Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lords of the Harvest

View from the front window

It just so happened that I started reading Lords of the Harvest right before I went to Illinois.  At least it made the never ending scenery of corn and soybean fields more interesting.  I think what I liked most about the book, was that it's a book about molecular biology written by a non-science person.  You wouldn't have to know a thing about cloning genes, or DNA, or proteins to still enjoy the book. 

"The book chronicles the cutthroat scientific competition and backroom business deals that led to the first generation of genetically engineered crops: Flavr Savr tomatoes, Roundup Ready soybeans, and insect-killing cotton and corn.  It explains Monsanto's fateful crusade to re-write the rules of the seed business and how it ended up in a feud with the world's largest seed company, Pioneer Hi-Bred International.  It outlines the forces and the personalities that drove Monsanto toward decisions that transformed the company, in the eyes of many, into a villain with ruthless ambitions that spanned the globe."  (

In my opinion, Monsanto still comes off as a bunch a jerks in the book, but it does give some hint to the conversations that went into why they made their policies they way they did.  If you watched King Corn you see the farmers dilemma and fines they pay for saving the GMO seeds from harvest to harvest.  Their frustration is very evident in the film.  The Starlink corn controversy, was probably the most interesting part of the book to me.

I found myself starting a lot of sentences with "Did you know?"

Did you know that the same company that invented roundup, invented the roundup ready soybean?

Did you know that the same company started putting growth hormones into cows to produce more milk? AND that there really wasn't ever a milk shortage?  That they did it just to see if it would work?

Did you know that researchers put a Brazil nut gene into a soybean and found that people who are allergic to Brazil nuts showed the allergy when exposed to those soybeans?  Makes me kind of wonder if there isn't some kind of link to that fact and the ever growing peanut allergy in our society.

Did you know that there are regulations that a certain percentage of acreage has to be planted with non-genetically modified species so that the insects do not develop resistance.

The worst part of the book?  That it's 10 years old.  It ends just at the start of 2000.  I'd love to see an updated version including the last 10 years.  I would say that with the recent demands for GMO food to be labeled more completely and the request to leave off the label the fake sugar additives to milk, there is more to be told about the presence of GMO foods in our diet.

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