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September 30, 2014 8:23 AM   Subscribe

The Illusion of "Natural": In an excerpt from her new book On Immunity, Eula Biss deconstructs desires to flee from "toxins" and embrace what is "natural". Where the word filth once suggested, with its moralist air, the evils of the flesh, the word toxic now condemns the chemical evils of our industrial world. This is not to say that concerns over environmental pollution are not justified—like filth theory, toxicity theory is anchored in legitimate dangers—but that the way we think about toxicity bears some resemblance to the way we once thought about filth.

Some early reviews of On Immunity:
posted by Cash4Lead (45 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
The main reason the categories of natural / artificial are worthwhile has to do with agency. Is this illness just part of the world we all struggle with, or is it caused by some jerk making an extra buck by not caring what he dumps in my water?
posted by straight at 8:37 AM on September 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


I heard her this morning on NPR talking to Audie Cornish, and one of the quotes stood out to me:

"when you split the difference between information and misinformation, you still end up with misinformation"

(which comes from the blog Science Based Medicine originally) It was such a simple turn of phrase, but I love it. The interview was pretty great all around, and it looks like her book is great as well. Yay for reasonable people explaining reasonable topics well!
posted by DGStieber at 8:40 AM on September 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


I found today's Morning Edition segment featuring Biss interesting, particularly where she talks about how pernicious the "middle ground" is between anti-vaxers and a regular vaccine schedule.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:41 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's actually really insightful, straight. I had thought that a lot of the concern about naturalness was related to more primordial concerns about 'purity', but resentment about economic externalities makes a lot of sense, also.
posted by empath at 8:41 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of the things that has stuck with me from Totem and Taboo.
posted by grobstein at 8:47 AM on September 30, 2014


The main reason the categories of natural / artificial are worthwhile has to do with agency. Is this illness just part of the world we all struggle with, or is it caused by some jerk making an extra buck by not caring what he dumps in my water?

I know what you're getting at, but that's not a distinction that holds up well to any close analysis. There are lots of "natural" diseases that are only a problem for us because of the particular ways modern society is organized etc. There are plenty of "natural" goods that we enjoy only because of the highly complex, highly mediated, highly technological delivery systems that can bring them to us--and so forth.

And reifying this essentially unhelpful and always-already compromised distinction really does have pernicious consequences. We move from asking "is this beneficial/harmful" to assuming that the beneficial/harmful question is answered by the "artificial/natural" question. Hence we get the knee-jerk opposition to, say, Golden Rice and other "artificial" interventions that would actually be life-saving and we get the uncritical consumption of, say, fruit juices on the grounds that "it's natural, it must be good for me."
posted by yoink at 8:49 AM on September 30, 2014 [10 favorites]


>Is this illness just part of the world we all struggle with, or is it caused by some jerk making an extra buck by not caring what he dumps in my water?

What's the difference between the two? Honest question, isn't "some jerk [dumping shit] in my water" = "part of the world we all struggle with"? They're things we didn't historically all struggle with, but we all do now. Does natural/unnatural directly translate to ancient/modern?

Cholera is some jerk dumping shit in my water, too.
posted by DGStieber at 8:52 AM on September 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


The main reason the categories of natural / artificial are worthwhile has to do with agency. Is this illness just part of the world we all struggle with, or is it caused by some jerk making an extra buck by not caring what he dumps in my water?

A tad dated as an outlook.

These days in the US what you need to worry about is assholes dumping into your water more of what would otherwise be a smaller dose of something we all struggle with.
posted by ocschwar at 8:55 AM on September 30, 2014


Oh, you're on a toxin cleanse? Which one? Name it. Name one of the toxins. Here, take this pen and paper. Write down its chemical formula. Draw a model of the molecule you're concerned about. No? OK, I'll name some chemicals. You just grunt, I guess, when you hear something that scares you.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:59 AM on September 30, 2014 [27 favorites]


And reifying this essentially unhelpful and always-already compromised distinction really does have pernicious consequences. We move from asking "is this beneficial/harmful" to assuming that the beneficial/harmful question is answered by the "artificial/natural" question. Hence we get the knee-jerk opposition to, say, Golden Rice and other "artificial" interventions that would actually be life-saving and we get the uncritical consumption of, say, fruit juices on the grounds that "it's natural, it must be good for me."

I think it's worthwhile to understand what motivates people to believe in that sort of distinction, whether or not it's a useful distinction. It seems to be a division along two axes -- political/economic (ie, is someone taking advantage of me) and instinctual (pure/impure, clean/filthy).
posted by empath at 9:03 AM on September 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think especially in the case of GM crops, the genuine concern of most of the groups opposing it have is economic and social and they're *using* the 'naturalness' concern to get the public on their side in a battle with Monsanto.
posted by empath at 9:05 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, I'm going to memorize and recite that post.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:07 AM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think especially in the case of GM crops, the genuine concern of most of the groups opposing it have is economic and social and they're *using* the 'naturalness' concern to get the public on their side in a battle with Monsanto.

To my observations, it's more that they have had to mostly retreat from the claims of GM crops being dangerous because the science doesn't back it up so far but are too dug in to ever admit they were just plain wrong. So, we have endless accusations that Monsanto is the evilest company ever when they are mostly just the same amount of evil as most big corporations. And then when you dig deep into the criticisms of Monsanto they mostly end up bunk and the conversation moves back to vague fears about the food being safe. It ends up just being standard circular conspiracy theory stuff, a frustrating waste of time to discuss that distracts from the legitimate issues surrounding the subject where they do exist.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:14 AM on September 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


Oh, you're on a toxin cleanse? Which one? Name it. Name one of the toxins.

Mercury. I'm eating mercury-free this week.

I mean, I think I am. I have no fucking clue where the hell mercury gets in the food chain. Mostly I'm avoiding polar bear meat and walrus.
posted by GuyZero at 9:16 AM on September 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Todd Haynes' 1995 movie Safe features a SoCal woman who becomes so obsessed with the idea of environmental contamination that she runs off to join a cult in the New Mexico desert. Pretty good film, kind Cronenberg-y, deals with similar issues of purity and contamination.
posted by factory123 at 9:24 AM on September 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


One of my favorite things to do when people start talking to me about toxins is ask them to define what, exactly a toxin is.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:29 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm in favor of natural births at least. The type of people who have them also record them and upload them to YouTube, and they're very entertaining to watch.
posted by deathmaven at 9:33 AM on September 30, 2014


Cholera (as the example given above) can be dealt with by not shitting where we drink. I think that's the opposite of some jerk dumping shit in my water (SJDSIMW). You can tend to the natural world and expect it to more-or-less be a system with more-or-less understood rules. SJDSIMW doesn't follow rules. That barrel of glutaraldehyde (to pick a specific toxin) SJDIMW would be purposefully gathered -- concentrated in locality -- stored, transported, and then dumped into a pond, or park or other area.

Straight's statement was one of agency. Cholera doesn't will itself into 30 gallon drums, and so on. Cholera has no agency. When SJDSIMW decides to buck society and poison others, it's an issue of agency.

Yes, absolutely, people have to deal with the results of both cholera and SJDIMW, no question. The underlying causes of each are separate, however, and are more easily broken down into the categories that straight described.
posted by boo_radley at 9:34 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


> One of my favorite things to do when people start talking to me about toxins is ask them to define what, exactly a toxin is.

"basically if you can't tell me the difference between a toxin and a toxicant, you're just not worth my time. heh."
posted by boo_radley at 9:35 AM on September 30, 2014


All of this negativity is really getting my chakras out of whack.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:39 AM on September 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


factory123: Todd Haynes' 1995 movie Safe features a SoCal woman who becomes so obsessed with the idea of environmental contamination that she runs off to join a cult in the New Mexico desert. Pretty good film, kind Cronenberg-y, deals with similar issues of purity and contamination.
The punchline of this movie is the cancer from radiation she gets, right? New Mexico leads the nation in background radiation levels.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:40 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


(cue the thundering footsteps of MUTANT KOKOPELLI)
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:46 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]



Cholera (as the example given above) can be dealt with by not shitting where we drink. I think that's the opposite of some jerk dumping shit in my water (SJDSIMW).


You don't live in the Midwest, do you?

The main water quality problem in most of the country now comes from the industrialization of agriculture. In particular, combine suburban sprawl with the legalization of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and you have feedlot and dairy operators paying farmers to pump their cowshit and spread it on their fields in concentrations far beyond what will help the crops. The resulting water contamination might not give you cholera, but nitrate poisoning's a bitch, as is algae contamination (actual honest-to-goodness toxins in the water from this one), cryptosporidiosis and other bugs.

Artificial chemicals, however, have a nice little side effect from the clean water act: one man's pollutant is another man's feedstock.
posted by ocschwar at 9:46 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


ocschwar:
algae contamination (actual honest-to-goodness toxins in the water from this one), cryptosporidiosis and other bugs.
Hello from Toledo, Ohio. Don't worry about us. Algae produces most of the world's oxygen, dontchya know? Just doing our part.
posted by charred husk at 9:51 AM on September 30, 2014


Mercury. I'm eating mercury-free this week.

It's one thing to avoid foods because of real things like mercury or avoiding shellfish during certain seasons.

It's another to go on a cleanse.

I mean, you're not getting chelation therapy at Whole Foods.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:06 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


ocschwar: fair point, but I think the distinction still holds. Perhaps I think of cholera in this example as a smaller scale thing. I believe that once you start entering the world of waste lagoons and other feedlot management - the pollution you and charred husk allude to and studied by Michalak et al is, at least in part, a result of industrialized ag practices gone awry. Looking at the two as a matter of human action (regardless of intent) seems like a practical guide as to how each might be dealt with.

Regardless of that, I agree with you that CAFO waste reuse is insane. Every serious recommendation I've gotten from using my own animal's manure has had a least a 90 day "cooling off" period after tilling. That's been for the solid manure, tilled directly into the ground. I'm not sure what might be appropriate for liquified waste as the nih article describes.
posted by boo_radley at 10:25 AM on September 30, 2014


All of this negativity is really getting my chakras out of whack.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:39 AM


I don't care about your karma
posted by symbioid at 10:28 AM on September 30, 2014


> I mean, you're not getting chelation therapy at Whole Foods.

The woo is coming from inside the natural grocery story slash pharmacy
posted by boo_radley at 10:30 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


boo_radley: Every serious recommendation I've gotten from using my own animal's manure has had a least a 90 day "cooling off" period after tilling. That's been for the solid manure, tilled directly into the ground.
There are multiple ways to (mostly) sterilize manure (where "sterilize" implies "all multicellular and most unicellular pathogenic critters are killed or rendered infertile"). Time is one. Heat is another. In between, combinations of both produce a curve.

Heat every bit of the manure up to some magic value - I'll say 150F-ish, for the sake of argument, and hold it for 1.0 seconds: safe to use.

Keep the manure above 65F for 90 days: safe to use.

Etc.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:49 AM on September 30, 2014


I think my wife is really sick of me saying "nightshade is natural" whenever someone praises a product by claiming it is natural.
posted by Area Man at 11:23 AM on September 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: There are multiple ways to sterilize manure
posted by Drinky Die at 11:34 AM on September 30, 2014


> the word toxic now condemns the chemical evils of our industrial world.

Old and busted. Now it condemns internet comments you don't like.
posted by jfuller at 12:19 PM on September 30, 2014


There's a sort of willful obtuseness going on in this thread, like the dork who says, when you're looking for organic strawberries, "you know, plastic is organic," when he knows damn well you just mean strawberries that haven't had pesticides dumped on them.
posted by straight at 1:45 PM on September 30, 2014


You know, though, people also use the word "toxins" to describe naturally occurring chemical compounds produced by biological processes in the human body. Toxins are routinely produced within the body--but the liver can't necessarily handle all of them. So people have various cleansing rituals that are supposed to help flush the toxins out. That kind of thing's been going on for many, many years, not just since the industrial era started, and there's actually legitimate science behind the idea (if not necessarily behind the remedies). I feel like some of this is uncharitably reading the culture to make a point. Also, the concepts of natural and unnatural existed prior to the industrial age (as evidenced in older constructions like "unnatural mother"), so thinking they only exist as some kind of marketing ploy for anti-science is mistaken. I think we have a basic (heh!) naturally occurring tendency toward making the potentially misleading "natural/unnatural" distinction, for whatever reason. I think straight at the very top of the thread is right, that it has to do with the notion of agency--"natural" means occurring in the absence of deliberate intentional effort while "artificial" mean made deliberately by intentional beings, like "art." Whether that distinction is more useful than misleading, I won't guess, but I think this treatment of the subject does seem a little historically myopic and more concerned with framing current events than with abstract understanding... Still, agree in general that the distinction as we use and understand it today is one that muddles more often than it clarifies.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:56 PM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


I learned about a pretty unintuitive 'natural' vs 'unnatural' situation today that's a bit related to this. We're inclined to think that paper cups are much more environmentally friendly than styrofoam, but in reality it takes about twice as much energy and oil to produce a paper cup. Recycling barely even plays a role in reducing this because A) it takes energy to recycle and B) not many people recycle their paper cups.
posted by Strass at 2:00 PM on September 30, 2014


There's a sort of willful obtuseness going on in this thread, like the dork who says, when you're looking for organic strawberries, "you know, plastic is organic," when he knows damn well you just mean strawberries that haven't had pesticides dumped on them.

And then the nerd correctly points out organic food is not actually pesticide free. Stupid nerds.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:07 PM on September 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


And just as importantly, the "naturalness" of the non-synthetic pesticides on organic foods in the grocery store doesn't necessarily make those organic pesticides any less toxic or less carcinogenic than synthetic chemicals used in conventional industrial farming. What matters for health and safety is not the origin of a chemical, but the structure of the chemical and how it interacts with the myriad systems in our body (one ancient, PDF, source on this). Life has been at war with other life for billions of years, and has evolved chemical warfare more potent than humans have created. Organic food is still usually industrial food, and industrial processes are great at concentrating compounds of value, whether toxic or minimally toxic, or from natural sources or from synthetic sources.

The presence of pesticides on organic food is not a reason to avoid organic food, it's just a reason to wash your veggies. And it's a call to be cognizant of what you're actually buying when you think you're being conscious of your food intake.

When I was six or so I was kind of heartbroken to find out from my mom that a wood bonfire, despite being completely natural, could still be pollution. This was a major change of emotion for a young environmentalist. In fact, I was probably a teenager before I really believed it, because it felt so incongruous. But with enough education I was able to learn that naturalness does not mean goodness, and claims such as "CO2 is not pollution because it comes from animals and is consumed by plants" are easy to identify as ridiculous now.

I think that even into the 1930s biologists were trying to shake the notion that the chemicals in living creatures were not imbued with some magical animism that's not present in synthetic chemicals. Perhaps by 2030 this magical animism will have also disappeared from the public consciousness too, but it does not seem to be on course to disappear. It's a hard, unintuitive lesson.

Perhaps it's willfully obtuse and dorky to point out these simple facts because it doesn't address the underlying emotional angle. It's like telling a Christian that, hey, maybe the Earth isn't 5000 years old. Or that maybe the people described in the Old Testament probably didn't actually live to be hundreds of years old. Destroying people's comforting fictions can be rude. It's a comforting fiction that one can just choose natural products and be surrounded by healthy safe things, and it even sets up a nice enemy, things & people to avoid, all those conventional products and doctors and big pharma and calculating scientists, and this becomes an extremely welcoming emotional cocoon, playing to many parts of human psychology and shielding people from examining their beliefs.

But we're not talking about religion here, we're talking about people's choices about their own health, and there's no reason to maintain polite fiction when it comes to that. And it's not merely a polite fiction, it's an entire commercial industry, with lots of marketing, much of which plays off of common misconceptions. And because it's health, it's important to convince people of truth rather than just tell them, and being rude often gets in the way of convincing. But everybody responds differently to having their beliefs challenged, and people have different reasons for believing the things they believe, so there is sometimes a case for bold statements that appear rude to some people. I'll be a dork, I don't care, I've been called a dork all my life. Better a dork than deceptive.
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:49 PM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


And then the nerd correctly points out organic food is not actually pesticide free.

But see, you're confusing what the person is asking for with how industries are allowed to use a buzz word on the label.

It's true that salesmen use "organic" and "natural" in ways that deserve to be questioned. But that doesn't mean that the actual things people want and are asking for when they use the words "organic" or "natural" are ridiculous or incoherent.

Going back to the original article, what people mean when they talk about "natural" levels of mercury or formaldehyde or radiation vs. "artificial" levels or "pollutants" is pretty obvious, and it's a worthwhile distinction, even if you conclude that the "artificial" formaldehyde in a vaccine is tiny and harmless compared with the "natural" formaldehyde produced in our bodies.
posted by straight at 4:51 PM on September 30, 2014


Going back to the original article, what people mean when they talk about "natural" levels of mercury or formaldehyde or radiation vs. "artificial" levels or "pollutants" is pretty obvious
It's not obvious at all to me what they mean in relation to these concerns, perhaps you could clarify? And I think that invoking the term "levels" means that you're already several knowledge levels up from the people in the original article, who are not concerned with levels, but mere presence/absence.
posted by Llama-Lime at 5:00 PM on September 30, 2014


when you dig deep into the criticisms of Monsanto they mostly end up bunk

Mostly? Look, I don't buy the anti-GMO nonsense, but Monsanto's behaviour is pretty transparent - they're selling an agricultural "system" that allows them to use IP law to dominate agriculture in some crop regions, and to some extent to force farmers to buy their system because it's "cheaper". Farmers in many cases are happy to get on board, because it's easier and because they buy the marketing, and if their neighbours are saving money, they have to buy in. Farmers are happy, and Monsanto shareholders are happy.

Meanwhile, Round-Up kills anything that isn't "Round-Up Ready", which means anything that isn't corn in this case. This allows farmers to kill all the plants that used to grow around fields and in corners. There are unintended consequences (that we know of...), namely a severe reduction in populations of milkweed, which is the main food source for the Monarch butterfly. The Monarch butterfly is, in turn, experiencing up to 80% reduction in numbers in some areas. Monsanto is a party to this problem, but their response is basically, "Too bad, you can't make me change it." Plus it's really up to the farmer to use the product responsibly, and where's the savings in that? It's the free market at work!

This is another example of corporate enclosure of a natural system, with little or no regard for the long-term consequences to a various ecosystems. It's analogous to Bechtel trying to take control of water rights in Bolivia, or Nestlé or Coke doing the same thing in other countries. Looked at another way, a large & profitable corporation is acquiring a right that the public didn't know it was losing.

And sadly all the anti-GMO wankery makes it hard to see the forest for the trees.
posted by sneebler at 5:11 PM on September 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yes that is exactly the comment I was talking about thanks for providing it.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:29 PM on September 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


So to clarify Drinky Die's assertion,
"Mostly? Look, I don't buy the anti-GMO nonsense, but Monsanto's behaviour is pretty transparent - they're selling an agricultural "system" that allows them to use IP law to dominate agriculture in some crop regions, and to some extent to force farmers to buy their system because it's "cheaper". "
Remains agriculturally illiterate bullshit no matter how often its repeated. The 1930 Plant Patent Act, affords patent protection to asexually reproduced plants, and has appropriately allowed hybrid seed to dominate commercial agriculture for 84 years. Breeding seeds that are good enough to be commercially viable, even without recombinant techniques of any kind, is something that absolutely requires people with incredibly specialized educations who know what they're doing and do just that. To support their work, which is deeply fucking vital to modern civilization, they need to get paid somehow. Patents are so great because the innovations that plant breeders work on become distributable immediately, but only pay them for the twenty years necessary to recoup their investment before becoming the published property of humanity freely available to all, forcing plant breeders to continue innovating if they want to continue getting paid.

In the twentieth century, one of the central reasons why first world agriculture not only didn't collapse when the second world's did but also was able to support agriculture in the third world in becoming almost self sufficient, was the development of seed technology made possible by patents. Heirloom seeds will never be able to be anything more than sources of genetic information worth protecting and supporting through scientifically literate social programs and momentary toys for rich people. The 1970 Plant Variety Protection Act can also be relevant as a related kind of protection of varieties depending on context.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:50 AM on October 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


This is a lovely animated series of illustrations from The History of Vaccines website (previously on MetaFilter):

How Vaccines Are Made
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:14 AM on October 2, 2014


Blasdelb, that was my comment. I agree with everything you said, especially Patents are so great because the innovations that plant breeders work on become distributable immediately, but only pay them for the twenty years necessary to recoup their investment before becoming the published property of humanity freely available to all, forcing plant breeders to continue innovating if they want to continue getting paid. And the part about (me) being agriculturally ignorant is correct.

My point was not that Monsanto hasn't made contributions to plant breeding or that they shouldn't be allowed to profit from their patents, but that they are pursuing a corporate strategy to create a monopoly, and a monoculture. That they're (arguably) legitimately using IP law to do this is beside the point. I'm claiming that the combination of regulatory capture and an agricultural regime where one company owns the plant patents and supplies the main pesticide used for weed control represents a new kind of relationship between a corporation and crop-growers. Furthermore, they've effectively stepped outside of environmental legislative boundaries intended to protect land, farmers and the public from collateral damage caused by proper use of their products. My second claim is that this strategy is part of a deliberate plan to monopolize and control part of the food production system. This is the part of Neoliberal economics where rights are conferred on private entities without any public decision-making process.
posted by sneebler at 5:44 PM on October 3, 2014


"My point was not that Monsanto hasn't made contributions to plant breeding or that they shouldn't be allowed to profit from their patents, but that they are pursuing a corporate strategy to create a monopoly, and a monoculture."
...But Monsanto doesn't own anything close to a monopoly, they're not even the largest player with the exception of certain seed types. Monsanto competes directly for the seed dollars of farmers with Dow, Bayer, BASF, DuPont, and Syngenta which also each own quite a few important GMO patents and provide important seed products. A lot of noise is also made about how GMO or Monsanto directly are somehow responsible for monoculture in farming, but farming basically is just applied monoculture. The whole point is to take specific beneficial species and manipulate the land into growing them to the exclusion of non-beneficial competing species. There are a number of examples throughout history of successful farming practices involving two or three species being used simultaneously in synergistic ways, but even in pre-mechanized agriculture this was the exception rather than the norm and the benefits of this are for the most part retained through much more efficient crop rotation schemes informed my modern soil science.
"I'm claiming that the combination of regulatory capture and an agricultural regime where one company owns the plant patents and supplies the main pesticide used for weed control represents a new kind of relationship between a corporation and crop-growers."
You are likely thinking of the brief situation after '94 when Monsanto had developed Roundup Ready soy while they still had commercially relevant patents for the RoundUp herbicide glyphosate. Monsanto was then able to make quite a bit of money, justifying their efforts, for six years until their last defensible patent for glyphosate ran our in 2000; 14 years ago. Immediately after that, and since then, knock off Roundup has been available to anyone at very low generic prices. This was the system working as it should with Monsanto investing hundred of millions of dollars into an uncertain venture with the potential to create billions in value to humanity, where they made money for a short period of time and now those patents belong to all of mankind.

The original patents from the early to mid '90s that supported Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology are also, incidentally, all progressively running out now. The question of whether we'll let the next generation of seed technology be developed almost exclusively by corporate players with non-profits only tolerated at the margins like this last generation is unfortunately a lot more settled than it should be because of claims like this.
"My second claim is that this strategy is part of a deliberate plan to monopolize and control part of the food production system. This is the part of Neoliberal economics where rights are conferred on private entities without any public decision-making process."
...But the economics of seed companies haven't really changed that significantly in a hundred years except in how much more farmers now expect from the seeds they buy. We've never had anything remotely resembling a true seed monopoly, and since the development of the hybrid seed technology that made professional seed development possible the US has had a rotating collection of a half dozen seed companies competing with ever improving seed. This is a pretty platonic example of what a healthy market should look like. For a very rough sense of what this has produced, check out how the estimated corn grain harvest yields in the US have changed since 1866.

What gets me about this whole debate is how disconnected it always is from the systems that feed us, and how the blank canvas that creates is just filled with whatever would support our favorite economic theories; its insane.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:06 AM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


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