I don't know if I'll ever be able to look at my lunch the same way again. I mean, I always knew where food comes from but I never really, really thought about the nitty-gritty of where food comes from, the very first element of the entire food-chain - the seed.
I've planted my share of seeds in school projects, stuck toothpicks in avocado seeds and watched them rot on window sills, sent my parents Vogerlsalat seeds because they couldn't find any in Canada and then worried about getting busted for introducing a new life form to North America but when nothing happened, I forgot about those seeds just like I don't think about seeds when I'm tucking into my lunch. Or dinner or breakfast. Seeds? What seeds? Who cares?
The history of Monsanto
The American based, multi-national agricultural biotechnological company called Monsanto took a pivotal interest in seeds back in 1982. The company has quite an interesting history dating back to 1901 (it was originally a pharmaceutical company and had a major hand in creating such products as artificial sweetener, polystyrene and Agent Orange, a deforestation chemical used by the US during the Vietnam war ) when its founder John Francis Queeny decided his wife's maiden name would probably be less confusing than his own last name as far as a company moniker is concerned.
So, in 1982, Monsanto, recognizing the incredible lucrative nature of the first element of the entire food-chain, became the first enterprise to genetically modify plant cells. It then went on to patent the new plant cells and also patented an extraordinary number of existing seeds. This has resulted in a monopoly on approximately 90% of the world's most important food crops. It has also resulted in the mobilization of environmentalists, anti-globalization activists and farmers to fight the aggressive lobbying and business tactics of a now over 8.5 billion US-dollar company.
Organic versus modified crops
Monsanto is very protective of its patents and has figured out a way to not only protect its "copyright seeds" but expand its capital by suing farmers for illegal use of Monsanto seed, even when farmers have by no means "stolen" Monsanto property.
All that's needed for a bit of seed contamination or cross-pollination is a bee. Or a gust of wind. Thanks to a little breeze, organic farmers could end up with a genetically modified crop and a Monsanto lawsuit. It's insult and injury out on the fields.
In India, the effects of Monsanto's power (there are a few other agricultural companies involved but Monsanto has the lion's share of the seed market) have meant much more than just insult and injury. Millions of Indian farmers had been promised bountiful harvests and income if they stopped farming with traditional seeds and instead planted GM seeds. Many borrowed money to buy the riches-promising GM seeds but when harvests failed, debts spiraled and with no income to pay the debts, desperation has turned deadly. An estimated 125.000 farmers have taken their own lives as a result of the drive to use India as a testing ground for genetically modified crops.
Monsanto's CEO is a man called Hugh Grant. I've heard him speak and he does not strike me as ruthless, money-grabbing, who-gives-a-toss-about-Indian-farmers type of guy. In fact, he's got some great ideas about doubling crop yields and not just for the fat and rich First World countries. He's working on bringing food to the table of the Third World, stopping hunger riots in Haiti, bringing an end to the starvation deaths of approximately 15 million children around the world every year. Hugh Grant (the Monsanto CEO, not the other one) struck me as painfully honest about what is stopping Monsanto from going down in history as being an enterprise responsible for ensuring and protecting human life as opposed to a possible negative legacy as a greedy monopoly-hoarding seed company. He says it's not the science that's the problem, it's the working together. Getting the NGO's assisting the Third World farmers to communicate, make and implement progressive plans with companies like Monsanto. It's not that there's not enough food, there's not enough dialogue, not enough trust.
When you think about those 15 million kids starving to death every year, the above mentioned truths are hard to swallow. It's not just food for thought, this is about the future of sustainability itself.
On this Saturday's Reality Check
The agricultural biotechnological company Monsanto has a monopoly on the genetically modified seeds for the world's most lucrative food crops. It is a mammoth corporation and a powerful political player. It's aggressive lobbying and strong-arm business methods have mobilized environmentalists, anti-globalization activists and farmer associations to fight Monsanto's all-encompassing control. Meet the CEO of Monsanto, Percy Schmeiser, a farmer who actually won a battle against Monsanto and environmentalist Vandana Shiva, and find out just how political your lunch is.
'Sowing the Seeds -- The Politics of Food', on FM4's Reality Check, this Saturday as of 12 midday with Riem Higazi.
title: FM4 Reality Check: Monsanto - The Politics of Food length: 19:00 MP3 (18.202MB) | WMA
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