The Patenting of Life Through Genetic Modification By Samm Simpson
Since the foundation of the Republic, farmers have planted, propagated and protected their seeds. Nestled into soil amidst a bevy of beneficial microorganisms, the seeds purpose is unleashed, nurtured by the elements and cultivated by the hands that had sown them. Crops were created. Families were fed. Markets were made. Seeds were saved, shared and preserved for future generations. It was an implicit tenet that seeds – also called germ plasm – were a gift endowed by the Creator, belonging to all mankind. The patenting of this gift was an anathema. Corporate ownership of any life force seemed unthinkable: at least until June 16, 1980.
That’s the day the Supreme Court ruled that a live human-made micro-organism is patentable, thus opening the floodgates to corporate ownership of genetic material. Once patented, thus owned.
Not by a commonwealth, or by man, but by corporations who would then own, control and genetically modify these seeds for profit. Built on the double helix discovery of Crick and Watson, and the eternal grasp for money and power, the lust for biotechnology bullion blew open the White House doors. Industry and Government became business partners. The rush for deregulation dismantled any modicum of reason or precaution. FDA scientists were silenced if they were vocal about testing. They had concerns that genetically engineered food could be harmful to humans. Michael Taylor, a prior Monsanto lawyer was brought in as FDA Deputy Director for policy. He helped create a policy called “Substantial Equivalence”, which claimed that genetically modified food was just the same as conventional food. This “rule” remains in effect.
Showing callous disregard for the public good, the Taylor-led FDA policy stated; “Ultimately it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.” The year was 1992. There would be no need for testing, no trials, no published scientist concerns about the effects of GMOs on men, women, children – and certainly none for animals – who would be ingesting the food and feed containing DNA engineered with viruses and bacteria that were not from the same species.
This was not traditional breeding, creating new flowers from flowers, or new calves from bulls. To some, genetic engineering was a fascinating technology – but it needed to be tested. To others, like MIT historian Lily Kay and F. William Engdahl, an analyst and author from the Centre for Research on Globalization, the motivation to food biotech was seen as an extension of eugenics and social control. Others believed genetic engineering defied the specific reproductive boundaries clearly defined in Genesis for thousands of years; “And Elohim said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind, and it was so.” Millions of Americans held no opinion. They weren’t told what they were about to start eating.