On October 16 Monsanto, the American multinational, announced
that it was withdrawing from many of its European operations and sacking
two-thirds of its British workforce (according to The Independent October
16). This news came on the eve of the government’s declaration in relation to
the widespread introduction of GM products.
Since last summer we have seen a widespread debate about the
pros and the cons of GM products. There are people for and against GM products
from all the different political shades. The bourgeois papers have been very
keen on giving voice to different people in the debate. What is missing,
however, is a class point of view. No one poses the question from the point of
view of ordinary working people.
The government has now said that the first commercially grown
GM crops can be planted in Britain this spring, joined by the scientific
committee set up to advise ministers on releases about the environment (Guardian
January 14). This fuels the wrong debate.
The Monsanto example shows that all these "Friends of the
Earth" are against GM products, but they seem to be friends of the planet
without taking into consideration the workers who live on it. They are incapable
of coming up with an alternative that safeguards both our health and our jobs.
On the other side we have those who defend the expansion of GM products as a
solution to food production, although they usually put their hopes precisely in
such companies as Monsanto, a company that was responsible for producing Agent
Orange and a wide range of other delightful poisons used by American imperialism
in all sorts of wars. Again, these are no friends of the working class.
So the question that Marxists have to ask in this debate is
the following: Who will benefit and who will profit from the introduction of GM
crops and who will not? Who should control the research that is taking place and
decide the criteria that it is based on?
The bourgeois economists maintain that if the European Union
allows only a limited amount of GM products (too many might annoy some American
interests) this would, these people argue, have an effect in countries that are
hoping to use GM crops as a way out of their endemic famines (i.e. Brazil,
China, etc). "Fair trade" campaigners claim that if we allow the development of
GM crops this will give the multinationals an extremely powerful control over
the world markets and the poor countries will be at their mercy.
Those concerned with the long-term effects say that there is
no proof of the innocuousness of GM crops. Others maintain that they can
eradicate world famine. Some even claim that the European Union is against GM
products because of its long-term views and its cautious approach, while still
others say is it only another trade war.
All these arguments have a point, but at the same time all of
them also miss the main issue.
GM products are potentially a tremendous step forward that
could put and end to world famine and help to develop the economies in the
so-called third world countries. But they can also condemn the entire population
of a country to de facto enslavement under the big multinationals.
The question we have to ask is who is going to be in charge
of producing and distributing these new products. If they are going to be the
same people who are already using GM crops to push world prices down and force
small producers in the underdeveloped countries to accept IMF loans to buy the
seeds from the multinationals, the question answers itself.
The question of whether GM foods are safe or not is far from
being answered. The multinationals involved in developing them cannot be
trusted. Their criteria will not be the safety of the consumers, but merely
their own immediate, short-term profits. We must oppose any development of these
products if they are in the hands of these multinationals. How can we trust the
same company that was also responsible for the development of defoliants used
against the Vietnamese masses (Monsanto and co.) to develop our food resources?
How can we trust the governments of the imperialist countries that want to
control the economic resources in order to protect their own world supremacy
(the USA)? How can we trust those international institutions that claim to be
more environment-friendly but at the same time refuse to investigate the sinking
of an oil tanker because this might expose the system that is used to transport
oil in the European seas and all the economic interests that lie behind this
So who can we trust? The question is quite simple really. We
can only trust ourselves, we the ordinary workers and youth who have to eat
these products. The only people we can trust are the working people. We have to
guarantee that any development of GM products is carried out under strict
controls that take into account any effect they may have on the people who have
to eat them. This cannot be guaranteed so long as the research is in the hands
of the private corporations.
The figures show that the British public are very wary of a
massive introduction of GM products. They are justifiably worried after the
experience of BSE, foot and mouth and all the other scandals involving the food
industry. They wonder what comes first – their health or the companies’ profits?
The answer is pretty obvious.
So long as capitalism exists, profit always comes first. And
so long as the capitalists remain in power, we have to be very vigilant about
who is playing with our lives. The point we have to understand is that the world
has enough food resources to feed everyone. It also has the potential to produce
even more than is produced today. Famine does not exist because there are "too
many" people and not enough food. In the EU we have the immoral spectacle of "butter
mountains", "wine lakes", etc. They stock up huge amounts of food and don’t
release it onto the market in order to keep prices high. They also pay farmers
not to produce food – the so-called "set aside" schemes. Thus we pay taxes
that are then used to pay farmers not to produce food so that we can have the
pleasure of paying more for our food. The same process can be seen in the United
Thus the problem is not GM food, but the profit motive that
lies at the heart of the capitalist system. Even without GM food we are eating
hundreds of chemical products that are added to our food by the capitalist food
industry. The only way of guaranteeing healthy food is to make sure that its
production is under the control of those who have to eat it. This can only be
achieved by expropriating the big food corporations and running them under
workers’ control and management. That is what is missing in the debate over GM
products and healthy food in general!
Only the nationalisation of the food industry under workers’
control will prevent the misuse of the scientific advances and ensure that cases
like the foot-and-mouth disease or the BSE are not repeated, avoiding suffering
and hardship for the thousands of working class families that suffer the
by-products of capitalism in the form of death and permanent illness.
January 19, 2004