Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monsanto Goons, Zombie Money, and Backyard Chickens

Lately I've been following lots of interesting stuff on Food Freedom, from heirlooms vs hybrids for Haiti, to the latest developments in synthetic biology, to the promising movements among consumers and gardeners to reclaim their food sovereignty. But somehow I keep getting drawn back to this article by Rady Ananda, as the author and others take issue with my call for civility. It's perhaps gotten a little out of proportion, given that I don't disagree with the outrage behind the article. Just saying that there needs to be a little more nuance for this to be taken more seriously outside the choir.

Let's face it, anyone who is an insider with the New Democrats is going to take a pro-Monsanto position until it is politically unfavorable to do so. That includes a big chunk of Mr. Obama's staff, cabinet, and departmental bureaucracy. In Monsanto v Geertson Seed, Solicitor General Kagan was doing her job, advocating for the position of APHIS and the whole corrupt federal bureaucracy. She is much less involved than the others cited in the article, such as Michael "revolving-door" Taylor, Monsanto attorney when he's not with the FDA, and cousin-in-law to former VP Al Gore. This will be a non-issue in Kagan's confirmation hearings, and not a battle I choose.

In the big picture, in this world of oil spills, rising temperatures, and pervasive chemical contamination, GMOs might really be small potatoes after all. They will probably be another stupid thing out there we have to learn to live with. Already, resistant strains of common weeds, like pigweed and lamb's quarters, are threatening the viability of the Roundup-ready system. I've got both those plants in my garden, and I know how many seeds they produce! They're also edible, attract beneficial insects, and draw minerals from deep soil layers. So why not work on systems that allow them to coexist with crops, instead of new ways to stamp them out?

That does give me an idea, though. Anyone who has access to, say, resistant pigweed, could save seed and distribute it around the country. A few seeds could be dropped discreetly by the roadside next to a field of alfalfa or soybeans. One seed can become millions in a season, and an effective network of seed savers could really accelerate the process of Roundup-ready obsolescence. Just one bit of warning: Technically, though I don't the particulars here, some of the resistance could have started with gene transfer from GM crops via a virus or bacteria. In that case Monsanto could sue you for patent infringement. It wouldn't be the first time...

As erstwhile producers of DDT and Agent Orange, Monsanto has a history of risking environmental health and safety for the lure of quick easy money. Their cut-and-run tactics have kept them going for over a century, and now that they are buying up major seed suppliers, they are consolidating that market and possibly securing their next exit strategy. All the more reason to buy, grow, save, and exchange open-pollinated varieties.

Monsanto is to biotechnology what Wal-mart is to retail chains, what Microsoft is to IT, what McDonald's is to fast food, what Exxon (and lately BP) is to oil, and what Disney is to entertainment: they are the big kahuna, the lightning rod, the one we love to hate. Meanwhile, Bayer, of aspirin fame, has their own biotech division, along with a pretty shady past. I can only imagine how much they love Monsanto for taking most of the publicity hits!

Soon, we might not give a rat's ass about glyphosate or resistance thereto. If you believe John Michael Greer over at The Archdruid Report, the whole foundation of Monsanto's business, cheap oil and plentiful cash, are quickly becoming things of the past. In what amounts to a rough draft of his next book in serial blog form, Greer makes a compelling case that the modern economic and industrial system is on the verge of collapse. The global oil supply is about to peak, if it has not already done so, and the vacuous tertiary economy based on "undead money" will implode once governments can no longer afford to keep it inflated.

But instead of despairing, his posts and the comments from his readers are full of interesting thoughts on how to be prepared and how to carry on, and it's not your usual survivalist fare.

In his latest post, he presents his case for backyard gardening as one way of muddling through in the new reality.

Not so long ago, everybody grew food in their yards, and not just vegetables. Chickens, cows, sheep, and pigs shared small lots with people and plants, and there were always eggs and milk in easy reach. The animals provided food, fertilizer, and weed and pest control. Today so many people live under restrictive ordinances or covenants that only allow conventional "pets," but there is a movement to change that, and now many urban and suburban areas allow a small number of hens.

Among the more interesting sources for this topic is the City Chicken. Here you can learn about chicken laws around the country, see a bunch of cool chicken coops and "tractors" (portable henhouses), and get generally inspired. At chickenvideo.com there is a lot of good information and links. If I decide to add chickens to my garden, I will have to get the county code changed first. Maybe I'll start working on that petition...


  1. Well said, Jim. We share many values, but perhaps disagree on when to lampoon a politician. There is no doubt that the US Supreme Court will hear more GMO cases, and Kagan will no doubt support GMOs.

    The entire GMO history - that it was approved before science showed it was safe for the environment and humans, and that the US is using its influence to spread GMOs around the world, even going so far as to craft a bill that targets billions of US taxpayers dollars to force GMOs on starving nations -- reminds me of the Edsel.

    Even if GMOs are perfectly safe (which science tends to prove otherwise), we - most of the people on the planet - do not want them.

    Can you imagine the Ford Motor Co getting laws passed that required people to buy a model they didn't want?

    How corrupt is that? These creeps have a product that we don't want and they are forcing it on us.

    I say we pillory the lot of them.

    btw, my first name is Rady, not Nady.

    otherwise, I agree with your piece and would like to repost it at Food Freedom, if you allow.


    ~ Rady Ananda

  2. Rady, sorry for the misspell; just fixed it.

    As for Kagan, I wouldn't write her off yet. Folks from all political directions are calling her a judicial mystery. Now that she's (nearly) clawed her way to a secure seat of power, she might surprise us. Mind you, I'm not holding my breath...

    Thanks for the kind words, and feel free to repost.