Archive for industrial agriculture

Genetic Defects Increasingly Apparent

Posted in Losing Ground with tags , , , on June 14, 2010 by talewis

I have taken a certain amount of flack for presuming to argue, in Brace for Impact, that genetic engineering has not been a success, that it indeed cannot be a success, and presents terrifying dangers to the web of life and to human well- being. So it is gratifying to have the New York Times confirm many of my arguments.

In the book I argued that the mis-named practice of genetic “engineering” has nothing to do with precise manipulation of genes, but is in fact a crap shoot in which scientists create new viruses and loose them on cells to see what happens. Once in a while, in the manner of a roomful of monkeys at keyboards, something meaningful results, such as a tomato with a fish gene that allows it to tolerate cold. For this we risk the escape into the world of a mutant organism of unknown capabilities.

Millions of dollars in advertising, bought by corporations that enjoy billions in revenues and research grants because of their genetic ambitions and pretenses, convince us that someone, somewhere, sometime soon, is or will be enjoying the fruits of this ultra-modern technology. Yet there is no objective evidence that this is so.

The much touted Green Revolution in agriculture (whose name, properly understood, refers to the color of money, not of growing things) has replaced traditional, sustainable agriculture with genetically modified seeds requiring chemically and mechanically intensive — above all, expensive — methods that, it was promised, would feed the world. They have, to the contrary, impoverished much of the world and endangered the rest by depressing yields, raising the cost of production and destroying the soils, water and air required for the enterprise to continue.

Unabashed by their failures and unrestrained in their promises of future success, the genetic manipulators moved on from ravaged plants to humans, where the prospects for profits and appalling mistakes were much brighter. The massively expensive “human genome project” ($3 billion is an estimate) set out to map the human genetic code, all three billion genes. Success was declared — albeit a weirdly limited, even truncated success in which most of the genes were not, in fact, “mapped” and most of those identified were labelled as “junk” with no known function — at a presidential news conference in 2000.

It was your standard, technology-is-omnipotent, welcome-to-the-21st-Century songfest. In ten years, said President Bill Clinton, echoing the triumphant gene mappers, the knowledge gained would “revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases.”

Ten years have passed since that bit of hubris was expressed. And, as the New York Times reported yesterday with an elegant phrase, results remain “largely elusive.”

By which the paper meant intended results. For example, a study of 101 genetic “predictors” of heart disease, in 10,000 women over 12 years, found that the predictors predicted nothing at all.

What has been clearly demonstrated, and is being steadfastly ignored by all the people whose livelihood depends on the funding of strangers, is that the further technology pushes into the codes of life, the further the horizon of comprehension recedes. Having an incomplete and largely speculative map of Africa, it turns out, is not helpful to the enterprise of crossing Africa on foot.

As I reported in Brace for Impact, a participant in the human genome project recalled afterward that they had thought that to transcribe the alphabet of the genome would be to understand it. Instead, it merely allowed them to hear snippets of a marvelously complex, subtle and varied language that is far beyond their comprehension. Where it will remain.

It is one thing to learn what we can of these marvelous and mysterious processes. It is quite another to presume to take them under our management for profit when both our ignorance, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of that ignorance, are huge.

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Threats to the World’s Food Supply Proliferate

Posted in Losing Ground with tags on June 2, 2010 by talewis

The relentless assault on the food supplies of the world by industrial agriculture and its consequences continues unabated, and largely ignored. Recent developments involving principal staple crops include:

Bananas. Banana wilt disease continues to decimate the staple crop of East Africa, ravaging the plant relied upon by large populations in Uganda, Rwanda, western Kenya and Bukoba in north-western Tanzania. The disease, which is on a rampage because of the global industry’s insistence on using a single strain of banana (the Cavendish), is adding its threat to food security in a region where severe drought has reduced the production of maize, beans and milk. Continue reading

All of Our Aquifers are Leaking

Posted in A Drinking Problem with tags , , , on February 1, 2010 by talewis

Relentlessly, our industrial society continues to destroy the natural resources essential to its survival, with industrial agriculture leading the way. Perhaps the worst — and least recognized — example, in terms of the accelerating pace and ominous portents of the destruction, is the depletion of water resources by overconsumption. Continue reading

You Want Fries With That? Ammonia? Bacteria?

Posted in Fat of the Land with tags , , , on January 4, 2010 by talewis

Two little-noticed stories during the year-end holiday period demonstrated the ominous, increasing stresses on our industrial food-supply system, and the absence of any rational, let alone effective, measures to safeguard it.

First, a 16-state outbreak of E. Coli contamination in meat, sickened more than 20 people in the Midwest and required the recall of a quarter-million pounds of beef. Continue reading

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Posted in Losing Ground with tags , , , on November 17, 2009 by talewis

Monoculture is a form of mass suicide practiced by groups of people who think they are smarter than Mother Nature. The Irish put their faith in the potato, and the potato famine that resulted nearly extinguished them. In vast reaches of the equatorial world, the potato equivalent — the staple food without which life is not sustainable — is the banana.

The banana famine is imminent. A country such as ours, whose economy and diet depends heavily on one plant — corn — should pay attention. Continue reading

Putting the Fox in Charge of the Canary

Posted in Fat of the Land with tags , on November 7, 2009 by talewis

Even after you have accepted the degree to which money has locked down the American political system, and hence its government; after you realize that there are really no more Democrats and Republicans in American politics, just Moneycrats and losers; it can still be astonishing what Money can do.

In Ohio this year, Big Agriculture decided it was threatened by the pesky people from the Humane Society of the United States who have persuaded several states to moderate the brutal treatment of animals in factory farms — such things as confining nursing sows in cages so small they can neither turn around nor even get up. Widely broadcast videos of the misery and brutality that is routinely involved in providing our beef, pork and poultry have aroused the disgust of enough people that the usual chant of “leave us alone our your food prices will go up,” or “leave us alone or we’ll stop creating jobs,” aren’t working so well any more. Continue reading

Got Swine Flu? Thank a Swine Factory

Posted in Fat of the Land with tags , , on October 27, 2009 by talewis

Even when the Washington Post gets around to placing the blame for the H1N1 Flu pandemic squarely where it belongs — on industrial agriculture — it does so obliquely, and with the mindset created by the industry’s flacks that prevents us from facing its increasingly dire consequences. Continue reading