12 January 2009

Monsanto: Unnatural Profits

We have been trying to round up the more well-known corps important to the anti-globalization (anti-neoliberalism) movement at the outset of this blog in order to cover the basics, so to speak. We've reviewed the accusations and issues surrounding Coca-Cola, Nestle, Chevron and others. Now it's time to look at one more corp at the center of controversy and scandal: the Monsanto Company. It is impossible, as with the other corps reviewed so far, to devote our entire attention to every issue surrounding this monolithic corporation, so, as with Coke and Nestle and the others, we will simpy highlight some of the issues and point in directions throughout the imbedded links and further reading to look for more evidence yourself. As a consumer of any degree, however little you may participate, it is your responsibility to know as much as possible about what you are consuming and what your dollars are supporting. You are responsible for corporate activities. Your compliance is consent and consent is the root of all political/social/economic power:

"A ruler's power is dependent upon the availability of its several sources. This availability is determined by the degree of obedience and cooperation given by the subjects. Such obedience and cooperation are, however, not inevitable, and despite inducements, pressures, and even sanctions, obedience remains essentially voluntary. Therefore, all government is based upon consent." (Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action)

Monsanto is huge and has interests and activities across the spectrum of agricultural, political, entertainment, and environmental areas of interest. For the purpose of this review we will focus only on the more obvious aspects: Monsanto's development and marketing of genetically engineered seed, their use of bovine growth hormones and the impact on milk, and the impact of the corp on third world countries, in this example, India.

The problem of genetically modified plants goes beyond the health dangers of consuming these new and bizarre hybrids, and has a great environmental impact as well. For example, if fish genes and strawberry genes are mixed in order to produce a brand new, unnatural combination (the fishberry?), it is then essentially released into the environment through farming. Because genes are selected not because of their benefit to humanity on the basis of taste, longevity, flavor or nutrition, and are instead engineered for higher profits (increased yield and growth, for instance), a threat is posed of newly genetically modified plants overcoming natural plants and potentially eliminating them as an invasive species does to indiginous species of plants. Though they are not healthier they may be more invasive. This means that, though the effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may not yet be fully understood in regards to health and environmental impact, they are still effecting the environment in an irreversible way--all in the name of profit! Monsanto Company earns billions upon billions of dollars a year.

As if this were not enough, for the first time in United States history seeds (see seed laws), those things essentially necessary for the survival of all human beings, were patented for a corporation:

"Monsanto developed G.M. seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. Monsanto then patented the seeds. For nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented. “It’s not like describing a widget,” says Joseph Mendelson III, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety, which has tracked Monsanto’s activities in rural America for years.

Indeed not. But in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover “a live human-made microorganism.” In this case, the organism wasn’t even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data." (Vanity Fair, Monsanto's Harvest of Fear: Politics & Power)

Legal terrorism follows as Monsanto litigates over and over against farmers, independent businesses and anyone who they claim violated their patent rights. Farmers are forced to sign agreements with the corp not to replant seeds from a previous harvest, instead forced to buy new seeds. In addition to this, Monsanto has developed "terminator seeds," producing a line of sterile plants, forcing farmers to repeatedly purchase seeds from the corp. On top of health risks and environmenta risks of GMOs, Monsanto must also wreak terror and anxiety upon the minds of farmers and workers.

Bovine growth hormone (Bovine somatotropin) is a hot issue with arguments from either side. Bovine somatotropin is produced using recombinant DNA to synthetically produce recombinant bovine growth hormone (or rBGH). Monsanto markets rBGH under the trade name Posilac. Monsanto and some scientists claim that the amounts of rBGH in milk are harmless, whereas advocacy groups, affinity groups, consumers and other scientists claim that this is not actually true and that the health risks of rBGH are not fully understood. rBGH increases milk production in cows by about 11%-16%, making the hormone profitable, but also has health consequences on the cows themselves, including a 25% increase in the risk of mastisis, a 40% reduction in fertility, and a 55% increase in developing lameness. Farmers use antibiotics to treat these problems, which are then consumed by humans, increasing antibiotic-resistant bacteria and undermining the efficiency of antibiotic use for humans because of an increased tolerance. Insulin-like growth factor 1 has also been tied to rBGH, effecting childhood growth and anabolic effects in adults. Unless a brand of milk is organic or specifically mentions NOT using rBGH or other antibiotics/pesticides/growth hormones, then that milk is a risk.

Forcing consumption, terrorism, and health/environmental risks are apparantly not enough for Monsanto. They also seem to have to force children in India to pollinate heavily pesticide-laden cotten in fields in India:

"Working in cottonseed fields also has important health implications for the children involved. The use of pesticides is very high in commercial cotton cultivation (accounting for nearly 55% of the total pesticide consumption in India). Children working in the cottonseed fields are directly exposed to poisonous pesticides like Endosulphan, Monocrotophos, Cypermethrin and Mythomyl for prolonged periods. When doing cross-pollination work they stand among cotton plants which reach up to their shoulders and bend over them as the children identify flowers ready for pollination. In ordinary cotton production, in order to avoid exposure to pesticides, no work is done on the days when pesticides are sprayed. But in cottonseed cultivation cross-pollination work is carried out even during the days when pesticides are sprayed in the fields. Hence compared to workers in ordinary cotton fields, the children working in the cottonseed fields are exposed more directly to pesticides and are exposed for longer periods of time. Their exposure to Endosulphan, which is an organochlorine, affects their nervous system and the symptoms are precisely what children working in cottonseed fields often complain of: headaches, weakness, disorientation, convulsions and respiratory problems. In the absence of long term monitoring of the health of children, there is no way of assessing the permanent damage such exposure has on the health of these children." (Child Labour and Trans-National Seed Companies in Hybrid Cotton Seed Production in Andhra Pradesh, Nature of work and terms and condition of employment)

These children are paid less than half a dollar per day, and are victims of globalization which sets its own capitalists rules and forces foreign families, governments and children to play along at the risk of being starved-out by world superpowers like governments and corporations. And children are not the only victims in India, farmers have been commiting suicide by the thousands across the nation due to being lured by corps like Cargill and Monsanto into buy genetically modified seeds--a gamble that, for them, did not pay off. As their debt increased (due to tactics used by corps like "terminator seeds") to these corps, so did their indentured servitude, leading to mental anguish so great that suicide has been seen as the only option to escape the grasp of corporations like Monsanto. New, powerful, foreign interests like Monsanto, forever after profit, have moved into all places of the world in order to exploit the poor and a world economic system which favors the powerful. These are exactly the types of things that people like Vandana Shiva in India are attempting to struggle against by forming organic seed banks across the country.

It is important to note that corporations like Cargill or Monsanto frequently use greenwashing tactics in order to spin their products or services with a falsely "environmentally friendly" message, exploiting the natural desire of the consumer to help the environment as well as the recent fad of environmentalism.

These are just some of the controversies surrounding Monsanto. The list goes on and on. The difficulty with Monsanto, however, is knowing what they have touched and what they haven't, as a corporation, in order to boycott them. They are vast, just like Coca-Cola or Nestle. It is therefore important for us to familiarize ourselves with Monsanto brands like these, as well as understand the nature of GMOs and hormones that corps like Monsanto sell and how to effectively boycott them for the sake of our own health as well as shutting down corps like Cargill and Monsanto. This requires economic noncooperation with farmers who use rBGH or grow with genetically modified seeds. The only effective way to do this is to buy organic food, locally grown if possible.

Further reading:
article: Farmer's Suicides (ZNet)
article: Child Labor in India (Child Labour and Trans-National Seed Companies in Hybrid Cotton Seed Production in Andhra Pradesh)
article: Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear (Vanity Fair)
article: A meta-analysis review of the effects of recombinant bovine somatotropin (Canadian Journal of Vetrinarian Research)
Organic Consumers Association
The True Food Network
Seeds of Deception
Monsanto Watch
List of Seed Companies Tied to Monsanto and GMOs
Non-GMO Shopping Guide

Buy locally at farmer's markets. Buy organic/hormone/pesticide free. Buy less!: grow your own organic food.


  1. it's a lot of work, i wish someone would chip in and help fill out all this information... but i'll keep doing as much as i can.


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