As concerns about oil supply mount, the latest group to jump on the renewable energy bandwagon has been the biotech industry. In a March 13, 2006 press release, building towards their Chicago meeting in early April, 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. There 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, in which genetically modified corn not intended for human consumption found its way into fast-food tacos and elsewhere, one can only imagine the consumer safety threat posed by fields of high starch low fiber biotech corn, engineered with an ethanol enzyme, growing adjacent to sweet corn across the Midwest.
The conventional ethanol industry is already under the thumb of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). Many family farmers have lost their shirts investing in co-op ethanol projects that get 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 controlled market 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 biorefineries. This is a process known as cellulosic ethanol production. Of course, the environmental impact of such massive 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 contracts, and markets manipulated by corporate cartels.
Patented varieties and bioenergy facilities under tight corporate control 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 may only make matters worse. Rather than going to war or trusting in biotech, the Unites States would do much better by investing in comprehensive energy conservation, decentralized energy production, and genuine renewable alternatives such as wind, solar, and biodiesel.
John E. Peck is a member of the National Family Farm Coalition. The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) was founded in 1986 to serve as a national link for grassroots organizations working on family farm issues.
© 2006 MinutemanMedia.org