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4 Comments | Oct 07, 2011

World Hunger – DRAFT Treatment

World Hunger

Brian Kenneth Swain
(210) 464-2412

Two brilliant molecular biologists and a greedy corporate chieftain undertake a bold technological experiment to revolutionize global agriculture, but instead drive it to the brink of destruction.


The story begins at the end. Philip Barett, senior scientist for Vanguard, the world’s largest life sciences company, testifies before a senate subcommittee concerning the calamitous events that resulted from Vanguard’s efforts to revolutionize world agriculture with a genetically modified (GM) technology known as Evergreen.

Robert Chase, Vanguard’s greedy, abusive, and scientifically oblivious CEO, pushes his research team to move forward with an aggressive but ill-advised schedule of crop testing in four countries—India, Belarus, Colombia, and Ecuador. Chase, in his efforts to realize as quickly as possible the economic benefits of the new technology, talks up the test plan with financial analysts and the press, promising a wealth of benefits to the world’s hungry and to the firm. We are introduced to the two primary research scientists in charge of Project Evergreen, Phillip Barett (single, ex-academic lead researcher) and Julia Croft (single mother and former academic colleague of Barett’s).

We are led through the initial test planting in each of the field locations, and introduced to numerous Vanguard field operatives who will play key roles as the story unfolds. We are also introduced to the various scientific and political issues attending the international GM debate, e.g., threats to biodiversity, corporate profit motives, health concerns, etc. Many of these are discussed as Barett conducts a number of academic symposia on the subject of GM research.

As the local field operatives keep careful track of the crops’ development, they begin to notice evidence of damage from insects, e.g., cutter ants in an Indian corn crop. This is not initially surprising, as such damage is normal in these geographies and the test crops feature differing degrees of pest resistance as part of the trials. The question of possible animal transference of the GM effects is raised at an internal Vanguard meeting, but is dismissed by the Evergreen researchers as virtually impossible. Nevertheless, we are introduced to entomologist Henry Mandell, who has been seconded from a local university to conduct tests on just such a remote possibility.

Reports begin coming in of insect species being seen near the test fields that are significantly larger than normal. Mandell shows Julia sample cutter ants that are an inch to an inch and a half long, vs. the normal half-inch. He discusses the possibility that there is a connection to the Evergreen seeds, and begins searching in earnest for such a causal link.

We are introduced to Reed Hansen, an environmental activist with a group known as EarthAlert. Hansen knows Julia from grad school, and has maintained a long-distance friendship with her under the guise that he is a reporter in Phoenix. In fact, he is exploiting her as a source of inside information on Vanguard’s GM activities. Julia and Phil begin having serious concerns about the possible involvement of Vanguard and Evergreen in the increasingly disturbing insect news they are receiving.

The first actual attack (fire ants) claims the life of a family dog in Ecuador. This is followed by a much more serious incident in which EarthAlert activists, led by Hansen, are attempting to conduct a midnight raid on the test cornfield in Calcutta when they are set upon by a massive colony of enormous cutter ants (by now, up to 2 ½ to 3 inches in length). Three of the activists on the team are consumed in grisly fashion, while Hansen and two others barely escape. Hansen calls Julia with news of the attack (first fabricating a story for his presence in Calcutta). The skeletal bodies of the dead activists are found days later in the field by the Vanguard field rep, who also brings the Calcutta police into the picture. The scene ends with Chase seeing a CNN report that discusses the Indian deaths and mentions Vanguard’s potential involvement.

Barett informs Chase about the developing insect problem and assures him that it’s almost certainly Vanguard’s fault. Chase demands that the others talk to no one and that they handle the problem so as not to jeopardize Evergreen. Mandell assures Julia and Barett that his research strongly suggests that the Evergreen genetic seed modifications have in fact transferred to the insects, and that, moreover, the newly mutated insects are unlikely to be affected by any existing pesticides, since resistance to them has been specifically built into the seeds. The three agree that all of the test fields must be immediately razed. Henry and a research assistant make plans to travel to India and Ecuador to follow up on the reports and evaluate first-hand what is happening.

Barett breaks the news to Julia that her friend Hansen has been using her as a mole to get Vanguard information for EarthAlert, leaving her to now struggle emotionally with the simultaneous shock of a friend’s betrayal and the failure of her past several year’s research work. Henry visits the Ecuadorian field operative and tours the field that has been overrun by huge fire ant colonies. At one point the accompanying research assistant inadvertently steps onto one of the mounds and sustains numerous bites to his legs as a result. The two then catch a plane to Calcutta, where they tour the cutter-ant-ravaged cornfield. The giant ants have decimated the field and begun making their way into the jungle, stripping away all vegetation in their path.

When the field operatives are instructed to destroy the test fields, each is also told to ship back to the company lab samples of the crops that have grown to that point so that they can be used to further the team’s research into the problem. The Colombian team thus packs up a couple pallets of half-grown banana plants and loads them onto a UPS cargo flight headed back to New Jersey via Miami. During the flight, numerous very large banana spiders emerge from the plants and kill the entire crew of five. Because the airplane is a relatively new, fully automated Boeing 767, it proceeds to Miami and lands by itself at Miami International Airport. Only when it then fails to taxi clear of the runway does the airport ground crew realize that something is amiss. They board the plane and find the dead crew, but unfortunately fail to find the banana spiders, which have gone back into hiding in various locations on the plane. The aircraft is parked at the UPS hangar for further investigation, and during the night, the spiders escape through nose wheel doors, etc., thus introducing into the Miami area a new, highly toxic GM spider species. The scene ends with Barett seeing a newscast about a Miami-area woman who dies because of spider bite.

By now Vanguard field operatives have shipped many specimens of the overgrown insects to the research lab in New Jersey. They have been collected in an insect storage lab being run by Mandell. Included in the GM insect menagerie are the Indian cutter ants (4” long), Ecuadorian fire ants (1” long), Belorusian armyworm moths (12” wingspans), and Colombian banana spiders (18” long). Chase visits the lab frequently and is fascinated by the giant insects, particularly the banana spiders, the feeding of which Mandell demonstrates on one occasion. Mandell also describes the precautions taken with the room to preclude the inadvertent escape of any of the specimens. These features include self-locking steel doors, hermetic sealing and the ability to gas the room if needed to anesthetize the insects.

Vanguard’s Ecuadorian operative receives a call from a local policeman indicating that a young local child has been seriously injured by a swarm of fire ants.

Chase, Barett, and Julia meet in Washington DC with representatives from the USDA and WHO to update them on what has taken place and what the potential effects on world agriculture could be if the GM insects continue to spread unchecked.

Late one Friday night, Chase, driven by his continuing fascination with the spiders, decides to visit the insect storage room alone. He enters and peers into the cage, but is disappointed that the spiders are hidden in the foliage of the enclosure. He attempts to feed them, hoping that this will coax them into view. In the course of doing so, he cracks the lid of the enclosure, activating the automated door lock system. Despite his panicked attempts to cover the hole in the enclosure, he is bitten by one of the escaped spiders. In his death throes from the fast-acting neurotoxin, he thrashes about on the floor and knocks over the enclosure of giant cutter ants, which proceed to finish off the now largely paralyzed CEO in one of the books more graphic scenes.

Julia and Phil return to the lab on Monday morning to find the horribly disfigured body of Chase in the insect storage room. Oddly, though, they notice that the ants and spider that took part in killing him are, themselves, now dead. They thus conclude that there is something about Chase’s physiology that is toxic to the GM insects. This initiates a search to create an effective pesticide based on whatever it is about Chase that killed the lab insects.

After procuring blood and tissue samples from Chase’s body, Mandell sets about determining what caused the death of the spider and the cutter ants. Examination of medical records reveals that Chase suffered from both hypertension and diabetes.

The Belorusian field operative talks with a local farmer there about what reparations Vanguard will make for his lost crops.

After careful analysis Mandell concludes that the lab insects were killed by the equivalent of coronary strokes, due to Chase’s chronic pulmonary disease.

The Colombian field representative talks with local farmers about steps they should take to combat the banana spiders and keep them out of their farms. The spiders do not pose the sort of agricultural hazard that the armyworms and ants do, but they are nevertheless highly lethal and very aggressive, as we have seen from the UPS and Miami attacks.

The chapter ends with Henry having successfully developed a genetically based pesticide that the team can use to combat the insects. They discuss the financials and conclude that the cost of manufacturing the pesticide in the needed quantities is going to be colossal (>$1Bn), since such huge areas must now be aerially sprayed.

Having manufactured and transported massive quantities of pesticide to the various test locations, we focus at last on the Indian cutter ants and the aerial assault that is mounted against them by the field operatives. We meet again our Indian pilot who has modified a WW2 B-26 bomber to spray the pesticide in large quantities over the jungle. Many such flights are required, as the area is so large. He is accompanied on these flights by Barett and the Indian Vanguard rep, who serve as navigator and spray system operator. After numerous successful spraying missions, which of necessity take place at extremely low altitude, the aircraft is heavily damaged by a massive bird strike. The plane crash-lands in the jungle, and the pilot is seriously injured and pinned in the crumpled aircraft cockpit. Realizing that they will not be rescued until morning, they settle in for the night, only to be set upon by the swarm of cutter ants sometime after midnight. They cannot run away, though, since the pilot is immobilized. They therefore rush to break their way into the pesticide tanks beneath the plane and cover themselves with the compound, which successfully allows them to remain unharmed as the ants swarm around them.

While this is taking place, there are also various additional wrap-up scenes taking place in the other countries—showing locals how to use the pesticide, etc. Julia travels to Belarus and addresses a farming convention about what has transpired and how they should use the pesticide, both now and when/if the armyworms return in the spring planting season.

Many of the insect infestations have been effectively eradicated, but we make clear here that not all have been eliminated. For example, cutter ant queens have flown far from ‘ground zero’ in Calcutta, and will start new colonies when spring returns. This is also highly likely with the Ecuadorian fire ants and the Belorusian armyworms.

Barett and Julia discuss their post-Evergreen plans, and Julia announces that she has been offered the opportunity to return to academia, which has, throughout the story, clearly been her first-love. She will depart for the university at year’s-end. Barett then shares the news that he will do the same, and will in fact be returning to the same university, where he will become her new department head. This more or less resolves the relationship issues that have been hinted at between the two throughout the book. In the final scene, we see Julia, Barett, and her son at the Bronx Zoo in New York, where they visit a special display in the insect house—a touring exhibit of the Evergreen cutter ants and banana spiders. Mandell has arranged the tour as a way of demonstrating to visitors the hazards of mingling corporate science and nature. As the three depart the zoo, they are handed a flyer from a local EarthAlert petitioner in which we learn that Hansen has become the national chairman of the organization. Julia and Barett, hand in hand, walk to his car and return to Boston to renew their lives together and their new careers at the university.

Brief but dramatic epilogue scenes include an ants-perspective view of one of the cutter ant queens flying far from the original cornfield to start a new colony deep in the jungles of Bangladesh, far from the effects of Vanguard’s pesticides. This is followed by a scene in which a young couple walks along a trail at a national park in Colombia and encounters one of the massive banana spiders. They catch on videotape an attack in which the spider catches a large wild bird and runs with it into the darkness of the woods. These scenes reinforce what the viewer already intuitively knows—Vanguard’s insect problems have by no means been resolved.


Kelton Nesbitt 10:30 pm - 23rd January:

Hey i need to ask some serious questions about possible ways to stop world hunger im only 16 but my mind is like a spinning wheel of ideas

BKS 9:08 am - 24th January:


Feel free to ask whatever you like and I’ll do my best to offer answers and opinions. World hunger is, as you are doubtless aware, an immensely complex topic, with issues ranging from governmental policy and fertilizer use to climate change and GMO technology (the topic of my novel). Lots of possible directions you could go with this. I look forward to your questions.



BKS 11:45 am - 15th January:

There is no special printing utility built into my site, but you should be able to print it using either the Print function in your browser or, alternatively, copying and pasting it into Word and printing from there.

Mind if I ask how you came to find the treatment and where your interest lies?



Heneisen 10:33 am - 14th January:

Can you please tell me how can I print this article?

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