Genetically Modified Foods, Monsanto and the Law of Code

There was quite a bit of news last week about a study that purported to show tumor growth in rats who were fed a diet of genetically modified corn, specifically Monsanto's Roundup-Ready variety.  This corn has had a gene from a bacteria added to the corn's genome so it's tolerant of the Roundup herbicide.

Neurodojo has a great summary of the conflicts of interest that the people running the study failed to disclose, and others have criticized the methodology and results. 

There is little doubt that this particular variety of GM corn is safe to eat.  We've been eating it here in the USA for years.  There is little question that GM crops need extensive safety testing before they can be fielded.
But there's a larger question about  *how* Monsanto uses GM technology. They're locking farmers into an all-Monsanto system of seed, pesticides, etc. using GM crops as the keystone. It's like Microsoft locking people into their tools via proprietary web technologies built into Internet Explorer, but with food. Or Google being able to decide which videos to censor. Or MERS, the consortium of home title and mortgage processors, deciding what foreclosure rules are.

There's a saying that Larry Lessig coined for situations like this: code is law. Monsanto makes genetic code into law, using it to create a classic network-effect lock-in, turning small farmers into techno-sharecroppers. It short-circuits the democratic process we've put together to regulate intellectual property and commerce.

GM will feed the world, I have no doubt. But, like all technologies, it needs a heavy dose of democracy if we're going to have the kind of world we want.  

Bad science will not help us make the decisions we need to make where technology, markets and hunger intersect.

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