GMOs: It’s about world domination, stupid

To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.” – National Academies of Sciences

Whether genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are safe for human consumption is not the issue. Instead, the real concern is who grows our food, who protects it, who gets it, and when.

When I worked as a legislative aide in the Wisconsin State Legislature in the early 1990s, saving the family farm was both a big political message and effort. Large corporations, such as Dow, Monsanto, and BASF were beginning to take a great interest in this domestic resource. Back then, Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) – a genetically-enhanced chemical used to increase milk production in cows – emerged as a big issue. It was expensive and only larger farm operations could afford it. Critics said it was unsafe. Private farmers said it was destroying their livelihoods.

The debate surrounding the merit and value of GMOs should focus less on how these foods can be harmful to human health and more on how a large, publicly-traded company can essentially make decisions over who receives food and for how much it will be sold.

Today, there are companies that own both the front and backend of a supply chain, giving them a level of control that may not benefit the common good. “Farming got much more specialized, focusing on tremendous production of one commodity, rather than growing all kinds of veggies and livestock,” a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service report stated.

I watch with bated breath to see when folks let the science take a backseat for a moment and begin talking about the real why behind it all. Why are companies so interested in making food more available Well, they’re businesses.

Man-of-the-Cosmos, Neil DeGrassi Tyson recently said, “GMO producers ought to be able to make as much money as they can,“ while pointing out that we’ve been modifying food for thousands of years. His diatribe startled many of his followers. Among that group, he is an oracle and man of the people – a man to lead society to greater enlightenment.

But, Tyson is a scientist, not a businessperson. He’ll be the first to admit that, and this isn’t just about public health. Society needs to be aware of the global impact a company can have on food availability when decisions are based on the bottom line.

Take Monsanto, for example. This behemoth is a typical global corporation with its fingers in virtually every level of the supply chain of food production and distribution. It develops the seeds, grows the crop, protects them with patents and pesticides, and distributes the food. Both here and abroad, they’ve brought the supply chain full circle via a framework of farms that cultivate these seeds. It’s all protected under intellectual property law, and farms that use another variety of seed are penalized. That’s a good deal of control. In fact, some governments from around the world have been looking at it this way for years. And it has been coming to a head, recently, in countries, such as India:

courtesy: The Hindu
courtesy: The Hindu

“The ease with which a transgenic technology allows corporations to claim ownership rights over seeds makes it attractive to them to hype why the world needs GMOs and seek control over entire food chains — from production to marketing — jeopardising the livelihood security of farmers,” a farmers’ group wrote to the Indian government.

This now becomes a geopolitical issue over control of the food supply, and subsequent control over how populations view their governments and whether it has their interests at heart.

It’s here where we see the GMO food lobby, emerging markets, and rising political protests. So, the debate here is not whether GMOs are safe. They likely are. The debate is about feeding the world’s neediest, but doing it with tremendous caveats. You can’t put a label on that.

Old trash is treasure? Landfill mining

Did you know just 4 percent of Swedish households put their garbage into landfills? In fact, Sweden’s recycling program is so successful that they actually run out of garbage and have to buy it from other countries just so the government can provide electricity to its 9.5 million residents.

Unloading garbage in Sweden
Unloading garbage in Sweden

That tid-bit might make garbage a bit more interesting for you. But, for others? Old garbage can be down-right fascinating.

That’s the case for a few folks slated to speak at the 2014 Global Landfill Mining Conference this November in London. They can’t wait to dig this stuff up.

So, what exactly is landfill mining?

Simply put, it’s digging up waste from a closed landfill and either recycling or reprocessing items that were once thrown away as, well, garbage. But, if you can get it out of the ground, there are a number of ways to give garbage a second life. Plastics can be reprocessed, metals can be repurposed, and certain organic materials such as wood can be used as fuel for power plants.

Earlier, I told you Sweden doesn’t have enough garbage — but that’s a unique issue. The United Kingdom only manages to put half their garbage into landfills — they’re simply running out of space. It’s a common European problem, and it’s led the English government to launch a landfill mining program. But officials admit it won’t bear fruit for at least 20 years.

It’s not only a question of time — it’s a question of economics and politics. Short-term costs around landfill mining operations are high, and the return-on-investment is woefully low for a while. That lack of instant gratification is fueling political push back from those who say there “must be” other technologies that can save the day much faster.

Time and speed, though, are actually part of the problem. Our garbage heaps didn’t appear overnight. They took generations to grow, and they continue to expand exponentially. It simply isn’t possible for a quick-fix solution to properly address an issue that’s been left unchecked for decades.

Don’t throw your hands up in defeat yet, however. There’s promising news in the United States as politicians make small steps toward overall answers. As expected, business interests are resisting, fearing any changes will adversely affect their bottom lines. But at least the conversation is open.

Yes, this is a quick look at one of many solutions to waste and sustainable practices. But, garbage, for one, is a dire problem that we must address so our children and grandchildren can see the result. Isn’t it about time we give a good, hard look at the long view?

Green Planet Catering …Trickle Down Weather

A short video I did for a great Raleigh, NC-based sustainable small business. What happens when your sustainable farm/garden gets too much rain? Owner and Farm Manager Daniel Whittaker discusses the trickle down effect of 11.5″ of excess rain over the month of June in 2013. Massive challenges were overcome with proper planning and hard work. Although the company lost at least half its crops, the fall season is looking promising and the financial status of Green Planet has never been better.