23 April 2008

Stop them! They have GMOs and they're not afraid to use them!

Am I a lightning rod for this stuff or am I just highly sensitive right now? It seems like the world around me is positively crumbling. I even have that disoriented sensation I felt after the earthquake in Santa Cruz in 1989: like I've awakened in some parallel universe where things will never be the same. In a documentary I heard someone's description of seeing the second plane hit the World Trade Center towers: "I saw that second plane crash and entered the twenty-first century." That's just how I feel now. I woke up in the twenty-first century and it's already too late. Sometimes I feel I am in some terrible sci-fi flick; it all seems so terribly obvious.

Last night Monsanto haunted my dreams. I have so many layers of associations with that company, but the preponderance of evidence shows an ugly, profit-driven machine that has unleashed a flood of pure evil on our planet and is showing no signs of slowing down. It is quite terrifying. I awoke with the sensation that I might never sleep well again, knowing what I know now.

I know all this sounds so melodramatic but what has me absolutely floored is that Monsanto has turned the wind into a force for spreading their toxins. By engineering corn and unleashing it around the globe, the corporation is attacking biodiversity everywhere and trying to force everyone to buy their seed, every year, or face steep penalties and punitive actions (backed, I might add, by governments around the world who are no doubt populated with members of boards of directors and shareholders in the Monsanto Corporation).

I know this thanks to a brilliant French investigative journalist named Marie-Monique Robin. She made a film for ARTE France TV called The World According to Monsanto. In the film, we see her start at her computer terminal and follow the trails of references. She shows us what she finds right there on Google; we could conduct the same search and turn up the same results. Robin is so determined in following each thread, however: she goes to nearly every locale she turns up and interviews people, from former FDA execs and scientists and Monsanto spokespeople to community activists around the globe to the citizens of an Alabama town where Monsanto dumped PCBs in people's backyards for years, unchecked, and whose graveyard is now riddled with cancer victims.

Robin finds internal Monsanto memos dating as far back as 1937 that describe the toxicity of the company's products and waste products. But when confronted with a lawsuit on behalf of the citizens of Anniston, Alabama, in the 1970s, Monsanto responded, "We can't afford to lose one dollar of business." In that one phrase, you can see how that company has made decisions based purely on financial decisions.

The problem is that every decision they make looks suspiciously like this one: designed to maximize profit -- at any cost to humans or the environment. It's quite clear that the only costs factored into their equations are the financial ones, the costs of doing business.

In this case, stimulating the American economy and keeping our economic edge are paramount, and any costs that don't directly affect the company aren't put on the balance sheets at all. When they do have to pay judgments, settle lawsuits, or pay PR firms to do damage control, those costs are spread as widely and thinly as possibly, amortized and offset.

What I see in The World According to Monsanto is another opportunity Monsanto seems to be quietly but systematically trying to maximize: to make their seed and herbicides cover the earth. And because US policy seems to be driving world policy, and because this country has allowed a corporation to patent a new life form, it is now conceivable that this single corporate entity could wrest control of much of the world's food supply. I've been troubled by the trend toward less biodiversity and heartened by people's efforts to collect and cultivate heirloom seeds, but hearing in Robin's documentary about how engineered organisms behave in the environment is truly terrifying. "Frankenfoods" is no exaggeration.

So I am going to get more active on this front. What I feel like doing first is baking pies for all those nice people in Anniston who had a monster in their backyard all along and got poisoned by its trailings. That's one place to start.

And the other is with that corporation. I need no more convincing that Monsanto is bad news for this planet. And what I really can't believe after watching this is that many of us have heard of Bhopal, but few of us know anything about Anniston, Alabama. All because some poor little rich company declared, "We cannot afford to lose one dollar of business."

*Edit: April 24: I'm chasing down links to this film and so far all the links to the google video are broken. Huh. I wonder why. You can see it in chunks, however, here, organized as a playlist so you can find them all at once: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=E5A91E6C5EAE3E5D

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