Biotech Crops Will Hurt U.S. Family Farmers and Deepen the Energy Crisis

Monday, March 27 2006 @ 06:02 AM

PST Biotech Crops Will Hurt U.S. Family Farmers and Deepen the Energy Crisis

By: John E. Peck

As concerns about peak oil mount, the latest group to jump on the renewable energy bandwagon has been the biotech industry. In a March 13th 2006 press release building towards their national convention in early April in Chicago, Jim Greenwood, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), proclaimed that a new wave of genetically engineered technologies “will end our national addiction to oil.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Family farmers and others who have already suffered from the first wave of biotech crops can only shudder at what lurks within this latest Pandora’s Box. Thanks to Monsanto, farmers are now stuck producing vast quantities of low quality Bt corn that has hardly any market. This unwanted biotech corn must then be dumped - at taxpayer expense - into domestic ethanol production, factory livestock farms, or abroad in places like Mexico where it contaminates indigenous varieties, undercuts peasant farmers, and creates desperate people who have no choice but to cross the border. And in the wake of the Starlink disaster, one can only imagine the consumer safety threat posed by fields of high starch low fiber biotech corn, genetically engineered with an ethanol enzyme, growing adjacent to other corn across the Midwest.

The conventional ethanol industry is already under the thumb of Archers Daniel Midland (ADM), and many family farmers have lost their shirts investing in co-op ethanol projects that end up being gobbled up by ADM when times get tough, such as happened to MN Corn Processors. And, in tune with its slogan about being the supermarket to the world, ADM could care less about energy independence at a national level. They have already pledged to import sugarcane ethanol from Brazil under new “free trade” deals and leave U.S. corn producers high and dry if the price is right. Adding biotech ethanol crops into this corporate-driven quasi-monopoly will only tip the scales further against family farmers.

Another lucrative “solution” to the energy crisis being promoted by the biotech industry is to engineer microbes to produce enzymes that can then be added to switchgrass or crop wastes such as corn stover or wheat straw in largescale biorefineries – a process known as cellulosic ethanol production. Of course, the environmental impact of such unprecedented industrial facilities is unknown. And beyond all the hype, one is still left with the same Enron style scheme dependent upon potentially dangerous patented technologies, abusive one-sided supply contracts, and commodity markets manipulated by corporate cartels.

Patented seed varieties and large bioenergy facilities serving corporate profit margins are hardly a recipe for sustainable rural development or national energy independence. In fact, given all the problems created by existing biotech crops, this misguided approach will only make matters worse. For this reason and many others, family farmers, consumer advocates, and other concerned citizens will also be gathering in Chicago over the weekend of April 7th - 10th for Bioethics 2006, an open public event to educate each other and further strategize about how best to defend our food/farm system from contamination and cooptation by private agribusiness interests.

Rather than going to war overseas or trusting in corporate biotech to secure our fuel supply, the United States would do much better by investing in comprehensive energy conservation, decentralized energy production, and genuine renewable alternatives such as wind, solar, and biodiesel that rely on open source science under local democratic control.

John E. Peck is executive director of Family Farm Defenders
tel. 608-260-0900

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