Globalization, Genetic Modification of Crops and Agricultural Hysteria on the Left
One of the most telling images in the modern media of recent date, regarding the issue of genetically modified foodstuffs was the sight of silos of genetically modified seed being sent back from an African nation experiencing a profound crisis of famine. Despite the fact that such seeds would have helped the immediate problem, fears were too great that the nation would be rendered dependant upon subsidized food from the first world, and more to the point, become test subjects for a questionable new technology. However, amongst the strident cries in Europe and Africa against genetically modified produce, which have driven some individuals to engage in 'eco-terrorist' practices of sabotage, the American consumer has become comfortable, one might state, in a kind of blissful ignorance over the debate. American genetically modified crops are not even required to be labeled in our supermarkets, while Europeans are willing to risk imprisonment, and Africans hunger, to fend off the advancement of such products. But is "green" and organic, necessarily better. (DeGregori, 2002, 9-10)
Thomas DeGregori sees such hysteria as a form of Luddite technophobia. (DeGregori, 2002, 152). He also sees the African example as a dangerous result of first-world generated fears regarding important new agricultural technology. The capitalism that fueled genetically modified crops that are more resistant to disease and easier to produce in difficult climates, DeGregori suggests, will be the salvation of the world, if only environmentalists will step aside. DeGregori, it must be noted, does not stand alone on the world agricultural state in his fervent belief in the value of capitalism. By way of an analogy, Lawrence Busch points out that when Christopher Columbus set forth upon his great mission, the explorer did not do so out of the impetus to explore the world but to enrich his backers in spices and wealth. Columbus engaged in the pursuit of progress, in other words, with mercantilist and nascent capitalist sympathies, rather than with any desire to see the world. (Busch, 171 cited in Bigman, 2002). Thus capitalist and self-interested monetary benefit, this anecdote implies, can reap huge dividends in terms of benefiting the world. Thomas DeGregori is the author of The Environment, Natural Resources and Modern Technology, and the Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate, and both books are written with the central thesis that capitalist technological innovations ultimately must be fostered to allow for the world's betterment -- and genetically modified foods, with no proven health risks, are one of these great innovations.
However, those who see Columbus not as the embodiment of the positive force of the European Enlightenment but of naked colonial exploitation might see Columbus as a refutation to DeGregori's central thesis in both his texts. They also might counter that when DeGregori asserts that that capitalism fused with the technological fervor it generates in the agricultural sector is the solution to world hunger, even DeGregori admits that African modalities of hunting have been damaged and changed for the negative, because of globalism and its historical underpinnings in colonial intervention. All the more reason to allow the West to aid Africa, however, through the use of technology, DeGregori asserts, now the damage has been done. Also, when he argues that Native Americans were not 'one' with nature, but used nature in the most efficacious fashion, given their environmental circumstances, he uses this as proof that those who espouse organic rather than technologically innovative farming practices are sentimental and misguided in their use of history. (DeGregori, 2002, 90-95)
An opponent of DeGregori might rebut that the Native American use of nature is all reason that colonialism was such an imposition upon Native Americans, estranging them natives from their original modalities of production and imposing European models upon the land that were detrimental to it in the long and short-term. Furthermore, by depriving of the native population of their use of the land with proto-capitalist ownership, the colonial interlopers in the Americas again show the inefficiency of capitalist modes of life. (DeGregori, 2002, 45-49). This is the type of technological tampering the African rejecters of genetically modified crops are attempting to avoid.
Perhaps it is best to listen to the voices of the developing world itself, and to transcend the often metaphorical and verbal, rather than practical, debate that DeGregori and his opponents engage in, regarding the philosophical value of understanding the realities of historically constructed notions of primitivism vs. The theoretical and moral value of scientific development and progress. According to the forward of the text upon global agriculture, as edited by David Bigman, entitled Globalization and the Developing Countries, to lift the world population from the curse of malnutrition is "the prime challenge of the 21st century." (Kuyvenhoven, cited in Bigman, 2002, xi) The question is how to do this, but to do it safely while still keeping local cultural and modalities of life intact.
According to David Bingham, the 'haves' of the developed agricultural world have a moral responsibility to change the balance of knowledge between themselves and the 'have nots' and to "integrate" these have-nots into the global economy." (Bigman, 2002, xiii,) "Growth is the only strategy that can provide a sustained relief from poverty." (Bigman, 2002, 34) In Kenya, to take just one example from the African example so dear to DeGregori, agriculture by indigenous studiers of agriculture within that nation, was cited as the key factor in providing food security, "absorbing the growing labor force, providing export earnings and facilitating rural industrialization." (Nynangito and Karugia, 136, cited in Bigman, 2002). However, this agricultural development must come, not through importing goods from the developed world, or relying upon extrinsic means of agricultural sustenance, but upon Kenya's development of internal means of agriculture in harmony and coherence with current (as opposed to past) modalities of life.
One of the problems in much of the developed world is not that of a lack of technology, but a lack of government infrastructure. DeGregori's point that there is a need for capitalist development of agriculture in much of the developing world is well taken, at least in the Kenyan example. For instance, in Kenya and other African nations, the privatization of agriculture has only come with difficulty, but remains important in integrating Kenya's critical agricultural industries into the world economy, as if privatization is not accomplished, the inefficient government structures that micromanage and mismanage agriculture will render the nation permanently dependant upon other nations for basic foodstuffs. (Nynangito and Karugia, 136, cited in Bigman) This is despite he fact that Kenya possesses ample natural resources that can be marketed in many desirable forms, such as coffee, to take one example.
However, there is a dark side to privatization of agriculture in developing nations, particularly when it is undertaken by outside companies that do not have the nation's overall interests at heart. Privatization of agriculture can mean that "private agricultural companies, motivated by profit prospects," are only attracted to cash crops, rather than to crops that can potentially sustain the local economy. Such companies also often display a flagrant lack of respect for the environment in their use of pesticides. Also, the desire to mine a nation for all of its resource potential means frequently that it enriches certain regions but not others. (Srinivasen and Jha, 104, cited in Bigman, 2002). Although not all pesticides are intrinsically damaging, as noted by DeGregori, not all pesticides complementary to one ecology are equally harmless when exported to another ecology, and thus this must be accomplished with great care.
The debate between organic vs. genetically engineered crops can also be murky one, and quite contextually dependant. Although it may seen obvious to call for better standards, and the labeling of all crops, "standards can be used to exclude others from the marketplace, as well as to include." (Busch, 174 cited in Bigman, 2002) Nations that use genetically modified crops can be excluded from the marketplace because of fears, justified or not, and thus the use of genetically modified seeds can ultimately be counterproductive to these nation's desire to enter into the world economy.
Perhaps it is fairer not to label GM produce, and to bias individuals against such products, if no harm can be found. Although when analyst Lawrence Busch specifically refers to standards of quality of products, including staple foodstuffs like rice, the same argument could be made of standards of purity and impurity regarding organic products and genetically modified products. Strict standards regarding organic crops, which typically require more cultivation than non-organic produce, because they do not use pesticides, could be used to exclude developing nations from the world market. Organic produce also requires a smaller scale of production, because more human labor is involved in the cultivation and treatment of such products, limiting its ability to feed nations in acute stages of privation and malnutrition.
Still, DeGregori's sneering at greens who fear 'cold pasteurization' even though most feel makes dairy foodstuffs safer, belies his own assertion that no…