You may not think you’re familiar with Monsanto, but you probably eat Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) created by them every day. Monsanto created the first GMO in 1985 but only in the past few years has their use become widespread in our food supply. (How are GMOs created?)
The most common way Monsanto uses GMOs is to artificially manipulate a crop so that it can withstand a specific type of all-purpose poison. They sell both the genetically modified seed as well as the poison. The engineering allows the farmer to blanket the crops in pesticides and while the GMO is unaffected everything else is killed. While there are GMOs for a wide variety of crops Monsanto has focused its attention on several strategic markets, for example 93% of soybeans and 86% of corn are now GMO—and these numbers continue to rise.
What are the long term effects of consuming GMOs? No one knows definitively. On the company website Monsanto directs critics to a 2009 study by the United Kingdom that found nutritional content to be roughly equal between GMO and natural foods—but that is where their defense ends. The logic is that if a GMO orange has roughly the same vitamin C content as a non-GMO orange then there is nothing to worry about. The same study that Monsanto uses to defend itself explicitly states that it does not address the impact of the blanket application of herbicides and pesticides on human health or the environment. It also states that only one third of studies cited fit quality standards.
Meanwhile, researchers have claimed that the GMO giant has thwarted attempts to pursue research that may show ill effects. Other studies have shown links between GMO food and Celiac disease and that GMO corn causes tumors, organ failure, cancer and premature death in rats. Additional research has shown the widespread adoption of Monsanto’s products has also been linked with significant nitrogen run-off which is creating dead zones in the oceans and an alarming mass die off of bees.
There are other bio-tech companies profiting from GMOs but Monsanto has been particularly aggressive. They own patents on second generation seeds produced from their GMO crops as well as GMOs that produce infertile seeds known as “suicide seeds.” They sue farmers for patent infringement, and also pour huge amounts of money into defeating efforts to legislate any labeling of GMO foods. They have been accused of using tactics pioneered by big tobacco to influence the public’s perception about their products safety.
A revolving door exists between Monsanto and US regulatory and judicial bodies. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a former Monsanto lawyer, wrote the majority opinion on a key Monsanto case. Michael Taylor once represented Monsanto, and is now the current FDA Deputy Commissioner for Policy.
There is a growing global resistance against Monsanto. Farmers and activists have been burning fields of GMO crops, and a growing list of nations have banned GMOs all together. But it is still an uphill battle. Monsanto has become particularly entrenched in the United States where is has its headquarters but even there progress is being made. Whole Foods and Chipotle have announced plans to phase out all GMO ingredients. In April Vermont became the first state to require GMO labels on food. And just this week, two Oregon counties voted to ban GMOs all together.
These are just the basics. There is an enormous amount of information out there and a growing number of organizations working to create change. Read the links here, share this story, do your own research and get involved.