The most hated company in the world right now isn’t a member of Big Oil. It’s not a shady Internet company or a bailed-out megabank. Populist discontent toward dirty energy, high-tech snoops, and greedy bankers has occasionally been fierce, but it’s never been laser-focused like the outrage that drew an estimated (by the organizers) 2 million protesters to anti-Monsanto rallies in more than 50 countries at the end of May.
Think about that. If those numbers are accurate, a single private company drew almost as many protesters in a single day as the worldwide Occupy movement at its peak. Monsanto didn’t even have to bankrupt any economies or leech billions of dollars off taxpayers. All it took was three little letters: GMO.
The history of commercialized GMO foods as we now know them began just two decades ago, with an “enhanced” tomato that was so unprofitable to produce that its developer wound up selling itself to Monsanto. Since then, other developments have embedded GMOs into a rather substantial part of the world’s food supply.
Total global cropland, by comparison, amounts to roughly 1.5 billion hectares, so GMOs now take up more than 11% of all cropland in the world. ISAAA — the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a pro-GMO nonprofit supported in part by Monsanto’s funding — says that GMOs have made 100-fold gains in terms of planted cropland since 1996. The United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India comprise the lion’s share of GMO cropland, as more than 152 million of the world’s 170 million GMO hectares are found in those five countries.
All of this adds up to big business. The six largest seed-and-weed companies — which typically pair specially engineered seeds with herbicides that often eliminate any plants not attuned to their unique chemical structure — accounted for close to $50 billion in global sales across their various product lines in 2009, the last year for which complete data was available:
How do you solve a problem like Monsanto?
It’s tempting to reduce complex issues into outraged sound bites, like “GMOs are killing people!” or “GMOs are feeding the world!” The truth, as always, isn’t quite so easy.
The threat of tainted food — whether by chemicals or through genetic manipulation — is a cause that arouses outrage at a pitch few other causes will ever muster. The threat of a shadowy corporation with its fingers buried in the heart of our food supply only heightens this outrage, and Monsanto’s heavy-handed efforts at control have done nothing to soften its public image. However, the science of GMOs has been carried out in a highly ideological way on both sides, which doesn’t help when all you want is the truth.
It seems that GMOs will inevitably become a larger part of our food supply, because the corporate motivator in the United States has proved to be stronger than the citizen motivator in recent years. A few protests won’t change that. It will take concerted, long-running national efforts to change diets and attitudes before Monsanto and its peers are forced to loosen their grip on American farmlands. If you choose to be one of the people on the vanguard of that effort, make sure that you understand the science as it is, and not as you’d like it to be.
Source: Motley Fool