Is Monsanto evil?

Yes. Are genetically modified foods dangerous? Possibly. Could science find out if they are? Yes.


Monsanto’s practices run contrary to science, which is ironic when the corporation depends on science for its profits. Claire Robinson puts it this way: “Is Monsanto on the side of science? The answer appears to be: ‘Only if they can control and profit from it.’ That runs contrary to the spirit of scientific inquiry, which must be free to go wherever the data leads — however inconvenient it may prove to a company’s bottom line (New Internationalist, April 2015).”

Monsanto uses false pretenses to promote genetically modified foods. Sure, looming climate change seeks drought resistant crops; increasing populations hunger for productive harvests. But to suggest that, therefore, GM foods are the only solution is misleading. That would be like the supporters of an open pit copper mine near a city justifying the mine based on the need for copper. Yes, we need better crops. Yes, we depend on copper too but these are non sequiturs: justifications not connected in a logical way to the argument being made.

If Monsanto has nothing to worry about, they would allow independent scientists to test their claims in the time-tested way –give scientists GM seeds and the non-GM (isogenic) parent seeds and conduct a double-blinded, controlled experiment. Compare the results of both for toxicity, nutritional value, drought and pest resistance, environmental risk.

An editorial in Scientific American wonders why Monsanto and others are operating in such a anti-science way. “Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers (August, 2009).”

Look at what happened to Australian scientist Judy Carman who decided to carry out an animal feeding study with GM crops. She asks three GMO corporations to supply seeds. One didn’t reply, another wanted details of her study first, and Monsanto sent her a legal document to sign stating that she would give Monsanto the results of her study before publication. Carman was astonished at the blatant censorship of her study:

“We would have been legally bound to do that whether they gave us the seeds or not. No sensible scientist would agree to such conditions, and we didn’t,” she told New Internationalist magazine.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any research on GM seeds published. But the only studies that see the light of day have been approved by the seed companies before they make it peer-reviewed journal. “In a number of cases, experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering,” says Scientific American.

The editorial also quotes entomologist Elson J. Shields in his letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency tasked with regulating the consequences of genetically modified crops. “It is important to understand that it is not always simply a matter of blanket denial of all research requests, which is bad enough,” he wrote, “but selective denials and permissions based on industry perceptions of how ‘friendly’ or ‘hostile’ a particular scientist may be toward the technology.”

Is this characterization of Monsanto not flattering?




Who Owns Quinoa?

Quinoa is an amazing food that actually lives to the hype. It provides significant amounts of calcium, iron, fibre, essential fatty acids, vitamin E, and unlike any other plant food in the world it’s a complete protein, says Lisa Hamilton her article for Harper’s magazine.


Not only is Quinoa nutritious and gluten free but it grows on poor soil high in the Andean plateau, most of it in Bolivia. It’s a perfect food for feeding the world’s starving masses, not just the Whole Foods crowd. So what’s holding it back?

Ownership, for one. Bolivia owns the seeds and doesn’t want to share them for good reason. Bolivia saw what happened when they shared the potato with the world. Cultivation became mechanized, driving down the price to the point where Bolivian farmers couldn’t compete on world potato markets.

And when Mexico shared it’s miracle of corn with the world, growth was industrialized, genetically modified, and subsidized in the U.S. to the point that Mexican farmers were deprived of a livelihood.

Betrayal, for another. Bolivia shared Quinoa seeds for decades until U.S. researchers played a dirty trick and patented a variety in 1994. The researchers claimed their variety was intellectual property. Bolivians saw it as bio-piracy; they didn’t buy the argument that the improved variety would eventually benefit Bolivia. They’ve heard this argument before. Yields would improve if farmers bought patented seeds rather that use their own traditional varieties.

For Bolivia it’s all about food sovereignty and providing an income for farmers. It’s about national identity and politics. In preparation for the year of Quinoa in 2013, President Evo Morales climbed on a tractor near his hometown high in the Andes and ploughed furrows for Quinoa. It’s about religion. Townspeople sacrificed a llama to ask Pachamama, or Mother Earth, for a good harvest.

Regrettably, capturing world markets on Quinoa has had unintended consequences. The nutritious seed is so popular that the price has jumped to ten times what it was in 2000. Bolivia’s malnutrition rate of 24 per cent has barely budged; despite abundance of the perfect food and government subsidies to distribute it to poor Bolivians.

The Quinoa boom has placed stress on the fragile, arid land as nitrogen levels drop from soil depletion. Soaring crop prices has led to cultivation in more fertile soils, replacing potatoes, beans and oats in some fields. Mechanization could improve soil nitrogen but it’s machinery that poor farmers can’t afford.

Ironically, although Quinoa grows well in poor salty soil at altitudes over 12,000 feet, it doesn’t thrive at lower altitudes even where the soil is better.  A solution could be genetic modification but that is fraught with peril. American geneticists have partially mapped the genome of Quinoa and found 1,000 markers that would allow breeders to produce plants  grow in a variety of altitudes, moisture levels, and soils.

Unfortunately, the benefits of genetically modified Quinoa would not likely flow to Bolivia. Geneticists like to protect their “intellectual property” but what about the true intellectual property that belongs to the Andean people who carefully selected varieties of Quinoa over thousands of years to become the marvellous food it is today?