Controversial Genetically Modified “Golden Rice” is approved for use in the Philippines Amid Worldwide Mobilization Against Agra-Giant Monsanto
For the last 12 years, the use of Golden Rice has been hotly debated in the global community, with humanitarians, environmentalists, corporate lobbies, and governments all weighing in on the pros and cons of this controversial staple grain.
Golden Rice is a genetically modified strain of rice that produces more vitamin A than non-modified varieties through beta-carotene biosynthesis genes. Originally developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology as a humanitarian tool to combat malnutrition, Golden Rice has left the food justice community divided on the environmental impacts and the effects of globalization and patenting with regard to genetically modified crops.
Many humanitarians on both sides of the issue believe that the privilege of the Western Hegemony
plays a big role in this issue as most of Europe and North America do not suffer from chronic, widespread malnutrition from starvation. Resting on the same foundation of privilege and hegemony is the potential for multinational corporate exploitation of Golden Rice as a patented “ food product”.
This issue comes up at a time when research into transgenic modification of crops (dubbed Franken Foods) had Californians running to the legislature last November to push for GMO food labeling. In countries like the Philippines and India, where large segments of the population subsist on rice, food justice advocates such as Vandana Shiva must weigh the autonomy of farmers and the protection of biodiversity in crops against rampant malnutrition. In a recent February 17th article with Slate Magazine, Shiva expressed that the people who will supply Golden Rice have a greater hand in creating hunger than solving it.
Shiva has good reason to be skeptical of a high-tech solution to hunger because she has been fighting against seed monopolies held by corporations such as Monsanto for over half a century. Shiva and many other food justice advocates contend that food shortage is an illusion created by capitalism in order to keep people in a perpetual state of worry. For the better part of the 20th century, it has been standard practice for farmers in both the east and west to buy seeds on a subscription basis– whether they need to or not. Shiva has personally worked with farmers to preserve the traditions of seed-gathering and replanting, which in India has been a job that supported a large portion of the population until multi-national corporations undercut the domestic seed collectors and roped farmers into contracts that forbade the collection of seeds.
The rub here, is that these slight genetic modifications in the food market today weren’t created in a lab, and therefore shouldn’t really be patented and “owned” by corporations such as Monsanto.
Hybridization and cross-pollination etc. are all parts of natural evolution and we, by merely cultivating at all, are guiding the evolution of a plant and modifying its genetics. While transgenics are in the works, the GMO tomatoes in your produce aisle are merely another hybridized strain, just like heirloom tomatoes, it’s just that the GMO tomato is proprietary, and the heirloom is “free” (as in freedom from ownership).
The environmental impact of GMO is supremacy of Monsanto’s genetic strain of tomatoes, which has been sold wholesale to farmers for this season, and every foreseeable season unless we stop it. Stopping this trajectory is important, both for the farmer and for the environment because whether it’s Golden Rice, or simply a GMO tomato, the path we’re on will lead to decreased biodiversity and an increased risk of blight (like the Irish Potato Famine).
The ethical issue is copyrighted genetic material, that the US Customs Court of Appeals held in Diamond v. Chakrabarty (a scientist at GE) that genetic and microbial cultivars are more like an invented “detergent, or a reagent, than a (discovered) horse or a honeybee” which set precedent for life, including the human genome, to be patented and sold. For Monsanto, that means that a true monopoly on seeds, crops, even human genetic code, is possible and Vandana Shiva asserts that the “business” groundwork is already laid with farmers being denied the right to collect heirloom seeds all over the planet. If Monsanto were to ever implement a suicide gene in crops in order to enforce the contractual obligation to buy every season, their control would be absolute.
So what can we do? How can we tell the government of the Philippines that its children should go blind from Vitamin A deficiency? It’s not our place. Our place is here, fighting Agra-Giants such as Monsanto, Dupont, and GE here on American soil by tilling it up and growing our own food. We fight by marching on their headquarters and showing our unified refusal to follow the path of least resistance, because, as Utah Phillips says “The profit system follows the path of least resistance and the path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked!”
Join me tomorrow (05.11.13) at the Liberate the Land work party on the Gill Tract in Albany California. This action fights both for the use of the land, which is in danger of being literally turned into a parking lot by developers, as well as self-determination and control of what we sow in the soil and put in our bodies.
On 05.25.13, almost every major city in the United States (and the world!) will be having a March Against Monsanto to show that our resistance is fertile, and that Monsanto should keep its money-grubbing hands out of our soil, our genetics, and our food supply! Search “March Against Monsanto” and your local city for details on actions in your area.