Earlier this year, the food chain commodity giant, Cargill, got in bed with the organic movement by partnering with the Non-GMO Project. For many in the science-agricultural world, the embrace of this particular pack of green zealots from the organic food lobby is both irrational and incomprehensible. From a cold, hard business perspective, it makes perfect sense (wither social responsibility or ethical standards).
The organic food market is growing rapidly and facing a supply chain crisis that will lead to rapidly increasing prices. You just can’t grow nearly enough organic to feed the bellies of hungry liberals. This is why the American organic lobby are salivating at trade with agriculturally backward countries like Cuba: why European greens are fighting to deny Africa agri-technologies. At the same time:
- most western consumers are frightened to death about imminent cancers from conventional foods (following years of relentless smear campaigns from NGOs and fake journalists funded by Big Organic marketers). They would gladly eat non-GMO/organic if it were a little cheaper and more accessible.
- The main food manufacturers would switch to non-GMO/organic if they could negotiate access to reliable supply at high volumes.
- Food commodity traders are in a tight market environment and would welcome larger categories to speculate on.
This market situation is indeed ripe for exploitation by the first corporate raider with cash on the balance sheet and no shareholders to be accountable to. Enter Cargill!
To make it an even easier exploitative move, the organic food supply chain is presently being managed by a scattered group of ideological hippies with little business capacity and an anti-market, anti-globalist prejudice. Organic lobbyists are locked in a medieval mindset of a farmer bringing his or her food directly to the consumer’s plate. While this dream of rooftop community gardens feeding the homeless is romantic, this is not the trading structure that will allow the organic industry to grow their market segment or even meet present demand (where large-scale cheating with organic labels is occurring).
Cargill has the unique opportunity of being able to enter into the non-GMO/organic food chain, clean up the inefficiencies, harmonise the certifications, impose a global network of organic commodity traders and exchanges, pushing prices down (removing the weak competition) and supply up (widening the market and client base). In the process, this global food conglomerate will also probably dilute the strict organic standards and requirements (something that should have happened decades ago).
For Cargill, this is a no brainer – they will cash in and the affluent western consumer can enjoy “organic” food at a little less of a premium. What’s not to like about this? OK, they will also likely wipe out the African village smallholder agricultural structure, leading inevitably to massive food vulnerability across the developing world. (Cargill is not responsible for cleaning up that mess!)
The activists are right. The present food supply chain is broken and no longer sustainable. The reason for this is that it cannot cope with any further sudden abandonment of agri-technology. Most pesticides on the market are calibrated at such a low, precise dose as to just be able to resist pests and outbreaks. As we have seen with the sudden removal of neonicotinoids, the rise of the cabbage stem flea beetle in some areas like the UK has made it almost impossible now to defend oilseed rape from infestation.
Modern agri-technology has become so precise as to deliver crop safety while avoiding unnecessary inputs or risks and with the coming rise of NBTs and precision farming, it will get even more refined. While this technology is impressive, I can understand how many activists feel vulnerable and wish to move back to the 18th century pre-Malthusian conception of agriculture (or as they call it today: “agroecology”). Any minor disruption to agriculture via weather, removal of technology, infestation or shift in markets and populations can create uncertainties that those who inherently do not trust science and humanity will want to resist.
While agroecologist flower children dream, the opportunists in Cargill scheme!
The organic food distribution revolution Cargill is likely planning is more than a minor disruption – it has the potential to be a nuclear bomb on the present global agricultural model. This will create chaos. As a hedging and commodities trader, Cargill has always profited in times of market uncertainty and price volatility. Their market dominance and capital flow increased impressively during the last wave of famines and food price spikes in 2007-08 (brought about by the folly of the NGO-driven biofuel disruption to the food chain and subsequent land-grabs).
As a privately-held company with cold-hard capitalist-driven objectives, what (and who) would stop Cargill from manufacturing a few famines and price instabilities to increase their market dominance? Certainly not the organic food lobby – those narcissistic zealots would gladly munch on African smallholder seed-corn if it allowed them to flout their socialite superiority.
500 million smallholders vs one company
There are reportedly 500 million smallholders eking out a living in the developing world. The numbers are unreliable but a smallholder is largely a subsistence farmer cultivating a plot of around one hectare which is most often rented or without title. If we assume at least two children and a spouse, then there are at least two billion people or one quarter of the world’s population that live from crop to crop at levels of extreme vulnerability. According to the FAO, four-fifths of the worlds farmers are smallholders in developing countries and most of the developing world’s food supply is provided by them. In cases of disruption (drought, flood, conflict, removal of ag-tech tools), the smallholders are the first to face the crisis and once they leave the land, social, economic and health crises rapidly follow. Frighteningly, smallholders are generally one crop failure away from missing the rent and leaving the land.
Whatever the affluent West can do to improve the smallholders’ condition (better seeds like the brinjal or eggplant, access to effective insecticides, a fair trading system, irrigation and soil management …) will have an immediate positive effect on the local economies, education and social cohesion. Africa did not enjoy the World Bank driven green revolution in the 1970s that helped lift the Asian economies to where they are now. With over a billion people undernourished today, any improvement in the agri-technologies will have both immediate and long-term stabilising effects.
Instead, the organic food lobby is proposing medieval technologies on one quarter of the world’s population … and Cargill is its willing accomplice! This disgusts me!
What Cargill is planning to do to the African smallholder structure will likely decimate a large number of rural communities. Rather than helping agriculture develop, pushing larger farms into strict organic production methods will have a completely opposite effect, creating a disruption that could plague Africa in proportions never seen before.
Role of trading or farming
We are not just talking about a land grab (which Cargill’s planned disruption of the food chain balance will lead to) similar to that of the last eco-folly tied into the African food crises and famines in 2007-2008. This will be a commodity trading disruption where speculators buy and sell futures in various food commodities. This is where Cargill excels and will be able to take dominance should there be a speculative market bubble for organic commodities in times of food crisis. With much lower yields from organic farming, this speculative bubble should not be too difficult to engineer!
In volatile markets, as seen in the last food crisis, speculation exacerbates supply. This is not about farming, feeding communities or providing nutrition to populations; this is not about forward contracts; this is about trading houses, shorts and hedges (but not on corporate debt, minerals, fuels or stock prices). When prices are determined by speculators, and not farmers and consumers, we are no longer talking about agriculture. The livelihoods of hundreds of millions will not be held to the trials of the weather but rather the whims of risk managers in Chicago and Minneapolis.
It strikes me as a bit precarious to have such a global entity as Cargill have such a strong presence in the food production, manufacturing, transportation and trading businesses. In times of crisis, their influence on the levers at various stages in the food chain can easily exacerbate vulnerabilities for their benefit. This is more than just a monopoly of one segment – this is systemic control of a vital global resource – food.
Now Cargill is cosying up to the loudest, strongest food lobby (Big Organic) with Age of Stupid social media campaign tools and weak regulators. That this privately held global corporation is accountable to no one does not reassure me of its responsibility towards the weakest and the poorest communities. Cargill has identified a profitable sweet spot (the organic food market), how to profit from these elites, and by embracing the worst of the worst (The GMO-Free Project), they seem open to the idea of putting stresses on the most vulnerable.
Who is responsible?
At the moment nobody is responsible … and that scares the shit out of me!
Cargill is not beholden to shareholders’ demands for ethical behaviour or corporate social responsibility. As a monster money machine, it is representative of unbridled capitalism which harkens back to the golden age of the industrial revolution (also when William Wallace Cargill set up his first operations).
Policymakers only respond to pressure put on them, and the only ones doing that today are environmental NGOs. These activist zealots want Cargill to make organic cheaper and mainstream – if a couple hundred million Africans starve in the process, that is merely collateral damage in their “war” against the chemical industry.
Big Organic – the retailers and food manufacturers (many now owned by food giants like Danone and General Mills) are not going to get in the way. A high-margin market of loyal, rich consumers in love with their labels … what’s not to like about a cheaper, guaranteed supply chain.
The only people who could maybe stop this madness are western farmers (who see how despicable Cargill has become), African human rights groups and maybe a blogger in Brussels – none of these have any influence as there is no accountability or structure to the global trade in food commodities. Due to its sheer size, Cargill has a virtual monopoly in most markets where they operate.
Therein lies the only route I can see to prevent the looming food crisis catastrophe. Because of their global dominance, Cargill has worldwide contracts with multinational food giants like McDonalds or AB Inbev. I wonder how McDonalds’ clients would feel about their Happy Meal contributing to famines in Africa. Cargill will not listen to reason, conscience or integrity … maybe the threat of the loss of profits from a global client would make those pricks adopt some moral decency.
But seriously, only activists are capable of organising a successful anti-corporate campaign … and these satisfied hippies and flower children have no problem with the situation. I suspect the activists are waiting for McDonalds to come out with an all organic menu – the Big OrganMac. At that point the Risk-Monger is going to take a page out of the José Bové playbook and start firebombing their outlets.
I cannot believe this is happening and all that reasonable people can do is watch!
Does Cargill have an alternative?
Yes but it won’t be profitable (which in Cargill’s world means it won’t be possible).
- campaign for more scientific literacy in the food chain, communicate on the safety and benefits of agri-tech;
- become open champions on expanding GM technology and best crop protection practices among their supply chains (including, especially, developing countries);
- try to use their cosy relationship with Big Organic as a means to demand reasonable thinking and dialogue;
- address the problems African smallholders face from a community-based perspective, and not from a global commodities trading view;
- actually contribute to rural development.
In short, Cargill can adopt a position of integrity.
Until I see some commitment to science and corporate social responsibility, I will consider that 1870s private corporation in the same category as the fundamentalist organic zealots they have chosen to get in bed with.
13 Comments Add yours
FROM: Eric Koperek
SUBJECT: Journalistic Diatribes
DATE: PM 8:06 Wednesday 7 June 2017
(1) Speaking as one of the world’s oldest commercial plant breeders (I studied with Luther Burbank), I advise you to tone down your polemical rhetoric regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). Your diatribes do NOT advance the cause of science in the public interest. The GMO safety issue is highly complex and radical “bomb throwing” from either side of the debate does not contribute to rational discussion or public understanding.
(2) I tell you, from personal experience, that there are serious health concerns associated with genetically engineered crops. These dangers will NOT go away no matter how much “spin-doctoring” is employed to confuse the issue. GMO safety is one topic where yellow journalism is clearly detrimental to public health. For example: I consult frequently with commercial beef and swine growers. Many of these farmers have severe reproductive problems with their herds when animals are fed GMO corn or soybeans. Remove the animals from a GMO diet and herds return to normal reproduction rates in about 6 months. Take the same animals and switch them back to GMO feed and reproduction rates decrease substantially. I recently returned from a trip to a large stockyard where thousands of beef cattle are fattened for market. 40% of the animals had cancerous growths or lesions on their internal organs. We took a random sample of 500 animals and fed them a non-GMO diet. After 4 months of a natural diet, less than 2% of the animals had organ abnormalities.
(3) Please note that under U.S. regulations, safety testing of GMO foods is NOT required, and no long-term feeding studies have been published for any GMO foods. The bureaucratic logic behind this is that GMO crops are “substantially equivalent” to standard varieties and, therefor, do not require safety testing. The absence of testing does NOT mean GMO products are safe. Consequently, I advise you to refrain from “bashing” people who are afraid of GMO technology. These folks have real reason to be worried.
Thank you for your comment Eric – I hope you don’t mind, I removed your email address to respect your privacy as WordPress has many spam crawlers. I would disagree with your claim on the lack of safety studies for GM animal feed – you are free to publish your studies to enter them into the debate – in the meantime I trust the reliability of the 2000+ studies from the AAAS metastudy.
The purpose of my article is that Cargill is planning to use this relationship with the organic lobby to transform (destroy) the African smallholder model by forcing them to supply Europe and America’s organic hunger at a high volume commodity trading level. I am not sure that your views on animal feed apply here. I do not suppose you are defending Cargill and would likely support that this is one company upon which “bombs should be thrown”.
2007-2008 Biofuels caused the increase of food prices…..I’m not sure…
Thank you for your comment Charly – there were many stresses in the mid-2000s (speculation, evolving diets in emerging markets, weather and, as your links also show, land reutilisation or reallocation because of the regulatory support and market shift to biofuels). This is exactly my point – food security is fragile – one or two shifts or disruptions will cause vulnerabilities. Your links mention this so I am not sure why you are not sure.
FROM: Eric Koperek
SUBJECT: Long-Term GMO Feeding Studies
DATE: PM 5:05 Thursday 8 June 2017
(1) Please note my very careful choice of words: “No long-term feeding studies have been published for GMO foods”. This statement should be interpreted literally. Take a close look at the 2,000+ studies reported by the AAAS and you will quickly discover a disturbing (and deliberate) pattern. All are short-term experiments conducted by GMO companies or closely associated organizations. GMO companies keep very tight control over all research involving their products. All data is proprietary = owned by the GMO company that provides seed or grain for testing. No results get published without first being vetted by the GMO sponsor.
(2) Read the legal “fine print” on a bag of GMO seed corn. Every sack of GMO seed contains a paragraph prohibiting the purchaser from using the contents for “research” or “experimental” purposes. This prohibition extends to the crop grown from GMO seed. Conducting any form of unauthorized research with GMO crops is actionable under civil law = the GMO company will sue (and win) at trial. Thus, no GMO research can be conducted without the prior approval and direct supervision of the GMO company, and ALL experiments involving GMO products are funded either in part or whole by the GMO industry. Translation: The fox is guarding the chicken coop.
(3) “Voodoo Science” is so common in the GMO industry that it is a standing joke among plant breeders. Typical GMO safety studies are less than 1 year in duration = almost always less than the sexual maturity of the test animals. Official tests are preceded by “pre-trial studies” to determine when reproductive problems and tumors first appear. Pre-trial results are proprietary = secret = owned by the GMO company and are never released to the public. Often, the results are destroyed directly the tests are completed. Data for public release come from full-scale experiments where small groups of animals are given GMO food for a half-year or so. The length of the experiment is carefully restricted so that abnormalities do not have time to develop in the test animals. Thus, the “scientist” in his white laboratory coat can smile sweetly and honestly say: “We fed 50 hogs GMO corn for 6 months without any health problems”. What the GMO companies very carefully do not disclose is what happens when hogs are old enough to breed. Those results will NEVER be published.
(4) Please remember that under U.S. regulations, GMO companies do NOT have to prove the safety of GMO products. All GMO research is voluntary = at the sole discretion of the corporations. Another point to remember: The U.S. Government does NOT perform or sponsor any GMO safety research. All data comes from GMO companies or GMO-contractors. Translation: There is no independent source of data = all results are suspect (for good reason).
(5) “Genetic Engineering” implies an orderly, predictable, assembly-line process where every part is precisely fitted into its proper place according to a master plan or blueprint. Nothing could be further from the truth. The process of forcing foreign genes into a reluctant chromosome is entirely random = uncontrolled. Currently, there is no way to predict or prevent genetic damage. This is a very important risk that most folks never consider. Most people argue about the individual genes transferred. However, the real danger is the “engineering” process itself. Genetic damage is very rarely visible to the eye because the injuries are biochemical = can only be detected by long and costly laboratory tests (which only work if you know exactly what to look for). Stand out in the middle of a field of sweet corn and try to pick the plants with the highest sugar content. The task is impossible = it can only be done by laboratory testing. Multiply this by tens of thousands of genes scattered over multiple chromosomes and you will begin to perceive the problems faced by plant breeders and “genetic engineers”. All current GMO varieties come from moving single genes between unrelated species. It is easy to work with single-gene traits. Unfortunately, most of the characteristics that plant breeders seek to modify (like yield or baking quality) are controlled by multiple genes that sit on more than one chromosome (and we have no idea how many genes there are or their precise location). Consequently, laboratory testing for genetic damage is impossible using current knowledge and technology. The only way to determine fitness or safety is by long-term trials = 10 to 20 generations at least.
(6) A cautionary tale: There is a big difference between spraying BT bacteria on corn silks and planting genetically engineered BT corn. BT bacteria sitting on corn silks are EXTERNAL and are not consumed (the silks are thrown away). Genetically engineered BT corn is another matter: The BT toxin is INSIDE the plant and there is no way for the consumer to avoid eating the insecticide. Would you knowingly and deliberately feed insecticide to your baby? Please note that BT works by causing insects’ intestines to rupture. The bugs eat BT and die of terminal indigestion. The same process occurs in humans and animals. BT causes small intestinal perforations in people. These tiny holes are the cause of many health problems associated with GMO foods. I have a client who owns a large sausage company. He imports natural hog casings from Europe because pig intestines purchased in the United States are too weak = the casings rupture when being filled. Why are the casings weak? Because the hogs are fed GMO BT corn which causes perforated intestines. Have another serving of GMO sweet corn and think about what is happening to your own digestive system.
(7) As noted previously, the GMO debate is complex and confusing, especially to the general public, most of whom have little or no science education. Thus, it is the responsibility of journalists to be especially vigilant and have a clear understanding of the technical issues involved. Read BEFORE writing.
Thank you again for your comments Eric – I find it hard to imagine that for 20 years no one from any government has looked at this or that no study (outside of the retracted Séralini study) corroborated your points. After 20 years, shouldn’t there be more evidence? You are suggesting that nearly the entire scientific community has been bought, asleep or stupid over the last two decades.
FROM: Eric Koperek
SUBJECT: GMO Feeding Studies
DATE: PM 6:09 Tuesday 13 June 2017
(1) No, I am NOT “suggesting that nearly the entire scientific community has been bought, asleep or stupid over the last two decades”. The vast majority of agricultural scientists are not participating in this debate, and for good reason.
(2) A colleague of mine lost his research funding, his lab was closed, and he was forced into retirement because he had the temerity to investigate the food safety of GMO potatoes fed to laboratory rats. This research was cancelled by the direct order of the English Prime Minister (to protect the U.S. GMO industry). You do not comprehend the politics of University research. GMO corporations have an enormous amount of control over public research because they provide most of the funding. Buck the system and you will NOT get tenure. (When you were born, most agricultural research was funded by the Government. Now, most research is contracted by corporations. Big business calls the shots and public interest is left by the wayside).
(3) You do not have to believe me. Check this out for yourself. Write to Monsanto (or any other GMO company) and tell them you want to conduct a long term feeding study to determine the safety of GMO corn. Ask for help and see what kind of response you get.
(4) I recently returned from a 2-year research project in India where livestock pastured on Monsanto GMO cotton stubble died. Cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, even camels — healthy animals pastured on GMO cotton just died. The same animals pastured on organic cotton thrived. What I cannot say with any certainty is what (if any) interactions there may be between the herbicides and pesticides used on GMO cotton and their contribution to grazing animal deaths. Thus, I cannot claim with certainty that GMO cotton directly caused animal deaths. But the results are highly suspicious (and easily repeatable). If you have some goats that you don’t like, feed them GMO cotton stubble and they will certainly expire. Just something for you to think about.
(5) Most agricultural research projects are short-term studies of 2 or 3 years duration. “Instant results” are favored by corporate sponsors and the necessity of young scientists to “publish-or-perish”. Short duration experiments are unsuitable for organic agriculture or food safety trials because of the vast number of variables that cannot be controlled. Scientists must look at whole ecologic systems rather than discrete components. Thus, you should be exceedingly wary of any short-term trial, especially agronomy or nutrition research.
(6) A final point for you to consider: Genetic research requires many years to complete. For example, it takes 15 years to develop a new variety of corn if you have to produce your own inbred lines. Genetic engineering does not speed this process, and GMO crops are merely conventional varieties to which single genes are spliced. This is why GMO crops do NOT yield more than standard hybrids. Go back and look at your “meta-study”. The vast majority of papers report research projects lasting less than 1 year. Almost all of the remaining papers contain results from studies of 2 years or less. Would you take a drug tested on 1 generation of mice?
FROM: Eric Koperek
SUBJECT: GMO Health Risks
DATE: PM 7:23 Thursday 6 July 2017
(1) Please excuse my delay in responding to your comments. I have 90,000 acres to manage and this often leaves me with insufficient time to answer e-mails.
(2) I recommend the following book for your reference: “Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods” by Jeffrey M. Smith. 31 January 2007. Chelsea Green Publishing. ISBN: 978-0-9729665-2-8. This ought to open your eyes widely. If it does not, I have other books for you to read.
FROM: Eric Koperek = firstname.lastname@example.org
SUBJECT: Seralini Vindicated
DATE: PM 6:31 Wednesday 6 September 2017
(1) Just a brief note to update you on the Seralini study first published in the the journal “Food & Chemical Toxicology”.
(2) The editors (Goodman & Hayes) who yanked Seralini’s paper were fired for cause (conflict of interest = paid by Monsanto).
(3) Seralini’s paper has been republished in a peer-reviewed journal.
(4) Seralini won a civil suit for defamation in French court.
(5) Please note that Seralini was widely criticized (by the Pro-GMO lobby) for reporting tumors in mice fed Roundup-resistant maize. International protocols REQUIRE that scientists report ALL tumors in any toxicology study.
(6) Monsanto has declined comment on its involvement in this scandal (deliberate suppression of scientific information).
ERIC KOPEREK = email@example.com
Please sir, this is getting tedious. Not everything you read on the Internet is true. Often people or organisations decline to comment because there is no news. A pay to play journal is not credible – try measuring the impact factor. Séralini was widely criticised by the scientific community for very poor methodology and questionable ethics (except by the activist community which has canonised him). A civil suit for defamation likely means that someone called Séralini an idiot and had a bad lawyer. If this single, poorly conceived, conflicted study is all you have, please reconsider your predisposition towards bad conspiracy theories.