Monsanto - The New Big Brother

Monsanto, the company that brought you DDT, PCBs and Agent Orange, has reinvented itself and is now the world’s leader in agricultural biotechnology and that spells bad news for small farmers. As many farmers have learned, they are not free from the watchful eye of the Big Brother, who, in this case, is Monsanto. Indeed, the New Big Brother has a choke-hold over farmers by dominating, nay, monopolizing, the seed market by swallowing its competitors, aggressively patenting life forms and then aggressively pursuing alleged patent violation, and entering into contracts heavily weighed in favor of Monsanto, which dictate to farmers how they should be farming. Farmers who contract with Monsanto “agree” to give up many rights and freedoms. For example, farmers who contract with Monsanto give up the right to practice farming as they know it and must abide by Monsanto’s agricultural rules, filled with mandates of sequenced application of Monsanto herbicides. One particular practice that a farmer signs away is the ancient practice of seed saving. Monsanto actively investigates violations of the anti-seed saving contract clause and it is able to do that because by contracting with the company the farmer allows the company to inspect the farmer’s fields, records and even records of a third-party, such as the USDA, which would have been otherwise inaccessible to Monsanto. For example, the Center for Food Safety Report (Monsanto v. US Farmers) found that Monsanto has access to the USDA Farm Service Agency (“FSA”) crop reports which contain information on any land farmed by the grower. Access to the FSA form helps Monsanto to determine how many bags of seeds a farmer was sold and how many acres of a particular crop were planted. This data can also be used to identify adjacent fields owned by neighboring growers—who may themselves be potential targets of Monsanto’s investigations—without their consent.

Monsanto’s “seed police,” an army of shadowy private investigators and agents, however, does not stop at targeting only farmers who have a contractual relationship with the company. Monsanto is notorious for harassing farmers who have not entered into agreements with the company. Many such farmers are investigated and sued even if their fields are contaminated by GM pollen or seed from their neighbors’ field, when contamination occurs from use of communal grain machinery, and when GM seeds from a previous year’s crop sprout in fields planted with non-genetically engineered varieties the following year.

Also called by farmers as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” Monsanto’s investigators prowl the country side seeking to strike fear into farmers. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops, infiltrate community meetings, and gather information from informants about farming activities.  As the Vanity Fair article reports, farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Monsanto is resourceful and has the capacity to fund all such investigations.  For example, the Center for Food Safety Report found that Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers.  The Center for Food Safety Report also estimates that Monsanto investigates at least 500 farmers each year for alleged patent violation.

How is it that Monsanto can exert such control? Like most mega corporations whose tentacles reach the breadth of the globe, Monsanto has money and money paves the way to power and political clout. With these three pillars Monsanto perfects the art of food domination. Indeed, the Company has provided the seed technology for at least 90 percent of the world’s genetically engineered crops. The company also directly or indirectly controls more than half of the American corn germplasm market and most of the soybean market.

Make no mistake about it, Monsanto’s control over farmers is a control over us and what we consume. Given that food is an essential part of our existence (to say nothing of the impact of its production on the environment), having one company control so much of its growth is alarming, to say the least.  Have we become puppets of the puppet master Monsanto?

For more on Monsanto’s domination of farmers read: