February 4, 2010
When we consider the rogue's gallery of devilish, over-sized, greedy
and disproportionately powerful corporations, we generally come up
with outfits like,
the United States Senate
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
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.
Founded 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
Anyone 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.
When you consider, as
Walletpop originally reported, that
one-in-four food labels is inaccurate, that
the FDA'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 study concluded.
This 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.
Author 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."
This, O'Brien says, in the same year
when farm income declined by around 34%.
Because 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,
can sue you for royalties.
Additionally, 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.
Back 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
In keeping 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.
In fairness, 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
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 cheaper
Ultimately, 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 whenever practical.
And 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
Meanwhile, let's endeavor to make
Monsanto a household name. But not in a good way.
On January 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
And the cycle of corporate abuse and
monopolization will continue.