How Bad Is Monsanto?

| 12/17/2009 10:53:23 AM

Tags: Monsanto, Barbara Pleasant,

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.

barb mundorff
12/21/2009 11:29:41 AM

We have to face the fact that Big Business believes that people are just more cows to be milked. Face it, they herd most of the American public around to suit their own needs, their needs being money, money, and more money. They lie, they manipulate, and they obfuscate like they are channeling a particularly evil Machiavelli. They have been doing this for years. They used to have a front-man who got a lot of air time saying that organic food is dangerous because manure is used as a fertilizer. They use the court system to bully and destroy anyone and anything that could possibly threaten their profits by the smallest percentage (for example, trying to block labeling for organic, hormone free, etc). They have the backing of government officials who either don't have a clue, and don't want one, or who are only too happy to sell us out. Why not? They can afford healthier foods. It seems to me that a safe, healthy supply of food and water is one of our most basic, vital human rights. But our government protects big business interests at all costs - so long as the masses are the ones paying the costs with high prices and impaired health. This isn't going to change. The corporations rule with government backing, the republivangelists support it all the way, and the rest of us sit back and let it happen.

12/21/2009 9:27:31 AM

T brandt you need to be more informed before you comment on Genetically altered grain the difference between it and hybrids are akin to breading a dog with a turkey.They actually used denatured viruses to implant the genetic material> To make it more disturbing was the use of a so called denatured virus not like anything can go wrong there. Be sure that time will show just how far the control of the worlds food supply is managed via a corporate monopoly. The cross contamination and patented control of cotton seed in India is an example of what is to come.And be sure if by chance or design the government doesn't necessarily have issues with this just a silent option of leverage on foreign governments.

darci pause_2
12/20/2009 1:41:35 PM

To the suspected Monsanto PR rep, t brandt, do you not see that there is a tremendous die-off of species at this very moment, and will surely include us soon if we do not stop DESTROYING WHAT SUSTAINS US? And it's not just Monsanto. As Allen implied, there is an ethics of capitalism going on here that is clouding any other system of ethics. 'Everyone for themselves' is not working. We MUST unify against all rapings of nature and human labor, and not segregate causes. There must be a million organizations in the world fighting for the same cause in one little way, like the Bees Action Network mentioned above. The people in power rely on our isolation from each other. If we compartmentalize the problem and constantly compete for media attention and funding, there will never be unity. Now is the time to prepare for needed unified action. It starts with economy. Contrary to popular belief, 'economy' is not a massive force hovering above us, full of indecipherable formulas, theories, and figures. Economy is ANY creation or exchange. Economy is me writing this message (creating/exchanging information). Economy is baking a cake and sharing with a friend. Economy is changing your oil. To regain control of the economy, and therefore our time, labor, relationships, community, space, and materiality, everyone must learn how to make or fix SOMETHING, anything. Once we regain craftsmanship and ownership of our own work, we can begin to exchange it amongst ourselves.

12/20/2009 7:32:07 AM

I don't know if anyone here has mentioned it or seen it, but "The Future of Food" focuses on all the things Monsanto is doing. I watched it for free on

12/20/2009 7:04:21 AM

If everyone would share this movie called "Food, Inc.", I think non-believers would quickly start to think about getting there lazy bum off the couch and start to do something about this big brother big business co-op that is spoon feeding us. Plant a garden, hobby farm, do something to rely less on this corrupt partnership.

allison day bees action network_2
12/19/2009 7:04:22 AM

As the founder of Bees Action Network I read Barbara's comments about Monsanto with a growing sense of hope. Hope because it is very heartening to know that people the world over are incredibly concerned about the insidious penetration of GM companies into the very fabric of our existence. At Bees Action Network we believe that bees are suffering chemical overload - (in addition to many people)- and we need to connect with concerned members of the public to fight this global threat on a global scale. CODEX Alimentarius is a series of guidelines which the EU is proposing to adopt EU wide. Despite being 'reassured' by our Prime Minister that there is absolutely nothing to worry about - CODEX, amongst other things will give the green light to the planting of GM Crops. This is a nightmarish scenario. We know that GM is in Britain already in animal feed, food supplements and plant seeds - we also understand like Barbara that it poses an enormous threat to human, animal and insect health. Please see our website for information. Good news is the Alliance for Natural Health in Britain has just linked up with the American Association for Health Freedom to become the Alliance for Natural Health International - on their website www.anhcampaign you can support their fight to ban GM. Merry Christmas to you all and a hopeful New Year!

12/19/2009 12:48:57 AM

It seems to me that genetically engineering plants is not so bad, but when it comes to making them resistant to chemicals, well that i$ wrong for these corporation$ and we know what their reasoning i$$$$$.

12/18/2009 10:41:37 PM

t.brandt, There is a HUGE difference between hybrids and gene splicing. Not only are genetically modified foods unstable (having been shown to change over time, which makes them unpredictable, and useless in many occasions), proven to cause severe damage to animals when consumed (organs, stomach lining, etc) but they are even REFUSED by animals when they are given a choice between natural, and GMO foods.

12/18/2009 1:24:11 PM

Monsanto is a really scary business. Sure, I like hybirds too -- I have a Golden Comet chicken that's great -- she is non-flighty, she lays her eggs like clockwork and she is as sweet as can be. But she is not resistant to chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, etc. I really wouldn't want to eat her eggs if she was! Fight back -- Grow organic food, eat organic food, etc. And if Monsanto is scaring you too, you can sign the petition from Organic Consumer Association -- Monsanto gives me the creeps. We need a list of every commercial product that Monsanto has contributed too so we can avoid buying them as well.

12/18/2009 10:30:31 AM

"just an extension of the practice of selective mating to obtain the best possible offspring"? You have to be kidding! Perhaps if they mated in a test tube and were stripped down to their individual biological components? How does splicing a gene from an insect get “selectively bread” into a plant? The reality of what they are doing is a far cry from what they say they are doing! So, what PR division of Monsanto do YOU work for?

t brandt
12/17/2009 3:00:56 PM

While I won't make any excuses for the ethics of "big business," I will defend the use of genetically engineered food production. That's really just an extension of the practice of selective mating to obtain the best possible offspring, started when the first cavemen mated only the most docile wolf pups to eventually wind up with domesticated dogs. We can now select genes across species lines, but it's still the same principle. Any change to the gene frequency of a population will be met with reciprocal adaptations in the other species affected in the web.We can't predict those results, but an equilibrium will be achieved. But we have the dilemma of feeding a growing population: we have painted ourselves into the corner by supporting population increases with increased farm yield thru technology. To stop now would force a sudden lowering of the carrying capacity and a subsequent die-off of population. Any volunteers?

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