How Bad Is Monsanto?


Recently I spent several evenings reading The Year of the Flood, the newest novel by award-winning Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. In this visionary fiction story of societal and environmental  breakdown caused by gene splicing free-for-alls run by the Corporations, the world is populated by strange animals including wild pigs with superior intelligence, and sheep with human hair. Don’t ask where the meat in the burgers comes from, and watch your back when you’re outside a Corporate compound. An extremist cult, God’s Gardeners, welcomes outcasts as long as they are willing to go along with the religion that goes with growing your own food. It’s a cool religion that honors folks like Saint Euell (Gibbons) for his wisdom of useful wild plants

Considering my recent immersion in Atwood’s nightmarish post-gene-stacking world, I had to read the recent investigative report on Monsanto's growing list of misdeeds (by award-winning Associated Press writer Christopher Leonard) three times before it sunk in. It’s really happening. In 2006 Monsanto bought Delta and Pineland, a leading producer of cotton seed, so that it now controls a huge share of the cotton seed market. Monsanto’s genes are in about 95 percent of commercial soybeans and 80 percent of commercial corn, and people like the attorney generals of Iowa and Texas are concerned that Monsanto’s business practices violate federal antitrust laws that protect free competition. When it comes to licensing agreements, Monsanto is reportedly a big time bully.

Either or both accusations may prove to be true, and while I do care about these things, I also feel like I’m watching dangerous games being played by the mean kids at the other end of the playground. I can mind my own business, grow most of my own food using traditionally-bred organic seeds, and what Monsanto or Dow or Sygenta do shouldn’t be my problem.

But it is my problem. Monsanto is constantly adding new food plants to its ensemble of “Roundup Ready” varieties that resist herbicide damage, and Dow has soybeans that survive being sprayed with 2-4D. That’s my planet, my water we’re talking about. There is so much Bt corn pollen out there that no garden is safe from it, and rotting residue from Bt plants is messing with the life cycles of stream-dwelling insects. With Monsanto and other companies polluting the world with genetically modified pollen and plants, Bayer killing off honeybees with imidicloprid, and Dow turning horse manure into killer compost, maybe we should worry about big Corporations. A lot.

But what really makes me mad is the way Monsanto is trying to hijack the concept of sustainability. According to the M Company video (which depicts happy, remarkably clean third world farmers), sustainability is about three things: Increased production to meet everyone’s needs, thus improving the lives of everyone; more effective use of natural resources, and improving the quality of life for farmers and their families. It does not mention all the hidden costs of reliance on pesticides, nor does it acknowledge the steady increases in seed prices, with a very small number of companies setting those prices, cartel style. This is where federal antitrust laws come into play, at least theoretically.

And here I was thinking that sustainable agriculture was about using Nature’s patterns and human intelligence and resourcefulness to create systems that run themselves with minimal outside inputs, while creating strong local food economies and a cleaner, more honest food supply. At least that’s how we play at my end of the playground.

jim adams
12/24/2009 8:52:31 PM

another note to t brandt: you use a nice vocabulary, and i agree with what you say and predict ... in the long run. There is something you leave out tho --- time: The changes you talk about; the balancing of the web of life takes a minimum of several thousand years. This article and most comments are talking about the short run ... a few decades at most. And here, the changes can be calamitous for us, for our food supplies, for our environment. And yes, Monsanto has it's fingers in that many pies. Like you, I think there is a place for genetic engineering. Unlike you, i look for competent (or even semi-competent), ethical, and future sustainability- oriented oversight organizations and I don't see any. That's scary, particularly when the decision makers are people who understand financial and legal systems, and ecologists and organic farmers don't have a say. The gene splicing corporations have shown that they mostly give a dam about what's important to them: tweaking commodities so they produce more profits and influence ... and gene spliced animals and plants are just commodities to the people in power. And that's why we protest Monsanto. How can we help the trustbusters?

Sundai Balander_2
12/23/2009 10:42:26 AM

I don't know if you are aware that Monsanto is a subsidiary of I.G. FARBIN INDUSTRIES of Germany.It is no wonder they have the muscle to hijack our food supply. Everyone should access the book "THE CRIME AND PUNISHMENT OF I.G.FARBIN, The Unholy Alliance Between Hitler And The Great Chemical Combine"by Joseph Borkin. Food is not the only commodity at risk.This Conglomerate is and has been allied with our govt.and military industrial complex for many years. You just might be unpleasantly surprised at the reach of this company and their familiar bedfellows.When the people know who is involved,how,and why, maybe the focus will shift to a more expansive protest.

12/21/2009 3:54:28 PM

Apart from t brandt's obfuscation (or propagation of monsantism), the 'dilemma' of feeding a growing population not only has not been solved by Monsanto et al, it HAS been solved by pioneers like John Jeavons. His data and that at Bountiful Gardens, supplemented by plausible data elsewhere and evaluations of nutritional quality from Nutrition Data, solve the food problem. Use of more exotic foods, and water uses developed the past few decades in Australia, can extend what has been done as well. I still expect famines, because it's yet to be shown that the human race has the cooperative sense and the intelligence to solve human-created problems.

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