Reconsider GM Crops And Anti-Reg

19 Apr

West, Texas Fertilizer Plant ExplosionIn the aftermath of the explosion at a fertilizer plant in “West-Comma-Texas”, life resumes.

On Thursday, the catastrophic impact of Wednesday’s explosion at West’s fertilizer plant was not easily visible from most parts of town. Police had shut roads, to prevent anyone getting within half a mile of the blast site. On an overcast, cold and windy day, there was no sign of a massive smoke cloud mushrooming into the sky, as there was the night before; no flames raging far into the air and turning the twilight from dull gray to hellish hues of orange, red and yellow.

Instead, American Red Cross and news media vehicles cruised the streets among the usual steady stream of pick-up trucks. Around a quarter of the stores bore the scars of disaster, their windows boarded up, many closed. The crunch beneath your shoes was the shattered glass that lined the sidewalks. When the wind blew a certain way, the acrid air scraped the back of your throat.

Criss-crossed by three rail tracks, West exudes the kind of decrepit frontier charm typical in small Texas towns that have a little history. Half the businesses in West seem to nod towards to the place’s past as a haven for Czech settlers. Westfest, a Czech festival, is held each Labor Day weekend; the town claims to be the “Czech heritage capital of Texas” and even, referring to a kind of pastry, “home of the official Kolache of the Texas legislature”. The town’s affectionate nickname came about to avoid geographical confusion – when spoken, no-one ever heard the comma in West, Texas.

The U.S. Geological Survey are calling the explosion the equivalent of 2.1 magnitude earthquake! Some of the photographs of the remains of the fertilizer plant look like something out of a post-nuclear apocalypse. Ironically, ammonium nitrate is a “safe” way to make fertilizer – but was it ammonium nitrate or anhydrous ammonia in that deathtrap? All this for what – artificial excrement? Can we grow food without needing an artificial substance that explodes? I’m much more afraid of earthquakes and explosions than I am of Monsanto. Ask yourself:

Could GM crops reduce world hunger?

Pro-GM: Through GM seeds even the smallest subsistence farmers can produce bigger, more reliable crops. GM seeds will help poor farmers grow more food for themselves and more profitable crops for the marketplace. Nutrition-enhanced GM crops now in development can directly address the effects of malnutrition, both for the farmers who grow those crops for themselves and for poor consumers in developing-world cities.

In the long term, GM crops may be the only way to ensure that worldwide food production keeps pace with the growing population—which may double to 12 billion by the year 2050. After decades of dramatic increases in food production, the rate of growth has declined in the past ten years. The last round of increases came from “green revolution” methods such as high-yielding hybrid seeds and intensive use of fertilizers, irrigation and chemical pesticides. Those technologies can’t produce the food production growth that’s needed in the coming decades without doing severe environmental damage. GM crops can.

Anti-GM: The real causes of hunger are poverty, inequality, and lack of access to food and land. Bioengineering will do nothing to alleviate these problems. Most GM crops available so far do not address the needs of food production in developing countries. They offer conveniences to the farmer—the ability to apply more or less pesticide spray—but do not produce higher yields. Adoption of GM crops by farmers in the developing world will actually increase hunger by making poor farmers reliant on the few multinational corporations that control the market for those seeds. A better way to improve the lives of subsistence farmers is to teach them ecological farming methods by which they can grow better crops without the expense associated with GM seeds.

Another issue raised by this disaster is, where was the government in all this?

AMY GOODMAN: …Mike, clearly this anhydrous ammonia is extremely powerful. I mean, back—I think it was 1947, Texas City ship had—thousands died in explosions then. Can you talk about how regulated this plant was, Mike Elk, as you research it?

MIKE ELK: Yeah. So, basically, what’s interesting about this plant is, in the idea of workplace safety, we often talk about the idea of hazards, which is, you identify hazards, and you attempt to try to reduce the ability that those hazards result in accidents like the explosion we saw yesterday. Now, the story that The Dallas Morning News reported, that the plant said that there was no risk of explosion, shows that they did not properly identify the hazard, which led to the explosion, as we all know occurred. This is a big problem.

This kind of plant here, we can tell from the records that we were looking over last night, OSHA has not inspected this plant in at least five years. And that’s not uncommon. This is a non-union facility. The way OSHA typically works, and as well as EPA, is that they get a call from a worker, and then inspectors show up, and they inspect the plant, and they find problems. When you have a non-union workforce, like you have in this plant, that’s a lot less likely, since many folks are scared of losing their jobs. So there hasn’t been an inspection in at least five years, from what we can tell.

Ask yourself if a 2.1 magnitude earthquake creating a hellscape is enough to justify rotten thinking, like anti-GM and anti-regulation.

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