Carolynp, my garden buddy from GW asked my take on Monsanto. I figured I’d go one further and explain what I’ve learned about the company and why I have the opinions of them that I do. I don’t proclaim to be unbiased, so excuse my asides, but here is a lengthy post on everything from soup to nuts about the company and what they’ve done and are doing to food production in the United States and World.
Technically founded in 1901, Monsanto’s (named for the maiden name of John F. Queeny’s wife) first product was ironically Saccharine (what a positive story that product has been) and their next big product was Agent Orange (joy oh joy). It wasn’t until 1960 that their Agricultural division was formed, and not until 1976 that the product that launched the company was introduced… Round-Up. A miracle product that kills all organic life, it did wonders on weeds, but also killed wanted flowers and vegetables. That was a problem.
So in 1981, the company started it’s molecular biology group (at an agricultural company?). No wonder Monsanto’s own history claims that it was a newly formed company in 2000, and that the original Monsanto no longer existed. Odd, the bank I work for is proud that Abraham Lincoln signed it’s charter back in the 1860s, even though it’s gone through near countless mergers since then.
Anyway, by 1994 the company had engineered BST, a cow hormone that not only greatly increased milk production, but allegedly caused cancer and other maladies in cows and people who consumed the milk or beef. But it wasn’t until 1996 that the life sciences division finally solved their Round-Up problem. Round-Up Ready seed. Now you could grow Monsanto soy beans and cotton and spray your field with Round-Up from the air, killing only the weeds because they genetically modified the vegetable seed. Miracle of modern technology. Soon they expanded it to corn , the most versatile and most planted crop in the nation and canola.
Then, in 2000, the original Monsanto “completed a merger and changed it’s name to Pharmacia Corp” (boy that just sounds like an agricultural company). That company was bought by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. I guess they decided making drugs and seeds wasn’t kosher for PR purposes. They are anything but stupid, definitely not stupid.
This is where I blend politics with gardening, but to my credit, they did it first… Some names that may be familiar to you:
- Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice for life, was an attorney working for Monsanto.
- Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense, was on the board of directors for a Monsanto subsidiary.
- John Ashcroft, former Attorney General, ultimately responsible for prosecuting companies like Monsanto, was one of the two congressmen with the highest political contributions from the company in 2000. The other was the chairman of the House Agricultural committee (shrewd).\
The list goes on but mostly it’s folks you’ve never heard of but were influential in various specific aspects of Monsanto’s growth in the bioagricultural field.
Further, there appears to be a revolving door between the FDA and Monsanto. It seems whenever the FDA digs into something they’re doing, someone leaves Monsanto and joins the FDA to help investigate (boggles the mind).
Finally, it was a seminal moment when under sympathetic leadership this country made it legal to patent, and therefore own, life. That has led to numerous lawsuits that Monsanto and their money have won whereby farmers not using GMO corn had their crops contaminated by wind pollination and now have their crops and all their seed, owned by Monsanto (just sickening).
I guess if you can’t beat them, buy them. Monsanto has built their company on acquiring seed companies. Starting back in 1982 when they bought a major soybean seed company, Jacob Hartz Seed Co., they have chipped away at seed companies big and small to expand their domination of food. Here is a partial list of other instrumental acquisitions:
- Seminis, a leader in crop field vegetables. They have steadily been decreasing the 3,500 varieties that Seminis used to sell (like Early Girl tomatoes and Red Sails lettuce in my garden, grrr).
- De Ruiter Seeds of the Netherlands, a leader in greenhouse vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and melons.
- Agroeste Semetes of Brazil, a major corn and vegetable seed company internationally.
- Several regional commercial seed companies. Apparently growers that buy from these companies sign an agreement not to save their seed because they are owned by Monsanto.
- Finally, I tried again to find the thread on GW, but I recall one a year ago about a major seed saving and swaping company who’s head was ousted because he refused to be bought out by Monsanto, only to have the company then bought.
Regional seed retailers have signed a Safe Pledge agreement not to sell GMO seed. Unfortunately that agreement doesn’t apply to all Monsanto-owned seeds. I was disheartened to find out that Territorial Seed Company from Oregon, that sells seeds for my climate, still sells Seminis seeds. However, I understand they are looking for alternatives and phasing them out. I know it’s hard when Monsanto now owns the most popular seed varieties on the planet.
What I don’t understand is that Monsanto also was a major contributor to the Doomsday Vault. This is where researchers have stored every seed variety on the planet in an artic underground vault for future generations. To preserve our food supply. Why would they do that when they are also working on the Terminator Seed, that will die after one year so you can’t save seed. Nobody can figure that one out, but yes, the Terminator Seed is truly frightening.
What’s more, I understand they now have the patent on the genetics behind over 11,000 species of plants, meaning nobody can grow them without Monsanto’s permission. And I’m sure they’re trying to grow that number to include all the varieties we grow in our gardens.
Why seed saving alone won’t stop them:
Seed saving, and multi-million dollar fines won’t stop a huge multi-national conglomerate like Monsanto. Unfortunately, a billion dollars is not enough to stop them. Last year the company made $2 billion profit.
Frankly the only way to stop them is to reverse the GMO rules, making their use illegal, then rip out the contaminated crops and replant with non-modified varieties. THEN bring anti-trust legislation to bear. They have clearly violated the law by buying the competition.
So while I will not knowingly buy from them, one farmer in Iowa buying seed and roundup for 400 acres trumps me, you, everyone on this site and the Dervaes put together. Oh, and that's not counting the hundreds of thousands of large-scale farmers out there. Every backyard gardener and organic farmer in the world can't dent their pocket book (shame).
You see, their focus is on what is grown nationally and world wide, corn, soybeans, cotton, and canola, not necessarily what the backyard gardener is growing. Sure they bought all those big, strategic seed companies, but vegetable seed sales only accounted for $400 million of their $2 billion profit.
If you would like to know more about Monsanto and what they’re doing to food production world wide (albeit very biased), watch the multi-part Future of Food videos on YouTube. Very enlightening.
Of course, I am a businessman, with a business degree and understand business. What Monsanto has done is shrewed business. But I also took an introductory ethics class, and what they've done is highly unethical, to a point that it should be illegal. No one should own life. Life should go on. All those things are contrary to Monsanto.
I have only touched on the surface of all the issues. I could go further into the damage they’ve caused local farmers here and elsewhere. Or maybe how I’m scared that companies like Kellogs is using GMO corn in their products that I’m unknowingly feeding my kids because they believe consumers don’t care if GMO vegetables were used to make their food. What else am I feeding my kids without my knowledge. Scary stuff.
So, with a track record like Saccharine, Agent Orange, and rBST, a poltical clout to get anything they want rammed through the FDA, congress or the Supreme Court, and business practices that sue farmers that don't buy their products for having tainted seed from natural polination, you see a bit why I am so passionate about this issue.
Well Carolyn, I hope that is what you were looking for. Depressing I know. Sorry. Enjoy your garden and convince others to do the same!
Well Carolyn, I hope that is what you were looking for. Depressing I know. Sorry.
Enjoy your garden and convince others to do the same!