Future

Cloned Seeds Can't Compete With The Supremacy Of Sex

Natural reproduction and the adaptability of genes will always outperform the machinations of multinationals like Monsanto, accused of wanting world domination with GMO crop production.

Scary visions
Scary visions
Carlos Tromben

SANTIAGOSex moves the world, they say. I am not referring to the porn industry, but the way in which most living beings reproduce. The color of flowers, bird song, troubadour poetry — it's all sex. The different forms of courting and seduction that permit life itself, plants, birds and humans.

The particular charm of sex is not just that so many people enjoy it, but that it also ensures most of the population is healthy, and those exposed to degenerative diseases fail to threaten the specie's viability.

Sex works like a genetic croupier, shuffling the cards so good mutations (which give us the advantages needed for survival), exceed bad ones. That is because there are millions of genes inside each little chromosome arm, and a kind of miracle occurs every time there is fertilization: Every other sexual cell doubles its chromosome numbers. Four instead of two, which doubles the possibility of cancelling the "bad" genes, if not at the individual level, then at the population level.

Sex is also the reason why the multinational Monsanto will not take over humanity's seeds, as some environmentalist groups have warned in apocalyptic terms. That is, not if reproduction has anything to do with it.

There is a lot of talk about "contamination" of traditional seeds by Monsanto's "Frankenseeds," or of Mexican corn and Andean potato varieties dying out because the wind blew Monsanto seeds onto them.

It is a naive idea of genetics that many good people have embraced without any critical thinking, and a reason why there is no progress in the debate on genetically modified (GM) organisms. Fortunately a recent abitration ruling by the Santiago Trade Chamber in Chile constitutes a first step toward revealing the real nature of GM seeds. The dispute between farmer José Pizarro Montoya and Monsanto's Chilean subsidary clearly shows the hidden weaknesses of the multinational's business model.

According to coverage in the Chilean press, Monsanto contacted Montoya in 2008 about sowing its modified Roundup corn seeds, in the absence of ordinary corn seeds nearby. The first modified harvest was good and ultimately profitable, which encouraged the farmer. But the next year, Montoya alleged, Monsanto sought to experiment with him, with a proposed combination of four rows of female modified seeds to one male row. The result, as expected, was that only a third of Montoya's harvest maintained the altered gene – with disastrous economic consequences. He was ruined, banks called in their loans, and he took Monsanto to court for breach of contract.

The almost perfect ballet that recombined the genes is the result of almost millions of years of evolution. And with plant species, add to this time another 8,000 years since the first farming revolution when humanity learned by trial and error to assist breeding, crossing and re-crossing corn or wheat seeds with sturdier descendants.

History's "sexual ballet"

I find striking the naivety of those who think that a seed created in Saint Louis, Missouri, could beat nature in this sexual wrestling match. Another blatant case is corn from Oaxaca in south-central Mexico. They denounced its contamination, tests were carried out, and some, not all, were found to have traces of mutated DNA. Samples were taken in different districts and at different times. They did not reappear; why? Simply due to the sexual ballet that occurs at the moment when genes are recombined.

Anti-GM protests in Chile (Mapuexpress Informativo Mapuche)

The gene patented by Monsanto is an isolated anomaly in one of the chromosome's arms, a robot gene that confers one particular trait: tolerance to a herbicide produced by Monsanto itself. It is so "freaky" and unfavored by nature that it struggles to find a partner at the sexual party organized thousands and thousands of years ago. Throw it onto the fields where Monsanto's herbicide does not act as a natural predator, and Pachamama — wise Mother Earth — will absorb it like a drop of water in the desert.

I am not saying all this to exonerate Monsanto of its troubled reputation. Monsanto's business model is nothing but single-crop farming protected by an oversized patenting system. It includes as is known, a contract that forbids one to keep a seed from one season to the next. Why? Because Monsanto is hiding its sexual impotence here — imagine the fearsome Darth Vader going home, and removing his mask to reveal a fragile, elderly little man.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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