Who the Heck is this Monsanto Character?
We all hear about Monsanto this, Monsanto that, Monsanto protests on the news, but do you really know who Monsanto is? Do you know what they do, and what their history (and future goals) are with our food supply?
The question of “who is Monsanto” all depends on who you ask.
According to Monsanto’s website, here is what they say about themselves:
Monsanto is a sustainable agriculture company. We deliver agricultural products that support farmers all around the world.
We are focused on empowering farmers—large and small—to produce more from their land while conserving more of our world’s natural resources such as water and energy. We do this with our leading seed brands in crops like corn, cotton, oilseeds and fruits and vegetables. We also produce leading in-the-seed trait technologies for farmers, which are aimed at protecting their yield, supporting their on-farm efficiency and reducing their on-farm costs.
We strive to make our products available to farmers throughout the world by broadly licensing our seed and trait technologies to other companies. In addition to our seeds and traits business, we also manufacture Roundup® and other herbicides used by farmers, consumers and lawn-and-garden professionals.
Monsanto could not exist without farmers. They are our customers–the lifeblood of our company. More important, they are the support system of the world’s economy, working day in and day out to feed, clothe and provide energy for our world.
Roundup and Other Herbicides, you say…
Honestly speaking, I see Monsanto as a Pesticide Company who bought up all the major seed firms.
Monsanto dominates and intimidates the agriculture industry by using secretive technologies and strong-arm tactics with government approval! (Yes, the government cares about Monsanto and their success, but why?)
Strong-arm, Patent Lawsuits From Cross Pollination
Here is a case example:
Percy Schmeiser was a farmer. Shortly after Monsanto introduced genetically modified (GM) canola plants to Canada, Percy Schmeiser was a farmer facing a lawsuit.
After hearing that GM crops could potentially increase yields, three farmers in Schmeiser’s region planted fields of Monsanto’s seed. Winds pushed pollen from GM canola into Schmeiser’s fields, and the plants cross-pollinated. The breed he had been cultivating for 50 years was now contaminated by Monsanto’s GM canola.
Did Monsanto apologize? No. It sued Schmeiser for patent infringement — first charging the farmer per acre of contamination, then slapping him with another suit for $1 million and attempting to seize his land and farming equipment. After a seven-year battle, the Canadian Supreme Court eventually ruled against him but let him keep his farm and his $1 million. He was one of the lucky ones.
According to the Center for Food Safety, Monsanto has filed at least 142 similar lawsuits against farmers for alleged infringement of its patents or abuse of its technology agreement. The company has won 72 judgments totaling almost $24 million.
Monsanto’s Specialty is Killing Things!
When you’re good at something, you want to leverage that.
In the early years, the St. Louis biotech giant helped pioneer such leading chemicals as DDT, PCBs, and Agent Orange. Unfortunately, these breakthroughs had a tendency to do major damage to humans also.
Once lawsuits started piling up from DDT, PCB and Agent Orange cases, Monsanto decided to take another, more lucrative path, attempt to control the worlds food supply!
This mission started in the mid-’90s, when the company began developing genetically modified crops like soybeans, corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, and wheat (much of it used for livestock feed).
All of these Monsanto designed crops had one major benefit:
- They were immune to their leading weed killer, Roundup.
- That meant farmers no longer had to till the land to kill weeds, as they’d done for hundreds of years.
- They could simply blast their fields with chemicals.
- The weeds would die while the crops grew unaffected. Bada-bing bada-boom, problem solved.
Monsanto put their own deceiving spin on this breakthrough: The so-called “No-Till Revolution” promised greater yields, better profits for the family farm, and a heightened ability to feed a growing world.
I call that “Political Bullshit!”
There were major dark sides to all of this.
- First, farmers grew dependent on Monsanto, having to buy new seed every year, along with Monsanto’s pesticides.
- The effects on human health were largely unknown
- Would it harm people to consume foods whose genetic profile had suddenly changed after millions of years?
- Would it be harmful to eat the animals that had consumed those plants?
- What about ripple effects on ecosystems?
Who cares when you are the untouchable giant…
Seed Prices Soar!
Monsanto squeezed out competitors by buying the biggest seed companies, spending approximately $10-15 billion on the splurge. Monsanto then bought up the best shelf space and distribution channels. Its kind, global love for the farmer, began to look much more like a power grab. Kick ’em while they’re down mentality ensued!
Seed prices began to soar. Since 1996, the cost of soybeans has increased 325 percent. Corn has risen 259 percent. And the price of genetically modified cotton has jumped a stunning 516 percent.
Instead of “feeding the world” Monsanto drove seed prices through the roof. Studies have found that rapidly increasing seed and pesticide costs were actually constricting local farmers income which became a wash from any of the benefits the new seeds offered.
Monsanto used more strong-arm tactics to make them play along. Monsanto offered steep discounts to independent dealers willing to restrict themselves to selling mostly Monsanto products. These same “death contracts” brought severe punishment if independents ever sold out to a rival. All while U.S. regulators turned a blind eye to Monsanto’s expanding power…
Monsanto Business Geniuses
I will give Monsanto this, they are an extremely business savvy company and know how to rake in profits. Today, Monsanto seeds cover 40 percent of America’s crop acres — and 27 percent worldwide. The company makes nearly $8 billion per year in profit.
The Seeds of Mass Destruction
It never used to be like this. In the past, seed companies were just local, large-scale farmers who grew various seed strains for next year’s crops. Most cross-breeding and hybrid technologies were done locally at universities.
Two key tipping points came along:
- 1970, when Congress empowered the USDA to grant exclusive marketing rights to novel strains — with the exception that farmers could replant the seeds if they chose and patented varieties must be provided to researchers.
- A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1980 that allowed the patenting of living organisms. The decision was intended to increase research and innovation. But it did exactly the opposite…
Monsanto would soon get out their combine and harvest every rival seed company in sight. It patented only the best seeds for genetic engineering, leaving only the inferior for sale as non-GM brands.
Syngenta and Dupont both sued Monsanto, accusing Monsanto of monopolistic practices and a “scorched earth campaign.” But shortly after, the chemical giants reached settlements that granted them licenses to use, sell, and cross-develop Monsanto products.
Now Entering: Government Corruption
It wasn’t until 2009 that the Justice Department began investigating the company for antitrust violations. But three years later, the feds quietly dropped the case.
Now Monsanto wants even more leverage. So it naturally turned to our lovely, mostly corrupt, $5 whore, Congress.
Earlier this year, a little-noticed provision was slipped into a budget resolution. The measure, pushed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), granted the company an unheard-of get-out-of-jail-free card, which critics derisively dubbed “The Monsanto Protection Act.”
There have been some indications of adverse health effects, but Monsanto has largely kept its products from researchers. Long-term studies have been limited, but scientists have found greater prevalence of tumors and digestive problems in rats fed GM corn and potatoes, and digestive issues for livestock eating GM feed. Those who have published studies critical of GM have been besieged by industry-funded critics disputing their finding, assailing their professional reputations, and effectively muddying the water. The feds have never bothered to extensively study GM foods. Instead, they’ve basically taken Monsanto’s word that all is kosher. So organic farmers and their allies sued the company in 2009, claiming too little study had been done on Monsanto’s GM sugar beets.
A year later, a judge agreed, ordering all recently planted GM sugar beet crops destroyed until their environmental impact was studied.
The Monsanto Protection Act
The Monsanto Protection Act was designed to end such rulings. It essentially bars judges from intervening in the midst of lawsuits — a notion that would seem highly unconstitutional.
Why should Congress care? Monsanto has spent more than $10 million on campaign contributions during the past decade — plus another $70 million on lobbying since 1998. The money speaks so loudly, Congress has become tone-deaf.
In fact, the U.S. government has become Monsanto’s #1 lobbyist in countries distrustful of GM safety. Two years ago, WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables showing how the feds had lobbied foreign governments to weaken laws and encourage the planting of genetically modified crops in Third World countries.
Other State Department diplomats ask for money to fly in corporate big wigs to lean on government officials. Even Mr. Environment, former Vice President Al Gore, was key in getting France to briefly approve Monsanto’s GM corn.
These days, the company has infiltrated the highest levels of government. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is a former Monsanto lawyer, and the company’s former and current employees are in high-level posts at the USDA and FDA.
But the real magic trick came in 2010, when President Obama appointed former Monsanto Vice President Michael Taylor as the FDA’s new deputy commissioner for foods.
Meanwhile, former Monsanto employees embedded in government make sure the feds never get too nosy.
For example, a gentleman named Michael Taylor has gone back and forth from government to Monsanto enough times that it became an automatic revolving door. During an early-’90s stint with the FDA, he helped usher bovine growth hormone milk into the food supply and wrote the decision that kept the government out of Monsanto’s GM crop business.
Known as “substantial equivalence,” this policy declared that genetically modified products are essentially the same as their non-GM counterparts — and therefore require no additional labeling, food safety, or toxicity tests. All without any scientific backing!
The FDA approves GM crops by doing no testing of its own but by simply taking Monsanto’s word for their safety. Amusingly, Monsanto agrees that it should have nothing to do with verifying safety, says spokesman Phil Angell. “Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”
So if neither Monsanto nor the feds is ensuring that the food supply is safe, who is?
The answer: No one.
So Why Not More Research and Testing?
Monsanto understood early on that the best way to brush off bad publicity was to suppress independent research.
Until recently, in negotiating an agreement with major universities, the company had severely restricted access to its seeds by requiring researchers to apply for a license and get approval from the company about any proposed research.
The documentary Scientists Under Attack: Genetic Engineering in the Magnetic Field of Money noted that nearly 95 percent of genetic engineering research is paid for and controlled by corporations like Monsanto.
It’s All About the Money!
So far, it appears the GM movement has done little more than raise the cost of food.
A 2009 study by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman looked at four Monsanto seeds and found only minimal increases in yield. And since GM crops cost more to produce, their economic benefits are questionable at best.
“It pales in comparison to other conventional approaches,” says Gurian-Sherman. “It’s a lot more expensive, and it comes with a lot of baggage that goes with it, like pesticide use, monopoly issues, and control of the seed supply.”
Meanwhile, the use of pesticides has soared as weeds and insects become increasingly resistant to these death sprays. Since GM crops were introduced in 1996, pesticide use has increased by 404 million pounds. Last year, Syngenta, one of the world’s largest pesticide makers, reported that sales of its major corn soil insecticide more than doubled in 2012, a response to increased resistance to Monsanto’s pesticides.
Weeds and Pests Fight Back!
Weeds and insects are fighting back with their own law — the law of natural selection. Last year, 49 percent of surveyed farmers reported Roundup-resistant weeds on their farms, up from 34 percent the year before. The problem costs farmers more than $1 billion annually.
- Pests like Roundup-resistant pigweed can grow thick as your arm and more than six feet high, requiring removal by hand.
- Many farmers simply abandon fields that have been infested with it.
To kill these adaptive pests, chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow are developing crops capable of withstanding even harsher pesticides. It’s producing an endless cycle of greater pesticide use at commensurate financial and environmental cost.
They’re just spraying chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers into the soil, it’s getting into the water table, and farmers aren’t even making any more money — biotech is.
S0 What’s the Rest of the World Have to Say?
Monsanto doesn’t have the same juice with foreign governments as it does with ours. That’s why it relies on the State Department to work as its taxpayer-funded lobbyist abroad.
Yet that’s becoming increasingly difficult. The countries that need GM seeds often can’t afford them (or don’t trust Monsanto). And the nations that can afford them (other than us) don’t really want them (or don’t trust Monsanto).
- Though the European Union imports 30 million tons of GM crops annually for livestock feed, it’s approved only two GM crops for human consumption.
- Although Brazil is poised to become the world’s largest soybean exporter on the strength of Monsanto seed, thousands of farmers there are suing Monsanto for more than $600 million after the company continued to charge them royalties two years after the expiration of its patent.
- Ecuador and Peru have shied away from GM crops.
- Even in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, Haiti mistrusted Monsanto so much that it declined its offer of seeds, even with assurances that the seed wasn’t GM.
Enter: The Death of Bee Colonies
In April, biotech companies took another hit when the European Union banned neonicotinoids — AKA “neo-nics” — one of the most powerful and popular insecticides in the world. It’s a derivative of nicotine that’s quite poisonous to plants and insects. Neo-nics are used to coat seeds, protecting crops in their early growth stage. In America, 90 percent of America’s corn crop comes with the coating.
The problem is that plants sweat these chemicals out in the morning dew, where they’re picked up by bees. Last year, a study linked neo-nics to the collapse of bee colonies, which threatens the entire food system. One-quarter of the human diet is pollinated by bees.
The mysterious collapse of colonies — in which bees simply fly off and die — has been reported as far back as 1918. Yet over the past seven years, mortality rates have tripled. Some U.S. regions are witnessing the death of more than half their populations, especially at corn planting time.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure to speak with a local honey supplier at a farmer’s market. She said that they recently had to move their entire honey operation to a different location due to an abundance of bee deaths which put her entire honey operation at risk. She referenced the neo-nic/corn problem in our discussion.
American Citizens: Lab Rats and Guinea Pigs
With Monsanto seeds currently covering more than 40 percent of America’s crop acres (a March study found that 86 percent of corn, 88 percent of cotton, and 93 percent of soybeans grown here are of a GM variety) and the agri-giant making an expected $7.65 billion profit this year, it’s doubtful the company will go away anytime soon.
But as consumers become more aware of the problems lurking in the food chain, activists in many states are pushing for laws that would require foods with GM ingredients to be labeled, much as foods with trans fats are.
This May, during a global day of action, more than 2 million protesters attended rallies in more than 400 cities across 52 countries.
If they’re going to allow the American people to be lab rats in an experiment, could they at least know where it is from so they can decide whether they want to participate or not?
As more information comes out, it’s clear that GM seed isn’t the home run it’s portrayed to be. It encourages greater pesticide use, which has a negative impact on the environment and our bodies.
Whether or not GM food is safe to eat, it poses a real threat to biodiversity through monopolization of the seed industry.
So What Can we do?
- Act with your wallet. Don’t buy foods or support the companies that support GMO’s
- Support those who sponsor local GMO Labeling Laws
- Support the Non-GMO Project
- Use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide
- Get to know your local, sustainable farmer and small businesses such as our very own Nature’s Cupboard in Michigan City, IN and Chesterton, IN.
- Subscribe to Trip Fitness Updates to stay up to speed on all things Health and Fitness!
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