KNEEN, Brewster

Author Tags: Agriculture, Environment

Kneen spent 15 years in Nova Scotia building up a sheep flock and publishing a newsletter called The Ram's Horn. He moved to the B.C. Interior and began to teach and write on the global food system 'from the barnyard to the boardroom to biotechnology. He is the author of:

From Land to Mouth: Understanding the Food System (1989)
Second Helping (1993)
Trading Up--How Cargill, the World's Largest Grain Company, is Changing Canadian Agriculture (1990)
The Rape of Canola (1992)
Invisible Giant: Cargill and its Transnational Strategies (1995)
Farmageddon: Food and the Culture of Biotechnology (New Society, 1998)

[BCBW 2004] "Agriculture" "Environment"


IN THE EARLY 1960S, AMERICAN BIOLOGIST RACHEL CARSON HAD A DEEP FOREBODING ABOUT THE increasing use of chemicals in the agricultural business. Still in print, her 1962 book Silent Spring was instrumental in raising awareness about the ecological disaster that pesticides and herbicides were causing.
Corporations that introduced agrichemicals are now touting genetic engineering as the new miracle technology. Biotechnology boosters claim gene engineering can produce higher yield crops that use less land, water and pesticides – and these methods will provide food to feed more people.
In the tradition of Rachel Carson, Brewster Kneen is deconstructing the ‘cropaganda’ for genetically modified (GM) foods in Farmageddon (New Society $19.95). Kneen lives on ten acres at Sorrento, near Kamloops, and is the author of six previous books including The Rape of Canola and From Land to Mouth: Understanding the Food System. Educated in economics and theology, he has been involved in farming since 1971. Kneen believes the development of genetically engineered food is more about corporations needing to absolutely control all components of their business and make profits than it is about feeding hungry people or improving crop productions. In a chapter titled Moral Blackmail, Kneen refutes the notion that people die of hunger because there is not enough food. “The World Bank report [Bioengineering of Crops] states that ‘more than 1 billion people do not get enough to eat,’ yet goes on to state in the next paragraph that ‘had the world’s food supply been distributed evenly in 1994, it would have provided an adequate diet of about 2350 calories a day per person for 6.4 billion people, more than the actual population’,” he writes.
In a nutshell, inequitable distribution of food is the cause of hunger, not an inability to produce enough of it.
“The biotech industry has no intention of feeding anyone who cannot pay well,” Kneen says. “But the hungry and deprived can be used to prey on the guilt of the affluent so the corporations can get their way with the politicians and the regulatory agencies, get new products to market, keep the industrial farmers of the north on the technology treadmill, and make their investors happy.”
From the beginning of his book, Kneen expounds on the controlling nature of agribusinesses in their quest of biotechnology. “[Genetic Engineering] has become the deliberate restructuring of life to achieve an extrinsic value or goal, or ‘management by objectives’. It is also an expression of a loss of respect for the integrity of the seed...
“This lack of respect for the amazingly complex world of life we are born into, coupled with a belief in progress achieved through ever more powerful technologies, breeds a profound dissatisfaction with life as it is. This in turn drives a relentless quest to improve on life, while hubris arms us with the assurance that we can do no harm, and if we do make mistakes we will soon find another technological fix for them.”
Kneen shows that the science of genetic engineering is not an exact or precise science. “The fact that we do not really know what the long-term consequences of genetic engineering will be, and are not prepared to move slowly and take the time to find out,” he says, “means that a grand experiment is taking place, and the outcome is anyone’s guess.”
Kneen worries that the move towards patenting of life forms is “the extreme expression of the culture of domination and control”. This relates to the patenting of what has come to be known as the ‘Terminator Technology’ or seeds that are genetically engineered to be sterile. This seed will allow farmers to grow a normal crop the first production season but seeds saved from this crop will not germinate in the following generation.
Terminator Technology will eliminate the ability to gain multiple use from one purchase. In this way, explains Kneen, “the ‘owner’ of the seed gains total control of its ‘intellectual property’ by deciding when it will die, denying the life of the plant to anyone else, including the farmer who purchased and planted the seed.”
Not surprisingly, the company that received the patent for this technology has tried to do away with the term Terminator Technology in favour of Technology Protection System. Whatever this technology is called, Kneen is strongly opposed to it.
“Control of seeds, and thus control of the foundation of the global food supply for humanity, will be in the hands of one or a few large corporations. It will end the ability of the majority of the world’s people to feed themselves and will make them dependent on corporate seed suppliers.
“Beyond this, if the Terminator Technology is used it could put an end to the food supply for everyone if the crucial genes do not stay put and drift to other plants. The effects could be catastrophic.
“Farmageddon, indeed,” he says.
Brewster Kneen is a prolific researcher and writer on food systems and biotechnology, having contributed to Utne Reader, Adbusters, The Ecologist and others. He also co-publishes an international newsletter about food, The Ram’s Horn, that is completely financed by subscribers. 0-86571-394-4
--by Beverly Cramp
1. A new Christian Aid study predicts that genetically modified crops in poor countries will lead to famine for 800 million people.
2. Christian Aid says large farmers will be the only ones to benefit from GM technology.
3. Currently 80% of crops in developing nations are grown from saved seed. Critics condemn new ‘suicide seeds’ that contain a ‘terminator gene’ that makes the next generation of seeds sterile.
4. In the wake of ‘Mad Cow Disease’ in Britain, Europeans are skeptical about the ability of regulatory bodies to protect consumers from manipulations of the food chain.
5. Europeans want international laws passed that will ensure all genetically modified or ‘transgenic’ foods will be clearly labeled as such. The United States is blocking this initiative. Canada is supporting the Americans in opposing this European initiative.
6. British restaurants have been given four months to comply with new regulations that will require their menus to identify foods that contain GM flour and soy.
7. About 30 per cent of the corn grown in Canada is genetically modified. About 20 per cent of Canadian-grown potatoes are genetically modified. No GM potatoes are grown in B.C. but potatoes imported from the U.S. could be GM potatoes. Currently consumers have no way of knowing.
8. Many processed foods already contain genetically modified soy, including numerous infant formula products at the supermarket, such as Similac Neocare, Isomil, Enfamil Prosobee and Carnation Alsoy.
9. Critics of GM foods say corporations such as Monsanto test their crops ‘in plots the size of tennis courts’ then the products are commercially used in vast tracts of land.
10. The Council of Canadians and the David Suzuki Foundation are among the groups in Canada telling the federal government that genetically modified foods are being approved with unseemly haste.