I read a comment on another site recently where someone was bringing up the very valid point of how we hold up Monsanto as the poster child of all things wrong with biotech, then promptly ignore the other biotech companies. Mind you, they were grossly inaccurate about a few other points, but that one is valid. I want to explore a bit about the idea.
Every day, most of us are buying all sorts of products brought to us through the biotech companies. Monsanto is the most well known, but that doesn’t mean Dupont, Syngenta, Dow and others aren’t also heavily tied to the markets. Each owns a number of smaller companies that are beholden unto them. So why do we focus so much on Monsanto? The most obvious reason is size.
Monsanto is huge. It has several dozen smaller companies associated with it, licenses to many of the other companies and has the most weight to push its agendas forward with. Even just in terms of seed companies, as I have mentioned previously, they have a pretty long set of fingers dipping into their field. The leader of a market is bound to get the most attention. This is doubly true when they are involved in so many questionable pursuits. It isn’t just that though.
Information has made its way out of the company involving all sorts of shifty decisions based on their desire for ultimate profit. They have been pretty clear in more than one meeting among their own that they intended to have an absolute monopoly on the world’s seed supply for example. Another action was to try getting a patent on a naturally occurring gene found in a large number of pigs. While they deny it was their intent, it would have been quite easy for them to legitimately order any farmer whose pigs tested positive for the gene to either pay them royalties or have their animals destroyed. There is an interesting documentary on it found on youtube. After the film was shown, Monsanto quickly ran away from the plan, dropping the patent request and issuing a statement that it was never their intent to try gaining control over the livestock of others. I would link the letter, but they have since removed it from their website.
That same website however, states that they have never sued a farmer for accidental contamination of crops. If that is true, it is only because almost every case ends up having to settle out of court because the legal costs to fight them are just too high. More than a few farmers who had heirloom varieties or who were certified organic have had to give up their ventures either because of contamination or worse because of threats of lawsuits after said contamination. Good luck getting those who settled to talk though, Monsanto requires them to never speak about the matter once they have settled.
In the end, Monsanto is acting as such big companies do. They focus on their stated goal of making a profit and do what they can to make that happen. Sadly, you can’t sustain infinite growth without eventually sacrificing ethics. Studies on both sides of just about every issue disagree. I think my favorite comment about matters like the GMO situation came from a geneticist. He thinks that one day we will have a strong enough understanding of how genes interact to reliably predict what will happen. That said, with our current methods and understandings, we are shooting at a target without knowing what may be standing behind it. Eventually you hit the target on the trait you want, but who knows what else you hit when you did.
So do we scapegoat Monsanto? Perhaps. We really shouldn’t be ignoring the others who are doing much of the same things. That being said, I do think it is justified. They are the biggest company who has their hands in the most pots and who lobby the hardest for whatever happens to be the most profitable part of their work at any given moment. You might not like what a chain of three or four stores is doing in your area, but if there is a supermarket chain spanning the globe doing the same unethical thing, that is who you try to hit first. Take out the big gun and make them change their tactics. Focusing on the smaller fish just saves the big fish from having to do that work themselves. I welcome your own thoughts and opinions on the matter, but keep it civil if you choose to comment.
Long story short, Monsanto probably deserves every bit of attention it gets, but let’s not leave out any of the others as well.