Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seedy Monsanto to the rescue


"Producing more. Conserving more. Improving farmers' lives. That's sustainable agriculture. And that's what Monsanto is all about."

From a full back page Monsanto advertisement in a recent New Yorker magazine.

The adjective 'seedy' has several definitions, including "having many seeds," as does the adverb 'seedily' and the noun 'seediness.' Monsanto, which calls itself an agriculture company, is currently best known for what it calls its "advanced hybrid and biotech seeds" and is by definition a seedy company.

The ad mentioned starts "9 billion people to feed. A changing climate. NOW WHAT?"

Seedy Monsanto to the rescue. That's what. The ad says, "Providing abundant and accessible food means putting the latest science-based tools in farmers' hands, including advanced hybrid and biotech seeds. Monsanto's advanced seeds not only significantly increase crop yields, they use fewer key resources—like land and fuel—to do it. That's a win-win for people, and the earth itself."

What could be better than to win-win with Seedy Monsanto? And that is what Monsanto is all about. Winning for Monsanto.

Monsanto is in the business of selling seeds, among other things. They used to be in the business of and best known for selling things like the now-banned dioxin Agent Orange, 72 million liters of which were sprayed over a million Vietnamese civilians and 100,000 American troops unfortunate enough to have been in the jungles of Vietnam between 1962 and 1970. Tens of thousands of birth defects in Vietnamese children have been attributed to Agent Orange, and thousands of U.S. troops have claimed disabilities caused by Agent Orange. Monsanto also used to have a virtual monopoly on the lucrative business of producing the now-banned industrial coolants known as PCBs. In both cases Monsanto withheld from the public information they had about the dangers to humans and the environment of PCBs and Agent Orange.

But as the dangers of its products become apparent, Monsanto appears to have changed into something different, like the jungles of Vietnam and its inhabitants after a dosing of Agent Orange. A current Monsanto company history reads, "Monsanto is a relatively new company. While we share the name and the history of a company that was founded in 1901, the Monsanto of today is focused on agriculture and supporting farmers around the world in their mission to feed, clothe and fuel our growing world. We are an agricultural company."

A recent scientific study in Argentina revealed that Roundup, Monsanto's current best-selling herbicide, "... could cause, brain, intestinal and heart defects in fetuses."

Monsanto makes and sells rBGH (bovine growth hormone), a synthetic hormone banned for health reasons in every industrialized country except the U.S. where Monsanto enjoys phenomenal long-term connection with the highest levels of American government. For instance, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was a lawyer for Monsanto; former Secretary of Agriculture Anne Venemen and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld both served on the boards of directors of Monsanto companies, and former Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson and former Attorney General John Ashcroft both received substantial Monsanto donations during their political careers. Every member of Idaho's current congressional delegation has received donations from Monsanto.

Since 1996 Monsanto has been in the business of selling genetically modified (advanced hybrid and biotech) canola, corn, soy, sorghum, alfalfa and cotton seeds. As of this writing they are still working on genetically modifying wheat. What the modification does is allow each crop to be sprayed with Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides without killing it. Each crop planting requires genetically modified seeds that Monsanto owns the patents for. Nobody, including Monsanto, knows the long-term consequences of genetically modified food, just as in another time nobody knew the long-term consequences of Agent Orange and PCBs.

Consequences there will surely be, not all of them improving farmers' lives.

Just ask any of the hundreds of farmers being sued by Monsanto for a variety of supposed infractions. For example, Oakhurst Dairy of Portland, Maine, was sued for the infraction of labeling its products as free of rBHG, putting a small business in the position of doing legal battle with a behemoth. Percy Schmeiser is a small farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada, whose non-genetically modified canola crops were polluted by pollen from the farm of a neighbor who had bought genetically modified seed from Monsanto. Schmeiser is just one of many others sued by Monsanto to pay a technology fee for growing genetically modified crops, even though they did not want those crops.

Monsanto may be producing more for Monsanto and conserving more for Monsanto, but it certainly isn't improving the lives of farmers like Percy Schmeiser.

It is, however, really seedy.

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