It is a name that Americans are hearing more and more, Monsanto.
An agriculture company that has become connected to the term GMO's. So what is Monsanto? What exactly are GMO's? Why are people so up in arms about a company that grows food?
The big question, is Monsanto one of the best examples of America's crony capitalist system?
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The first step toward truth is to inform.
If the name Monsanto is not familiar to you, let's get you caught up.
According to Monsanto's website,
"Monsanto is a sustainable agriculture company. We deliver agricultural products that support farmers all around the world. We are focused on empowering farmers—large and small—to produce more from their land while conserving more of our world's natural resources such as water and energy. We do this with our leading seed brands in crops like corn, cotton, oilseeds and fruits and vegetables."
Sounds pretty good.
In short, Monsanto is a company that among other things, produces the herbicide roundup. But the controversy surrounding Monsanto begins with their development of genetically modified seeds or GMOs that are called "Round Up ready." Round Up ready crops are reportedly more resistant to weed killer and insects.
According to Natural News, a growing body of evidence does connect GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers' and consumers' rights.
According to Professor John Fagan, an award winning geneticist:
"The process of genetic engineering always involves the risk of altering the genetics and cellular functioning of a food organism in unanticipated ways. These unanticipated alterations can result in (GMO) foods being allergenic, toxic, or reduced in nutritional value". – Professor John Fagan, Maharishi University of Management, Iowa
Concerns like those have pushed millions worldwide into the streets to protest Monsanto and their GMOs. In May 2013, two million people in over 50 countries expressed outrage over a number of issues surrounding Monsanto.
The first issue with Monsanto is the safety of those GMOs. But there is more.
While there is growing concern over the safety of GMOs, the United States for all of the requirements placed on the food industry, requires no GMO food labeling.
Whether you agree or disagree on whether or not GMO's are dangerous, 64 other countries require GMO labeling. Again, the United States does not. Could it be that most Americans just don't care? Actually no. Despite the lack of political will on this issue, a poll, conducted earlier this year by The New York Times found that three-quarters of Americans are concerned about the number of genetically modified or engineered foods. What's more, a staggering 93% support mandatory labeling of GMO foods.
So to recap, first, there is the concern over GMOs. Second the concerns over labeling and third, there is the issue of Monsanto holding a patent on all of its seeds.
Monsanto explains on their website the need for that patents saying,
"Monsanto patents many of the seed varieties we develop. Patents are necessary to ensure that we are paid for our products and for all the investments we put into developing these products. This is one of the basic reasons for patents. … Monsanto invests more than $2.6 million per day in research and development that ultimately benefits farmers and consumers. Without the protection of patents, this would not be possible."
You see, when a farmer purchases these genetically modified seeds from Monsanto, they sign a signed a licensing agreement promising to use all the seed and not to use any regenerated seed for future.
So to recap… the issues with Monsanto, questions about the safety of GMOs are out there though we should be clear. There are those who argue that GMO's are perfectly safe and no issues with consuming them. There are questions about labeling. Regardless of whether GMOs are good or bad, shouldn't the public have the right to know what they are putting in their bodies and have the right to consume or walk away? And questions about the ability of a corporation to be able to patent seeds, preventing farmers from replanting crops without paying a fee?
What you need to know, is that all those questions may actually be secondary to this one, is the biggest problem with a company like Monsanto its relationship with government?
In the early 1990's, the FDA took a look at these genetically modified foods. There were a lot of concerns including tests that showed rats were developing stomach lesions from the Genetically modified tomatoes they were fed. According to Jeffery Smith at the Huffington Post, in memo after memo, these experts "described toxins, new diseases, nutritional deficiencies, and hard-to-detect allergens,"
So what changed? In 1994, the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service hired a new administrator, Mike Taylor.
Taylor had worked for the FDA in the 1970's and then in the 1980's he became a private sector lawyer for a firm that represented Monsanto.
In 1994, Taylor takes over the FSIS and remains in that post until 1996.
In 1996, GMO foods began showing up on plates in American homes.
After 1996 Mike Taylor goes back into the private sector and goes to work for Monsanto itself.
For the next 16 months he works directly for the company.
In 2009 returns to the public sector now leading the food side of the FDA.
In fairness, Mike Taylor says he is not Monsanto's man. That claims that he is bought and paid for could not be further from the truth.
In fairness, I don't know if that is true or not. What I do know is that regardless of whether or not it's true the revolving door of government and private sector and the advantages big corporations have in the system is undeniable.
Monsanto's influence over food supply is troubling. Their ability to seemingly prevent GMO labeling is also troubling. Their connections with people like Mike Taylor, who have the ability to control what does and does not show up on our families' tables, sure smells like crony capitalism.
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