Paying for news

November 2011

IN066S04 World Bank
Cotton harvest in India
Photo: © Ray Witlin / World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr
Faced with a major public relations headache in 2008, when the high price attached to GM cotton seeds plus the failure of consecutive GM cotton crops were being blamed for rising farmer suicides in India, Monsanto's PR boys put together some 'news' to pour oil on troubled waters.

Monsanto first arranged an 'educational' trip for a group of journalists to farms of the Yavatmal district where the company has been selling Bt cotton seeds since 2002. This generated a story for the media to tell the world that the “Yavatmal district is known as the Suicide Capital of the state but two villages - Bhrambraja and Antargaon - are an aberration for the better. Not a single person from the two villages has committed suicide”. The positive experiences of these two villages apparently included “the ability of farmers to purchase on cash instead of credit” and to invest back into their farms.

India's GM aubergines become a test case for biopiracy laws

November 2011

Brinjals
Indian brinjals (aubergine). Photo by YL Tan on Flickr
India's Bt brinjal (aubergine), already infamous after being banned on health and safety grounds in February 2010 (see GM AUBERGINES – GMFS News Archive, February 2010), has now become a test-case for the country's biopiracy laws.

A formal complaint was initially lodged by the Environmental Support Group (ESG) in 2010. This claimed that ten local varieties of brinjal had been criminally accessed. Since then, it has taken the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) a full year to investigate the case. The Authority's conclusion has been to recommend legal action in respect of six varieties of GM brinjal.

Beware non-genetic engineering!

November 2011

The Human Genome. Picture from Wikimedia Commons
The foundation of commercial GM technology is the concept that one gene gives rise to one protein. A gene is a precise sequence of DNA which forms a 'blueprint' for the creation of a protein. DNA expresses itself by producing a precise sequence of (chemically-related) RNA. RNA provides the 'blue-print' for the manufacture of the protein after which it is quickly destroyed. From a regulatory point of view, DNA per se can't possibly be harmful unless it expresses itself, RNA per se can't possibly be harmful because it disappears, and the protein can easily be manufactured and safety-tested in isolation.

By ignoring the inconvenient layers of complexity at all levels of DNA expression, the biotech industry has exploited this simplistic model very lucratively. In particular, the industry has exploited ignorance. In a living cell, the genes form only some 2% of the total DNA. Ignorance about the function of all the remaining DNA was dealt with by pronouncing it 'junk'.

The unlikelihood of a cell wasting so much of its resources to create unnecessary 'padding' was simply set aside.

The Great Industrial Dictatorship

November 2011

KGB Burgers; Double Bacon & Cheese Burger with Fries
Photo by Jaryl Cabuco | Fitted Life on Flickr
Isn't there something paradoxical about the American way of doing things?

Health care in America is not for the sick, it's for the healthy. To get health care in America, you need health insurance. To get health insurance, you have to be healthy.

Health care and health insurance are both big business, and they feed off one another. The health care business needs the health insurance business to ensure patients can pay their bills. The health insurance business needs the health care business as a reason to exist at all: the trick is to keep just enough funds flowing into health care to keep it functioning, and to avoid insuring bad risks (sick people).

Weeds are also big business...

China bans GM rice

November 2011

Longji Rice Terraces, China
Longji rice terraces, China
Photo by (Stephan) on Flickr
The Chinese government has taken a “milestone” decision to suspend the commercialisation of GM rice and other staple grain crops, such as wheat, for the next 5 to 10 years.

Since rice is the main staple food of 1.3 billion Chinese people, successful non-GM crop development on the scale needed will likely have world-wide implications.

China has traditionally taken a very precautionary attitude to GM crops. Its biosafety assessment has taken more than five years to complete. Even after a GM product has been granted a safety certificate, it must undergo strict production tests at the local level (there are 28 autonomous provinces in China) before products reach the public.

With the goal of achieving 100% self-sufficiency in rice, wheat and corn (the country's three main staple crops), China is putting in place 'Plan (2011-2020)' to develop a modern agricultural crop seed industry.

Western corn rootworm is toppling GM corn in America

November 2011

Western corn rootworm
Picture from Wikimedia Commons
The fact that western corn rootworm is toppling GM corn in America is bad news because the corn has had a 'Bt'-toxin gene inserted which is supposed to kill this major pest.

Modern corn crops, which cover tens of millions of acres of the American mid-west, look very different from those of a generation back. Now, American corn grows “head high and bristling. The stalks stand should to shoulder like an army without rank, their sharp-edged, sword-like leaves forming a nearly impenetrable wall. A modern corn field would have rebuffed Cary Grant in 'North by Northwest' because there are no rows to speak of, only a dense lattice of intersecting spears.”

There's not much scope in these fields for weeds, wildlife, or old-fashioned agricultural chemical treatment, never mind film-stars.