food seeds and patents, farmland storm wallpaper, the contrast of beauty and loneliness

World population will likely pass the 7 billion milestone this year. That’s a lot of people and they all need to eat. Dictated human carnivores barely follow the issue. They are quick to get outraged in forums on healthy eating or vegetarianism, but healthy eating advocates and vegetarians are not much of a threat to their favorite source of fat and cholesterol (I’m not a vegetarian). Costs is the biggest threat to a meat centered diet. Global warming is most likely occurring despite the recent publication of a paper by a well known libertarian crank to the contrary. Monsanto, genetically engineered seeds and animals aside for the moment, the best hope of supplying grains for humans or livestock is having plants species that are tolerant of extreme weather conditions, Soybean Genetic Treasure Trove Found in Swedish Village

The first screening by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists of the American ancestors of soybeans for tolerance to ozone and other stresses had an eye-opening result: The world superstars of stress resistance hailed from a little village in far northern Sweden, called Fiskeby.

[  ]…After analyzing thousands of soybean types to generate the family tree of North American soybeans, Carter found 30 ancestors, which together account for 92 percent of the genetic material in North American soybeans. He screened these ancestors first for salt tolerance. Two lines of vegetable soybeans, Fiskeby 840-7-3 and Fiskeby III, were the most salt tolerant.

Carter screened for aluminum tolerance, and again the Fiskeby plants stood out—and the same thing happened when he screened for tolerance to drought and high ozone levels. The Fiskeby plants also were found to be resistant to iron deficiency and toxic soil aluminum.

The scientists searched breeder pedigree records and found that only a few U.S. cultivars trace their ancestry to the Fiskeby stress-tolerant types. This indicates that there is great potential to increase tolerance to ozone and other stresses in North American soybeans by adding genes from Fiskeby.

Burkey, Carter and Jim Orf, a geneticist at the University of Minnesota at St. Paul, have crossed Fiskeby III with ozone-susceptible Mandarin Ottawa soybeans and developed 240 breeding lines from the offspring.

I buy and like some organic food, but when it comes to feeding the whole world organic might not be an option. To back up for second. If someone thinks of organic as a grain that does not come from genetically modified seed, then there is no such thing as organic grain, fruit or vegetables. Breeding is a form of genetic manipulation and humans have been playing around with breeding for thousands of years. In this lengthy article it reminds us that the discoverer of genetic traits, the monk Gregor Mendel, mixed pea plants with different traits to document which traits were passed from one generation to the next. And that your dog or cat is hardly the wolf or lion from which they originated – Passing Judgment on Genetically Modified Foods

Tomatoes, Romaine lettuce, pineapple, corn, watermelon and almost all other modern produce have their origins in nature, of course, but as eaten today are decidedly products of careful, selective breeding. This can at times simply involve selecting the plants with favored traits, but may involve hybridization as well — the fusion of parts of one plant with another in order to get offspring with the desired traits of both. We owe many of our fruits and vegetables, along with our most beautiful flowers (e.g., “hybrid” roses), to such methods.

Seedless grapes are a product of willful genetic modification. Nectarines are the result of careful culling of a recessive gene in peaches that eliminates their eponymous fuzzy skin. Ever try a tangelo? It is the hybrid offspring of a tangerine and grapefruit. Genetic modification, to be sure.

Dr. Katz documents and acknowledges that while not always done is a lab, genetic breeding is here and in most cases we’re better off for it. It also makes the case that there is a point beyond which we might want to think long and hard about the risks and benefits.

Genes introduced into crops may result in compounds that are directly toxic to humans, producing consequences from infertility, to cancer — to who knows what else.

And that’s the point. We are playing with fire when we take the genetic makeup of foods directly into our own hands. We have the scientific acumen, but not the wisdom, to “play God” in this manner. High rates of fatigue, attention deficit disorder, gluten intolerance, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome and affective disorders may all relate in part to our manipulation of the food supply. These are chances we should not be taking.

Can we reach a verdict?

Honestly, I don’t think so.

I gave the Defense more ink not because it’s the more important case, but because it’s the less obvious one. Concerns about genetic modification prevail — so the Prosecution argument tends to be the better known.

Both arguments are valid. Modern methods of genetic modification are encumbered by the law of unintended consequences. Those opposed to genetically modified foods may derive strong support from the precautionary principle, which puts the burden of proof on the defense. Until we know that genetic modification is safe, we should presume it to be dangerous.

But we can’t let it go at that, because by one means or another, almost our entire food supply is already the product of genetic modification. We are now a global population of 7 billion and rising, and in the absence of genetically modified crops, we would already be unable to feed ourselves. In some cases, of course, we already fail to do so. (As an aside, I encourage all those adamantly opposed to genetically modified foods to be as adamantly supportive of family planning and birth control.)

Good article in which he tackles a lot of issues related to genetic modification, but not all of them. Can you patent and thus own a genetic modification. Certain genes have been patented in the past. It has been done for certain strains of animals used in labs for instance. But that has little effect on the food we eat or grow. Monsanto has patented seeds that grow plants which are resistant to its herbicide Roundup. There are lots of issues related to that – the environmental and health effects of Roundup for one. The other is Monsanto’s zeal in what it views as protection of its patent on the seeds of the herbicide resistant crops (a Roundup resistant alfalfa seed was recently approved by the government. There is already resistant strains of corn wheat and sugar beets). What if you’re the farmer next door or even miles down the road and you prefer another strain of seeds. maybe you’re an organic farmer who does not believe in using any kind of chemical pesticides or herbicides. Seeds and their pollen are blown around by the wind. Suddenly you’re using Monsanto seeds whether you want to or not. To add insult to injury Monsanto knocks on your door and says they’re going to sue you for using their patented seeds without paying for them. This was not even issue until Monsanto introduced the first commercial genetic seed it developed in the late 1980s. Previous to that Joe’s corn pollen got into Maria’s corn and who cared ( sounds sexier than it probably was). Many farmers do not like Monsanto products and do not want to use them. Because fighting Monsanto lawsuits in court can and has literally driven some farmers into the poor house, they’re forced into situations like this – Monsanto Seed Patents

PUBPAT filed suit on behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations against Monsanto Company to challenge the chemical giant’s patents on genetically modified seed. The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past. The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhattan and assigned to Judge Naomi Buchwald. In June, 2011, 23 additional plaintiffs were added to the suit, bringing the total number to 83.

Wikipedia has a very balanced entry on Monsanto. Even with that balance, if you think Microsoft or BP is evil, new candidate for the title of most evil. Monsanto was and still is the maker of DDT and Agent Orange(along with Dow Chemical). The corporation in the movie Michael Clayton was inspired by Monsanto.

american landscapes, rural landscape, storms

farmland storm wallpaper


The current exhibit of Laurel Nakadate’s work at MoMA PS1 raises more questions than it answers. This may be what this artist needs right now, considering how even the praise she has received tends to focus on the least challenging aspects of her work. For several years she made videos featuring lonely older men who started conversations with her in grocery stores and parking lots; she would agree to go home with them as long as they allowed her to film what happened, which would usually turn out to be a scenario of her choosing. In some cases this meant a pretend birthday party (we see the man eating a slice of cake and then singing to her) or a pretend music video (we watch her dance to “Oops, I Did It Again”, Britney Spears’s paean to inadvertent seduction). Ms Nakadate, who was 25 when she started to make these videos in 2000, would often film herself gyrating in flimsy camisoles while the men looked on.

I was in a fairly good mood when I started reading this review of Nakadate’s work  and looked at the photo above. I want to be fair in evaluating any art, so I’m careful to take mood into account. Looking at the photo depressed me. Feeling badly for them both. I’m not sure of all the reasons. They both seem lonely, they are both exploiting and being exploited – though I always approach accusations of exploitation with some skepticism. I cannot read minds and exploitation of and by adults is to some degree a question about mental state. There is to me an obvious contrast between ugly and pretty. Both qualities beyond the conscious control of either. In that contrast is something of art’s duty to be honest even if part of the subject may suffer by comparison. In the larger frame of things there is also a young life still unfolding and reaffirming the arrogance of the young, and a life on the down side.

But neither view conveys how uncomfortable it is to watch Ms Nakadate’s work. However pleasing the sight of a young woman’s body may be, the stubborn presence of her dishevelled male co-stars thwarts any possibility of eroticism. What makes videos such as “I Want To Be the One To Walk In the Sun” (2006) truly strange is less the presence of a half-nude Nakadate and more the way in which we are forced to pay attention to these men, who would otherwise be invisible. We watch them watch her: images of nubile women are everywhere in our culture; images of titillated middle-aged shut-ins are not.

In a slightly different vain, but very close to the consciousness and observation of the contrast between the ugly and beautiful was the most recent episode of Louie. Louie is on the subway platform waiting for his subway. There is a beggar violinist playing with incredible feeling. The beauty of it stark just considering the surroundings. Louie and probably most of the audience is mesmerized by this beautiful scene. A homeless man dressed mostly in trash bags walks within a few yards of the violinist. He strips off his shirt and starts washing with a bottle of water.

scene from louie season 2 episode 6

Paris Review did a profile of Nakadate where you can see more of her work..