On Saturday, May 25, a rally to protest Monsanto was held across the United States and in other countries to allow naysayers to publically bash the global company. These protestors took part in March Against Monsanto, a Facebook-organized event. Local news media in Kansas City covered the event and interviewed several of the participants, who shared their views that Monsanto was poisoning the world and had a stranglehold on farmers.
The participants seemed to pat themselves on the back for attending the rallies. They seemed giddy about getting their message out that Monsanto is the “Satan” of the agriculture world, destroying the planet and our children.
But they seemed so sadly misguided. A blog written by Rachael Ludwick at Fancy Beans, hit the nail on the head. (Here’s a link to read the blog, http://tinyurl.com/obvga22). She writes, “There are real problems in our food system and the sustainability of our civilization. There is a lack of transparency. There is a lack of fairness. But Monsanto, as far as it does ‘bad’ things, is a symptom, not a cause. Monsanto is a cartoon villain we’ve created to give us a sense of control, a real target to direct our anger at. Unfortunately the problems we have are diffuse and we’re all part of the problem.”
Monsanto has become the whipping boy for activists angry at so many things beyond their control. These activists often forget that genetically modified corn encompasses many different types of modification. One GM corn is not the same as another. They seem to forget that these seeds are sold not to average consumers but to farmers. They also forget or don’t know that Monsanto also sells non-GMO seed.
Monsanto is supplying the consumer (the farmer) what they need and what the market appreciates. If farmers didn’t find a benefit to using these products, they wouldn’t buy them. Activists forget the marketplace’s influence on global companies. “Vote with your wallet,” is a common refrain among those who support locally produced food and goods. The same applies to agriculture. If enough farms demanded non-GMO because it was better seed, produced more crops, simplified production and/or offered particular benefits to the end user for a premium, more farmers would buy non-GMO seed. Although some have returned to non-GMO seed, the majority of corn and soybean producers continue to use GM seed.
Another issue activists forget is that the majority of GM corn and soybeans goes to feed livestock and fuel our cars in the form of ethanol and biodiesel. These activists don’t seem to be discontinuing the use of their cars.
Ludwick goes on to say, “What we value (either in making law or making purchases) drives what farmers grow and thus why Monsanto is so successful. Throughout human history, the problem has been producing enough food, mostly grains (no one dies if the tomato crop fails, but they do if wheat fails). So our government agricultural subsidies have been setup to support that. Now we are in an era of plenty. Food is cheap, nutritious, safe and plentiful.” Historically, we haven’t worried as much about local or global pollution (whether it’s carbon emissions or pesticide and fertilizer runoff) in the past as much as we are today. As a society, we haven’t reward farmers who produce high yields with the least impact.
Activists like to point to Monsanto as a representative of holding a monopoly on agriculture. That is so far from the truth. Monsanto is not the only company investing in agricultural technology. But the names of the other companies are rarely mentioned. You never hear of a March Against Syngenta or March Against Bayer CropScience or March Against DuPont Pioneer.
Monsanto is also criticized for lobbying members of Congress. Nearly every corporation and association in the country has Political Action Committees set up. It is not illegal or unusual for lobbyists to ask representatives and senators to change or support various laws favorable to their business.
Monsanto is no different from General Motors, Ford, Honda, etc. in having a monopoly or lobbying Congress, yet we don’t see rallies against GM or Ford, etc. These companies are giants in their industry, just as Monsanto is. If these activists are against corporate greed, why only attack Monsanto? Surely, there are other global companies much larger to attack. Why don’t we see the vitriol directed at them?
Ludwick also reminds readers of the old adage, it is better to be for something than against. Until people inside agriculture and outside can work to solve the world’s food problems together, a comprehensive solution will be evaded, and activists will continue to protest with no clear directives or solutions being offered.