Thursday, May 16, 2013

On Monsanto and Frankenfood

When a friend of mine suggested I write a post about Monsanto, my first response was, "What about Monsanto?  Pretty much everything they do is evil."


Monsanto, for those who don't know (though I suspect most of you do) is the number one producer of GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) and GMO seeds in the world.

Now I am not one of those people who is personally against GMOs as a food source.  And I think the use of the term "frankenfoods" to discuss crops which have been genetically-modified to be pesticide-resistant (or to grow faster or any number of the interesting things we've been able to do to seed to increase their growth and distribution potential) is a detriment to the debate because it starts out leaving a bad taste (ha, pun) in everyone's mouth.  In all honesty, I think GMOs could be the future of food production and the solution to the global food crisis, because they allow for greater and more fruitful production of food products.

My problem with Monsanto is how they USE their GMOs.  First, they have a patenting process which is entirely antithetical to their supposed goal of providing "poor people" with "cheap food," as their CEO stated just today.*  If the goal is to allow access to cheap food, then patenting the seeds you've designed to grow more efficiently is entirely hypocritical -- it creates a monopoly, which by the very nature of a monopoly drives the price up.  Sure, your foods are cheap now, but imagine how much cheaper they would be if you allowed for market competition.

The second problem I have with Monsanto is which products they make cheaper and more accessible to poor people -- corn and soy.  Two products which are precisely not what we need to further incentivize in the American diet.  The cost of corn is already artificially low, thanks to the subsidies corn farmers receive from the government (though that is a rant for another day), and as a result, you find it in nearly every cheaper (and worse for you) food alternative in every step of the food manufacturing process.  Corn-fed beef as opposed to grass-fed.  High fructose corn syrup as an alternative to natural sugars.  And, surprise surprise, these ingredients sneak their way into all those foods which are responsible for a nation-wide obesity epidemic, which primarily hits those lower-income shoppers who are supposedly "helped" by Monsanto's cheaper products.

Finally, of course, there are the massive sets of human rights abuse allegations against Monsanto, ranging from the domination of small farms to health concerns to widespread rumors about the use of child labor in their supply line.  Leaving out the questions of health or business practice, these are simply ethical concerns.  Monsanto is responsible for a number of major concerns, which have repeatedly landed them on human rights watch lists,** and the sum total of their egregiously-questionable business decisions make them a reasonable target for criticism.  I don't think Monsanto can be the be-all-end-all of the GMO debate because, if they are, the future of GMOs looks grim.

Yours (in some strange combination of hunger and disgust),
Rachel Leigh


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