If on May 24, 2014 you find yourself at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, then you have stumbled into what could be the denouement of one of the great postmodern conflicts—Man versus GMO. In recent history, no three-letter acronym (save the NSA) has been at the center of so much politically charged partisanship than the Genetically Modified Organism.
Playing the villain as progenitor and purveyor of these bastardized children of Mother Nature— Enter Monsanto (a passable name for a villain, by any theatrical standards). Monsanto, corrupted by greed, has grown beyond acceptable standards of power and influence, and must be stopped. But who will stop Monsanto and reclaim nature’s children? Enter the Consumer. Although an underdog, the Consumer is no nondescript archetype, but has been qualified throughout the trials and tribulations of the unfolding action. We know the Consumer to be durable and steadfast because s/he remains in the fight; we know the Consumer to be able and resourceful because s/he has consolidated a knowledgeable and vested power base; and we know the Consumer to be pure of spirit because s/he is on the side of truth and justice. This is why, in the end, we feel assured, even hopeful that the Consumer will triumph, and Monsanto will either reform or perish.
Not a bad story. But who knows how it will really end. The events upon which this story is based are still in the making, and there’s no telling what the outcome will be. I’m not one for spoilers, but I think we could (and should) make an educated guess as to who might be the victor based on what we know so far.
Monsanto, a Sustainable Agricultural Company, produces GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). A GMO is “an individual animal, plant, or single-celled life form…containing genetic material that has been artificially altered so as to produce a desired characteristic.” These “characteristics” do not occur naturally. Monsanto organisms include Alfalfa, Canola, Corn, Cotton, Sorghum, Soybeans, Sugar Beets, Wheat, Eggplant, Pepper, Tomato, Rootstock, Cucumber, Pumpkin, Squash, Melon, Watermelon, Carrot, Leek, Onion, Bean, Pea, Sweet Corn, Broccoli, Cabbage, Chinese Cabbage, Cauliflower, Fennel, Lettuce and Spinach. I personally ingest most of these on a regular basis. A buyer of one of Monsanto’s 37-patented brands of agricultural seeds, vegetable seeds, weed control, and/or traits and technologies can expect faster growth, more crops per the acre, and the latest in disease and insect management.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there on the health effects of GMOs. But Monsanto makes it easy by doing the legwork for us and not only posing the question, “Are foods and ingredients developed through biotechnology (or GMOs) safe to eat?” but answers it as well: “Yes. Plants and crops with GM traits have been tested more than any other crops – with no credible evidence of harm to humans or animals…Governmental regulatory agencies, scientific organizations and leading health associations worldwide agree that food grown from GM crops is safe to eat.”
However, according to responsibletechnology.org, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (a research association whose interest is vested in “education in the recognition, treatment and prevention of illnesses induced by exposures to biological and chemical agents encountered in air, food and water”) “doesn’t think so.” In fact, in a position paper on the subject, the academy explicitly states, “several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.”
Monsanto is ubiquitous. Whether it’s administrative or sales offices, manufacturing plants, seed production facilities, research centers, or “learning centers,” some appendage of the corporation can be found on five continents and in 67 countries. Monsanto’s learning centers “provide growers, dealers, and agronomists with information regarding production practices and to reinforce stewardship of biotech products.”
Monsanto is ranked 206th in the Fortune 500 club, and can be found on the long-list posted on the CNNMoney webpage conducting a filter search by selecting the sub-category Chemicals in the Industry drop-down menu. Because on its website Monsanto claims to be a sustainable agriculture company, I thought I could find them by clicking on the sub-categories Food Consumer Products, or Food Production, or Food Services. I guess fourth time’s a charm. Fortune 500 prestige, according to a 2013 article by Geoff Colvin, comes with a $4.825 billion revenue threshold, and Monsanto skates by at $13.5 billion.
Founded in 1901, Monsanto decided to adopt, in April of 2006, a two-page human rights policy. Among the litany of reassurances such as “Monsanto will pay wages that meet or exceed the legally required wages…[and] Monsanto will not engage in the use of indentured, slave, bonded or other forced involuntary labor” Monsanto makes explicit their stance on child labor: Monsanto will not tolerate any form of exploitative child labor.
In December of 2005, it had been suggested on a list published and posted by laborrights.org entitled The 14 Worst Corporate Evil Doers, that “according to the India Committee of the Netherlands and the International Labor Rights Fund…Monsanto employs child labor.” OK. Everybody makes mistakes. People can forgive if one takes ownership of, apologizes for, and renounces one’s wrongdoings by establishing a company-wide human rights policy to prevent any recurring errors in judgment or temporary lapses of conscience. But then people might read a March 2008 article entitled Monsanto Uses Child Labor in its Indian Cottonseed Fields in which the author, Tom Philpott, asks, “Why does Monsanto rely on farms that use child labor to cultivate its genetically modified cotton seeds in India?” It’s a valid question.
Questions regarding Monsanto’s business practices and ethical conduct are asked every day by people like Maria Bernardez, an organic farmer and chef who’s pivotal in organizing the Santa Fe chapter of the March Against Monsanto, which was set to take place at the Santa Fe Farmers Market in the Railyard on May 24, 2014. This march was being organized by mindful Consumers all over the world in more than 50 countries and 558 cities. The goal: to raise public consciousness about Monsanto’s actions, create a collective interest in the food our communities consume and to reclaim the biological purity of our nourishment and growth.