming sector. You cite the US and Canada as being two examples where the introduction of GM crops has not affected their markets. 

Your next point is that any talk of GM “organisms” escaping and infecting non GM animals and plants is “scare mongering”. You go on to say “sensible precautions are necessary when growing GM food.” That bit, at least, you got right. 

Your opinion piece then makes a strange jump in logic and you say that you agree with the opponents of GM crops who argue that the prime motivation for their development and roll out is to make a profit. You argue that all good farming is done for profit and that without the incentive to make a return on investment we wouldn’t have ended up with the Sunshine Harvester and other labour saving farm implements. With this I must concur. Again, you have it right. 

However, you then change tack and argue that the real issue is not the huge profits made by the GM seed manufacturers who control the seeds, the fertilisers that are needed to grow them and the fact that most GM seeds are sterile and so cannot be re-used for replanting. No, you say, Victorian farmers “are in the best position to know what is in their own best interests”. You conclude your article by saying that GM crops should be welcomed and not feared. 

Dear John, I only wish you were more informed about this matter, although you do reveal the true reason for the push to GM cropping. That is, huge profits for the multinationals that control the whole system of GM food production and distribution. 

What about talking to US farmers who find that they can be prosecuted under patent laws if they save any GM seeds that are fertile and attempt to replant them – even if the seeds blow onto their property from a farm somewhere else, whether they knew it or not. 

As of January 2005, Monsanto, the largest global GM company had filed 90 law suits against 147 farmers and 39 small businesses or farm companies. What you didn’t tell us, John, is that Monsanto in the US has a staff of 75 investigators funded at $10 million a year to chase down unsuspecting farmers and begin litigation against them. Up to January 2005, Monsanto had been granted a total of over $15 million dollars in damages. 

Perhaps, John, you should talk with the village cotton farmers in India who, after quite a period of only being able to access GM seeds, are committing suicide at a rate that some refer to as ‘economic genocide’. No, it’s not the seeds that kill them but the fact that they cannot replant from the seeds saved from last year and are compelled to purchase more seeds the next year. This ongoing cost burden has led many to take their own lives in shame. 

The fact that the seeds are designed to not produce fertile seeds for replanting is a decision taken by those who want to control the farming industry and prevent the natural cycle of seed to plant to seed recurring. After all, there is no money in that. You have to invent ways of making money from nature. 

In the Punjab region of India, there are thousands of ‘farm widows’, those left behind after their husband has found the debt burden too high and topped themselves. Why? Because even if they can find the money (and by this I mean get another loan at exorbitant interest rates) they can’t sell their cotton. Why? Because the US subsidises its cotton farmers so that imports are seemingly too costly. 

What this means, John, is that the Indian farmers were told that if they adopted GM farming they would make lots of money because of increased yields and higher quality produce and therefore, become more wealthy. The reality is, and I’m sure you know it John, is that even if they are able to secure the high cost loans, they find themselves bonded to a system designed to channel profits away from them and into the pockets of the multinationals. 

Dear John, it’s not all bad though. Besides the fact that numerous studies – well all those not funded by Monsanto and the other GM developers – show that GM crops provide no real benefit to either the farmers who farm them or the consumers who purchase them. 

Perhaps, John, I should end with a quote I’m sure you would agree with. I realise that the Institute of Public Affairs is committed to small government, free marketeering and the abolition of citizen’s rights (which is what I read from your mission statement) so the following quote from the former head PR flack at Monsanto should sum up what your opinion piece was really about. Phil Angell, the former director of corporate communications for Monsanto said, “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible.” 

So I guess you were right, John, it is all about profit and those of us who have concerns should not have a worry in the world. The real issue is profit for the few at the expense of the many. So, I guess, for those who accumulate the profits, life is pretty rosy. Pity about the Indian, US, Canadian and British farmers whose roses have all wilted and failed to bloom. 

Yours Sincerely

Shane Elson

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