Well, yesterday I was struck with an interesting proposition, from none other than James Roosevelt the Fourth, the less favorable of the friends my roommate Daniel seems to favor.
James: I shouldn't even bother asking this asshole, but does he want to go with us?
Daniel: Thomas isn't an asshole man, anyways, let's ask. Hey Tommy boy, what's crackalackin'?
Me: Cracker what?
Daniel: James and his college buddies have a protest downtown to attend, the Oregon Agricultural Department is going to have a state summit on manufacturing and shipping genetically modified foods. I don't know much about it...
James: This should be something even Mr. Corporate America here could get behind. See, the corporations...
Me: Why is it every discussion we have begins with "the corporations"?
James: Just listen. Lately Oregon has been having a problem shipping genetically modified foods to other states, like Japan, because they're sensibly refusing to eat our Frankenfood freakshow glow-in-the-dark potatoes. Good for them anyways. So this summit is actually to address the growing epidemic of our state agricultural bodies turning to genetic modification. We're going to try to stop them from messing with nature by staging one of our biggest protests yet... we got some people from Greenpeace interested in joining us. We're going to try to barricade people from the building, apparently it's going to be a gala of some of the world's "greatest" agricultural researchers, you know, the ones that sold us out to McChicken mongers.
Me: Given our previous arguments, I have a feeling I already disagree with you, but I have a stable hand in agriculture... I've grown my own food, I know the care and tender one must levy towards a man's crops. What is this "genetic modification" that you speak of?
James: Well, they take the plant's DNA and mess with it and create this toxic, freakish but cheap food to sell to the masses. They do the same thing to animals and stuff, and create alien foods by crossing animals and plants, it's crazy.
Me: But, if they food they are making is unhealthy as they say, then why bother making it at all?
Daniel: Well they don't tell you it's unhealthy, how else would they sell it?
James: Yeah man, they're in the pockets of the big corporations, trying to take over our right to have organic foods that god grew in nature's gardens.
Me: Well, this certainly sounds terrifying... but are you sure it isn't just a new technology to increase produce yield?
James: Increase food production? Please, that's totally wrong! That's the kind of corporate bias we try to fight. You should come with us.
Me: Well, I was going to go out to lunch with Ms. Natalie Cato...
Daniel: That's all you ever do, dude, you should just bring her along.
Me: Well, I'm still confused about the subject, perhaps going I could learn more?
So I went to consult with Natalie about the situation...
Me: So, would you like to go?
Natalie: I don't know if I really agree.
Me: I'm sure that if we find that for whatever reason we don't agree, the American spirit of freedom of speech and opinion will prevail, and give us avenue to offer that different opinion to the masses.
Natalie: Well... if you can be optimistic about it, then I can! Let's go.
We met downtown at round 4 pm in the evening hour, to the convention center where the meeting would occur. The protest was large, a thousand strong, swelled around all the streets and prevented easy access... and anyone in a business suit who attempted to enter was haggled by the crowd, wearing funny masks and badgering them with signs. Many of the signs, for some reason, didn't have anything to do with protesting anything agricultural... many of them were anti-President Bush signs and anti-Oil. In particular I counted three or four "No Blood For Oil" signs.
James: I even brought a big bag of eggs that have genetically modified materials and hormones in them to throw at some of the corporate sellouts who are coming in to defend genetically modified foods.
Me: I hope you don't intend to throw that at anyone.
Daniel: Hell yeah! Egg-a-palooza. Give me a baker's dozen, baby.
Me: Your furor, Daniel, is a bit disheartening.
Natalie: You know, I'm kinda scared. These people around here are a little bit crazy. There is some talk of going to throw another park bench into the nearest McDonalds. I don't know if I want to stay here.
Me: It doesn't help that we're nearest to this side of the building's door, where people are trying to walk in but being blocked...
Daniel: Hey J, here comes another one, an old professor dude, you should be able to bean him...
James: Take this Doctor Frankenstein! (it was at this moment James decided to throw one of his eggs at the elderly man, and in quite a direct fashion hit the man squarely in the nose)
Me: Goodness sir, are you okay?
Natalie: Is that who I think it is... ? James, do you know what the hell you just did?
James: Who cares who it is, he's just another one of the corporate pawns here to sells us freak food.
Me: Let me help you up sir,
Old Man: Thank you young man, it appears I came at a bad time, maybe I should leave until the riot subsides...
Natalie: Oh gosh, oh gosh, I'm so sorry... you're Dr. Borlaug, aren't you?
Dr. Borlaug: Yes, Dr. Norman Borlaug. Thank you very much kind lady, you don't seem to fit in with the rest of these ruffians.
James: Hey man, why don't you go create some more freaking cows that grow corn stalks out their utters and rats with ears on their back?
Natalie: James, do you know who you are talking to?! This man won a Nobel Peace Prize!
James: I don't care, this old guy is just another one of them trying to subject us to the genetic clone army of corporate America! Anyways, if he was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, you think ANYONE would have heard of him?
Natalie: You shallow asshole, this man is single-handedly responsible for saving one billion human lives! You'd spend your whole life trying to count the millions upon millions of people he saved from starvation. He's probably the greatest person who ever lived, and you fucking egged him in the face! Asshole!
Dr. Borlaug: No young miss, its okay. I'm an old man and not up for this kind of fight. I'll come back later, I am sure they will reschedule the convention or that this crowd will be dispersed.
Me: James, you should stop the heckling of this man, he's old and even though he is modest, he is likely to have a greater authority in the area of agriculture than yourself.
James: Well let me tell you this, Borg cube man, I won't be assimilated with your genetic corporate planning. Don't you know that genetically modified foods are unhealthy, unregulated and unneeded? Humanity should live on all organic foods! Organic foods are one of the fastest growing sectors in American food today because many Americans are waking up to that need.
Dr. Borlaug: Listen here young man, I may have egg on my face but I will not stand idly by as the latest of technologies to help and improve the whole of mankind is squelched by ignorant minds. In all my years I, as an agricultural scientist, have been in search of life-saving techniques and methods to solve the crisis of worldwide hunger, not for opulent nations of the western civilization which only suffers from one "problem" - too much food - but instead the third world nations which are not so blessed of our technological prosperity.
James: Well, if you know so much, then why do you stand by as this potentially dangerous and useless innovation begins to take over?
Dr. Borlaug: How can you say that the diversification of traits within strains of various plants and animals to create more yieldage per hectare, more nutrition and better natural sustainability in harsh environments, is somehow dangerous to anyone? The whole of all agricultural science in the last 100 years has been a progression of hybridization and cross breeding to create better and more abundant foods to feed the ever increasing needs of the masses. If we abided by the outdated technologies and methods which produce the crops of nature - crops not made to feed people but instead designed by nature only to sustain it's specie in the wild - and demand others eat those foods entirely organic, we will quickly find that without these vital technologies we cannot produce even two thirds of all the food required for the modern world to survive. There are nearly 6 billion people on the Earth and I do not see 2 billion candidates who are volunteering to go away. Genetic modification through introduction of new genes is no different than selective breeding which we have always tried, it is simply more efficient.
James: Sure grandpa, "efficiency", what you so-called "scientists" have sold us out to, and now with that "efficiency" corporate conglomerates like McDonalds are making unhealthy food available to the masses... and who knows what is even in it? It's totally unregulated!
Dr. Borlaug: The problem of unhealthy super corporations selling their produce to the people is not in the genetic makeup of the food or how many government regulators check it. The health problem of the fast food nation of today has always been the Western sense of convenience in what is tasty and immediate. Modern science has made it possible to enjoy a more leisure-based life, even the poorest in America get fat from such a lifestyle but you neglect that Americans have that choice that comes with too much food. They have the choice because of the nation's great wealth. Most people in the third world nations like the ones I have seen with my own eyes did not get the luxury to choose between wheat grain grown in all natural gardens and naturally processed and the wheat grain of hybrid strains - hybridization the very first form of genetic modification - because without the hybrid grain they could not feed their very families and live. They are not wealthy college students who live on grants and borrowed money from parents and can afford not to eat cheaply from the local grocer and who can pay more for the guarantee of natural processes, they are not urbanites who do not know the needs of the truly poor who live in nations that are so better off that they can live this privileged lifestyle of eating as they see fit.
James: But you're not listening man, it's not regulated. Who KNOWS what could be going on? You don't know!
Me: Well if there is a specific threat, then what is it?
James: Well, it's possible for genetically engineered plants to create allergens that can inadvertently hurt those with severe reactions to them, and also increase the toxicity levels.
Dr. Borlaug: The rate of bioengineered allergic reactions is not drastically different a plight or problem than naturally occurring allergens. There is no scientific data to presume that it's any more dangerous than normal food... as for toxins that is a possibility but rarely would such a toxic food get past your nation's strict regulations. As for the food being untested and unwatched by your government, you are simply wrong. The FDA regulates it, the USDA personally inspects all products and certifies them as healthy before they could be even brought to market, and the EPA gets involved if there are any pesticides or chemical agents in the process of growing the foods... like any other food they are given the treatment of analysis. This is much more than most nations do, besides those whose intense regulations prevent foods from reaching the impoverished public.
James: It HAS to be untested, they don't even label it!
Me: Who doesn't label it?
Natalie: The government, Thomas.
Me: Why would they do a silly thing like that?
James: Oh don't start in with that crap. We could easily feed the world with organic foods and its only greedy corporate giants that would see to it otherwise.
Dr. Borlaug: Most bioengineered foods are wheat and grains, you could find specific examples but most everyone, be they local or national or international, could buy food from these resources. Its increased use has simply made food more available, which is nothing compared to the problem of not having enough food. Without this technology increasing at the rates that only genetic modification and advanced transgenic crops, the world could not sustain the rate at which agriculture yields enough to sustain the growing populations. It's an issue of global necessity.
James: Speaking of the globe, it ruins the environment!
Dr. Borlaug: Ecologists have greatly misrepresented the crisis here for their own selfish reasons, Western concerns of power of control their own governments have to centrally plan, but I have always said it like this - the world has two options. The first is to continue cutting down trees, increasing erosion and damaging natural habitat in order to plant crops in soil that is not adequate for producing enough food for the world population. Or the second option: develop new technologies, combat pests more effectively and produce more per hectare. We must recognize that the increase in food production in the last 35 years has been due to the application of constantly improving technologies... and that is how it should continue to be.
James: Well I'm taking the option not to eat freak food and I'm going to loose that choice.
Me: Didn't you just say earlier that the organic food industry was the fastest growing industry in American food? Doesn't that mean you should continue to have the option you want if that is indeed what you prefer?
James: No, because cross-contamination is always a possibility. It's a possibility! I've heard of lawsuits.
Me: That doesn't make much sense, because if there are lawsuits then it seems that indeed there are people preventing the contamination from spreading, although your fears do seem now irrational. I remember the luxury of growing my own food back in the days of my youth, and all throughout my life in fact, and now today I know the convenience of having people prepare and grow foods to supply my needs best is not the same techniques I used when I was growing them myself. That does not mean I distrust them more, but instead I know that as a man with a farmer's hand, that these technologies are impressive in scope and nature.
Daniel: Let's just stop the fighting, okay?
Random Protestor #1: Just say NO to GMO! Hey, why don't you go poison someone else's food? We won't have it here!
Dr. Borlaug: Why... I'm not here to poison anyone... I...
Random Protestor #2: I heard the argument way over there, you need to get out of our city you Dr. Frankenstein! Don't mess with Mother Nature and god and anything green!
Dr. Borlaug: It's certainly not god's will that people starve and do nothing to grow the food they need...
Greenpeace Ringleader: Hey man, I'm with Greenpeace, I could hear your argument way over here. Listen, we respect free speech here and want everyone's opinion to be heard, but we need you three, you tall guy with the wig, you old man in the suit, and you lady... the three of you need to move over there.
Natalie: But that's on the other side of the MAX station! No one could hear us over there.
Greenpeace Ringleader: Well, we accept diverse opinions, but we want you over there or there will be a problem.
Natalie: Are you threatening us? Do you know who this is? We shouldn't have to just run away.
Greenpeace Ringleader: I said get out of here before we have a problem. There are more of us than you and we have the right to speak, not you. This is our time. Don't try to out shout us down because we can shout louder!
Daniel: Thomas, Natalie, Dr. Borg-guy, just go for now. He's probably right...
Me: The crowd seems to be turning on us... maybe it is best if we stepped aside. We're outnumbered... I thought we and our discourse would be welcome.
Dr. Borlaug: They have full stomachs, it's easy for them to stand around here for hours on end. Me, I'm an old man and can't tolerate this any longer. I'll wait till I find word of the rescheduled meeting.
Natalie, myself and Dr. Borlaug all left that day amidst a chorus of chants ranging from the issue of the genetically modified foods to the Iraq war. Dr. Borlaug returned to his hotel and me and Natalie retreated back to her home. The further we walked the greater the chants grew, and the more we knew that we had been defeated and silenced. I am disappointed that we were shut up instead of heard, but I did learn a lot today. Some other protestors even tried to throw more of those GM eggs that James had passed around. It is almost as if the civility of days past is a thing unheard of these days. However, that was yesterday and today is a new day, so I must go and get it started.
I wish you & yours good health, full stomachs, and send my greatest respects. From your most affectionate & humble servt.,
- TH. Jefferson
Amongst the many people who have legendary, superhero-like status, Norman Borlaug is one of the greatest, and it's true, you probably don't know who the fuck he is, I know I didn't for the longest time. The man, according to many estimates, used biotechnology not only to feed millions, but perhaps over a billion - and that was in 1970 when he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his accomplishments. He continues today to try to break the worldwide paranoia of agricultural biotechnology that has caused irrational panic and fear in world leaderships. ActionBioScience.org has an interesting interview with Norman Borlaug from a couple years ago should clarify his position soundly.
Norman Borlaug and his Green Revolution sparked the modern age of agriculture that uses technology to advance our ability to produce food by great lengths without ruining our entire landscape by converting it all to farmlands or starving large sections of our masses. Most of the people in the Western civilized world are against this progression but they really don't live in the greater part of countrysides, instead they have their own vegetarian chop shops and the novel places of special order "pure" or "natural" foods for their every need, and frankly, most of the people living this lifestyle are rich. Most Americans who are fat are the poorer Americans... it's simply factual, rich American society has it's own food culture which is spendy and organic. It's funny that the most picky eaters amongst us who demand the power to control our food culture and the food culture of the entire world are the richest and most privileged. That has made them disillusioned, or as Norman adequately observed in the ActionBioScience.org interview, "Most people in the 'western' world are urbanites and they don't know what it takes to feed the world. These people can afford to buy expensive 'organic' food and to criticize genetically modified food. They pressure governments to ban genetically modified foods and that could be disastrous for developing nations."
But it's not an issue of whether this movement "could" be disasterous, it already is. The fear and paranoia is causing nations in Asia and Africa to start rejecting Genetically Modified foods of all sorts, even the kinds that will prevent wholesale starvation and poverty. Zambia has millions starving but rejected food donations from the United States, mostly corn (which is only modified to prevent insects from devouring it with natural anti-insect toxins that are harmless and tasteless to humans, and natural resistance to pesticides to prevent it from being contaminated while the fields are treated to prevent pests from further rotting and consuming the crops... meaning this corn is only different from regular corn in the relevant way that it's LESS likely to be rotted and MORE likely to remain fresh through transit) - all because of the paranoia and fear spread by anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) lobbyists spread, convincing leaders that the corn is infected or unsafe. This same corn couldn't be distinguished from the same corn Zambians would get from South Africa, yet it was turned away. The sad crime of this anti-GMO movement is not merely that it is a movement to preserve a lifestyle choice - it's a movement to force that lifestyle choice on people who can't afford it, people who will starve if we ignore the options. Zambians did starve and die because of this decision to turn down fresh food from the United States, all because of a perceived cultural image that anti-GMO advocates want to impress on the world or anyone they can have listen.
People have died and will continue to die, all because these elite central planning Western societies are rich and well-fed, and have taken that "problem" of having too much food for granted. Fucking ingrates.