Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Offsite Post: ‘Food Wars’

Author and blogger Dr Joseph P. Farrell has an hypothesis:  Food has become a geopolitical issue.  That is to say, nations are beginning to fall into two broad blocs, those favoring genetically engineered (GE) crops and livestock and those favoring traditionally-grown, non-GE vareties.  And whichever bloc wins out, that will have grave effects for humanity the world over.

The first context we may see this in is the recent United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA, or New NAFTA) trade agreement, which contains a number of provisions that are helpful for the transnational biotechnology corporations specializing in GE ‘food’ like Monsanto.  Mexico has especial reason to be worried:

Last week, after the Trump administration struck a deal with Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, the White House declared victory for US farmers, who gained greater access to Canadian dairy, egg, poultry, and wheat markets. Unfortunately, the new deal called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, also includes lesser-known provisions that could allow agribusiness corporations to patent Mexico’s native corn varieties and challenge the country’s ban on genetically modified (GM) corn cultivation.

“I think it’s going to open up Mexico to an invasion of biotech seed companies that will try to push patented seeds on farmers and patent traditional corn varieties in the birthplace of corn genetics,” says Patrick Woodall, Research Director for Food & Water Watch.

Such an opening could further harm Mexico’s corn farmers, who lost much of their market after the original NAFTA in 1993 opened Mexico to imports of U.S. corn. The deal may also reduce the diversity of Mexico’s native corn strains, which are vital to the health of the world’s corn crop.

Over 8,000 years ago farmers in present-day Mexico first domesticated corn from a wild grass, teosinte. Corn holds incredible cultural, economic, and ecological significance in Mexico to this day. Mexico has maintained a vast array of diverse corn species, with 64 recognized strains, called landraces, and over 21,000 regionally adapted varieties. Over two-thirds of Mexican corn farmers still save their own seeds and plant native strains.

This diverse genetic trove is “absolutely critical to modern crop breeding,” says Tim Wise, the Director of Policy Research at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University. “It’s a critical natural resource for the modern world,” he says. When researchers look for drought-resistant strains or corn that can requires less fertilizer, they turn to Mexico’s native corn gene pool.

In 2011, Monsanto and Syngenta requested the first permits to plant GM corn in northern Mexico. But introducing GM corn leads to natural cross-pollination, or gene flow, between native and GM crops, threatening the genetic diversity of Mexico’s indigenous corn. In October 2013, a federal judge ordered a temporary halt on GM corn permits after a group of 53 farmers and consumers filed a class action suit claiming GM cultivation violated Mexicans’ constitutional right to a clean environment. In the years since, courts continue to uphold this decision, calling for further study and extending the ban.

Today, only thirty percent of Mexican farmers use commercial hybrid single-use corn seed.

While the new NAFTA does not repeal Mexico’s GM corn ban, it includes industry-friendly language, as well as new tools for governments to challenge or deter regulations. “There’s no smoking gun in the text that says Mexico must allow planting of GMOs,” says Karen Hansen-Kuhn, the Director of Trade and Global Governance at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. ”But there is whole a series of factors, in different parts of the agreement, that would make it harder to implement new rules and put existing rules under new kinds of scrutiny.”

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Canada, too, has reason for concern:

 . . . “President Trump touts USMCA as a big win for US farmers, but it is a huge loss for dairy farmers on both sides of the border. Canadian family farms will go out of business and Canadian dairy farmers will see their incomes fall due to increased US imports. While the slightly expanded market will offer small benefits to some US dairy farmers, it does nothing to reduce the overproduction at the heart of our dairy crisis – rather, it increases the false idea that exports will save us. We must solve the problem of our overproduction through common sense farmer-led supply management programs, not by dumping our excess milk into the Canadian farmers’ market,” said Wisconsin dairy farmer Jim Goodman, board president of NFFC.

The Canadian government has suggested it may implement a subsidy program to offset farm losses. US farmers have fared poorly in the decades since farm subsidies have replaced supply management in this country, with small farms closing and large farms getting ever larger, reducing the population and prosperity of rural areas. Producing as much as possible is now the only way for farmers to survive, leading to widespread chemical use and “fencerow to fencerow” planting, even in environmentally sensitive areas.

Farm subsidies, intended to make up farmers’ costs when overproduction causes farmer prices to drop, cost billions to taxpayers, but often only cover a fraction of farm expenses. The changes in the USMCA appear poised to shift Canada’s farmers out of a system that provides a fair income to farmers and ensures consumers an affordable supply of locally produced food into a production-oriented farming free-for-all like that of the US, with all of its negative economic, social, and environmental consequences.

NFFC is additionally concerned that the USMCA will pave the way for unregulated gene-edited genetically modified organisms (GMOs), further consolidating the control that seed and agrochemical companies hold over farmers. The deal also allows these companies to withhold important information on pesticide safety, with potentially dangerous consequences for farmers, farmworkers, and farming communities.

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But the consequences are likely to be negative for all three participants, as the USMCA allows the biotech giants to create beachheads in other areas as well:

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Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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