Friday, January 2, 2009

Free Enterprise

Free Enterprise, Unltd.
by Mort Malkin

We, of course, are exemplars of advanced industrialized society. Then, there are the primitive Third World countries. Between the First World and the Third World, there is a populous place, not the Second World, but Emerging Nations. The emerging nations such as China and India are primitive in the countryside and industrialized in the cities. But, whether rural and urban, the emerging nations have few environmental regulations and labor laws — ideal for outsorcing American jobs.

We of the First World know that bigger is better. Modern science and capitalism have told us so. In the 18th century we had the Industrial Revolution (jail the Luddites) and were already into the second Agricultural Revolution. Nature was slow and undisciplined. By the 20th century, modern man could use chemistry and electronics to gain speed and focus.

In agriculture, we made wondrous fertilizers, created herbicides & pesticides, and had the judgment to decide which variety of the genus and species was best for potatoes, tomatoes, corn, wheat, rice, oranges, berries, and very few other essential foods. We didn’t have to bother with broccoli or kale — few eat these strange tasting vegetables. Only the French insist on keeping different kinds of grapes so they can have: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfindel, and Syrah.

By the late 19th century biodiversity was considered old fashioned. A pioneer Celtic nation, Ireland, had decided that the the Lumper potato was the best kind to feed the poor people. It was the only variety planted in the Emerald Isle. Unfortunately, the phyto-pathogen phytophthera infestans, also thought the Lumper was the best potato. So, the potato blight came, and there were no resistant potato varieties around. So, all the starving Irish had to emigrate to the New World and get used to food in the Automat, New York’s prototype of a fast food joint.

In the early 20th century the corn borer moth came to New England and did in the cornfields of Massachusetts. Over the following decades the corn borer migrated across to the Great Plains where monocrop corn farming was the rule — perfect conditions for the corn borer moth. It presented a challenge to American Chemistry. Rather than diversify the varieties of corn and finding some that were resistant to the corn borer — that would be the primitive Mexican way — we invented new pesticides that would kill the moth and its larvae that deserved nothing less for daring to tangle with us. If the pesticide turned out to be toxic to humans as well, we would deal with that a few years later when the ecologists had proof positive that we could no longer deny.

As the 20th century was closing, the chemists of Monsanto had a new lucrative toy — genetic engineering — which enabled them to play God at elementary levels. What a feeling! For example, they could take the genes from cold water fish and inject them into tomatoes that would then be resistant to frost. The tomatoes were called “flavor savers" but didn’t taste any better. Nor did they have any more vitamins or nutrients. Nowadays we don’t hear much about the flavor saver tomato. They decided to move a couple of steps away from direct confrontation with the consumer. Genetically engineered corn and soy that was fed ro animals or put into prepared foods was a more peaceful way for Monsanto to make a living.

In Africa and Europe, consumers are insisting that genetically engineered (GE) foods be labeled so, or at least as “franken foods.” The farmers, too, refused to join the fourth agriculturl revolution and would not buy GE seeds or the pesticides for which they were engineered. In the US, GE labeling is not required even though the majority of corn and soy grown in our country is genetically engineered. Working on another track, we insist on free trade and open markets for US corporations. Thus, the industrial sized farms that are favored with tax cuts can out-compete small family farms in Third World countries and drive them out of business. When the Third World nations complain, they are accused of protectionism and isolationism, sovereign criminal behavior to be sure. The poets of the Gadfly Revelry & Research group have suggested that these nations call their policies localism and self sufficiency. Their farmers are willing to work hard. They are happy to farm small acreage without using artificial anything. They fertilize with compost, mulch, and manure. They pick off insect pests by hand. Twenty acres supports a family with food with plenty left over to sell to neighbors and markets.

We in the US can take a lesson from old fashioned family farmers and communities around the world. We can shop locally, join a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm, or shop at farmers’ markets supporting farmers who grow different varieties of different vegetables. We might even learn to identify wild edible plants and become wildcrafters. Then we’ll be back before the first Agricultural Revolution, back to our hunter-gatherer roots when our genetic heritage was established.

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