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THE GMO/MONSANTO DEBATE

I recently ran across a comment posted by a motherearthnews.com reader on an article entitled:
"Is Monsanto the World's Most Evil Corporation?" It concerned me that his ill-informed thoughts might be echoed in the general population, so I have decided to respond to them... point by point.

But before I get started, let me begin by pointing out that I am neither anti-science nor anti-technology. So, without further ado...

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[The quoted comments are in orange. 

My responses are beneath them in black.]

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People are genuinely good at heart, and Monsanto is not an exception.
Monsanto is not a person -- it is a corporation, and thus, has no "heart". Furthermore, if you know anything about capitalism, you should know that corporations are fiscally responsible to their stockholders. That means *profit* and financial prosperity are the primary driving forces behind every decision made -- not what's best for people's health or the long-term impact on the environment.



STOP THE HATE.
I agree that spewing hate is not only ineffective -- it is also destructive. However, intelligently debating a topic and bringing awareness to the public about something which affects anyone who eats food (i.e. everyone on this planet)...well, that's not hate. It is imperative to our survival and advancement as a species.


I think I need to reiterate that because "holier than thou" is too often assumed when it comes to companies. Just because you disagree with their methods simply means you don't understand their methods. 
The above statement makes no logical sense. You can most certainly disagree with something based on knowing a great deal about it and understanding its ramifications on a global scale.


At the end of the day, farmers sign contracts with these guys to use their seeds YEARLY (important because they recognize the benefits of the product and they use them time and time again, they are not stupid people), which they put TONS of money and research efforts into developing.
I agree that farmers aren't stupid people. But tell me: how many products have you bought based solely on a hilarious television commercial, or a catchy jingle that you couldn't get out of your head, or an ad for hot & ready pizza or crispy french fries...right at the moment when you were "starving"? If you were being honest with yourself, you'd realize those clever ads have suckered you in more often than you'd care to admit. Farmers are just people like you and me; they are not immune to crafty advertising. Monsanto has spent millions of dollars on advertising and marketing campaigns geared towards convincing farmers that GMOs will increase their production and increase their profits. Monsanto sends "friendly" representatives out to farms to drive this point home even further. You also have to remember that we have so much more information now than farmers did 20 years ago; also 20 years ago, we didn't have the internet as a means to communicate shared knowledge. Another thing to remember is, at that time, farmers had no reason to doubt Monsanto's claims. Unfortunately, by the time all the unsavory facts surfaced, farmers were already locked into contracts and habituated into unsustainable processes.


They are protecting their research like any other company would try to do when holding a patent (Apple vs Samsung, etc). CROP PROTECTION is one of the most important aspects of agriculture as we know it today. Farmers are well aware of that fact. Monsanto is focused on providing that service.
Patent protection and crop protection are two different things. I (perhaps shockingly) actually don't disagree with Monsanto's stance on patenting their seeds. What I disagree with is this: "“The FDA says that GMOs are not materially different than their non-GMO counterpart, but if the plants are patented there must be a material difference, otherwise there would be no need for a patent. They can’t have it both ways.” I think a corporation has every right to patent its technology... but GMOs aren't being marketed as "technology"; they're trying to slip under the radar as normal "food". Another thing to consider is that, just like any technology, GMOs have bugs. I don't know about you, but I get notices every single day to update at least one of my apps due to "bug fixes". But here's the big problem: you can't update a field of wheat. Whatever bugs or mutations exist in this living technology get consumed by humans, and to date, no one knows the exact extent of the damages being caused by those oversights.


Are there unintended consequences? Perhaps.
Surprisingly, the reader acknowledges that GMO technology perhaps has "unintended consequences", but then moves on without ever giving it another thought. He's right! Along with conventional farming processes (as opposed to modern organic farming techniques), GMOs definitely have plenty of consequences. Like what? Well, just click on any one of these links to learn more about them: food monopoly, severe inflammation in the stomach lining of pigs, tumors in rats, soil pollution and land degredation, contaminated fresh water supply, superbugs/superweeds, monocropping, cross-pollination of nearby organic fields, unknown human health ramifications, increased allergies, infertility... need I say more?


But they are by no means evil. They are one of the biggest contributors this world has ever known to feeding our overpopulated planet. IMO they deserve some appreciation, not articles like this bashing their products because of a few bad stories.
Yes, many regions of our planet are overpopulated. However, even though Monsanto would like us to believe otherwise, we do not need GMOs to feed the world's hungry. In fact, "The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet." Hunger is not a production problem -- it's a complicated issue that includes food waste, distribution, greed, prioritization, politics/power, and poverty. Furthermore, even if GMOs increased food production, that additional food would not be going towards feeding the hungry. It would be used in processed foods found on grocery store shelves, to feed livestock, for biofuel, etc. Sadly, the hungry (i.e. the poverty stricken) are getting the short end of the stick, no matter what. Solving our hunger crisis will require a massive global collaboration and a great deal of creative out-of-the-box solutions. GMOs, at least in their current state, are not the answer.


Documentaries like Food, Inc. don't provide both sides of the argument and are ignorant to the big picture of agriculture and intellectual property. 
I agree that many non-GMO groups and organizations present a one-sided view of the situation. However, if we're talking "big picture"... please refer back to the 11 links I posted above about the global detrimental consequences of GMOs and continued conventional farming... *that* is the big picture.


Further, if you disagree with genetic modification, then you are in need of some research. People loveeee to complain about genetically modified corn. They love it! But guess what? CORN HAS BEEN GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. Genetic modification happens NATURALLY. They are simply speeding up the process by rapidly doing it. GM is a truth of the world. Every product you eat has gone through traditional genetic modification to further its productivity, resistance to pests, yield and drought resistance.
This entire paragraph is just flat out wrong. What 'repairmanscully' is describing above is called selective breeding -- not genetic modification. If selective breeding is like mating a Labrador Retriever and a Poodle to get a Labradoodle... then genetic engineering is more like taking a poodle, a fly, and a lizard and splicing bits of their DNA into a mushroom along with a dash of bacteria and a sprinkling of cloned proteins. Learn more: here.


Go research teosinte (corn's ancestor that has been cross-bred until it yielded what we call corn today).
Again, this is called selective breeding -- not genetic engineering. But even selective breeding has its downfalls (see: biodiversity). It has also contributed to the nutrition slowly being bred out of our food (read more here -- this article even specifically references teosinte vs. modern corn).


Our population of farmers is next to nothing, whereas before herbicides and other products of the oil industry were used to produce food we required over 25% of the population to farm. To feed 1 billion people. 
This has much more to do with urbanization and the exponential increase in jobs which require less physical labor than it has to do with a necessity for that many farmers. Eliminating toxic chemical herbicides does not mean we will all of a sudden require an influx of farmers to sustain our current level of food production. Technology & science can and already are being used to enhance sustainable organic farming practices; in fact, they are even helping to reduce resource consumption! For example, aquaponics has been shown to use only 2% of the water needed for irrigation in conventional farming.


Take a look at the big picture for a second. While I certainly agree that everyone should focus their lives specifically on limiting their overall carbon footprint through eating local, organic, vegan, etc., I also think people need to recognize that it is through science and technological advances that they as a person even EXIST.
I'm fairly certain that human beings were being fruitful and multiplying long before technology ever existed. (Just to reiterate, I am anything but "anti-technology". I mean, after all, I'm sitting here typing this argument on a laptop on my couch, connected to the internet over WiFi, whilst listening to music coming from a speaker in the other room connected via Bluetooth to my iPhone. You can't do all that and be anti-technology. I simply had to refute his claim that I, personally, wouldn't exist as a being on this planet without the advent of technology.) Although, I have to say, the part where he talks about "limiting [our] overall carbon footprint"... that part was really good.


OF COURSE they are going to be strict in enforcing their patents. At the end of the day, it is a business, and the farmers have signed an agreement. Their seeds are capable of reproduction, capable of easily being stolen and they could suffer greatly because of rampant disregard for their intellectual property if they didn't enforce their patents and take it out on the little guy (who is trying to cheat them). If the farmers don't agree with their method, they can grow conventional seeds.
I actually agree with this... mostly. Corporations have a right to protect their intellectual property. Sometimes, they even have to bring forth lawsuits in order to do so. The part I don't agree with is this: changing back over to conventional seed is not as simple as he makes it sound. While small farms can easily purchase heirloom seeds if they so desire, they are scarcely available on a commercial/industrial scale. Commercial farmers are trapped (read more here).


But they choose to grow Monsanto seed because they KNOW they are superior in all the agricultural aspects that affect overall production.
A real-world survey of almost a thousand farmers was taken in Iowa. The researchers asked farmers who chose to plant GMOs what their reasons were for doing so. Then their crop yields, seed prices, and other costs were analyzed as compared to farmers who planted non-GMO seeds. Here are the results: "It is interesting to note, however, that increasing crop yields was cited by over half the farmers as the reason for planting GMO soybeans, yet yields were actually lower."
GMOs are definitely *not* a superior product. "Even a 2002 report by the US Department of Agriculture, a key ally of the biotech industry, admitted that the economic benefits of cultivating GM crops were `variable' and that farmers growing GM Bt corn were actually `losing money'."


This company is misunderstood, not evil.
Again, I agree. I don't think any company is "evil". Monsanto is simply seeking eventual global domination of our entire food supply and the chemicals required to grow them. That's not "evil". Unethical? Sure. Unsafe? Absolutely. Terrifying? Boy, it sure is.






I work in intellectual property and have no stake in Monsanto except in supporting the overall quality of life on this planet for all. 
I believe that he's telling the truth here. Most people who are pro-GMO hold that stance for benevolent reasons: they believe GMOs are a result of tested scientific advancement and have the ability to feed the hungry by increasing crop yield. However, as you can see from all my responses and their corresponding links, GMOs simply aren't the answer. That doesn't mean that "science" isn't the answer! Science & technology are integral to increasing efficiency, production, and distribution.

I also believe that the scientists who originally devised genetically modified produce were doing so for the good of the human race. However, again, the technology is flawed. It is still inherently dependent upon toxic chemical herbicides... which is a completely unsustainable and unsafe farming practice.



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SOLUTIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS

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The most obvious solution is to support the advancement of organic farming practices.
Organic farming:
  • doesn't rely on heavy doses of toxic chemicals which pollute the soil, water, air, humans, and animals
  • allows farmers to save and reuse seeds for free
  • focuses on sustainable practices
  • promotes biodiversity and works in harmony with the local wildlife and vegetation
  • understands the importance of healthy soil and works to nourish it
  • produces better tasting fruits and vegetables
  • encourages the proliferation of small, local family farms (rather than large corporate-owned farms)
  • uses, on average, 30% less energy

There are countless other benefits -- these are just a few key highlights.








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