July 08, 2003


GM food is a bad thing that will make rich people richer and starve the poor, and, hey, while weíre at it, letís ban farming equipment. Thatís the essential argument of Gyorgy Scrinis in Melbourneís Age:

In reality, the new genetic technologies will largely be used to feed the power and profits of agri-food corporations, and they are more likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate the problems of widespread hunger and malnutrition in the Third World.

To make more money, these companies will have to make more food, which will require more third-world employees. Gyorgy canít see a win/win/win when itís staring him in the face.

GM products are primarily being developed to fit into large-scale, chemical-intensive, mechanised and capital-intensive farming systems.

Bring back the mule! Bring back wonderful back-breaking peasant labour!

Any increase in yields of crop and animal products will be headed for its usual destination: well-off consumers.

When Iím a millionaire, Iím going to build me a grain silo. Just like Howard Hughes.

Research and development of GM products is largely aimed at adapting crops and animals to the requirements of the global food industries. For example, producing non-softening fruits for long-distance transportation so well-off consumers can have access to year-round supplies of out-of-season fruits.

Too bad this sort of advance will never, ever trickle down to poor people, due to the economic law of ďGo to hell, you poor people! Youíll never be able to afford cell phones or VCRs or food!Ē

Genetically engineered crops and animals further threaten the food security of the poor in a number of ways. First, to the extent that they enable large-scale, chemical-industrial farms to increase their productivity or profitability, this competitive advantage will enable the further squeezing out of small-scale farmers.

Greater productivity is wrong. Small, inefficient farms are cute. Right.

Second, GM crops may accelerate the erosion of farm labouring work in poor rural areas through the further introduction of labour-replacing technologies.

Gyorgy should be dragged by his tongue from one end of Americaís wheatbelt to the other while a choir of rational economists serenades him with hymns to the Industrial Revolution.

What is actually required is a redistribution of fertile land, of incomes and of economic power, rather than access to genetic products.

Hey, itís working in Zimbabwe.

There is an obscene arrogance in the idea that GM crops will "feed the world", or that the poor need to be fed by us. For in reality, poor people and communities around the world will either feed themselves, or they will not feed at all.

I donít really care to dwell on the implications of that statement.

Genetic-corporate agriculture is in fact a system for feeding on the world rather than for feeding the world.

Although The Age describes him only as ďa research associate in the Globalism Institute at RMIT UniversityĒ, Gyorgy Scrinis is also a longtime campaigner for dirt socialist group Friends of the Earth. Which explains a few things.

It is about corporations and well-off consumers continuing to feed on the food, the cheap labour and other extractable resources of the Third World; about large-scale industrial producers consuming and displacing more small-scale and subsistence producers and rural communities; and about transnational agri-food corporations feeding on the work of more farmers by swallowing up and patenting the seeds and knowledge developed by traditional farmers over thousands of years.

Traditionally these people work in fields, every day, all of their lives, for a pittance. You want to keep them there, Gyorgy?

Posted by Tim Blair at July 8, 2003 04:55 AM

Yes, whenever we must define our morality by how much we care about the lowliest folk, the more we must keep them as poor, starving and wretched as possible so that our carring means more.

Evil filthy b*st*rds, every last one of them. But at least they care more than those of us who understand the science behind and the incredible potential of GM foods. And when the commercials for OxFam and CARE come on the television, that's all that matters.

Posted by: Kev at July 8, 2003 at 05:03 AM

It's a safe bet that none of the folks opposed to increased crop yields and better pest resistance (that's what we're talking about, for the most part), has ever spent any time in a field growing food. They typically generate their opinions based on some very simple minded ideals.

Posted by: Bill W. at July 8, 2003 at 06:09 AM

Good on you, Bill W. - I spent every back-breaking summer from age 6 to age 18 alongside my brothers and cousins working fields on my Uncle's farm. If this moron had done the same, he'd be thinking what we were all thinking: "Bring on the large-scale capitalist industrial producers and their robot farm laborers! Please, PLEASE, let ConAgra buy this farm for a princely sum and take this job from me!"

Barring that, my Uncle just wanted to keep his farm productive long enough for the subdivision developers to make it out to him, then sell for an equally princely sum. Hmmm...evil housing developers...fodder for more monkey-scrawl from Scrinis...

Posted by: E.A. at July 8, 2003 at 06:21 AM

During the 19th century approximately 50% of Americans worked in agriculture. Today it's around 3%, yet the US still produces far more food than it needs and exports the rest around the world. As productivity increased, rural farmworkers moved into other industries helping to build a more diverse and prosperous economy.

Nitwits like Gyorgy Scrinis have a utopian image of Third World farmers as noble laborers working in harmony with the land instead of raping it like the greedy capitalists. He would rather maintain this fiction than help free those laborers from primitive, backbreaking, and ineffective farming methods that only perpetuate hunger and poverty.

Posted by: Randy R. at July 8, 2003 at 06:31 AM

I sent this to the Age - lets see what they do with it-

Dear sirs,
In response to :
GM crops will not help feed the world
by Dr Gyorgy Scrinis
Dr. Scrinis fails to consider certain economic and social realities in his denunciation of GM crops.
First, in most troubled third-world societies there is insufficient farmland for "traditional" farming to employ more than a fraction of the rural population as it is. There are too many people for the available agricultural employment, or viable land. This is true in places like the Philippines, China, India, Bangladesh. Traditional means just will not do.
Second, in most countries in the world, including the poor third world, most of the population has left the land, or is rapidly doing so. So cheap food is a greater boon to more people than high agricultural prices.
Third, the consumers of most of this GM food to be produced by the "evil" conglomerates are those self-same poor third world people. The developed world, even the US, is a saturated and stagnant market for bulk agricultural produce.
Fourth, the GM revolution, if it succeeds, will assuredly drive down the price of food. This has been the consistent pattern of technology improvements in agriculture. There are too many players in agriculture to create some nefarious monopoly and excess profits. I doubt anyone can show where improved technology has driven prices up.
Fifth, given a stagnant market and higher yields, hence lower prices, less agricultural land will be economically viable. This land will mostly be abandoned. This has again been the typical pattern, where marginal farms return to a state of nature. In the US there has been a trend in this direction, where there has even been talk of restoring the praries with abandoned land. This should be good news to the Greens, if more land reverts to the wild. I don't see why they would not be willing to trade off GM's and pesticides for that.
Sixth, poor third-world people are very interested in luxuries when these become cheap enough to afford. If GM makes these more affordable that is a boon to the poor much more so than to the rich.
I don't think Dr. Scrinis et. al. have thought this all through.
Luis Alegria

Posted by: luis alegria at July 8, 2003 at 06:41 AM

He wrote:

GM products are primarily being developed to fit into large-scale, chemical-intensive, mechanised and capital-intensive farming systems.

I respond:
Actually GM crops are developed to be pesticide resistant(in addition to larger yields, color, etc). Decreasing the need for "chemical-intensive" farming. (hint, you're mixing you notes from your anti-pesticide and anti-GM crusades, be more careful in the future). As to "well off consumers", read about vitamin-A enhanced rice, and it's benefits in the third world. Also, you forgot to compare Bush to Hitler. Sloppiness all around.

Posted by: gimpy at July 8, 2003 at 07:37 AM

"Traditionally these people work in fields, every day, all of their lives, for a pittance. You want to keep them there, Gyorgy?"

That's a silly question, Tim. Of course he does. That way he'll have all those masses in poverty to feel "compassion" for so he can feel so good about himself.

Posted by: Barbara Skolaut at July 8, 2003 at 07:37 AM

You know, that reminds me. There's a produce stand down the road from me--Tom's Produce Stand--that imports farm-fresh vegetables and fruits from local farms. Local meaning Virginia when the food is in season, and all the way to North Carolina (two hours south) if need be.

Perhaps Gyorgy could come here and write an article on the oppressed produce-stand keepers of America, and how they're going to be harmed by having more, better produce to sell.

(On the other hand, the sight of Tom in his t-shirt is enough to strike you blind. Hope he's taking today off.)

Posted by: Meryl Yourish at July 8, 2003 at 07:43 AM

This interesting article appeared in Canada's Globe and Mail on Saturday and featured an Africa biotechnologist commenting on some of the social issues that arise from Africa not fully embracing GM food.

Although the subject of the story had a doctorate in biotechnology and was, therefore, not without bias, I thought her comments provided an interesting counterpoint to much of the reporting and anti-science perspective provided by other media outlets.


Posted by: Allan Helton at July 8, 2003 at 07:43 AM

To paraphrase, "Give a farmer GM seed & he'll grow one crop. Give a farmer the patent and he'll grow infinite crops and sell the seed to his neighbours as well". Monsanto et al have no intention of feeding the world, merely satisfying their shareholders. If GM seed/grain was such a boon, it wouldn't be sterile.

Posted by: Niall at July 8, 2003 at 07:49 AM

There are several billions missing from Gyorgy's "calculations"- The 2 billion people who have been fed since 1960 due to increased productivity led by "high tech agriculture, the 43 billion euros that the EU subsidise their farmers each year to squeeze out third world exporters,the billions of people in third world cities that will never be able to grow their own food... It seems they never taught math and economics to "History and Philosophy of Science" educational stream he went through at college.

Posted by: David Tribe at July 8, 2003 at 07:59 AM

To Niall,

If the farmer who does not use GM seed achieves lower cost of production than his GM-seed buying neighbors, then the lot of them will abandon the GM seed. And vice versa. Think it through.

Posted by: luis alegria at July 8, 2003 at 08:19 AM

"If GM seed/grain was such a boon, it wouldn't be sterile."

If Harry Potter was worth reading it wouldn't be copyrighted.

What's wrong with a person/company wanting to earn some money for their efforts? Technology should be avoided because shareholders and CEOs aren't all saints? Seatbelts save lives, but do you think Ford isn't making sure they recover the cost of adding them to your car? Bastards!

Posted by: Sean E at July 8, 2003 at 08:50 AM

> If GM seed/grain was such a boon, it wouldn't be sterile.

That's a non-sequitor.

It also appears to be false.

However, much/most GM seeds are hybrids. One consequence is that they don't breed true; harvested seeds don't have the same properties as their parents.

One might imagine that this would cause significant problems. However, said imagination must be reconciled with the decades of experience that we've had with non-GM hybrid seed. Any "hybrid seed is evil because ..." theory that hasn't proved itself already discredits its proponent.

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 8, 2003 at 09:08 AM


This may be heresy to you, but on this point:

Monsanto et al have no intention of feeding the world, merely satisfying their shareholders.

...a wise man once wrote:

[M]an has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them....It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens.

- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

What on earth gives you the idea that anyone thinks Monsanto is acting out of benevolence? We know they're in it to make a profit, we just don't see that as a Bad Thing. People will buy from Monsanto only to the extent that they expect to gain from doing so. The only exception would be if Monsanto could somehow establish a monopoly, in which case you should perhaps argue why you think this outcome is likely.

Posted by: murray at July 8, 2003 at 09:10 AM

Is it ok for a Korean to eat a wolf but not a poodle?

Posted by: DG at July 8, 2003 at 09:11 AM

Also, wasn't part of the rationale behind sterile GM seeds to head off the (seemingly inflated) concerns over cross-pollenation with wild plants? Remember the fuss a couple of years back when some Mexican researchers claimed that they'd detected hybrids of GM and wild corn (or something)? IIRC, that research was discredited, but sterile crops would surely circumvent that concern, no?

You can't win with the anti-GM folks. Chemicals are bad, but plants engineered to require few or no chemicals are unacceptable. The remote prospect of cross-pollenation with wild plants is horrifying, but sterile GM crops are naked profiteering, etc. We'd love to feed people in developing countries, we just don't want to use any effective means of doing so.

Posted by: murray at July 8, 2003 at 09:19 AM

The following resonates well to Kev's post.
An Archbishop explained his opposition to open , free markets as follows: they work and ensure progress and overall make people better of. But, the loss is a loss in faith in God. In suffering we find God and realise we are dependent on God.

The 1960's `Death of God debate' was the last major attempt by the Churches to recover creationism in the face of science. The Churches' avowel of socialism marked by a naked belief in the vacuous garbage of Rousseaus' natural man, and their hositility to free commerce is advanced in the new cry,`God in the gaps'.Yes, let us be poor and miserable, starve and suffer atrocious diseases, at least goddy will love us and wipe our noses.

Posted by: d at July 8, 2003 at 09:19 AM

Interesting point d, I've never heard that arguement before. Do you have any references or sites to point to?

On GM foods, people/the masses etc will always hold things "they" are not informed enough about to understand clearly at arm's length. It is the responsibility of GM proponents to prove their case in the face of already established opposition AND GET THE MESSAGE ACROSS.

For my part I know I do not have enough background information to confirm or deny the rabid anti-GM cropites here in Australia (Victoria). Some of the previous posts pontificate on the wonderful, and they would be wonderful I suppose, benefits of GM while totally lambasting Niall for his views against GM crops. Sounds a little like the anti-GM crowd's style no?
Niall may be wrong but rather than educate the ignorant some resort to criticism - poor effort.

I have no idea what DG is on about with wolf and poodle eating but it's probably really relevant from the right perspective. That Scrinis guy makes few coherant let alone relevant points, pity him for his short-falls.

So, come on, educate me. What are the proven, not hypothetical benefits? What are the proven, not hypothetical drawbacks? Enquiring minds want to know....

Posted by: Jake D at July 8, 2003 at 11:25 AM

Scrinis's article reads like an agricultural version of Luddism. He obviously thinks peasants are like Rousseau's noble savages, and should be kept that way.

Posted by: Fred at July 8, 2003 at 11:38 AM

The thing that puzzles me most about the GM hooraw is that humans have been eating genetically modified food for the past several thousand years. We call them "domesticated plants", and most of them bear only the slightest resemblance to their wild ancestors. This has been a Good Thing, as plants as a whole have no interest in being eaten, and modern food crops are substantially more nutritious and less toxic than they were before. (Wild almonds, for example, are lethally poisonous in quantity. It's no coincidence that we associate the smell of cyanide with almonds.)

I honestly can't think of a risk we run with Genetically Modified food that we haven't run with the development of new plant strains, especially back before there was an FDA or equivalent body to monitor it all.

Posted by: LabRat at July 8, 2003 at 11:40 AM

GM drawbacks? Well, I'm not exactly ecstatic about that Japanese scientist who has developed glow-in-the-dark Koi...

Benefits? Well, do you own a cotton shirt made in the last ten years or so?

I am for taking precautions, but against the so-called "Precautionary Principle" which is neither, but simply an outright ban. In a way, I admire the first person to eat a lobster - but I still think he must have been really starving. I do not want to be the first to try a GM food, but I do not want the ones I have tried re-called.

And now the EU and USA are arguing about labelling foods which have one or more GM components. Easy-peasey: slap a label on everything edible and farmed, including beer. Even the chocolate of chocolate-covered-ants has been manipulated from its wild relatives.

Ever eaten a banana? A fellow I met at a convention back in the eighties turned out to work at United Fruit (save the groans, please). According to him, any given type of banana lasts about two generations in domestication before disease or insects wipe it out, and a new hybrid must be developed and ready before that happens. So when you read "Swiss Family Robinson" and find noone likes bananas, those are about ten hybridizations away from what you've known. Not GM in the sense of using an electron microscope to nudge genes around (especially cross-species), no, but the same idea in a cruder form.

Posted by: John Anderson, RI USA at July 8, 2003 at 12:09 PM

Yes of course, GM food is the answer to 3rd world starvation and will save the universe.

It is nearly as brilliant an idea as feeding dead sheep to cows.

Hey guys - it is in fact OK to express doubts and ask questions. It is in fact an essential element of risk mitigation. The opponents of progress are as important as the proponents, so I recommend you listen, absorb and react appropriately.

This kneejerk resort to virtual insults just makes you look silly - and damages your arguments.

As for GM itself, I think on balance I'm cautiously supportive. The concept itself is not new of course, though the "industrialised" focus around the world is certainly at unprecedented levels.

The acid test is to make sure the undeniable profit motive doesn't take us down paths we will later come to regret on economic, social or health grounds.

Posted by: Nemesis. at July 8, 2003 at 12:13 PM

Luddites like Scrinis are very happy to have rampart poverty- without it, they're out of a cushy little number with good pay and heaps of overseas travel. They are happy with it up to the point where they don't have to live the same lifestyle- somehow I doubt George is residing in a wattle and daub hut and cooking his lentil suprise over dried cowshit. The sheer hypocrisy of these flat-earthers is beyond description; do they honesty believe subsistence farmers are happy to eke out a living- there is no way they would prefer to be sitting in the airconditioned cabin of a John Deere with Ravi Shankar blasting out of the CD player, doing a job in an hour that would take a month by hand.
Scrinis and his ilk should be shipped off to Bangladesh and parked on a half acre of flood-prone dirt, and made to live there. Se how enobled they are after the third bout of dysentry and the fourth of malaria.

Posted by: paul bickford at July 8, 2003 at 12:38 PM

The only problem that Adam Smith quote is that a beggar does not depend chiefly on the benevolence of his fellow citizens but also on their self-interest. People give money to beggars for many reasons - such as to feel good or because they fear God - but these reasons always include an element of self-interest.

Lefties can't come to grips with this.

Posted by: Gabor at July 8, 2003 at 12:50 PM


A wolf is a "natural" animal, a poodle has been modified. One way or another we have been modifying nature for thousand of years and nature has been modifying itself for even longer. Admittedly GM technology is a long way from selectively breeding scrawny curly haired dogs and the potential risks are higher, but so are the potential gains and the level of control available.

Posted by: DG at July 8, 2003 at 12:50 PM

The liberal, reactionary opposition against GM foods is not only odd because this stance hurts the world's poor. It is also odd because opposing GM foods is anti-green. As Luis noted above, more efficient use of land means a smaller demand for agricultural land.

For many years, the single greatest goal of many environmentalists has been stopping the destruction of the world's rainforests. The primary cause of rainforest destruction is the increasing demand for agricultural land to support the earth's growing population. GM crops have the potential to reverse this trend and allow more land to become rainforest. More rainforest would increase the consumption of carbon dioxide and will help slow global warming! For a liberal, what is there about this not to love?

Well, if disabled members of a disadvantaged minority group working under a government-funded program had developed GM foods that were being distributed around the world by the UN ... (I obviously don't need to finish this sentence). It's only because evil US corporations will benefit that liberals of the world oppose GM foods.

As I noted in my blog, this is why liberals support US troops in Liberia but not Iraq. Because the US benefits from the invasion of Iraq, liberals see our nation as arrogant and imperialist. On the other hand, because we have absolutely no material interest in Liberia, our troops there will represent our promotion of democracy and freedom. The liberal foreign policy therefore requires the US to intervene only when it is not in our national interest to do so.

Posted by: Ryan Booth at July 8, 2003 at 01:01 PM

Guys, of course Dr. Scrinis is correct! He understands that your average Mbutu, Chang or Gierrmo is much more interested in maintaining his "authenticity" then "eating" or having extra time on his hands to "not just subsist". (/sarcasm)

Why is it liberals love poverty but seem to be actually melevolent toward the people mired in it?

Posted by: Amy at July 8, 2003 at 01:22 PM

Jake, no refenerences and sites to hand. They are assertions publicly made by an A-B and not a-typical of clergy.
One only reiterates, behind stands the puerile pseudo-philisophy Rousseau along with: Descartes dualism -universe is concrete matter, mind is merely instantiated within it; Comete's totalitarian notion of government and law; fused within the twins and complents to the preceding, sociology and psychology.

The last is illuminated by the spine of clergy training courses, `Pastoral Care' which is a fusion of the twin pseudo-sciences joihnted by a vulgar `theological framework.'Part of that course includes such bad `techniques' as `regression therapy'.

There is a stress on the subordination of the individual to the group and dependency upon the group, including at an emotional level.

All the above is summated in a stress on `community' and what is best called group dynamics, directed by what can best be described as nothing but a tribal leader. A pooh bah.

None of the above agress with the christian creed. It is a substitution of what, accurately , is nothing but gnosticism, a desent into superstition and mystification, as the content of the terms of the creed.

Next, it is not only appallingly bad philosophy, it equally does not cut the theological mustard. As for science, forget. To paraphrase a second century pundit, no science, no brains.It is also explains why not only at the diocesan level but also in schools, mark you, the chraltanism and down right mumbo jumbo savage beliefs of the greens have been embraced by the churches.There is much more to observe of the schools, bye the bye.

One is in no doubt as to what the clergy are actually banging on about and it aint christian.Not merely fith rate, but atrocious in its implications: corrupters of youth one might say.

If one were reliant upon the church today as a guide to christianity, one would be no less dismissive of it than some of the bright sparks in the early days: for fools, wimmin and children - but one differs - not even for wimmin and children, and even the odd fool.

Posted by: d at July 8, 2003 at 01:25 PM

> The opponents of progress are as important as the proponents, so I recommend you listen, absorb and react appropriately.

Actually, the opponents have not been "as important". They've been mostly wrong and almost never right when it mattered. (They've yet to have a significant win that was actually good.) On the whole, they have made progress more expensive, and that's bad.

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 8, 2003 at 02:16 PM

I'm too tired to tear this apart. I'll just note that I'd really like to ask Scrinis just how the fuck are we supposed to "redistribute" fertile land? Scoop up Iowa and drop it into the Sahara desert?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at July 8, 2003 at 03:49 PM

Creatures such as Niall just fascinate me. Apparently Niall believes that the Third World can go starve to death so long as an evil multinational will be deprived of profits.

You're a sick POS, Niall.

Is it just me or do others find that one of the defining characteristics of Leftism is the religion of the zero-sum? That 'win-win' is a non-sequiter?

Posted by: Paul Johnson at July 8, 2003 at 05:17 PM

". . .do they honesty believe subsistence farmers are happy to eke out a living- there is no way they would prefer to be sitting in the airconditioned cabin of a John Deere with Ravi Shankar blasting out of the CD player, doing a job in an hour that would take a month by hand."

Paul Bickford, I salute you!

Posted by: Mork at July 8, 2003 at 05:29 PM

How many companies hold patents over the genetic material?

Are there any safeguards against monopolistic behaviour by these companies once all crops are GM?

In other words what are the long term ramifications?

Posted by: craig at July 8, 2003 at 06:04 PM

Folks socialists have always used starvation as a weapon to control the masses, i.e. the Ukraine in the 1930's or North Korea today.

The left uses the environment as a scare tactic to achieve their true goal, power. Truth be known they couldn't care less about the environment, i.e. Eastern Europe, the Aral Sea in the fomer U.S.S.R., North Korea, and any Chinese city today. It is only useful idiots that truly believe the socialist environmental propaganda and are dumb enough do the heavy lifting for the left's elite class.

And GM foods may not save the universe, but at least the universe will not have starved to death.

Posted by: D2D at July 8, 2003 at 06:10 PM

I agree with the criticisms of this idiot,
but leave OxFam out of it. They are pro-free
trade and anti-farm subsidy. If they can convince
the lefties to lower agricultural trade
barriers they will do more good than all the
Luddite-Fiskers combined.

Posted by: Andrew at July 8, 2003 at 09:38 PM

Oxfam are not pro free trade. They believe in a thing called "fair trade" which sounds nice and lovely but when you cut through the crap it is revealed as protection in disguise. But far worse, it is really unfair trade which will keep the developing world in poverty indefinitely - in direct contrast to what they say they believe in.

Posted by: Gabor at July 9, 2003 at 12:20 AM

> How many companies hold patents over the genetic material?

Most genetic material is unpatentable (for somewhat obvious reasons, to coin a phrase). Patents are expiring daily on the rest.

> Are there any safeguards against monopolistic behaviour by these companies once all crops are GM?

All crops won't ever be GM.

No one is stopping folks from continuing to produce non-GM seed and crops. Anyone who doesn't like the terms of GM producers is free to buy non-GM.

Or, is the complaint actually that GM producers may set terms that "someone" might find objectionable? On what basis? Surely it can't be that GM is essential, as we've seen no shortage of folks of that ilk telling us that GM is unnecessary.

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 9, 2003 at 02:10 AM

Jake D.

You ask for some pro-GM information to help you make up your mind, and that's good. Try looking at Thomas DeGregori's home page. He's an economist specializing in technology and development issues, and has written a number of articles and books defending modern agriculture against its critics. Most of his articles are available on his web page.

And on Niall ... he made two points: that sterile varieties prove the wrongness of GM and that Monsanto is out to make a profit. The first objection is incoherent, the second trivial. There really wasn't much in the way of an argument there.


Perhaps your definition of "monopolistic" is different from mine:

Exclusive control by one group of the means of producing or selling a commodity or service: ďMonopoly frequently... arises from government support or from collusive agreements among individualsĒ (Milton Friedman).

What did you mean?

Posted by: murray at July 9, 2003 at 02:39 AM

Randy R. Yes, its true that the U.S. is producing more food than it ever has before with only 3% of its population involved in agriculture.

But a large part of that is because of the massive government subsidies that are paid out to U.S. farmers. These subsidies are due to be increased by approximately 80% under a new Agriculture bill coming into force. This is mostly a pork barrel program for politicians in places like the Wheat Belt. The subsidies will still be less than that of the CAP in Europe but its still a lot of money. The E.U. is the worst offender on this front, but the U.S. is not entirely free from blame.

The use of G.M. foods in the Third World should increase crop yields but there is no point in doing this if there is nowhere to export the food to. Agricultural subsidies block export of food from poorer nations which rely on exporting agricultural products to earn money.

Europe and the U.S. should remove their subsidies and remove the trade barriers that exist. This would redress some of the trade imbalance in the world today.

Of course that does mean that the various Western governments will have a large amount of money to spend on other programs. So if this happens we will probably see a lot of idiotic new ideas such as government therapists for abused pets or something.

Posted by: sam at July 9, 2003 at 03:04 AM

In reality, the new genetic technologies will largely be used to feed the power and profits of agri-food corporations, and they are more likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate the problems of widespread hunger and malnutrition in the Third World. /

Well, duh, it only stands to reason that ConAgra/Monsanto/Burpee/Fucktard Seed Company's filthy capitalist pig profits rise in direct proportion to the increase in starving Africans who do not buy and consume their products. For example, when Nyerere, er, Mkapa, er whoever is running the Starving Hellhole aka Tanzania refused the importation of GM, those GM foods were sold in a Western market at a higher price, and presumably a higher profit. Voila: increased starvation, increased profits. Our Luddite friend just didn't make the connection between filthy agri-capitalists and their African-despot agents. And for that we rhetorically pants the poor guy? For shame! /sarcasm

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Age of Aquarius, Age of Aquariuuuuus, Aquariuuuuuus...

Posted by: Tongue Boy at July 9, 2003 at 04:46 AM

Dr Gygorgy alone for moment.

What the hell went through the minds of the editors at The Age?

Didn't anyone actually sit down and think to themselves: does this crap make sense?

Posted by: Don D'Cruz at July 9, 2003 at 05:54 AM

Andy F - sorry, the role of the opponent is equally key to positive progress. This is actually a statement of the obvious - not controversial in any way.

It is only by finding the balance that progress finds both it's durability and its conscience. In time, it usually does, even if the path is fraught with pain and danger.

Posted by: Nemesis at July 9, 2003 at 11:33 AM

Whoa , Don D'Cruz, the Age never sits down and tests any of the communisto drivel it spews out.So what passes through their heads, crap.

Posted by: d at July 9, 2003 at 02:22 PM

> Andy F - sorry, the role of the opponent is equally key to positive progress. This is actually a statement of the obvious - not controversial in any way.

It may be obvious or not controversial to the author, but it's wrong as a general statement. (Some opponents are useful, but others are not.)

However, we're talking about a specific, a specific where it is wrong.

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 9, 2003 at 03:34 PM


I meant exactly what I said about monopolistic behaviour. The ability of firms to exert market power and earn an economic profit above zero.

Firms exhibit market power where they are competing in markets with large barriers to entry, few sellers, etc.

Outcome, higher prices, lower output.(when compared to perfect competition)

This does not mean pure monopoly.

What I am trying to get across is that consumers, in this case the third world will not necessarily be better off in the long run.

There have been some disturbing reports on the behaviour of these firms.

Don't rely too much on Friedman as he has a rose coloured view of pure capitalism.

Posted by: craig at July 9, 2003 at 05:11 PM


I forgot about you.

You should check out Monsanto vs. Schmeiser.

Never say never (or in this case won't ever).

Posted by: craig at July 9, 2003 at 05:18 PM

> You should check out Monsanto vs. Schmeiser.

Ah yes, we should believe the guy who the court didn't believe. (For those of you who don't know the case, Schmeiser lost a "possession of stolen property" case. He admits possession and that he didn't legally acquire the property in question - his defense is basically "they didn't catch me stealing".)

Why? Because he's the little guy or Canadian? Because Monsanto is big or American?

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 10, 2003 at 02:25 AM

> Firms exhibit market power where they are competing in markets with large barriers to entry, few sellers, etc.

None of which is true for the alternatives to GM sources. For example, seed saving & trading has no barriers and lots of sellers.

The market power attributed to GM suppliers can't be relevant if non-GM seeds are competitive.

In other words, the basis for the "monopolist" argument is inconsistent with the "GM is unnecessary/worthless" argument. Interestingly enough, many folks use both arguments....

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 10, 2003 at 02:32 AM


Here's more on Schmeiser. He lost the patent infringement case. Then he lost an appeal, on all grounds.

Schmeiser got caught red-handed infringing on Monsanto's seed patent for RoundUp Ready canola. He planted Monsanto's seed without a licence, sold the crop (for about ~$20,000 profit), then saved the seed for later use. He then (quite cleverly) turned himself into the underdog, the innocent farmer under attack by the Big Bad Corporation. Anti-GM activists--not generally known for their intellectual rigour or respect for the law--fell for his act.

On monopoly: I knew all that, but my point was that the onus was on you to persuade me that a monopoly situation was likely. I think Andy F. is on top of this one, though.

Posted by: murray at July 10, 2003 at 03:01 AM

A couple of points. First, although the EU has higher subsidies as a percentage of the farm economy than the US, the Japanese have subsidies that are twice as large in percentage terms (although they have little agricultural land, so this is less of a concern)

Another point that has not been fully addressed is the potential for GM technology to considerably reduce pesticide use in developing nations. Greenies like to think that subsistence or near subsistence farming are all using organic methods (or that they could easily switch to organic methods and benefit from lower production costs with no loss in yields). THis is wrong on both counts. In Bolivia, where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer insecticide and fungicide use was common, but much more poorly controlled than in the US, with improper mixing and applying of pesticides, and applications being performed too close to harvest dates. Both farmers and consumers of their crops and produce suffer. GM technology could greatly improve this situation, and field trials in India have confirmed this empirically.

One cannot stress enough that the key resource in GM crops is knowledge. Many countries and companies are starting to apply these technologies to crops such as rice, sweet potatoes, and bannanas that are important to many farmers for subsistence purposes. The high initial costs of developing technologies are being paid by the US government through research grants, and by the large corn, soybean, and corn farmers, because they are the largest markets companies like Pioneer and Monsanto can tap into to fund their R&D activities. In the end, however, we will all benefit - if the hair shirt crowd do not win.

Incedentally, I don't think that anything is going to stop GM crops from being adopted. It is already being embraced by farmers more quickly than any other new agricultural technology in history.

Posted by: jason at July 10, 2003 at 04:11 AM

Yeah Schmeiser was stupid. But possession of stolen property?

He was found to have planted seed from his previous year’s crop. The court was of the opinion he must have known the seed was from a field contaminated with seed containing Monsanto’s intellectual property.

It was found that Schmeiser did not infringe Monsanto’s copyright with regard to the original contaminated crop.

Monsanto were claiming $105,000 profit. They also wanted to have Mr. Schmeiser held personally liable for damages plus this profit. The court said no.

Monsanto's cross appeal was also dismissed.

Considering Monsanto were so intent on not only being awarded damages, but were also trying to claim some sought of dubious profit from someone who should really be a potential customer, indicates to me that Monsanto exert a fair degree of market power.

I am not anti-GM crops, although I do wonder whether pesticide resistant crops absorb any of the chemicals in products such as Round Up.

I have never said that GM crops are worthless, or unnecessary. I don't know enough about agriculture to make such a claim.

The question is not whether an oligopoly or whatever is likely to happen but whether it is possible.

The answer is it is possible. In fact I think it is probable.

Through merger and takeover the end result in industries which need significant capital investment is oligopoly at best. Witness car manufacturers, mining, banking etc.

Of course firms are going to want to maximise profit. That is their goal.

I'm not necessarily talking of next week, but merely the possibility and its ramifications.

If GM technology is a superior product whose product share is increasing then there may be a day when the world is reasonably reliant on GM crops.

If GM technologies are far superior non-GM crops will lose competitiveness and, farmers will plant GM crops in greater numbers. Seed saving and trading will become an infringement of copyright. As seed saving was in the Schmeiser case.

Not everything is a for or against argument. Sometimes it's have a look and ask a few questions.

Posted by: craig at July 11, 2003 at 03:43 AM

The Authors of both the original article and the comments seem to forgt that every single food we eat has been genetically engineered. The fact that it took hundreds or thousands of years is no reason to consider them " natural". The fact that we can now
make the genetic changes in a few generations of seed rather than thousands shouldn't make them anathema. the true cause of hunger in the world isn't the crop growing ability of farmers but rampant over population by the third world nations.

Posted by: Donald Cameron at July 11, 2003 at 04:42 AM

> Yeah Schmeiser was stupid. But possession of stolen property?

Yup. I rented a car last month. If I'm caught with it next month, that's possession of stolen property. They don't have to catch me stealing the car to make that case. And, it doesn't matter if I argue that it was actually stolen by elves who left it with me.

> If GM technologies are far superior non-GM crops will lose competitiveness and, farmers will plant GM crops in greater numbers. Seed saving and trading will become an infringement of copyright.

Wrong again. Seed saving is not infringment if you own the relevant rights. If you don't like the terms offered by GM producers, you're free to use other suppliers.

> As seed saving was in the Schmeiser case.

Schmeiser didn't live up to the terms that he agreed to. No one forced him to plant GM canola - he wanted to do so without paying for it.

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 11, 2003 at 03:06 PM

Scmeiser did not agree to any terms with Monsanto.

Seed saving is infringement of copyright if those seeds contain the intellectual property of these companies. That is the while point.

Posted by: craig at July 12, 2003 at 03:43 AM


Pardon me for just barging in on this site, but, my, it's an interesting and fiery one!

Seems there a lot of comments asking for more information about GM food, and I'm seeing a fair amount of statements from both camps on this site that I would question.

Here is one site that shows a variety of views from seven different experts. The questions were posed by Science Magazine. Check it out if you wish.


It also provides more links to research and articles on the matter.

One more thing: I am conducting a global survey about what people think about their countries for my Plume/Penguin book, which I am updating and revising for the international market. I invite you to partake if interested.


Melissa Rossi

Posted by: melissa at July 13, 2003 at 12:58 PM