by Philip Damon
Genetically modified wheat has been discovered growing in a field in Oregon. GMO wheat is not approved for sale in the U.S. Above, a wheat field in Arkansas. Photo: Danny Johnston/AP.
Recent headlines inform us that revelations of genetically engineered wheat found growing in a field in Oregon have resulted in the immediate announcement by Japan that it is canceling its importation of American white wheat—at potential losses to American farmers of well beyond hundreds of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, the biotech engineers at Monsanto were quick to assure us that this isolated field in our grain-rich northwest is nowhere near any of the sites where, since 1994, 179 field tests of “Roundup-Ready” wheat have been tested in sixteen states on over 4,000 acres of open American farmland. These tests were undertaken with the approval of the US Dept. of Agriculture, even as official national policy prohibited the cultivation of GMO wheat, and as our burgeoning markets in Asia and Europe consistently refuse to allow the stuff to enter their countries.
Yet beyond the bizarre, almost comical way in which the modified wheat was discovered (there it was, growing apparently naturally in a field intended to be fallow, and after numerous sprayings of Roundup—Agent Orange, as it was called in Vietnam—and its stubborn refusal to simply give up and die, the only explanation was…genetic engineering), the lesson seems to be not so much how great is the threat we all face from Monsanto. That part of it seems by now to go without saying. The real lesson lies in how the burden falls totally on the USDA: the regulatory agency that allowed and abetted it.
“None of this would be possible,” according to journalist Colin Todhunter of Countercurrents.org, “without the ability of the GM sector to corrupt state machinery in order to further its commercial interests.” He cites the fact that “top people from the GM sector have moved with ease to take up positions with various US government bodies, such as the USDA.” Indeed, this easy movement is the notorious “revolving door”—between Congress and the free-spending lobbies, and between corporate offices and the agencies tasked with regulating the very industries to whom they’ve become beholden.
Consider the words of Don Westfall, vice-president of Promar International, as reported by the Toronto Star on January 9, 2001: “The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded (with GMOs) that there’s nothing you can do about it. You just sort of surrender.” So, as we look beyond genetic engineering to the engineering of the entire emergent corporate state, does it seem to be such a reach to look at the seeds of Monsanto as the seeds of conspiracy, with GMO as a toxic metaphor for the corruption of the many fields of a once flowering society? And is all that is left us a sort of surrender?