Monsanto GM – Imagine a boot stamping on a human face. Forever

Many people have an issue with genetically modified organisms from a gut feeling and philosophical point of view. I used to take that line, but I don’t any more – the good people of the United States have been willing guinea pigs for the GM experiment over the last 20 years and it’s been in general not hazardous to human health[ref]It has indirectly been very bad for some Americans’ health, by making it cheap to raise industrial beef on feedlots and by putting high-fructose corn syrup into all sorts of low-grade foods. However, Americans have the choice whether to eat these or not, this is a social and business problem that has been facilitated by GM but not caused by it.[/ref]

But I am opposed from an economic point of view, and this story of Monsanto suing a farmer in the United States is why. It reminds me of a quote late on in Orwell’s 1984

But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

Much of what is wrong in industrial agriculture is the desperately overleveraged capital structure of farming in the West. Farming owes so much money to banks to raise the cash for the complex web of seeds, chemicals, machinery that they can’t take any risks and have to maximise production, purely to pay off the debt incurred.

Now on the face of it, it’s an open-and-shut case. Monsanto patented their seed. Farmer Bowman buys a load of soybean seed from a bunch of guys selling it as feed, and then he goes and plants it as a late crop. Since 90% of soybeans in the US are GM roundup-ready, this is largely second-generation GM. Bowman doesn’t have any alternatives not encumbered by Monsanto’s patents. And so Bowman has Monsanto’s heavies roll up demanding protection money lawyers appear threatening to sue the shit out of him. Which they do.

One of the most convincing proofs that there is no God is that at Monsanto’s headquarters the sign doesn’t get to look like this

what about the 4.5 billion years of R&D before you, Monsanto?
what about the 4.5 billion years of R&D before you, Monsanto?

The problem I have with GM is that it means evil shits get to own most of our food supply. These guys put it well, though I don’t personally subscribe to the Monsanto makes Indian farmers commit suicide theory[ref]Even in India I don’t believe cotton is the first link in the food chain, unless they’ve found a way of reprocessing it into something edible[/ref]. Monsanto should be indicted for its own patent and legalistic evilness 😉

Control over seed is the first link in the food chain because seed is the source of life. When a corporation controls seed, it controls life, especially the life of farmers.

Now if I have a problem with some company, say Sky TV for example, or Rupert Murdoch in general, then guess what? I don’t have to buy their products! Giving up eating, however, isn’t really an option.

However, Monsanto’s express aim in life is to seize the means of production through legalistic shit like patenting the very stuff of life, and then extracting protection money. They do that by creating an unsustainable business model that gives a sugar rush of profits at the beginning, which is the hook to get farmers dependent on a highly leveraged business model. Borrow the money to buy our seed, and you can drench it in Roundup (made by Monsanto, funnily enough), and make enough profit to pay us back. Rinse, repeat, recycle. But don’t you dare plant that seed, else we will sue the living crap out of you.

In itself that was not so bad. What is bad is that as soon as there is any Monsanto GM in, say a cross between Monsanto crop and a neighbouring farmer’s crop, then Monsanto assert their rights over that other farmer’s crop, and say his seeds contain Monsanto patented information, Monsanto therefore forbid him planting his seed or want their payment. That’s the bit I have a problem with. Basically, if Monsanto want to take that line, fair enough. Let society then make a stipulation on Monsanto in return, to prevent the company stamping all over the rights of third-parties to mind their own business. Something like

Okay, Monsanto, you want to assert patent rights over descendant crops that may have been contaminated. Fine. In that case, we attach the following license conditions to you being able to sell your GM seeds to farmers , to the effect of. “All GM crops must be plated under condtions of biosecurity, in negatively pressured double-skinned polytunnels that are sealed against the egress of your damn precious stuff, so it doesn’t pollute the environment or infringe the rights of other people not to use Monsanto products”

Patent law is fine when it comes to human constructs and inventions. You don’t normally leave a television set or an iPad in a room and come back a year later to find they’ve introduced iPad technology into the light switches, the wallpaper shows eulogies of Steve Jobs and doorknobs speak to you like Siri, while the gravel in the drive can tune itself to BBC1. However the whole point of Life is to reproduce and spread genetic material, and it’s been doing that for three and a half billion years. Self replicating structures are inherently incompatible with the exclusive rights of patent law, and it’s high time that humanity in general took the fight to Monsanto and educated the piss-taking bastards that their abuse of the patent system needs to stop. There may be a case for GM technology, but the case for it is to be done in national research facilities or universities[ref]Companies welcome too – some firms make a profit on open-source material and it would be unwise to prohibit the private sector just because one example became evil. But if you even think of patenting Life then we will bulldoze your buildings, take every red cent in your accounts and debar every member of the Board from running a company ever again. Because you have shown yourself to be greedy bastards who want to control our food supply, and steal the work of over three billion years of painstaking research and development that has claimed countless lives on planet Earth. They didn’t all die for your monopolistic profits.[/ref]. Oh and the patent system needs to be updated to include the fact that Life has over three billion years of prior art and therefore no living forms whatsoever may be patented. I assume that Monsanto has already tried to patent the wheel, but didn’t manage to get that one through.

Unfortunately in the UK we are about to lose the GM battle, because:

We had a pro-GM lobbyist Caroline Spelman as an Environment minister before she was sacked.

To be replaced with Owen Paterson, who says people who don’t like GM are humbugs, and if we don’t have GM in Europe WE WILL ALL STARVE. Yeah, right.

Presumably Monsanto and its ilk have bought enough of David Cameron’s guys to get their way. Everybody has their price 😉

Part of the problem is that Monsanto does deliver real value for their customers in the beginning, just as a drug dealer does. All the wins are at the beginning, when you switch a diverse but sort of sustainable agricultural model to a closely controlled monoculture aided by broad spectrum herbicides. Yield goes up, what’s not to like? The problem, just like with narcotics, is that to take the wins, you get locked in. To afford Monsanto’s seed prices every year, because you aren’t allowed to save and replant, you have to borrow. And to service the debt, you need the higher yields, to earn the money to pay the debts, so you then end up in debt-slavery. This is not unique to Monsanto, it is the problem for a lot of modern farms, in that they are extremely capital-intensive, thus so highly leveraged that the financial structure of farming becomes brittle and non-resilient. You coin it in the good times, then use the money to consolidate more and more holdings into huge farms with dearer machinery, becoming more and more leveraged in the process.  So when a bad year comes, like last year’s endless summer of rain in the UK, you get financially slaughtered and need to borrow even more money. Which leads to short-termism, which is a bad thing in farming, because you no longer look after the land, using the soil as a growth substrate and fertilising artificially, rather than working with the natural carbon and nitrogen cycles. GM seeds break another natural cycle, though seed saving has long gone from Western agriculture and horticulture.

Even in the 1960s the majoriy of corn and sugar beet were F1 hybrids, ie purchased anew each season. The unique thing Monsanto brings to the mix is they are using the expensive process of GM to get themselves to sole supplier position with a dead hand on competitive alternatives. It is the rent-seeking nature of a monopolist that makes the company so dangerous, when combines with monopoly control of the essentials of life.

Shame about the absence of that fiery hand writing on the wall. It would make terrific TV, and would be a really stylish launch for the Second Coming 😉