A few years ago, back in 2010, a nighttime raid left an experimental vineyard in France in ruins, stripped of its vines, while the two sides of an ongoing world-wide struggle over the research for and practice of genetic modification in food production accused each other of wrong doings.
Clearly, Les Fauchers Volontaires, or, “voluntary reapers,” were in the wrong when they struck on Aug. 15. Their twenty-minute spree of civil disobedience destroyed seventy grapevines and seven years of research, costing over a million and a half dollars and leaving behind an empty patch of dirt.
Scientists had been using this test plot to develop a rootstock resistant to fan leaf virus, which plagues every wine growing region in the world. Introduced by a type of roundworm, the disease wipes out the soil, and eventually the vines in plagued areas. Scientists have been working to implement genetically modified rootstock that is resistant to this scourge. Proponents of this research and development say that sequencing new genes into plants quickly produces disease resistant plants with less need for fungicides and other harmful chemicals.
Opponents of the rapidly expanding use of genetic modification say that it has not been fully realized yet what the long term effects are to humans and to the environment. One concern is a possible disruption of human reproductive heath. GM can also taint healthy plants and disrupt healthy ecosystems. Critics point to Monsanto, the American company responsible for most of the world’s genetically modified food production and providers of the world’s largest supply of altered seeds. Monsanto has been accused of providing both that what ills and that which heals what ills. For example, back in the ‘80s, they were pumping cattle with growth hormones which were aimed at increased milk production. The cattle ultimately became sick with udder infections, for which Monsanto also held-and sold-the cure.
Monsanto has since gone on to dominate the global agriculture market. As recently as December, pro surfers like Dustin Barca, Kelly Slater, Jamie O’Brien and John Florence led a march in the rain against the genetic juggernaut on Oahu’s famed north shore to raise awareness of heightened concerns surrounding environmental misuse. Similarly, several years ago, the citizens of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley took a stand, keeping them out (for now at least).
The slogan of Les Fauchers was spelled out on a protest sign as they struck the test vineyard: Ici Scientisme: Fausse Solution-Faux Prob, meaning science provides a fake solution for a fake problem, echoing the same sentiments held against Monsanto.
One of the “reapers” who was arrested was local Alsatian wine maker Jean-Pierre Frick, who was quoted by the (then current) online version of Wine Spectator as saying, “Agriculture and wine are incompatible with the biological modification of plants,” and that this test plot is more about “Scientists and the corporation’s p.r. than the public.”
French Agricultural Minister Bruno Le Maire disagrees with Frick and the “reapers,” calling this stunt an act of “agro-terrorism” that destroyed an open lab which he says was much needed. Le Maire believes genetically modified vines hold the key to pathogens which threaten the world’s food supply. Interestingly, the same vineyard was attacked by a lone activists last September.
For his part, Frick labors to educate the public on this issue; a public that polls show is wary of genetic modification. Le Maire, however, feels that the public is open to continued research.
The battleground in this debate rages from India to Bulgaria to London, and here in this country from New York to California. In 2004, protesters at the Agricultural Ministerial Expo in Sacremento, Calif. who came to express their views were met with lines of law enforcement officers. Possibly fearing a WCT Seattle ‘99 type protest, the officers came prepared with sticks, clubs, rubber bullets and tear gas; as well as back up from helicopters, humvees and protective service vehicles. Some protesters chained themselves to a building at U.C.-Davis, but no other violence was noted, except for numerous cases of the use of excessive force by the combined law enforcement agencies.
Greenpeace has also led the way in bringing this issue to the public eye, albeit with a bit of a humorous twist: In one of the first of such protests in Liverpool, a Cargill chicken factory was singled out by activists in full chicken costumes, who then chained themselves to the factory until it stopped producing genetically modified foods. And currently, famous Las Vegas chef Rick Moonen has called on us all to tell the Food and Drug Administration to “Just say no” to new plans to increase production of a genetically altered type of Atlantic salmon. While the FDA says that these fish pose no threats to human, Moonen disagrees, pointing to the animal waste and unconsumed fish food that these fish live in as only the starting point. The concentrated food that the fish are fed lead to high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls and the netted farms hold in the waste, creating health dangers for us and hazards for ocean environments.
What is clear is that we can all take charge by making sure we know what is in our food and how it is produced. Don’t know what those long words on the package are? Probably not a good thing. Educate yourself. Even though Halloween is on the other side of the calendar, FrankenFood lurks, and apparently FrankenWine is just around the corner. I don’t want to be caught doing a cheers to that.
Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org