The evil corporation in your refrigerator
we consider the rogue's gallery of devilish, over-sized, greedy and disproportionately
powerful corporations, we generally come up with outfits like Microsoft,
Bechtel, AIG, Halliburton, Goldman-Sachs, Exxon-Mobil and the United States
Senate. Yet somehow, Monsanto, arguably the most devilish, over-sized, greedy
and disproportionately powerful corporation in the world has been able to
more or less skulk between the raindrops -- only a household name in households
where documentaries like Food Inc. are regarded as light Friday evening
entertainment. My house, for example. But for the most part, if you were
to ask an average American for their list of sinister corporations, Monsanto
probably wouldn't make the cut.
by Missouri pharmacist John Francis Queeny in 1901, Monsanto is literally
everywhere. Just about every non-organic food product available to consumers
has some sort of connection with Monsanto.
who can read a label knows that corn, soy and cotton can be found in just
about every American food product. Upwards of 90% of all corn, soybeans
and cotton are grown from genetically engineered seeds, also known as genetically
modified organisms (GMOs). These genetically enhanced products appear in
around 70% of all American processed food products. And Monsanto controls
90% of all genetically engineered seeds. In other words, Monsanto controls
-- and owns patents on -- most of the American food supply.
you consider, as Walletpop originally reported, that one-in-four food labels
is inaccurate, that the F.D.A.'s testing is weak at best, then how can we
trust one corporation to have so much control over our produce? The answer
is, we can't.
a study by the International Journal of Biological Sciences revealed that
Monsanto's Mon 863, Mon 810, and Roundup herbicide-absorbing NK 603 in corn
caused kidney and liver damage in laboratory rats. Scientists also discovered
damage to the heart, spleen, adrenal glands and even the blood of rats that
consumed the mutant corn. A "state of hepatorenal toxicity" the
hasn't slowed down Monsanto's profit machine. In 2008, Monsanto cleared
over $2 billion in net profits on $11 billion in revenues. And its 2009
is looking equally as excellent.
and food safety advocate Robyn O'Brien told me, "Monsanto is expecting
gross margins in Q2 2010 of 62%, its corn and soy price mix to be up 8-10%
and its glyphosate revenue to expand to an estimated $1 billion in gross
profit by 2012, enabling Monsanto to further drive R&D into seeds and
to price those seeds at a premium – further driving price increases
on the farm and in the grocery stores."
O'Brien says, in the same year when farm income declined by around 34%.
Monsanto claims that its GMOs create higher yields and therefore comparatively
higher revenues per acre for struggling American farmers, they're certainly
a tempting option. On the surface, that is. Monsanto controls its seeds
with an iron fist, so even if you happen to own a farm next to another farm
upon which Monsanto seeds are used, and if those seeds migrate onto your
land, Monsanto can sue you for royalties.
if you use seeds from crops grown from Monsanto seeds, a process known as
"seed cleaning," you also have to pay royalties to Monsanto or
it will sue you. All told, Monsanto has recovered $15 million in royalties
by suing farmers, with individual settlements ranging from five figures
to millions of dollars each.
in 2004, farmer Kem Ralph served eight months in jail and was fined $1.3
million for lying about Monsanto cotton seeds he was hiding in his barn
as a favor to a friend. They weren't even his seeds (yeah, that's what they
all say!). By way of comparison, the fine in Ralph's home state of Tennessee
for, say, cocaine possession, is $2,500.
with the Orwellian nature of modern marketing, one of the first phrases
you see on the front page of the Monsanto website is "we help farmers."
Funny. In a cruelly ironical way, that is.
the argument in support of Monsanto is generally "it makes more food
for lower prices." Of course this is a red herring. Basic economics
proves that choice and competition create lower prices. Not monopolies.
This applies not only to American grocery stores, but also in terms of feeding
developing nations where food is scarcer. Moreover, stronger Monsanto herbicides,
compatible with herbicide resistant seeds, are giving rise to mutant Wolverine-ish
super weeds that have adapted and are rapidly spreading through the air
to farms that don't use Monsanto GMOs, destroying obviously vulnerable crops.
Say nothing of the inevitable mutant bugs that will adapt to the pesticides
that are implanted into the Monsanto Mon 810 genetic code. And if further
studies indicate similar organ damage in humans, the externalized costs
to health care systems will begin to seriously out-weigh the benefits of
there are better, healthier ways to make cheaper food. Until then the best
thing we can do is to demand further investigations and buy organic products
if you can't afford to buy organic, O'Brien recommends, "A great first
step, given how pervasive these ingredients are in processed foods that
often use these ingredients to extend shelf life, is to reduce your exposure
to processed foods and stick with pronounceable ingredients and foods that
your grandmother would have served her kids."
let's endeavor to make Monsanto a household name. But not in a good way.
15, the Obama Justice Department launched an anti-trust investigation against
the corporate behemoth over its next generation of genetically modified
"Roundup Ready" soybean seeds. The very next day, the U.S. Supreme
Court agreed to hear the case Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, which challenges
the safety of genetically modified agricultural products -- the centerpiece
of the Monsanto empire. If the investigation fails, farmers will have to
switch over to the next generation of Roundup Ready seeds in 2014. And the
cycle of corporate abuse and monopolization will continue.