Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on August 6, 2008
Sixty years ago, a landmark novel changed the way the world looked at government. The novel depicted a dystopian — the opposite of utopian — society in which everything a person did from birth until death was monitored by neighbors (especially children), ubiquitous video monitors and a Gestapo-style police force.
The book? 1984, by George Orwell, was meant to serve as a warning against the world’s love affair with socialism, especially in England after World War II.
The reason I bring it up? Monsanto, the world’s largest seed producer, has adopted the role of Big Brother in the farm world, spying on farmers, using its multi-national bulk to intimidate farmers and squeeze dry anyone who even thinks of violating Monsanto’s planting rules.
Big Brother is watching. When I first read about what Monsanto was up to, I could hardly believe my eyes. The company actually has its own investigative division known as the “seed police,” an outsourced surveillance firm hired to spy on farmers, co-ops and general stores. They’re looking for farmers who bend or break Monsanto’s strict planting guidelines that every farmer who buys Monsanto seeds must sign. There’s even a toll-free number farmers can call to report on each other. If the company notices something amiss, a team of lawyers backed by huge corporate power swoops in, telling the farmers to settle up or face the full force of Big Brother Monsanto.
Just ask the town of Pilot Grove, Missouri, a sleepy town of about 750. Monsanto sent in its cadre of seed police in 2006, making at least 17 surveillance tapes and taking hundreds of photographs of co-op farmers in the fields and in various other routine activities. The company filed suit and gained access to the co-op’s records, leading to two major lawsuits and 25 settlements with individual farmers. But the suit isn’t over yet. Monsanto has leveled its sights on the co-op, alleging copyright infringement for helping farmers prepare seeds for the next year, a service the co-op always provided. And with the money power, Monsanto probably won’t stop until it destroys the co-op.
Why all the hubbub about seeds? Monsanto owns the patents to several of the most widely-used seeds in agriculture, and they forbid farmers to harvest and reuse seeds for next year’s crop, mother nature’s way. Instead, farmers must buy new seeds each year, ensuring eternal profits for Monsanto. If you’ve every heard of a GMO (genetically modified organism), and I’m sure you have, what you’re really hearing is Monsanto. The company has literally engineered several types of seeds. Their most popular seeds are resistant to the herbicide Roundup (another Monsanto product). So now, farmers can plant Monsanto’s seeds in the spring, spray herbicide on it a few times through the summer and then harvest the crop in the fall. Without any of that pesky “farming” getting in the way.
Got Milk? Monsanto also tinkers in the milk production game with its now-familiar products rBST/rBGH, an artificial growth hormone that increases milk production. They have been lobbying to stop dairy farmers from labeling milk “rBST free.” Monsanto claims the label misleads consumers into thinking that untreated cows produce healthier milk and that there is no evidence milk from treated cows is any different from untreated cows. One reason for that: the government refuses to undertake any significant study about the effects on humans — especially children, who would be the most vulnerable. Again, who does behemoth Monsanto pick on? Small dairy farmers that have made a choice not to use the product — not for the risk to humans, but because the artificial hormones increase a cow’s metabolism and increase the risk of disease.
He Who Controls The Past
Monsanto has not always been into seeds. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that it created a spin-off company, Solutia, to handle its chemical production. The Monsanto brand was then clear to declare itself an “agricultural company” and did so after re-incorporating in 2002. The goal: to drop Monsanto Chemical Works (the company’s name for most of its existence) down the memory hole, making it an un-company.
Monsanto was founded on chemicals in 1901, starting with saccharin and aspirin, and continuing post-WWII with the most toxic substances ever created by man — PCBs (polychorinated biphenyls, the stuff we once used in air conditioners) and dioxin (a by-product of creating herbicides and pesticides). And let’s not forget Agent Orange, the defoliant that deforested Vietnam and is linked to veterans’ mental and physical health problems. Monsanto’s chemical past is responsible for over 50 Superfund cleanup sites, including two of the nation’s largest in Nitro, West Virginia and Anniston, Alabama.
Silly me. Did I say Monsanto was responsible for these problems? They couldn’t possibly be. After all, they’ve only been around since 2002, remember? It must be that other company, Solutia. So goes the Monsanto party line. Monsanto is an agricultural company and always has been.
Let’s get back to the spying issue, though. Whose job is it to enforce patent laws anyhow? The company who owns the patent? Absolutely not. Neither private companies nor their agents can enforce laws — that’s the job of law enforcement agencies. Monsanto is clearly out of line here. But then they have enough ins with the feds to do pretty much whatever they want. They even had L. Paul Bremer (the guy who headed Iraq between the fall of Saddam and the time the elected government took over) order that “farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties.” And we wonder why Iraqis are struggling to appreciate American intervention.
The list of other connections runs long and deep. Several staff attorneys held positions at the FDA and EPA with the common theme of “work for Monsanto, get a cushy job in the government for long enough to promote Monsanto products like GMOs or growth hormones, then go back to Monsanto”. Two standouts, however, are Don Rumsfeld and Clarence Thomas. Rummy (the former head of the Defense Department) saw a nice windfall — about $12 million — when Monsanto bought out his struggling pharmaceutical company, G.D. Searle & Co in 1985. And Thomas, once a lawyer for Monsanto and now Supreme Court Justice, helped steer a patent-rights case through the high court, benefiting Monsanto and other seed companies that tinker with nature.
Vanity Fair sums it up best, stating “Whoever provides the world’s seeds controls the world’s food supply.” Crack open the Victory Gin. Take a swig. And if you haven’t already, add Monsanto to your list of companies that you don’t want anything to do with.
(via Vanity Fair)