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17 May

The Environmental Assault of GM Farming

in Corporatism, Environment(alism), Food

The latest in a string of disasters from the Franken-Food folks:

Millions of hectares of farmland in northern China have been struck by infestations of bugs following the widespread adoption of Bt cotton, an engineered variety made by the US biotech giant, Monsanto.

Outbreaks of mirid bugs, which can devastate around 200 varieties of fruit, vegetable and corn crops, have risen dramatically in the past decade, as cotton farmers have shifted from traditional cotton crops to GM varieties, scientists said.

Smaller cropped version, made for Template:Agr...

Image via Wikipedia

I published an article on GMO farming as part of a sustainable development module in grad school.  While I was (still am) largely cynical of our ability to predict the long-term consequences of such scientific forays, I had no moral qualms about research into genetic modification.  Agrarian societies have long engaged in such manipulation through selective breeding and modern biotechnology is ostensibly an attempt to employ sophisticated gene splicing techniques to achieve the same ends.  Since the manipulation occurs at the genetic level, the randomness of the selective breeding process is bypassed and therefore the results can be more predictable within fewer generational attempts.

Particularly with the promise of super-foods such as 'golden rice', I was initially enthusiastic about biotechnology's potential to address global food security. After completing my research, however, I found little to support the movement in its current form, and substantial evidence that it should be halted immediately. 

At minimum, the research and development expenses associated with bringing a crop to market are far too immense for practically anyone outside global agribusiness.  Virtually all of the research and production of plant GMO’s is carried out by seven major “life science” companies, many of whom are actually pharmaceutical giants. Golden Rice projects may be good PR, but they ignore the fact that people aren't hungry because their rice is no nutritious enough, they're hungry because all they eat is rice.  In the meantime, these corporations mount an assault on the farmers themselves with the inclusion of suicide genes which ensure that crops become infertile after a single season (requiring the purchase of more seeds), that they work with only a single strain of pesticide/herbicide (happily sold by the same company) and whose controversy artificially constricts the available market to countries friendly to GM foods (notably, the U.S.).

In an ecological sense, GM crops not only shuttle much of the developing world into mono-cropping (think Ireland's potato famine), but also have the same effect as hospital superbugs (e.g. antibiotic-resistant strains of MRSA spawned by the overuse of germicides).  Those organisms able to adapt to the chemical assault form super-pests and super-weeds which are not only nearly impossible to control, but have the bonus effect of assaulting neighboring farms who chose not to become slaves to global agribusiness.

Hey, I'm all about human ingenuity.  But does anyone still believe that multi-national corporations have our best interests in mind?

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29 Mar

Link Vomit – Science and Tech Edition

in Environment(alism), Geek, Inventions, Science & Technology, Wednesday Wish List, WTF?!

Image: Drank too much? - Vision and scenes of Hell!, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from rwp-roger's photostream

The town of Inuvik, Canada, will no longer spend winter in permanent darkness, thanks to their shiny new artificial sun!  Despite being just freakishly awesome, I wonder what effect this will have on the local ecosystem?

Attention super-villains: Seeking exotic materials for your next go at world domination?  Check out inventables.com for the latest and greatest microreplication devices, spray-on metals, and talking tapes.  On a side note, do you  really want dominion over this planet?  Sounds like a helluva workload to me …

Speaking of spray-on materials, a Germano-Turkish research conglomerate has developed a non-toxic form of glass coating that is both flexible and breathable and is designed to protect against a score of environmental hazards.  I imagine we’ll file this one with the electric car and any other product designed to decimate entire economic sectors in the selfish name of environmental protection.

Google is reportedly working on a speech-to-speech translation system.  Of course, I hear this and think Star Trek style real-time interspecies communication, but I imagine the typical conversation sounds a lot more like, “For why do you recite intercourse you?  I perform solament translation service error!”

Researchers in the U.S. have developed a skin-based device interface that operates on the electric signals conducted through touch.  Ostensibly, this will allow people to perform a series of gestures to control their mp3 players, make a phone call, and send email.  As someone who is still getting used to the site of people using their bluetooth headsets on the street, I look forward to the day when everyone is spasmodically touching themselves!

Clever little monkeys at the University of Technology and the University of Michigan have developed a prosthetic foot that stores the kinetic energy of the downstep for release in the upstep, thereby mimicking the action of the human ankle.  Next stop - go go gadget legs!

Finally, from the New Scientist, Valerie Jamieson – aka Dr. Buzzkill – explains why we’ll never travel at warp speeds.  However, fear not, for there is no shortage of clever little pointy-eared fans with the smarts to rebut her hypothesis.  

15 Mar

Sea lions “euthenized” to ease the suffering of chronic eating. Oxygen dependency to follow.

in Animals, Environment(alism), WTF?!

We are a truly vile species sometimes:

A California sea lion last week became the first salmon predator to be euthanized this year under a program that has been denounced by those who say there are far greater dangers to salmon - including the series of 3614436029_19292a99fdhydroelectric dams on the Columbia. … Last year, 11 sea lions were euthanized. Another four were transferred to zoos or aquariums.

… The sea lions represent a massive he adache each year as chinook salmon begin arriving at the Bonneville Dam east of Portland, congregating in large numbers as they return from the ocean. Sea lions have become keenly aware that the dam is a great spot to feast on salmon, easy pickings as they wait to go up the dam's fish ladders.

Leaving aside that I highly doubt this issue wasn’t raised in the environmental survey prior to the damn being built, we basically created a giant food bowl, filled it with a delicious endangered species, and then decided to kill all animals that availed of the tasty morsels.  Well, all except the poor fisherman “who have watched sea lions snatch salmon right out of their gill nets.”

And just for the record – ‘euthanized’?  Really?!