Yesterday I wrote to the Today Programme in anticipation of Owen Patterson appearing today.
Here is the letter:
Dear Today Programme
I normally wake up to Today, and this morning was interested in the piece you ran in preparation for Owen Patterson’s interview tomorrow. Here are some thoughts on your interview with Mr Patterson.
Owen Patterson’s “Green Blob” is no different from Michael Gove’s “Education Blob” – it is a political attack on an opposition that he sees are gaining foothold. It has nothing to do with people feeling cuddly or fluffy and everything to do with his world view that global power must be exercised through a corporate elite – the neoliberal dominant ideology being marketed as the only ideology – against a vision that is more equitable, that puts people at the heart of politics. That he attacks the opposition so aggressively says a lot about his insecurity.
So, providing that we understand Owen Patterson as a politician taking an overtly political stance then we can remember that he is attacking the green movement entirely because he is fearful of their view – very different from his own. He will try and use scientific sounding arguments as a smoke screen, but as we have already discovered, he is no scientist.
Your trailer referred to the so-called Golden Rice, and that Owen Patterson does not like the green movement because it opposes GM crops. Why would that be?
Firstly, the biggest problem with GM technology is an economic-political one, the second a scientific (genetic) one. Let me explain.
Traditional farmers have collectively maintained several thousand varieties of rice over the Asian continent. These have been bred and adapted over generations to provide a range of nutritional, flavour and growth characteristics. Some will mature in as little as 90 days to avoid drought. Some are flood resistant. A few are even salt tolerant, being adapted to growing in coastal areas. In other words, they are collectively fit for purpose and ensure crops in a wide range of conditions. They are also free, shared and under continuous development.
Since the introduction of commercial seed in the so-called Green Revolution, these varieties have dropped from thousands to hundreds. This was beautifully illustrated earlier this year by Amar Kanwar’s moving exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Since the Green Revolution, seed patenting and licencing has been introduced. This has effectively made it illegal for farmers across the world to save and share seed, forcing even the most marginal farmers into commercial practices that leave them indebted and more vulnerable than when farming traditionally. Thus, they are fighting back through organisations like La Via Campesina and Navdanya. It is only through taking action that they can continue to express their independence and avoid debt. Over 250,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide because of such debt, and untold more have abandoned their farms and moved to find work in the cities. Yet Owen Patterson wants them to be forced to grow a single variety of GM rice crop (which does not yet exist) so that they can all be locked into punitive contracts with multi-nationals, so that they are dependent on the corporations for their inputs, yet they are vulnerable to variable weather because the one variety of GM seed is only adapted for idealized growing conditions. Thus, commercialized GM technology is genetically regressive and limited.
It is a lose-lose situation for the farmers in a system designed for multi-nationals to profit on the backs of the poor. This is what Owen Patterson wants, and why he attacks those who espouse a different view. These people cannot bear to see populations who can thrive or even survive independently of the multi-national elite.
Remember that industrial agriculture occupies the best 75% of the world’s agricultural land, but small and peasant farmers grow over 70% of the world’s food on the remaining 25% of more marginal land. This is the conversation that needs to be had – let us define efficiency as food produced and people fed, not on cost and profit terms that benefit the already over-rich.
You may well read this and think “Blimey, that’s a bit far out!”. But sadly, it isn’t. Monsanto, for example, are currently prosecuting the State of Vermont because they had the temerity to regulate food labeling – to force the labeling of food containing GMO. This is such a threat to their profits that Monsanto are using Investor State Dispute mechanisms to force the repeal of the legislation. They will probably succeed, because the case is likely to bankrupt Vermont if it does not back down. Just to make sure, though, several other multi-nationals are supporting Monsanto – Starbucks, Nestle, for example – even though they have no direct interest in GMO labeling. The issue being prosecuted is that of democratic states standing in the way of easy profit by trying to protect he rights of citizens.
I really hope this gives you some food for thought, and brings up some more challenging lines of questioning for Mr Patterson in the morning. I am sorry I could not have sent this earlier, but I hope it will be read and passed on by somebody in the team.
Today, having listened to Mr Patterson try and sell the benefits of GM technology to emerging nation farmers, I received the newsletter from La Via Campesina with a great video linked from it. Have a look at the video – it is a thing of beauty and clarity.
Today, 16th October, we celebrate the World Day of Action for Food Sovereignty and against Transnational Corporations. In this occasion, La Via Campesina invites its member organisations across the world, grassroots organisations and allied social groups to watch our video: La Via Campesina in Movement. Food Sovereignty now!, to inspire your actions and activities today.
The film is available in English, Spanish, French, and other languages…
This is a Day of solidarity, resistance, and mobilization in order to make citizens aware of the current threats to Peoples’ Food Sovereignty.