Today’s post is about our latest disgruntled consumer complaint aimed at Monsanto. Usually, when I mention Monsanto… most people say: “Who?” Monsanto is a giant, multi-national agribusiness-focused corporation that raked in 11.8 billion in revenue last year. This makes Monsanto bigger than Starbucks Coffee by a tad (11.7 billion), and more than three times the size of Facebook (3.7 billion)… yet most Americans have never heard of them. Well, they maintain a low-profile mostly selling glyphosate herbicides (aka Roundup) and genetically modified seeds… these products are well under the radar of 99.9% of American consumers even though many (if not most) of them eat something produced by Monsanto every day.
Well, at least to the hippies and organic food nuts.. Monsanto as an entity is something like if Johnny Appleseed joined the Third Reich…
That is to say Monsanto is often seen as a huge, propaganda-driven organization, slowly and quietlly spreading its reach via agriculture…. and stamping out those it disagrees with. It gets this reputation among the earthy-crunchies of the world for a few main reasons:
- It is a huge corporation
- It previously (before 1977) manufactured 99% of the PCBs (a persistent organic pollutant) in the country.. and is infamous for leaving huge EPA disasters around its manufacturing plants.
- It currently sells genetically modified seeds and actively attempts to prevent their labelling (to avoid scaring off consumers)
- It patents living things (most notable: Roundup Ready soybeans) and vigorously defends its patents against everyone. This tactic has become a rally cry for the “food informed” as Monsanto is infamous for crushing small farmers in court.
Now, I take a somewhat more moderate approach when dealing with Monsanto. Regarding GMO food…. well… the population of the earth is 7 billion and rising. Since I am pretty sure, we aren’t going to enact any forced planned parenthood on the global scale… I am wondering how we are going to feed all these people without massive improvements in agriculture (no we aren’t going to do it with the local, organic food movement no matter what Trader Joe’s tells you). On the other hand… I do have issues with their activities around patenting living things (and then claiming the own all the future generations) and I too worry about GMO foods… are we sure they are safe? Really?
At any rate, I recently watched the documentary “The Future of Food” (by Deborah Koons Garcia). After watching this, I really became incensed by the story surrounding Percy Schmeiser. Percy is just a regular-Joe farmer from Canada who had a compelling story. He claims that his soybean field had been contaminated along the roadside by a passing truck containing “Roundup Ready” soy. As such, some of his soybeans obtained the genetic resistance to glyphosate. Somehow (details are sketchy) Monsanto found out about this and illegally entered his land to obtain samples. At that point Monsanto sued him for royalties. Percy made a very emotional and common sense warning to farmers and all of us centering on the fact that it is now each and every farmer’s job to fence OUT Monsanto contamination rather than Monsanto’s job to fence it in. My heart sank when the documentary informed us that the Canadian Supreme Court.. sided with Monsanto. The documentary goes on to suggest that soon, all soybeans will be contaminated with Monsanto genes and subsequently Monsanto will slowly but surely corner the seed market and control global food supplies. Well, I decided to see what Monsanto had to say about this.
I submitted a question to Monsanto via their website. They took their sweet time about answering me (a few weeks.. I would have figured they had some stock answer to these questions standing by.. but I guess not). At any rate, here is the email I sent and the correspondence received:
Name – Swampy Acres Farm
E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
City – Hampstead
State – NH
Country – USA
Message – I have seen the movie “Food Inc.” and read your side of the story on your website, which answered many questions and presented another possible side of this debate. I have also recently seen a documentary entitled “The Future of Food,” where (among other statements) the film makers allege that Monsanto: 1) Illegally enters farmers fields to take samples and 2) More or less states that it is the “Farmers job” to “fence out” cross contamination with your round-up ready seed. That is to say, if a farmers field accidently gets cross pollinated with your seed (the example given in the movie was that a truck drove by accidently spilling seeds), then Monsanto will come after them and destroy their seed. Can I ask for a CLEAR answer on these two allegations from your side of the story? Thanks!
Dear Swampy Acres Farm,
Thank you for contacting us and your inquiry. The Future of Foods is a one-sided dramatization that presents footage and interviews with individuals fundamentally opposed to agricultural biotechnology. There is no rule or guideline that requires documentary films to be balanced or factually correct. Some filmmakers take the approach of presenting balanced information and letting the viewer make an assessment; others are intent on convincing the viewer about a particular point of view. In the Future of Foods there is no effort to provide balance by interviewing any parties that were neutral or supportive of the science. In fact, no federal regulatory experts, academic scientists, grower organizations, government leaders, industry representatives, or farmers not opposed to the science were quoted in the film.
Regarding your questions, the allegation that Monsanto enters fields illegally is false. As for question 2, Monsanto never had, and has committed it never will, exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of its patented seeds or traits are present in a farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means (such as the example of spilled seeds in your message). If a farmer does not intend to possess, use or sell seed covered by Monsanto’s patents, Monsanto would have no intention of pursuing patent infringement. We’ve had this commitment on our website for several years. See http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/commitment-farmers-patents.aspx.
Hmmm, Well a subsequent internet search of independent websites seems to indicate that Percy’s natural soybeans did inadvertently get “infected” with Monsanto Roundup Ready soybeans.. but Percy then selected for these seeds (of course by spraying Roundup) and then he purposefully planted his entire field with these seeds! This situation is a far cry from what “The Future of Food” tried to paint.. that being an innocent farmer persecuted by a multi-national corporation. It would appear Percy tried to pull a fast one on Monsanto and got caught. Maybe he was trying to get out on a technicality (“Hey, I was just planting my own seeds..what’s the problem?).
Now, I am not saying I am 100% happy with Monsanto.. nor am I saying GMO foods are safe or that Monsanto has the consumer’s interest at heart (rather than profits). I guess I am saying.. be extremely careful of propaganda on both sides of the debate.
To Deborah Garcia: Because of your clever editing and bending of the truth…. you really did a disservice to your documentary and your movement as a whole. Shame on you! To me, your whole message is tainted now….
To Monsanto: Maybe you won this one.. but I am watching you…. I still don’t trust you….
To the earthy-crunchy, organic food nuts that are angry at this post: Well, your champion Mr. Obama.. just 7 months into his first presidency…..appointed Mike Taylor, former Monsanto Vice President as Senior Advisor to the Commissioner for the FDA. Where I am sure he is busying himself with making sure Monsanto’s GMO food is safe. I certainly didn’t vote for Obama.. but I bet YOU did.
To all the regular Americans out there: Pay attention to what you are eating and drinking. Blissful ignorance is what both sides of this debate wish to encounter. Arm yourself with facts.