Jon shared Controlling Our Food on Facebook, but as that leaves out most of my readers, I'll post it here.  I almost didn't, because whoever put it up on Google Video is some sort of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist.  That doesn't negate the importance of what this French documentary has to say, however, so in the spirit of "the wise man recognizes truth in the words of his enemies," I recommend taking the time to watch this video, because it raises some critical issues about the environment and the future of our food supply. (It's nearly two hours long, but it not content-dense, so you can do something else while listening or be liberal with the fast-forward button.)

Controlling Our Food is primarily about the Monsanto Corporation.  To bolster the claim that Monsanto will do anything to increase profits, including lie and cover up and put people at grave risk of illness and death, the first part of the documentary is old news about PCBs and dioxin and industrial/agricultural pollution.  True enough, but old, and overly long, so that even in two hours there is not enough time given to the main points.

My main points, anyway.  Perhaps the creators of the video intended it to be primarily an anti-Monsanto slam.  To confess my own biases, I prefer organic, locally-grown, heirloom products produced on small farms as naturally as possible, but this does not make me anti-technology, anti-agribusiness, or even anti-GMO food (in principle), any more than being strongly in favor of educational choice, and homeschooling in particular, makes me blind to the benefits of public education. Mankind has been "engineering" his crops and livestock from prehistoric times, and in most cases this has been a good thing.  There is a place for insecticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and other chemical interferences with nature.  We take for granted the abundance of inexpensive food produced by our "factory farming," and those who would destroy the system need to consider the impact of that destruction, especially on the poor.

It's the long-range impact and unintended consequences of our technological innovations that concern me, and that's what I took away from Controlling Our Food.  Perhaps Monsanto is evil incarnate and its executives are conspiring to poison us all and take over the world—but I doubt it.  I distrust them, because I distrust any large organization that dominates a field, whether it's Monsanto, Microsoft, Google, the Teamsters Union, or the national government.  But one doesn't need to have bad intentions to provoke evil consequences, and here are a few that should concern us:

  • Monsanto's "Round-Up Ready" soybeans have been genetically engineered to resist Monsanto's popular herbicide, Round-Up.  Farmers who plant this seed variety can drench their fields with herbicide to keep them weed-free while allowing the soybean plants to grow.  It doesn't take much thinking to realize this means Round-Up will be used extensively rather than judiciously.

  • Injudicious use of herbicides threatens the non-GMO crops of neighboring farmers.

  • And what about the effect of those herbicides on farm workers and their families?

  • And on those of us who subsequently eat those Round-Up laced soybeans?

  • Because GMO seeds are patented, farmers are forbidden to save seed for next year's planting, and Monsanto aggressively pursues lawsuits against anyone they think is violating this agreement.

  • This is especially disconcerting because the modified genes are distributed by natural forces beyond the boundaries of the originally-planted field.

  • Which is concerning in itself, and threatens all non-GMO varieties, especially heirloom and native strains.

  • More and more farmers are planting GMO crops, in order to remain competitive, and because non-GMO seeds are becoming increasingly unavailable.

  • Poor farmers are especially hard-hit, because the natural strains of a crop that their families could subsist on—replanting the "seed corn" from year to year—are being lost; often high-cost GMO seeds are the only choice available.

  • Anything that threatens our biodiversity is potentially a major, long-term problem.  Not only does the lack of variety give us a bland sameness—all store-bought orange juice tastes the same—but any disease or pest threat to the one remaining strain endangers the entire food supply.

  • When we reach the point where we cannot get seed for the future from our current crop, we are standing on top of a house of cards far more serious than the one that collapsed in our current financial crisis.

As I wrote in my review of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:

Our food supply is no longer self-sustainable.  Plants and animals have for years been bred for many characteristics, but those which encourage reproduction, by seed or by sex, are not among them.  Those who sell seeds have little interest in plants that will allow the farmer to save seeds from his current crop rather than purchasing new seeds for the next year.  Characteristics that make animals successful reproducers are not generally compatible with the technique of keeping animals in close confinement, and besides, artificial insemination is more reliable and predictable, so that’s the way our agricultural animals are reproduced.  I find the idea of a food supply that can’t last beyond the current generation without artificial intervention to be very, very scary.  Closely related is the way we have bred variety out of our food plants and animals.  Ninety-nine percent of the turkeys we eat, for example, are of a single breed, the Broad-Breasted White.  All I can think of when I hear numbers like that is the Irish Potato Famine.  We may end up owing our lives to heritage and heirloom plant and animal breeders like our friend at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm.

P.S. To the makers of the video: You do not inspire confidence in your findings by showing us that most of your research was apparently done via Google searches.  Perhaps it was intended to assure us that the information is readily available, but I find it to be like a college student submitting a research paper in which all his sources are cited from Wikipedia.  If you do a search for "dangers of epidurals" you will (currently) see this on the first page (click on the image for a larger view):

Yes, that's my blog that's listed as the number one site offered on "dangers of epidurals."  As fond as I am of my own opinions, I wouldn't think much of a story on childbirth anesthesia that cited me as a source.


Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 10:07 am | Edit
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Yes, I had the same thoughts about the google searches. You can type in all sorts of crazy phrases, like:

Jon Daley is bad for the environment

And you get - 387 THOUSAND hits - he must be a really bad guy.

Posted by Jon Daley on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 9:32 am

Stephan Stuecklin is bad for the environment nets only 170 hits. Apparently I'm about 2000 times better, even though I spend a good part of my job in aluminum kerosene-to-CO2 converter tubes... Thank you, Google!

Posted by Stephan on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 2:03 pm

And most days Jon's commute consists of walking from the bedroom to the office, if that. Go figure.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 3:02 pm

You'll be glad to know that "stephan stuecklin eats babies for breakfast" returns no hits. Sometimes it pays to have an uncommon last name.

Posted by Stephan on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Not for long... it should soon have 1 hit.

Posted by Peter V on Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 11:35 am

Exactly... to my mother-in-law's blog. That I find vaguely wrygrinny.

Posted by Stephan on Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 11:51 am