Category Archives: Monsanto

Colony Collapse Disorder?

This Monsanto-free project has led the creators of A Patented Life down some unexpected paths for sure, not the least of which has entailed serious expansion of our vocabulary.  Bear with me as I try to take you along one somewhat mucky trail that starts with dead honeybees…

Because of this project our daily lexicon now contains terminology like bacillus thuringiensis or Bt – that’s the naturally-occurring insecticide that has been genetically inserted into seeds, making Bt plants, like cotton for instance, toxic to insects.  Or monoculture, the model of industrial agriculture promoted by Monsanto, et al. as part of the GMO regime.

Now, we’re adding another term to our increasingly esoteric vocabulary:  neonicotinoids, somewhat sexily known as neonics. While the genetically modified Bt crops themselves are classified as insecticides and are indiscriminately toxic to friend and foe alike, neonics are a class of topical pesticide used in farms and homes which coats seeds or plants, contaminates flowers and pollen, and kills the bees whose job it is to pollinate.

Turns out, neonics are directly connected to another term – Colony Collapse Disorder – a global epidemic.  A recent Huffington Post article on Monsanto’s acquisition of a bee research company nicely outlines the confluence of issues conspiring to decimate the honeybee population and after reading it I genuinely take issue with the name Colony Collapse Disorder.  The term seems to suggest the bees themselves have some sort of collective pathology that is causing their own demise.  As though it’s the bees’ fault, not the monoculture, industrial agriculture system that dramatically narrows their once diverse diets, that poisons what limited options are available to them, that crowds them into commercial hives which Rick Rigutto from Weaver’s Way aptly compares to cattle feed lots, and that corrupts the gene pool through artificial insemination of the queens.

Regardless of what you call it, though, what experts all seem to agree on is a declining bee population has serious implications for our food supply.  Which leads me to one last vocabulary word:  famine. But don’t worry, because with Monsanto now entering into the bee research field we can be assured they’ll come up with solutions to the bee epidemic that will benefit all of humanity – or at least those who are Monsanto shareholders.

Fish cluster: Another look at farming in Bangladesh

Fish in Bangladesh are a vital source of financial and nutritional health for the rural poor.  Small-scale fish farms and hatcheries contribute to the local economy and provide an affordable source of protein and other essential nutrients to many in rural areas, where nearly half of the population faces starvation and malnutrition.Yet threats to fish and the people who rely upon them are very similar to other agriculture sectors:  changing climate impacts water levels, fish habitat is being taken for non-agriculture uses, and industrial pollution poisons the ground water through runoff or through direct toxic dumping.

The Fish Site reported that in fiscal year 2008-2009 alone, more than 3 million tons of chemical fertilizers and 45,000 tons of insecticides were used in farmlands across the country, according to Department of Agriculture Extension data. Rains wash away nearly 25% of these chemicals into the

Kulpur, Jamalpur District, 11 February 2012

watershed. And that reflects only the byproducts of industrial agriculture practices.  In the northern part of Bangladesh, people in Kulpur village rely on fish from the river as a main staple of their diet.  But the village has the bad fortune to be located downstream from a chemical fertilizer plant that periodically dumps ammonia into the river, killing the fish.  I visited the village, only accessible by boat, in early February.  Crossing the river I noticed several small fish floating belly up in the water.  The people told me for the last 2 weeks fish had been dying from ammonia poisoning, the second time this has happened in 3 years.  For people already struggling to get food in their isolated community, the impacts have been devastating.

Aside from toxins, access is also becoming a concern.  As market demands encourage farmers to raise particular varieties of fish like silver carp and tilapia, the shift from affordable, indigenous fish has serious impacts on the poor, according to a study from the International Food Policy Research.  This is a trend seen in poor countries throughout the world, not only Bangladesh.

Mymensingh Fish Market, 8 March 2012

Yet the IFPC notes in Bangladesh efforts have begun to “promote semi-intensive polyculture in small, seasonal ponds, using the nutrient-dense  small fish mola together with carp species. Mola greatly improves the nutritional value of the output of the pond, has no negative economic consequences, and adds about 10 percent to the total productivity of the pond.”  This model allows small fish farmers to still have market access with higher-priced fish while providing an essential food source for local consumption.

Once again, I am reminded that the industrial agriculture model (promoted by the Monsantos of the world), with its emphasis on chemicals, monoculture, and large-scale methods, runs counter to the health and well-being of humans and the land that sustains us.

The “Regional Mosaic” of Permanent Agriculture

As we navigate through this Monsanto-free minefield for six weeks, we have the overt goals of getting people to stop eating genetically modified foods and to contribute to international efforts at having GM products clearly labeled.  Yet, the foundation of that goal is seeking transformative social justice in which people reclaim autonomy and power over the food systems which sustain us from the multinational corporations which have appropriated them.  What does that transformation look like? How do we get there?

At last Saturday’s Northeastern Organic Farmers Association, New Jersey’s (NOFA-NJ) annual winter conference at Princeton University, Andrew Faust of the Center for Bioregional Living hosted a workshop on the concept of a bioregional economy that encompasses a confluence of issues:  restoration ecology, land use equity, sustainable agriculture, responsible economy, and social justice.  It is about development of agricultural practices in context with a deeper look at the landscape of the region, appropriate to the geography and heritage of the place.  It is about accountable stewardship of urban cityscapes to dramatically reduce the enormous waste generated by those spaces.

Andrew asks, “How do we retrofit this infrastructure to be more ecologically sound and socially responsible?” He seeks the answer to this question in permaculture, articulating the interconnectedness of ecology and economy and describing tangible, simple, and yet somehow revolutionary urban and rural designs .

Ultimately, Andrew Faust wants us to begin to “nurture our nature” rather than our culture, as our culture often has misguided ideas.  So as we think about a people-focused food web to replace the corporate-dominated food chain, it is to insightful and brilliant thinkers and doers like Andrew we could turn for guidance and inspiration.

As overwhelming as this Monsanto-free endeavor feels at times, we can take heart in knowing people like Andrew are out there, propagating a wisdom from which all of us can benefit.