Ahhh Monsanto. The distributors of Agent Orange. Surely they aren’t still around wreaking havoc… right?
Alas, they are still very much around, and have been busy building themselves into food industry giants.
In March of this year, while most U.S. politicians were distracted by same-sex marriage debates, President Obama signed Bill HR 933 into law. The bill includes a section which food activists are saying “effectively bars federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of controversial genetically modified (aka GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) seeds, no matter what health issues may arise concerning GMOs in the future.” Since the production of Genetically Modified seeds is a field pretty well dominated by Monsanto several writers have dubbed it the “Monsanto Protection Act.”
I’m actually not a hater of GMO’s completely. I recognize the argument that the Green Revolution saved thousands, if not millions of lives by genetically modifying crops to make them more disease and pest resistant. In fact, I’m not even really wanting to argue the issue of Genetically Modified Foods right now. What I want to look at is the issue of patenting that goes along with the process of Genetically Modifying foods.
Because Monsanto genetically modifies their products (i.e. seeds) they are able to patent the results. So they take seeds, fruit, and veggies which our ancestors domesticated, alter them in a lab… and then they sell them back to you. And what happens if you save the seeds from one year to use them the next year? A practice farmers have been doing for pretty much ever? Ohhhh, Monsanto will sue you.
The New York Times explains that “Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented seeds must generally sign a contract promising not to save seeds from the resulting crop, which means they must buy new seeds every year. The seeds are valuable because they are resistant to the herbicide Roundup, itself a Monsanto product.”
While it may seem more practical these days to just buy new seeds each year, especially seeds that are more resistant to failure, many farmers in India who have been introduced to GM crops have lost money through the transition. While the switch may initially seem beneficial, once they begin to use Monsanto seeds they are required to continue purchasing the seeds and pesticides each year. Pushed further and further into debt, many of these farmers are committing suicide. Sometimes even by drinking the pesticide they so desperately purchased.
Meanwhile, Monsanto continues to push genetically modified seeds on developing nations, seeds that cannot be reproduced and must be repurchased each year. While Monsanto rolls out it’s plan to introduce Drought Resistant Maize in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and the Republic of South Africa, farmers in Hungary, India, and Haiti are burning Monsanto seeds, even when they are given as “donations” rather than face entrapment by the company.
As Vandana Shiva so eloquently explains, allowing companies like Monsanto to patent seeds means handing control of our food sources over to a private company; a company who does not necessarily produce a better product than nature herself.
Shame on Monsanto, but shame on us too. It’s time we start caring about who owns our food and who seems poised to own the future food of the world.