In 2002, a most unlikely book came out: an oversized, lushly produced, coffee-table tome on the ills of mass-scale, chemical-intensive agriculture.

Grandly titled Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture, the book contained stark photos of highly mechanized, monocrop farming, along with pungent, probing essays by Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and other seminal thinkers of the agrarian school.

I got my hands on Fatal Harvest when I first started farming in 2004. It helped crystallize and shape my ideas around agriculture, providing me with a vocabulary and a tradition from which to begin writing.

Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, was the force and vision behind Fatal Harvest. A lawyer by training, he has been investigating the doings of agribusiness for 30 years. His main focus has been the stunning rise of the genetically modified seed industry. As Kimbrell has shown, the GMO seed giants (mainly Monsanto) have managed to foist their wares into our farm fields and onto our plates with at best minimal public oversight.

And guess what? The mapping of the human genome revealed that the GMO giants got the science wrong: the relationship between organisms and individual genes is much more complex and mysterious than researchers originally thought. And that, Kimbrell says in this interview, helps explain why after 25 years of R&D, the GMO industry has only managed to create a couple of viable traits. The main one, of course, is “herbicide tolerance,” e.g., Monsanto’s Round Up Ready corn and soy, engineered to withstand copious lashings of its flagship herbicide, Round Up.