Pure greed drives food engineering

The harvest of genetically modified corn near Santa Rosa, Calif.
The harvest of genetically modified corn near Santa Rosa, Calif. Rich Pedroncelli /AP Photo

The April 14 commentary, "Ignorance hinders food science advances," by Albert Kausch, would have been more enlightening were the subject "capitalism run amok."

The issue of the patenting of life forms for profit is an ethical, moral and an ecological one. But in this case the "Golden Rule" might be, "He who has the gold makes the rules." The commentary by Dr. Kausch is rendered questionable by the fact that he has developed genetically modified vegetables for sale and has numerous relationships with industry.

He suggests that these new "products" will feed the world but with closer inspection they are feeding the pockets of an increasingly suspicious industry where, to quote best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver from her book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" - "It is hardly possible to exaggerate the cynicism of this industry. In internal reports, Monsanto notes 'growers who save seed from one year to the next' as significant competitors and allocates a $10-million budget for investigation and prosecuting seed savers."

Kingsolver's well researched book offers that Monsanto's expansion into owning seed catalogs - Johnny's, Stokes, Territorial, Seminis, and others - is crippling to genetic diversity. Kingsolver continues, "Garden seed inventories show that while 5,000 non-hybrid vegetable varieties were available in 1981 the number in 1998 was down to 600." Looks like a genetic diversity nightmare! Call me a cock-eyed dreamer but the seeds we save should be as free as the air we breathe.

What is clear is that companies like Monsanto have succeeded in making gigantic profits in a system where farmers are forced to market on volume, and have no market rewards for nutritional quality or protecting the global ecology. If we have learned one thing in this historical moment it is that Mother Nature is in a state of distress or collapse.

Genetically engineered seeds don't work for a myriad of reasons. Can a seed variety that is costly to patent (and legally can't be saved for replanting) help poor farmers around the world? Can a seed that is artificially injected with foreign proteins be harmless to eat? Can a seed that needs increased levels of toxins to control weeds be the safest option, ecologically or from a human standpoint?

There is much ecological mischief inspired by the GMO corporate industry. For most of the past decade Argentina has seen a commodities export boom, largely due to genetically-modified soy crops and the intense use of pesticides that go hand in hand with these crops and in the case of Monsanto are produced by the same company. The farmers say the consequences are a dramatic surge in cancer rates, birth defects and land theft.

The bottom line for me is a human and humane one. When India's National Crime Record Bureau reports the total of suicides by farmers since these GMO products have been introduced is no fewer than 250,000 since 1995 - we need to ask ourselves are these corporations, in Ambrose Bierce's words, "An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility?"

I would say Ambrose got it right.

Jane Lahr Crites lives in Stonington.

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