Good Manure, Fake Meat and the GPPP of Food

One Saturday recently, as I was standing on top of a pile of horse manure, shoveling more out of our pick up truck, I was struck by the absolute perfection of a system that is nourished from poop.  Feeling grateful for this gift from horse-owning friends, I felt inspired to start my new garden.  I imagined how the manure would nourish my plants for years, and ultimately myself and my family.  I marveled at the perfection of the efficient, natural cycle of nutrition, elimination, decomposition, fertility and growth from one organism to another.

Later that evening, in anticipation of receiving another load of manure from a different source, I remembered a warning in my “How to Compost Everything” book about how contaminated compost, particularly manure, can poison a garden for years.  I did some research on the main herbicide in question, aminopyralid, and learned that its ability to poison the agricultural supply chain was acknowledged by agricultural extension offices and the manufacturer itself.

Marketed under the brand name Milestone, among others, the chemical kills broad-leafed “weeds,” but leaves grasses intact, thus “improving” the quality of pastures for haying and grazing.  Many vegetables are broad leafed.  The chemical remains active in the manure of animals that have eaten the treated grass or hay for as long as 5 years.  It does not break down faster even when composted as many chemicals do.  The manufacturer, Corteva (an offshoot of Dow Chemical) heralds their herbicide’s persistence in manure as an advantage, because, as they diabolically and euphemistically explain “the residual control of Milestone reduces the number of treatments needed.”

I was deeply struck by the contrast of going from the high on top of that pile of what I knew to be pristine fertile manure to the recognition that that same stuff could be rendered poisonous through a product ostensibly “for agriculture.”  Screening future manure prospects would be difficult because it is not enough to know that the owner doesn’t spray their pastures.  Do they know whether all the sources of their hay don’t spray?  Similarly, I have no way to ensure that commercially available compost doesn’t include sprayed hay, straw, or affected manure.  Most compost makers do not screen their supply to that level because many chemicals compost out.

Still feeling outraged at industrial agriculture’s desecration of natural fertility, I saw this infographic about highly processed “plant-based” and synthesized “meat” on Face Book the next day.  From the perspective of appreciating nature as a perfect system, there really is nothing more profane than poisoning manure and replacing animal protein with lab grown meat.

Fake Food For People and the Planet?

I totally agree with Navdanya International’s take that this stuff is unhealthy for people, doesn’t meaningfully address any environmental problems, and destroys local food systems. The current movement for synthetic foods will further concentrate agriculture and its profits, impoverishing and disempowering subsistence and other farmers, and ultimately, all of us who rely on affordable food.

It seems like one has to do all kinds of mental gymnastics to believe that synthetic food is good for people or the planet as the talking points promise.  I think it’s an example of a kind of double-think people engage in frequently due to relentless propaganda.  They simultaneously hold opposite views and switch back and forth between them unless directly challenged. 

In this case, many people understand (hopefully) that there are big environmental, health and animal welfare differences between beef cattle pasture-raised on small local farms and beef cattle raised in former Amazonian rainforest that are “finished” in Concentrated Agricultural Feeding Operations in Iowa with heavily herbicided corn and soy.  The latter type of operation is a rational and just target for needed change for human health, biodiversity, microbial resistance, energy and water use and animal welfare.   The deleterious effects of industrialized meat production don’t mean, though, that meat is the problem, nor that switching to a new form of industrialized “food” production is a solution.

People know that transnational corporations have profit imperatives – that they are legally bound to maximize profits for their shareholders.  They also know that there are many instances of corporate malfeasance and misuse of “the commons.” Yet, when these same corporations engage in relentless narrative pushing toward a social outcome (changing the world’s diet), they imagine that their solutions (to a problem, note, climate change, caused by a paradigm these same corporations are steeped in) is viable or even beneficial?

It’s Not A Conspiracy, It’s Logic

A vast network of corporations and institutions works together to push the world into accepting synthetic food.  Their goals are explicitly stated or obvious, and these goals can easily be seen to have unspoken logical counterparts.  For example, the profit imperative demands the goal of consolidating market share.  An unspoken corollary is to reduce the number of food producers.  An explicit goal is to sell more synthetic food.  As this food can only be made in high tech labs with patent ownership, an unspoken goal, or consequence if you prefer, is for people to be more dependent on such producers and less dependent on food they can grow on their own or local farmers can provide.  As highly processed “plant-based” fake meat uses various commodity crops (soy, corn and canola) as its base, another unspoken goal is to increase these crops cheap production over the diversification of the food system.  It is not a coincidence that many of the corporate players involved sell all kinds of poisonous methods to more cheaply produce such commodities such as seeds genetically modified to withstand the herbicides they also sell.  It’s not conspiracy thinking, its logic.

Standing on a mountain of “black gold,” seeing in my mind’s eye the life it can enable, it seems plain as day that reducing the ability of gardeners and farmers to access manure is antithetical to food security.   Real food security cannot be separated from real “environmental sustainability” as the whole idea that we or anything else can be healthy apart from our “environment” (the word itself unfortunately implying the freedom to move in and out of it) is utter disingenuous nonsense.  The aminopyralid family of herbicides poisons the free or cheap fertilizer from informal local networks that local growers have relied on for generations.  If you can’t trust your neighbor’s manure, or the straw or compost you buy from your local farm supply store, you either have to grow less food, buy chemical fertilizer (how convenient for the agricultural chemical companies), or grow your own animals or green manure.  Each requirement raises the cost of growing your own food and will push people out.

I am reminded of so many stories and movies with evil characters.  You spot them by their promises, spoken with silky words.  Crucially, you know the protagonists should run the other direction when the villain lets slip some act or word that reveals their utter moral decay.  Don’t trust him! You scream in your mind.  How much clearer a warning can you get than from an entity offering you “food” with the one hand, and poisonous fertilizer with the other?

The Global Public Private Partnership Pushing Fake Food

It is not a coincidence, that Corteva, manufacturer of aminopyralids and a strategic partner with Gingko Bioworks (the highest valued cell based food biotech), and other agricultural chemical companies (Bayer, Syngenta, BASF) are well represented within the global public private partnership (GPPP) of government agencies, multinational corporations and think tanks that are pushing global food policy into highly technological “solutions” to food security and climate change.  This industrial agricultural global public private partnership mirrors a similar partnership in global industrialized “health,” ie. disease management.

The structure and attendees at the September 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit provides a window into the Food GPPP.  The summit was organized into 5 “Action Tracks,” all of which pushed corporate agendas to the detriment of humanitarian and environmental goals.  However, I focus in this essay on Action Track 2 to reveal (a slice) of the Food GPPP network, and particularly the role of BigAg, (with Corteva as an example of special interest since they manufacture the manure poison). The goal of Action Track 2 is to “shift to sustainable consumption habits … changing consumer behavior, creating demand for sustainably produced and healthy food, and contributing to reduced food waste.”

EAT: Billionaires, Philanthrocapitalists and Corporations

Action Track 2 was led by the founder and executive chair of EAT, a “global, non-profit startup dedicated to transforming our global food system through sound science, impatient disruption and novel partnerships.” EAT was co-founded by the Stordalen Foundation (founded by the Stordalen billionaires, whose money comes from property development), the Stockholm Resilience Centre, (a technocratic think tank that defines metrics for impact investing in the UN’s SDGs) and the Wellcome Trust. The Wellcome Trust is one of the largest funders of biomedical research in the world and the second largest (behind The Gates Foundation) “charitable” foundation in the world.  Like the Gates Foundation, they use their enormous resources to push private, for profit agendas through the shaping of global policy and strategic “gifts.”  

EAT is the organization responsible for the EAT-Lancet diet, which garnered a lot of press for “plant based eating for people and the planet.” Notice, that partnerships makes it all the way into their foundational definition. So, besides the co-founding foundations, who exactly are their partners? Perhaps all we really need to know is that the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is listed in two of their five partnership categories.  The WBCSD is the explicitly corporate wing of the World Economic Forum, with a memorandum of understanding between them to “scale up impact on sustainable development issues.”

The WBCSD, of course, lists every major chemical company (BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Syngenta) as partners, including Corteva.  Corteva and Bayer are also specifically partners in the WBCSD’s project Food Reform for Responsibility and Health’s (FReSH) subcategory, the “Responsible Meat” (ReMI) initiative.

Even as ReMI promotes “sustainable” practices around pork as their first project, a paragraph in the middle of their press release about lab grown meat and an unanswered question regarding the definition of “responsible” meat makes it clear where they are headed:

“Providing enough protein for the 10 billion people predicted by 2050 with limited resources is an enormous challenge for the global agriculture industry. 

Science-backed start-ups in the cell-based space are playing their part in creating a whole new industry, one that is commercializing lab-grown meat, poultry, seafood and fish to circumnavigate the environmental impacts of raising and slaughtering animals for protein consumption. 

And, of course, the plant-based sector continues to grow, all the time focusing on alternative proteins needed to feed the world’s ballooning population. 

But what does responsible meat mean?”

Partners for “Food” Even Dogs Reject

Partners in ReMI include companies that make synthetic fish, other cell based meat, and insect protein.

In addition to being a project of the WBCSD (which partners with EAT), FReSH itself is also listed as an EAT initiative. Like all their initiatives, it comes complete with its own list of corporate partners. Many of the corporations listed here (including Buhler, Givaudan, Baker McKenzie, Boston Consulting Group, C.P. Group, Danone, DSM, Evonik, IFF, Quantis, Protix, Symrise and Syngenta) and throughout EAT’s partnerships are working with synthetic meats and other forms of highly processed fake meats and dairy from commodity crops or insects.

Action Track 2’s goal of reducing food waste (which is also a FReSH goal) may seem particularly innocuous and thus serves as a good example of the scrutiny that should be applied to the GPPP’s words. Nofima, listed as an EAT “ally” “envision[s] that cultured meat could be a future supplement to regular meat.” They are particularly interested in reducing food waste though:

“By-products from the food industry is an excellent source of amino acids, peptides, carbohydrates, vitamins and many other potential factors that can sustain cell growth, and the scientists at Nofima are exploring how such food-grade by-product materials can be used as inexpensive alternatives to serum in primary bovine skeletal muscle cell culture.”

I think it is pretty clear here that they are talking about the “byproducts” that don’t even make it into hotdogs or dog food.  Redefining “reducing waste” to “feeding people scraps not fit for dogs” is the kind of translation necessary to properly comprehend the words of the Food GPPP generally, and the other goals of Action Track 2 (“changing consumer behavior” and “creating demand”) more specifically — it is all about pushing fake food.

International Agriculture Funded by Gates Foundation and Partnered With Microsoft

The UN Food Systems Summit of course also included other more prominently “public” members of the Food GPPP such as CGIAR and IICA (Inter American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture).  CGIAR is like the WHO for food.  And like the WHO, their second largest donor, after USAID, is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a typical example of interlocking interests that make the GPPP seem much more diverse than it actually is, EAT also lists CGIAR as a “knowledge partner.”

But what about IICA?  Surely, their perspective isn’t also dominated by transnational or venture funded corporate interests that profit from industrialized extractive agriculture or highly technological synthetic franken food?  IICA and Microsoft launched their “Roadmap for the digital transformation of agriculture” in 2019. This road map includes using the Internet of Things for widespread data harvesting (surveillance) and control of drones for field work and the application of “precision” synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  Artificial Intelligence is also a key component to analyze captured data and help identify ideal genetic engineering “solutions” for plants and animals.  As an article on IICA’s site says, “The Internet of Things, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, blockchain – to mention just a few – will prove essential in digitalizing agriculture and in ensuring its evolution into a more intelligent sector.” Processed plant based and synthetic fake foods fit into this paradigm perfectly because they use industrially grown commodity crops as bases and rely on patentable, highly technological infrastructure.  The patents, technologies and laboratories are amenable to the concentration of ownership and control in a manner that localized traditional agriculture is not.

IICA also partners with Bayer, Syngenta and Corteva, as well as other technology companies. 

The press release announcing the partnership with Corteva emphasizes IICA’s high tech goals and their desire to further privatize our continents’ food systems:

“Digital agriculture will not only impact farmers, but all links in the production chain, including consumers, who are becoming more informed and more demanding…Corteva Agriscience and IICA recognize the important role played by public-private partnerships in agricultural development initiatives…The memorandum of understanding is part of IICA’s strategy to significantly increase its interaction with the private sector, in order to provide the Western Hemisphere’s agriculture sector with concrete solutions to overcome climate change, as well to tackle social and production challenges.”

The Food GPPP does its best to sell its goals in language sure to appeal to caring citizens. Save the Planet! Stop Climate Change! Be Healthy! Be Responsible! Save the Animals! The media pounds us with these messages; we hear much less about the business opportunities. Reading their marketing materials, I can almost imagine myself being lulled by the beautiful pictures of “good food” and the touted goal of “sustainable, equitable food systems,” things I want for everyone. I am not immune to propaganda. Sometimes I even find myself thinking that even though I know these same corporations almost wholly own the current industrialized, commodity based system, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be tying to do something good …

My feet in the manure helps ground me to the truth, that, quite simply, whole scale destruction of nature is not compatible with saving it. Corteva cannot simultaneously poison manure, homegrown non-toxic fertilizer, and claim the mantle of “sustainability.” Corteva, just as a relevant example of one agricultural chemical company, is embedded in the morass of corporations, foundations, and public institutions that are leading the charge for heavily processed commodity crop and lab grown fake “meat.” These new “foods” in no way reform the industrial scale or methods of the system that is poisoning our planet and people. Clearly, their definition of “sustainability” is fundamentally flawed, unless they are talking about the sustainability of their bottom line.

Garden Rebound

You want to know something funny?  I wrote this post in April of last year, anticipating a new garden season with great pleasure.  It turned out to be the worst garden I’ve had since I called myself a gardener. Throughout the summer I shook my head every time I thought about that essay – who did I think I was?  Obviously I knew nothing about gardening, let alone enough to philosophize about it!  I could not keep a single cucumber nor winter squash plant alive long enough to bear fruit.  My pepper plants withered.  The eggplants only produced from a second planting in mid July, the okra was stunted and blight hit the tomatoes earlier than usual.

Nearly a year and a half later, I cannot suppress the corners of my mouth from turning up when I think about my mortification.   In response to my garden’s depleted output, I tried a lot of things throughout last summer.  I tried to hand pick and trap the hordes of cucumber beetles, squash beetles and squash vine borers to no avail.  A friend suggested nasturtiums as a valuable squash pest deterring companion plant, so I planted as many of them as I could, but it was too late.  They bloomed in October in a nearly empty garden.  I took mulch off and put it on.   I started new seeds over and over, and bought all kinds of seedlings.  I added organic fertilizers around new seedlings and plants that seemed to need it, just to have some kind of critter dig them up to eat the fertilizer. Towards the end of the summer, I planted daikon radishes in a bunch of the beds, hoping they would grow, rot the next spring, and break up what seemed to suddenly be deeply compacted, heavy soil.

As our garden is on a slope in a hollow in the shadow of the Blue Ridge nearly as low as you can get without being in the floodplain, it’s a funnel for many square miles of rain run off.  It was a very rainy spring and summer last year and we had foolishly tilled when it was too wet. It had rained so much last year through April and May that I decided on my own time table versus reality’s that we had waited long enough.  Usually, we don’t till at all because we don’t want to disrupt the soil microorganisms and we want to protect the soil structure but it seemed so much easier to till than to pull up all the weeds in the beds (which wouldn’t have been there if I had mulched deeply enough over the winter). 

Fast forward to this spring.  The radishes grew and rotted, we did not till, and it was a much drier spring and it has been a very dry summer.  We covered the beds with the litter from our chicken run before planting and did not fertilize at all afterwards to thwart the hungry digging mammal.   I also planted many more seeds directly in the garden, instead of transplanting, to help them adapt to difficult conditions.  I tried a new variety of zucchini, which I have never grown successfully, in the hopes it would out maneuver the vine borer, and many new varieties of peppers and eggplants. 

So many surprises! The nasturtiums I planted last year had gone to seed, and they sprouted early everywhere.  The chicken litter had viable pumpkin seeds from a gorgeous reddish orange variety a friend gave us last year.  I let the volunteers grow, assuming they weren’t likely to get far, but they did! The green of the widespread foliage this year spilling out of the beds is interspersed with brightly colored 2 foot plus diameter pumpkins, many yellow and orange nasturtium blooms, and big bright yellow squash flowers.  I have unbelievable numbers of butternut and spaghetti squash too! Cucumbers fill the fridge.  Eggplants, peppers, okra, green beans, tomatoes – check, check, check!  But the best has been the zucchini.  I planted it because it was supposed to have a “leaping” habit, where one plant spreads from another.  One plant spawns “babies,” which lead to other “babies”, which continue and produce, even as earlier “parents” get killed off by pests.  I keep thinking the zucchini is done, only to find another fruit bearing plant hidden among the sprawling winter squash.

I ‘m loving the increased chaos, wildness and color of the garden this summer.  I also feel intrigued and appreciative of the whole experience, the cycle of lack and plenty of this summer and last.  Clearly, the different weather patterns and tilling were major differences, but we’ve had equally super wet summers before.  I feel closer to this bit of earth in my backyard than I have. I understand more about its unique conditions within the greater context of unpredictable weather conditions.  I can’t control the weather or my garden’s intrinsic nature, but I can respond to its needs in a fine tuned way with greater attention to current conditions, patience, and knowledge of what works here and doesn’t.   These seasons illustrate the dynamic nature of the gardener garden relationship in a way that speaks to me about the difference between mechanical and living systems.  Powerful players are pushing ever more to increase what they call the “sustainability” of food production by measuring, monitoring, and precisely controlling inputs through machine learning (AI algorithms). 

I’ve only lived here for 7 years, and only really seen massive fluctuations in my garden in the last two years, teaching me what it needs.  How much more knowledge would generations of farmers on the same bit of land have about their place? While machines aim to model the farmers’ knowledge (and replace them), they will only ever be able to incorporate a fixed set of variables or conditions and responses.  The more I creatively engage with my garden, my effort as much a part of it as the soil, the more I know that there is nothing “sustainable” about replacing farmers with machines.  The garden taught me this and it will teach anyone who listens.