Food Insecurity Promotion → War

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Another way intellectual property abets insecurity, told in Corn Wars by Ted Genoways in The New Republic:

The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI now contend, in effect, that the theft of genetically modified corn technology is as credible a threat to national security as the spread to nation-states of the technology necessary to deliver and detonate nuclear warheads. Disturbingly, they may be right. As the global population continues to climb and climate change makes arable soil and water for irrigation ever more scarce, the world’s next superpower will be determined not just by which country has the most military might but also, and more importantly, by its mastery of the technology required to produce large quantities of food.

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly treating the most importance resource (knowledge) as property makes it subject to state conflict. If the restricted knowledge negatively impacts local food production, the risk is multiplied: food price spikes are correlated with conflict.

The article and especially above quote also provide data point one zillion on security being conflated with and losing out to power.

If one thinks vastly increasing yields through plant science is necessary, the U.S., China, and other jurisdictions should be cooperating maximally to develop and distribute the science, not treating it as a subject of property and espionage. If one is skeptical of GMOs or some other subset of plant science, one should be doubly skeptical of the incentives created by treating it as property. Either way, plant science should operate as a commons.

There’s some discussion of the article at Hacker News. Most interesting link found there is the announcement of the first royalty-free glyphosate-resistant (“Roundup Ready”) soybean variety. Apparently a challenge for off-patent varieties is that other regulatory approvals are time-limited, but an initiative called The AgAccord has been set up to maintain those approvals.

Closing paragraphs of the article circle closer to articulating the anti-security implication of subjecting plant science to a property regime:

Companies like DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto like to maintain that they are striving only to feed a burgeoning global population. Last year, Niebur, of DuPont Pioneer China, asked, “Without China’s food security, how can we ever imagine an effective, realistic, sustainable global food-security system?” But DuPont Pioneer’s goal, of course, is not global food security or feeding the Chinese people, but rather increasing market share and profit by keeping China as a customer. And the Department of Justice has taken up the argument that such a goal is not only of importance to our economy but a matter of national security, an unsettling conflation of the interests of large corporations with that of the country itself.

Today, it’s estimated that 92 percent of American corn and 94 percent of American soybeans are GMOs, almost all of it produced by Monsanto or DuPont Pioneer, and again, nearly half of the seed sold globally. Activists in both China and the United States have raised concerns about just two corporations having so much influence over the world food supply, with so little transparency. (Despite repeated requests, DuPont Pioneer declined to participate in this story.)

But these fears, while well founded, miss the larger point of what such companies represent: the intent of the U.S. government to use food as an ever-more powerful point of leverage to wield over large, increasingly hungry nations like China. The prosecution of Mo Hailong and his circle stands as a warning to the Chinese government, issued through its proxy companies. The ears in the field, the seeds in the ground, even the pollen on the wind, are American-owned and American-protected. They are available to the world as food only if you agree to our conditions and are willing to pay our price.

Bonus: watch “A World Without Intellectual Property”, an unintentional parody made by CropLife, a proprietary plant science trade association.

One can only guess their hope is to glom on to relatively (sadly) uncontroversial IP to argue for more extensive propertization of seeds, genes, etc. The video was shared many times by IP advocates during World IP Day; long delayed follow-up note on corresponding World IF Day 0 coming in the fullness of time.

Though this post has focused on security, sharing of plant science also out constitute another “substantial, although not very visible, share of the redistribution from rich to poor countries…through free (or low-price) IP transfers.”

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Not mentioning IP directly, but recently noted an article on corn as crop with the highest calorie per acre productivity and a podcast on increasing agricultural productivity reducing cultivated land area. These made me skim the English Wikipedia page on Maize (the more usual term worldwide) and look at what varieties have been released under an ‘open source’ seed pledge.