Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Sued for growing food

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The more genetically modified seeds that are used, the more herbicides are required. Photo / Thinkstock
The more genetically modified seeds that are used, the more herbicides are required. Photo / Thinkstock

The worlds' food giants are extending their control over world food systems by patenting everyday vegetables, such as broccoli, onions, melons, lettuce and cucumber.

Previously the European Union had resisted allowing patents on food items that involve natural processes such as this, but the new decisions are signaling a change in favour of giants Monsanto and Syngenta.

Processes that are essentially biological, involving natural phenomena such as crossing or selection are not patentable, but it is now being argued that if nothing is left to natural chance - through genetically modified seeds - then they should be able to exert ownership over food.

Now since the dawn of the agricultural age - more than 10,000 years - crop growers have been selectively improving their crops through seed selection and many are not happy that food giants in lab coats are capitalising on all of this knowledge for profit by accelerating such processes through science.

The implications of this are mind-boggling. Making it illegal for someone to grow food for any reason seems strange to me. But tightening the grip that these companies have on the world food market could have disastrous consequences.

Monsanto own a huge array of patents for seeds and look after their vast patches with an iron fist. Watchdog Thinkprogress reports that they budget $10 million and 75 staff for enforcing their patents.

Monsanto is the world's biggest seed company and are widely despised by those against genetically modified food because they basically created it. But they don't care about being hated by so-called 'greenies', they would rather make friends with the governments who allow their seeds to infiltrate their markets. Now they supply 90 per cent of the United States 275,000 soy bean farms.

These profit-hungry food barons have got the US agriculture system by the tiny little balls that sprout their crops: Monsanto also produces the herbicide that its seeds are resistant to. "Roundup Ready" soy and corn seeds are flooding the market and their toxic weed-killer is now flooding the wetlands, streams, lakes and rivers nearby.

The more genetically modified seeds that are used, the more herbicides are required, a vicious cycle that has also resulted in an increase in cancer for the farmers - who cannot compete otherwise - that apply them.

So now 86 per cent of corn, 88 per cent of cotton and 93 per cent of soybean seeds used in US agriculture are genetically modified and trade agreements such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) is forcing poor Mexican corn growers even further into extreme poverty because their markets are literally forced to accept the genetically modified versions as a "like" product.

So an estimated 1.3 million agricultural jobs were lost in Mexico because of genetically modified seeds and NAFTA. Many of these people ended up in extreme poverty in the dilapidated shacks that I have seen on the outskirts of Mexico City.

The drop in tariffs resulted in the growth of border cities so that the United States industry could benefit from the cheap labour. These days, such border cities (like Ciudad Juarez) are some of the most crime-ridden and dangerous places on earth.

Another obvious issue with genetically modified food is monoculture. Weeds and disease will always find a way, especially if there is only one thing they have to fight. So what will happen then? Oh yeah, we will need more herbicides and pesticides and no surprise here, they are owned by the same people who sell the seeds.

Genetically modified corn has even been intentionally put into wildlife refuges - a move that many believe is an attempt to take over from natural species and extend Monsanto's control over backyard gardeners.

We only have to look as far as the problems that have been documented with human in-breeding to realise that a lack of biodiversity (even within one crop) is not going to be healthy.

Do you think that it is a good idea to let corporations run patent on our everyday vegetables? Email me sam@sustainablecoastlines.org

Debate on this article is now closed. Readers are reminded to avoid using unsuitable language in their comments or make legally-actionable claims against another individual or company.

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