The Monsanto Menace

The feds see no evil as a belligerent strongman seeks control of America's food supply

The Monsanto Menace
Peter Ryan

When you're good at something, you want to leverage that. Monsanto's specialty is killing stuff.

In the early years, the St. Louis biotech giant helped pioneer such leading chemicals as DDT, PCBs, and Agent Orange. Unfortunately, these breakthroughs had a tendency to kill stuff. And the torrent of lawsuits that comes from random killing put a crimp on long-term profitability.

So Monsanto hatched a less lethal, more lucrative plan. The company would attempt to take control of the world's food supply.

Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen says that “Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their 
side of the fence.”
Lottie Hedley
Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen says that “Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their side of the fence.”
Monsanto’s suburban St. Louis headquarters hides behind trees and security checkpoints. Its business hides behind lawyers, lobbying, and patents.
Monsanto’s suburban St. Louis headquarters hides behind trees and security checkpoints. Its business hides behind lawyers, lobbying, and patents.

It began in the mid-'90s, when Monsanto developed genetically modified (GM) crops such as soybeans, alfalfa, sugar beets, and wheat. These Franken-crops were immune to its leading weed killer, Roundup. That meant that farmers no longer had to till the land to kill weeds, as they'd done for hundreds of years. They could simply blast their entire fields with chemicals, leaving GM crops the only thing standing. Problem solved.

The so-called no-till revolution promised greater yields, better profits for the family farm, and a heightened ability to feed a growing world. But there was one small problem: Agriculture had placed a belligerent strongman in charge of the buffet line.

Monsanto knew that it needed more than genetically modified crops to squeeze out competitors, so it also began buying the biggest seed businesses, spending $12 billion by the time its splurge concluded. The company was cornering agriculture by buying up the best shelf space and distribution channels. All its boasting about global benevolence began to look much more like a naked power grab.

Seed prices soared. Between 1995 and 2011, the cost of soybeans increased 325 percent. The price of corn rose 259 percent. And the cost of genetically modified cotton jumped a stunning 516 percent.

Instead of feeding the world, Monsanto simply drove prices through the roof, taking the biggest share for itself. A study by Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University, found that rapidly increasing seed and pesticide costs were tamping farmers' incomes.

To further corner the field, Monsanto offered steep discounts to independent dealers willing to restrict themselves to mostly selling Monsanto products. And the arrangements brought severe punishment if independents ever sold out to a rival.

Intel had run a similar campaign within the tech industry, only to be drilled by the European Union with a record $1.45 billion fine for anti-competitive practices. Yet U.S. regulators showed little concern for Monsanto's expanding power.

"They're a pesticide company that's bought up seed firms," says Bill Freese, a scientist at the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit public-interest and environmental-advocacy group. "Business-wise, it's a beautiful, really smart strategy. It's just awful for agriculture and the environment."

Today, Monsanto seeds cover 40 percent of America's crop acres—and 27 percent worldwide.

"If you put control over plant and genetic resources into the hands of the private sector . . . and anybody thinks that plant breeding is still going to be used to solve society's real problems and to advance food security, I have a bridge to sell them," says Benbrook.


Seeds of Destruction

It didn't used to be like this. At one time, seed companies were just large-scale farmers who grew various strains for next year's crop. Most of the innovative hybrids and cross-breeding was done the old-fashioned way, at public universities, and the results were shared publicly.

"It was done in a completely open-sourced way," says Benbrook. "Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture exchanged all sorts of seeds with other scientists and researchers all over the world. This free trade and exchange of plant genetic resources was the foundation of progress in plant breeding. And in less than a decade, it was over."

The first crack appeared in 1970, when Congress empowered the USDA to grant exclusive marketing rights to novel strains, with two exceptions: Farmers could replant the seeds if they chose, and patented varieties had to be provided to researchers.

But that wasn't enough. Corporations wanted more control, and they got it with a dramatic, landmark Supreme Court decision in 1980, which allowed the patenting of living organisms. The decision was intended to increase research and innovation. But it had the opposite effect, encouraging market concentration.

Monsanto would soon go on its buying spree, gobbling up every rival seed company in sight. It patented the best seeds for genetic engineering, leaving only the inferior for sale as conventional, non-GM brands. (Monsanto declined an interview request for this story.)

Biotech giants Syngenta and DuPont both sued, accusing Monsanto of monopolistic practices and a "scorched-earth campaign" in its seed-company contracts. But instead of bringing reform, the companies reached settlements that granted them licenses to use, sell, and cross-develop Monsanto products. (Some DuPont suits drag on.)

It wasn't until 2009 that the Justice Department, working in concert with several state attorneys general, began investigating Monsanto for antitrust violations. But three years later, the feds quietly dropped the case. (They also ignored interview requests for this story.)

"I'm told by some of those working on all of this that they had a group of states that were seriously interested," says Peter Carstensen, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. "They had actually found private law firms that would represent the states on fairly low fees—basically quasi-contingency—and then nobody would drop a dime. Some of the staff in the antitrust division wanted to do something, but top management—you say the word 'patent,' and they panic."


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34 comments
muncievoice
muncievoice

Great article Mr. Parker. On Muncie Voice, we regularly write about Monsanto since our conservatively Gannett owned state newspaper (Indiana) can't seem to discover the connection between Monsanto and how much we spend for medical care. In fact, last week, one of their "prize winning journalists", actually allowed an industry spokesperson from CropLife to tell her, "Over 150 studies have been performed on GMO's and they all proved safe". She didn't even comment that CropLife is Big Ag's industry owned tool. Never mentioned that it might be biased...even though a 30 second search on Google revealed who this organization was and who are the main players. Corporate owned media is doing America a disservice since they were granted unique constitutional rights to hold both the government and private sectors accountable. Thanks to small independent papers like the Village Voice, consumers are finally being informed.

BeGreatEatWell
BeGreatEatWell

The minute that Monsanto starts putting profits over human health is when we need to take back the system for ourselves. That time is now!

MusicNerd99
MusicNerd99

Oh, and one more thing, ajkmsteph2, those you seem to be mistaken about Bt Corn, which is coated with bee-killing neocontinoids which the EU has now banned because of the link to Bees' Colony Collapse Disorder.

Lisa Flax
Lisa Flax

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!! From a long-time anti-GMO activist!

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

25 million acres previously sprayed with ant-rootworm nerve poisoning , bee killing chemicals insecticides now replaced with non-toxic Bt corn for the last 10 years - and you wonder why Syngenta and Dupont who make those chemical insecticides  was against Monsanto?  They don't deny helping the anti-GM groups against Monsanto. How much chemical insecticide does Monsanto make ? None.  Before Cheap Roundup herbicide what did farmers use on 95% of their crops - expensive herbicides from Dupont and Syngenta ----I wonder why Syngenta and Dupont are trying to bad mouth Monsanto's RoundUP ?   Who has made 90% of the GM crop traits that work?  Monsanto who has tried and failed until recently / Dupont and Syngenta?  Who has to license their GM traits from Monsanto - Syngenta and Dupont. Who has lost every single case against Monsanto = Syngenta and Dupont? Who has lost every single case against Monsanto -organic activists?  Who is now funding the GMO labeling - organic activists !

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

This is a classic anti-GM blog uses other blogs as facts

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

The author ignores that fact that many of his publications and work has been discredited. He reported data to say GM crops were in Mexico and that was proved wrong - bad DNA work.  He ignores the fact that open source breeding doesn't increase yields anymore.  If a company can make money on seed they invest in research and make better varieties and hybrids that is well known by the academics who now focus on crops not worked on by the companies

realitybias
realitybias

What a load of organic manure. This article has so many factual errors, it almost qualifies a parody. Except it isn't funny. Yet many will believe it's content because it reaffirms their biases and they're too lazy to fact-check, even a little. Welcome to the New Dark Ages. God lives - it's science and sanity that are waning.

One small example: the cost of GMO seed has indeed increased over conventional seed, because it offers value to the farmers who buy it. Yet seed costs remain less than 10% of production costs for GMO corn, soy, cotton, and canola. Farmers buy GMO seed because it lowers overall production costs, and in some cases, reduces risk to yield. Monsanto takes about 33% of the farmer's savings, farmer keep about 67%. That's why the seeds are so successful. And why all the focus on Monsanto? Dupont-Pioneer is #1 in GMO corn & soy market share.

animalangels
animalangels

@BeGreatEatWell Actually it was a long time ago.  We are behind.  Grow your own food after carefully choosing your seeds if you can.

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

@MusicNerd99 I have zero support for chemical insecticide treatments on seeds except if you are going to use insecticides put it on as a seed coating so you don't heavily spray the air and soil. The problem is with anti-GMO they are just no people - they don't offer real solutions they don't solve the problem

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

@MusicNerd99 Some Bt corn seed and conventional corn is coated with insecticide to control other insects not killed by the BT because the Bt is very specific and benign. don't use Bt or seed coat and you get 50% drop in yield in dry seasons. That is why less than 0.5% corn is organic

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

@MusicNerd99 I agree that farmers can request a seed coat to any seed that can contain neocontinoids made by Syngenta. and I agree that it would be good to get rid of these chemicals but not because I think they affect bees but becuase we need to remove insecticide chemicals and replace them with Gm approaches including Bts and RNAi technologies that are very safe.  This is why Monsanto bought Beelogics company - Beelogics was trying to kill bee pathogens with RNAi and that same technology can kill other insects (monsanto has already shows this and it will release the product in the next 5 years once safety testing is completed (look at their website). Farmers are requesting the seed coating that is put on after the seed us made often by a dealer after Monsanto has sold the seed.  I think the EU is wrong (and the UK government and UK farmers agree) that neocontinoids are harming the bees its really pathogens brought in from foreign lands. The commercial bee producers have not be managing the bees properly and have brought in bee pests when they lost bees or found cheaper ex-EU sources. 

maxwellvelvethammer
maxwellvelvethammer

@MusicNerd99 Excellent points, keep contributing. We've got to embarrass the Monsanto/Seed Cartel Fanboys, since they have no conscience, awareness of long-term consequences or moral compass. Nor any compassion for farmers getting jackbooted by the Pinkerton Gestapo and sued by these remorseless, corrupt AgChem Monsters/Liars. Truly beyond comprehension. Keep up the intelligent discourse.

george
george

@MusicNerd99 Forgive me, MusicNerd, but Chapela is and was a hack who couldn't manage to perform an exceedingly easy molecular biology assay.  

lauren2020
lauren2020

@ajkmsteph2 its morally and ethically wrong to patent nature; there wasn't anything insufficient about open source seeds; there is nothing superior with GMO clad seeds; further, what do organic 'activists' have to gain from 'winning' a lawsuit against Monsanto? The answer is nothing. What does Monsanto have to lose? The answer is a lot of money. In fact, they would lose even more money than the millions they give to US officials / reps, otherwise they wouldn't bother giving it up. 


The fact is, in the game of farming, in general, its not easy to make a huge profit. The only way to do so, is what they've done, patent nature, pay the FDA / USDA to subsidize their products, influence other manufacturers to insert their product into all boxed goods and before you know it, Monsanto is on every shelf of every aisle of the store in a big or small way, from the cheese to the yogurt to the produce to the crackers to the pasta to the...you get my drift. Seriously though, it doesn't concern you in the slightest that one sole entity has wormed its way into literally every kitchen in the entire country?

 Any economist worth his salt / degree knows that competition is what keeps a market healthy - monopolies do not. The only time a monopoly is acceptable / less costly is in the case of a utility ie power lines, sewage, etc where building multiple lines of power or more than one system of pipes would be inefficient and result in unnecessary costs both to consumer and producer; generally such utilities are either highly regulated by or simply put directly into the hands of government (product of a bygone era when such an entity was to be trusted). In the case of Monsanto we have one company /product on many farms in many places. This is not a situation that can be economically compared to a utility in terms of efficiency. This is beside the fact that the GM crops are not of higher yield and the chemicals put in them and on them continue to degrade our ever depleting source of freshwater. Further, it only makes sense that Monsanto has a cheaper product, if only by a few cents; its a chemical company; you really think they aren't in cahoots with other chemical companies that will be required down the line when the consumer who wanted to 'save' $.10 ends up paying several million in hospital fees to have a bypass, or deal with his diabetes and so on after having a life's worth of food subsisting solely on white wheat, white rice, soy and corn based products that have all been stripped of or never had much nutritional value to begin with? 

jcliif
jcliif

@ajkmsteph2 well, you should have not dodged his interview and told him that in person instead of trolling the message boards after the fact, monsanto employee.

Lovelif3
Lovelif3

@realitybias What a load of BS.  You go right ahead and stuff your face with the garbage.  I'll refrain thank you.

maxwellvelvethammer
maxwellvelvethammer

@realitybias Well, "Monsanto FanBoy," sage guru and enlightened one, since you're so up-to-speed on the economics of the seed cartel, perhaps you'd care to comment on the bee genocide caused by these purveyors of "goodness, prosperity and profitability." You know, the moisture contamination chain. (Silence.) 

No surprise, since you're apparently a paid GMO blog comment troll paid a buck a word to "influence" the discourse on any issue related to the AgChem consortium/Lobby. I don't eat organic food, but for you defend those corrupt companies is laughable. They've bought off this woefully "on the take" inept (and equally unpricipled, corrupt) Congress and weakened any chance of enforcement by Fed agencies supposedly in charge of illegal, anti-competitive activities...and you have the gall to proffer their figures off the "economics talking points" sheet they handed you? Your comment is a parody of a legitimate comment. A shill of the worst kind - completely without remorse or scruples.

And while we're at it, should we expect a visit from Pinkerton thugs or a letter for you're handsomely paid legal firm for commenting here?

btw, have you got a "talking points memo" on the bee die-off from your handlers? Awaiting your answer...

Brent_Lipman
Brent_Lipman

For those who actually watch the 3 minute video, unlike the TROLL @ajkmsteph2, you learn about the proposed weed/pest eating robot that hopes to end the need for GMOs.

Quote from video "If I don't need herbicides? AND If I don't need pesticides? Why would I ever buy GMO crops."

And ends with "I made GMOs history, I really did save the planet."

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

@lauren2020 @ajkmsteph2

lauren2020 said

ajkmsteph2 its morally and ethically wrong to patent nature; there wasn't anything insufficient about open source seeds; You don’t patent nature when you make a GM seed – you would probably say GM is not natural so how can it be natural but not natural. Its not natural. Non-GM crops are not natural either –neither is organic food. Most crops have been modified a lot by people already .  Bananas are not natural and corn doesn’t exist in nature anything like corn today.

there is nothing superior with GMO clad seeds;  - well Gm Bt corn is highly resistant to certain insects and non-GM is not and needs to be sprayed – I call that superior.

further, what do organic 'activists' have to gain from 'winning' a lawsuit against Monsanto? The answer is nothing.  So why do the organic activist bring lawsuits against Monsanto? And why has Monsanto not brought a single lawsuit against an organic farmer or any framer where accidental seed or pollen was the issue?

What does Monsanto have to lose? The answer is a lot of money. In fact, they would lose even more money than the millions they give to US officials / reps, otherwise they wouldn't bother giving it up. Of course Monsanto and farmers have a lot to lose if they can’t use the best technology in farming.

The fact is, in the game of farming, in general, its not easy to make a huge profit. Do you mean farmers or companies? The way for companies to make money is make products that customers want

The only way to do so, is what they've done, patent nature, pay the FDA / USDA to subsidize their products, influence other manufacturers to insert their product into all boxed goods and before you know it, Monsanto is on every shelf of every aisle of the store in a big or small way, from the cheese to the yogurt to the produce to the crackers to the pasta to the...you get my drift. Seriously though, it doesn't concern you in the slightest that one sole entity has wormed its way into literally every kitchen in the entire country?
   Dupont seeds has the same market share as Monsanto why not complain about them?

Any economist worth his salt / degree knows that competition is what keeps a market healthy - monopolies do not. The only time a monopoly is acceptable / less costly is in the case of a utility ie power lines, sewage, etc where building multiple lines of power or more than one system of pipes would be inefficient and result in unnecessary costs both to consumer and producer; generally such utilities are either highly regulated by or simply put directly into the hands of government (product of a bygone era when such an entity was to be trusted). In the case of Monsanto we have one company /product on many farms in many places. This is not a situation that can be economically compared to a utility in terms of efficiency. Monsanto increased its prices in about 2009 and lost market share how come ?  Maybe competition? The US decided after detailed investigation for 3 years that there was no anti-trust issue

This is beside the fact that the GM crops are not of higher yield and the chemicals put in them and on them continue to degrade our ever depleting source of freshwater.  Not true they are higher yielding that’s the farmers buy them. Bt corn against borers increase yields about 8%, against rootworms can be as high as 50% when the insects are around – nothing when there are no insects. roundUp resistant crops save on petrol (no need to plow to kill weeds and saves soil structure and allows no-till (which also preserves water in soil).

Further, it only makes sense that Monsanto has a cheaper product, if only by a few cents; its a chemical company;

They get 10%-20%  of profits from chemicals  so not a chemical company.

you really think they aren't in cahoots with other chemical companies that will be required down the line when the consumer who wanted to 'save' $.10 ends up paying several million in hospital fees to have a bypass, or deal with his diabetes and so on after having a life's worth of food subsisting solely on white wheat, white rice, soy and corn based products that have all been stripped of or never had much nutritional value to begin with? Now you are really being crazy again 16 years not a single hospitalization (maybe the hospitals are paying the activists to stop GM so that more people will get sick from organic – people have died from eating organic food – that’s a fact.

BTW certain cancer rates have gone down as GM crops have gone up does this mean that GM crops cure cancer – not but that doesn’t stop using associations irrationally like autism caused by GM food etc.  You need to get a grip on reality

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

@maxwellvelvethammer again the usual reply anybody against you must be a paid Monsanto blogger. Ironically Dupont actually paid bloggers to blog against Monsanto (exposed in court documents). I am not paid by Monsanto to blog (or anyone else)

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

@Bobo @realitybias anyone who takes the GM side is thought to work at Monsanto not true. But even if it was - can you explain your logic that somehow this changes facts = 16 years 3 billions acres and zero health harm while organics kill

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

@maxwellvelvethammer @ajkmsteph2  do you think bee die off is being caused by GM crops? Why is it a rip off seed price if the seed provides $100 in value and the farmer keep $70 of this value? Not exactly a rip off! Why do you think the farmers keep wanting the most GM traits and not the least? Lawsuits are against the 1% of farms who steal seed while 99% are honest and in every case Monsanto won and even in canadian and US supreme courts.  There was no doubt the so called family farmer was deceptive and lied to the court. Why do think Brazil starting using GM soybeans by stealing the seed from Argentina and without paying fees ? Because it doesn't work? If you knew a shread about farmers you would know they always complain about prices but they know a good deal when they see one. Monsanto prices seed based on the rolling average of seed for the last 3 years. They produce seed the summer before and their production costs go up with grain prices - last year prices were high and they had to produce some in Argentina at much higher cost but are they directly increasing prices --no they are giving the farmer a deal and absorbing some costs (hear this on the investor talks) because there is tough competition in the seed business...now this may mean they get even higher market share and then again people like you will complain - market domination but if they increase prices to reduce market share - wait a minute they are ripping their customers off - which is it -- wait a minute there is no logic in your argument - there can't be because its wrong !!

maxwellvelvethammer
maxwellvelvethammer

@ajkmsteph2 @maxwellvelvethammer Then your position is even more craven and indefensible: you're doing it of your own volition. Catastrophic destruction of bees, law suits against family farms, Pinkerton thugs, spies, rip-off seed prices...I would, if I had your incomprehensible mentality, take a deep look inside. I'm sure you sleep like a baby at night, completely oblivious to your grossly insupportable dementia. Perhaps the issues involved here are beyond your grasp. You're a piece of work, dude.

jcliif
jcliif

@ajkmsteph2 @Bobo @realitybias you know, you should tell your employer that next time instead of paying someone to troll the message board they might try not dodging the interview in the first place.

ajkmsteph2
ajkmsteph2

@Brent_Lipman @ajkmsteph2 Organic food has killed people - cheese from wholefoods just killed at least one and organic sprouts killed a number in germany and some organic fruit sicken with hep A from costco (came from outside US) .  This is usually because the organic fertilizer is not cured and since it is animal waste can harm more than synthetic fertilizers. You haven't heard of deaths from GM food because they are not treated with waste as fertilizer.  GM food also isn't directly eaten by people except sweet corn, papayas.  There is no testing to show organic is safe (obviously it sometimes. We don't know how any food is affecting health since there is no direct human testing except for food supplements

There is plenty of safety assessments on GM food more than any other food about $60M per trait over about 5 years and reviewed by government scientists  in EU, US, canada, S Korea, Japan, China, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and non have rejected GM traits on safety to human health.  The  US and UK scientific bodies and medical associations have come out in support.  Only organic supports and some individual scientists are against. Why are organic industry millionaires against GM?  Their products exist because they say organic is safer and an alternative --- they have to keep up the drum beat to keep up prices of organics to consumers. There were three Millionaire organic industry owners footing most of the GM labeling bill in CA - why them? 

again 16 years not a single hospitalized linked to GM food - you would think just be accident some idiot would claim they were sickened by GM food.  I would like to see you try choosing between a cup of Bt corn and a cup of nerve poisoning chemical insecticide - which one is obviously more dangerous - now if you know that 25 millions acres of corn is sprayed with the chemical wouldn't you rather have Bt corn . Do you really  think they would let it go organic and allow 10-50% of their yields go away?  

They would farm for a loss 


Brent_Lipman
Brent_Lipman

@ajkmsteph2It is easy to explain your claim about "zero health harm" by stating there have been no human GMO-consumption studies. How can one prove human harm without human studies, without GMO labels, or with restricted seed access for independent research?

Your statement "Organics kill" is funny, since anything allowed in organic, the strictest farming practice, is allowed in conventional farming, but not the other way around.

 
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