Reviewed by Dan Verner
We might be poisoning ourselves.
No, not by drinking water contaminated by some terrorist group, nor by unseen drones spraying toxic chemicals over populated areas.
Rather, there’s good evidence that we are doing great harm to ourselves, our children, our livestock and our environment because of the food we eat.
That’s the sobering and compelling message of The Poison Planters, by D.C.-area authors Charles Sutherland and Jonathan Slevin, who trace the history of chemical companies’ movement from chemical to agricultural products, chiefly through GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). The story is couched in a modern-day parable following the fortunes (and misfortunes) of Laura Brett, a young PhD biologist who becomes involved in a seminar on GMOs at the University of Virginia led by former CIA Director Michael Riley after her nephew is diagnosed with cancer which is likely tied to the food he has consumed. Together Brett and Riley investigate the political, social and health ramifications of agribusinesses’ involvement in places as far afield as Africa, Mexico and China as the novel builds to a climax worthy of any technothriller. Indeed, this might be a new form that could be called an “agrothriller.”
While a work of fiction, The Poison Planters is loaded with references to scientific studies questioning the safety of GMO crops. It uses incidents from current events, including giant seed companies suing farmers for replanting seed from crops grown from modified seeds. If the farmers do not pay for the “re-seeds,” they are often ruined financially and their farms sold to agrobusinesses.
I am not a biologist or a scientist, but I found the authors’ arguments compelling. Of course organisms have been modified genetically for centuries through cross-breeding, but manipulation of genes is a different matter altogether. I certainly don’t discount the many marvels of science, but I think we do have to be careful. Our lives are at stake.
I came away from this book with a resolve to educate myself further about this matter, and to move to organic foods. The best advice I can give all of us when it comes to food (and other commodities) is to buy local. There are several farmers markets in Prince William and Manassas which deserve our support. It’s best for them and best for us.