“An ear of corn is never just an ear of corn when it is grown from a Monsanto seed…” Anonymous
by John Bain
For the past few weeks here at Good-B we’ve been talking about genetically modified foods. What are they? Why are they? And are they good for you or not?
In this field there is no company more lauded – and suspect – for its achievements than agricultural juggernaut Monsanto. We’ve invited this company into our homes – and make no mistake, you have eaten Monsanto today – without questioning their motives or thinking much of it at all. Why?
In researching this topic, I became increasingly aware of the stupefying depths of this company’s involvement in American life. I decided that to write about Monsanto is not so much to pen a clear-cut narrative of ever-increasing genetic tinkering, stock prices, or protest. The conglomerate doesn’t even fit into the familiar (to conspiracy theorists) metaphor of the “octopus” – tendrils everywhere, with a nefarious head plotting at the top.
No – and I hope you’ll forgive the aquatic word-wrangling while I get to the point – it’s best understood as a jellyfish. The thing about a jellyfish is that, because it’s composed mostly of saline water, we can’t tell exactly where it ends and the ocean begins.
See where I’m going here? Monsanto’s control over this country’s food isn’t an abuse of the system, as it stands – it is the system. It is so much a basic part of our food system, you don’t even think about it.
Corn is in pretty much everything these days. And this isn’t just a matter of muffins – I’m thinking more along the lines of corn-syrup sweetener in soda and candy, corn starch in chicken nuggets, even corn in your gas tank in the form of ethanol. And Monsanto is the corn cartel behind all of this, controlling 80 percent of corn seeds (not to mention 90 percent of soybeans) in this country and feeling free to raise prices whenever they feel like it.
How is this possible/legal? Not to suggest anything untoward, but this site has a list of Congressmen that Monsanto has given campaign contributions to. According to this source, they’ve spent over $50 million on lobbying to keep their genetically modified crops on the right side of the law. That puts them right up there with the oil industry, which has a similar effect on U.S. policy.
Did I mention that G.H.W. Bush-appointed Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas has Monsanto ties and refused to recuse himself from a case involving their GMO patents? Like I said, these tendrils run deep.
In fact, Monsanto’s rise to absolute power has everything to do with the Bush dynasty. Consider that Donald Rumsfeld was president of a company now owned by Monsanto, and that John Ashcroft was the top recipient of Monsanto money in the government when he was made attorney general. They’re also well-represented in the CIA. It’s no surprise, then, that they’re pushing farmers in Iraq and Afghanistan to use their GMO seeds.
Individuals with Monsanto ties were also conspicuous in the Bush-era FDA. They still work there, which perhaps has something to do with the current lack of progress on a proposal to label all GMO food.
Through the “revolving door” of Monsanto employees being recruited by the FDA, the company and its cronies literally decide most major U.S. food policy decisions. They even possess the capability to intervene in U.S. foreign policy, as revealed by a diplomatic cable from 2007 made public by WikiLeaks. This cable describes efforts by the U.S. ambassador to France to put pressure on that country after they banned Monsanto’s GMO corn. It is incredible –and palpably wrong – that one company has so much control over what this nation’s government does or does not do.
At the present moment Monsanto exercises nearly complete control over the food policy of the U.S. This control is further enabled by the patent system, which allows organisms to be trademarked; thus, Monsanto literally owns most of the corn in this country in the same way the RIAA owns most of the music.
Now, my objection here isn’t a moral one. Humans have been playing God with genetic material for centuries. Those who tinker with genetic material have the right to copyright it, just as an author has the right to copyright his novel. The problem I have with Monsanto is that what they’re doing is anti-competition; they’re in the halls of government precisely to cripple the kind of honest capitalism this country was founded on.
For purposes of illustration, let’s consider the case of OSGATA, an organization of organic farmers that filed suit against Monsanto last March.
OSGATA filed suit in response to Monsanto’s tactic of suing any farmer who is found with seeds from their GMO crops in his or her field. In many cases, OSGATA claims there was no willful infringement; rather, seeds and pollen naturally drifted from Monsanto-supplied fields to these farmers’ organic plots.
One perspective on this case is that Monsanto is simply trying to bankrupt the competition, using the drift of their GMO seeds as easy cover. That’s the view I’m inclined to.
In February of this year, the judge presiding over the case deemed the accusations of the plaintiff OSGATA to be without legal merit. The suit was dismissed.
This March, they appealed, with one plaintiff saying the Federal Court was “obsequious to Monsanto”. I’m anxiously awaiting any news on the progress of this case, but my hopes aren’t very high.
Still, the OSGATA case is only one of a series of events that shows people are waking up. Another would be the California ballot initiative to start labeling GMO food, or even more pointedly last year’s S.E.C. investigation of a Monsanto program that gave cash incentives to farmers who used their GMO seeds.
But those are the people who grow our food, the niche California “granola lobby”, and the Securities Exchange Commission, respectively. They all have direct reasons to be involved, and that isn’t enough.
After all, President Obama promised to introduce a GMO-labeling bill during the 2008 campaign. That’s failed to materialize as of yet, but I think Mr. Obama is the kind of politician who holds his cards close to his chest. Monsanto has a huge amount of clout in Washington, and without the clear support of the people any attempt to fight the GMO lobby would be very politically hazardous for him.
In other words, it’s our problem. Right now a movement is growing. But I think it’s very likely that there’s nascent support for the anti-GMO cause in the hearts of many. Most just have blinders on, unable to see the Monsanto system for what it really is – and what it is is a racket, an anti-democratic and anti-competitive institution. What’s up to those of us in the know is to inform, to agitate, and to hope we strike a chord.
Call to Action: Gary Hirschfield of Stonyfield Yogurt and many other “pure food” activists have started a movement for freedom of choice in our food system called “Just Labels.” The key issue is that we should know what is in our food and have a choice over whether we want to consumer it or not. Join the movement as we did at Good-b at http://www.justlabelit.org/
Category: Sustainable Small-B