By Roland Watson
At this point we can continue with traditional activism, with the tactics that we have at our disposal in our efforts to get corporations to change. These include:
- Grassroots activism
- Letter writing and petitions
- Direct government lobbying
- Consumer boycotts
- Selective purchasing ordinances
- Ethical investing
- Economic sanctions
- Civil disobedience and direct action
(Please see the website Activism 101.)
Also, the predicate of all of these is that we have to know what to be active about: whom we should target. This is one of the main areas in which modern activists are poorly coordinated. There is no database, on the internet or elsewhere, of companies and their misdeeds, sorted by the type of misdeed and the location of the company, including its address and phone number and the names of its executives.
We are surely lacking in the information that we need to be effective. What has happened is that such directories exist, piecemeal. People involved in a particular cause put their own list together, but it is not distributed widely. (Although it may be available on the internet, the general public does not know about it.) For example, a group called the IRRC, the Investor Responsibility Research Center, in Washington, D.C., published a list of companies that were active in Burma. This list was sold, by subscription, to investment funds that wanted to be principled, but some copies did make their way to Burma activists.
The problem with this approach is that while activists committed to a particular cause do learn who the culprits are, this information is not distributed widely, not even within the general activist community. But we do not only want to target specific causes; we want to energize everyone, the entire population, to become significantly more activist, first by increasing their awareness and then by gaining their involvement. (This is the only way to spark a truly widespread consumer boycott.)
The first general issue, then, is that the current activist community needs to collect and disseminate this information, on unethical companies and their practices. It has to be made easily accessible, and then widely publicized.
This in turn raises a second issue, or perspective, on whom - or what - we need to be active about. We reviewed before the ethical challenges that are implicit in the consumption choices that we now have to make. For instance, the choice of synthetic over leather, as for clothing, shoes and accessories, can be restated as technology versus dead animals. In other words, both have costs. You will have to decide for yourself what choices to make, but is there any basis that you can use to minimize your negative effects?
Should you consume fish, given that the oceans of the world have been greatly over-fished? Or should you eat shrimp, even though in the tropics, their main source, the construction of shrimp farms has caused massive destruction of mangroves. Or should you eat beef, knowing that in many countries increasing the size of cattle ranches, to satisfy increasing demand for meat, has led to great deforestation? And then there is the question of natural resources in general, their application in the production of virtually everything that we use. Were they extracted sustainably, as in ensuring the perpetuation of biodiversity, and was any habitat reclamation that was required actually accomplished?
There are many other questions as well. How do you avoid eating pesticides and other carcinogens, and also genetically modified food? For the latter, more and more foods are being altered using "transgenics." Genes are inserted, actually substituted - some original genes are lost in the process - to enhance some aspect of the food, such as its resistance to insects or its shelf life. But the consequences of transgenics are largely unknown. Monsanto, which is one of the largest proponents of genetically modified food, says the risks are small, but should we believe them? Research has shown that many risks do in fact exist, such as of us absorbing some of these alien genes, but in most cases we are uncertain of their magnitude. Monsanto, in effect, is telling us to take a bet, for a short-term gain, and their profit, and to ignore any long-term consequences. But we have heard this (and are still suffering from it) many times before.
Some of the risks that have been identified for genetically engineered products include:
- Inadequate screening: as has been demonstrated with Aventis' StarLink corn, genetically-engineered products which are not meant for human consumption are inadequately segregated, such that they are used in food. (This shows that the food industry is unable to screen its products for genetically modified ingredients, and it also highlights the need for labeling.)
- Reduced nutritional content: genetic modification causes some plants to lose part of their nutritional value.
- Allergic reactions: people may be allergic to the genes which are spliced in. (In 1989, thirty-seven people died from allergic reactions after taking a genetically-engineered drug.)
- Antibiotic resistance: the addition of certain antibiotic "marker" genes can cause some bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.
- The destruction of small-scale farming. "Genetic engineering promotes large-scale agriculture and monoculture. This leads to further industrialization and export orientation of agriculture." (From an anti-genetix communiqué, Earth First! Journal, September-October 2000)
- Superweeds and superpests: crops that have genes added making them resistant to herbicides can cross-pollinate with wild plants, creating superweeds. Also, crops with resistance to pesticides can prove to be only a temporary fix: insects may adapt to the pesticides and thence to the plants, becoming superpests. (This will also increase the need for pesticide usage, and hence a rise in environmental residues.)
- Trojan genes: as with plants, wild animal females may mate with genetically altered males, with the consequence that their offspring are unable to survive and the wild population is extirpated. Such an effect is anticipated if genetically engineered salmon are released into the ocean. (Chaos theory demonstrates that if genetically engineered salmon are commercially farmed, such a release is inevitable.)
- Genetic pollution: such effects, as well as the consequences of "terminator seeds" (seeds which grow plants which themselves are unable to produce seeds which can germinate - farmers must buy new seeds each growing season), lead to the elimination of native plant varieties, other wild plant species, the insects and birds which are dependent on these plants, and the animals higher up the food chain which are dependent on them. As an example of this, Monarch butterflies are killed by the pollen of genetically modified corn.
- Broader ecological effects: genetic engineering is not a tightly controlled process. For example, there are frequent post-recombinant mutations, the consequences of which are impossible to predict. Moreover, through our understanding of ecology, and chaos, we know that there have to be additional, unexpected changes, and also that some of these changes will be destructive. In summary, there is no way to anticipate what the overall effects, on human health, and species biodiversity, will be.
As we can see, there is a lot more to ethical consumption than simply buying recycled goods. The biggest problem, of course, is that we do not have access to the information that we need to make these choices. Few products are labeled as to their contents, or production inputs, including where they came from and what environmental and social costs were incurred in the process. For instance, for vegetables such as corn and soybeans, none of the products that use genetically modified versions are so labeled (e.g., Kellogg's Corn Flakes), and Monsanto and other suppliers are fighting the imposition of such a requirement with all of their resources. (This is identical to the secrecy tactic of the companies in the NFTC.) Monsanto is even giving away the patents to its genetically modified rice, to speed its usage, and it has greatly increased its budget for "consumer education" (i.e., the brainwashing that genetic engineering is safe). And then, you have to consider a complex product such as a car: how can we ever identify its inputs and calculate their impact?
© Roland Watson 2016