The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 4th September 2009

Genetically modified crops

SUPERMARKETS are currently involved in secret talks to introduce genetically modified foods on to our shelves, according to reports from “industry sources”. This is a part of a battle by multinational giants to own and control food production across the globe so that they can extract the maximum profit. And it is a fight that will continue - sometimes in the headlines and sometimes behind the scenes - until global economic imperialism has been overthrown by the workers of the world.

The current push has come in the wake of reports last month that in future years food and water shortages will take priority over oil, coal and gas shortages.

As ever those pushing for greater acceptance of genetically modified food production claim it is the solution, and the only solution, to world hunger and starvation and all the poor health and starvation that goes with it.

This is an absolute lie. Agriculture around the world already has the capacity many times over to feed everyone in it quite comfortably. As Gandhi is reported to have said, when a child goes to bed hungry in the Third World, it is not resources that are lacking but justice.

The problem is not with the amount of food available but with who owns and controls the means of production.

Years ago we were taught in geography lessons that “backward” African and Asian countries were being encouraged to abandon “primitive” subsistence farming where local families and villages produced mainly food for their own consumption in favour of mass producing cash crops on huge plantations for sale on the world’s markets. We were told this was essential progress.

But in the days of subsistence farming, although there were occasional famines due to weather or pests, most of the time the people ate well and had a varied and balanced diet. Since their old farming plots were cleared away to make room for huge commercial plantations, the local people have been forced to work as low-paid wage labourers on the plantations. Those who could not get these jobs had to either try to scrape a living farming the fringe, less fertile areas or give up and drift into the towns in search of work.

Just like the English farm labourers a couple of hundred years before who were thrown off the land by the enclosure movement, the dispossessed Africans and Asians were told that modern scientific agriculture would produce more for everyone, when in fact it produced only massive profits for a tiny minority and hunger and deprivation for the masses.

Genetically modified crops are all patented; those who use them will have to pay dearly for the seeds. And they will not be able to keep a portion of the crop back for planting next year; most GM crops produce infertile seeds. The farmers will have to pay again every year.

Many GM crops are modified to withstand the use of chemical insecticides and weed killers, so the farmers can spray the area heavily, killing insects and unwanted plants in the knowledge that the crop will survive. This will lead to vast swathes of farmland being stripped of all other plant and insect life.

We are already seeing the effects of the overuse of insecticides, in particular nicotinoids, in the disappearance of millions of honey bees and other pollinating insects which play such a vital role in human food production that our own existence is endangered if they disappear completely.

There is also a real risk that cross pollination between these GM crops and local weeds will take place, resulting in “super weeds”. Already in Mexico strains of wild corn have been found to contain transgenes from GM strains.

A study commissioned by the United Nations last year rejected the claim that GM crops could or would resolve world hunger. Nevertheless the Government has ordered the Food Standards Agency to carry out a year-long spin campaign to win support for GM.

Earlier this year Sir Terry Leahy, boss of Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket, said supermarkets may have made the decision to reject GM products too hastily. “It may have been a failure of us all to stand by the science,” he said.

We class warriors are not Luddites; we do not oppose objective science and true progress. But bitter experience has taught us to question the science that is funded by profit-hungry capitalists. They’ve pulled that trick on us too many times before. Too often the science of economics and profit-making distorts all other branches of science.