Seed manufacturer Monsanto Company has been the target of a lot of criticism over the past few years, including a couple of articles that I wrote when I first started writing for Forward Progressives. In 2013, the first annual March Against Monsanto took place. It was supposedly in response to the failure of California Proposition 37, in 2012 which would have mandated labeling of foods that came from seeds that were genetically enhanced.
After a couple of articles on the subject in which I expressed concern over certain Monsanto practices, I was urged by people who have a background in science to “do some research” – so since then I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours researching not only Monsanto itself, but GE technology as well. As a result of this research, I came to the conclusion that Monsanto – and genetic engineering of seed technology – isn’t the horrible Frankenstein experiment the March Against Monsanto crowd would have people believe.
Here are a few of the things that I’ve learned that I want to share with you.
6. You’ll often hear about how Monsanto is suing farmers for alleged cross-contamination. However, out of the hundreds of thousands of farmers the company sells seed to annually, they’ve only sued 144 between 1997 and 2010 and that was for violating their patent rights or contract with the company. The company also notes that out of all of those lawsuits, only 9 have gone to trial and any recovered funds are donated.
Even though Monsanto’s policy of enforcing patents might seem strict, other companies that sell biotechnology-enhanced seeds enforce their patents. In other words, it’s not a some evil plot, it’s simply a business being a business. “Monsanto is not the only seed company that enforces its intellectual property rights,” Baucum said. “Pioneer, Agripro, Syngenta, all these companies have engaged in enforcement actions against other people who had violated their rights in seed and seed products they’re creating.”
Baucum also said people should weigh the small number of lawsuits against the “hundreds of thousands of people” to whom the company has licensed seed to over the past ten years.
Overall, both Baucum and Reat agree growers are usually more than willing to settle matters with Monsanto representatives in a polite, respectable way out-of-court. “A lot of times growers are worried that Monsanto is going to take their farm, but we will do everything possible to reach a settlement in these matters,” Reat said.
Whether the farmer settles directly with Monsanto, or the case goes to trial, the proceeds are donated to youth leadership initiatives including scholarship programs. (Source)
5. Monsanto is not the only seed company out there that uses biotechnology to modify seed lines to create plants that are more resistant to drought and pests. Dow, Syngenta and Pioneer are just a few other companies that do the same thing, but you will probably never hear a March Against Monsanto activist talk about them. I wonder why that is?
4. Monsanto received a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights campaign for LGBT equality in the workplace in 2013, and this wasn’t a one-time fluke either.
It’s the fourth consecutive time the company has been designated a “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign.
The campaign’s Corporate Equality Index rates companies based on LGBT-friendly policies and procedures. Monsanto, for example, offers domestic partner and transgender-inclusive health care coverage to employees.
“We are proud of our company’s diversity and our focus on inclusion to insure that every voice is heard and every person is treated equally as these are critical to our success,” said Nicole Ringenberg, Monsanto vice president and controller, as well as the executive sponsor for the company’s LGBT employee network, Encompass. “We’re thrilled to share the news that we are being recognized again by the Human Rights Campaign.” (Source)
3. Monsanto and GE technology have often been blamed for the decline of the monarch butterfly, but the actual decline of the butterfly is due to farming practices which have killed off a lot of the plant they depend on, the milkweed.
Milkweed is the only plant on which monarch butterflies will lay their eggs, and it is the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. Despite its necessity to the species, the plant decreased 21 percent in the United States between 1995 and 2013. Scientists, conservationists, and butterfly enthusiasts are encouraging people to grow the plant in their own yards and gardens. (Source)
Monsanto has since pledged $4 million to restore the habitat needed for monarch butterflies and is encouraging people to leave patches of milkweed intact whenever possible.
2. Monsanto is often vilified by Big Organic activists (Yes, organic is a very real industry with a global market of $63 billion dollars. Been to Whole Foods lately?) as trying to starve or poison the world, but they’ve actually done a lot to combat hunger and promote agriculture in the developing world, including countries like Bangladesh. Monsanto actually supports common sense labeling laws, but does not agree with labels lobbied for by the organic industry which attempts to vilify GE technology despite the absence of any scientifically proven risks – and no, the retracted Seralini study doesn’t count.
1. Monsanto doesn’t control the United States government, including the FDA. You’re thinking of defense contractors, the oil industry, and Wall Street. While it is true they’re a multi-billion dollar company and may have some lobbyists, they pale in comparison to companies like Exxon, Lockheed Martin, Verizon, or Goldman Sachs.
In the interest of fairness, Monsanto isn’t a perfect company. In their past, they’ve been involved in lawsuits over PCBs contaminating creeks from their chemical division Solutia, which was spun off in 1997 and is now owned by the Eastman Chemical Company (which itself was spun off from Eastman Kodak in 1994). Another surprising fact is that their transition from a chemical company that notoriously produced Agent Orange for the United States (along with other companies) as well as some other environmentally-damaging products, to a bio-tech corporation was partially steered by one Mitt Romney who worked for Bain Capital at the time. In other words, they’ve moved from a polluting chemical giant to a player in the green biotech world along with companies like Dow, Pioneer, Syngenta and others with the help of a former presidential candidate.
Many are also concerned about the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, saying it has been linked to cancer – but there’s more to that story as well. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s official stance currently is that there’s no evidence that glyphosate can be linked to cancer. However, the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared in March that glyphosate “probably” raises the risk of cancer in people exposed. What’s important to note here is that the levels of exposure according to the UN’s findings have to be extremely high and sustained over some period of time, which means farmworkers are the main group who would be most at risk – if there is a risk. Due to the new findings from the UN, the EPA is reviewing glyphosate’s risks and expects to release a new assessment later this year, which could include new restrictions on use but will not call for an outright ban on the chemical.
Another common claim by the organics industry and their blogs is that GMOs are killing off the bees. That claim is false. Neonicotinoid pesticides (which are not a feature of GE seeds) have been implicated as a possible culprit in colony collapse along with a variety of parasites and fungi. It’s also worth pointing out that Rotenone, a similar pesticide based on nicotine, has been used for decades in the organic industry and has also likely killed its fair share of pollinating insects. When I was a kid and we did organic farming, we used Rotenone pretty heavily on crops and nobody ever discussed how toxic the pesticide could be to the ecosystem, including bees.
Now, I understand that vast majority of my audience is left of center and most of them laugh at conservatives who believe climate change is a liberal conspiracy, despite the fact that science has shown over and over again that climate change is a very real thing. What is very troubling is that these same people who believe Fox News viewers are idiots for denying climate change or evolution, deny science themselves when it comes to topics like GE technology or even vaccines. It is also important to point out that corporations can and do change over time based on science, profit, and public image. That’s why Monsanto isn’t producing industrial insulators these days, forgoing PCBs and designing new strains of vegetables, including organic vegetables using traditional cross-breeding methods.
I support sustainable, locally sourced produce and independent farmers wholeheartedly every chance I get. Trust me, I’d much rather spend my money on food where I can go see the farm from which it came, but that’s because I prefer food that hasn’t been in a storage locker for months or possibly produced in countries using slave labor. However, it’s arrogant and ignorant to insist that farmers and consumers in developing countries follow first world ideals, which aren’t based on ethical concerns, but rather on the inability of some to understand science, business law, or how capitalism works.
There are important things for us as liberals and progressives to work on, including making sure that all Americans have access to fresh, nutritious food – but demonizing a company out of uninformed fear peddled by conspiracy nuts and snake oil salesmen like Dr. Oz takes us backwards, not forward.
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