Wednesday, March 31, 2010

GM: Great Malarkey, General Mayhem, Getting Medieval, and....

I was saddened to read that this winter, over half of the Monarch butterfly population overwintering in Mexico died from severe storms. This summer will be the third summer in which I raise Monarchs from egg to butterfly—I’ve even got teeny milkweed seedlings under lights upstairs right now, eagerly awaiting their future date with hungry Monarch caterpillars.

But what if there aren’t enough Monarchs to come back??

Now, severe storms will happen (increasingly so these days, it seems)…and if that were the only problem, the butterfly population would eventually rebound. However, a bigger problem (in my eyes) is the loss of habitat. Because most of the prairie on which their host milkweed plants used to grow has been cultivated and planted with genetically-modified soybeans and corn. Genetically-modified so that farmers can spray weed killer without killing their crop, but killing all of the “weeds” (including milkweed and other plants appreciated by bees and pollinators) in the vicinity.

The biggest company making and selling these GM seeds (as well as the herbicide they work with, Round-Up), is Monsanto. And it’s kind of a big deal: right now, 93% of all soybeans and 82% of all corn grown in the US are genetically-engineered “Roundup Ready.”

I don’t like Monsanto. Whenever I watch dystopian, futuristic science fiction, there’s usually one big, bad “Corporation” that runs everything. Monsanto, with its former CEOs and lobbyists occupying prominent positions in the US Department of Agriculture, is kind of that Big Bad Corporation to me. You know, the vast, gray, prison-like complex behind coiled razor wire, belching smoke from ominous, stout smokestacks, a hungry red eye searching the horizon for someone avoiding products with high fructose corn syrup, someone letting dandelions defiantly bloom on their front lawn, perhaps that last remaining farmer who might be --*gasp*-- saving his own seeds to replant the following year!

(If you think I’m exaggerating, watch Food, Inc. on PBS on April 21.)

I like imagining the meeting at which the Monsanto execs decided to push Roundup-Ready genetically modified seeds in a big way. Let me set the scene: Six middle-aged white guys in brown and gray suits sitting around a long table in a conference room….the fluorescent overhead lights giving their balding heads a soft sheen….coffee, water, Styrofoam bowls of Snak Mix. The room smells vaguely like Old Spice and fried chicken. Dave begins to speak:

“How about a defoliant that makes it easier to kill people—quickly, with guns, and slowly, with horrible illness years later! I’ve been thinking of calling it “Agent Purple ….no? Agent Chartreuse? Well, we’ll come up with something.”

“Um, Dave, we did that already. Don’t you read your email?”

“Jim, we have to focus. We need a product that ostensibly ‘helps’ people, tricks them into believing that the cheap, big, easy way is best—quantity over quality, but ultimately achieves our long-range strategic goal: to make a shit ton of money while contributing to the gradual destruction of the human race.”

“You never did like small family farms much anyway. All those filthy chickens running around the yard. People had the nerve to hang their sheets and underwear out to dry in public.”

“Eeeewwww! Gross."

"Yeah. Norman Rockwell was such a pussy.”

“Oh, but this will be easy! People love cheap, immediate gratification with no concern for the future.”

“But doesn’t altering the proteins in these plants so they can LIVE THROUGH regular applications of herbicide sound kind of scary? What if one day researchers discover that rats eating GM corn go into organ failure or become infertile? And oh my God, people eat all those cows and chickens and pigs that eat that corn and soy and there’s going to be a huge public backlash and our stocks will plummet and I’m going to have to live in a box and eat cat food and my kids will have to go to public school where they’ll learn to spit on Jesus and put condoms on cucumbers and then I’ll have to stand in a long line to see my death panel and ooohhhh God, the humaniteeeee!!!!”

Lightning-quick, Jim slaps Fred hard, right across the jaw. Fred sits back, stunned. “Snap out of it! Listen. Fred. I get that! Change is hard for everyone. But don’t be an idiot. It’s all about spin. You say organ failure, I say Sally’s job at the American Cancer Society is completely recession-proof!”

Arnold, the Quiet One in the corner, reaches into his briefcase and pulls out stacks of hundred dollar bills. “I think Fred needs some convincing.” He slides the money toward Fred. “Your remodeled rec room, complete with wet bar.”

“But how will people go along with this? But what about the government? Won’t they, like, want to stop this?”

“Don’t worry. Subsidies. Profit. American Idol is on. Coors Light is on sale. The pharmaceutical people are with us all the way. Clean up in aisle five, so to speak." Dave chuckles at his own wit. "Oh, I slay me! Plus, we have people on Capital Hill. Don’t worry about the government. They’re in like Flynn.”

Jim shakes his head at Fred’s hesitation. “Fred. How can I put this.” He rubs his forehead with his hand, then—an idea hits. “Okay. Two words: Double. Cheeseburger. For 99 cents. Trust me.” He grips Fred’s forearm, giving him a direct, serious stare. “Trust me.”

Arnold shimmies the wads of money—a financial come-on.

Fred chuckles nervously, but finally accepts the money. He clears his throat, and his reluctant smile is replaced by a broad, authentic one. “Oh hell. What’s the saying? He who dies with the most toys wins? Dammit Jim, I want to BE that man. I want to win! I want the most cake!”

“Ding ding ding! Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Now let’s get those scientists cracking.”

“Um, but maybe take out a few Dead Peasant life insurance policies on them first. Just in case.”


Whew! If I smoked, I'd totally light a cigarette right now. Anyway, so I took off on a small tangent there. But back to the butterflies. If you want some milkweed seeds to plant this spring, maybe raise a few butterflies with the kids for a fun summer project, let me know. I've got a bunch, and I'm happy to send you a packet.


  1. Whoa, this is really thought-provoking. And I'd LOVE some milkweed seeds!

  2. You raise Monarchs from egg to butterfly?! Really?? I've been a bad blogger but how did I miss this? Quite cool, lady!

    There is a huge Monsanto plant not too far from my work/home - - makes me want to tee-pee the place.

  3. Jess,
    I very much enjoyed your blog!
    Since I was little, I have LOVED Monarchs. How amazing that you raise them from tiny, beautiful eggs!
    I would seriously appreciate some Milk Weed seeds! I've got 3 kids and that would be a great process to watch.
    Why the heck can't nature just be nature?? Why do these evil "scientists" have to mess everything up?? NOT cool!
    GREAT post!

  4. I'd love some seeds! Butterflies are my favorites, so raising my own sounds wonderful!

  5. Jess,
    Thank you for the milkweed seeds. I am so excited to watch what happens! It was very nice of you to send them to me and my girls.