How Monsanto Corners The World’s Food Market

Monsanto has a patent on just about every crop out there.
By @FrederickReese |
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    A farmer holds Monsanto's Round-Up Ready Soy Bean seeds at his family farm. (AP Photo / Dan Gill)

    A farmer holds Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean seeds at his family farm. (AP Photo/Dan Gill)

    On May 25, over two million people in 436 cities, spread out over 52 countries, came out to protest one company. Organizers of the massive march set out to call attention to the dangers of genetically modified food and how a small handful of companies are endangering the world.

    In 2011, NaturalNews declared Monsanto the most evil corporation of the year. In 2009, Barbara Pleasant, a writer for Mother Earth News, painted a picture of the company that echoes a growing sentiment:

    “In 2006 the corporate giant bought Delta and Pineland, a leading producer of cotton seed, so that it now controls a huge share of the cotton seed market. … Monsanto’s genes are in about 95 percent of commercial soybeans and 80 percent of commercial corn, and people like the attorney generals of Iowa and Texas are concerned that Monsanto’s business practices violate federal antitrust laws that protect free competition. When it comes to licensing agreements, Monsanto is reportedly a big time bully.”

    There is a lot not to like about Monsanto. For example, its development alongside Dow Chemicals of Agent Orange — a defoliant used in the Vietnam War that has killed 400,000 and caused 500,000 birth defects, per Vietnamese estimates, and led to 39,419 American soldier disability claims — has led the list of crimes the company has been accused of.

    The company also has been accused of aggressive litigation of patent infringement — going so far as to sue farmers that plant seeds they harvest from plants originally of Monsanto stock, and even farmers that end up with Monsanto products because of involuntary crop migration into their fields.

    The fact that Monsanto seem to have Congress on its payroll has also led many to allege Monsanto malfeasance. Many call the Farmer Assurance Provision of the 2013 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act the “Monsanto Protection Act” for its generous protections to genetic modifiers from lawsuits.

    While the moniker of “evil” may be unfair, these questionable practices and a near-monopoly on the seed market have made many question whether Monsanto is a trustworthy guardian of the world’s food supply.

     

    Patenting life

    One of the harder questions that is asked about Monsanto revolves around the U.S Supreme Court case Bowman v. Monsanto Co. Vernon Bowman, a farmer, bought a mix of corn seeds from a grain elevator. Monsanto’s buyer agreement, at the time, forbade the planting of second-generation seeds spawned from its “Roundup Ready” crops, but allowed the grower to sell them to grain elevators for use as “commodity seeds” — which are meant to be used for animal feed or other industrial purposes.

    By spraying the corn with the herbicide Roundup, Bowman was able to identify the surviving “Roundup Ready” seeds in the mix he’d purchased and save them for replanting. Although this technically was legal according the buyer agreement, Monsanto cried patent infringement. In a controversial decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the offspring of patented seeds inherit the patent of its parent.

    In other words, Monsanto has an inexhaustible patent for the species and any variations that come from its seeds — even if a particular plant did not directly come from a seed manufactured by Monsanto. No farmer can grow the thousands of vegetable and grain varieties Monsanto claims without the company’s permission.

    For the small farmer, this effectively means that Monsanto has an open license to tell them what they can or cannot grow. Monsanto controls the vast majority of the seed market in the United States and litigation against the powerful multinational carries the threat of bankruptcy for a family-run farm. For the average consumer, it’s likely that the produce he or she buys at the supermarket — regardless of the grower — came from a Monsanto seed.

    And so, for many farmers, Monsanto is the agricultural market.

     

    A culture of fear

    Creve Coeur, Mo.-based Monsanto is the world’s leader in genetically engineered seeds. Selling seeds under its 22 brands — which include Seminis, De Ruiter, Asgrow, Dekalb, Jung, Kruger, Stewart and WestBred, the company boasts over 4,000 seed varieties for over 20 species — including fresh and dry beans, broccoli and cabbages, carrots, cucumbers, melons, peppers, onions, squash, sweet corn and tomatoes.

    In addition, Monsanto provides genetically engineered seeds for alfalfa, canola, cotton, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat — resulting in roughly $800 million per year in seed sales, as of 2012. Although genetic engineering is what makes headlines, 95 percent of Monsanto’s research is in conventional plant breeding.

    The United States Department of Agriculture reports that, as of 2013, 90 percent of all planted corn in the United States is genetically modified. 93 percent of all soybeans and 90 percent of all cotton are also modified. While there is no genetically modified wheat currently on the market, 75 percent of Hawaii’s papaya, 90 percent of the canola crop and 54 percent of consumer-grade sugar beet crop in the U.S. are from GM seeds.

    While the majority of the modifications include the additions of pesticides or herbicides to the seed cover, other modifications seek to change the genetic identity of the crop toward improving the flavor or appearance, increasing yield or making the crop more suitable to different growing environments.

    Definitive proof of the health dangers of genetically-modified foods has yet to emerge, but some research has linked GM foods to cancer, stomach lesions, heightened allergies, organ failure, reproduction complications and blood toxicity. GM crops have also been linked to environmental disorders, including bee colony collapse.

    Many have deep fears about Monsanto in light of the company’s track record. In 1984, Monsanto was the defendant in the longest civil jury trial in American history when the company was sued after a train derailed in Sturgeon, Mo., releasing dioxin into the environment. While the jury determined that the plaintiffs were not actually harmed by the dioxin, it found that Monsanto knowingly lied about the dangers of the chemical. Monsanto was hit with $16.2 million in damages, which was overturned on appeal.

    Meanwhile, in 2003 Monsanto settled for $300 million with Alabama for dumping polychlorinated biphenyls. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Deferred Prosecution Agreement in which Monsanto admitted to falsifying its books and making bribes to an Indonesian official.

     

    New markets

    Another issue of deep concern is the company’s exploration of developing a commercially available marijuana seedstock. Since the legalization of medical marijuana in 29 states and recreational marijuana use in two, marijuana cultivation has become big business — in Mendocino County, California alone, marijuana is a $1.5-billion-per-year crop.

    Commercial production of marijuana is done by small farmers. Due to the fragmentary nature of the current marijuana regulatory system — wherein each state, county and municipality has its own laws — a single national grower would have trouble adapting to the multitude of micro-regulations that it would face, as well as the attitudes of marijuana users.

    “I think it’s partly just a ritual thing, just like with lots of other substances, like coffee,” Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron, who has researched the marijuana industry extensively, told CNBC. “You don’t want to just pop a pill, you like the whole idea of walking across the street … and ordering an espresso and going through the whole ritual.”

    Despite this, Monsanto is seeking to position itself into the market. As CNBC reported last week:

    “The company is investing millions of dollars into this new technology dubbed ‘RNAi.’ With RNAi, it is possible to manipulate everything from the color of the plant to making the plant indigestible to insects. With medical marijuana, RNAi could be used to create larger, more potent plants effectively cornering the market and exceeding the legal demand for the plant.”

    Currently, the federal government recognizes marijuana as a Scheduled I controlled substance and tightly controls research on it. In addition, current estimates have RNAi development at 5 to 10 years’ away from practical implementation.

     

    Hard questions

    While Monsanto is not the only genetic modifier, it is the industry leader and — as Wal-Mart is to the big-box retail market — where it goes, the rest of the industry will follow.

    Earlier this month, thousands of protesters rallied against the passage of a bill that would allow multinationals to patent GM seeds in Chile. “This law puts seeds into the hands of a few transnational companies,” said Ivan Santandreu, a member of Chile Sin Transgenicos (Chile without GMOs). “This measure does not contribute to the innovation and wellbeing of independent farmers at all. What it does is put food sovereignty at risk by making it dependent on big corporations.”

    Ultimately, the world must answer whether it’s safe to leave the production of its food in the hands of a few.

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      • Sister Rosetta

        How’s Monsanto stock doing?

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      • Rockefeller

        Interesting we have someone in comments section blaming natural foods that has sustained the human species for thousands of years to survive. There is a book that looks at the political corridors of GMOs and health risks. The book is called Seeds of Destruction http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R3GRZEU9B91HHR/ref=cm_cr_pr_cmt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0973714727&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=#wasThisHelpful I’ve read the book and it is interesting to read, I feel anyone who attacks natural food doesn’t like being alive. Also big corporations like Monsanto who got the FDA in they back pocket will always get allegations and more thrown out or squashed out of existence for nobody in the public to know what really going on with Monsanto.
        There is a website called thenhf.com (National Health Federation) who has a member that sits at Codex Alimentarius is fighting hard to bring food labeling for products that has GMO food, also the so called natural food we got today is deliberately poisoned by the mega-corporations and with everything is poisoned with aspartame, fluoride and over use of other chemicals in products.
        Also all the foods today are radiated and not really natural foods, if it was proper natural foods. People would be fitter and slimmer instead of the rubbish we have and is poisoned with it being radiated on purpose.

        • colinjames71

          There’s a great interview with William Engdahl on Red Ice Radio. Full broadcast is behind a paywall but the first hour is available free. Thanks for the link.

          I don’t think it’s mentioned in this article but there was an almost complete blackout of the Monsanto protest in MSM. A nd by almost, mean I could only find passing reference in two or three sites that sprung from one AP piece that presented a ‘he said/she said’ view of the controversy surrounding GM food.

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      • Jing Yagunazie

        I been growing vegetables and fruits from my Grandpa 100 year old seed storage. It was started when Automobiles were invented. He said one day you will need these. They are so damn healthy we don’t even tell people where we grow them. You can not even come close to these varieties in today’s best corn and wheat on anyone else fields. And we share with nobody.

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      • TheRefusers

        Consumers are eating GMOs without knowing it because they aren’t labeled.

        My Seattle band The Refusers just released a music video on the topic of labeling GMOs. It’s called Right To Know. Watch the youtube video here:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNfFVccrPQk&feature=youtu.be

      • FADUTA

        “Alleged” has been used in front of health risks of GMO’s for the past 15 years. Got Data?! No you do not. However, there are plenty of FACTS to attest to the dangers of “organic food” be it spinach, tomatoes, melons, Pre-pared salads – it has been organics causing death and sickness. Give up on blamming colony collapse on GMO’s – zero data there as well. GMO plantings – since 1996 – have result in no human health problems. AND this practice has prevented millions of metric tons of insecticides from entering our environment. Get some truth in your reporting.

        • LostInUnderland

          Maybe you failed to notice that this article is not attacking GMOs. Whether GMOs are harmless or fatal is less of an issue than that Monsanto cornering the world food market is ABSOLUTELY AND WITH NO DOUBT WHATSOEVER evil.

        • colinjames71

          Maybe you should do some digging regarding the safety or lack thereof. And also the pesticide issue, because it’s absolutely not true that GMOs are resulting in less pesticide use, while simultaneously giving rise to super-pesticide resistant pests and weeds. Or producing higher yields for that matter. Organics causing illness? Maybe from contaminated foods but not by there virtue of being organic. Are you for real? I have to suspect you’re being paid to voice this nonsense. Or just work for Monsanto in some capacity. And maybe if independent, long-term studies were even ALLOWED to be performed that evidence would be readily available- for either side of the debate. 90-day studies performed by Monsanto don’t prove their safety. Evidence is accumulating, it’s only a matter of time. There should at least be labeling, to give consumers the choice. At least.