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The Lab Money Making Machine

Food, Inc. is out. I haven’t had the pleasure of watching it yet, since I live in a small city and to my knowledge it’s not playing anywhere. I did however watch an interview on The Daily Show with film producer Robert Kenner. The issue of food production is intensely important because of its place at the base of our civilization and our connection with the natural environment and because of its universal impact. Everybody eats, as you’ll hear again and again among activists. This is a good place to focus one’s efforts to link up the environment, health, and social and economic issues.

The one thing that I’d like to see more focus on is the chemical and genetic engineering issues involved. It’s not enough to worry about the terrifying scale and impact of industrial food production, the parts of it that are obvious and readily understood just by looking. People need to understand that money is being made by coming up with new chemicals and new genetically engineered plants and animals, that money is increasingly being made in a lab and in patent offices and in questionable legal contracts.

While conservatives complain about our “nanny states” and too much regulation, governments around the world are dropping the ball in the face of “scientific progress.” They are letting corporations run wild in the name of profit and job creation, tax revenue and maintaining a hold on power in an increasingly globalized world, one in which poorer countries with cheap labor and less regulation hold the competitive edge in attracting business. Chemicals, biotech and nanotech are highly skilled industries that require plenty of initial investment, but also involve a lot of “value added” to products.

These industries represent what probably looks to governments like one of the last areas in which rich countries might maintain dominance. They also look a lot like a sneaky new form of colonialism or feudalism, where poor countries have their biological resources and indigenous knowledge “discovered”, exploited, patented and modified and sold back to them in new systems of agriculture (and perhaps medicine and food generally) that inherently cause dependence and a steady loop of wealth transfer from poor to rich. This wealth transfer occurs within the wealthy nations as well, as farmers caught in a cycle of debt are more and more indebted to and controlled by companies like Monsanto or Tyson Foods. They’re no longer farmers, but technicians doing as they’re told and only being treated as the true owners and operators when something goes awry and they are held entirely responsible.

It may also be that governments simply do not know how to stop the onslaught of new chemicals and genetically engineered organisms. They are unsure how to regulate these things as they enter the market, “adding value” to products, while simultaneously posing a huge threat. Their long – and even short – term impacts on human health and the natural environment aren’t and cannot be known due to their very nature and the scale of their distribution and application in the market and in the environment, in human beings, plants and animals.

Leaving genetic engineering aside, every time I eat something with artificial flavors my complexion seems to show it within days or even hours. My body’s not the best at clearing out toxins, and I know plenty of people who can eat endless amounts of junk food and almost no produce and remain completely unblemished, but I take this to mean these things are toxins that need to be excreted. I don’t care if they make my food taste better or make the companies producing them a few more bucks. What are they doing to my health?

So what can you do, today, tomorrow? Get away from eating processed foods. Cook at home, so you know what you’re eating. When your food bill goes up, think of the savings in health benefits. In case your health isn’t enough motivation, I’ll confess it’s primarily driven by vanity for me in the short run. I stay a decent weight and keep my complexion clear this way. I feel generally better day to day. I’m not thinking about living until I’m 90, I’m just trying to have the best possible existence day to day. Knowing that I’m making an effort to stop this disgusting – or at least poorly thought out – pursuit of profit by corporations at the expense of humanity and the planet at large makes it all the easier to continue to eat this way.

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