The Power Of The Press

            This weekend many of you, like me, have received a forwarded email entitled “March Against Monsanto: News Not Reporting, Please Share”. It contains images from the various demonstrations worldwide that occurred on May 25, 2013. Our own neighboring big city, Columbus Ohio, was among them. Scant attention was given this demonstration by the few media outlets covering the Newark area (see archive post The Right To Look).  That night the AP ran a story headlined “Protesters across globe rally against Monsanto: Demonstrators rally against Monsanto in global anti-GMO protest” A couple of quotes from that article are notable to consider:

“Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply.”

“Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, said that it respects people’s rights to express their opinion on the topic, but maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.”

These quotes need to be considered within the context of:

“The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a lobbying group that represents Monsanto, DuPont & Co. and other makers of genetically modified seeds, has said that it supports voluntary labeling for people who seek out such products. But it says that mandatory labeling would only mislead or confuse consumers into thinking the products aren’t safe, even though the FDA has said there’s no difference between GMO and organic, non-GMO foods.” (same article).

            What has all this to do with Newark? Past articles of the Newark Advocate have covered the inclusion of parts of Newark within what is described as a “food desert”. Fresh food (fruits, veggies, etc.) are not readily available in such a locale. Most of what is available is a processed, packaged-to-last-forever type of (food) product which is mostly made from the very grain products the Biotechnology Industry Organization represents. Another factor is the recent departure of a major green grocer, Meijers. Is the food desert growing? Additionally, endeavors are being made by various community gardening groups (South 6th Street, Newark High School) and CSA’s (the Sparta is supporting the new Project Main Street startup). AND Newark is surrounded by extensive agriculture utilizing this industrial methodology.

            We rely on the press to keep us informed and assume that what is being presented bears on the world we all experience in common (as opposed to the press reporting fantasy, fiction or something contrived ala’ Orson Wells). The first quote given in the AP story is glaringly inaccurate. GM plants may be from seeds that are engineered to resist herbicides, but why insecticides? The description may be inaccurate, or maybe the insecticides applied afterward ARE detrimental to… who (or what)? Within the context of the pronouncement of the lobbying group, Biotechnology Industry Organization, something, for someone, is unsafe here. We’ll return to this later. “Monsanto Co…. maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.” likewise is inaccurate. It is excellent marketing though. Studies in India by various individuals and research centers shows that not only not to be the case, but the exact opposite (see Vandana Shiva’s various extensively referenced recent studies on this matter). Which brings us back to the first quote. “We rely on the press to keep us informed and assume that what is being presented bears on the world we all experience in common (as opposed to the press reporting fantasy, fiction or something contrived).” In this case the press has simply taken marketing PR presented by the industries involved in the story as definitive – and passed it on to the reader. When a pet owner attempts to eliminate fleas, ticks and mosquitoes through the application of magic drops to their pet’s skin, or a pill or injection, this is what is called a systemic insecticide. The organism itself now contains the insecticide utilized to ward off, well, insects. GM plants likewise are engineered to contain systemic insecticides (as well as “resist”?). GM sugar beets (look at the label of where your sugar comes from) as well as soybeans, corn, etc. have these qualities. The European Union found that these plants were threatening wildlife (insects, small animals, etc.) and banned their use. In the context of the lobbying group’s quote, it is perfectly understandable to not want to confuse the consumer with the fact that the ingredients might be deadly to some organisms, but not humans. Back to Monsanto’s quote and why the American Press’ consuming this PR is so troubling to Newark and its surrounds. Following Monsanto’s recent Supreme Court victory regarding its seeds being considered as intellectual property and thus any second, third, etc. generation seeds utilized as, well, seeds (not as intellectual property) being in violation of US patent law, various articles appeared covering this decision (Bowman vs. Monsanto Co.). “Monsanto demands exclusive right to supply that seed” reports NPR (Supreme Court Rules For Monsanto In Case Against Farmer 5-13-13). Richard Wolf in USA Today “Supreme Court Sides With Monsanto In Major Patent Case (5-13-13) reports that The Center For Food Safety “found that from 1995-2011, the average cost to plant 1 acre of soybeans rose 325%”. This was corroborated by a different AP story (unreferenced) appearing at this time that noted the cost of GM seed to be triple that of retained seed. This is corroborated by yet another story “Trouble on the farm: ‘We face a grim future’” (Mark Koba CNBC 5-20-13). Some notable quotes from that article:

“A Kansas Farm Management Association report says that the number of farmers with a 40 percent debt ratio is higher now than it was in 1979 and that farms with a debt ratio of more than 70 percent are three times as many today.”

“A report released last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City warns that if farmers use their accumulated wealth instead of profits to finance their agricultural investments, they could end up in greater debt, risk bankruptcies and potentially face the loss of their farms.”

“The USDA predicts a 25 percent decline in farm profits for 2014, as commodity prices level off and exports are reduced.”

“”Not too long ago it took $400 to grow an acre of corn,” Schriver said. “Now its $1,000 an acre of corn. A bag of seed was around $35-40 an acre. Now it’s $245 or more. It’s getting very expensive to farm.”” [Jim Shriver, OSU grad farms 1,600 acres in Indiana]

No surprise here. GM seed requires various herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers (patented of course) produced and marketed (as completely safe for humans) by the members of The Biotechnology Industry Organization. No surprise either that this same scenario of an agriculture increasingly centered on financial resources, as opposed to those associated with farming, led to the demise of farming, and increase of rural poverty and hunger in India over the last 15 years.

            Today I did what I do every spring. I purchased a beautiful ripe melon. It was very tasty. I then planted some of the seeds in my garden so that later this summer I will have some more to eat. Farmers have been doing this for millennia. Now I have to wonder whether I didn’t inadvertently plant intellectual property instead of seed (and subject myself to a potential lawsuit). The power of the press doesn’t only include what is described and reported. It also is found with what is left out and not told.

 

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