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Genetically Modified Soybeans Genetically Modified Soybeans

In defense of Monsanto (no, not really)

Genetically Modified Soybeans

For the sake of full disclosure, let me state up front that I supported California Proposition 37 which would have mandated labeling of genetically modified foods that we buy, I try to eat organic foods whenever possible (restaurants are sadly behind on this one so some GMO slips into my body), and I am not the biggest fan of Monsanto or their practices. With that said, I came close to feeling sympathetic to them.

Close. Then I came to my senses.

The moment of weakness came in a story I was reading on that discussed the “seed oligarchy” that they’ve created for themselves in the parts of the world where they’re allowed to do business, including their biggest customers in the United States. It was their response to a lawsuit that has made it to the Supreme Court that has them worried. From their perspective, it’s not about the billions of dollars of revenue that they generate or the iron-fisted hold they have on the seed industry. It’s about innovation.

“Without such protections, anyone could create a virtually limitless supply of patented technology, eviscerating the incentive to continue the R&D investments that will bring about the breakthroughs of tomorrow,” David Snively, general counsel for Monsanto, said in a statement.

The “protections” being referred to pertains to the exclusive rights to the complete lifecycle of the seeds they sell. Farmers are not allowed to go beyond a single generation of crops when they purchase seeds. For example, if they buy Monsanto Roundup Ready soybean seeds, they cannot use the resulting crops to generate more seeds for further crops. Farmers must buy fresh seeds from the company. 75-year-old Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman tried to do what others have attempted in the past. Instead of using the seeds directly from the crops he produces, he was purchasing excess soybeans from local grain elevators and taking the chance that much of it would contain Roundup Ready seeds.

“We have always had the right to go to an elevator, buy some ‘junk grain’ and use it for seed if you desire,” Bowman said.

The court sided with Monsanto (as they almost always do) and the $80+ judgment forced Bowman to push it further up the chain to the Supreme Court. He is already bankrupt from a land deal that turned sour so from his perspective, he has nothing to lose. Why not try to make things right for others in the future by opening up this money-saving loophole?

This is where I came “close” to feeling a little bit supportive of Monsanto’s position. There is a fine line between technological advancements that can make the world a better place and the same advancements being used to turn mindblowing profits. Monsanto falls into the latter category, but their contention that their profits enable them to advance research in other areas that are beneficial would be compelling if it were coming from another company. Unfortunately for Monsanto, I came to my senses and remembered that their actions on the political and business front over the past three decades have always been geared towards profits, profits, and more profits.

I’m not one who believes that “profit” is a dirty word. I do believe, however, that companies have a responsibility to give much more than they currently do, especially when they’ve reached a point where they’re protecting their profits for the sake of protecting their profits. They may be able to fool themselves into believing that they’re doing the world a good service with their research and by making it more profitable for farmers who “play ball” with them, but the actions that many have called evil over the years greatly overshadow any good the company believes that it does.

It’s easy to hate Monsanto based upon the bad press that they receive, but when you dig deeper, it’s clear that they have the potential to turn a large portion of their profits into world-changing technological innovations. They claim they’re doing this. Are they doing enough?

No. Not even close.

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