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Last night I went to a biochem tutoring session that I had arranged the week prior. I arranged it because I didn't know if I would be able to get all the answers to my takehome quiz, but in fact I had just understood the final question when my tutoring hour began. The tutor (Josh) and I covered my relevant questions fairly quickly, and then he asked if I knew about the grocery named Whole Foods. I said I did, and in fact that I had dropped a chunk of cash into their stock lately. That was worth a high five. He started to talk about John Mackey, president of Whole Foods, who he said I would appreciate. Having just scanned a couple of links, I find that Josh was right.

In this interview (http://www.wholefoods.com/blogs/jm/archives/2005/10/20_questions_wi.html) Mackey is characterized as an "ex-leftist libertarian" (sounds interesting to me), and says that he is a fan of Ayn Rand, who is an authoress who influenced me greatly in my twenties. I look forward to having more time to read about his thinking. I certainly respect the business that he has created.

Josh also asked me what I think of corn. I said I think methanol (as fuel) is a joke, but I like popcorn. Josh talked about how corn is the most highly subsidized crop, and that is it used to make corn syrup. I responded that corn syrup is EVIL as a food can be, and that provoked another high five. Corn syrup is at least partly the reason for the outbreak of obesity and diabetes here in the States. I don't remember if Josh said that his dislike for the vegetable was influencing his behavior, but I am curious to know that.

Then this morning, being the nerd that I am, I cracked open my biochemistry text to see what today's lecture will be about. At the beginning of the metabolism section there was a blurb about corn. Many of the poorest people in the world eat lots of corn. Apparently corn is almost entirely devoid of the essential amino acids lysine and tryptophan. Both LYS and TRP are most abundant in meats and cheeses. I am buying less meat these days (trying to save $$) and eating less cheese since I figured out that I am lactose intolerant. And I do eat grits, after all. So this new tidbit of info supports my personal choice to supplement those two amino acids.

The biochemistry book blurb is about how researchers are working to genetically modify corn in order to increase its content of these two amino acids. The GM corn with the improved aa content is known as Quality Protein Maize. This genetic modification seems to me to be a benefit for our species. Many health food consumers think that anything GM is inherently evil and bad for you, or bad for the environment, but I don't see how that is true. Even if my corn has fish genes, or tomato genes, or bat genes in it, the corn can still be good.

The evil that I see in genetic modification of food is what Monsanto is doing. They are changing the crops of the world such that they cannot reproduce, as life always has. They do this in order to force farmers to buy seed from them annually. This is evil. I fear that these strains might breed with the existing strains of food crops and sterilize all of them. This is not the same as improving the nutritional content of a food.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Apr. 11th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)
Genetically modified corn
You make a very good point about genetically modified organisms(GMOs). As you put it, GMOs hold great promise for agriculture, especially in developing countries, where food shortages abound. Despite your well-intentioned comment, I, however, think it's unfair to lambast biotechnology companies, such as Monsanto (http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/topic.asp?id=ImprovedEconomics), for the way they do business. Developing GMOs products is an expensive venture requiring billions of dollars. It only makes business sense for biotech companies to require that farmers procure seeds from them every planting season. After all, farmers are bound to make huge profits. Why not re-invest in quality seeds?
(Anonymous)
Apr. 11th, 2007 11:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Genetically modified corn
It is a complex situation as you point out. I do not think, however, that it is worth the risk of sterilizing crops worldwide for the profits of any company. While this strategy makes business sense, it does not make horse-sense. I would rather that all people be able to grow crops that can regenerate from their own seeds, than to have an improved crop that cannot be grown without buying seed annually from a corporation. What if the farmer has a bad year and has no money to buy more seeds with? Farmers never have made huge profits---until farming became corporate agribusiness. Small farmers feed their families and maybe their communities, but they don't get rich. Perhaps in the future a small farmer will increasingly be able to charge very high rates for small bits of locally grown food--when people are hungry and the corporate supply chain ceases to deliver the foods most of us eat now... My gripe with Monsanto's scheme is that the risk of mass starvation due to sterile crops is too great. To me, this is a short sighted and greedy business practice. Profits are valued more highly in today's markets than future human survival. Something is rotten about that, and Monsanto is certainly not the only offender.
aughraseye
Apr. 11th, 2007 09:36 pm (UTC)
I totally agree with you... Monsanto is the evilest of evil! I heard that they sued some farmers once because Monsanto's pollen drifted onto the farmer's property and thus violated Monsanto's patent.

Making seeds infertile is scary! What happens when their crops fail?
liveonearth
Apr. 11th, 2007 11:31 pm (UTC)
what happens
Famine is what happens. Many people will die because of Monsanto. The seed banks that people joke about are going to be very important to human survival.
(Deleted comment)
liveonearth
Apr. 12th, 2007 08:02 pm (UTC)
Rumsfeld's Disease
That IS a sweet bit of info....I didn't know that Monsanto owns Nutrasweet. I do know something about the health hazards associated with the product. Our government has been comlicit with corporate efforts to keep information about the risks under the rug.

Nobody is going to look out for the people but the people themselves. We should know this by now. Rummy and Monsanto are not on our side.
bloomingmom
Apr. 17th, 2007 02:40 am (UTC)
hellooooo......
omnivore's dilemma discusses/or traces corn's path through our society. very interesting stuff. quite nasty. popcorn and tortillas are certainly good stuff, but the corn syrup, starch stabilizers, feeding cows crap they're not made to eat and ethanol boondoggle are sadly doing us all great ill. if you've time i think you'd love the book.
(by michael pollan -- his botany of desire is also an great educational read)
and monsanto is frightening. i read a bunch about the "genetic drift" deal with farmers whose fields were downwind of the monsanto corn. sounds basically like another case where ultimately monsanto had deeeeep pockets from which it could pursue the case while the effected farmers spent all they had in legal fees and couldn't keep up.

(i've also noticed most all popcorn has the con-agra trademark on its label somewhere. even some of the organic. another evil empire -- but i digress)

i love reading your blog by the way.
thanks for the thought fodder.
mv


liveonearth
Apr. 17th, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC)
Omnivore's Dilemma
You're not the first to recommend this book to me! Thank you for commenting. It makes me glad to know that you are reading. I see that you have a lj userid now! Have you started posting? I'm going to add you as a friend. =-]
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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