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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 417)...

    The USDA is going to license a patent to Monsanto for genetically altering plants so that they cannot reporoduce. This may well result in the bulk of our food supply relying on plants which cannot reproduce naturally. This is by far the most blatent, and frightening, manifestation of "locking up the food supply" to coerce behavior. Please see http://www.timesofindia.com/041298/04edit2.htm and http://www.timesofindia.com/030199/03busi3.htm and http://www.rafi.org/misc/terminator.html for some more background. With this development it seems time just grew allot shorter for us to come up with solutions to our current way of doing things. Do you (or does anyone) have any ideas as to how we can fight these kinds of developments? How do we come up with a more sustainable way of living if the very foundation of nature is so radically altered by geneticists such that our food supply itself is no longer self-sustaining? This scares the hell out of me, and I'm really short of bright ideas at the moment.

    ...and the response:

    This is a scary development, but it has been a long time in coming...

    For many years the situation has been nearly the same... When farmers buy seeds from big agricultural seed producers the seeds have been bred to be genetic heterozygous hybrids (this simply means that the genetics of the seeds have been carefully bred for to take advantage of the genetic condition known as hybrid vigor). If the farmers try to harvest some of the seeds from the crop for planting the next year, the hybrid vigor is gone (has "broken down" in the geneticist's jargon) and the resulting plants may be small, frail, susceptible to disease and the crop is generally lousy! The fact that the seeds are so poor in the second generation means farmers can't grow "seed crops" anymore -- they simply buy new seed every year. This, of course, keeps the seed producers in business and the farmers captive consumers. Not only is the food locked away from the public, it is locked away from the farmers!

    Strangely enough, Monsanto's plan is biologically sound... If you are trying to maximize food production in a crop, then biologically speaking, totally eliminating reproduction from the suite of jobs a plant has to do will yield bigger plants, larger fruits, larger (though sterile) seeds, etc. -- a perfect solution to solve the problem of starving masses, eh? Wrong. This is simplistic thinking and is not *ecologically* sound. More food (more plants or larger plants) just means more people will be born as a result of the more food and there will be more mouths to feed in the future. Then we will need another solution to the problem.

    How do we fight this? We start at the root...the vision these people have leads us on this unsustainable road. That vision has to change -- this is what Ishmael was telling us. Vision changed, these farming practices will cease. Immediate action you can take? Buy local food. Support local (small) farmers. Make sure your local farmers are well informed.

    NOTE: At the request of Daniel Quinn, this question was answered by Dr. Alan Thornhill.


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