Sum Of Us vs Monsanto
by Ken Mosher
I was recently the lucky recipient of an email from SumOfUs.org, one of the many Progressive organizations that tries to collect signatures on petitions and collect donations so they can try to acquire more signatures on those petitions. Like the others, they occasionally stumble upon a cause that those with a libertarian bent would also support. That’s surely how I got on their email list. I have a high tolerance for this kind of junk in my inbox because I can delete it very easily and it’s good to keep an eye on what the other side is up to.
Here is what I received (click to see clearer picture):
As is often the case, I felt compelled to reply, so I did, with a very short note:
There’s absolutely no reason that the “coalition of Mexican farmers and citizens [that] has fought Monsanto to defend their use of native seeds and 8,000-year-old farming tradition” can’t keep growing whatever corn they want using whatever method they want. Why don’t you go after the terrorist group PETA and leave Monsanto and Bayer alone?
I was quite surprised to receive a reply the next day (click to see clearer picture):
Since this had now become a dialogue and I also believed strongly that her “opinion” was based on ignorance and incorrect philosophy, I decided to answer her more fully.
I object strongly to this: hyperbole/bad science and the implication that by selling modern corn seed it will somehow ruin 8000 years of corn-growing tradition in Mexico.
You referred to Monsanto’s “pesticide soaked, genetically engineered brand of corn farming,” but there was no evidence at all that Monsanto’s seed contains any pesticide at all (it does not) nor any information about why modern corn is bad to grow. A lot of (either ignorant or evil) people spread the lie that Monsanto’s corn contains Roundup; it does not. It has been modified to be resistant to Roundup so that if a farmer chooses to spray for weeds he doesn’t kill his corn at the same time. It has also been bred for vigor, drought resistance, pest and disease resistance and yield, all of which are good things.
Have you noticed how corn that you buy at the supermarket keeps so well in the refrigerator? 30 years ago that wasn’t true, to experience great corn on the cob it needed to be cooked within hours of being picked. Breeding has produced sugar-enhanced varieties whose sugars convert to starch much slower than older corn varieties. They’ve also been bred for longer ears with more rows of kernels and more ears per stalk. As a farmer which would you prefer, corn stalks that grow one, or maybe two short ears with 10 or 15 rows of kernels or a variety with triple the sugar content and 3 or 4 8″ ears with 25+ rows?
The 8000 year old Mexican tradition is to grow inferior corn at a significantly reduced yield – and that’s without regard to being Roundup resistant. (I’m using “inferior” to mean ears that are short, few rows of kernels, low sugar content which means most people don’t like it as much, and if you don’t eat it within 24 hours of harvest it’s already starchy. It doesn’t mean there aren’t heirloom (open-pollinated) varieties that don’t have excellent or unique flavor.)
Nevertheless, I understand that many people prefer heirloom vegetables for many, many reasons. The availability of seeds and produce of these varieties has exploded in the USA in the last dozen or so years. Every seed catalog has a huge selection of heirloom seeds. There are even entire companies dedicated solely to heirloom vegetables. Every Mexican farmer is free to choose whatever kind of corn he wants to grow. If his customers want heirloom varieties he can grow them and if they want improved corn he can grow that. There’s no reason he can’t grow both, although he’ll have to separate the two because corn is wind pollinated and he wouldn’t want the heirloom varieties being fertilized by GMO varieties. That’s not hard to do because corn pollen is heavy and doesn’t travel very far.
That leads me to some *very* bad behavior by Monsanto that I wholeheartedly condemn. They have previously sued farmers who had corn fields next to Monsanto fields because the farmers’ corn was acquiring Monsanto’s genetic material through natural pollination. That’s ridiculous, and in fact I’d support a suit by the other farmer against Monsanto contaminating their crop. It’s even more egregious because the other farmer had been growing his corn there prior to Monsanto growing their GMO corn next door. That behavior is wrong, unacceptable, immoral, unethical and should not be tolerated. I don’t recall the outcome of the lawsuit(s) but if Monsanto won it was a miscarriage of justice.
I also disagree with Monsanto’s policy of not allowing you to keep some of your harvest to plant next year. Since I’m not familiar with Monsanto’s genetics I don’t know if their corn seed comes true in subsequent generations, but it’s possible that it doesn’t. However, the farmers do sign a contract with Monsanto stating that they will not grow any of the resulting crop and they should abide by the contract if they sign it. I recently read a story of Indian farmers going broke because they couldn’t afford to keep buying Monsanto’s seeds. It’s a ridiculous situation to get yourself into, though, because you know in advance what the requirements are. So according to “the old ways” a farmer might sell 80% of his production and keep 20% to plant the next year. In the “new way” he will sell more produce (healthier, drought resistant, higher yield) and he will sell his entire crop, but he will retain X% of his income as “seed” because he knows he has to buy seed the next year. Either way you need to retain seed in some form; in fact saving seed for the next planting takes higher priority than selling crop for profit.
I recognize that Monsanto and Bayer are both bad citizens sometimes and I believe they should be held accountable for it, held accountable with harsh penalties when warranted. But also realize that both of them (and other breeders and chemical companies) have contributed to a boom in agricultural productivity that has allowed us to feed many more people per acre than was previously achievable. Trying to deprive the inhabitants of 2nd and 3rd world countries of the benefits and advantages that we have developed is cruel; it’s inhumane and only serves to promote hunger and poverty. Is it your belief that those born in less advanced countries should suffer for it? Is it preferable to give them food as alms and keep them reliant upon our generosity for their existence, always with their hand out for their next meal or should we allow them to use modern seed, modern fertilizer and modern weed, pest and disease control methods to grow 10 or 20 times more per acre and therefore thrive by their own effort? I know my answer to that question and it isn’t to keep them dependent upon us.
(About The writer: Ken is a former board of education member in Andover, CT and former candidate for first selectmen for the Libertarian Party in Windham, CT he currently resides in Andover.)