Saturday, September 10, 2011

Damian Carrington

Food is the ultimate security need, new map shows

It is a graphic demonstration of the sickening, symbiotic relationship between hunger and conflict and highlights food supply problems from Somalia to India to Spain
Food Security : A 2011 map of Maplecroft food security risk index View larger picture
Sub-saharan Africa dominates a new food security risk map, while the Indian sub-continent and Iberian peninsula also stand out Map: Maplecroft
A new map of food security risk around the world is, in some ways, depressingly familiar. Sub-saharan Africa leaps out as the place where the most people fear for their next meal, while the rich world has more to fear from obesity. But there's plenty of salutary reminders and fascinating detail, like India's food problems and the vulnerability of Spain.
And it demonstrates the sickening, symbiotic relationship between lack of food and conflict: where one leads, the other follows.
We must start with the worst, in the horn of Africa. In Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, human failings mean a severe drought has tipped millions into famine. It's a textbook case of why things go wrong. War begets poverty, leaving food unaffordable. Devastated infrastructure destroys both food production and the ability to truck in emergency food. The collapse of society means the effects of extreme weather such as drought cannot be dealt with. And the fear of violence turns people into refugees, leaving their livelihoods and social networks behind.
Famine in Horn of Africa : Food distribution centre at Badbaado settlement camp, Mogadishu, Somalia Refugees wait for food aid in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on August 18, 2011. Photograph: Ismail Taxta/Reuters
The recent spike in food prices, linked by some to the uprisings across north Africa and the Middle East, had also hit hard in Somalia. Maize prices in Mogadishu were 100% higher in June 2011 than in June 2010, and the price of sorghum in Somalia rose by 180% compared with 2010 prices.
Sharing Somalia's unhappy ranking as having the greatest risk of food crisis is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where all the factors above apply, plus the impact of as much as half its rich arable land being land grabbed by foreigners. The situation in DRC is simply scary: it is on track to be one of the most populous nations on Earth in coming years.
Turning to India, the new map, produced by risk analysts Maplecroft, reminds us that behind the booming economy of that vast nation, hundreds of millions of poor people remain hungry. Almost half of India's children are malnourished and one in four of the world's hungry poor live there.
"Despite the enormous economic growth India has and is experiencing, it still has very stark income inequality, which is reflected in the malnourishment and infant mortality data," says Helen Hodge, head of maps and indices at Maplecroft. The Maplecroft index, reviewed last year by the World Food Programme, uses 12 types of data to derive a measure of food risk that is based on the UN FAO's concept. That covers the availability, access and stability of food supplies, as well as the nutritional and health status of populations.
Spain and Portugal stand out as very rare examples of rich nations with a medium risk of food security problems. Hodge explains, that while water problems are an issue there, the major reason is heavy reliance on grain imports. Spain buys in 11bn kilograms of grain more than it exports every year at a cost of $2.6bn, while Portugal pays $890m for 3.3bn kilograms.
"Spain and Portugal have made the decision that olive oil and wine exports are more profitable than grain," she says, along with salad crops. So they sell lettuce and Rioja and buy wheat and corn with the profits.
That calculation may change if global food prices continue on their current upwards trend. In other parts of the world, soaring food costs may well ignite further conflict. "It is striking is how much food security plays into the wider picture of unrest," says Hodge.


Deborah Meaden on mega-dairy factory farm

Mega-dairy factory farms are economically unsustainable

There is no denying our dairy industry is in desperate need of economic turnaround, but we must support small-scale farms
  • Article history
  • Mega-dairy factory farms are too high risk and not a sound long-term option. Photograph: WSPA
    There is a sector of Britain's business that is in serious crisis. Companies are going bankrupt or simply shutting down as they find themselves unable to profit.The sector in question trades on a basic staple: a raw product that isn't in short supply. If we don't act now to preserve it, then this relatively quiet crisis will be over before most of us realise it is happening.
    One day we will look out of the window and ask what happened to our countryside, where our cows went and why we only have a few hundred massive factory dairies instead of thousands of dairy farms, shaping our landscape and rural life.
    Ten years ago there were around 30,000 dairy farms in the UK.
    Now, every day across Britain one of our 11,000 remaining dairy farmers is turning their back on dairy farming and selling off their herds. There is no denying that our dairy industry is in desperate need of an economic turnaround.
    The farming industry is looking to the mega-dairies of the US and likes what it sees.
    The grass may well seem greener, but look into the actual economics behind the large-scale, intensive, indoor system and the picture is far from rosy.
    Farmers are too often told to expand their herd size and with it change the way they farm, under the belief that a greater economy of scale will solve all the problems.
    But as we learned the hard way with the global banking crisis, the notion of "too big to fail" is a myth.
    The basic requirement of a good business model is insulation from as much unnecessary risk as possible, while still making a profit. If you have a choice of high-risk for an average position in the marketplace, would you pick that over low risk for long-term gain?
    Perhaps yes if you were opening a pop-up shop, or capitalising on a commodity that will only be around for a short period of time.
    But when you apply those options to the British dairy industry, the high-risk option surely loses its appeal. In the dairy economics report published on Friday by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the mega-dairy is found to be a high-risk option, and I agree with them.
    The potential for financial ruin is enormous when a good farmer (who may not be a good businessman) switches production methods to that of a massive US-style dairy farm.
    When things go wrong it affects not just the business but the animals , and too much can go wrong with a mega-dairy for me to be comfortable with it as the future of UK dairy farming. Yes, farming is ultimately a business, but it is an emotive one that doesn't pay enough for those in the industry to be in it solely for the money, so we know they care about their animals.
    We must lose the idea that mega-dairies mean more milk and therefore more profit. Consider instead the profit lines from animals that live longer, with fewer health issues.
    Consider that this means avoiding early culling, so maintaining longer-term profit margins becomes a sustainable reality and, above all, a more palatable approach to dairy farming.
    Because what are we faced with instead if we go down the mega-dairy route?
    Two years ago I invested in a woollen mill in Somerset. The textiles industry was suffering as many people had shifted production to China, but I believed in their specialist knowledge. Now, demand has shifted back to products which need those dedicated skills to produce them, but sadly most of those skills were lost when the production was exported.
    This is worth remembering as our dairy farmers and herdsman face being replaced with cheap labour and machinery.
    Britain – like many countries – has tried liberal economics and deregulation of the markets. It allows for an incredible financial boom, but the following bust in the 1980s and 1990s and our current situation has become more devastating each time, with today's levels of unemployment at a record high.
    Perhaps it is time for a more socially responsible approach?
    Economists say that the most robust marketplace is one of many small-scale buyers and sellers, none of which can individually influence price. Reducing the number of dairy farms can only take us farther from the robust marketplace.
    I suggest that our dairy industry deserves the chance to try something truly economically sustainable rather than going through a financial groundhog day and wondering where all the dairy farms went, 10 years from now. Let's change this quiet crisis into a loud revolution.
    We all have a part to play in this – if we don't support our small-scale dairy farmers now, tomorrow will be too late.
    • Deborah Meaden is an entrepreneur and an investor on the BBC programme Dragons' Den


Honey bees sit on a honeycomb at Bad Segeberg, northern Germany

EU bans GM-contaminated honey from general sale

Bavarian beekeepers forced to declare their honey as genetically modified because of contamination from nearby Monsanto crops
  • Honey bees on a honeycomb in Germany. A European court has ruled that honey which contains traces of pollen from genetically modified crops needs special authorisation before it can be sold. Photograph: Heribert Proepper/AP
    The European Union's highest court on Tuesday ruled that honey which contains trace amounts of pollen from genetically modified (GM) corn must be labelled as GM produce and undergo full safety authorisation before it can be sold as food. In what green groups are calling a "groundbreaking" ruling, the decision could force the EU to strengthen its already near-zero tolerance policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Bavarian beekeepers, some 500m from a test field for a modified maize crop developed by Monsanto - one of only two GM crops authorised as safe to be cultivated in Europe - claimed their honey had been "contaminated" by pollen from the plant. The European court of justice found in their favour, a ruling that should offer grounds for the beekeepers to claim compensation in a German court. But the court's finding also potentially threatens recent EU legislation, introduced in July this year, that permits traces of GMOs in animal feed without a safety review. Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said that the ruling "would confirm that existing laws allowing traces of unauthorised GM contamination are insufficient and would need revising." French Green MEP José Bové, an ex-farmer well-known for his destruction of a McDonald's franchise in the south of France and the uprooting of GM crops in Brazil, said that the only protection farmers can have is for a complete ban on GMOs in Europe. "Beekeepers are powerless to prevent the contamination of their honey by GM pollen, as farmers are for their crops, and thus powerless to prevent the tainting of the foodstuffs they produce and the integrity of their product. "The only sure way to prevent this is by precluding the cultivation of GMOs." Greenpeace, describing the traces of pollen in the honey as "genetic pollution" said that Monsanto and the Bavarian state should be held liable for the beekeepers' losses as a result of their product having to be labelled as containing GMOs. However, agricultural specialists criticised the ruling, saying that the decision has no grounding in science. Guy Poppy, the director of the centre for biological sciences at the University of Southampton, told the Guardian: "There is no safety issue. This honey is as safe as any other." The corn in question is genetically engineered to produce an insecticide that naturally occurs in the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (BT). The production of this toxin protects the maize plants from European corn borer larvae. "The Monsanto maize is genetically modified to produce the BT protein. But this same protein actually has been regularly used for years as a spray even by organic farmers," he added. "The consequences of these sorts of ruling is that new methods of plant breeding, whether GM or other forms that are developed, could be thrown out of potential use, making it impossible to innovate." Vivian Moses, professor of biotechnology at the University of London and the chairwoman of Cropgen, an advisory group on GM foods, said: "These beekeepers believe that there is a sensitivity among consumers of the presence of GM material, that the honey containing GM loses quality. They are just protecting their economic interest. "But scientifically this doesn't add up to anything, as the crop has been judged as safe for human consumption." In response to the ruling, the European commission will in two weeks discuss the issue of GMOs and honey with EU member states. According to Brussels, it is likely that the decision will have an impact on the honey into the EU as Europe does not itself produce sufficient quantities for the size of the market. The bloc produces 200,000 tonnes per year and must import an additional 140,000 tonnes. Argentina and China, both GM-friendly countries and the two biggest importers of honey into the EU, are likely to be affected in particular, the commission warned. "The honey is not dangerous. There is no health risk from honey in the EU," insisted EU consumer protection spokesman, Frédéric Vincent, worried that shoppers might stop buying honey as a result of the news. "It's an important ruling from the court. I can't say at this point whether we need to change any laws," he added. "The contamination is done by the bees themselves. We can't put GPS tracking on the bees." Source:

Friday, September 9, 2011


MEDIA RELEASE   Posted on 4:54 pm, Wednesday, September 7, 201
The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), at the University of Hawaii at Manoa has received $500,000 from Monsanto Company to establish the Monsanto Research Fellows Fund.
The fund will assist graduate students pursuing a Masters or Ph.D. degree and post doctoral researchers at the College related to the study of plant science and protection.
“We are very grateful to Monsanto Company for its generous financial support of CTAHR students engaged in agricultural research – Hawaii’s future leaders of sustainable industries and a strong, diversified economy,” said UH Manoa Chancellor Virginia S. Hinshaw.
The goal of the new fund is to enable eligible students to enhance their educational and professional development through fellowship programs, including financial support for student research and participation in national professional conferences.
“We are deeply appreciative of Monsanto’s investment in our college and students,” said Dr. Sylvia Yuen, CTAHR’s interim dean. “Because of workforce shortages, there is a critical need to educate the next generation of researchers preparing to tackle the difficult problem of producing more food on less land in a sustainable way, using less water and energy, to feed a growing population. This gift will allow CTAHR to attract the best and brightest young people to engage in this important work.”
This gift is part of the Monsanto Fellows in Plant Breeding Program, designed to prepare students for successful careers in plant breeding and encourage the development of future leaders in the agricultural industry.
Monsanto additionally supports higher education in Hawaii through internships, scholarships, facility tours and contributions toward various educational programs.
“Many leaders and agricultural experts – including Governor Abercrombie, Chair Kokubun of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, and the Hawaii Farm Bureau – have expressed how vital it is for Hawaii’s agricultural industry to be strong and vibrant, not just today, but tomorrow and beyond as well,” said Fred Perlak, Ph.D., vice president of research and business operations for Monsanto in Hawaii. “This gift to CTAHR is an effort to do our part toward contributing to this greater goal.”
The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) is committed to the preparation of students and all citizens of Hawaii for life in the global community through research and educational programs supporting tropical agricultural systems that foster viable communities, a diversified economy, and a healthy environment. CTAHR actively helps Hawaii diversify its economy, ensure a sustainable environment, and strengthen its communities, and serves as the premier resource for tropical agricultural systems and natural resource management in the Asia-Pacific region.
The University of Hawaii at Manoa serves approximately 20,000 students pursuing more than 225 different degrees. Coming from every Hawaiian island, every state in the nation, and more than 100 countries, UH Manoa students matriculate in an enriching environment for the global exchange of ideas.
The University of Hawaii Foundation, a nonprofit organization, raises private funds to support the University of Hawaii System. Our mission is to unite our donors’ passions with the University of Hawaii’s aspirations to benefit the people of Hawaii and beyond. We do this by raising private philanthropic support, managing private investments and nurturing donor and alumni relationships.
Monsanto Company is a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality. Monsanto remains focused on enabling both small-holder and large-scale farmers to produce more from their land while conserving more of our world’s natural resources such as water and energy. 


EU Court Says French GM Maize Ban Was Illegal

by Charlie Dunmore and Julien Toyer
LUXEMBOURG, - France acted illegally when it imposed a ban on the cultivation of a genetically modified (GM) maize variety developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto in 2008, Europe's highest court ruled on Thursday.
French farmer Jose Bové has been a leader in the fight against Monsanto's genetically modified (GM) maize. The French authorities did have the right to impose a moratorium on the growing of Monsanto's insect-resistant MON810 maize, but based its decision on the wrong EU legislation, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice said.
To impose such a ban, member states must demonstrate a potentially serious risk to human or animal health or the environment, and notify EU authorities of the need to take emergency measures, it added.
Emergency measures must be based on science and backed by an assessment from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), according to the European Commission.
France imposed its safeguard clause against MON810 maize in February 2008, citing a "serious risk to the environment."
Six other EU countries -- Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg -- have similar safeguard clauses in place.
Having tried and failed to force several EU countries to lift their cultivation bans, last year the Commission proposed letting member states decide themselves whether to grow or ban GM crop cultivation.
A spokesman for EU health and consumer commissioner John Dalli said talks on the proposal would continue, but France would have to abide by the court's ruling.
"It's now up to the French administrative court to decide whether to table a new safeguard clause," the spokesman said.
A spokesman for Monsanto said the ruling confirmed its argument that the French authorities failed to follow the correct procedures when imposing the ban.
"Over the last 15 years, MON810 has proven agronomic, economic and environmental benefits and its safety has been confirmed consistently. French farmers should no longer be denied the choice to use it," he said.


US, World Bank and Donors Fund Forced Labor in Vietnam

by Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK - A leading international human rights group has accused the United States government, the World Bank and other international donors of indirectly funding forced labor in Vietnam’s drug rehabilitation centers.
BLOOD CASHEWS -- In this screen grab from a Human Rights Watch video, Vietnamese workers process cashew nuts at a detention center. In a report released Wednesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Vietnam’s system of forced labor centers for people who use drugs has expanded over the last decade.
"In 2000, there were 56 drug detention centers across Vietnam; by early 2011 that number had risen to 123 centers," the 121-page report said, adding that in that period over 309,000 people passed through the centers.
The report:  'Rehab Archipelago: Forced and Other Abuses in Drug Detention Centers in Southern Vietnam’ said state-run drug detention centers, mandated to treat and rehabilitate drug users, are "little more than forced labor camps where drug users work six days a week processing cashew, sewing garments, or manufacturing items."
The centers have been sustained by a variety of international donors none of which has made objections. "The funding from international donors is effectively subsidizing the costs of detaining people," Joe Amon, HRW’s director of health and human rights, told IPS.
In Vietnam, one of the world’s five remaining countries ruled by a communist party, there were an estimated 125,000 injecting drug users in 2010. In addition to these heroin addicts, drug users seek a high from cannabis, opium and methamphetamines.
"It is wrong that international organizations working with these centers don’t have monitoring mechanisms to detect serious abuses against their supposed ‘beneficiaries’," Amon said. "Despite all the donors who are engaged, there’s silence around the issue of forced labor."
The HRW report points a finger at the bilateral and multilateral donors who were drawn to Vietnam to provide detainees with HIV prevention, care and information; provide drug dependency services; or fund training for the centers’ staff.
Donors named and shamed include the U.S. government’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID); the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the World Bank; United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); and Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).
According to HRW, Vietnam is one of the 15 countries supported by PEPFAR, which is expected to pump in close to 102 million dollars in 2011. Vietnam’s primary donor for HIV/AIDS programs is the U.S. government through PEPFAR.
The World Bank has provided funds since 2005 for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment activities in the centers, while UNODC began implementing programs in the centers in 2007.
Both the Bank and the U.N. agency deny knowledge of forced labor in the drug rehabilitation centers.
"We have not received any reports of human rights violations in the drug rehabilitation clinics supported by (our) project," Victoria Kwakwa, the Bank’s Vietnam country director, said in an interview. "If we had, we would have conducted a supervision mission to ensure that bank policies were met and concerns fully examined."
Gary Lewis, head of the UNODC’s East Asia and Pacific office, said: "Prior to the publication of the HRW report, UNODC had not received any specific reports of suspected violations of human rights in administrative detention centers in Vietnam."
HRW’s report of alleged forced labor in the centers "would constitute a violation of human rights," he told IPS. "UNODC is very concerned about the reports of illegal arrest, arbitrary detention and torture of people in these (centers)."
Consequently, the stories of victims like Que Phong, in his late 20s, have not reached the ears of the leaders in the international humanitarian industry. His stay in a southern Vietnam rehabilitation center for heroin addiction resulted in "five years of forced labor, torture, and abuse."
"During his time at the center, Que Phong was given a daily quota of cashews to husk and peel," the HRW report says. "Although the caustic resin from the cashews burned his hands, he was forced to work for six hours a day."
In fact, the tens of thousands of forced labor victims like Que Phong in the rehabilitation centers have been a boon to Vietnam’s cashew trade, enabling it to retain its place as the world’s leading cashew nut exporter.
Foreign earnings from this cash crop, an estimated 1.4 billion dollars in 2010, have been largely due to leading importers from the U.S. and the European Union – both of which have laws that come down hard on products made under forced labor.
What is more, these centers, which had their origins in the "reeducation through labor" camps in 1975, condemn drug addicts to abusive years by circumventing the courts. "People are commonly held in the centers after police detain them or family members ‘volunteer’ them for detention," states HRW.
Tim de Meyer at the International Labor Organization said it is a picture of abuse that is typical of forced labor. "Any situation in which people are detained without having been found guilty of a specific offense and convicted by an independent court and are subsequently made to work is a forced labor situation," Meyer, a specialist on international labor standards, told IPS.
"Even if people have been found guilty and convicted according to the rule of law, they should not be made to work for private interests, unless they have formally agreed to do so and enjoy regular working conditions," he added.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Stoneledge Farm post-Hurricane Irene.The Tragic Legacy of Irene

Deborah Kavakos Stoneledge Farm post-Hurricane Irene.
This report, from Deborah Kavakos of Stoneledge Farm — a CSA in the Greene County, N.Y., town of Cairo — is a harsh reminder that farming is a risky business. (I’ll be posting other reports from farmers in New York and Vermont — (here’s another, from Intervale, VT) — as they come in; submissions welcome via Visit Stoneledge’s Web site for more (heartbreaking) photos and information.
Hurricane Irene came to upstate New York and left behind tragic loss of homes, roads, bridges, businesses and farms. Our small family farm — a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture farm in which members share in the farms’ harvest — has been devastated.
Fall is what we work for and look forward to all year; it’s the season that our work and preparation pays off. The smell of fall is in the air, yet it lacks the excitement that we have become accustomed to feeling. Cool mornings would be paired with the sounds of crops tumbling through the washing facility as workers’ morale is lifted with the fruits of our labor. This excitement is transported to our members as our delivery trucks present fresh produce to our members. It is normally the time of bounty for the farm and for the CSA members’ shares.
But Irene’s floodwaters came and went with amazing speed and power, leaving behind devastation which shook the lives of many friends, neighbors and businesses in our town. In the days to come we came together as a community cleaning up and helping with whatever was needed. Our spirits began to lift as we could see our produce still hanging strong in our fields. We thought we could continue to provide our members with the organic produce that has filled refrigerators and dinner tables for well over a decade.
Two days after the flood waters receded we received information from the FDA, NYS agriculture and markets and Cornell Cooperative extension that produce that came in contact with flood waters could not be used for human or animal consumption. This was devastating news as a helpless feeling of disappointment and frustration set in. We continue to work through the implications of the storm day by day.
The CSA membership has risen to support the farm in this difficult time. We’re in direct contact with members, who’ve been demonstrating their understanding and commitment to the CSA model and the farm. The flood was overwhelming, but each day we are encouraged by the outpouring of continued support. CSA is about a community of members supporting the local farm and truly being part of the local, natural food supply that we as farmers dedicate our lives to produce.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Attack of the Monsanto Superinsects

| Tue Aug. 30, 2011 3:04 AM PDT
Over the past decade and a half, as Monsanto built up its globe-spanning, multi-billion-dollar genetically modified seed empire, it made two major pitches to farmers.
The first involved weeds. Leave the weed management to us, Monsanto insisted. We've engineered plants that can survive our very own herbicide. Just pay up for our patented, premium-priced seeds, spray your fields with our Roundup herbicide whenever the fancy strikes, and—voilà!—no more weeds.
The second involved crop-eating insects. We've isolated the toxic gene of a commonly used bacterial pesticide called Bt, Monsanto announced, and spliced it directly into crops. Along with corn and soy, you will literally be growing the pesticide that protects them. Plant our seeds, and watch your crops thrive while their pests shrivel and die.
Monsanto focused its technology on three widely planted, highly subsidized crops: corn, soy, and cotton. Large-scale farmers of these commodities, always operating on razor-thin profit margins, lunged at the chance to streamline their operations by essentially outsourcing their pest management to Monsanto. And so Monsanto's high-tech crops essentially took over the corn/soy- and cotton-growing regions of the country.
But now the pitches are wearing thin. Dumping a single herbicide onto millions of acres of farmland has, predictably enough, given rise to weeds resistant to that herbicide. Such "superweeds" are now galloping through cotton and corn country, forcing farmers to resort to highly toxic herbicide cocktails and even hand-weeding. More than 11 million acres are infested with Roundup-resistant weeds, up from 2.4 million acres in 2007, reckons Penn State University weed expert David Mortensen.
And now insects are developing resistance to Monsanto's insecticide-infused crops, reports the Wall Street Journal. Fields planted in Monsanto's Bt corn in some areas of the Midwest are showing damage from the corn rootworm—the very species targeted by Monsanto's engineered trait. An Iowa State University scientist has conclusively identified Bt-resistant root worms in four Iowa fields, the Journal reports.
The findings are not likely isolated to those fields—just like spotting a cockroach on your kitchen floor probably signals an infestation, not that a lone cockroach randomly stumbled in for a visit. Sure enough, farmers in Illinois are also seeing severe rootworm damage in fields planted in Monsanto's Bt corn. And it's not just in the United States: In 2010, Monsanto itself acknowledged that in industrial-agriculture regions of India, where Monsanto's Bt cotton is a dominant crop, a cotton-attacking pest called the bollworm had developed resistance.
Just as Roundup-resistant superweeds rapidly bloomed into a major problem after first appearing in the mid-2000s, Bt-resistant superinsects may be just getting started. Colleen Scherer, managing editor of the industrial-ag trade magazine Ag Professional, put it like this: "There is no 'putting the genie back in the bottle,' and resistance in these areas is a problem that won't go away."
So what does all of this mean for Monsanto? If its main attraction for farmers—the promise of easy pest management—is turning to dust in a quite public way, should we expect the company be on the verge of getting crushed under the weight of its failures?
To get a glimpse of how the publicly traded company is faring, I looked at how its stock has been performing over the past year, compared to the broader stock market. Early Monday afternoon, Monsanto's shares were trading at about $71—a more than 25 percent gain over the past 12 months. Over the same period, the S&P 500—a broad gauge of US stocks—is up just over 10 percent. That means investors have high hopes for Monsanto going forward, despite the high-profile failures. Like weeds and bugs in farm fields, Monsanto shares have developed resistance to toxic tidings.
What gives? The Wall Street Journal article provides a clue:
The [Bt-resistance] finding adds fuel to the race among crop biotechnology rivals to locate the next generation of genes that can protect plants from insects. Scientists at Monsanto and Syngenta AG of Basel, Switzerland, are already researching how to use a medical breakthrough called RNA interference to, among other things, make crops deadly for insects to eat. If this works, a bug munching on such a plant could ingest genetic code that turns off one of its essential genes.
In other words, Monsanto claims it has the answer to the trouble it's cooking up on corn, soy, and cotton fields: more patent-protected GM technology. It has managed to shove US farmers on a kind of accelerating treadmill: the need to apply ever more, and ever more novel, high-tech responses to keep up with ever-evolving pests. And while farmers run ever faster to stay in place, Monsanto just keeps coming up with highly profitable "solutions" to the problems it has generated.
Investors have embraced Monsanto's pitch. Large-scale farmers, battered and desperate for relief, probably will too. But the broader citizenry, in the form of the regulatory agencies that ostensibly guard the public interest, should start asking hard questions.
Tom Philpott is the food and ag blogger for Mother Jones.