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Opinion

Control over your food: Why Monsanto's GM seeds are undemocratic

Large biotech agribusinesses like Monsanto control much of the global seed market with genetically modified (GM) crops. This centralization of GM seeds threatens food safety, food security, biodiversity, and democratic ideals.

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Threats to food safety, biodiversity

The USDA, and even some leaders of the organics business such as Whole Foods and Stonyfield Farms, endorse the notion of “coexistence” between GM and organic crops – a comforting yet flawed claim. Numerous organic farmers have reported the unwanted arrival of GM seeds contaminating their fields, rendering organic crops unmarketable.

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Even more troubling, “Roundup Ready” and other herbicide-resistant seeds by their nature promote the use of toxic herbicides – the use of which, contrary to industry claims, has risen as GM crops have proliferated, according to USDA data.

Even with buffer zones to segregate GM and organic fields, “Some degree of cross-pollination will occur regardless of what mechanism is going to be put in place,” agronomist Jeff Wolt, of Iowa State University’s Seed Science Center, told the Associated Press.

The GM threats to biodiversity and democracy are closely related. When you pair proprietary technology that’s designed to retain company control of seeds (the very lifeblood of our food supply) along with highly concentrated market control, you get a hazardous blend of ecological, economic, and political centralization.

According to research of industry statistics by the non-profit ETC (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), “the top 3 seed companies control 65% of the proprietary maize seed market worldwide, and over half of the proprietary soybean seed market…Monsanto’s biotech seeds and traits (including those licensed to other companies) accounted for 87% of the total world area devoted to genetically engineered seeds in 2007.”

Of course, few of us think about market control when we’re hustling through supermarket aisles getting our shopping done. But when our elected leaders (from both parties) approve the expansion of risky seeds that endanger biodiversity as well as farmer and consumer choice, there should be more than a little outcry.

Food Safety Act: five food recalls that rattled the industry

Genetically centralized control over seeds and the future of our food supply isn’t inevitable. Over 80 towns across the state of Vermont, and numerous counties across the country have approved moratoria on GM crops. Monsanto has encountered mass farmer and political resistance in India and throughout much of Africa and Europe.

The Obama administration’s effective rubber stamp on Monsanto’s latest GM products is out of step with international thinking about food democracy and biodiversity, and an affront to that very American notion of consumer and producer choice – and voice – in the marketplace.

Christopher D. Cook is the author of “Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis.” He has written for The Economist, the Los Angeles Times, Harper’s, and elsewhere. He can be reached at www.christopherdcook.com.

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