A few weeks ago, Andrew Leonard, in his Salon-based blog How the World Works, sensed that "Malthus is in the air," writing that rising food prices are, among other things, encouraging folks to rethink their opposition of genetically-modified foods:
Biotech proponents see genetically modified crops as one more weapon in the arsenal of technological productivity enhancers that will enable humanity to continue slipping out of the tightening noose formed by a burgeoning population rapaciously exhausting finite resources. Biotech opponents variously see genetically modified organisms as a crime against nature, a Pandora's Box of ecological catastrophe waiting to happen, and fundamentally dependent on a petroleum-based infrastructure that itself is not sustainable. The tension at play here -- will science save us, or destroy us? -- is an ever-popular theme at How the World Works. The surge in food (and oil) prices is suggesting that a showdown between the opposing camps is far more imminent than might have been suspected, even just a year ago.The post, in general, is a good one (as much of Leonard's stuff is), but something about the above paragraph struck a sour note. It's that summary of the issues concerning "biotech opponents." They're not represented as particularly enlightened objections; in fact, they're religious. And this seems to be the standard representation -- if not the standard understanding -- of opponents of genetic modifications of foods.
So if it's not for some fear that fish-gene tomatoes are going to result in catastrophic, planetary retribution, what's the problem with the fact that the Bush administration will only give food aid if the recipients are willing to take GMOs along with it? (Even the article linked here, from the Washington Post, reduces the claims of biotech opponents to fears of allergies and environmental issues) The problem is that GMOs are intellectual private property. Though Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland want you to believe that, after decades of poisoning poor Americans (demonstrably the case for the former), they suddenly give a shit about feeding poor people elsewhere? Does anyone believe them?
Have a look at this month's Vanity Fair story on Monsanto, "Harvest of Fear." It's a good piece, a look at Monsanto's approach to "protecting" its intellectual property -- its phalanx of investigators and lawyers threatening farmers (and some non-farmers) who they suspect of planting their GMO seeds without paying for them. This is food-as-intellectual-property, and it scares the hell out of me. We don't need more of this, in more parts of the world.
Seeds should be open-source. I don't care so much about creating weird slimy monsters who will eat our children's brains. I care about shrinking common knowledge of agriculture, about the aggressive concentration of that knowledge into fewer and fewer hands. I don't think I'm alone in that, so why is it that folks opposed to biotech are always cast in the same mob-with-pitchforks light?