Capitalism is the astounding belief that
the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the
greatest good of everyone.
-- John Maynard Keynes
We may have been so busy worrying about
bio-terrorism lately many of us missed a report on Monday that scientists
have found "genetically polluted" corn in Oaxaca,
Mexico, the "center of diversity of maize."
No one knows exactly how the contamination occurred, but it has truly terrible
Researchers ran tests on 22 samples of
natural, traditional varieties of maize grown in the state, and found that
15 of the samples were inexplicably contaminated with
genetically engineered bacillus thuringiensis
Last year, Kraft recalled taco shells that
mysteriously contained genetically altered "StarLink" corn, a product of
the Aventis SA Corporation that contains the BT gene. The
Oaxaca corn is being pulled from the market
The BT variety of maize has not been approved
for human consumption, yet every cell in a contaminated plant contains
the toxic pesticide's DNA. Genetic engineering
science is too new to have produced studies
on the long-term health effects of such modifications.
Still, it is relatively safe to eat BT
corn compared to consuming one of the untold potential novel combinations
of genes that may form when genetically engineered
organisms are released into the environment.
There is a more important reason to be
concerned about the confirmation of Greenpeace's report -- thousands of
natural varieties of corn grown in Mexico could become
contaminated, resulting in less diversity
The country's secretary of the environment
and natural resources, Victor Lichtinger, notes that risking genetic diversity
would be "a grave threat for the food security of the
This is shocking as genetically engineered
foods are often touted for their potential to increase the food supply,
thus helping meet the needs of a world population that is
expected to double in the next 20 years.
Ironically, they may be doing just the opposite.
According to Jack Harlan, a pioneering
American botanist and plant breeder, it is genetic diversity that "stands
between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we cannot
If genetically engineered foods are decreasing
diversity in ways we cannot control, we should consider other options for
feeding our future population not to mention the
700 million people currently chronically
malnourished across the globe.
But domination of agriculture by corporate
interests such as industrial growers and biotechnology companies has mostly
focused on the development of "products" they can
sell to solve the world's food supply
problems. Different types of research are needed.
Without addressing other reasons for the
projected food crisis -- lack of income to buy food, trade policies that
disadvantage farmers in the Third World, lack of knowledge of
higher-yield farming practices -- the
crisis will only get worse.
The Union of Concerned Scientists urges
farmers to consider alternative methods for real sustainable agriculture
such as crop rotation and traditional breeding techniques.
This helps to keep pests from flourishing
long enough to develop large populations, and controls more than just the
one or two varieties genetically engineered foods are
designed to control.
Agricultural scientists in the Philippines
recently announced they had used traditional breeding techniques to develop
a variety of rice plants that could increase the yield of
this important part of the world's diet
by 20 percent -- and all of the rice grains would be approved for human
We should be alarmed that these alternative
farming methods are not being supported. Instead of exploring how truly
to increase crop yields, the same corporate drive for
profit that directed much of the foreign
policy blamed for creating worldwide anger against the United States is
now encroaching on the safety of our food supply with
genetically engineered products.
According to Greenpeace, "Green Revolution"
technology has "destroyed crop diversity by supplanting local integral
crop systems based on a wide genetic base and
multiple use of crops."
It is time for a different kind of revolution
that addresses human need, not corporate greed.