Photo Credit: Mark Collier (Associated Press)
Yesterday, May 25th, over 1 million people took to the streets of 400 cities worldwide to angrily protest the growing political influence and seeming unwillingness by regulatory agencies to actually DO SOMETHING about an increasingly powerful Monsanto Corporation.
I first became aware of Monsanto through Michael Pollan’s book, “The Botany of Desire” in the early 2000’s – I had no idea of their existence prior to that, they just weren’t on my radar – but even by then, the Monsanto corporation had a long and illustrious history of producing products that
bettered people’s lives gave people cancer.
First came the artificial sweetener Saccharin (later found to cause cancer), then they moved into the PCB market (later found to cause cancer), the 30’s and 40’s saw them enter the nuclear weapon age as they worked with the Manhattan project (later found to cause cancer if the blast didn’t get you first), the 50’s and 60’s saw the advent of Agent Orange (later found to cause cancer – are we seeing a pattern here?) and DDT (which nearly wiped out the raptor populations in the world – putting numerous species on the endangered species list, oh yeah – and it’s been linked to breast cancer…) The 70’s brought the development of the herbicide Glyphosate (RoundUp – which recent studies have linked to both cancer and Parkinson’s disease…) and additionally Monsanto has done work in Bovine Growth Hormone (where do I even begin? No really, where?), as well as genetic modification of seeds (which is the primary reason for yesterday’s march, P.S – GMO corn was recently linked to cancer in lab rats…)
To be fair – it hasn’t all been bad – they’re one of the first groups to mass produce LED lights, (they’re fun – and as far as I know don’t cause cancer), as well as numerous medicinal drug advances within their pharmaceutical division, etc, (some of which are anti-cancer drugs… which.. hmm… well… wait… so they make numerous products that CAUSE cancer, then develop significantly expensive chemotherapy drugs which help to TREAT the cancer they have caused?!?! Just making sure I’ve gotten this correct…)
The reality is – if there is a dollar to be had – Monsanto will be there, tongue lolling ready to fetch it.
They are a corporation, and a many tendriled – very large, unethical corporation at that. As a corporation, profit drives their bottom line. That’s just simply the nature of the beast, and I’m not one to pound the podium and rail against corporations, but with Monsanto in particular – I have to draw the line.
Monsanto has put their products and their profit on a higher pedestal than the human food supply itself.
I have a problem with that.
Frustratingly, the very people who should be regulating them, the USDA, the FDA, Department of Agriculture, Congress, the Senate, and the President are the ones in bed with them. The US Congress recently passed HR 933, and the hotly contested Section 735 a few months back – a spending bill to prevent governmental shutdown which just so happened to have a provision in it which shielded Monsanto and allowed a run-around of current law – to allow the planting of GM seeds without USDA approval. (Because you know… those are two closely related things…)
HR 933 basically handed the keys to the Ferrari to a drunken Monsanto and said, “Have Fun.”
With the passing of HR933, and the unsuccessful attempts at repealing the section of the bill that shields Monsanto, the United States has told Monsanto, do whatever you want. We won’t even attempt to regulate what you’re doing.
The big irony in all of this is that the First Lady is on a big campaign for healthy kids, good nutritious, organic food in all inner city neighborhoods – yet her husbands own actions are contrary to that message.
This is business and politics… Pure and simple, and politically, Monsanto’s influence goes straight to the top. Former Monsanto employees make up a large portion of administration appointments to the USDA and FDA, (The very regulatory agencies that supposed to regulate companies LIKE Monsanto) Senators on both sides of the aisle are taking significant campaign contributions from Monsanto dollars… Notably Missouri’s Roy Blunt who received nearly $100,000 from Monsanto employees, and is believed to be the one who added Section 735 to HR933.
… but how did it get to this point. Why are we here?
It’s simple, because WE let it happen.
We desired the perfect food. Completely pest free, uniform in shape and color — the same exact fruits and vegetables, regardless of what store we purchased them at… with no imperfections. Strawberries that weren’t that proper shade of red, lumpy misshapen potatoes, grapes that were a little soft or half-raisined… no thank you, perfect… every time.
We want them NOW and we want them in large quantities, and we want them year round.
The problem is, the only way to make that happen is to mono-culture huge tracts of these fruits and vegetables, spray them and continually amend the soil with chemicals to reduce the disease and pests that plague them – OR – genetically modify them to be resistant to pests and diseases… so as to produce the food that the purchasing populace desires.
Have to ship a tomato from Argentina in the middle of winter to Wisconsin, because you’ve just got to have a tomato to make that special dish for your Christmas get-together? Monsanto has the answer to your quandary… you’ll need shellfish genes spliced in to resist bruising in transit since it has to be shipped so far, additionally, if there are any pests or diseases it’ll be rotten by the time it arrives, so we’d better make sure we eradicate any of the pests or diseases that might affect it.
…You’ll need an herbicide, pesticide, fungicide, and gene modification – so we’ll invent them, patent them, and sell them for a BIG profit.
As a corporation, they are providing a solution to what WE have asked for in our food supply and they’re making billions in the process.
…WE allowed Monsanto’s rise to power… and as hard as that pill is to swallow, it’s basic economics – simple supply and demand…
So, while I can appreciate the anger and outrage found in yesterday’s march, it’s too little too late.
It’s like waking up after a night of drunken revelry and getting upset that your friends let you get a tramp stamp…
We’re the ultimate cause of this… but we’re also the solution. Because their political influence goes straight to the top, politics and marches will have little to no effect. If we want to make lasting change, and we want to slow down the Monsanto juggernaut, it has to be grassroots.
Here’s the battle plan.
1) Grow your Own: We have to get to the point where we produce our own food. Organically, in our backyards, front yards, side-yards, guerrila gardened in the yards of foreclosed homes, hell strips, or parking lots.
2) Eat Real Food: The stores sell real food and they sell industrialized food. We have to eat the real stuff. As consumers we have to make a change from purchasing the foods that are engineered and contain ingredients we can’t pronounce to the food that has single ingredients. (ie. Apple – “Contains Apple”)
3) Grow Heirloom Varities and Reserve the Seeds: Gardening is one of the solutions, but if we’re running out buying hybrid seeds each and every year, we’re actually helping Monsanto out as they have their fingers in the hybrid seed machine as well. It doesn’t make sense to grow plants that can’t reseed themselves. Why not spend a little extra money and buy heirloom seeds, and reserve your seeds each year – ensuring that you can grow more of that same plant in subsequent years. Trade seeds with others in seed exchanges, support seed companies that don’t sell GMO seeds, growing your own is only half the battle, growing heirloom varieties is the next step.
4) Buy Local, and Purchase in Season: If you can plan your meals around the seasonal offerings that your area has to offer, we avoid having to buy random vegetables from far-off locales. There will always be something you can’t get locally, but if we’re able to plan carefully we can help to reduce the need to ship food across the globe in the dead of winter.
5) Support Local Farms: In addition to buying in-season, support the local farms that you know offer organically grown fruits and vegetables and don’t use GMO seeds. If you support these farms, they will be able to expand and remain in business, money talks. Support your local farms by frequenting farmer’s markets and supporting those farms who share the same ideals as you do.
We have a responsibility to do better. We have to care more about where our food comes from, and we have to take a more direct role in providing for it in our own homes. If we hope to make any sort of lasting change in this battle, it won’t come from political protests or holding a sign and chanting. The only way that this gets changed is by taking a direct role as a consumer in the process.
So now that it’s the morning after, put down the sign…
…and get out and get your hands dirty.