Not everybody thinks that Monsanto is all about sustainable agriculture. Do you? Writing in the United States, Gary Nabhan at Grist told us a few weeks ago that ‘the public wants alternatives to Monsanto’. That’s before you even consider how some voices in the poor world are raised against it.
Writing Stateside, Alex Planes at The Motley Fool asks, ‘Why is Monsanto the most hated company in the world?’ I like the way Mr Planes sums up this story. He doesn’t bang a drum for Monsanto or against it. He’s all about the money, loving ‘Technology of all kinds, particularly speculative technology.’
You can scroll down Mr Planes’ article for a list of the ‘six largest seed-and-weed companies – which typically pair specially engineered seeds with herbicides that often eliminate any plants not attuned to their unique chemical structure.’ Those companies are BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta. Monsanto leads the world in ‘seed and trait’ sales, but for agrochemicals it takes fourth place behind Syngenta, BASF and DuPont.
As Mr Planes points out, you don’t sell that many seeds unless you sell chemicals too. ‘Populist discontent [has] never been laser-focused like the outrage that drew an estimated (by the organizers) 2 million protesters to anti-Monsanto rallies in more than 50 countries at the end of May … a single private company drew almost as many protesters in a single day as the worldwide Occupy movement at its peak. Monsanto didn’t even have to bankrupt any economies or leech billions of dollars off taxpayers. All it took was three little letters: GMO.’ That’s Genetically Modified Organisms, also called genetically engineered (GE) organisms (my ‘genetic modification’ tag).
Mr Planes shows us an infographic about the global rise of GM. ‘GMOs now take up more than 11% of all cropland in the world. ISAAA – the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a pro-GMO nonprofit supported in part by Monsanto’s funding – says that GMOs have made 100-fold gains in terms of planted cropland since 1996.’
He then tells us why he’s not impressed by claims that GM foods are unsafe or by claims of increased crop yields. ‘Not only are you buying Frankenfoods that will wreck your health, but you’re also paying twice as much for the privilege. Agriculture can be so cruel. (Yes, that was tongue-in-cheek.)’ I had to quote Mr Planes there because I like his style 😉
Anyway, he says evolution is more to the point. ‘The increased use of herbicide designed to work with GMOs (and vice versa) appears to be creating strains of “superweeds” that actively resist the chemicals. Nature tends not to sit idly by while scientists try to pound it into submission. The long-term consequences of an arms race between chemical-cum-GMO producers and the invasive species they want to push out of farm fields could very possibly result in damages beyond the circumstantial ones I’ve already highlighted.’
He then talks about climate-ready crops. ‘Reducing water use is no small feat in a world quite obviously enduring a period of abnormal heat and drought… [but] something should be done about widespread droughts beyond the creation of GMOs that drink just a little bit less water – particularly if these GMOs result in the indirect use of more water by herbicide-resistant weeds.’
I’ll give Mr Planes the final word today. ‘How do you solve a problem like Monsanto? It’s tempting to reduce complex issues into outraged sound bites, like “GMOs are killing people!” or “GMOs are feeding the world!” The truth, as always, isn’t quite so easy.’