The Monsanto Corporation is one of those gigantic entities that give me the heeby-geebies. Firstly, it is huge, massive, rich, and powerful. It is one of those big corporations that have a lot of full-time representatives in Washington D.C. persuading law-makers to change the laws to its favour. Secondly, it is smart. These guys know where the money is, and they know how to market their products, and they know how to use government policy to their advantage. Thirdly, these guys are ruthless. They will stop at nothing to make money.
In the 1980’s, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that corporations can patent life forms. These rulings may yet go down in history as some of the most sinister acts of jurisprudence in the history of mankind. For now, they merely permit corporations like Monsanto to claim “ownership” of genetically altered plants.
Monsanto sells these mutants to farmers. So far, so good. Just like in the old days: the farmer buys his seed and plants his crops. At the end of the year, he keeps a portion for replanting. But wait— Monsanto claims that since it has genetically altered these seeds, that they are now copyrighted. They are patented. Monsanto owns a life form. So the farmer is not allowed to replant. He must buy the seeds over again, from Monsanto, if he wants to plant the same crop next year.
I find this whole concept mind-boggling. Suppose you buy a dog. Suppose the guy selling the dog makes you sign a document saying that you recognize his sovereignty over this doggie-life-form, and therefore, you must turn over all of the dog’s offspring to him. Would you buy the dog? Where does this guy get off claiming ownership of the progeny of a living thing? What does it mean to “buy” a dog, if you don’t “own” the dog’s eggs or sperm, and, therefore, the progeny? What if the guy also wants the offspring of the offspring? He’s got it, if you agree, and if the government agrees to enforce these rules.
Free market advocates would say, big deal. If you don’t like it, buy a dog from someone else. They act as if they can change what it means to buy and sell arbitrarily, whenever it suits them, regardless of our traditional understanding of the law.
What happens if all the other dog breeders get wind of this guy, and decide, hey, this is a great idea! Without performing any additional services, I can accrue more property, simply by declaring, “I own this dog’s progeny!” Suppose all of the dog breeders impose similar agreements on their customers? Why wouldn’t they? Competition? Ha ha! They would ALL gain. And all the customers would lose.
So, those farmers should just go buy their seeds elsewhere, right? The trouble is, the farmers really do compete. If some farmers use Monsanto seeds, which do grow faster and are more resistant to insects, then the farmers who fail to compete efficiently will be driven out of business.
Monsanto is the manufacturer of Agent Orange, the dangerous defoliant used in the Viet Nam War, and PCB’s. There are, according to Harper’s Magazine, 48 dumps in the U.S. that contain dangerous toxins that Monsanto is at least partly responsible for. Why don’t they pay to clean up? What? And have excessive government interference in the marketplace!!! And take money out of the hands of those New York investors??? What are you? Some kind of communist?
Monsanto also manufactures Bovine Growth Hormone. This is a controversial drug that many activists and environmentalists believe poses serious health risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided that consumers don’t need to be advised when Bovine Growth Hormone is added to the food that goes into your body. But wait– it’s enough for the FDA to deny consumers information about the chemicals and drugs that contaminate our foods. The FDA has gone further. It has warned grocery stores that they could be in trouble if they DO label milk as produced with BGH!
Could this be because some FDA commissioners happened to be former and future employees of Monsanto? Could this be because Monsanto maintains 42 lobbyists in Washington?
When a British Magazine, the Ecologist, devoted an entire issue to Monsanto, the printer ended up destroying all of the copies for fear of a libel suit. I wonder how those people who feel that government is too intrusive feel about corporations that strong-arm printers into destroying information that they don’t want you to have?
Monsanto is onto something really hot with “Terminator Technology”. Through genetic alteration, Monsanto wants to engineer seeds that destroy themselves after every season.
Think about that. In a world where more than 1/3 of the population is inadequately fed, Monsanto wants to introduce seeds that destroy themselves after every harvest, in order to protect their billions in profits for American investors. And what if these seeds began to blend with surrounding plants, and cause massive crop failures around the world? Will Monsanto adequately compensate those farmers and consumers? Right. Just like they cleaned up their PCBs.
Monsanto would argue that, under free enterprise, they are simply being rewarded for their cleverness. They act as if seed patents are some kind of sacred extension of traditional property laws. If they did not have that protection, they say, they would not be able to produce those magnificent seeds that do so much to alleviate hunger around the world.
But who asked them to invest the time and energy into creating new, genetically altered seeds? Nobody. Why would a farmer want to pay extra money for Monsanto seeds, if he can pretty well grow enough food with normal seeds? Well, only one reason: because his competitors can grow their crops faster and more efficiently than he can. Why? Because they use genetically altered-seeds. So all the farmers start paying Monsanto a premium for their seeds. What have they gained? I don’t know.
Furthermore, with all the mergers and take-overs in the agribusiness, and the inability or unwillingness of the U.S. government to prevent concentration of ownership, there is a good chance that in the future no farmer will have a choice about where he buys his seed.
Does Monsanto, as they argue, have a right to sell self-terminating plants? Who says they do?
What Monsanto did was find a new way to use an existing technology– developed, ironically, partly at tax-payers expense!– and then get their crack lawyers and lobbyists busy creating new laws and policies to make those technologies profitable for them. The existing patent laws were quite sufficient for Monsanto to make a healthy profit on their seed and herbicide business. By inventing an extension of that law, to the seeds of the plants grown by the farmers from Monsanto’s seeds, they simply awarded themselves billions of dollars in new profits at no additional risk or labour. And if we passed a law making it illegal to copyright biological entities, as we should have long ago, Monsanto would continue to be profitable and farmers would no longer be squeezed coming and going by just another heartless mega-corporation.
You can either be appalled by this new example of corporate greed, or you can join in the party. Here’s a number of new ways that other businesses and entrepreneur’s can make money, inspired by Monsanto’s example:
1. Musical Instrument makers: demand a royalty payment for every recording or performance in which they are used. No no — even better: charge by the note.
2. Photographic Film: patent your chemical film processes and then demand a royalty for any photograph taken on your film that is sold for publication or display.
3. Cars: instead of selling cars, “license” them to the consumer, for a fixed number of kilometers per year. For every kilometer beyond that, make the consumer pay a royalty. Make them pay extra if they intend to have passengers or cargo.
4. sod: when a person buys a new house, tell them that the grass is only “licensed” to them for a period of five years, for, say $500.00 a year. After five years, they must renew the license at a new rate, or the sod will be dug up and removed. Better yet, get Monsanto to design a grass seed that dies after five years.
5. glass: you make the view possible. Charge consumers for every glance through the window. Little computers with CMOS cameras will monitor each home-owner as they wander around their homes. Whenever they look outside– kerchunk! Charge them a nickel. If they don’t pay up, the glass goes dark. If people don’t like it, fine, you can have a hole in your wall.