Evolution favours diversity and decentralisation. GM food favours monopoly.
by Satish Kumar
In a recent speech, the UK government’s environment minister, Owen Paterson, promoted the idea that farmers should embrace genetically modified (GM) seeds in agriculture. Our minister – together with Monsanto – wants the world to grow GM foods in the name of modernity, progress and science.
One of their strongest arguments is that it will only be through growing GM crops that we will be able to feed the growing future population. However, the reality is that there is no shortage of food in the world.
According to the government’s own statistics, some 40% of the world’s food is wasted and thrown away. And the remaining 60% is not all used to feed people. An increasing proportion of grain is turned into biofuel to run cars, trucks and tractors. Similarly, a huge proportion goes into animal feed.
So, before I can accept the argument that favours GM, I want to know what our government (and others) plans to do about stemming the 40% of food being wasted. And can we not resolve to feed people before we feed cars and animals with our precious grain?
I am also concerned about the demise of biodiversity caused by a dependence on GM crops. Already the impact of hybrid seeds is having a devastating effect. For example, there used to be hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties of apple, but the mass production of monocrop varieties such as Golden Delicious, which is neither golden nor delicious, has driven out most of the local varieties that would live up to that name. And you can see the same happening with other kinds of fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs, grains and pulses.
If this is already the case with hybrid seeds, what will happen if we succumb to GM seeds? My profound fear is that we will all be subjected to a greatly reduced number of mass-produced, unhealthy monocrop foods that have all been grown and managed by machines and robots. And this new type of farming will be called ‘scientific agriculture’.
Through all this ‘civilised’ and mechanised food processing, we have lost our knowledge and taste of wild foods. The New York Times recently reported that a dandelion has seven times more nutrients than a hybrid spinach plant! But who amongst us even knows how to enjoy such wild foods?
Most of the fruits and vegetables on sale are grown under plastic tunnels using artificial fertilisers and then sold in plastic wrapping. My great worry is that on our journey towards GM crops, we will exacerbate this situation.
At the moment, millions of farmers and gardeners around the world enjoy independence and self-reliance and are able to earn a livelihood because they save their own seeds, year after year. If these same independent food growers were to become dependent on just four or five multinational companies (such as Monsanto) for their seeds – and thus their livelihood – that would be the end of their liberty. Putting the future of independent farmers in the hands of technocrats sitting in fancy city labs, motivated by big financial profits in the interest of their shareholders, is a recipe for disaster.
Evolution favours diversity and decentralisation. GM food favours monoculture and monopoly. So, in my view, this so-called scientific food revolution is anti-evolution.
We need to give dignity to farmers and gardeners. We need to realise that dirt is not dirty; working with the soil is a respectful profession. Why should a banker be paid £10,000 a day and a farmer one-hundredth of that? This should be the other way around!
Why is it that growing our food – without which we cannot survive – is rated so low, and playing with numbers on a computer screen so high?
Farmers have accumulated a great deal of wisdom based on the experience of thousands of years. They have worked with Nature and learned from her.
So, Mr Paterson, please leave farmers alone. It is Nature, the soil and the farmers who will feed the world, not Monsanto, not GM and not the technocrats.
Satish Kumar is Editor-in-Chief at Resurgence & Ecologist.