Monsanto: A Bad Seed

For those readers who don’t know what Monsanto is, let me bring you up to speed.  Monsanto is, according to Wikipedia, a “multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation.”  Monsanto produces Round-Up and some other herbicides, as well as about 90% of the genetically altered seeds available in the US today.  That may sound fairly harmless on the surface, but trust me, Monsanto is about as far from harmless as you can get.  This St. Louis-based company has been harassing farmers, depriving them of their incomes, and forcing GMO’s down the throats of the consumers for quite some time now.  Fortunately, there seem to be a lot of people who are up in arms about this “bad seed.”

Let me be clear by saying that I don’t think that there is anything wrong with making a profit.  I have no problem with entrepreneurs.  I like them.  In fact, a budding entrepreneur is the reason I have a job.  What I don’t like is the government selling out to the lobbying efforts of mega-corporations like Monsanto, who are willing to make a profit at anyone’s expense.  Where the heck are those anti-trust laws, anyway?

Monsanto is most famous for creating “Round-Up ready” seeds – that is, seeds that are genetically modified to withstand repeated sprayings of their Round-Up herbicides.  Most natural plants, not shockingly, don’t hold up that well in the fact of poisons designed to kill them.  Kind of like people when they’re fed too much corn syrup… But I digress.  Monsanto manufactures both the herbicide and the seeds that resist them.  Monsanto has patented several genes for their GMO seeds, and they enforce their patents aggressively.

As most anyone who has ever had a garden will tell you, it’s tough to tell pollen where you want it to go.  Pollen pretty much goes wherever the wind takes it.  That means that farmers from one field will often find that some of their plants have cross-pollinated with plants from another farmer’s field. Seems natural.  Well, the problem now comes along when Farmer A, who doesn’t use Monsanto’s seed, finds some seeds that have cross-pollinated with Farmer B’s plants, which are Monsanto seeds and therefore patented by the company.  Monsanto has taken these non-buyers to court and successfully argued in more than case that the farmers were in violation of their patent rights.  In other words: pay up, or we’ll run you out of business.

There was an interesting section from the film Food, Inc., that told of a farmer who lived not all that far from where I call home.  This chap made part of his living, as a semi-retired farmer, off of cleaning seeds for other farmers for the next year.  Of course, Monsanto doesn’t endorse this behavior of cleaning and storing seeds for next year.  They want every farmer to pay up every year for brand-new seed.  Seed cleaning is something that most farmers have traditionally done, and Monsanto is doing this solely to make a profit; they do not care how this may harm the farmers’ profits.

There have been talks about so-called “terminator seeds” that become genetically unfeasible after one season.  That means that they can’t be saved or replanted, because they won’t be any good by the time the next planting season comes around.  It seems to me like this is a pretty raw deal for the farmer.  I know that not all of the readers come from farm country, but I do, and I know for a fact that farmers will go to great lengths to reuse things and get as much life out of seeds and equipment as they possibly can.  It just makes good economic sense for them to do so.

Another issue with Monsanto that directly affects consumers like you and me is GMO foods.  GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, and there is now scientific evidence emerging that, for example, GMO soy beans have increased the allergic reaction to soy.  In fact, from 1999-2000, the incidence of allergic reactions to soy had increased by 50%.  That’s nothing to sneeze at!

So okay, you think.  I’ll just stop eating products with lots of soy.  No problem.  Wrong.  GMOs are in animal feed, oils from corn, canola, and soy, the vegetables and fruits we eat, and the milk we drink.  Companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nabisco, Kellogg’s, Slim Fast, and even Quaker Oats are known to contain GMOs.  If you like Wheat Thins, oatmeal, greasy cheeseburgers, or soda, you’ve probably been gulping down GMO food like there’s no tomorrow.

The thing about GMO food is that it is genetically re-engineered and can contain genetic bits from viruses, bacteria, and all sorts of other “fun” bits.  We have no idea what the long-term consequences for injecting our food with sketchy genetic code might be.  Will it help, hurt, or have no cumulative effect?  The fact of the matter is that we don’t know.  It’s incredibly difficult to predict precisely what the effects of genetic tampering may be.  And because there are no labels for GMO foods in the US, it’s going to be pretty tough to track the results scientifically.  In other words, there are no “tracks,” per se.  In a world where trans fat, corn syrup, and just about everything else in our food is bad for us, it may be tough to attribute diseases to GMO foods in hindsight.  What we do know right now is that animals eating GMO food have been adversely affected by it, and honestly, that’s enough for me.  What’s bad for the goose is bad for the Lady.

At the moment, I’m most interested in how this affects me as a consumer and how much money we are potentially losing out of our economy because of companies like Monsanto.  Monsanto lobbies very heavily in Washington.  Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas used to work for Monsanto.  In a political world where everyone has his/her hand out, this unfortunately means that the possibilities for pocket-greasing and paid-for advantages are the norm.  Why, oh why, can’t we go back to the days when corporations used to have to prove their usefulness to society and could have their charters revoked after a few short years, if they were found to be no good to the public or even a threat?

As I said before, I have no issue with an individual or company wishing to make a profit.  After all, that’s the primary aim of business.  However, I do have a problem with it begins interfering with consumer choice and the ability of others to enter the market.  I, for one, would like to know whether or not my foods contain GMOs, gross amounts of corn syrup, or various other sundry ingredients.  Unfortunately, most major food companies just aren’t labeling that way.

I like to think that there are ways we can avoid ingesting so much unhealthy food.  Try shopping at a local farmers’ market.  Ask the farmers what they’re planting; chances are pretty good that you’ll get an honest answer.  Plus, you’ll be getting seasonal goodies and not stuff that was artificially grown somewhere in Guatemala.  Alternatively, try planting some maters and taters yourself next summer.  It’s fun, it’s easy, you’ll get some exercise, and you won’t have to go to the grocery store and mess with stupid people armed with shopping carts so often.

Do I think we should boycott farmers?  No.  The farmers are not the bad guys here.  They’re just trying to make a decent living, like most people.  I do think that we should be pushing for more effective anti-trust laws and, in my opinion, it wouldn’t hurt to throw out a lot of these ridiculous patent laws.  This is a prime example of patent law causing direct harm to the little guy.  But I will save my discussion of patent law for another blog.  Ultimately, our health is in our hands – more so today than ever.  We are going to have to push to see the changes that we want, as consumers and as citizens.  But until the labels in the US are more complete, I think I’m going to get myself a nice little veggie garden when I get home.  Hopefully, I’ll be living far enough away from the corn fields that my stuff won’t cross-pollinate with any Monsanto seeds!

For more information, check out these articles:

“Hungary Destroys All Monsanto GMO Corn Fields” – Natural Society
“Ten Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You to Know” – Organic Consumers
“Ten Reasons Why We Don’t Need GM Foods”Say No to GMOs! 
“Monsanto vs. Farmers” – Institute of Science in Society


About The Lady Libertarian
I am American, currently expatriated but hopeful about getting back home one of these days. Besides reading and writing about politics, I enjoy camping, sailing, canoeing, making pie, and traveling. I hope you'll enjoy this blog and find it informative and accessible.

2 Responses to Monsanto: A Bad Seed

  1. Beth says:

    I’ve definitely heard about these practices and I am definitely wary about the long-term effects of GMO food. Of course, I’m sure it would be very hard to “prove” that these foods are causing health problems, but based just on anecdotal evidence, I would rather not be eating that stuff. (I really don’t want to be a guinea pig either!) Problem is you don’t necessarily know if something is GMO and buying those products specifically labeled non-GMO is pretty costly. I am sure plenty of people, myself included, would like to buy more organic and non-GMO foods, but are limited by budget- when I can I will choose the natural option. It’s still one of my strongest beliefs that what you eat has the largest effect on your health.

    And I also have always thought of Monsanto as a shady company with questionable practices. But it’s definitely not easy to “boycott” them, since you don’t go to the store and see “Monsanto brand” corn, etc. It goes back to finding out what you really are buying/eating- going to the source. Jacqui and I really wanted to join one of the farm co-ops for fresh fruits and veggies. And if I am still at my house next year, I will try my garden again! Actually a lot of my family has gardens so I’m lucky that I often get some veggies from them when they have too much!

  2. Even if you don’t like gardening, try finding a farmer’s market. We have one back home, and they’re great – reasonable prices, and most of the stuff comes out of a garden. I’m sure there are some around the STL area. They’re usually on Saturday mornings. There are usually delicious farm lady baked goods, too! Yum

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