Triffids

You’ll have noticed my fondness for science fiction-related metaphor. And, in the world of genetically modified crops, there’s a lot of science and fiction. The benefits of using genetically modified crops are, for instance, largely fictional. But here’s an example of what happens when the science behind genetically modified crops hits the real world: unkillable plants that destroy machines.

Alright, it’s not quite the Day of the Triffids. But it’s worryingly close. The rise of these superweeds is a consequence of the planting of herbicide tolerant crops – a ‘spray and forget’ agricultural model developed by Monsanto in which plants are genetically engineered by Monsanto to resist a herbicide devised and sold by Monsanto. So what went wrong? The plants that were meant to be killed by the herbicide became resistant to it. The only way to get rid of it is by pulling it up, involving a lot more labour than might have been required through more agroecological and less-Monsanto-driven approaches to farming. And, as Mae-Wan Ho notes in a recent piece, this is one of many serious technological failures in US agriculture that have, because of the power of US agricultural corporations, been exported to developing countries too.

3 Replies to “Triffids”

  1. Mr. Patel, i’ve just read your book “Stuffed and Starved” (in italian “I padroni del cibo”). I’m an anthropology student at the university “La Sapienza” in Rome, and I can say that the reading has greatly changed my point of wiew about the social impact of modern agricutural economy. Really, I think that it could improve my academic life, but also my existence,’cause my attention to the many questions like shameful international business and ethical trade is now extremely steady. I say thank you for the activity of popularization, i’ll try to do the same, in my own small way.

    Roberto Sassi

  2. Raj, this reminds me of the following from Singularity Sky by Charles Stross:

    “You don’t fight an infowar attack with missiles and lasers, any more than you attack a railway locomotive with spears and stone axes. You don’t fight a replicator attack by throwing energy and matter at machines that will just use them for fuel. They’d nodded approvingly and gone on to discuss the virtues of active countermeasures versus low-observability systems. And they still didn’t get it; it was as if the idea of something like the Festival, or even the Septagon system, occupied a mental blind spot in their civilization. They could accept a woman in trousers, even in a colonel’s uniform, far more easily than they could cope with the idea of a technological singularity.”

  3. Sounds ironic…perhaps they are a gift from God…..to replace hemp….they appear to be as tough as hemp….and since hemp has been played down as a replacement for fuel…perhaps these “weeds” would do the trick….let them grow and harvest them and convert them to something that is useful considering their so plentiful. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the buttocks to Monsanto and their buddies they work with in cahoots. Be great to see it get turned all around and the laugh would be on them.

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