Monsanto Changes the Food Industry for the Worse
“The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years, than in the previous 10,000.” (Schlosser) In the past, Americans planted crops using their own, natural seeds, we raised our own cattle, and fed them with grass, and we got eggs from our backyard chicken coops. Since then, the food industry has changed rapidly through the use of GMOs, the patenting of seeds, and huge companies, who plan to control our entire food system such as, Monsanto.
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. They are often referred to as simply GM or GE foods. GM foods are created when DNA from a different plant, bacteria, virus or animal are put into the genes of food cells. They are put in to make certain crops resistant to drought, disease, or cold temperatures. Injecting new DNA into the genes of food cells is a difficult process. Scientists first pick the section of DNA that contains the desired trait that they want to appear in the genes of the food. Using either a stream of electricity to make holes in the cell wall, a gene gun, or the help of soil bacteria, they are able to get the desired DNA trait into the genes of the food. This lengthy process makes the seeds unaffected by certain pesticides, disease, or insects. Monsanto uses bacteria found in soil (Bt) and injects it into the cells of their seeds to make their seeds resistant to their pesticide, RoundUp. This way, a farmer can kill all the weeds in his field effectively by simply spraying RoundUp over his entire crop without killing his GM plants. Another example of the use of genetic modification is when genes from an arctic fish were put into tomato cells, which made the tomatoes impervious to cold temperatures.
GM foods may sound like a great thing; they are making it possible to kill weeds without killing your crops, and to fight off temperatures which certain plants cannot bear on their own. Those are the pros that Monsanto tells the public about. When the idea of GE foods was brought to the FDA, they were considered GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) so they were exempt from testing, despite many safety concerns. But, there is more to genetic engineering than just that. Scientists who thought the idea sounded skeptical, took it into their own hands to see what negative effects GM foods could actually have.
When rats were fed with GM foods, they were shown to have heavier and altered livers that suggested toxic insult. The changes were reversed when the rats were switched back to non-GM food. Also, in rats being fed GM soy and corn, it caused reproductive problems and higher infant mortality rates in the rat babies. In addition to the lab rat testing, Filipinos in at least five villages became sick when living next to a Bt cornfield — the same bacteria that Monsanto uses in their GE products. They began to have skin, respiratory and intestinal reactions. Blood tests on over 30 Filipinos showed an antibody response to Bt-toxin. Besides all the possible health risks that come with eating GM food, many people consider genetically modifying food to be morally wrong. Nature obviously did not intend for fish DNA to be mixed with a tomato.
Along with using genetic modification to make their seeds, Monsanto patents each new variety of seed that they come up with. A patent gives you, and only you, the rights to make, use, or sell an invention. This invention must be original, and unique in some way. The patent office believed that these GE seeds were original enough to be patented, yet surprisingly when they were brought to the FDA, the were considered to be equal to their non-GM counterpart, (GRAS) and testing was not necessary. Originally, food crops were excluded from patenting, on moral grounds. But in 1930, the Plant Patent Act was passed, and plants were officially allowed to be patented, though the patent did not extend to the next generation of seeds. But since 1980, seeds are allowed to be patented, with the patent applying to the next generation as well. Americans have never voted on whether this should be allowed, or has Congress. As Andrew Kimbrell said in “The Future of Food”, "It actually means giving corporations incredible power to own, control the species of the Earth."
Monsanto patents their genetically modified seeds so that no one else will be able to copy their "inventions". In addition, when buying RoundUp Ready seeds, you must sign a contract saying that you will not save the seeds and use them for the next year's crop. This requires farmers to buy new seeds year after year. All of this insures that Monsanto makes the most money that they possibly can.
The story of Percy Schmeiser is one of many that shows just how much control Monsanto has over farmers. Percy Schmeiser has been a canola farmer for 40 years. He lives in Bruno, Saskatchewan, Canada, keeping the family business running along with his wife, Louise Schmeiser. He grows canola using his own seeds, developed over many years. He has never signed a contract with Monsanto and is not a customer of them, except to buy RoundUp. He sprays the RoundUp not over his entire crops, but around posts, and where weeds grow abundantly. After several years, he noticed that some of the canola seemed to be resistant to the RoundUp. Schmeiser says in The Future of Food, “I thought initially that some of those plants didn’t die because I had been spraying year after year after year wth RoundUp in the same area.”
Then one day, Monsanto representatives came onto his land and took samples. They claimed that it was their RoundUp Ready Canola that he had been saving. Monsanto told him that, “It didn’t matter how the seed got on to his land, he had still infringed on their patent.” (Schmeiser) Because of this, Monsanto sued Percy Schmeiser for planting RoundUp Ready Canola without a contract and for saving their seeds. Unlike many other farmers, Schmeiser refused to simply give into Monsanto; he took them to court.
At the end of the case, the judge ruled that Monsanto's patent was valid, but that Schmeiser didn't have to pay them anything. At this, Percy Schmeiser was more than happy, but there were other parts of the ruling that upset him. In “The Future of Food”, Schmeiser sums up the judges words: “Any farmer, that has a regular, conventional plant it doesn’t matter what kind of plant if it’s a tree, if it’s a seed and it gets cross pollinated with Monsanto’s gene against your wishes and destroys your property that plant becomes Monsanto’s property.” That shows how much control that one company has over all people.
Monsanto is not only an independent company, but has close ties with the government. This makes it possible to get specific rules passed in their benefit. Many people throughout the existence of Monsanto, have gone back and forth between working for Monsanto, and working as a part of our government. This is known as the revolving door. Margaret Miller, worked for Monsanto as a Chemical Lab Supervisor then as an FDA Branch Chief. Marcia Hale was a former assistant to the President, and now is the Director of International Government Affairs for Monsanto. Clarence Thomas was an attorney for Monsanto and is currently a Supreme Court Justice. Michael Taylor worked for Monsanto, and then for the FDA as a Deputy Commissioner for Policy, then back again to Monsanto as the Vice President for Public Policy. These are just a few examples of the many people that are part of the revolving door. Margaret Miller and Michael Taylor played a primary role in reviewing the rbST hormone for safety—a genetically engineered hormone that is put into cows to increase milk production. The hormone was approved. Through these multiple connections to the United States government and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) Monsanto is able to create and make new laws that our country will be run by. They are able to approve unsafe scientific ideas of theirs and take control of the government that is supposed to be run by the people of U.S., not huge companies such as themselves.
It is clear that Monsanto intends to take over our food industry. In fact, when asked where they want to be in 20-30 years, they said they want to be in charge of the global food supply. Should we let them? With their GM food that is being shown to have many health risks, the point that they are in essence patenting life, and suing innocent farmers, they should not be allowed control over all our food. They are making huge scientific leaps. But our bodies were not made to consume food with soil bacteria in it, or to eat a tomato created using fish DNA. America is supposed to be a free country, where all people have an equal say. With Monsanto taking over our government, they are making it nearly impossible. What can we do about this? We need to take a stand for what we believe in. We have to choose to eat only organic foods. Eat food that is in season. Buy our meat from local farmers that don't feed their animals with Monsanto's genetically modified corn. Together, we have the power to stand up to Monsanto, and to tell them that we don't approve of, nor will we tolerate the ways that they want to change our diet.