Are Monsanto and GMOs Evil?
How many of these claims about Monsanto and/or GMOs have you heard?
Monsanto sues farmers for having GMO crops on their land due to wind-blown pollen?
Monsanto uses a terminator gene to make their seeds infertile?
Monsanto’s policies in poor countries are causing widespread suicide of farmers?
GMOs favor large agribusiness over small farmers?
GMOs are unhealthful to eat?
GMOs put pig genes in tomatoes?
I had heard all of these claims and even repeated many of them for years. But a few years ago, I was at the Santa Barbara Library and picked up the book Seeds of Science by Mark Lynas – one of the original eco-terrorists in the UK who was destroying GMO crops.
I was astonished to learn that every one of these claims about the evils of Monsanto and GMOs was untrue and/or greatly distorted. Lynas is an idealist who wants to make the world a better place. The same idealism that led him to eco-terrorism also led him to follow the truth.
Reading his book, I learned the history of Monsanto, starting as a small family business. Monsanto wanted to get away from the bad connotations of “chemicals” that started with Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. Carson suggested the use of biotechnology as a substitute for chemical pesticides. Specifically, “bacterial insecticides.”
Bacillus thuringiensis produces a toxin specific to insect pests exactly as advocated by Carson. This “Bt” toxin has been sprayed as a pesticide for decades. Monsanto added a gene to corn, cotton, and other plants to produce Bt internally. This eliminates the need to spray pesticides.
This is also a benefit to small farmers as they can buy these Bt GMO seeds and save money. There is a myth that small farmers depend on collecting seeds and replanting them for the next season. In fact, long before there were GMOs there were hybrids. Replanting hybrid seeds leads to inferior crops. Farmers are used to buying such hybrid seeds each year.
Does Monsanto sue farmers when GMO pollen is blown onto their land? There was a famous case of Percy Schmeiser in Canada being sued by Monsanto. But he had deliberately collected and cultivated the windblown crops. Monsanto has never sued someone for accidental pollen drift.
Monsanto did develop “terminator” genes to prevent seed collection. But they never implemented them. That is why they do need to go after farmers like Schmeiser who cultivate Monsanto’s patented crops.
You may have also heard stories of how Monsanto’s Round Up Ready crops are a way for them to sell more Round Up chemicals. But the patent for Round Up ended in 2000 and most of the generic glyphosate is now imported from China.
Using glyphosate instead of tilling the soil reduces soil erosion and saves energy. And eliminates back-breaking work for poor farmworkers.
As for Monsanto’s alleged evils in poor countries? Monsanto actually has given away some of their GMO technology for free in poor countries. To be used on local crops not of interest to Monsanto. This was done for Bt brinjal (eggplant) in Bangladesh.
The story of GMO-caused farmer suicides in India was promoted by activist Vandana Shiva. In fact, GMO Bt cotton increased crop yield by 24% and farmer profit by 50% and reduced pesticide poisonings by 2.4 million per year. The GMO suicide story is not true.
Tanzania biologist Joseph Ndunguru developed a GMO cassava to save his country from famine. You don’t need to be Monsanto to create a GMO. But anti-GMO activists caused a ban on this lifesaving crop.
But aren’t GMOs “unnatural”? Humans have been creating “unnatural” new crop varieties with selective breeding for centuries. For about 100 years, humans have used “mutagenesis” to alter genomes with radiation and chemicals to create new crop varieties. Transplanting a gene found in one species into another happens naturally via viruses and bacteria. GMOs just do this in a controlled manner.
Hundreds of thousands of children become blind each year due to Vitamin A deficiency. GMO Golden Rice can prevent this. Greenpeace has fought this, resulting in suffering on a vast scale. Former Greenpeace President Patrick Moore calls this a “crime against humanity” and left Greenpeace. So have I. It pains me to think of how many lies I repeated about Monsanto and GMOs.
I hope this will be a lesson always to seek new information and be willing to admit your mistakes and remedy them.