Enslaved to Big Ag: Monsanto's Abuse of Farmers

April 2019
Fernanda Lugo

A brief lesson on GMOs from a biologist

At least 90 percent of the soy, cotton, canola, corn and sugar beets sold in the United States have been genetically engineered. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been experimented with since the late 80’s. The company that creates these “franken-foods” as they’ve also been called is the notorious Monsanto, owning about 90%. Monsanto was one of the biggest multinational corporation— it was recently acquired by Bayer in 2018, although its legacy in agriculture will persist. 

While the issue of whether these genetically modified food staples is still under debate, we can all agree that there should have been more testing of the outcomes from introducing this product to the field. Scientists are still struggling to decipher truth from reality, whether or not consuming GMOs may be dangerous. GMO potatoes and corn analyzed in rat in vivo studies appear to cause abnormal lesions and growth throughout their digestive tract and tumor formation in organs such as liver, kidneys and reproductive organs. One biological explanation for this is due to the methods in which GMOs were developed before technology such as CRISPR came about. Genetic material was spliced and isolated by specialized enzymes that cut DNA in particular loci and then magnified and injected into a delivery method known a “gene gun” that quite literally shoots or blasts the target cell nuclei with the genetic material. This, if you are familiar with gene codons, transcription and translation means that the snip of DNA could land quite anywhere in the cell’s genome, even interrupting an already existing gene or disrupting the reading frames. When the reading frames of the organism are disrupted this can lead to anomalous protein expression—scientists hypothesize that the disrupted proteins could be causing inflammatory response in the animals that consumer these GMO’s. 

How GMOs colonized food

Soy, corn, and wheat are some of the largest food staples in the world today, and a Roundup ready version of each of these is taking the lead in production by acreage across the US and in other parts of the world. This would not be a concern however growing a GMO plant requires special permits and sales royalties and a specific contract that costs farmers dearly. A consequence of this is that while some farmers struggle to stay in the market, many family owned farms are lost in the process. 

Throughout the western world it implemented a system to increase sales by promoting 2 products at a time. Its leading herbicide Roundup and the so called “Roundup Ready” gene modified plants that are resistant to the herbicide—ideally allowing farmers to plant and spray and need less herbicides and not have to worry about weeding.  This agricultural novelty would have been a boon for farmers were it not for the increasing cost of herbicide needed to keep the fields clear of weeds, as each time the weeds it intends to kill become more resistant to the same dosing. This is in part due to that way GMOs were created, with the gene gun, and how intrinsically unstable the product genome is. As the farmer transitions to using Roundup ready plants in their field, they find a very hard time going back to conventional crops—now that there’s thorough contamination of the field with round-up, a herbicide. Cross contamination of conventional crop fields with both Roundup and the Roundup ready gene is also prevalent— and now it it becomes increasingly clear that the price tag on these staple foods no longer represents their real societal cost. 

When multinational corporations become politically involved.

Monsanto (now Bayer’s agricultural pawn) as I have mentioned is a multinational corporation. This means that although it gathers profit worldwide, there’s many ways for it to evade paying its taxes— a subject that deserves its own essay. There are also the caveats of lawsuits, where since its headquarters are in St. Louis it can have the upper hand by being in the ‘home field’. 

Monsanto had through its establishment, many opportunities to lobby and fund campaigns to politicians that are ag-tech friendly, also to support campaigns for judges in the area. Patent lawsuits, the most common with which Monsanto was involved, were often won by default because litigations, long and costly, held farmers captive.  Infringement on its Roundup ready gene appearing in permit-less fields, was one way the company sought to keep farmers in line, but also one that incentivized the spread of GMO mono-crops throughout the US. None of these tactics would have been viable if Monsanto had been limited by corporation regulations.

Monsanto participated in the design of politics in St Louis, but alo throughout the US. In the 2008 election Monsanto made political contributions of $186,250 to federal candidates through its political action committee (PAC). 

In conclusion, none of this would have happened had there not been the issue of a revolving door in the FDA, EPA and USDA- which can all be shown to have influence from Monsanto in the late 80s and 90’s. The environmental consequences of the release of GMOs to the fields and to public consumption are still being analyzed, but when added to the cost of other environmental damage Monsanto has brought- such as dioxin and agent orange-- we can all agree that it’s high time to demand government safeguards We the People by setting more regulatory hurdles in place before we become guinea pigs for the next corporation. Join the over 450,000 individuals all across the nation working with Move to Amend to pass the We the People Amendment. This is the only amendment bill before Congress that will remove the iron grip of corporations over our regulatory agencies and public officials by addressing both doctrines undermining our democracy: money as speech and corporate constitutional rights. Sign the petition at: MoveToAmend.org/motion.



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