RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

GMO Maker Wins World Food Prize

I’ve been feeling pretty good about the way the summer’s going here in mid-Missouri. The weather has been cool and breezy, good weather for peas, and, guess what! we planted peas. Also, good weather for lettuces and we lucked out again, having planted lettuces. Wish we could get people to eat lamb’s quarters because we’re pulling that weedy crop out by the buckets. Ditto purslane, which is just beginning to pop up everywhere.

Anyway, as far as our veggies and animals go here in mid-MO, it’s been a pretty good year. Our neighbors, the monocroppers who kill their fields with Roundup, then plant GMO corn, have found it rather wet and cold, couldn’t get their big rigs into the muddy fields, but they’re catching up fast and they’ll have good harvests to take to the ethanol plant. From the ethanol plant, they’ll haul off gasoline so the big food growers can haul peas and lettuces from Mexico, Guatemala, who knows where, to sell at the big box store.

There’s some obvious problems with that system. First of all, if our food comes from an average of 1,400 miles away, as documented by several studies, it carries a load of fossil fuels. And, we’re taking up land in those far away places that should be farmed by the people who live there.

Finally, there’s the job question: Why don’t we grow the veggies here? The answer is emphasized by the farm bill. Big corporations and big lobbyists run the system. People and food are left out. The latest versions of the farm bill CUT money for food stamps (now called SNAP) and RAISE money for insurance companies and the only debate from Congress seems to be, “How high should we jump?”

But, as I began this column, thinking about the sustainable ag community of mid-Missouri, people are optimistic. In fact, I was feeling downright egotistical when the message came to my e-mail: Executive At Monsanto Wins Global Food Honor.

As reported by Andrew Pollack of the New York Times, in a rather over-the-top puff piece: “When it comes to agriculture, the World Food Prize is the equivalent of the Oscars. This year, the prestigious award went to the mastermind behind Monsanto’s big move into genetically modified crops. In foodie terms, that is like a commercial blockbuster winning best picture rather than an independent, artsy film.”

I don’t know the foodies that Andrew Pollack is talking about, but my foodie community avoids GMO foods by buying organic and/or skipping processed foods completely. Pollack goes on to say that the World Food Prize salutes Norman E. Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution and all its monocropping glory. Basically, Borlaug’s lesson is that you can dump chemicals on perfectly good land, add water, and raise crops. When the topsoil is gone, you can still dump the chemicals, add water and raise corn and soybeans.

We shouldn’t blame Borlaug for the present state of agribusiness, which has farmed the topsoil into the rivers and left farmers dumping their chemicals on clay, sand and gravel. But that’s what’s happened.

To return to Pollack’s piece: ... the World Food Prize Foundation said the honor and the $250,000 cash prize would be shared by Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, and two other scientists, Marc Van Montagu of Belgium and Mary-Dell Chilton of the United States. The foundation said the work of the three scientists, who helped devise a way to insert foreign genes into plants, led to the development of higher-yielding crops that can resist insects, disease and extremes of climate.

The foreign genes they’re talking about come from viruses, bacteria and other plants and you’re right, dear reader, the prize is going to the clowns that brought us GMO crops. By not anticipating that dumping Roundup all over, we’d create superweeds, the winners gave us ragweed that can’t be killed by ordinary herbicides. By not anticipating that poisoning rootworm with GMO corn crops, we’d poison our eaters, the winners gave us corn that carries a poison gene in every cell, including the kernels we eat.

In making this award, the World Food Prize committee has revealed themselves for who they are: shills of the corporation. Rumor has it that Monsanto made a big donation to the group, but proof isn’t really necessary. Bottom line is that the corporates are pulling the strings behind the World Food Prize.

Study after study has affirmed that the best way to feed people is with food from their own communities, so now for the good news: There’s a brave little band of award makers thinking about an alternative. The Food Sovereignty Prize will honor folks working in their own communities to build a food system their neighbors can depend on. Last year the winners, representatives of the Korean Women’s Peasant League, came to Des Moines to speak about their good work, keeping traditional foods and crops in their schools. They were exhausted, but reminded us of the power of community against the control over our agriculture and food system administered by corporations like Monsanto.

This year, the World Food Prize ceremony will be held on Oct. 16. World Food Day. With so many people hungry on the planet, it’s very mean to mislead them into thinking that GMOs are the way to feed the world. The Food Sovereignty Prize begins to correct that problem.

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

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2013

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