Writing for Guardian Professional (a specific portion of The Guardian’s website), Vandana Shiva returns to write about the dangers of monoculture and corporate-controlled seeds and farming. She explains the differences between natural seeds and developed seeds. Natural seeds are renewable, fit in to the natural order, and promote biodiversity. Genetically-engineered seeds are not renewable, and are filled with special pesticides and genes that don’t cross-pollinate. These seeds don’t diversify themselves like normal organisms. Shiva then brings up the current bee crisis, and how pesticides are to blame for much of the damage caused by Colony Collapse Disorder. This connection leads Shiva to her main point: that organic food and growing techniques are not only good for us, they are actually critical for life all over the planet.
In her next section, Shiva describes the rise of monocultures, at least in India. She posits (again, in a different article) that well over 250,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves since the seed monopolies formed in India. Shiva describes that when only one seed type is dominant, a monoculture is formed, and biodiversity suffers. She follows this by focusing on the concepts of greed over care, in how greed is the driving force in the rise of these monocultures. Parts of India once had thousands of strains of rice that grew in different areas and climates. Now there are only a few types left. Shiva writes that greed begets a desire for control, which then begets a lack of diversification.
Finally, Globalization is brought up. Shiva explains that the continued unification of the world is also increasing the lack of biodiversity. Things like Heinz Ketchup need special tomatoes with more pulp than juice, which means they, like many other global food products, need to be made the same way, with the same products. Also noted is how fruits now are grown to be tough and hard for transcontinental travel, whereas before they would be fresh and soft. Globalization is indeed changing the way we eat.
This piece of Vandana Shiva’s is less vitriolic than her others, but she still was able to squeeze in some dead farmers. This editorial does the same kind of thing that many editorials have done when covering either side of the GMO debate: describe a bunch of problems, but not list any good solutions. Other than “let’s do something about this!”
Which really doesn’t do much.
Monsanto is a very divisive company. Some think that they’re evil incarnate, threatening to enslave the world to only eating their food. Others still praise the conglomerate’s use of technology to attempt to increase food production across the world. Many people have heard of Monsanto, but not everyone knows their story.
Monsanto started as a chemical manufacturer, famous for developing saccharine, Agent Orange, and RoundUp. Over the years, they started developing and patenting GM-based seeds, after a US Supreme Court ruling in 1980. The company is well-aware of the public outcry surrounding its genetically-modified products, and does what it can to mitigate it. They suggest that farmers have a right to choose what kind of seeds they want to plant, and that laws precluding GMO-based crops are keeping said farmers from exercising that freedom. They also suggest that in light of the soon-coming food crisis that GM crops have incredible benefits in the future. The company has also been aggressive in its purchases of other seed companies, allowing it to widen its net on the agricultural market. Monsanto’s share of GM cord and soybeans is about 65%. These acquisitions have drawn the eye of antitrust regulators, but so far they haven’t had to make but a few concessions to them.
A large part of Monsanto’s profits come from the licensing of these seeds. This almost essentially creates a monopoly, but according to the article, does not truly constitute one, as even some of Monsanto’s competitors are actually licensees. And their business model requires farmers to buy fresh seed every year. Their “Violator Exclusion Policy” will actually deny farmers access to Monsanto’s seed and technology forever if they break any of the terms of the license agreement.
Monsanto is working hard to spin its business decisions into something positive. Or at least something that looks positive. They are attempting to make sure that the developing world still as access to its seed, but are still doubling down on increased productivity at whatever the cost. Maybe it’s because this technology is so relatively new, Monsanto’s quasi-monopoly, or that people don’t like companies all up in their food supply, but they still seem to have a long way to go.