GMO plants and cloned animals — the corporate future of farming in America?

Thanks for Linn Cohen-Cole for the material in this post. To start off, here’s an excerpt from an editorial column from the New York Times by Verlyn Klinkenborg titled:

Closing the Barn Door After the Cows Have Gotten Out

Cloned pigs.

Cloned pigs.

“Last week, the Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for the eventual sale of meat and dairy products from cloned animals, saying, in effect, that consumers face no health risks from them.

The next day, the Department of Agriculture asked farmers to keep their cloned animals off the market until consumers have time to get over their anticloning prejudice. That is one prejudice I plan to hold on to. I will not be eating cloned meat.

The reason has nothing to do with my personal health or safety. I think the clearest way to understand the problem with cloning is to consider a broader question: Who benefits from it? Proponents will say that the consumer does, because we will get higher quality, more consistent foods from cloned animals. But the real beneficiaries are the nations large meatpacking companies the kind that would like it best if chickens grew in the shape of nuggets. Anyone who really cares about food its different tastes, textures and delights is more interested in diversity than uniformity.

As it happens, the same is true for anyone who cares about farmers and their animals. An agricultural system that favors cloned animals has no room for farmers who farm in different ways. Cloning, you will hear advocates say, is just another way of making cows. But every other way even using embryo transplants and artificial insemination allows nature to shuffle the genetic deck. A clone does not.

To me, this striving for uniformity is the driving and destructive force of modern agriculture. You begin with a wide array of breeds, a truly diverse pool of genes. As time passes, you impose stricter and stricter economic constraints upon those breeds and on the men and women who raise them. One by one, the breeds that dont meet the prevailing economic model are weeded out. By the beginning of the 21st century, youve moved from the broad base of a genetic pyramid to its nearly vanishing peak, which is to say that the genetic diversity present in the economically acceptable breeds of modern livestock is minute. Then comes cloning, and we leave behind all variation.

Cloning is not unnatural. It is natural for humans to experiment, to try anything and everything. Nor is cloning that different from anything else weve seen in modern agriculture. It is another way of shifting genetic ownership from farmers to corporations. It is another way of creating still greater economic and genetic concentration in an industry that has already pushed concentration past the limits of ethical and environmental acceptability.

It always bears repeating that humans are only as rich as the diversity that surrounds them, whether we mean cultural or economic diversity. The same is true of genetic diversity, which is an essential bulwark against disease. These days there is less and less genetic diversity in the animals found on farms, and farmers themselves become less and less diverse because fewer and fewer of them actually own the animals they raise. They become contract laborers instead.

Read the rest of this story here on the NY Times site (may require free registration)

And another piece by the same author, also from the NY Times:

Time to Get Back to the Land, by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When I was born in 1952, there were 203,000 farms inIowa, only 11,000 fewer than when my dad was born in 1926.

By 2002, the number had dropped to about 90,000, with roughly the same acreage in production in a state with a population that had remained roughly the same.

The national numbers followed the same track: fewer farms, bigger farms, less-diverse farms.

To a lot of people, this looked like progress because the ideal of efficiency promulgated by the Department of Agriculture was bigger yields with fewer people.

This industrial notion of efficiency has always seemed terribly inefficient in other important ways: socially, culturally and environmentally. Too few people in a farming landscape means too little attention to the soil.

It also means broken towns. The history ofIowain the past 80 years has been the steady impoverishing of the rural landscape, a fact most easily grasped by the steadily dwindling number of farms.

So it comes as a pleasant surprise to find in the 2007 Census of Agriculture that the number of farms inIowahas risen to 92,856, a level last seen in 1992.

Some 4,000 new small farms have been created since 2002. These are very small farms, 9 acres or less, and they are producing a much wider array of crops than the rest ofIowa, which specializes in corn and soybeans.

Most have very local markets, not Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. And yet as new farms are being created, midsize farms go out of business. Consolidation at the highest level – big farms eating slightly smaller farms – continues.

These are interesting numbers – 4,000 Iowa farms under 9 acres and about 1,500 with 2,000 acres or more. Still more interesting is the age differential. The average age of the “principal operator” on a farm has crept upward to 56 years old. But those small farms are being run by young farmers.

In a very real sense, they are going back to an earlier model of farming. The farms are more diverse, and so are the crops they grow.

To me, this is where the new passion for local foods finds its real meaning, and the best news is thatIowais not alone.

Nationwide, there are some 300,000 new farms since 2002. And the farmers? More diverse than ever, including a higher number of women.

This is a genuine source of hope for American agriculture.

* * *

In August 2004, I wrote a column about the victory garden movement during World War II, noting that a national crisis had turned Americans – for a few years at least- into a nation of gardeners.

Now we are in the midst of another crisis. And perhaps this is the moment for another national home gardening movement, a time when the burgeoning taste for local food converges with the desire to cut costs and take new control over our battered economic lives.

There are signs that some people are already thinking this way. A number of friends have said to me, wistfully, that if things get worse, they’ll just go to the country and learn to farm, as if learning to farm were like studying shorthand or learning to weld.

This is daydreaming. But there’s every reason to think about putting in a garden. In fact, many seed companies are reporting higher sales – especially inBritain, which has a rich tradition of home gardening. At grocery stores and farm stands, the difference in cost between organic and conventionally grown vegetables can be substantial. In the garden, the difference is negligible.

Growing a vegetable garden isn’t going to balance the budget or replace lost benefits or even begin to make up for the shock of a lost job. But part of the crisis we face is a sense of alienation and powerlessness. You don’t meet many alienated gardeners, unless it’s been a terrible woodchuck year.

It’s also tempting to assume that a garden can’t really make much difference in your annual food budget. But you would never convince my parents of that, who raised four kids on the fresh and home-canned produce of a big backyard garden. And I can think of few better distractions from the news of the day than the offerings of seed catalogs and the Edenic visions they inspire.

Still, what beginning gardeners need most is old gardeners, the ones who’ve made do all along and who are starting their seedlings in windowsills right about now.

Verlyn Klinkenborg is a member of the New York Times editorial board.

Linn’s initial comment on these stories:

“Are people really this seriously disconnected from what is actually happening to make organic and small farming literally impossible, as to write this article?

Does he really understanding nothing about the current immense moves by industrial ag to wipe out the very thing that gives him hope and utterly?

And what does it take to have anyone do a story on this?

I am sorry for being upset but the US food supply is in the process of being taken over entirely, at this moment, through bills currently in Congress, all Monsanto-influenced and deadly for small and organic farming.

It makes talk of a “rebirth” of farming an incredible joke, and one on all the progressives and greenies who have such hopes for something better.

My credentials? I was in a dorm with Hillary Clinton in college. I didn’t go over to the dark side.

I am knocking myself out on no pay to rescue things from plans that have been extremely cleverly laid, and still are well hidden from the American public – even apparently from people like Verlyn Klinkenborg because why else would she write such an article, empty of the reality of what is bearing down on those farms she is encouraged by. It would be like the Poles writing cheerily about their independence while the Germans were advancing on them.”

Now a comment from JW:

I understand completely where Linn is coming from. The realities of what has happened in states like Iowa, even in the almost ten years I’ve been documenting farms and farmers in the Midwest, can sometimes be overwhelming–and often frustrating. Still, all farmers are not “victims.”

It’s the farmers who made the decisions that got them there; (Iowa doesn’t have 90% GMO beans because Monsanto made them do it.) It will be the decisions of the farmers that will get them out–despite the chatterings of distant advocates like Linn and me. I must keep reminding myself that there have been positive changes as well. Yes, they come in small increments compared to the inexorable growth of Smithfield, and Cargill, and ADM and all the rest, but Idon’t agree that this is an all or nothing argument. Finding a glimmer of hope in rural Iowa, a state that is practically wall-to-wall CAFOs, manure pits, and monocropped to an inch of its life, may seem naive, but, in truth, some progress has been made. There are farmers there who are actually making it on diverse, low-impact, sustainable farms, and they are finding some success, even weathering the horrendous economic times (some better than the big guys, in fact). I agree that to call someone a farmer who is making $1000 per year on organic tomatoes sold to the farmers market is stretching the point (though it is the USDA official designation). But to denigrate the so-called progressives and greenies and small and medium farmers because they forge on despite the corporate onslaught is equally untenable. Trust me. They know all about Monsanto. They’re just too busy doing the work to spend every waking moment on it.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, writes soft opinion pieces about rural life for the New York Times. He is a college professor and writing teacher and is not, I assure you, in the pocket of the USDA and Monsanto. I’ve included an article below that shows that, in this unpaid advocate’s opinion, he has a fuller awareness of what’s going on than some have credited him with.

 And now, Linn’s response to JW:

I am not saying that some good changes haven’t begun that are important, especially up against the tide of CAFOs and all, or that Verlyn Kinkenborg is in the USDA’s pocket or even influenced by them. I am disturbed that there are bills in Congress that are set to wipe everything unless they are stopped so whatever progress has been made or even whatever growing movement there is to move us toward a rebirth of farming (and it is wanting to happen), the plans the industrial side has set up constitute a series of immense booby traps of all that and an intensification of the global take over of food.

Here’s hoping people see them in time and move strongly to stop them but if not, the game is up and the industrial side will have won it all.

If we think Monsanto taking away normal seeds is bad, the USDA and Homeland Security have six meeting planned in Illinois to set to do the same with animals – using an outbreak (real, imagined or staged) of animal diseases as their justification for eliminating breeds and substituting the genetically engineered animals they have been working on – that is, patented and privatized, just like the seeds).

I think it’s great something is starting to grow but unless people see the plans the USDA and FDA and Big Ag have, the rug will be pulled out from under it all.

And now Linn’s summary of the whole situation:

If people really understood what HB 814, 875, SB 425 and soon Dingel’s HB 759 will do, they would re-title the article “Closing The Barn Door Forever.”

Using “food safety” as the means, they are set to industrialize every aspect of farming – deciding what kind of feed (guess whose) and when the farmer must use it, what medical regimen (guess what drugs), and even what kind of spray and when and where it will be applied. Animals and crops won’t be allowed on the same farm because of the possibility of seed contamination (this from the people who brought us CAFOs and industrial contamination of everything, including ground water), licenses and fees will be required for farmers selling anything to anyone, for those transporting crops anywhere (even local farm to local farmers’ market), along with $1000 to $500,000 fines and ten years in prison for non-compliance. NAIS will be made operative

All of this fits within WTO plans and NAIS will snap right into Smart Grid.

People want out of a globalized nightmare but this is an extreme intensification of it and applied to agriculture – slipping into Congress one week after Vilsack said they weren’t yet considering a centralization of the USDA and FDA – but that’s what the bills are.

Stop listening to what these guys say – just watch their actions. Obama picked Vilsack despite huge grassroots objections. He’s backed away from undoing NAFTA. Monsanto and the Clintons have been tight for years and these bills are the fulfillment of her platform for centralizing the USDA and FDA control over food (thus multiplying Monsanto’s corrupt influence over each agency and giving it more control).

Those bills are Monsanto plans. Does anyone need to know more?

*Ten companies now control more than two-thirds of global proprietary seed sales. 

*Ten companies now control almost 90% of agrochemical sales worldwide. 

*Ten companies now account for three-quarters of industry revenues.

That the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, have never covered any of this may be the most extreme failure of the press in our country’s history. Our entire agricultural system is literally about to be taken over by multinational agribusiness corporations through the deeply and criminally corrupt connivance of our politicians, using “food safety” as their trick, and there is not a single word.

Liberals have been completely fooled by the PC PR coming from the new administration – they have been giving Obama time, looking for “signs” in such nonsense as his possibly picking a farmer for the White House, while behind the scenes, as fast and silently as they can possibly move, they are doing everything possible to push through bills that will actually industrialize and/or out and out kill sustainable agriculture (small local farms and organic farming).

Watch what they are doing – right now – in Congress. Those bills are the death of farming and the globalization of agriculture – on steroids.

And now some other material from Linn Cohen-Cole:

See also this video: Animal Factories in Michigan from the Sierra Club. From the accompanying story:

“For Floyd and Mary Lou McVay, life will never be the same; not since 4,000 squealing, stinking hogs became their nearest neighbor. A decent pitcher could easily fire a fast ball into the massive buildings that confine the pigs, less than 400 feet from the back door of their home near Morenci, Michigan.

The McVays bought their battered, old farmhouse 32 years ago. Surrounded by fields of corn, alfalfa and beans, Floyd restored their home and planted scores of trees. The oaks, spruce and maple now tower over a beautiful country setting…beautiful except for the constant noise of the swine, the roar of giant exhaust fans, the stench, and a steady stream of truck traffic on their dirt road. The McVays had hoped to invite their grandchildren to the farm, play with them in the yard and retire happy. Life has not turned out that way.

The Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO or factory farm) has destroyed the McVay’s enjoyment of their home and devastated their property value. No-one in their right mind would buy the McVay’s house, now. (Except, perhaps, the owner of the pigs. He came right out and told Floyd that when he’d had enough and could no longer stand the stench and noise, that he’d gladly buy him out. No doubt he’d get a bargain.)..”. Read the whole story here.

Final update: Linn’s “take” on the latest developments in this saga (Feb. 24, 2009):

“My take is that sleight of hand is working.  The left and organic community hasn’t seen the hidden plans to take over and industrialize ALL farms thaat the 3 bills in Congress or the one coming, will do.  One, at least, merges the USDA and FDA (something Vilsack said, one week before there were introduced, wasn’t in the works just yet).

If those bills aren’t stopped, she’d be overseeing nothing but what kind of spray to use on organic and all independent farms and when.  Or maybe she’d design the “organic” labels for the food that won’t be (the old Clinton plan).

She could be great if real farms were still going to be there but we’re talking Happy Cow time, with industrialization of every farm and CAFOs the reality.

They keep falling for the show.   It’s all behind the curtain.  Remember, Monsanto and Burson-Marsteller is involved in this so there will be lies and maximal PR and distraction.”


Should Cloned Animal Products be labelled (this post was the source for our lead photo of cloned pigs)

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