Some people complain about Monsanto because they use genetically modified seeds for agriculture and operate a large corporate farm. Their actions deplete the soil, require large inputs of chemicals, and pose problems for surrounding farmers. Percy Schmeiser is a farmer whose land was contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds. Pollen from the Monsanto farm was probably blown by winds and made it on to Schmeiser’s farm. Monsanto is suing Schmeiser stating that he must pay a technology fee since his crops contain their genetic modification. Monsanto, which is the number one producer of rBGH a synthetic steroid used on cows, is also suing the Oakhurst Dairy claiming “they should not have the right to inform their customers that their dairy products do not contain the Monsanto chemical”. The Oakhurst dairy was forced to settle out of court. Monsanto is also responsible for causing pollution including PCB pollution and creating Agent Orange internationally accepted as the one of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet.
Monsanto is involved in the practice of using genetically modified foods and seeds/grains, even though there has not been extensive enough testing on such foods. They also have lobbied to have the fact that the food is genetically modified kept off the label, so that the consumer will not know. Also, they bully farmers into buying seed from them year after year, even if they would like to switch back to non-modified seed.
I’ve been trying to answer this question for myself, after I saw a protester carrying a sign that says “Monsanto kills” a few months ago. That seemed like a pretty strong (and a bit wild) of an accusation to me, as I was not familiar with the anti-GMO movement, so I started researching, from the ground up, trying not to just accept the easy answers but really understand. Here is what I have come up with.
0) Monsanto makes genetically modified seeds that are used to grow food crops. They also used to make rBGH – they invented it, got it approved for sale, and started marketing it (they sold the business off several years ago). People are worried that food from these crops, and from cows given rBGH, might make them sick. Not “fall over and die” sick, but that the food might be subtly poisoning them in some way. Monsanto (and other companies that make GM seeds) and governments around the world have said that these things are safe for people to eat. Some governments do regulate them more strictly, but no major economy in the world has banned GM crops. But many people are distrustful of chemical companies and of governmental agencies that regulate them (see 4 below!). And a lot of people have directed their fear and worry, and anger that they are being exposed to something that they believe might be dangerous, at Monsanto. A movie called “The World According to Monsanto” had a big influence on directing that fear and anger at Monsanto. I watched it and I found a lot of unfortunate distortions in it. But it is a fact that the movie has been influential.
1) before I say more, I need to make sure I am defining the question. Not “everyone” complains about Monsanto. But a lot of people do. Who are they? I don’t know – this is a question I don’t have an answer for yet. But just wanted to note that.
2) One thing I can say – and this is a hard thing to say, – is that a lot of the anti-Monsanto crowd is… well ignorant about a lot of the issues. I use the word plainly, not pejoratively. I just mean they don’t understand the actual facts and context. And there is a lot of wrong information that is passed around and that people just believe, without examination. For example, with apologies, bwsf here, says “they bully farmers into buying seed from them year after year, even if they would like to switch back to non-modified seed”. This is an idea that circulates, and it is born of ignorance about what farmers actually do. Farmers have adopted GM crops to amazing extent (nearly 100% of soybean farmers for example) because GM crops are designed for THEM – they save farmers time and money. It is very true that farmers have to buy GM seed anew each year because Monsanto and other agbiotech companies have patents on them and require that. But farmers have been buying seed anew each year for at least 70 years, since the advent of hybrid seed. And it is also true that Monsanto sues farmers (not that many) who breach the contract by saving seeds and replanting them and refuse to pay fees to Monsanto. Monsanto has won everytime, because in our legal system, they actually own the rights that they are enforcing. And farmers are always free to buy non-GM seed. So the description by bwsf seems to be unaware of all this. The Schmeiser case that portland 1983 mentions is another example this is the common description in the antiMonsanto crowd.. the one people pass around. But in fact, Schmeiser did not get into trouble because of the crops from the wind-blown seeds. He got intro trouble because, with great intentionality, he saved the seeds from those crops, and replanted them the next year. When he did that, Monsanto asked him to pay them for the right to use the glyphosate-resistance invention. He refused, so Monsanto sued him. Case went all the way to the Supreme Court and Monsanto won – they found that Schmeiser was indeed “infringing” – namely stealing Monsanto’s technology.
3) more context. Monsanto was one of the first companies to apply biotechnology to agriculture. A lot of people don’t understand biotechnology itself – it is difficult science (not impossible, just takes a lot of work to learn about). I think labels like “frankenfood” are born a lot out of fear and ignorance. (I don’t know if you ever read the book “Frankenstein” but the “monster” was actually kind and good, and the evil that happens in the book is the result of people’s fear of the “monster”. It’s a very sad story.) And a lot of people don’t understand the biotechnology business — how much money and time it takes to develop a product using biotechnology, and how risky it is to spend that time and money. You may spend it, and never get your idea for a product to actually work. Because of that, patents are really important for these companies. No one would invest in them, if there were not patents that allowed the companies to charge enough money for their products to win back all the money that was invested.
4) More context. Even before the introduction of GM foods, a lot of people were walking around feeling worried about chemicals in the environment, and in food. Rachel Carson had written Silent Spring, which drew attention to negative effects of DDT, a chemical that had once been considered amazing. (Did you know that we used to have a malaria problem in the US? Not anymore!) Turned out that DDT persisted in the environment, was absorbed by little creatures which were eaten by bigger creatures and so on, and was getting concentrated on up the food chain, to the point where birds were dying off from it (well actually their eggs were bad, the birds themselves were not dying). That sort of thing. LIkewise PCBs were once thought of as amazing industrial chemicals but turned out to be very dangerous. So there was already some distrust of companies that make chemicals that go into everything and into food, and distrust of gov’t regulators. Especially about food – an area where people are understandably very risk averse. I have to believe that the controversy is really about risk. What is too risky and what is not?
5) And I will stop here, talking about risk, because this answer is already probably too long. Risk is a hard thing to talk about at the national level. On a personal level it is easier. If you have a child, you deal with managing risk of harm to your child everyday. You teach them and teach them, look both ways when you cross the street, don’t talk to strangers, etc. But things like… building flood control for New Orleans. We could spend billions and make New Orleans bullet proof for the biggest hurricane imaginable. Or we could spend millions to make New Orleans safe from a big big hurricane. People in Seattle might not be so happy about making New Orleans 100% safe against a storm that might never happen. Right? So how good do you make it? Likewise with GM food. Regulators have determined that is “safe enough.” And it is true that we have had GM food in the US for 30 years now and as far as we know, no one has been fallen acutely ill, and again only as far as we know, no one has suffered some kind of subtle harm. But it also true that there has never been a long term study of humans eating GM food. So judging the risk of GM food has to be done from studying how food from GM plants is different from food from nonGM plants (this is the whole “substantial equivalence” thing) and from studying what happens to animals that are fed GM food for relatively short periods of time. It is a judgement. And it really comes down to whose judgement you trust. As mentioned above, there are a bunch of people who start from a place of distrust for companies and regulators…and on we go.
That is the answer i have so far.
To start with the user above “Jytdog” is a pro-Monsanto cognitive infiltrator, he will say anything to make you believe Monsanto engage in legitimate and morally acceptable business practices when, in reality they don’t.
Monsanto has spent millions on bogus research that attempts to convince the world GMO produce is safe, when in fact, there have been no long term studies (the majority being based on 90 day rat experiments).
Once the GM genie is out of the bottle, you can’t put it back, wave bye bye to organic standards, bye bye to bio-diversity, wave bye bye to choice, and forget any democratic rights you had when it comes to choosing what you want to eat – oh I forgot, according to Monsanto and Capitol Hill, you don’t have a right to chose what’s in your food.
Monsanto spent £8,000,000 campaigning against food labelling in California, the GM food industry collectively spent 40,000,000 to block Proposition 37, with Monsanto being the biggest spender, this speaks for itself.
It employs a “revolving door” system that see Monsanto employees moves from their company to the FDA and back again, before ending up in government advising on food policy.
They have used the US government to try and force European sovereign states to accept GM crops despite no-one in Europe believing a word Monsanto has said about GM for over a decade.
They will lobby, lie, cheat, and yes, kill (read about Indian farmer suicides if you don’t believe this) to make as much money as possible.
Oh, and don’t forget the patents. They are patenting seed, they are attempting to OWN food.
Yes, you read it correctly, they want to own the global food supply.
So that eventually, worst case scenario, all food stuffs, sold anywhere, will be licensed from Monsanto.
In 2008 the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations condemned corporate profiteering: “The essential purpose of food, which is to nourish people, has been subordinated to the economic aims of a handful of multinational corporations that monopolize all aspects of food production, from seeds to major distribution chains, and they have been the prime beneficiaries of the world crisis. A look at the figures for 2007, when the world food crisis began, shows that corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill, which control the cereals market, saw their profits increase by 45 and 60 per cent, respectively.”
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