Tag Archives: Phil Angell

Organic Food, Wheat and Hunger

I received an e-mail the other day, asking me for my commentary on this article in the Economist. The article, initially about the history of wheat but oddly mutates into how genetically modified food will save the world without wheat, hits the major points and accurately reflects the good side of what happens when you feed the people.

But it leaves out one major variable in this component – human greed and it’s power to corrupt the best of intentions.

Let it be said here, on the record, that I have no problem with Genetically Modified (GM) Food that has been shown to be safe to both people and the eco-system. The problem is that several of the producers of GM food whose priority is to genetically tamper with crops for the sake of continual revenue, rather than feeding the hungry.

In my opinion, the number one priority of this planet is to ensure that no one goes hungry. This is a bit pollyannish, I know. But hey, I also hope for world peace and believe that love conquers all.

If I believe that we, as a world community, should be able to feed itself, I should also acknowledge the limitations of certain products. A group of limiting products happens to include organic foods. Norman Borlaug, who I talked about here, once said, “You couldn’t feed more than 4 billion people” on an all-organic diet.

That’s a limitation that’s difficult to ignore.

However, what angers me is how the Monsantos and the Archer Daniel Midlands of the world hide behind the shield of good intentions when others criticize their business practices.

“We’re trying to feed the world” they shout, when people bring up the fact that these companies are advocates for patenting life forms, or introducing terminator genes into crops. While they may be trying to feed the world, they’re trying even harder to ensure regular profits, oftentimes at the expense of feeding the hungry.

Typically, if extensive testing was done on the above practices, with the results made available to the public, I would be willing to give these Bio-Agriculture industries the benefit of the doubt. But they don’t wish to be bothered. “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food,” said Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications once said in an interview with the New York Times Sunday Magazine. He said, without irony, that testing was the FDA’s job.

Which reminds me of a story–

Once upon a time, in order for the FDA to determine if Monsanto’s growth hormones were safe or not, Monsanto was required to submit a scientific report on that topic. Margaret Miller, one of Monsanto’s researchers put the report together. Shortly before the report submission, Miller left Monsanto and was hired by the FDA. Her first job for the FDA was to determine whether or not to approve the report she wrote for Monsanto. Assisting Miller was another former Monsanto researcher, Susan Sechen.

The result? Monsanto approved its own report.

Doesn’t that fill you with safety and joy?

It’s practices like these that make me advocate for taking two steps back. Yes, we need to feed the world. As I said, I believe it’s our number one priority. If it requires using genetically modified food to do so, then that’s what needs to be done.

However, I have little faith in our current crop of bio-ag industries. They’re playing with our eco-systems with a minimum of regulation. To say this concerns me is like saying the Titanic ran into a bit of trouble. One wrong step by these folks, and we run the risk of inhibiting our ability to feed ourselves as a country.

So I eat local when it’s available, organic when it makes sense to. I give my money to companies and farms who aren’t afraid of transparency, who aren’t afraid of showing the good with the bad. Because if the business models from Monsanto represent a “better way” then we should redefine what constitutes “better”.

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