If you've been following the GMO issue, or more precisely, what I've been calling "GMO geopolitics" over the last few years, then 2016 did not end on an "upbeat" note for Mon(ster)santo, or as I also like to call the GMO "agribusiness 'community'", IG Farbensanto. In fact, so many people sent me so many articles these past few days about GMO news that I decided to lump them all together in a kind of "GMO news grab bag" in this blog, because when one considers all these separate stories together, then a very interesting pattern emerges. Consider these stories: first, a recent study of GMO corn establishes that it is... well... garbage:
Even the New York Times finally gets it (it took them long enough! but hey, nice of you guys to finally get with it after so many years) and points out the conflict of interest culture pervading government agencies with corporate lackeys:
And the revolt spreads to Argentina and Italy:
And finally, Russia, which has banned GMOs, is proposing a labeling law for the entire Eurasian Economic Community:
Normally, as regular readers here know, I tend to focus my commentary on one or at most two articles per blog, But there's something very intriguing going on here, something that I cannot help but indulge in a little of our trademark high octane speculation. First, note the dates of these stories, in order, from the first to the last linked articles above, are as follows:
1) Dec. 19, 2016 (the scientific study)
2) Dec. 27, 2016 (the F. William Engdahl article on the Chinese provincial ban)
3) Dec. 28, 2016 (the New York Times article)
4) Dec. 28, 2016 (the article about the Argentine Federal Prosecutor)
5) Dec. 26, 2016 (the Italian-EU GMO ban)
6) Dec. 27, 2016 (the Russian proposal for GMO labeling in the EEU)
In other words, yet another damning story about the "assured science" of GMO safety appeared, followed quickly by stories of GMO bans in China, Italy, Argentina, and a story about the Russian proposal for an EEU-wide GMO standardized labeling law, and a New York Times article about the double-standard culture of conflicts of interest between big government agencies and corporate science.
Now I'm far from suggesting that there's a direct causal relationship between all these stories. There isn't. But I do suggest that there is a contextual causal relationship between then, for the science - some of which we've attempted to cover on this website - behind GMO "safety" is anything but settled, and increasingly looks to be very dubious at best. What all these stories suggest is that the issue is "getting out there", no doubt in part because of the resolute opposition to GMOs by countries such as Russia, and the more quiet but questioning attitude of China and other countries. In the case of China, as Engdahl points out, the provincial ban is bucking the line being put out in Beijing, but there may be quiet economic considerations working behind the scenes, economic considerations that, in fact, dovetail perfectly with Beijing's long term silk road strategies:
On December 16, 2016, the Provincial Heilongjiang Legislature passed a total ban on the growing of Genetically Modified or GMO crops. The ban goes into effect on May 1, 2017, in some five months. Farmers in China’s Heilongjiang province, one of China’s top grain producing regions, will be prohibited from growing GMO crops, according to the provincial regulation just passed. According to the new law, the ban will be on growing of GMO corn, rice and soybeans. Further, illegal production and sales of GMO crops and supply of their seeds will also be prohibited, as will be illegal production, processing, sale and imports of edible GMO farm produce or edible farm products that contain GMO ingredients. Any GMO food can only be sold in a special zone, clearly indicated in stores as GMO food products, a variation on labelling.
The legislature acted after a broad survey of the provincial population in October revealed that more than 91% of the population objected to the cultivation of GMO crops. The official ban follows discovery this past September that some 10% of Heilongjiang soybean farmers were illegally planting smuggled GMO soybean seeds despite the fact that the Beijing national government still bans planting of GMO commercial crops, allowing so far only controlled research to be done on GMO “biotechnology.” The farmers had been told, wrongly, that GMO seeds would increase their harvest yields. Farmers found guilty of growing illegal GMO crops face a fine of up to 200,000 yuan or $31,480. In China, owing to a US-promoted loophole in ban on GMO, GMO soybeans as animal feed are allowed in China. Some 60% of all soybeans consumed in China is, as a result of that unfortunate loophole, today GMO. Monsanto and other Western GMO purveyors promote their GMO seeds at agriculture fairs and farmers can buy the seeds online, even though planting is illegal.
In August the giant Chinese state chemicals group, ChemChina made a staggering $43 billion bid to acquire the Swiss GMO seeds and agrochemicals group, Syngenta. Recently Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Prime Minister have given very positive statements about the potential of GMO and biotechnology to contribute to the push to make China a high-tech economic actor. The latest decision of the people and legislature in Heilongjiang sends a clear signal opposing that Beijing strategy.
The butterfly effect of the Heilongjiang ban on GMO crops will definitely affect future agriculture relations between China and neighboring Russia. Heilongjiang Province has the longest common border with Russia of any province, the two countries’ boundary demarcated by the Amur River. Earlier this year, the Russian Federation’s Duma approved, and President Putin signed a law banning all commercial cultivation of GMO crops in the Russian Federation. The Heilongjiang ban potentially can open up Sino-Russian grain trade on a GMO-free basis, creating new synergies.
And that I suspect, is the real pattern and story here, as countries increasingly wake up to the fact that the science of GMOs, of their safety and even of their long term productivity over ordinary "heirloom" seeds, is dubious at best and debatable at a minimum. To put my high octane speculation as nakedly as possible: these articles attest to the emergence in 2017 of my long-predicted "GMO geopolitics," which we may define as "a pattern of contrarian science, coupled with national or regional policy, to drive a revolt against American pro-GMO policy and the influence it has had on US foreign policy" (consider only the GMO story hovering in the background of the mess in The Ukraine). At a much deeper level, there is an epistemological and policy formation culture that we see emerging with this GMO geopolitics - a game Russia is playing with much greater facility than anyone else - and that is the formation of a global culture, based in science, informing provincial, national and regional policy. By this I mean that the contrarian science, that science opposed to, or questioning the corporate scientific studies of GMOs, need not prove its case in order to formulate policies; it need only call into question the opposite studies. Does one want, and should one, formulate global food (or any other) policy based on corporate science alone (as the USA did under the first Bush administration with respect to GMOs, and has continued to do more or less uninterruptedly since then), or should the attitude be more skeptical? In the wake of dubious and questionable science, and in consideration of unknown and potentially hazardous long-term implications of such new technologies, the answer of common sense would seem to be "err on the side of caution." The USA, by committing to a national domestic and foreign policy based on bad corporate science, in fact committed a long term strategic blunder, exposing itself on the world stage to charges of corporate favoritism, mercantilism, and punitive policy to the opposition. In effect, it itself birthed the "GMO geopolitics", and is reaping the whirlwind. The only thing that can stave off the effects of this GMO geopolitics is a serious reappraisal and refashioning of domestic policy regarding it. And that, in short, is what we may be witnessing slowly happening.
It's taken the rest of the world a long time to catch up, but the issue will not go away, and I strongly suspect that in 2017 we're going to see this GMO geopolitics become a template for expansions of this epistemological attitude to other areas as well - nuclear energy, the whole "climate change" meme, and so on - with similar effect. And again, the west will be the last on the bandwagon. I also suspect that we'll see detailed engagement between Russia and China (and perhaps India and Japan as well) on this issue, and a few joint declarations issued.
And one final note: observe that the scientific study takes direct aim at the notion of "substantial equivalence", the doctrine put forward by the GMO companies during the Bush administration to argue for a lax attitude from the FDA on GMOs... in other words, the science itself is now (finally) addressing the core "epistemological" and "ontological-taxonomical" concept put forward by the GMO companies.
And that really is a first. It's a bombard vs the masonry fortifications of that corporate science...
See you on the flip side...