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A Bay Area Author Explains Why Our Food System Is More Precarious Than You Think

In his new book, East Bay writer Mark Schapiro delves into the battle over the world’s seeds.

 

In his new book, Seeds of Resistance: The Fight to Save Our Food Supply (Skyhorse Publishing), veteran Bay Area investigative journalist Mark Schapiro (Carbon Shock) raises an urgent warning about a crucial but little-publicized issue: Three enormous multinational corporations are gaining control of the world’s seeds. This Big Ag power play may seem arcane—but it threatens the planet’s food supply. Below, Schapiro lays out his book’s most significant findings.

Seed diversity is disappearing, with drug-addicted seeds taking its place
“For decades, the world’s largest chemical companies have been buying up independent seed manufacturers. Today, just three merged companies—Bayer & Monsanto, DowDupont, and Syngenta-ChemChina—control the vast majority of the industry. These agrochemical giants all pursue the same business strategy: Eliminate local seed varieties and replace them with ‘crack baby’ seeds, born needing herbicides and other chemicals (which generate most of their profits) to survive. The result is seed uniformity across many major U.S. food crops. Genetic homogeneity poses severe risks to the United States’ food security, as identical seeds are more vulnerable to catastrophic die-offs, like the one in 1970 in which a devastating fungus wiped out 15 percent of the country’s corn crop.”

GMOs—Big Ag’s magic bullet—create more problems than they solve
“It’s unclear whether GMOs—genetically modified organisms—are any less safe to eat than conventional crops, although concerns are rising. However, an increasing body of evidence suggests that they are making our food system less safe. On top of narrowing genetic diversity, GMOs haven’t delivered long-promised yield bonuses, insects and weeds are developing resistance to the chemical poisons on which GMOs rely, and the most ubiquitous of those poisons, Monsanto’s glyphosate (aka Roundup), has been found by the World Health Organization to be a probable carcinogen. In addition, their prohibitive cost to develop ensures that a small, secretive group of profit-driven companies essentially controls one of the most basic elements of existence.”

Mark Schapiro. 

Climate change makes everything more urgent
“Responding to our warming climate requires a broad genetic spectrum of crops—and we can’t breed new seeds fast enough to keep up with changing conditions. The agribusiness response has been to, in the words of one Monsanto executive, ‘work to uncouple the farm from the environment around it.’ But this better-living-through-chemistry approach is exactly the wrong way to deal with accelerating climate volatility. What was once derided as ‘hippie farming’—fields planted with a range of crops that have evolved to local conditions and are growing in soil teeming with beneficial microorganisms—is turning out to be far more resilient in responding to planetary change.”

 

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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