Friday, October 13, 2006

Golden Genes

Out of the suffocating bureaucratic morass that is the European Union - suffocating because of its campaign to homogenize its members and emasculate their sovereignties, even to the extent of subverting their individual legal systems - stands a Frenchman who defies the gray and flaunts his gold. The gold is that of genetically modified corn.

On October 12, The Wall Street Journal ran a story, "Stalk-Raving Mad," about this crop featuring a French farmer near Bordeaux, Claude Menara, who experimented with the "alien" corn, planting a mere seventeen acres of the Monsanto-patented seed in 2005. He was so impressed with the results that this year he planted 250 acres, and next year he plans 500.

I do not believe the French are wild about corn-on-the-cob. It is, after all, an American favorite. Most of the corn grown in France and in the rest of Europe is destined to be consumed by cattle, in M. Menara's case, by Spanish cattle. According to the WSJ, in fact, Spain is the biggest producer of GM (genetically modified) corn with 148,200 acres devoted to its production, followed by France, the Czech Republic, Portugal, and Germany. GM corn is the only "man-made" crop permitted by the EU to be grown in all that it surveys and regulates, although the bureaucrats of Brussels do allow a few GM crops to be imported. They are mulling over what other GM crops they will allow their worker ants to grow.

Like the French butter industry, the French corn industry is subsidized by the EU. M. Menara receives about $225,000 annually, a subsidy which will be phased out by 2013. It would be easy to gainsay M. Menara on the point of the subsidy, but his recognition that GM crops are a value is a quantum of redemption. He is looking ahead to when he can make a profit sans subsidies, thanks to the "alien" corn. A great portion of his expenses in damage control goes to using pesticides to protect his traditionally grown corn. The GM corn requires none.

The most telling part of the article was a picture of M. Menara holding two ears of corn: the perfectly golden GM one, and one grown by "traditional" methods, a quarter its kernels gone, the remaining ones with mottled brown spots, evidence of rot and parasites. Only cattle might have found it appetizing.

The culprits were mainly borer worms, which destroyed half of M. Menara's crop in 1988 and which continue to consume significant percentages of his traditionally grown corn even with the use of pesticides.

"On a recent morning, he shows off an ear of GM corn, full and yellow, alongside an unaltered ear that was withered and ruined. Transgenic corn had added genes, which produce a protein that makes the borer's stomach explode. Cracking open the stalk of the non-GM ear revealed a squad of pink worms."

I was reminded of the season at Colonial Williamsburg when, in the course of researching the Sparrowhawk novels, I worked in costume in the "rural trades" section, growing tobacco, corn, beans and other colonial fare by 18th century methods. Just as disgusting and labor-intensive as picking hornworms from tobacco leaves and ridding the plants of equally destructive aphids, was inspecting and harvesting the corn, which crawled with pests that consumed entire ears. The only "pesticides" available in the 18th century were various kinds of domestic fowl that would be let loose in the tobacco fields to eat the hornworms. Raising a good corn crop, however, was a matter of chance.

A worse threat to M. Menara's crop are environmental jihadists, reports the WSJ - although the article referred to them as "activists," too benign a term to identify criminals and terrorists. Even though GM-produced food crops have not been proven to jeopardize human or livestock health, French environmentalists have mounted a campaign to ban the growth of GM crops not only in France, but also in the rest of Europe. Using modern technology such as the GPS, the Internet, and testing techniques perfected in the U.S., anti-technology Greenpeace jihadists randomly identify farms and send "detectives" to them to determine whether or not a farmer is growing GM corn. If he is, then gangs of environmentalists descend on the farm and trash his crop, or as much of it as they can before the police arrive.

M. Menara has the right perspective on these bipedal pests. "They are thugs," he told the WSJ. He sued Greenpeace to force them to remove his GPS-located farm from its website, and won. "A few days later, Greenpeace activists traced a cross in his field by knocking down corn stalks," reports the WSJ. Later, a notorious French environmentalist, Jose Bové, who was jailed for destroying a McDonald's, led a mob of his ilk to M. Menara's farm and destroyed 30 acres of GM corn. Three of the mob were arrested and face jail time. Menara plans to go ahead with planting his 500 acres of GM corn. It is encouraging to read of a Frenchmen who doesn't wave the white flag of surrender.

Environmentalists opposed to GM crops claim they are concerned about their spread to, well, the environment. Environmentalism is their mystical calling. In this instance, their ostensive, short-range goal is to force farmers to grow crops by "traditional" methods, methods used in the 18th and 19th centuries until technology was brought into the business.

Their long-range goal is, frankly, man's extinction, since even fields of crops are "intrusive" and replace whatever grew wild on the land before men came to make it productive. Never believe an environmentalist when he asserts a concern for humanity; it is humanity he hates and wants to erase from existence for the sake of an "unaltered" earth. The same motive that prompts terrorists to destroy a dealership's SUV's or to booby-trap trees to protest forestry companies, prompts them to sabotage farms.

For my money, M. Menara is a true "friend of the earth" and of human life.

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