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OCA Advisor Jill Richardson Deconstructs Monsanto's Propaganda

Monsanto has launched a website response to the upcoming documentary Food, Inc. I was fortunate enough to see an advance screening of the film, which I felt was very reasonable and accurate in its portrayal of the facts. Monsanto disagrees. They say:

Food, Inc. is a one-sided, biased film that the creators claim will "lift the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that's been hidden from the American consumer." Unfortunately, Food, Inc. is counter-productive to the serious dialogue surrounding the critical topic of our nation's food supply.

Throughout this film, Food, Inc.:

* Demonizes American farmers and the agriculture system responsible for feeding over 300 million people in the United States.     
* Presents an unrealistic view of how to feed a growing nation while ignoring the practical demands of the American consumer and the fundamental needs of consumers around the world.     
* Disregards the fact that multiple agriculture systems should - and do - coexist.

This is Monsanto propaganda at its best.

Here are some of the things I've heard from the biotech industry as a whole and - in some cases - from Monsanto specifically are:

Organics and GMOs can exist side by side, or even together.
The idea that organics and GMOs can work together (i.e. cultivate GM seeds with organic methods) is ridiculous. Setting aside the fact that GMOs are not permitted within USDA organic standards, currently the commercial GM seeds are designed for two purposes. Fjrst, so you can spray unlimited amounts of herbicide on the crops to kill the weeds without hurting the crops. Since the herbicide isn't permitted in organic farming, that kind of kills the need for those GM seeds. The other kind of GM seeds manufacture their own pesticide - Bt - which I believe is permitted in organics. But the goal behind sustainable agriculture is not creating a sterile environment where no bugs can live. You WANT the bugs, you WANT biodiversity. You'll get some of the bad bugs along with the good ones, but killing them all is antithetical to organic practices.

How about the idea that organics and GMOs can exist side by side as two separate but equal agricultural systems? Again, I do not agree. Remember that GMOs are created for an unsustainable system of agriculture in which soil life is eradicated and its functions are replaced with technology. The very definition of the word "unsustainable" is that it cannot be sustained. You cannot do it forever. At a certain point, you run out of topsoil or water or oil or you throw the climate so badly out of whack that your plants can no longer thrive. Sooner or later, if we do not choose to abandon unsustainable agricultural practices, the planet will force us to do so and it will be far more catastrophic.

We need more food to feed a growing population.
What we need first and foremost is a better distribution system for our food. We already produce more than enough food for everybody in the world to eat. We produce so much food that we put food in our cars as ethanol, and we use food to make plastic.

Organics can't feed the world (or if you want to feed the world with organics you'll have to cut down the forests)
Going on the idea that we need more food to feed a growing population is the idea that organics can't produce that much food. If you want more food, you need to either produce higher yields on the same agricultural land in production today, or increase the amount of land used in agriculture (i.e. cut down forests). But remember that we have enough food, so this is actually not a problem. And yields from biotech are actually not that great according to a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists ("Failure to Yield").

I believe I've heard that the comparison between conventional and organic differs depending on where in the world you are, but one long-running experiment in Pennsylvania by the Rodale Institute using corn and soy found that organic methods (under two systems of organic management) have higher yields than conventional in most years after the first five.

The movie demonizes the farmers that feed 300 million+ people in America.
Can I invite Monsanto to have a guided tour of any family medicine clinic in the U.S. - particularly clinics that see high percentages of disadvantaged minority patients? Ask the doctors what their top reasons for visit and diagnoses are for their patients. Yes, we are being fed but we are being fed crap that makes us very sick. And I don't think the movie demonizes the farmers at all. It shows that the farmers and the consumers are victims of the same system. In fact, the movie demonizes corporations.

Food Inc is wrong to say the US produces too much corn and subsidizes overproduction.
Again, I'll have to disagree with Monsanto. It's nice of Monsanto to point out that the U.S. is the largest corn exporter in the world but that does not negate the accusation that we produce too much corn. Food, Inc. calls out the corn that isn't exported for contributing to a food supply of unhealthy, cheap food. The converse problem of this unhealthy, cheap corn-based food is that healthy foods are (by comparison) expensive and consumers select against them when shopping, particularly those on a tight budget.

Monsanto didn't invent patenting seeds.
Congratulations, Monsanto. But that doesn't mean that it's a good idea to patent seeds or that you don't do it. You do. And I believe that Monsanto is the most aggressive of any company in legally pursuing farmers who violate their patents by saving seeds.

Monsanto sues or threatens to sue hundreds of farmers a year for saving seeds.
I don't think anybody can disprove this. Monsanto said they've sued only 138 farmers in the last decade, and less than a dozen cases went through a full trial. But from what I hear, Monsanto frequently approaches farmers, accusing them of saving seeds, and offers them an agreement to sign with certain terms and conditions including a gag order. By signing such an agreement, the farmer will avoid going to court. Is this true or not? Hard to say... all the farmers who would know about it have signed gag orders if it is!

The agriculture industry does not try to place their friends in high ranking government positions.
So says Monsanto. Well, I don't know what their role is in TRYING to place employees in high ranking government positions, but whether they try or not, it happens. And it's a problem. It wouldn't be any more or less of a problem if the ag industry was specifically lobbying for it or not.

Monsanto is not the sole supplier of seeds in the ag industry.
This is true. I don't recall the movie claiming that Monsanto WAS the sole supplier of seeds. However, they do sell the vast majority of GMO seeds, and a very high percentage of several crops are GMOs (corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugarbeets). Monsanto has competitors in the seed business, but it has a significant market share whether you are looking at GMO seeds only or all seeds.

Food, Inc claims our food supply is controlled by corporate farms.
Bull. They claim it is controlled by corporations. There's a very big difference. Nearly all American farms are family farms if you look at USDA statistics (as Monsanto points out). It's not the farmers or the ownership of the farms that is the issue. It's the corporations that sell crop inputs (pesticides, fertilizer, seeds), process foods (ADM, Conagra), control the meatpacking industry (Tyson, JBS Swift, Smithfield), and manufacture the foods people eat (General Mills, Kraft, Kellogg, McDonalds, Coca-Cola). These are the corporations the movie says control our food supply. Because they do.

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