Friday, February 6, 2009

GMO protestor gets 22 years' imprisionment

This woman, Marie Mason, was handed a 22-year sentence yesterday because she protested (granted, with arson- not the best tactic) Michigan State University's role in the development in genetically modified crops.

The judge, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney, called her acts as an “abandonment of the marketplace of ideas.”

I couldn't disagree more with Judge Paul Maloney; there is zero possibility for a protester to engage in the 'marketplace of ideas' when it comes to GMO. Cargill, Monsanto, and ADM are unstoppable global Goliaths with gazillions of dollars and tens of thousands of of well-paid scientists and lobbyists firmly ensconced in every hall of power on the planet. There is no David that can fight them. I completely understand what might lead a very passionate individual to such tactics.

Marie had been a peaceful protester once, but she joined Earth Liberation Front after peaceful methods didn't make any headway. When you're trying to reason with unbelievably greedy and sociopathic corporations
, peaceful methods are useless. I often wonder how Gandhi would have dealt with Big Ag had it existed in his time.


Here's how farmers in India protest their own government forcing them to use GM seeds- they commit suicide. By the thousands. This enforcement is another step in India's "Green Revolution", which took place in the mid-20th century right after their independence from Britain. Millions of people were starving and dying in India, so the new government introduced Western farming practices nation-wide. At the time, it included the use of pesticides and petro-fertilizers. Now it includes GM seeds.

But, why was there mass-starvation in India in the first place? India is home to one of the oldest civilizations on earth. Farming has existed there for at least 6,000 years, with no need for chemical or GM help. The starvation of the 20th century wasn't due to sudden population explosion or ignorance on the part of Indians. It was the result of the British Empire forcing farmers to grow non-food crops for export (cotton, indigo, spices) instead of the incredibly diverse food crops they had always grown. But even after Ghandi's revolution, British monocrops were still firmly in place. So how to feed many people and still grow the financially important export crops? Implement Western food monocrop methods which require chemicals and pesticides. The methods worked fine for a while, just like they do everywhere else. But eventually, the soil suffers and dies, bugs evolve with pesticide resistance, water runs out or becomes poisoned. So the process must be stepped up. And GM seeds came along just in time.

With the use of Western chemicals, at least farmers could still save seeds. But once the government forced the farmers to use GM seed, they couldn't save seeds from year to year anymore, for two reasons. First, GM seeds are hybrids. Saving hybrid seeds is folly. The seeds might or might not produce the next year- or when they do produce, the plants are poor. When you can't save seeds, you have to buy seeds, every year. Second, even if the farmers were able to save hybrid seeds, it would be illegal to do so because Monsanto owns the genes. This forced practice is absurdly expensive for poor farmers. And seeds from Monsanto corporate central won't necessarily grow in a farmer's particular micro-climate.

Seeds saved from year to year, for many years, are called "land-races". They have been slowly selected over time by local farmers who live on that particular patch of dirt, and they produce best for that spot. India has millions of these micro-climates, and there were probably tens of millions of land-race seeds all over India before the GM revolution. But land-race seeds are now dying out, and the GM seeds don't produce nearly as well. Farmers are forced into bankruptcy because they have to buy seed every year, or they have no profit because of bad crop production, or both. Culture suffers, families suffer, villages suffer. As farmers fail, Big Ag Mega-corps buy up the land. As land becomes privatized, Big Ag companies gain more power. So otherwise voiceless and desperate individuals protest in the only way they can.

Forced GMO use is happening in the US, too, though there are no known suicides from it. Farmers are strong-armed into buying GM seeds, and are sued if their non-GM crops test positive for privately owned genetics, since the Big Ag company "owns" that patented organism. And how does a non-GM crop become positive for those genetic markers? Pollen drift. Because of wind. Pollen can't be contained. And no one knows what will happen over time if GM genes are widely released and absorbed into our food sources.

I understand the frustration of Marie Mason. And now that we have a pro-GMO Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, I'm even more frustrated and less hopeful.

Home gardeners in the U.S. have some choices for non-GMO seeds. My personal favorite is Seed Saver's Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Every gardener should grow at least some heirloom, non-GMO vegetable seeds, and learn to save seeds. It's really the only way we can fight back.


PJ said...

I'll tell you exactly how this happened in the US. They held hearings and no one came. There was no protest so they were able to put into motion this desecration. I can't justify the use of violence but I can't say that what the ag businesses do isn't senseless violence either.

d. moll, said...

Let's bust her out......OK I know that's not really feasible, guess I'll just grow a garden and snub my sister-in-law who works for Monsanto. Sigh, sometimes there seems to be so very little one can do.

Tamra Stallings said...

Great point, this year I am growing only 1 hybrid variety. For everything else I plan to save the seeds. I feel very empowered when I plant seeds I have saved form prior years.

chaiselongue said...

This is terrible news. I can understand her frustration with peaceful methods of protest which get nowhere. Big Ag is only interested in making money. They say they are going to feed the world - but the way to do this is to grow local crops that suit the area, not GM crops and then zap them with chemicals. What's happening to the farmers in India is tragic, having got independence from colonisation they're now being colonised by big business.

What can we do? This year we shall be using some seed we've saved and been given, and seeds we've bought from small organisations, eg. Kokopelli, which has been prosecuted by the big seed companies in France for selling varieties not on the approved list.