(Written With Merry Hall)
For centuries farmers have saved seeds from season to season; they planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, then reclaimed and cleaned the seeds over the winter for re-planting the next spring. Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head.
As Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farm in Northern Maine and President of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) eloquently points out on our ENVISION THIS! September 6 th broadcast, the industrial giant, Monsanto, has developed genetically modified seeds that are resistant to its own herbicide. That herbicide is called Roundup, which farmers spray fields with to control weeds while their crops are protected from the death-dealing effects of a tiny, patented gene. Monsanto has, therefore, been allowed to patent the seeds, so now it controls both the crops and the chemical weed killers. Brilliant marketing, disastrous long-term economic and ecological outcomes!
For nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented. In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world's food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover "a live human-made microorganism." In this case, the organism wasn't even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. With the patenting of a single bacteria, generations of precedent and common sense were overturned, opening the floodgates for patenting life forms based on very minor changes in genetic structure and the takeover of 70-90% of the global seed market by Monsanto. So much for anti-trust legislation. (In a later case regarding genetically modified alfalfa, Clarence Thomas refused to recuse himself despite his background as a Monsanto lawyer. His was the determining vote that allowed Monsanto dominance over the world food supply to continue to grow.)
Farmers who buy Monsanto's patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto.
The corporate takeover of our food supply has been further obfuscated. Monsanto has, on the one hand, bullied the patent office into allowing the patenting of seeds as "unique" products (ignoring the 99.9% of seed development carried on by generations of farmers); they have also, on the other hand, bullied the FDA into accepting genetically modified seed as "substantially equivalent" to open pollinated seed, so the GM foods do not have to be labeled. As Jim Gerritsen pointed out with fervor, "They can't have it both ways." Well, they do have it both ways unless the OSGATA et al vs. Monsanto suit is allowed a court hearing! Over 90% of Americans believe that GMO labeling should be required, but the government has favored the corporate voice over the popular voice. This favoritism of the 1% over the 99% will only become stronger, unless we empower ourselves as a people.
Seed saving has been done for ten thousand years, ever since humans evolved from hunting and gathering cultures to agricultural. The beginning of the agricultural revolution allowed people to stay at home to work the fields and tend to the animals. It also allowed for increased food security. In a hunting expedition, you may or may not see any game and even if you do, you might miss. In foraging, you also have less control over whether you will find food or not. With agriculture, unfortunately, control became a central aspect of developing human culture.
In essence, many of the animals that became domesticated did so realizing they were in a "win -- win" situation. While chickens and cows may be placed on our dining room table, the fact is we give them food alongside a secure place to live out their lives. Indeed, it is easy to imagine wild dogs who begin to realize that humans were willing to feed them, which reduced their need to hunt. Thus, the species DOG increasingly aligned itself with humans as pets and partners in hunting, herding and other talents that dogs are proficient at.
I hope it is apparent that I am ascribing an intelligence to the species and not so much to individual animals or people. I personally don't see any distinction between Nature and Wisdom. For those that see Nature as verb, I would give them the distinction while saying that Wisdom is Nature's Process. In the words of the Tao Te Ching, Wisdom is the Way. This line of reasoning is supported through Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis. The Gaia Hypothesis posits that the organic and inorganic components of Planet Earth have evolved together as a single living, self-regulating system. It suggests that this living system has automatically controlled global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors, that maintains its own habitability. In a phrase, "life maintains conditions suitable for its own survival." In this respect, the living system of Earth can be thought of analogous to the workings of any individual organism that regulates body temperature, blood salinity, etc. So, for instance, even though the luminosity of the sun -- the Earth's heat source -- has increased by about 30 percent since life began almost four billion years ago, the living system has reacted as a whole to maintain temperatures at levels suitable for life.
As animals may acclimate to climate by growing or shedding fur, the Earth appears to react to the Sun's luminosity. Thus there appears to be a feedback system in place where inputs spark reactions and those reactions then become inputs back into the environment. The process then becomes cyclical and not necessarily linear. Ultimately, this also relates to the work of chaos theory where everything affects everything else. Changing one thing means you change everything.
Take the simple act of breathing. Your inhalation of oxygen is converted into carbon dioxide which the trees breathe in. The trees then convert the carbon into oxygen which you then breath in. So, if you chop down all the forests, what happens?
What this boils down to regarding how we work the land is that how we affect the land affects the planet and how we affect the planet, in turn, affects us. If our industries are spewing out more carbon dioxide, then we are losing oxygen for our own lungs. On top of this, as we deforest the planet, we are taking out the very plants that are manufacturing oxygen for us to breathe, not to mention helping to regulate the cycle of water. We are systematically making the planet uninhabitable for our species as well as all other mammals.
When humanity begins to "mess" with natural systems, as is the case in genetic engineering and standardized farming processes, then we mess with the entire planet, which means we "mess" with ourselves, and our friends and family. This is exactly why the work of people like Jim Gerritsen is important.
Monsanto, in essence, is playing with fire in manipulating genes as if they were commodities. In so doing, they are fostering and increasing the disastrous results of our overbuilding, and exhaling unhealthy levels of carbon dioxide through deforesting and industry. When taken in relationship to the inhumane and cruel way in which corporate farming treats animals, and how the educational system treats children, the entire process speaks to dictatorial control over people and Nature through standardization and control. This was not what agriculture was intended to lead to, but it IS what it has come down to unless we support the small family farmers of the world (Davids) in the face of the economic and political clout of corporations such as Monsanto (Goliaths).
Yet, evolution does not occur this way. It is not dictated by some external means. As the mystics say, God is within. Just so the evolutionary potential (call Him Buddha, Christ, Krishna or Buffalo Woman) is within us. The way that evolutionary potential is suppressed is by the overall modern tendency of humanity to control and dominate others, including other people as well as the planet. What we need to do is to begin structuring systems of farming, education, living etc in which potential is allowed to unfold. How we farm mirrors how we live. Dare we take the power out of the hands of the sociopaths, the corporations and underling politicians, and place it back into the hands of ordinary people and communities?