Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Monsanto: Not My Favorite Corporation

If you’re food aware you are probably well versed in the nefarious practices of Monsanto. They’ve been the unwitting stars of many books and films, including Food, Inc, Fast Food Nation, The Future of Food, and almost anything Michael Pollen writes. It seems amazing to me that the mainstream press is only now getting interested but, hey, at least they aren’t completely ignoring the company that is in control of what is arguably the biggest single variable about our future health. What remains to be seen is that if anyone is powerful enough to do anything about it.

Monsanto Squeezes Out Seed Business Competition, AP Investigation Finds

Here’s a tidbit:

With Monsanto's patented genes being inserted into roughly 95 percent of all soybeans and 80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., the company also is using its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, according to a review of several Monsanto licensing agreements and dozens of interviews with seed industry participants, agriculture and legal experts.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Monsanto patents genes. Genetically modified genes to be precise. You can’t patent your own genes, because then you could own your kids. But if your kid happened to be Frankenstein you could now legally own him.

Here’s the quickie historical rundown. For more read the article and then start digging, perhaps beginning with the above films or books.

Back in the 70s our government in its infinite wisdom allowed companies to patent living things that had been genetically modified. This meant that companies like Monsanto could patent the plant seeds they were tampering with. Alas, if only our politicians had remembered their elementary school biology they may have given pause.

Plants, if you didn’t sleep through this chapter of class like everyone in Washington apparently did, breed by dispersion; their seeds fly through the air looking for a place to prosper. This means that if you genetically modify a plant and don't keep it inside it will eventually wind up sowing its seed with something natural.

The lawyers at Monsanto, who didn’t sleep through any class except ethics, apparently, saw this as one giant business opportunity. Because as soon as their patented corn would mingle with the neighbor’s natural corn they’d find a patent infringement get to work.

Since lawyers for multi-billion dollar corporations never lose to farmers, even those who’ve done nothing but farm the way their fathers did, and pretty soon Monsanto was forcing these farmers either out of business or to buy their genetically altered seeds. The latter makes them, essentially, indentured servants (another term from elementary school if you remember your Civil War classes) because they are forced to buy Monsanto’s seeds at whatever price they ask. Last year (you know, the one with the world recession that we’re still in), Monsanto raised their corn seeds by 25% and their soy by 28%. I’m sure their farmers are livin’ large.

So Monsanto now controls an industry of their creation. If we all decided we wanted to avoid genetically modified foods we might not have a choice for much longer. Most of us don’t right now. And even if you don’t believe in the possibility of a global scale disaster involving Frankenfoods (Monsanto’s seeds have been found in indigenous crops thousands of miles from the source), and believe that Monsanto is ethical enough to keep these foods safe, you’ve got to take pause when Monsanto prohibits genetically modified foods from being served to its executives.

12 comments:

Allison said...

I loathe Monsanto. The name alone makes me cringe. I read a book titled "The UnHealthy Truth" and learned quite a bit about Monsanto. They are disturbing to say the least.

MJensen said...

laws on gene patenting really need to be changed. patents are for inventions, not discoveries; you can't grow or raise an invention. this is the same reason why cancer and disease research is stunted, because unscrupulous companies like this have patented the genes and laboratories have to pay them huge sums of money just to try to cure them. leave it to corporate america to find a monopoly on food supply and even disease!

Steve Edwards said...

What's interesting to me is lack of public knowledge and outcry. I'm sure these corporations are dishing out a lot of hush money but you'd think the public would see through it. The information is there. Yet each year the statistics get worse and, still, barely a peep.

Help spread the word because we need a revolution.

Pam said...

I heard about this some time ago and was not only disgusted, but somewhat frightened by the vast implications of it all. Having lived in both Kansas and rural Illinois, I grew up first hand seeing what our family-run farms go through in order make their livings.
Monsanto is so clearly completely void of ethics, how anybody could sleep at night and work for them is beyond me. Ugh!!!!

Spence said...

too bad there are many former Monsanto executives and lawyers who are now in key governmental positions deciding what policies and laws America places over agriculture. It is like placing the head of RJ Reynolds over Health and Human Services.

Steve Edwards said...

It really is exactly like that. What ever happened to things like non-compete clauses?

Russ McBride said...

Exactly. Obama's choices in this area (like his choice for Food Safety Czar) have been utterly depressing...

Todd Hess said...

Great post Steve. For anyone that's interested in learning more, from the selection of sources Steve mentioned, I'd suggest starting with Food Inc. It has a great segment on Monsanto's control and interviews the farmers directly effected by it. If you want to make a difference, check out http://www.takepart.com/foodinc/

Thx

Ekene Okobi said...

I have to say, Vanity Fair was all over this story about a year and a half ago:

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2008/04/qa-james-steele.html"

John McEvoy CPT said...

having watched Food Inc recently it has changed my life, literally! Food Matters is also a really good watch but not as scary as Food Inc.

good post

che'paul said...

Great Post! Steve Edwards.
I will definitely checkout the movies and read all the articles I can find with the links that have been given. I too am an avid health conscious person. This is why people perish for lack of knowledge.Thanks Steve!!!
I got this post from reading Carl Daikeler's Blog. Go TeamBeachbody!!!(You can delete this last line when you decide to post to your comments.)

DesertKoala said...

Great article. I'm not sure but it seems as I get older; the gap between a dystopian Harry Harrison novel like "Soilent Green" and reality narrows.