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Children of the Corn: Engineering our own Extinction

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
May 27, 1999


I thought I had dodged the bullet when I became Vegan in the mid-Eighties, I was wrong. It seems not even us upright herbivores can escape the mad scientists plotting to overthrow nature. I have come to the conclusion humans invented god because they needed someone to play. Like religion, science needs order. In the process of trying to achieve it, creating chaos is all they seem to be capable of.

Despite the implications of Rachel Carson's ground breaking work "Silent Spring," America's chemists are still hard at work trying to destroy life as we know it. Not only do we have to worry about pesticides eradicating species other than those targeted, we now have the dubious pleasure of eating killer crops. We have to shake the "Better living through chemicals" ideology before it is too late.

I often write about the importance of biodiversity, and that usually means local flora and fauna. I have to admit, I've been ignoring the plight of my insect brothers and sisters. Here in Southern California if you are caught poisoning the dogs and cats in your neighborhood, there is a good chance you are going to do at least a year in the slammer. But if you want to kill "bugs", you have carte blanche. Notice how PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) never petitions for a mosquito's right to life.

To see how acceptable insect genocide is in this country, one needs to look no further than the the U.S Congress. Rep.Tom Delay, the House majority whip, was an exterminator before seeking higher office. Knowing the way American politics work, it is safe to say pesticides put that man in office. Mr. Delay is rapidly pro-life when it comes to a woman's right to chose, yet he has absolutely no qualms about completely destroying a major part of the food chain. His 1998 rating with League of Conservation Voters was a big zero.

Insects are a good thing. As hard as this is for some people to hear, I have to say it. Life evolved on this planet, and insects played a major role in that. Sorry, but it's true. Long before there was Walmart there where insects. Billions of species, serving a myriad of purposes in the web of life. Everything had it's place and predator. If this sounds like a first grade biology lesson, I apologize. It just seems that the last three generations of Americans missed class that day.

Then there is the bird and bug connection. Now I realize most people don't have the time to notice that songbird populations are on a serious decline in North America, How could they? What with all this running around to do so we can by our children genetically engineered Happy Meals. This decline has been slow and steady, due to human competition for space and resources. Birds eat bugs. By killing bugs we are also killing birds. It's a starvation thing.

Agriculture plays a huge part in that decline. To make sure crops are adequate to feed an ever growing number of homo sapiens, we have to make sure that only us smart monkeys have a place at the table. That's why god invented DDT. If the almighty would have wanted us to share our food with insects he would have given them guns, right?

The current weapon deployed to eradicate pesky insects is Ciba-Geigy's genetically engineered Bt corn. This hybrid corn has had genes from the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis spliced into its genes. This creates a pesticide that is effective against the ravenous European corn borer. And as researchers at Cornell University it is also very effective against the dreaded Monarch Butterfly. Monarch caterpillars eating the transformed pollen, sicken and die quickly, because the crystalline endotoxin in the pollen causes pathogens in the insect's stomach to be released into the body of the doomed caterpillar.

Do we, as a culture, know enough to be playing with DNA as if it were Tinker Toys? I don't think so. Ciba-Geigy, the company responsible for Bt corn, has a EPA Super Fund site, with their name on it. Is the perfect ear of corn worth killing for. In biochemistry lingo the Monarch is what you would call a "Non-Target Species." Which is like calling the ethnic Albanians killed by NATO bombs "Collateral Damages."

From spraying pesticides willy nilly, to genetically engineering them into the very structure of a plants, we have opened Pandora's box. When I read about the cloning of Dolly the sheep, I had thought we had gone to far. Now I know it. We, as a species, are playing doctor in a world where the only illness is our own.

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