Integrity at Monsanto? You decide!
If you have been to the Midwest, you will have the rows and rows of crops indelibly impressed on your memory. You will also remember that many fields are marked–by a sign proclaiming which company manufactured the seed.
One of these seed companies has drawn AITSE’s attention; they have been making the news–because of their ethics–or lack of them. According to the Monsanto website, the corporation is committed to, “a genuine value system…that demonstrates integrity, respect, ethical behavior, perspective and honesty as a foundation for all that we do.” So, why did Covalance, a Swiss research company, rank Monsanto as the least ethical of 581 corporations? It even came in lower than Philip Morris and Exxon Mobil!
A bit of research quickly reveals some possible reasons. Monsanto has patents on 93% of the soy and 80% of the corn seed sold in the United States and is the manufacturer of the weedkiller Roundup and the genetically engineered plants that can withstand it. As such it is the world’s leading agriculture technology company. This privileged position, and their lack of competition, has allowed Monsanto to quadruple the price of soybean seed–and they have. In 2010 Monsanto was investigated by the Justice Department for monopolistic business practices.
If that were not enough, according to the story published by the interpress service, Monsanto aggressively maintains this position of privilege. Apparently, they spend 10 million annually and employ 75 people just to investigate and prosecute farmers. If a farmer saves and plants seed from one year to the next, he faces being sued. Amazingly, it has been said that farmers are even held liable if genetically engineered plants self-seed or if the patented genes contaminate non-genetically engineered seed found on their property. One Canadian farmer spent nearly half a million dollars in legal fees defending himself from Monsanto’s allegations, despite the fact that the court found that the offending seeds blew off a passing truck. Many farmers simply do not have the wherewithal to fight and just give in to Monsanto’s demands for settlements out of court.
Finally, even though Monsanto employees have been found trespassing on farmers’ land and posing as land mappers in order to gather evidence against farmers, Monsanto is among those supporting an Iowa bill that will make production of “undercover videos on agricultural operations” a criminal offense. The Food Integrity Campaign points out that it does not make sense to penalize those who would secretly document industry wrongdoing rather than speak out and risk retaliation, but the lobbyists from Monsanto disagree. After all, their second quarter net income this year declined by 19% to “only” $887 million; it is speculated that this may have been partially due to the bad press.
Certainly, the reports that Monsanto’s genetically modified corn may cause organ failure (the work was done in rats and has not been confirmed), the problems with development of superbugs resistant to genetically engineered cotton seed, and the people who talk about the potential ecological hazards of having farmers using genetically identical seeds have not helped. Monsanto is scrambling to continue their control of the agricultural market–and it appears that they are using every trick in the book to do it.