When the benevolent seed giant declares it’s going to save the world, why be skeptical?
Do you worry about where your food comes from? Are you concerned that farmers might use too many toxic chemicals, or that health and safety agencies of the U.S. government might not be looking out for your best interests?
Well then, you suffer from too much skepticism. You probably need to learn to trust what you are told more often. Maybe you should consider some pharmacological support for your worry problem. I know. My name is Claire and I’m a skeptic.
I thought all you other skeptics out there might like to know that the latest word on our problem comes from a company who knows a lot about food, farming, and chemicals. This week, the CEO of Monsanto Corporation, Hugh Grant, told Public Radio International’s Marketplace that he expects people to be skeptical about what Monsanto says but also, given the food problems the world is facing, “skepticism is a commodity the world can’t afford right now.”
OK, I admit that I may not be ready to heed Hugh’s advice and give up on a lifetime of well-honed skepticism. But I was curious about what Monsanto is up to. (And I admit, I was even wondering why Monsanto says skepticism is a commodity — or have they decided to just go ahead and commodify everything?)
Anyway, much of Monsanto’s June 4 press release begs disbelief.
It says they will double the yield of corn, soy, and cotton by 2030; “develop seeds that will reduce by one-third the amount of key resources required to grow crops” by 2030; “conserve resources;” and “help improve the lives of farmers, including an additional five million people in resource-poor farm families by 2020.”
Allow me just this one question. I won’t make a big issue out of the fact that they did not define their terms or give details. We’re used to that (it is, after all, campaign season). But what I wonder is this: Is it common practice in business these days to roll out promises for categorical, but as yet unspecified, products that may or may not come along 12 to 22 years from now?
What’s really their point? Maybe there should be a 12-step program out there for those of us who just can not take Monsanto’s word for these things anymore, something like a “Monsanto Anon” for us skeptics.
That might help us forget the company’s past, products like aspartame, Agent Orange, 2,4,5-T, and their ubiquitous herbicides. We can ignore the thousands of farmers who have been threatened, sued, and harassed by Monsanto over their patented seeds. Delete those bookmarks for Monsanto Watch and the far-too-skeptical Organic Consumers Association who should immediately cease their campaign to “End Monsanto’s Global Corporate Terrorism.” We can drink a toast to Monsanto sustainability with milk from cows injected with their patented recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone — unless, of course, you live in one of the countries that have banned it.
Maybe we should be grateful. After all, Monsanto has done so much for us skeptics. All that pollution and suffering from their products and even their early commitment to both nuclear and genetic engineering. Those two technologies alone have provided us with so much to fret about over the years.
Still, I can’t forget. Their press release triggered my doubt problem. It was the timing. It was issued just as world governments were meeting in Rome to address world hunger. And suddenly, up pops Monsanto, singing the praises of their promises and potential products but not actually offering anything the world needs now.
The international scientific community already knows they simply need to help small third-world farmers grow for the local market and save seeds. They just completed a major study at the behest of agricultural biotechnology companies and concluded that GMOs are not the answer to world hunger.
Monsanto doesn’t have a record of accomplishment on solving the real problems facing agriculture. Their herbicide-resistant soybeans produce less and use far more chemicals than other equivalent crops. And now that Monsanto owns most of the world’s seeds, farmers are having problems getting non-GMO seed for their crops. No, they just wanted to let us know they cared.
And Hugh Grant told The New York Times that the timing of their press release, coming during the Rome meetings, was just a coincidence.
Monsanto’s surprisingly well-timed reminder of who is really in charge of the food system came just as the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, who hosted the meeting, was saying that “the problem of food insecurity is a political one.” He suggested that developed nations — which were spending billions of dollars on subsidies for their own farmers, producing biofuels, and spending billions more on weapons — should reconsider their priorities.
For a moment there, I had hoped that the deeply political nature of how the world feeds itself would get the attention it deserves. Maybe the media could foster an informed public debate about how to solve these problems. Maybe pigs can fly. No, forget that — Monsanto is working on it.
I have to warn you. Skepticism is addictive. Start asking questions, and you might not be able to stop. Why, just today, after considering all this, I found myself questioning the media’s coverage of this growing problem of world hunger.