RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Halloween Scares on the Factory Farm

To get us into the nightmare season, the Big Boys are bringing us some creepy new fish, Frankenstein salmon, and making lots of monstrous claims. The genetically altered salmon (also called genetically modified, transgenic, GMO, GE and any number of other confusing names) have been bizarrely altered to grow faster than normal salmon by the addition of a couple of genes to their DNA. With their new genes, the Franken-fish keep growing when sensible, normal fish would rest.


Nobody knows what would happen if the weird salmon got into the normal populations. Most folks suspect the inventions would eat the old fish out of house and home, but nobody knows. And nobody knows what would happen if people buy and eat the new fish. They haven’t been tested on people, ghosts, witches, vampires, werewolves, or even black cats.

But the scientists that invent genetically altered plants and animals don’t test them because, truthfully, there’s no money for tests. And, after spending millions to develop something, the inventors can’t really pull them off the track if they are found to cause, say, allergic reactions in eaters.

I mean, consider the implications: stockholders would lose money. And in this economy?

So, instead of putting efforts into proving the fish are safe, the industry pulls some new PR out of the bag. Spooky argument one: Salmon is a health food, loaded with Omega 3 healthy fats and bereft of the bad ones. Well, maybe wild salmon is healthy, but this new breed is fishy.

Spooky argument two: We need GMOs to feed a hungry planet. Never mind that study after study has proven that the way to food security is to let each ecosystem feed the humans living in it. Eating local, it’s called, and it can be done all over the planet. That means corn in corn country, pineapples in pineapple country and salmon in salmon country. Are we really better off with food from everywhere year-round?

Spooky argument three: For millennia, humans have worked to improve species. How did Scottish farmers get Angus cattle, the spin meisters ask? How did Mexican farmers develop yellow corn?

Answer: They sure as heck didn’t go into a laboratory and shoot weird genes in them and see what stuck. To get the old improvements, farmers selected the best plants and animals, made them parents, and built their herds and crops. The best were saved from generation to generation, each one improving.

Farmers were squeezed out when this biotech genetic queerness started in the labs of major corporate universities. Funded by Monsanto and taxpayers, the scientists started out to discover a way to make the crops resist poisons. That meant that producers could run a truck of weed killer across a field and kill everything except the resistant crop. And, they could call the crops unique. They could be patented! So, corporations started patenting their shop-of-horror plants, designed to resist glyphosate, a relative of Agent Orange. And, since they are patented, farmers can’t save seeds any more. They have to buy them every year.

Still, say the tricksters, look how popular the new crops are! More are planted every year! They point to the numbers of acres devoted to GMO crops: 158.1 million acres of soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, squash, papaya, alfalfa and sugar beet in the US alone. Another 52.9 million acres of soybeans, corn and cotton in Brazil, 52.6 million acres of the same things in Argentina, 9.1 million acres of cotton, tomato, poplar, papaya and peppers in China. They’ve gotten GMOs onto every continent. If you eat or wear clothes, you’re probably supporting the industry.

And, thanks to government support, grain is so cheap that a new sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, has been added at ever-increasing rates to packages of everything sweet. Hey, dolly! The trick-or-treat candy you’re collecting is even sweeter than it was a decade ago.

But, wait! There’s more! Farmers raising the old, unpatented crops are risking everything against the lawsuits of Big Ag, where lawyers have even more job security than scientists. It works like this: If a farmer raises, say, soybeans, and his beans are cross-pollinated by a patented bean, and a Pinkerton man comes on the farmer’s land and steals a sample, then says it contains the patented gene, the farmer can be sued for patent infringement. Scary, huh? Sort of like if somebody patented one note on the scale, A-flat for example, and claimed everyone that played A-flat in a tune was infringing on the patent.

Patented salmon, if approved, would be the first patented animal. Then what? Patented sheep, cows, hogs, hens. That’s what.

So how do we put a stake in the heart of this madness?

We can buy our food directly from farmers, at farmers’ markets, local groceries, local delivery services called CSAs where we buy a share of a farmer’s crop, or producer-owned co-operatives. And, in the case of GMO salmon, we can stop eating salmon.

So, if the GMO frightfulness keeps you up at night, just pass. Let the corporations have nightmares and keep our food safe.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2010

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2010 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652