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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.

By Christopher D. Cook / February 23, 2011



San Francisco

Question: Would you want a small handful of government officials controlling America’s entire food supply, all its seeds and harvests?

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I suspect most would scream, “No way!”

Yet, while America seems allergic to public servants – with no profit motive in mind – controlling anything these days, a knee-jerk faith in the "free market" has led to overwhelming centralized control of nearly all our food stuffs, from farm to fork.

The Obama administration’s recent decision to radically expand genetically modified (GM) food – approving unrestricted production of agribusiness biotech company Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” alfalfa and sugar beets – marks a profound deepening of this centralization of food production in the hands of just a few corporations, with little but the profit motive to guide them.

IN PICTURES: From Field to Fork: The foreign and domestic food chain

Even as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials enable a tighter corporate grip on the food chain, there is compelling evidence of GM foods’ ecological and human health risks, suggesting we should at very least learn more before allowing their spread.

Numerous peer-reviewed studies suggest these crops – the result of reformulating plant and animal genes, with minimal oversight and no food labeling disclosures – increase allergens in the food supply. And according to the World Health Organization, “The movement of genes from GM plants into conventional crops...may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security. This risk is real, as was shown when traces of a maize type which was only approved for feed use appeared in maize products for human consumption in the United States of America.”

Corporate-controlled seeds are undemocratic

But these corporate-controlled seeds pose an even graver threat: Both the technology and economy of GM crops are intrinsically anti-democratic.

What’s wrong with having a few corporations control virtually every aspect of our sustenance? Far from abstract, the genetic and proprietary control of our diets by a handful of companies (Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta combined own an astounding 47 percent of the global seed market) directly robs consumers and farmers of the most basic right to choose what they will eat and grow.

The entire concept of creating and selling patented GM seeds is based on proprietary corporate control: The seeds are non-replenishing and must be purchased anew each season, eliminating the time-honored farmer tradition of saving and re-using seeds.

Anyone doubting Monsanto’s obsession with control can just ask just ask the thousands of farmers who have been sued and spied upon for alleged “seed piracy” – at least 2,391 farmers in 19 states through 2006, according to Monsanto website documents obtained by the Washington, DC-based Center for Food Safety (CFS). A report by CFS, using company records, found that “Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers.”

Or ask Monsanto. Under the headline, “Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers Who Save Seeds?” on its website, the firm states: “When farmers purchase a patented seed variety, they sign an agreement that they will not save and replant seeds produced from the seed they buy from us. More than 275,000 farmers a year buy seed under these agreements in the United States.”

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