Pathways to Family Wellness, Summer issue #58, Article Summary and Talking Points:
Perdue University president Mitch Daniels recently claimed in an opinion piece in the Washington Post that, “avoiding GMO’s isn’t just anti-science, it’s immoral.” In response, Charles Eisenstein has come to shed some light to refute Daniels’ claims and to show how the real issue at hand has been missed by proponents like Daniels and others from both sides. For Eisenstein, it comes down to larger questions about the future of food production, not merely the difference between organic vs. GMO’s as seen in conventional farming operations.
When we take a conventionally grown field of GM corn or soy and compare it to an organically grown field that uses the same production model, we find that the GM crops will often yield larger quantities of viable product. This is the stance taken by Mitch Daniels who thinks GMO’s are the scientific and moral step forward. However, in his article, The Moral and Scientific Opposition to GMO’s, Eisenstein poses the following question: “What happens if you compare not just one field to another, but a whole system of agriculture to another?” Interestingly, we find something very exciting. First shown by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen in 1962, specialized operations utilized mostly by small farms can outperform conventional models by a factor of 20! These findings, Eisenstein notes, have been confirmed multiple times since then and across many countries.
From the article:
“Comparisons of organic and conventional agriculture often use organic farms recently converted from conventional practices; rarely do they consider the most highly evolved farms where soil, knowledge, and practices have been rebuilt over decades.”
People like Daniels would like to maintain that since monocropped GMOs outyield their non-GMO equivalents they are therefore the better choice. But this is no longer the issue at hand. “What is at stake here” says Eisenstein, “is much more than a choice about GMOs. It is a choice between two very different systems of food production, two visions of society, and two fundamentally different ways to relate to plants, animals, and soil.”
Some of the practices used by successful small farms include traditional multicropping and intercropping, free-range chickens to patrol pests, recycling of insect-damaged crops to feed in-house livestock, all of which add to the production’s overall efficiency and cannot easily be adopted by conventional models as they exist today. If we examine Brown’s Ranch of North Dakota as an example of a small farm operation, we will see the highly specialized, multilayered intercropping of plants and synergies required to maximize sunlight and optimize natural pest-control. An operation like this show us that the beauty and success of these practices depend on their ability to attach to local soil conditions and harbor a deep respect for the land. Such unique production models are difficult to standardize, however, and are therefore difficult to study.
In his article, Eisenstein tells us: “opposition to GMOs only makes sense as part of a larger social critique and critique of institutional science.” Those like Mitch Daniels of Perdue University who favor GMO’s are willing to uphold “Science” without applying a healthy dose of criticism to institutions of science, such as the Food and Drug Administration and University Agronomy Departments across the United States. Such an unfailing trust in institutions, especially regarding the issue of GMO’s, is not realistic in today’s climate of corporate hegemony within government where, for instance, previous CEO of argitech giant Monsanto has come to chair the FDA, and where agritech businesses have, in the words of Scientific American, “given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers” in universities. Despite this, independent scientific research has come to reveal the dangers posed by GMOs which cannot be dismissed simply as “superstition.”
Opposition to GMOs is neither unscientific, nor immoral. A healthy dose of criticism is a fundamental virtue of the scientific tradition, but institutional science has evaded this criticism (thanks mostly to the sophisticated bullying and AstroTurf campaigns conducted by parties of interest.) What has manifested as a result of people’s blind faith (read: fear) in institutional science? Aside from all the health hazards on current and future generations, we have delayed the implementation of sustainable practices that can solve the problems facing us.
But these problems are not for the higher-ups–institutional authorities and the like–to solve on our behalf. They are problems for us to accomplish, and in fact, it’s better this way. If we are to live for the future, we better own it. And we can rest assured with Charles Eisenstein, that, “a different vision of the future is emerging. It is a future where food production is re-localized, where many more people have their hands in the soil; where farming is no longer seen as a lowly profession, and where agriculture seeks to regenerate the land to become an extension of ecology, not an exception to it.”