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food sovereignty movement

The Seeds of Agroecology and Common Ownership

By Colin Todhunter - CounterPunch, October 10, 2017

The increasingly globalised industrial food system that transnational agribusiness promotes is not feeding the world and is responsible for some of the planet’s most pressing political, social and environmental crises. Localised, traditional methods of food production have given way to globalised supply chains dominated by transnational companies policies and actions which have resulted in the destruction of habitat and livelihoods and the imposition of corporate-controlled, chemical-intensive (monocrop) agriculture that weds farmers and regions to a wholly exploitative system of neoliberal globalisation.

Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies in Africa or the devastating impacts of soy cultivation in Argentina or palm oil production in Indonesia, transnational agribusiness and global capitalism cannot be greenwashed.

In their rush to readily promote neoliberal dogma and corporate PR, many take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. There is the premise that water, seeds, land, food, soil and agriculture should be handed over to powerful, corrupt transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

These natural assets (‘the commons’) belong to everyone and any stewardship should be carried out in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf, not by private transnational corporations driven by self-interest and the maximization of profit by any means possible.

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot notes the vast wealth the economic elite has accumulated at our expense through its seizure of the commons. A commons is managed not for the accumulation of capital or profit but for the steady production of prosperity or wellbeing of a particular group, who might live in or beside it or who created and sustain it.

Unlike state spending, according to Monbiot, a commons obliges people to work together, to sustain their resources and decide how the income should be used. It gives community life a clear focus and depends on democracy in its truest form. However, the commons have been attacked by both state power and capitalism for centuries. In effect, resources that no one invented or created, or that a large number of people created together, are stolen by those who see an opportunity for profit.

We need only look at how Cargill captured the edible oils processing sector in India and in the process put many thousands of village-based workers out of work.  Or how Monsanto conspired to design a system of intellectual property rights that allowed it to patent seeds as if it had manufactured and invented them. Or how India’s indigenous peoples have been forcibly ejected from their ancient forest lands due to state’s collusion with mining companies.

As Monbiot says, the outcome is a rentier economy: those who capture essential resources seek to commodify them – whether trees for timber, land for real estate or agricultural seeds, for example – and force everyone else to pay for access.

While spouting platitudes about ‘choice’, ‘democracy’ and ‘feeding the world’, the corporate agribusiness/agritech industry is destroying the commons and democracy and displacing existing localised systems of production. Economies are being “opened up through the concurrent displacement of pre-existing productive systems. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished” (Michel Chossudovsky in The Globalization of Poverty, p16).

As described here, for thousands of years farmers experimented with different plant and animal specimens acquired through migration, trading networks, gift exchanges or accidental diffusion. By learning and doing, trial and error, new knowledge was blended with older, traditional knowledge systems. The farmer possesses acute observation, good memory for detail and transmission through teaching and story-telling. The same farmers whose seeds and knowledge were stolen by corporations to be bred for proprietary chemical-dependent hybrids, now to be genetically engineered

Large corporations with their proprietary seeds and synthetic chemical inputs have eradicated traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers. Genetic diversity among food crops has been drastically reduced, and we have bad food and diets, degraded soils, water pollution and scarcity and spiralling rates of poor health.

The eradication of seed diversity went much further than merely prioritising corporate seeds: the Green Revolution deliberately sidelined traditional seeds kept by farmers that were actually higher yielding.

We have witnessed a change in farming practices towards mechanised industrial-scale chemical-intensive monocropping, often for export or for far away cities rather than local communities, and ultimately the undermining or eradication of self-contained rural economies, traditions and cultures. We now see food surplus in the West and food deficit areas in the Global South and a globalised geopoliticised system of food and agriculture.

In India, Green Revolution technology and ideology has merely served to undermine indigenous farming sectors centred on highly productive small farms that catered for the diverse dietary needs and climatic conditions of the country. It has actually produced and fuelled drought and degraded soils and has contributed towards illnesses and malnutrition, farmer distress and many other problems.

What really irks the corporate vultures which fuel the current industrial model of agriculture is that critics are offering genuine alternatives. They advocate a shift towards more organic-based systems of agriculture, which includes providing support to small farms and an agroecology movement that is empowering to people politically, socially and economically.

The MST and the Fight to Change the Brazilian Power Structure

Gilmar Mauro interviewed by Brian Mier - The Bullet, September 15, 2017

During the 1960s, legend has it that governor José Sarney sat down at a table with a group of cattle-ranching cronies and aerial photographs of Maranhão state, in Northeastern Brazil. They marked boundaries on the photos with pencil and divided up the land. In the decades that followed, these ranchers committed what Brazilians call grilhagem, altering documentation to illegally appropriate land. Sarney and his henchmen fenced off millions of hectares of land, then either kicked out the peasants who were living there, forcing them into mud hut settlements between the road and the fences, or keeping them on as labourers, often paying them with vouchers for use at their own stores and patrolling the grounds with armed guards so that no one can escape. Under Sarney’s control, Maranhão state was deforested, and roughly half of its majority Afro-Brazilian and indigenous population migrated to big cities in the Southeast, some of which, like São Paulo, saw their populations increase fivefold over a period of a few decades.

The case of José Sarney, who would become the president of Brazil (1985-90) and three-time Senate President, is just one chapter in the 500-year-old story of how large rural landholders dominate Brazilian political and economic life, which is represented today in the largest political caucus in the Brazilian Congress, the ruralistas, whose majority recently voted to throw out massive corruption charges against current President Michel Temer.[1]

Unlike other former European colonies in the Americas, Brazil has never implemented agrarian reform. With the world’s most unequal land division, three per cent of the population owns approximately 2/3 of the arable land.[2] When former president João Goulart attempted to enact agrarian reform in 1964, he was thrown out of office in a U.S.-backed military coup.[3] As the resultant dictatorship approached its end in the early 1980s, a new peasant-based social movement arose in Rio Grande do Sul state, called the Movimento de Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Rural Worker’s Movement, MST). Incorporating theories from liberation theology and intellectuals like Paulo Freire, Karl Marx, and Antonio Gramsci into practice, landless rural workers organized in groups to occupy fields of stolen land, resist eviction (sometimes fatally), and farm.[4] Using an innovative organizational structure of upwards and downwards democratic accountability through voluntary assemblies at the family, village, regional, state and national levels, the MST quickly spread across the country and now operates in all 26 Brazilian states, with “Friends of the MST” groups operating worldwide.

Although it has yet to reach its goal of enacting agrarian reform and building a socialist society, there are currently 400,000 families living and farming in MST agrarian reform villages across the county and the movement has successfully pressured the government to create a series of innovative policies, such as the Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos (Food Acquisition Program/PAA), ratified by former President Lula, which requires all public schools and hospitals in rural areas to purchase all food for their meal programs at subsidized prices from local family farmers.

The MST has a gender-balanced national directorate of 52 individuals, with two people elected periodically in each of its 26 state assemblies. Gilmar Mauro is a member of the national directorate, representing the state of São Paulo. I caught up with him at the MST national secretariat in São Paulo on August 25th, 2017, to talk about the current political context and its ramifications for small farmers.

What we sow is what we eat

By Michael Yates - Climate and Capitalism, September 19, 2017

I am lying in a meadow high in the Rocky Mountains. The sun is warm and comforting. I watch the clouds, puffy white in the blue sky, but soon pull a cap over my eyes and enter that state where thoughts swirl through your head and you don’t know if you’re sleeping or not.

While I rest, Karen is looking for wild strawberries. She has a remarkable eye for them, and has found the delicate plants everywhere from along the ocean in Nova Scotia to the volcanic highlands of the Big Island in Hawai’i. She remembers as she is searching the hard labor of picking the tiny berries as a girl, gathering enough for her mother to make jelly. No easy task as I have learned when she finds a patch big enough for me to collect some too.

When all you have ever eaten are the overly large and often woody and tasteless strawberries sold in grocery stores, putting a wild one in your mouth is a revelation. A gift from the earth, sweet, tart, wonderful, perfect. They leave your fingers smelling like, well, strawberries.

We’ve found many fruits on our hikes. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries sweet and sour, currants, huckleberries, apples, plums, even liliko’i (passion fruit), guava, lemons, and limes. Some like the berries grow wild. Others have flourished long after they were planted and then abandoned.

Seeing and tasting these gifts of nature can’t help but make you think of the foods most of us eat.  Heavily processed and full of salt, hydrogenated oil, and high fructose corn syrup; loaded with chemicals; laden with pesticides; grown on factory farms; treated like any other mass-produced products, aimed for the market with costs per unit low and profits high. Our crops are planted and harvested in this country by a largely black and brown workforce, poorly paid and forced to live in shacks and tents. They are poisoned, along with their children, every day they labor, and their life expectancy, in the United States, is barely fifty years. What it was when Edward R. Murrow’s documentary, Harvest of Shame, was shown on television in 1960. Much the same can be said about farm laborers anywhere in the world.

Transforming Society as Capitalism Crumbles: Lessons from Brazil’s Peasant Movement

By Rafael Soriano and Débora Nunes - In These Times, September 14, 2017

Brazil is facing a profound political and economic crisis since a coup d’etat overturned Dilma Roussef’s government in March of 2016. The new government is unrolling austerity policies that are eroding working families’ political gains by dismantling labor protections and social services and unleashing human rights abuses, including escalating assassinations of peasants and indigenous people. This political context—which shares characteristics with the U.S. climate under Donald Trump—is defined by a crisis of capitalism that resurfaced with the economic meltdown in the Global North that was initiated in 2008. 

Rafael Soriano, a member of MST’s Communications Collective, discussed this political climate with Débora Nunes, member of the National Directory of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, or Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, widely known by its Portuguese acronym MST. This social movement of peasants, rural workers and landless families reclaims land rights and struggles for a genuine agrarian reform that would benefit all Brazilians—and strives for deep social and political transformation.

In this interview, Nunes reflects on the danger and potential of this current moment, highlighting opportunities to build alternatives to capitalism as the current economic system flounders. Nunes underscores that people in Brazil “have great challenges to face the coup and its consequences,” and it is necessary to “better communicate and organize the masses."

Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes

By Michael Colby - CounterPunch, July 21, 2017

It was twenty years ago last month that Food & Water published our report on Vermont’s atrazine addiction, a toxic herbicide that is banned in Europe but continues to be used in abundance on Vermont’s 92,000 acres of GMO-derived feed corn – all for dairy cows. We used the report to get the attention of Ben & Jerry’s, and it worked. We thought when the doors swung open to the offices of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield themselves that we’d be able to make the case to them.

Our plea at the time was the same as it is today: Ben & Jerry’s should practice what it preaches and help transition its farmers to organic production. If they took the lead, we argued, the entire state could begin a transition away from the kind of industrial, commodity-based dairy system that is wreaking so much havoc with Vermont’s agriculture – and culture. It’s a system that is doing exactly what it was designed to do: chase small farmers off the land by de-valuing production. And so it has been, for decades, an economic death spiral in which less and less is paid for more and more of the commodity product, in this case: milk.

We thought the obvious imbalance – and even direct, outright hypocrisy – between what Ben & Jerry’s was doing and what they were saying would be enough to get these do-good hippies to do the right thing. We were using logic. Because, certainly, the corporation that wanted to “save the planet” and “put the planet before profits” would want to stop being one of the state’s top polluters, right?

Wrong.

We were told at the time, by Ben himself, after a year’s worth of meetings and even an offer of a job to me “to work with us instead of going after us,” that Ben & Jerry’s was not going to transition to organic because it wouldn’t allow them to “maximize profits.” Quick, throw another tie-dyed shirt to the crowd! Or launch a new flavor! Send some ice cream to the schools! Anything, just get the attention off of what Ben & Jerry’s is doing to its homeland, and our homeland – all to maximize its profits.

This was all before they sold out to Unilever, when Cohen and Greenfield still had all the power they needed to do the right thing. But, even then, the harsh reality of profits over ideals was firmly in place, with the belief that if they could convince people that eating ice cream would bring world peace, they could convince them of anything. There was nothing that a little groovy marketing couldn’t fix.

It has, of course, only grown worse under Unilever in terms of corporate accountability and transparency. All the big decisions regarding Ben & Jerry’s are now made from Unilever’s London headquarters, where it also shepherds more than a dozen other billion-dollar-plus brands. But its corporate stand on most everything associated with the gross injustices of its dairy sourcing – from migrant labor exploitation to cow abuse to rural economic plunder – remains exactly the same: stay wedded to cheap, commodity milk, reject an organic transition, and keep relying on marketing to trump the nasty realities. Free cones!

Turns out, those free-cone days that Ben & Jerry’s rolls out every year for Vermonters aren’t so free, nor are the grants they provide to so many environmental and economic justice groups. With each lick and each cash of the foundation check, Ben & Jerry’s expects loyalty to its carefully orchestrated charade: the consumption of high-fat, pesticide-laden, climate-threatening, cow-abusing ice cream produced with the labor of exploited migrant workers all leads to social and ecological justice for all! Come on, people, really?

But let’s keep looking behind the curtain.

Poverty Wages, Deportations, Wage Theft, Cockroaches: Farmworkers Demand Dignity From Ben & Jerry's

By Jonathan Leavitt, Truthout - July 12, 2017

More than 200 farmworkers and allies marched on the Ben & Jerry's factory Saturday, June 17, to demand that the ice cream corporation with $600 million in annual revenue implement "Milk with Dignity." On their 13-mile march from Vermont's statehouse to the tourist-laden ice cream factory, farmworkers told of illegally withheld wages in the Ben & Jerry's supply chain, 40 percent of farmworkers not getting minimum wage, 40 percent not getting a day off a week, exhaustion from insufficient sleep, a lack of clean water and cockroach-infested housing.

"Take our 30-minute guided factory tour and learn how we make ice cream and how we put our values into action at every step of the process," beckons Ben & Jerry's. Yet, just past the police SUVs, the discontinued ice cream "flavor graveyard," families of out-of-state tourists, and Ben & Jerry's employees in their corporation's iconic tie-dyed t-shirts, Migrant Justice members told subaltern stories of hardship -- once invisible labor made visible. Victor Diaz, a farmworker in the Ben & Jerry's supply chain, says the hugely profitable ice cream giant has a responsibility to do something for farmworkers like him who work 13- to 14-hour days. "I can tell you there's still no dignity and justice in the Ben & Jerry's supply chain."

Since the Milk with Dignity campaign began in 2015, farmworkers have streamed into Migrant Justice's assemblies deep in rural Vermont, having heard of the promise of "the bonus" -- the funding which Ben & Jerry's would pay to ensure dignity in their supply chain. That promise has turned to frustration with a corporation as famous for its social justice image as its Cherry Garcia ice cream that has yet to implement Milk with Dignity, the "worker defined social responsibility" program, which the multinational ice cream giant pledged to enact in July 2015.

"The three weeks I was detained [by Immigration and Customs Enforcement], and the time my compañeros were detained affected me personally, but we've come out of it even more committed to keep fighting," said Miguel Alcudia, a member of Migrant Justice, walking beside Vermont's bucolic Route 2.

An ancillary benefit of the march for Alcudia is, "to let consumers know that inside Ben & Jerry's supply chain, there's injustice and exploitation of workers." Like so many Vermont migrant farmworkers, Alcudia had his wages illegally withheld. Redolent with pest infestations and cockroaches, Alcudia's precarious housing is just above the dairy cows themselves.

With individual farm owners being subject to monolithic ice cream and cheese corporations' milk pricing, farmworkers are left to organize not just inside a single workplace but on an industrial scale to win justice, a classic example of what labor journalist Josh Eidelson describes as the "Who's the Boss" problem. Just as fast-food strikes have brought about joint employer liability for McDonald's for the labor conditions inside its franchise restaurants, so too, farmworkers have used direct actions in an attempt to leverage the largest corporation in the Vermont dairy industry to raise standards across the supply chain.

Farmworkers' capacity to win justice is complicated by a racialized exclusion from the National Labor Relations Act, the bureaucratic legal framework which regulates the labor movement. Following the Trump administration's executive orders on immigration, emboldened Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have used the mass deportation infrastructure created under the Obama administration to target prominent Migrant Justice organizers.

Migrant Justice has a history of people-powered victories which expand rights for farmworkers, of developing transformative leaders, and defending their leaders from ICE deportation proceedings.

Corporate food system currently contributes between 44 and 57% of global greenhouse emissions

By staff - La Via Campesina, June 8, 2017

As never before, agriculture today plays a role in all of the unfolding crises of the twenty-first century. Despite producing many more calories than are needed to feed humanity, the globalized food system leaves a billion people hungry, and another billion with micronutrient deficiency (Kremen, Iles and Bacon, 2012). 

At the same time, the growing dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as well as petroleum, coupled with oversized feedlots and global commodity routes, make the planet’s food system among the chief factors contributing to carbon dioxide and methane emissions causing global climate change (Tilman et al. 2001).

The modernization of global agriculture has meant the application of technologies that maximize short-term yields at the same time as they undermine the long-term factors of agricultural productivity and stability, such as soil fertility, water cycles, seed diversity and local knowledge.

The science and technology used to produce food is generally owned by large transnational corporations that are guided by the profit motive, rather than any of the many other purposes that agriculture serves, such as providing food and health, guaranteeing sustainable livelihoods, or maintaining a natural resource base for future generations.

The industrial agriculture model is only about 60 years old, but has already contaminated water sources, replaced tens of thousands of seed varieties with a dozen cash crops, diminished soil fertility around the world, accelerated the exodus of rural communities toward unsustainable megacities, and contributed to global inequality. Additionally, the corporate food system currently contributes between 44 and 57% of global greenhouse emissions (Grain, 2011).

For a long time, corporate manufacturers have insisted that pesticides are safe to use, that expensive, hybrid seeds will produce better in all field conditions, and that the same technical packages can be applied to diverse agricultural systems (Ecobichon, 2001). Research has conclusively shown not only that these are myths, but that the same consolidated seed and chemical companies that now control our access to food have been dishonest all along about their knowledge of harm produced by their products (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food,2017).

Pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and petroleum-hungry monoculture are responsible for hundreds of thousands of annual deaths of farmers and farm workers by poisoning, as well as incalculable damage to ecosystems, watersheds and the atmosphere. Additionally, the technologies of industrial monoculture diminish the capacity of agriculture to employ the rural workforce, leading to abandonment of the countryside and the loss of the cultural diversity embedded in rural communities.

La Vía Campesina, the world’s largest peasant movement, is a leading voice in the global movement to recover food from transnational corporations. Since its first international conference in Tlaxcala, Mexico, in 1996, La Vía Campesina (LVC) has proposed food sovereignty as an alternative to corporate agribusiness (see Box 1). Food sovereignty can be briefly defined as the right of peoples and nations to create and maintain their own food systems, and has been at the heart of civil society protests against the free trade model since the 1990s. Food sovereignty means a fundamental emphasis on local and domestic food production, based on land access for small farmers and ecological production practices (Rosset, 2006). As a political proposal, food sovereignty implies a radical democratization and decentralization of the agriculture-food system, including the dismantling of corporate power over food (Patel, 2009). On a more cultural level, it is an affirmation of rural community, local knowledge, and gender equality (Wittman, 2010). Rather than the better-known concept of food security, which makes no mention of where food comes from or how it is produced, food sovereignty explicitly underscores local and national food routes, democratic processes of decision-making, recuperation of cultural forms of production, distribution and consumption, and the relationship between food and the environment.

The time is ripe for the recognition and protection of peasants' rights

By staff, La Via Campesina - May 22, 2017

Joint Statement from La Via Campesina and other social movements and civil society organisations for the conclusion of  the 4th OEIWG session on a UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

To the fourth session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIWG) on a United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XX 

15-19 May 2017 

We peasants, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fisher folk and rural workers, including rural women from around the globe, from La Via Campesina, IUF, WFFP, WAMIP, FIMARC, IITC along with CETIM, FIAN International and other organizations, represent all together billions of rural people. We have been constructively engaging this process of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, from the fields of pasture, our workplaces around the world and here in Geneva for many years. We strongly welcome the level of constructive support from cross-regions, from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe. We especially welcome the warm and effective leadership of the Chair-rapporteur. It is worth taking note that delegates of UN member states have extended their very strong contribution to the process. 

As we have been saying from the very beginning, we, as representatives of peasants, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fishers and rural workers, including rural women, shall be recognized as legitimate parties in international cooperation in relation to food and rural development, since we constitute the sector of the population mostly affected by hunger and malnutrition despite strongly contributing to feeding the world. The 2 billion peasants and other people working in rural areas have great knowledge and experience, as well as our own perspectives. We understand the current challenges facing the world’s food systems and have ideas for solutions. We are able to contribute to the development process in a valuable manner. 

This process has made our movement stronger than ever.  After sixteen years of effort and dedication, throughout the world, our communities’ expectations keep rising, expecting our demands to be recognized in the intergovernmental negotiations. 

This is our declaration, we have been and we will keep defending it constructively before our national governments until its conclusion. All peasants and people working in rural areas around the world strongly identify themselves with the content of this Declaration, which will be an instrument to restore and dignify our status in society and to recognize our rights. 

We are confident to see the willingness of States to recognize crucial rights for us, such as the right to land and the right to seeds.  We are mildly concerned with the reserves that have been expressed by only some States towards major parts of the text regarding collective rights and extraterritorial obligations. However, as we navigate through this process, and witness its evolutions, we believe that common ground on the recognition of the right to Food Sovereignty can be reached. 

What were perceived as new rights by certain countries, are now favorably reconsidered. Thanks to the legal grounds put forward by the experts, the right to seeds and the right to land are gaining an incontestable legitimacy in the declaration, as they are specifically referred to in international agreements and a growing number of national legislations. Our grassroots testimonies reinforce the state of emergency for recognizing these rights in the Declaration without any further delay. 

As we all stand here, in full knowledge that human rights prevail economic interests, we call on States to unite in order to recognize and further guarantee the realization of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. 

As organizations representing peasants and other people working in rural areas, we stand ready to play our part and take up our responsibilities. We are ready to put our best effort to contribute to this historical process. States can no longer postpone the declaration. The time is ripe for the recognition and protection of our rights. Let us work together for the adoption of the declaration at the earliest. 

For peasants and other people working in rural areas, the relationship with Mother Earth, her territories and waters is the physical, cultural, and spiritual basis for our existence. We are obliged to maintain this relationship with Mother Earth for the survival of our future generations. We gladly assume our role as her guardians. 

Long live peasants and other people working in rural areas! 

Tribunal judges: Monsanto isn't feeding the world - it's undermining food security

By Claire Robinson - The Ecologist, April 24, 2017

Monsanto promotes its genetically modified (GM) crops and associated pesticides on the claimed grounds that they are needed to help 'feed the world'.

But the five judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that far from contributing to food security, Monsanto's activities have "negatively affected food availability for individuals and communities."

The judges of the Tribunal, held last October in The Hague, listened to the testimony of 28 witnesses from around the world whose health and livelihoods had suffered as a result of Monsanto's products and activities.

The judges are all renowned for their expertise in human rights and international law issues. They were led by the Belgian Françoise Tulkens, former vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week the Monsanto Tribunal judges announced their damning verdict, based on a number of considerations. First, the judges found that Monsanto had interfered with the ability of individuals and communities to feed themselves directly from productive land:

"Monsanto's activities have caused and are causing damages to the soil, water and generally to the environment, thereby reducing the productive possibilities for the production of adequate food.

"Communal agricultural activities as well as forests that provide food resources are being devastated by the spread of genetically engineered seeds that use large amounts of herbicides like glyphosate. These activities by Monsanto are interfering with the right to produce food."

Can we survive the epidemics that Big Agriculture produces? An interview with biologist Rob Wallace

By Bud Schulte and John Schraufnagel - Socialist Action, April 21, 2017

Rob Wallace is an evolutionary biologist and the author of “Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Infectious Disease, Agribusiness, and the Nature of Science” (Monthly Review Press). Through a dialectical process he shows us how Big Agriculture and its organization and methodology conflict with the epidemiological controls needed to stop flu epidemics from emerging and killing millions of people. We sat down with Rob Wallace in late November 2016 at May Day Books in Minneapolis.

Bud Schulte: I’m curious about how you came to your Marxist approach to science.

Rob Wallace: My parents were radical scientists. My father is trained as a physicist, my mother as a marine biologist. They met on a picket protesting my father’s professors in the Physics Department [at Columbia University] who were working with the JASON group at the time. The JASON group were physicists helping the DOD come up with various weapons systems, including Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.

My parents helped found “Scientists and Engineers Against the War.” That same year, “Science for the People” was founded in Boston. This is a time when there were so many radical scientists that those two groups were rivals. If only we were in that stage again! So I grew up cultivating a certain sensibility around the dinner table: that against bourgeois scientific practice, truth and justice are deeply intertwined.

When I first started grad school, I put these notions into practice. As a grad student at the City University of New York, I participated in a lot of student activism. So I had activism and I had science, and some of it spilled over and some of it didn’t. But it was working on influenza as a postdoc at the University of California that the pieces really came together. I began to think through what bourgeois science is and what it destroys, and later, the way I got squeezed out [of establishment science] for saying what was right in front of me.

It is a process. Once you come through your training, it seems like an obvious path, but really there are twists and turns along the way—misdirections, convergences, realizations. The most obvious realizations often take years to crystalize.

A message is sent when you are bounced out of establishment science for what you think is good work. For a long time it seems like even if you object to the premises of the typical science, at least you’re able to pay bills. But then when you are told that doing good work is not what is wanted, when you have always believed that science is about figuring out complicated problems in natural phenomena and you are told not to figure them out anymore, then there is a profound break between the system that helped produce you as a scientist and the desire to help that system any more.

You can see what the larger system does to people around you and the broader world. That happens to a lot of scientists: The accumulation of understanding of how [scientists] are used and abused—not to advance science but for a system that only cares about advancing its particular brand of science.

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