Imagine…food without pesticides …seeds without patents …a future without Monsanto

| 1st September 2004
Monsanto’s global website says: ‘Imagine innovative agriculture that creates "incredible" things today.’ Actually, I think most of us are more interested in ‘credible’ things when it comes to agriculture. Like food that people can trust is safe. And crops that meet the needs of the farmers that grow them. The Monsanto slogan used to be ‘food, health, hope’. As if this wasn’t absurd enough, it has now been changed to ‘Imagine™’. John Lennon must be turning in his grave.

Imagine a world with vast monocultures of patented, genetically-engineered crops producing foods with in-built pesticides. Imagine the world’s staple food crops engineered with genes from bacteria and then released into the food chain without any real understanding of the health impacts.
The Monsanto website boldly states: ‘Integrity is the foundation of all that we do. Integrity includes honesty, decency, consistency and courage.’ I suppose ‘courage’ isn’t that far-fetched. But ‘audacity’ would probably be a more accurate word.

Imagine trying to introduce a new product into the market place when most people don’t want it, and when it is effectively impossible to keep it separate from other similar products. Imagine being able to insist that the cost of keeping this product separate be passed onto the users of the other, existing products. It’s kind of like insisting that your neighbour pay for the new fence when you bring home a pit bull terrier for a pet. Imagine not only trying to pull off such an audacious scheme but actually succeeding.
‘Consistency’ is also plausible. Although I suspect the appropriate agricultural term is ‘monoculture’. As for ‘honesty’ and ‘decency’, I’m not sure how the victims of Agent Orange would feel about that. Or the thousands of people who have been affected by PCBs. (Both of which were manufactured by Monsanto.) Or the 70-odd farmers in the US who have been sued by Monsanto for saving seeds and infringing upon the company’s intellectual property rights?

I, for one, imagine a world where Monsanto doesn’t exist. Where I don’t have to spend my days struggling to stop possibly one of the most irresponsible organisations in human history from involving all of us in an uncontrolled experiment without our consent.

Monsanto is on the back foot. Millions of people have been rejecting its foods. Thousands upon thousands of farmers have been rejecting its seeds. In the face of this, it has ‘voluntarily’ withdrawn genetically-engineered wheat in North America and genetically-engineered canola in Australia. We can only hope that ‘voluntary’ liquidation is the next step.

John Hepburn is an Australian freelance journalist.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist September 2004