Anxiety turns to Fear

SUBHEAD: Nature is weighing on our economy in the form of climate change and fossil fuel depletion.

By Kurt Cobb on 30 August 2015 for Resource Insights -

Image above: Still frame from the 2011 movie "Take Shelter". From ( Update 9/1/15 - the whole movie can be seen on YouTube at (

The characteristic feeling of the post-2008 world has been one of anxiety. Occasionally, that anxiety breaks out into fear as it did in the last two weeks when stock markets around the world swooned and middle class and wealthy investors had a sudden visitation from Pan, the god from whose name we get the word "panic."

Pan's appearance is yet another reminder that the relative stability of the globe from the end of World War II right up until 2008 is over. We are in uncharted waters.

Here is the crux of the matter as expressed in a piece which I wrote last year:
The relentless, if zigzag, rise in financial markets for the past 150 years has been sustained by cheap fossil fuels and a benign climate. We cannot count on either from here on out....
Another thing we cannot necessarily count on is the remarkable geopolitical stability that the world experienced for two long stretches during the fossil fuel age. The first one lasted from the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 to the beginning of World War I in 1914 (interrupted only by the brief Franco-Prussian War). The second lasted from the end of World War II in 1945 until now.
Following the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq, the Middle East has experienced increasing chaos devolving into a civil war in Syria; the rapid success of forces calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria which are busily reshaping the borders of those two countries; and now the renewed chaos in Libya. We must add to this the Russian-Ukranian conflict. It is no accident that all of these conflicts are related to oil and natural gas.
As I view the current world landscape, I am reminded of two movies (which I've written about before) that I think capture the Zeitgeist: Melancholia and Take Shelter. In both the protagonists increasingly sense that something is terribly wrong, but can't quite put their finger on it. Everyone around them thinks they are ill or crazy.

But for both protagonists, their anxiety comes from an inner vision that stems not from mere psychic disturbances, but rather from alarming real-world circumstances that are about to break into the open.

In a sense, these two characters represent those of us who cannot repress the pervasive anxiety of our times and who seek not merely to alleviate it, but rather to face it--to find out its origins and address its causes.

And here we return to the god Pan, mentioned at the outset. It is fitting that this god of nature--of shepherds, flocks, and wild places--should also in our age be associated with the panic we feel.

For it is nature itself which is weighing on our economy in the form of climate change and fossil fuel depletion. As California--the seventh largest economy in the world behind France--burns in the heat of a multi-year drought, the grim consequences of our poor stewardship are becoming apparent. The images of fiery forests and dust-dry fields command our attention.

But hidden from the view of most is the role that increasingly expensive energy has played since the beginning of this century in slowing economic growth. The shorthand way of understanding this is that in the last century we extracted all the easy-to-get fossil fuels. Now we are going after the hard-to-get remainder which are costly to extract.

That takes resources away from the energy-consuming part of the economy and creates a drag on economic growth. Hence, a dramatically slower economy in 2015 after four years of record or near record average daily prices for the most critical fossil fuel, oil. (The recent drop in oil prices is primarily a reflection of slowing demand that comes from a slowing economy.)

The financial industry through the media has intervened forcefully during the recent stock market sell-off to tell us all not to panic. These corrections are normal, they say, and long-term investors--that is, virtually everyone except Wall Street--should ignore them. What the industry and the media do not tell us is that these are not normal times.

Circumstances have changed dramatically. The evidence is there if only we have eyes to see it. Interest rates in much of the world are still stuck at or near zero seven years after the last worldwide downturn.

How will the world's central banks stimulate the economy after the next inevitable recession? By lowering interests that are already at zero? In the post-World War II paradigm, rates would be at much higher levels today, say four or five percent, and economic growth would be much faster.

Annual world economic growth from 1961 through 2000 according to the World Bank was 3.8 percent per year. From 2000 to 2013, an era of increasingly expensive energy, it slowed to 2.4 percent.

From the initial spurt of 4.1 percent growth in 2010 (after a contraction of 2.1 percent in 2009), growth settled down to 2.3 percent in 2012 and 2013, slightly below the recent average. This is despite unprecedented efforts to stimulate the world economy through large increases in government spending and record low interest rates.

And, as mentioned above, the geopolitical stability that has been the backdrop to the pervasive buy-and-hold investment mentality has disappeared. Like the protagonists of Melancholia and Take Shelter, we anxiously await we-know-not-what.

As we do, Pan makes his ever-more-frequent appearances. Franklin Roosevelt is famous for saying: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." But fear is a protective mechanism. We are right to fear things that can hurt us and to act accordingly. We cannot solve our problems if we refuse to accept that we have them.

Sometimes Pan is trying to help us by warning us. Sometimes it is possible to hear him playing his flute long before he arrives on the scene. But can we listen and act in some way other than panic?

Video above: Trailer for the 2011 movie "Take Shelter". From (
Update 9/1/15 - the whole movie can be seen on YouTube at (

Video above: Trailer for the 2011 movie "Melancholea". From (
Update 9/1/15 - the whole movie can be seen on YouTube at (


Say Goodbye to Normal

SUBHEAD: Get your shit together locally, and do it in place that has some prospect for keeping on.

By James Kunstler on 31 August 2015 for -

Image above: Painting "Peasant Dance" by Pieter Bruegel, 1568, oil on panel, 114 x 164 cm, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, in Vienna. From (

The tremors rattling markets are not exactly what they seem to be. A meme prevails that these movements represent a kind of financial peristalsis — regular wavelike workings of eternal progress toward an epic more of everything, especially profits! 

You can forget the supposedly “normal” cycles of the techno-industrial arrangement, which means, in particular, the business cycle of the standard economics textbooks. Those cycle are dying.

They’re dying because there really are Limits to Growth and we are now solidly in grips of those limits. Only we can’t recognize the way it is expressing itself, especially in political terms. What’s afoot is a not “recession” but a permanent contraction of what has been normal for a little over two hundred years. 

There is not going to be more of everything, especially profits, and the stock buyback orgy that has animated the corporate executive suites will be recognized shortly for what it is: an assest-stripping operation.

What’s happening now is a permanent contraction. Well, of course, nothing lasts forever, and the contraction is one phase of a greater transition. The cornucopians and techno-narcissists would like to think that we are transitioning into an even more lavish era of techno-wonderama — life in a padded recliner tapping on a tablet for everything

I don’t think so. Rather, we’re going medieval, and we’re doing it the hard way because there’s just not enough to go around and the swollen populations of the world are going to be fighting over what’s left.

Actually, we’ll be lucky if we can go medieval, because there’s no guarantee that the contraction has to stop there, especially if we behave really badly about it — and based on the way we’re acting now, it’s hard to be optimistic about our behavior improving. 

Going medieval would imply living within the solar energy income of the planet, and by that I don’t mean photo-voltaic panels, but rather what the planet might provide in the way of plant and animal “income” for a substantially smaller population of humans. That plus a long-term resource salvage operation.

All the grand movements of stock indexes and central banks are just a diverting sort of stagecraft within the larger pageant of this contraction. The governors of the Federal Reserve play the role of viziers in this comic melodrama. That is, they are exalted figures robed in magical Brooks Brothers summer poplin pretending to have supernatural power to control events. 

You can tell from their recent assembly out west — “A-holes at the J-hole” — that they are very much in doubt that their “powers” will continue to be taken seriously. This endless hand-wringing over a measily quarter-point interest rate hike is like some quarrel among alchemists as to whether a quarter-degree rise in temperature might render a lump of clay into a gold nugget.
What they do doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that a great deal of the notional “wealth” they conjured up over the past decade or so is about to vanish —poof! 

Perhaps that will look like a black magic act. That wealth seemed so real! The bulging portfolios with their exquisite allocations! The clever options! The cunning shorts. Especially the canny bets in dark derivative pools! All up in a vapor. 

The sad truth being it was never there in the first place. It was just an hallucination induced by the manipulation of markets and the criminal misrepresentation of statistics, especially the employment numbers.

There are rumors that the Grand Vizeress of all, Ms. Yellen, is flirting with possible indictment over the “leakage” of valuable information out of her inner circle to potential profiteers. Whoops. It may lead nowhere but to me it is an index of her more general loss of credibility. 

All year she has spouted supernaturally fallacious nonsense about how “the data” guides Fed decision-making. Only her data is contrary to what is actually happening in the pathetic Rube Goldberg contraption that the so-called US economy has become (Walmart + entitlements). 

Her “guidance” amounts to a lot of futile drum-beating on a turret of the Fed castle, hoping to make it rain prosperity. Her enigmatic utterances have kept financial markets in a narrow sideways channel most of the year until recently.

I’d say she’d lost her mojo, and the lesser viziers on the Fed board are looking more and more like the larval, sunken-chested dweebs that they really are. So where is the nation to turn? Why, to the great blustering Trump, with his “can-do” bombast about “making America great again.” 

What does he mean, exactly? Like, making America the way it was in 1958?” Behold: the return of the great steel rolling mills along the banks of the Monongahela (and so on)! Fuggeddabowdit. Ain’t gonna happen.

I have to say it again: prepare to get smaller and more local. Things on the grand level are not going to work out. 

Get your shit together locally, and do it in place that has some prospect for keeping on: a small town somewhere food can be grown and especially places near the inland waterways where some kind of commercial exchange might continue in the absence of the trucking industry. 

Sound outlandish? Okay then. Keep buying Tesla stock and party on, dudes. 

Hail the viziers in their star-and-planet bedizened Brooks Brother raiment. Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.


Fir trees damaged by Fukushima

SUBHEAD: As many as 98% of fir trees are deformed in area downwind of Fukushima Daiichi meltdown.

Edited by Juan Wilson on August 2015 for Island Breath -

[IB Publsiher's note: This article is a rewrite of material sourced from here ( and referred to by (

Image above: Arrowheads indicate the position of deleted leader shoot on Pinus sylvestris (also known as Japanese fir). At left annual whorl of 2013 at site S1, and right the winter buds of 2015 at the top of the main axis at same site .From original article.

It has been observed that over a wide area of central eastern Japan that fir trees have been deformed by mutations likely caused of radioactive materials deposited by the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (F1NPP) disaster in March of 2011.

In the areas most affected by the surface deposition of iodine-131 and cesium-134 and 137 due the meltdowns and explosions of three reactors at theF1NPP it has been observed that some Japanese fir trees, Pinus sylvestris, show morphological deformations.

Those deformed trees did not have leader shoots at there growing tips.

Image above: Needles and buds at the growing top of a normal healthy Pinus sylvestris, also known as Scots Pine) have a leader shoot between two side shoots. From (

Image above: Red arrow indicate missing leader shoot on Pinus sylvestris in Japan in areas affected by heaviest radiation from Fukushima disaster. From original article.

The National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS)  published a report on Scientific Reports of Nature on 8/28/2015 (

This report was conducted in the restricted areas where the the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has prevented residents are prevented from returning to their homes.

The area affected include the towns of Namie, Futaba and Okuma. The averaged results of the nuclide analysis provide the basis for the surface deposition densities of iodine-131 and cesium-134 and 137 per unit area (Bq/m2) at each reading point, sites S1, S2, S3 and S4 (

At site S1, between the towns of Futaba and Okuma and nearest the F1NPP, 125 of 128 trees showed branching defects of the main axis. That represented over 97% of the trees.

In the area where the atmospheric dose was 19.6 μSv/h, the deformation rate was 43.5%, and in the area where the dose was 6.85 μSv/h, the rate was 27%.

This is showing the significant connection between the atmospheric dose and the deformation rate of Japanese fir.

The deformation of Pinus sylvestris was also seen in Chernobyl accident.

After the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (F1NPP) in March 2011, much attention has been paid to the biological consequences of the released radionuclides into the surrounding area.

We investigated the morphological changes in Japanese fir, a Japanese endemic native conifer, at locations near the F1NPP. Japanese fir populations near the F1NPP showed a significantly increased number of morphological defects, involving deletions of leader shoots of the main axis, compared to a control population far from the F1NPP.

The frequency of the defects corresponded to the radioactive contamination levels of the observation sites. A significant increase in deletions of the leader shoots became apparent in those that elongated after the spring of 2012, a year after the accident. These results suggest possibility that the contamination by radionuclides contributed to the morphological defects in Japanese fir trees in the area near the F1NPP.

During the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (F1NPP) accident that occurred in March 2011, radionuclides that were released into the atmosphere contaminated the surrounding environment1,2.

Since the accident, much attention has been paid to the biological consequences of contamination by radionuclides. To detect the biological changes in the environment, various wild organisms, such as Japanese monkeys3, lycaenid butterflies4, and gall-forming aphids5, inhabiting the surrounding area have been investigated as possible indicator organisms.

However, further studies using radiation-responsive indicator organisms help us to reach a consistent conclusion, whether radiological contamination from the F1NPP accident had a biological impact on the environment.

For the purpose of biomonitoring of the radiological contamination, nevertheless, coniferous plants have been demonstrated to be suitable indicator organisms because of their high radiosensitivity, which was revealed decades ago by field examination using gamma irradiation facilities6,7,8,9.

Radiosensitive damages in conifers were reported after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, where two local coniferous species, Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Norway spruce (Picea abies), showed distinct biological damage in the radioactively contaminated areas10,11,12.

Under experimental and accidental exposure, morphological changes, particularly in branching of the main axis, were shown to be the most frequently observed radiosensitive responses of coniferous plants6,7,8,9,10,11,12.

Coniferous tree species are grown in the area highly radioactive contaminated by the F1NPP accident, where Japanese fir (Abies firma) is one of the most common naturally grown species. Different from other coniferous species, young-tree populations of Japanese fir are abundant, because this species has the characteristic ability to sprout even on the shaded forest floor.

The short height of young trees enables the easy observation of morphological changes in the whole tree. In addition, the regular annual branching of Japanese fir trees enables determination of the year that any morphological changes occurred through a number of past years (Fig. 1).

In this study, we used the Japanese fir tree as an indicator organism to detect the environmental impact of radiological contamination caused by the F1NPP accident. We examined the morphological changes in annual leader shoots for the past five years within the highly contaminated area around the F1NPP13. The investigation was carried out in January 2015 at 3 observation sites (S1, S2, and S3), at different distances from the F1NPP and with different contamination levels (Fig. 2, Table 1).

The three observation sites were situated in “Area 3” where it is expected that the residents have difficulties in returning for a long time (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry). Fir trees were also examined in a slightly contaminated control site (S4), southwest of the F1NPP.

Most of the naturally grown Japanese fir trees showed a typical monopodial branching pattern to form a trunk with one main axis (Fig. 3A), whereas some trees showed distinctive morphological defects on the main axis of the trunk (Fig. 3B,C).

Independently of the growing site, these defects were characterized by irregular branching at the whorls of the main axis with a distinct deletion of the leader shoot that normally elongates vertically to form the main axis. The space of the deleted leader shoot was filled in by the remaining lateral branches that either extended upwards (Fig. 3B) or retained their horizontal position (Fig. 3C).

Image above: Map of area to the east and north of the Fukushima showing areas of deposited radioctive elements from reactor meltdowns. From original article.

The overall frequency of the morphological defects of the main axis varied among observation sites, S1, S2, and S3, but it was significantly higher in each site compared to the control, S4 (chi-square test with df = 1, p = 2.1 × 10−58, 3.7 × 10−17, and 8.1 × 10−7, respectively, Bonferroni-corrected; Fig. 4).

The frequency corresponded to the ambient dose rate at the observation sites that represented the local levels of radionuclide contamination (S1 > S2 > S3 > S4, Table 1). A high frequency of defects was observed in S1, where 125 out of 128 trees showed branching defects of the main axis.

Branching defects of the main axis were analyzed separately in each annual whorl (Fig. 5). Compared to the whorls of 2010, which had been generated before the F1NPP accident, the frequency of deleted leader shoots was significantly increased in the whorls after 2012 (sites S1 and S3), or those after 2013 (site S2).

The frequency peaked in the whorls of 2013 and tended to decrease in the whorls of 2014 in every observation site. The variation patterns in the series of annual whorls were similar among the sites, whereas no annual variation was observed in the control site, S4.

These results indicated that the deletion of leader shoots occurred most frequently in the whorls that elongated from terminal winter buds during the growing season of 2012–2013.

Despite the significant increase in the frequency of deleted leader shoots in annual whorls around 2013 in the observation sites S1–S3, the number of lateral branches that elongated from the same whorls did not show annual variation that corresponded to the deletion frequency of leader shoots (Fig. 6).

The number of lateral branches was not different among annual whorls even in S1 (one-way ANOVA, p = 0.84), in which the frequency of leader shoot deletions varied most intensely compared to the other observation sites (Fig. 5).

On the other hand, the number of lateral branches showed significant annual variation in S2, S3, and S4 (one-way ANOVA, p = 1.4 × 10−7, 6.3 × 10−3 and 1.5 × 10−8 for S2, S3, and S4, respectively); however, the annual variation patterns were independent from the frequency of leader shoot deletions.

In addition, the variation in lateral branch number among the sites did not correspond to the frequency variation of deleted leader shoots. This indicated that the deletion of leader shoots occurred independently of the change in lateral branch number that elongated from the whorls.

Differences in the development of the leader shoots and lateral branches were also observed from a close inspection of the defected whorls. At each site, the deleted leader shoots left no marks among normal lateral branches (Fig. 7A).

Similar structures were also observed in the winter buds of 2015 at the top of the main axis, where normal lateral buds with completely deleted apical buds were sometimes observed (Fig. 7B).

These observations demonstrated that the deletion of leader shoots probably resulted from the deletion of apical buds at an early stage of their development, independently of the formation of lateral buds.

In this study, significant increases in the morphological defects were shown in Japanese fir populations growing in areas near the F1NPP. The occurrence corresponded to the radioactive contamination level represented by the ambient dose rate in each site, suggesting that the defects could be due to the exposure to ionizing radiation from the radionuclides released after the accident.

 On the other hand, deletion of leader shoots was also observed in the control site at a lower frequency, indicating that the defects were not radiation-specific, but universal. The deletion of leader shoots in the control site occurred randomly in the annual whorls and not specifically in a certain year.

Moreover, even in the highly contaminated sites, a low frequency of defects was observed before the F1NPP accident in 2011. These results suggested that the defects could also occur independently of radiation exposure.

Similar defects of the main axis have been reported in many coniferous species grown in plantations and involve the separation of trunk into two or more stems of similar size, which is called a forking defect14,15,16,17.

 Forking defects can be caused by breakage of the leader shoot due to an accidental damage, such as bird perching, animal attack, wind damage, and pathogenic disease, or due to environmental stress such as frost14.

Previous studies have shown that in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), the forking defects could also be caused by physiological control of apical dominance even in the absence of mechanical damage14,15. In this study, the observed forking defects in Japanese fir were identical to those in other coniferous tree species.

In relation to radiation effects, deletion of the leader shoots has been reported in Scots pine trees chronically exposed to radiation in a contaminated area close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant11. The trees that showed forking defects with deletion of annual leader shoots eventually formed bushy canopies without a main axis.

Another study showed that Scots pine trees in Chernobyl were characterized by the disappearance of a single trunk and replacement with two or more trunks or branches, corresponding to the estimated dose rate during the development of apical buds12.

Although the defects in pine trees close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant were not all identical to the defects observed in Japanese fir trees in the area close to the F1NPP, the information seems to support the relationship between the morphological changes in Japanese fir and the chronic exposure to radiation from released radionuclides.

Despite the correlation between the defects in Japanese fir and the radioactive contamination level, there is little biological information to support the contention that the increased frequencies of the morphological changes were due to radiation released after the F1NPP accident.

Even though the damage at the early stage of apical bud formation is suggested as the main cause of the deletion of leader shoots, there was an inexplicable 2-year time lag between 2011, the year with the highest radiation dose in the environment, and 2013, the year with the highest frequency of defects.

Consequently, processes at the cellular and tissue level involved in the deletion of leader shoots need to be elucidated in relation to the development of lateral and apical buds in coniferous plants.
As described above, there are several factors that are possibly responsible for increased frequencies of the morphological defect observed in Japanese fir populations near the F1NPP, and, at present, there is no decisive evidence that any single factor is causally related to these increased frequencies.

However, a positive correlation was observed between ambient dose rates and frequencies of the morphological defect, and these frequencies increased after the F1NPP accident while they were much lower before the accident, suggesting that, of several potential factors, ionizing radiation is most likely to have increased frequencies of the morphological defect.

To confirm this contention, dose rates to Japanese fir should be estimated in contaminated fields of Fukushima, and effects of long-term irradiation on this tree should be investigated in irradiation facilities.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Nuclear Wasteland 8/6/15 
Ea O Ka Aina: The Fukushima disaster will continue 7/16/15


GMO Corn Wars

SUBHEAD: The farm-by-farm fight between China and the United States to dominate the global food supply.

By Ted Genoways on 16 August 2015 for the New Republic -
Image above: Illustration of "Corn Wars" by Brian Stauffer. From original article.

On September 30, 2012, agents from the FBI contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago with an urgent request. They wanted bags from two passengers on an outbound flight to Beijing pulled for immediate inspection.

The passengers didn’t track as dangerous criminals: Li Shaoming, president of Beijing Kings Nower Seed Science & Technology, a large Chinese agricultural company that develops corn, rice, cotton, and canola seeds, and Ye Jian, the company’s crop research manager.

In Li’s luggage, agents found two large Pop Weaver microwave popcorn boxes. Buried under the bags of unpopped snack kernels were roughly 300 tiny manila envelopes, all cryptically numbered—2155, 2403, 20362. Inside each envelope was a single corn seed.

In Ye’s luggage, agents found more corn seeds hidden amid his clothes, each one individually wrapped in napkins from a Subway restaurant. Customs officers were dispatched to the gate area for the Beijing flight, where they found the two men and conducted body searches. Still more corn seeds, also folded into napkins, were discovered in Ye’s pockets.

Meanwhile, at a different gate, Wang Hongwei, another Chinese national believed to be in the employ of Kings Nower (agents never learned if he worked for the company or was related to someone who did), boarded a separate flight for Burlington, Vermont, where he had a car waiting for him to drive to Canada.

FBI agents were there to follow him—though Wang, after leaving the airport parking garage, made a series of abrupt turns and managed to give his surveillance team the slip. It didn’t matter.

Border patrol officers were waiting when Wang pulled up to the Highgate Springs port of entry along the U.S.-Canadian border. He was selected out for a search, which turned up 44 bags of corn seeds under his seat and in his suitcases, as well as a notebook filled with GPS coordinates and a digital camera containing hundreds of pictures of cornfields.

 Questioned by agents, Wang would say only that he had purchased the seeds from a man named Mo Hailong, the director of international business at the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group (DBN Group), the parent company of Kings Nower Seed.

Not wanting to alert Mo, agents allowed all three men to leave the country, but their corn seeds were confiscated. Special Agent Mark E. Betten, a 16-year veteran of the FBI specializing in the investigation of intellectual property theft, had the seeds sent to an independent bio-diagnostic testing laboratory, which confirmed that they were proprietary, genetically modified hybrids.

Eventually, their genetic sequencing was matched to seeds under development by Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, and LG Seeds, which, including LG’s parent company, Groupe Limagrain, comprise three of the four largest seed companies in the world. The GPS coordinates were found to correspond with farms in Iowa and Illinois, where those companies were testing the performance of new hybrids.

In December 2013, after collecting this evidence, U.S. marshals arrived at Mo’s home in Boca Raton, Florida. He was taken into custody and extradited to Iowa, where he has been under house arrest in Des Moines ever since.

The FBI also brought charges against five alleged co-conspirators, all Chinese, who remain at large, including the three men stopped by customs agents, and eventually against Mo’s sister, Mo Yun, as well. Mo and his sister are scheduled to stand trial before a federal court in Iowa in September on charges of conspiracy to steal trade secrets. If convicted, they face up to ten years in prison and a $5 million fine.

This may seem like a lot of post-September 11 cloak-and-dagger for a few corn seeds, but the U.S. government believes that something much larger is going on. This theft, they argue, stems from an undeniable and dangerous fact: Despite its remarkable landmass, China simply can’t grow enough food to feed itself, particularly now that the country’s burgeoning middle class has acquired an appetite for meat. (Most corn in China is used as feed for livestock.)

Water shortages and lack of arable terrain have forced their government to buy between two and five million metric tons of American corn annually, approximately 94 percent of all corn imported into China each year.

If China hopes to feed (and pacify) its growing population while also loosening the very real stranglehold that America has on its national food supply, its farmers have to start producing a lot more corn—not just enough to meet their domestic demand in good years but enough to maintain a stockpile to offset their global market impact during bad ones.

For decades, China has increased corn yields by putting more acres into production, but they’re running out of arable land, and the USDA now estimates that Chinese corn consumption will rise by 41 percent by 2023, far outpacing production increases.

The only tenable way for China to meet its own demand, then, is by planting high-performance hybrids, which can single-handedly double or potentially even triple per-acre corn production.

Chinese scientists haven’t developed a significant corn hybrid in years. But Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, the two American seed giants, have produced so many successful hybrids that they now control 45 percent of all the seed sold in the world.

The Department of Justice maintains that China is quietly permitting and even encouraging companies to steal American agricultural secrets right out of the ground. Acquiring the technology behind these next-generation hybrids could save companies like DBN Group—and the country—as much as a decade, and many millions of dollars, in research.

nd, plant geneticists familiar with the case told me, the very fact that Kings Nower Seed has brought to market—and intended to bring more—products with stolen genetics hints that the Chinese government is complicit. The theft is not hard to detect or prove; the only way that DBN Group could hope to get away with this scheme is if China were pushing such spying as a matter of policy.

In fact, a 2011 report prepared by the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, which advises the president on intelligence matters related to national security, listed “agricultural technology” among the targets “likely to be of greatest interest” to spies from Russia and China.

“Surging prices for food,” the report stated, “may increase the value of and interest in collecting U.S. technologies related to crop production, such as genetic engineering, improved seeds, and fertilizer.”

Since that report, the Department of Justice has cracked down, successfully prosecuting Chinese national Kexue Huang for stealing secrets related to organic fertilizer production and an unidentified “new food product” while he was employed at both Dow AgroSciences and Cargill, as well as Weiqiang Zhang, for theft of genetically engineered rice seeds from Colorado-based Ventria Bioscience.

What makes the case against Mo Hailong stand out is that the FBI openly acknowledges that each step of its operation, each escalation of surveillance, was approved by a federal judge under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires that the investigating agency provide evidence that wiretapping is “necessary, or relevant, to the ability of the United States to protect against foreign threats to national security, such as attack, sabotage, terrorism, or clandestine intelligence activities.”

The federal government, thereby, has implicitly acknowledged that it considers agricultural products both an asset and a weapon in a long-range geopolitical chess match with China, a resource of near-military value and importance, one that must be protected by all available means.

By that logic, those Chinese nationals stealing corn are spies, no different—and, indeed, perhaps more important—than those who swipe plans for a new weapons system.

This may, at first glance, appear melodramatic—like Homeland in the heartland—but it is striking that the Department of Justice did not invoke FISA measures (at least not openly) in carrying out similar investigations into Dongfan Chung, a former Boeing engineer who stole trade secrets related to the Delta IV rocket and the Air Force’s C-17 aircraft, or Qing Li, who conspired to procure 30 military accelerometers, which, according to the government, “have applications in smart bombs, missiles, and calibrating g-forces of nuclear explosions.”

When asked about the extraordinary use of FISA in this case, Nick Klinefeldt, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, who is prosecuting Mo, chose his words carefully. “The agriculture industry is important,” he said. “It’s important not just to the state of Iowa but to the United States.”

In announcing the charges against Mo last July, Thomas R. Metz, special agent in charge of the Omaha Division of the FBI, went still further, saying that “identifying and deterring those focused on stealing trade secrets, propriety [sic] and confidential information, or national security information is the number two priority for the FBI, second only to terrorism.”

Think about that: The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI now contend, in effect, that the theft of genetically modified corn technology is as credible a threat to national security as the spread to nation-states of the technology necessary to deliver and detonate nuclear warheads.

Disturbingly, they may be right. As the global population continues to climb and climate change makes arable soil and water for irrigation ever more scarce, the world’s next superpower will be determined not just by which country has the most military might but also, and more importantly, by its mastery of the technology required to produce large quantities of food.

The bureau’s investigation of Mo Hailong began only after Mo made a stunning blunder. It was early May 2011, and Mo and Wang Lei, vice chairman of Kings Nower Seed at the time, were driving country roads in Tama County, Iowa, allegedly searching for a DuPont Pioneer test field.

But apparently uncertain if he was in the right place or unsure of what kind of seed DuPont Pioneer was testing, Mo had Wang pull to the edge of a field, so they could question a farmer in the midst of spring planting. Mo and Wang told the farmer they had been attending an international agricultural conference at Iowa State and wanted to see someone planting a real cornfield. The farmer was dubious.

Ames was nearly an hour away with nothing but expanses of cornfields in between, all at the peak of planting season. How had these two men chanced upon his field on the very day that he happened to be planting an experimental and top-secret seed under development by DuPont Pioneer?

The next day, a DuPont Pioneer field manager spotted the same car. He watched Mo scramble up the ditch bank, and then kneel down in the dirt and begin digging corn seeds out of the ground.

When confronted by the field manager, Mo grew flustered and red-faced. He now claimed to be a researcher from the University of Iowa—not Iowa State—on his way to a conference.

But before the field manager could question him further, Mo fled. He jumped into the waiting car, and Wang took off, swerving through the grassy ditch before fishtailing onto the gravel road and speeding away.

A few weeks later, agents from the Iowa office of the FBI sat down with DuPont Pioneer representatives for a standing meeting (which itself says something about the importance our law enforcement officials place on our corn) at their corporate headquarters in Johnston, Iowa, a northern suburb of Des Moines.

A DuPont Pioneer executive mentioned the incident and explained that the company enters into exclusive contracts with farmers to grow proprietary and often genetically engineered seeds. The exact genetic sequence of successful seeds is a tightly held secret, worth many millions of dollars.

The DuPont Pioneer field manager had written down the license plate number and handed it over to company security.

Multinational food conglomerates like DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto have sizable security forces and highly efficient investigatory networks. They traced the plates back to a rental car company at the Kansas City airport. Representatives there said the car had been rented by Mo Hailong.

According to court documents, an unnamed vice president and general manager from DuPont Pioneer’s Chinese subsidiary told the FBI he already had reason to believe that Kings Nower Seed was somehow stealing the company’s experimental seeds in order to raise clones for sale to Chinese farmers.

DuPont Pioneer had recently discovered that one of DBN Group’s best-selling corn seed products in China shared genetic sequencing with a male parent line that the company had genetically engineered.

The executive had confronted a DBN Group executive, sarcastically congratulating him on the success of their product. The Chinese executive had allegedly cracked a knowing smile and nodded, which the DuPont executive had taken as a tacit admission. The FBI agreed to investigate.

Four months later, while the FBI was still looking into the Tama incident, a call came into the sheriff’s office in Polk County, Iowa, with a report of three Asian males walking around a cornfield in Bondurant, just outside of Des Moines.

Despite the strangeness of such a call, the responding deputy hurried to the field, approached the men, and took down their names: Mo Hailong Robert (Mo occasionally used the alias Robert Mo), Wang Lei, and Li Shaoming, the CEO of Kings Nower Seed.

The men acknowledged that they were Chinese seed growers but claimed they were there to offer advice to the owner of the farm. When the FBI learned of the report—and recognized Mo’s name—they dispatched an agent from the Omaha field office to interview the farmer. He had never heard of the three men, much less sought their advice. He told the agent he didn’t even know what kind of corn he was growing, other than to say he was under contract to Monsanto.

Soon after, a Monsanto field representative confirmed that this, too, was a test site for a new parent seed the company had under development.

With an emerging picture of what Mo was up to, the FBI began tracking his movements—and soon discovered that he and Wang were intending to travel together to Des Moines for events held in connection with the World Food Prize.

The morning after their arrival, on February 15, 2012, the security team at DuPont Pioneer called the FBI to report “they were confident” (in the words of the subsequent report) that Mo, using an alias and fake corporate affiliation, had joined a delegation visiting their headquarters.

The FBI collected the surveillance video of the tour inside DuPont Pioneer’s research lab and also identified Mo on corresponding security footage from the delegation’s tour of a Monsanto research facility in Ankeny later in the day. That night, agents tracked Mo to a state dinner hosted by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad in honor of Xi Jinping, then the vice president of China and now the president.

The next day, Mo and Wang went together to a sports bar near the hotel where they were staying in the Des Moines suburbs. They met up with Xaoming Bao, a Chinese seed executive and former DuPont Pioneer employee whose wife was employed by the company as a corn-genetics researcher.

FBI investigators could now demonstrate that Mo had, on two separate occasions, sought to obtain experimental seeds by collecting them from secret test sites, and furthermore, it appeared he had gained the information about how to find those locations by working with corporate insiders.

The FBI also discovered that while he was in Iowa, Mo had shipped hundreds of pounds of packages from a West Des Moines UPS location to his home in Boca Raton. The contents listed on the tracking sheet: “corn samples.”

Image above: Drought-resistant corn hybrids on display at a DuPont Pioneer sales center near Cairo, Nebraska. From original article.

The theft of high-performing corn seeds from a competitor’s fields is as old as the cultivation of corn. “They say that a good plant breeder always had lots of pockets,” said Donald J. Lee, a professor and plant geneticist in the department of agronomy and horticulture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “And when he would go visit his neighbor’s plant breeding fields, they always came back full.”

Until recently, farmers were their own seed providers. Lee told me his grandfather, a farmer in Iowa a century ago, would select ears from each harvest to provide the seed for planting the next year. He recorded the quality of his yield, slowly identifying a set of seed characteristics that seemed to produce the best crop. In those days, it was not unusual for family and friends to share seed stock.

 “Maybe a neighbor would say, ‘Hey, I really did good with this seed that I got from a cousin in eastern Iowa. You should try a little of this,’” Lee said. “But they were all open-pollinated populations, so those seeds were not genetically identical. In fact, probably every seed was genetically distinct.”

So much genetic variability meant that farmers like Lee’s grandfather would cross two varieties and get large, robust ears one year, only to find that the same two varieties produced scraggly cobs with missing kernels and dead tips the next. “So if you take a look at the historic yields of corn in Iowa and Nebraska during the teens, the twenties, the thirties—it’s flat,” he said.

That all changed with the arrival of Henry A. Wallace, the founder of Pioneer Hi-Bred Seeds, who Lee described as “the Bill Gates of the seed industry.”

Wallace, the son of the longtime president of the Cornbelt Meat Producers, first encountered the problem of genetic variation while studying corn breeding at Iowa State Agricultural College.

Rediscovering Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking research on pea pods, Wallace had the key insight that the only solution to producing hearty corn hybrids was to first create genetically pure inbred varieties that could be used as “parents” year after year.

Wallace initially worried that such an approach “was probably impractical because of the difficulty of doing the hand-pollinating work,” but he was won over by a paper published in 1918 by Donald Jones, a chemist at the Connecticut Agricultural Station’s experimental farm. Jones had successfully inbred two separate varieties of corn and then crossed them to produce a durable, high-performing hybrid.

Wallace recognized that this was the key to creating seed corn with consistently higher yields, but the old problem remained: Producing these hybrids would be far too complex for the average farmer to undertake alone.

Wallace began to envision an organized way of breeding and distributing high-performing corn seed to farmers across the Midwest. A man of unusual commitment to the common good, he wrote a friend that he did not consider himself a corn breeder but rather “a searcher for methods of bringing the ‘inner light’ to outward manifestation.”

So Wallace at first conceived of a nonprofit organization, potentially run with government cooperation and even public funding. In 1921, his father, Henry C. Wallace, was appointed secretary of agriculture and might have helped spearhead such an effort.

But after his father died unexpectedly at age 58 and Calvin Coolidge settled into the laissez-faire years of his presidency, Wallace saw little chance of an ambitious national program gaining traction. He decided instead, in May 1926, to start the Hi-Bred Corn Company—the world’s first hybrid seed producer.

To interest farmers, Roswell Garst, Wallace’s lead salesman, who later became a major seed producer in his own right, went from one farm to the next, across 16 counties in western Iowa, giving away enough eight-pound sample bags of Hi-Bred seeds for farmers to plant half their fields.

Whatever additional yield the hybrid corn produced, Pioneer would split fifty-fifty with the farmer. After several years, farmers realized that they would see greater profits by simply buying the bags of seeds, instead of sharing the surplus yield with the company.

Those shared harvests produced something even more valuable than profit for the young company: information about how the seeds performed under different growing conditions. Wallace directed a sizable chunk of his revenue back into research, hiring a team of new corn breeders to devise still more hybrids.

In the early 1930s, Perry Collins, one of Wallace’s researchers, developed Hybrid 307—the first corn specifically developed and marketed for drought-resistance, hitting seed dealerships just as the country spiraled into the Dust Bowl.

And when Wallace was, like his father, appointed secretary of agriculture, by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, he finally had the resources to nationally evangelize for hybrid seed, which he believed had the potential to rescue the nation from the Great Depression.

The transformation that followed was staggering. When Wallace joined Roosevelt’s cabinet, less than 1 percent of America’s corn came from hybrid seeds. A decade later, more than three-quarters of all corn was grown from hybrids—nearly doubling the national per-acre yield over the next 20 years.

To keep this record output from depressing corn prices, Wallace created the “ever-normal granary,” under which the federal government would establish a federal grain reserve.

In years of high production, the Department of Agriculture would buy corn and store it to keep prices up. In years of crop loss, the government would release the reserve to keep prices down. Wallace’s plan was hugely popular, stabilizing American food prices—and winning him a spot as FDR’s running mate in 1940.

But Wallace’s remarkable Hi-Bred Corn had one significant drawback: It consumed far more nitrogen compounds from the soil than ordinary corn—more, in fact, than almost any other crop. During the war years, the government solved the problem by simply putting more acres into production, but after World War II, the Department of Agriculture found a different solution.

Giant chemical manufacturers, like DuPont and Monsanto, had secured wartime defense contracts to produce ammonia nitrate and anhydrous ammonia to make bombs and other munitions. They had developed an herbicide known as 2,4-D as a potential destroyer of German crops and manufactured the insecticide DDT to prevent the spread of typhus-carrying lice among GIs.

As soon as the war was over, DuPont turned to marketing those same chemicals for lawn and garden use as fertilizer, weed killer, and DuPont 5% DDT Insect Spray. Company advertisements from the period touted their products as “Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry.”

But gardens were just the tip of the iceberg. DuPont, along with other giant chemical manufacturers like Dow and Monsanto, teamed up with the grain cartels, including Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, to lobby for congressional support for producing these compounds as large-scale agri-chemicals.

In 1953, the industry found its greatest ally, when Ezra Taft Benson took over as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture. (Wallace, by then, had retired from public life. He was briefly the editor of the New Republic before making a failed bid for the presidency in 1948.)

Benson, a high-ranking member of the Mormon Church and a fanatical Red Scare Republican, immediately informed Eisenhower that he was philosophically opposed to the government price supports developed by Wallace, because, to his mind, they were tantamount to socialism. He publicly referred to small farmers as “irresponsible feeders at the public trough.”

Foreshadowing today’s aggressive, pro-corporate agricultural policies, Benson argued that the only way to outcompete the collective farms of the Soviet Union and Red China was to use our superior corn and chemical technology to the fullest.

The United States could, if it chose, overproduce corn to drive down international prices, and it could use the surplus as a tool of diplomatic leverage in the form of foreign aid. Instead of guns, the United States began to give our allies grain—transforming, for the first time, a food product into a weapon in the national arsenal. The only problem was that by effectively militarizing American agriculture, Benson made agri-tech a target for foreign spying.

In April 2012, Mo flew from his home in Florida to O’Hare International Airport and rented a car. An FBI surveillance team followed him as he drove along back roads through rural Illinois and northern Indiana. After about a week of this, Mo stopped one day at a farm near Monee, Illinois, advertising DuPont Pioneer seeds for sale.

The farmer there later told the FBI that Mo had asked about what types of corn and soybeans he could buy, explaining that he had purchased 40 acres nearby and was planning to plant the property. The surveillance team followed Mo to a farm about 15 minutes west of Monee, where, a review of property records soon revealed, Kings Nower Seed had purchased a parcel for $600,000 only the month before.

As agents watched Mo crisscross the Midwest, stopping at seed stores to inquire about different products, they began to suspect that he planned to plant the Illinois acreage by hand. Donald J. Lee, the University of Nebraska professor, compares stealing parent seeds to obtaining programming code without knowing what application it is intended for or what operating system it’s meant to run on.

Likewise, knowing the genetic structure of a corn seed is just one part of the problem. “You don’t know the importance of those genes, unless you have yield data,” said Lee. “When did the plant mature? What’s its development profile? How did it respond to such-and-such disease?” This is what Mo appeared to be doing: setting up his own covert test farm, one that he could oversee personally.

FBI surveillance teams followed Mo to Crossroads Ag, a DuPont Pioneer seed dealer in Dallas Center, Iowa, and observed him loading bags of seeds into his trunk. When investigators questioned the owner, he said Mo paid in cash—more than $1,500—for six bags of Pioneer Hi-Bred corn seeds.

He said Mo had been purchasing seed there for two years, always asking for DuPont Pioneer’s “latest products,” but this year he had arrived with a detailed list.

The owner had told Mo that he wasn’t supposed to sell him some of the specific products he was asking for, unless he had a contract agreement with DuPont Pioneer, which the owner knew he didn’t.

The next day, FBI surveillance watched Mo repeat the process, buying six bags of DeKalb brand seed corn, a Monsanto product, at MFA Agri Services in Pattonsburg, Missouri.

Finally, the team followed Mo back to Adel, Iowa, where Mo unloaded some of the seed bags at a storage facility before driving on to the farm in Illinois where the remaining bags were unloaded and, the FBI believes, seeds may have been planted.

About one out of every 200 seeds in a bag of hybrid corn seed is a parent, which can be identified by planting the bag and then collecting kernels from whichever plants look different from the rest.

Investigators believe Mo may have been collecting some parent seeds this way.

Later, when Mo and two DBN Group employees attempted to FedEx the remaining corn seeds to an associate in Hong Kong, the FBI intercepted the packages and conducted a search of the five boxes. Each contained eight or nine gallon-sized baggies filled with seed corn, along with a handwritten numerical code identifying each hybrid.

The FBI has not revealed exactly when they applied to a FISA court for more broad-ranging investigatory powers, but the FBI’s court filings show that their information on Mo and his associates became much more detailed after meetings with DuPont Pioneer executives over the summer.

Top executives told agents that “the loss of an inbred line of seed would result in losing approximately five to eight years of research and a minimum of $30 to $40 million dollars, potentially much more.”

After that, the FBI tapped the men’s mobile phones and tracked Mo’s bank records. They collected their email from Yahoo, Google, and Hotmail, corporate documents from DropBox, and thousands of files from Mo’s Apple iCloud account. The FBI used Mo’s mobile phone to track his movements, bugged his rental cars to eavesdrop on his conversations, and installed a video camera outside the storage unit in Adel.

To exercise such investigatory power, the FBI had to argue that Mo was an “agent of a foreign power”—or, in other words, to persuade a judge that Mo might be acting on behalf not just of DBN Group but at the direction of the People’s Republic of China.

With that, the FBI had the authority to treat Mo as if he were the leader of a state-sponsored Chinese spy ring. (Klinefeldt, the U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, was evasive about whether that suspicion proved substantive. “When you start an investigation,” he said, “you don’t know exactly where it will lead.”)

FBI investigators soon got the explicit evidence they needed to make arrests. Over a listening device installed in an Enterprise rental car, the surveillance team recorded a bizarre and inept conversation between two of Mo’s associates from DBN Group, Lin Yong and Ye Jian.

In the translated transcript, submitted as part of the government’s case, the two men are consumed by worry that they are being followed and about the charges they could face if caught. So, as they drive around rural Illinois looking for DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto test fields from which to steal, they begin making a list of the crimes they have committed.

After some back and forth, they come up with trespassing for every time they have slipped onto private property, larceny for the seeds and ears they have been stealing from the fields, and multiple violations of intellectual property protections.

“These are actually very serious offenses,” Lin says.

“They could treat us as spies!” Ye interjects.

Lin, exasperated, responds: “That is what we’ve been doing!”

Soon after, with the harvest season nearly complete, Mo seems to have decided it was time to send to China what corn he and his associates had collected. The group drove back to the secret Illinois farm and began discussing how they would divvy up the seeds.

Some would go into checked bags bound for Beijing, others would be carried to a car and driven across the border from Vermont into Canada, and some would go with Mo back to Florida, where he would ship them to China. With tickets booked for departure the following morning, the five men readied their caches of seeds—Li deciding to stash his under packets of Pop Weaver microwave popcorn.

The whole group then piled into a white minivan and drove into Monee to eat at the local Subway. On their way out, one of the men, perhaps Ye, must have stuffed his pockets full of napkins.

When Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev visited the United States at President Eisenhower’s invitation in 1959, he specifically requested to see only one man: Roswell Garst, the former Pioneer seed salesman for Henry A. Wallace, who was then head of Garst and Thomas Hi-Bred Corn Company. Khrushchev had met Garst once before, when he visited the Soviet Union, and had become obsessed by the potential of hybrid corn. Khrushchev and his wife spent a day at Garst’s farm near Coon Rapids, Iowa.

In his memoirs, Khrushchev later wrote, “Garst gave me an entire lecture on agriculture,” in which he earnestly explained that American farmers had stopped worrying about crop rotation. “Science today considers that approach outdated. And I think so, too,” Garst told the Soviet leader. In past years, planting the same crop repeatedly would have attracted pests and depleted the soil of nitrogen.

“Now there is no such problem. We have herbicides and other such chemical substances that make it possible to combat pests,” Garst said. And there was no longer any need to plant clover or alfalfa to accumulate nitrogen. “It is more profitable for me to buy nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, in mix form, and add this fertilizer.”

On that same official visit, Ezra Taft Benson led Khrushchev on a tour of the U.S. Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland. Benson, in his official remarks, said that there was a “constant give-and-take of information between government scientists and those in private industry,” adding that “we are all working together within the framework of our capitalistic free-enterprise society to benefit our farmers, all our citizens, and people throughout the world.”

He listed hybrid corn first among the achievements of such cooperative efforts and introduced white-coated lab researchers who extolled the virtues of 2,4-D and chemical fertilizers. Khrushchev was unimpressed by a visit he made to a farm owned by President Eisenhower, dismissing it as “not on a scale such as we have at our collective farms and state farms.”

Benson later remembered that Khrushchev bragged, “We won’t have to fight you. We’ll so weaken your economy until you fall like overripe fruit into our hands.” Benson vowed that American farms would outproduce the Soviets through superior chemistry.

By the end of the Eisenhower era, however, environmentalists began to raise concerns about the hundreds of commercial herbicides and pesticides being applied to American crops in quantities totaling hundreds of millions of pounds.

Benson admonished doubters that “abandoning the use of chemicals on farms and in the food industry would result in an immediate decline in the quantity and overall quality of our food supply and cause a rapid rise in food prices paid by the consumer.”

Even when Rachel Carson documented connections between DDT and 2,4-D and elevated incidence rates of rare forms of cancer in Silent Spring, Benson remained unmoved. He is said to have written to Eisenhower wondering “why a spinster with no children was so concerned with genetics,” and then, as if to answer his own question, offered that Carson was “probably a Communist.” (The Eisenhower Presidential Library, for what it’s worth, contains no record of this letter.)

Benson’s war on the “socialist” price supports and farm aid programs instituted by Henry A. Wallace stalled out during the liberal-minded 1960s. But at the advent of the new decade, President Richard Nixon appointed Earl Butz, Benson’s former assistant, to become the new secretary of agriculture.

Butz had grown up on a farm in Indiana and spent 30 years teaching agricultural economics at Purdue before becoming dean of the university’s College of Agriculture. Many small farmers hated him, because he had been such a vocal advocate for turning family farming into big business during the Eisenhower administration. His refrain for those families, famously, was: “Get big or get out.”

Almost as soon as Butz won approval from Congress, he canceled payments for fallow land and urged farmers to “plant fencerow to fencerow,” promising to use the emerging global economy to buttress against low prices. If our supply threatened futures, we would simply go to the world market and use our size and economic might to meet the demand and forge foreign dependence on American food in the bargain. We would defeat the Communists by making them dependent on us to feed themselves.

In January 1972, Butz sold what amounted to our entire grain reserve to the Soviets. The following month, Nixon went to China and brokered a deal with Chairman Mao Zedong, allowing the importation of American corn and securing contracts for American companies to build 13 of the world’s largest ammonia-processing plants for producing fertilizer on Chinese soil.

America’s Communist foes regarded these moves as an agreement not to wage war through food. But Butz discussed these moves in terms of “agri-power,” and stated it plainly: “Food is a weapon.” To open a new front in the conflict, he supported maintaining American food superiority through yet another innovation: bioengineering feed, such as corn and soybeans.

Through the miracle of science, the United States would not only produce more crops than our rivals; we would produce better crops. By 1972, scientists had already developed the ability to cut and splice protein strands in the DNA sequences of bacteria. If they could do the same with plant cells, then they could chemically insert resistance to weeds and insects.

Less than five years later, a team from the University of Washington discovered that a bacterium that causes tumorlike growths on plants did so by inserting its own DNA into the cell nuclei of its host plant. What they had discovered was essentially a natural form of gene splicing. By the 1980s, researchers had devised techniques for removing the bacteria genes and inserting desirable DNA sequences.

The U.S. government recognized this as technology the Soviets and Chinese could not match. Monsanto was also quick to see the market opportunity. The company had grown with the production of 2,4-D and its descendant 2,4,5-T, which were then combined to produce Agent Orange to defoliate forest cover during the Vietnam War.

In 1970, in an effort to come up with an even stronger plant killer, Monsanto chemist John E. Franz hit upon an herbicide called glyphosate, which was marketed under the trade name Roundup and had seen unmatched growth in broadleaf weed control in the agricultural industry.

The only problem with Roundup: It was such an effective herbicide that farmers had to apply it carefully, spraying only early sprouting weeds, to avoid exterminating their crops.

Monsanto’s engineers set about searching for a gene that would allow crops to survive exposure to Roundup. They found it in the wastewater-treatment plant of one of their own glyphosate production plants in Louisiana, where workers had noticed a range of bacteria thriving despite exposure to Roundup—and one, under lab testing, displayed total immunity to glyphosate pesticides.

By 1996, Monsanto had commercially introduced soybeans that had been genetically modified to resist glyphosate—what the company termed “Roundup Ready.”

Next, researchers set to trying to find a genetic-engineering solution to the European corn borer, an insect that inflicted more than $1 billion in losses of corn production in the U.S. and Canada each year. Since the 1960s, endotoxins produced by Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a common bacteria found in the soil, had been sold as a commercial microbial insecticide to kill moth larvae.

If the specific DNA that produced Bt toxins could be isolated and spliced into corn genetic sequences, scientists believed they could create an ear of corn that would be lethal to the European corn borer. Soon, that hurdle had been cleared, and Monsanto began looking for a seed partner to market its pest-resistant corn. If it could marry its genetic modifications with Pioneer’s hybrid seeds, Monsanto believed it would have a corn seed with unmatched yield potential.

In the early 1990s, perhaps too eager to demonstrate the effectiveness of its new GMO crops, Monsanto allowed Pioneer to use its biotech to produce Roundup Ready soybeans and Bt corn—asking only for small usage fees and no royalties.

For less than $40 million, Pioneer suddenly had the technology and the sales muscle to move toward genetically modified feed crops, a growth market worth many billions of dollars. Rather than partner with Monsanto, Pioneer became its greatest competitor, entering into a joint venture with DuPont, called Optimum Quality Grains.

In response, Monsanto launched a series of bitter and protracted lawsuits, and eventually, in 1999, Pioneer sold its entire remaining stock to DuPont (thus changing the name to DuPont Pioneer). In 2002, all eleven lawsuits were settled at once—as DuPont Pioneer realized that it had more to gain by paying for Monsanto’s genetics and focusing on capturing the Chinese market.

In the years since, DuPont Pioneer has increased its share of the corn-seed market in China from less than a tenth of a percent to 12 percent. (Monsanto has a 1 percent market share.) DuPont Pioneer has told Chinese officials that they should Americanize their agriculture: consolidate land, plant GMO seed, apply industrial fertilizers, subsidize the sale of planting and harvest equipment.

This way, the company argues, China could dramatically increase its per-acre yield. William S. Niebur, who leads DuPont Pioneer’s operations in China, told the Des Moines Register last year that officials have listened to these recommendations with an “open ear.”

n March 2015, Mo Hailong’s attorneys filed a motion to suppress all evidence gathered from the secret recordings made of Mo and his associates, arguing that the authorization to gather those materials should never have been granted.

In order to legally justify the use of FISA, surveillance must target an “agent of a foreign power,” and the purpose of the surveillance must be to gather “foreign intelligence information.”

Mo’s attorneys argue there is no evidence that Mo is an agent of the Chinese government or that his company is backed by China, so for “the first time in the statute’s history (as far as our research reveals), the [U.S.] government used FISA to investigate a trade secret dispute between two privately owned companies.”

When it comes to the Chinese form of capitalism, the line is undeniably murky. The government has taken a strong hand in recent years in encouraging the growth of China’s agricultural sector.

In 2013, for example, China’s Shuanghui International entered an overvalue bid to buy Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest producer of pork. Under questioning by Congress, Smithfield insisted the purchase came without the urging or backing of the Chinese government.

But after the purchase received congressional approval, Nathan Halverson at the Center for Investigative Reporting discovered that the Bank of China, the state bank of the Chinese government, had approved the $4 billion loan for Shuanghui to purchase Smithfield in a single day—and in China, Shuanghui has touted the support the government is giving them.

In the wake of that purchase, the Chinese government has been actively consolidating the country’s seed companies, which currently number more than 5,000.

This consolidation would centralize research, improving China’s ability to develop its own hybrids to compete with giants like DuPont and Monsanto, and it would also allow China to mimic the field-to-slaughter vertical integration that has given meat producers like Smithfield and Cargill such an advantage in the United States. DBN Group is a notable example of a seed company that is booming thanks to consolidation and government assistance.

Founded in 1994 by seed-tech whiz kid Shao Genhuo, DBN Group has recently acquired more than 30 feed operations from the Chinese government, and the company runs China Farmer University jointly with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

By targeting Mo and his sister Mo Yun as the leaders of the spy ring, the FBI may hope to incriminate Shao (who is married to Mo Yun)—and, ultimately, implicate Chinese agriculture ministers.

But the U.S. government’s argument that the technology behind Roundup Ready soybeans and Bt corn constitutes not just trade secrets but national security secrets is a problematic one.

Companies like DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto like to maintain that they are striving only to feed a burgeoning global population.

Last year, Niebur, of DuPont Pioneer China, asked, “Without China’s food security, how can we ever imagine an effective, realistic, sustainable global food-security system?” But DuPont Pioneer’s goal, of course, is not global food security or feeding the Chinese people, but rather increasing market share and profit by keeping China as a customer.

And the Department of Justice has taken up the argument that such a goal is not only of importance to our economy but a matter of national security, an unsettling conflation of the interests of large corporations with that of the country itself.

Today, it’s estimated that 92 percent of American corn and 94 percent of American soybeans are GMOs, almost all of it produced by Monsanto or DuPont Pioneer, and again, nearly half of the seed sold globally.

Activists in both China and the United States have raised concerns about just two corporations having so much influence over the world food supply, with so little transparency. (Despite repeated requests, DuPont Pioneer declined to participate in this story.)

But these fears, while well founded, miss the larger point of what such companies represent: the intent of the U.S. government to use food as an ever-more powerful point of leverage to wield over large, increasingly hungry nations like China. The prosecution of Mo Hailong and his circle stands as a warning to the Chinese government, issued through its proxy companies.

The ears in the field, the seeds in the ground, even the pollen on the wind, are American-owned and American-protected.

They are available to the world as food only if you agree to our conditions and are willing to pay our price.


Energy exec sees distributed power

SUBHEAD: Duke Energy Ex-CEO wants to power the world with local distributed clean alternative energy.

By Bill Loveless on on 23 August 2015 for USA Today -

Image above: Duke Energy's Oconee Nuclear Plant near Seneca N.C. Duke says a rate increase is needed cover $141 million for safety and security measures at its nuclear station near Seneca N.C. From (

Jim Rogers spent 25 years as the chief executive of electric and natural gas utilities in the U.S., the last seven as head of Duke Energy, the biggest electric power company in the country.

Now, in his retirement from the energy business, Rogers has taken on a new mission: Bringing electricity to the 1.2 billion people in the world who live without it.

In a new book, Lighting the World, Rogers calls for new steps by governments, financial institutions and entrepreneurs to bring light to remote areas in Africa and other regions where flickering candles and dangerous kerosene lamps are often the only options at night.

The book, which publisher St. Martin's Press plans to release Tuesday, lays out a vision that eschews the traditional approach to spreading electricity of constructing large coal, gas and nuclear power plants, and promotes instead a reliance on local production, small-scale connections and alternative forms of energy, such as solar panels, whose costs are coming down.

That may seem surprising coming from someone once responsible for developing and maintaining tens of billions of dollars in generating stations and transmission lines. But Rogers, who stepped down as Duke's CEO in 2013, says it shouldn't be.

"We can't bring electricity to the rural areas of the world using an old-fashioned industrial grid based on building more coal plants and running copper lines from timber pole to timber pole across Sub-Saharan Africa, or running cables underwater to connect the archipelago of Indonesia," Rogers writes. "The environment and financial impediments make that impossible.

Instead, we'll do it with modern technology: solar and other clean energy sources, new kinds of batteries, LED lights, efficient cook stoves and TVs, and plenty of innovations that now are surfacing."

Rogers and his co-author Stephen Williams, offer a number of examples of grass-roots efforts which are slowly introducing solar lamps and small solar-panel systems to villages and homes in Africa, India and other regions. Among them are Solar Sister, which trains women as sales agents for solar systems in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria, and Green Villages, which for small fees provides solar lamps in remote parts of India as well as local solar charging stations for cell phones.

Rogers himself is the co-founder of the Global BrightLight Foundation, a non-profit organization that has distributed more than 60,000 combination solar lanterns and phone chargers in eight countries including Rwanda, Uganda, Haiti and Guatemala.

But all of these efforts, while commendable, are insufficient, he says. To scale up the response, Rogers calls for governments in the low-income world to designate locally owned and operated franchises with exclusive rights to sell solar systems and other energy services within specified areas, a move he says would enable private companies to attract the capital necessary to bring electricity to the people.

"What is missing today is the political will to create these franchise areas alongside the state-owned utilities," he says. "As of now, the state-owned enterprises don't have the capital to expand into rural areas. These franchises will let private business raise those funds. There's enough money available in government aid programs, investment capital, and development finance to address the issue."

Rogers criticizes the World Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Obama administration for programs that aim to electrify poor nations, but focus primarily on massive central power stations controlled by state enterprises.

"Right now, the U.S. program, called Power Africa, is only using $1 billion of $7 billion allocated for the program for distributed, renewable generation in rural areas," Rogers says. "I think much more of this money should flow to those underserved areas. We have to convince government agencies that they'll get more bang for every dollar invested in distributed energy generation than from grid-based systems."

Ultimately, the U.S. and other Western nations may learn from electricity innovations in the Third World as they seek solutions to curbing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, he adds. After all, it's easier to build a new sort of electricity network from the ground up than to overhaul an older, massive system.

"I try to keep the rural poor in mind when I think about power. First, I feel grateful for what we have here in the United States, which became nearly fully electrified back in the 1930s and 1940s, under the federal government's Rural Utilities Service. And second, I feel obligated to help bring electric power to those around the world who don't have it. But I hope to find a way to deliver it that doesn't involve the heavy pollution of power plants, or the complex grid of electrical wires,"

Rogers says;
"It's very clear to me that the system of electric power we have in North America and Europe, which is now being instituted in much of China and India and elsewhere, is not sustainable for the future of the planet. So we're going to have to figure out something else, and soon."

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