In defense of Monsanto

I want to talk about something today, and I hope that it does not result in my office getting burned down. But I work in a basement, so I guess its not that much of an issue. Genetically modified crops — devil incarnate or world savior? Solution to the hunger problem, or a capitalist venture? Each of these holds a little bit of truth, and I want to explore a side of the debate that isn’t normally discussed in the press — GM crops as the good guys.

When talking about genetically modified crops, Monsanto is, for the most part, the centerpiece of conversation. Debates, if they can even be called that, are riddled with hearsay, rumors, myths, “I read this” or “I heard that.” It seems to me that most people simply have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. And those who do have some knowledge on the subject are focusing on all the wrong things.
As bad press and political heat goes, Monsanto is on the sharp end of it more often than not. The “liberal” media paints Monsanto as a mean, heartless company, set on destroying any and all competition.
So Monsanto has some rather shrewd business practices … all successful companies do. They have some of the most consistently stable stock prices on Wall Street, and have earned massive investments from both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. So what is it about Monsanto that the public finds so appalling? Most of the arguments I have heard against this company are that Monsanto destroys the small farmer. While many small farmers are bankrupt by lawsuits with Monsanto, it is merely the result of Monsanto defending its intellectual property … to the death.

Monsanto makes a large percentage of its money from licensing patented genes to other companies. They have contracts with Dow Chemical, Syngenta, Novartis and many others. Monsanto is truly ruthless in its negotiations when licensing out its patents, and it should be.

No one is forcing these companies to license with Monsanto, no one is forcing farmers to buy Monsanto seeds. But good products cost more, and consumers (farmers and other corporations in this case) are willing to pay the premium that Monsanto charges for good products. Good products cost more. That’s business. That’s how the world works.

There is some humor I find in this situation, and that is the complete hypocrisy of the hoards of internet users who rush to vilify Monsanto. How many of the people writing about this company are typing on a computer made by Apple and manufactured by Foxconn? A computer made in factories with such terrible working conditions that Foxconn had to install bars on the windows to prevent suicides due to low pay and illegal overtime. Employees even need to sign away the right for their family or any of their descendants to sue the company in the case of death. I myself am guilty of owning multiple Apple products. I am willing to pay that premium because Apple products are beautiful and functional.

How many of these writers are wearing Nike shoes, manufactured by children paid pennies per day? I find it completely asinine that these individuals who claim to hold themselves to such a high moral standard are so selective in their moral battles. They buy a $2,000 computer and then blog about the unfairness of big corporations.

Now don’t get me wrong — I do understand that there is a fundamental difference between bad labor practices for something you wear or use, like a computer, and a genetically modified food product that you assimilate into your body. There is an intimacy related to food that does not exist with shoes or computers; the food that you eat is broken down on a molecular level and literally becomes part of you.

After doing my homework for this column, I came to the realization that there are in fact many reasons to hate, or at least avoid, Monsanto.

First, the excessive enforcement of patents. Monsanto has customers sign end-user license agreements (EULAs) that prevent the replication and even the study of their seeds. These EULAs forbid independent research and can block unflattering findings from being published.

Another frowned upon practice is the implementation of the Terminator and the Zombie. The infamous Monsanto patent #5,723,765, a.k.a., the Terminator gene, is for a gene that makes all seeds of Monsanto crops completely sterile. The Zombie gene is similar to the Terminator gene except that sterility can be reversed by spraying a chemical, made by Monsanto, that triggers fertility.

One of the last points I want to make is that the general public has an uncanny knack for remembering every mistake in history and forgetting the good parts. Monsanto is often condemned as as the manufacturer of Agent Orange and the other “Rainbow Herbicides” during the Vietnam War. What surprises me yet again about the public is that they cry murder for a chemical that was meant to kill crops, and had the unfortunate side effect of stillbirths and infant deformations, but that same public seems to develop complete amnesia regarding companies who design products with the sole purpose of taking life. There are easily close to a hundred weapons manufacturers just in the United States.

And finally, I want to talk about consumer stupidity. Hate me, don’t hate me; I really don’t care, but it is my honest opinion that the average consumer is not educated enough to know what a GMO is, or educated enough to make decisions about GMO legislation. I read dozens of bloggers’ posts about GMOs and many of them are under the idiotic impression that GMO is a chemical that is added to plants.

Monsanto may have questionable-at-best legal practices, but they have achieved the ultimate corporate success — government support the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the times of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil. Our government turns a relatively blind eye toward Monsanto’s activities because Monsanto has branded itself as “agents of a future prosperity that will trickle down to all.”

Let’s for one moment imagine a world without Monsanto. Without the Golden Rice engineered by Monsanto, millions of malnourished individuals would die every year of Vitamin A deficiency, and nearly half a million more from blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency.

I am by no means suggesting that Monsanto is a good company. Their level of social standards leave much to be desired. What I am saying is that if you want to launch a campaign of hate and protest against a multinational, multi-billion dollar company, at least educate yourself enough to know what you are talking about.

And ask yourself this: Is it worth sacrificing the hundreds of thousands of lives saved every year by Monsanto’s products just to destroy the company that bankrupt the small farmer down the street?

HUDSON LOFCHIE can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

22 Comments

  • Sabonten
    November 5, 2013

    Also using GMO rice to fight world hunger is a bandaid and very reductionist and not a long term solution. People don’t often ask why these people are starving in the first place, it seems like some perpetual thing that always has happened there until we throw just one grain at it. People in these countries starve for socio-economic and political reasons, they starve because of global warming, because of over-fishing, because of cheap factory labor, because of reasons that can traced back to colonialism. Their crops suffer because of pollution, climate change, population increase and loss of irrigation systems and loss of local knowledge adapted to these environments. Throwing magic rice at the problem is no solution and it makes them dependent on it rather than self-sufficient.

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