As words like “organic” and “non-GMO” permeate our daily lives, we start to search for their true meaning. Although Monsanto is not the only company that produces genetically modified agriculture, its products and practices are a major focus of public contempt.
Who is Monsanto?
Today, Monsanto markets itself as a “sustainable agriculture company” that produces “high-yielding conventional and biotech seeds,” “advanced traits and technologies that enable more nutritious and durable crops” and “safe and effective crop protection solutions.”
However, Monsanto’s controversial history and its association with a variety of harmful chemicals that are believed to contaminate food, affect biodiversity, alter the environment and disenfranchise small-time farmers have made it one of the most publicly distrusted industrial companies.
Founded in 1901, Monsanto is credited with producing toxic chemicals such as PCBs; Agent Orange, the herbicidal warfare chemical used during the Vietnam War; the insecticide DDT; the dairy cow hormone rGHB; and the possible cancer-causing soft drink sweetener Aspartame, according to Modern Farmer.
Reinventing itself as an agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation, Monsanto’s GMO agricultural seeds include alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, sorghum, soybeans, sugarbeets and wheat, as well as over 2,000 vegetable seed varieties. A sizeable amount of Americans foods include ingredients from the corporate giant.
Weeds create a problem for farmers. Monsanto’s seeds have an ability to tolerate powerful herbicides like their cheap, effective weed-killer Roundup Ready (also known as glyphosate), which seemed to solve that problem. But when the weeds became resistant to the herbicide, Monsanto further modified its seeds to endure an even stronger version of the chemical. And the cycle continues. At this point, the practices that produce the food, as well as the products themselves, have become a relevant topic of debate.
Effects of Consumption and GMO-labeling
Providing healthy, affordable food is an international political and economic issue that has yet to be solved. But, until that solution is found, many Americans believe that it should be up to them to decide if they want to consume Monsanto’s “Franken foods.” As is mandated in certain European countries, health-conscious individuals in the states are rallying for more comprehensive, honest labeling of products.
Scientific research on the effects of consuming GMOs is somewhat divided. The Institute for Responsible Technology cites 65 Health Risks of GMOs, whereas other organizations claim that the studies are flawed and that more information is needed. Regardless, many people do not want to be a part of this science experiment, refusing to become human guinea pigs, even if the chemicals are not actually harmful.
Monsanto: At Home and Abroad
Monsanto’s agricultural domination extends far beyond Western markets. The multinational corporation uses the land in developing countries to mass-produce its products, which has major implications on the health of low-income communities. To be frank, Monsanto has been accused of poisoning third world countries. However, there is a difference between the GM crops themselves and the herbicides that are sprayed on them.
In some countries, protective policies are either nonexistent or disregarded without consequence. Roundup Ready chemicals are sprayed near schools and homes, and the toxic waste and the bins that carry it are disposed of improperly. Individuals in these communities are reported to have more cases of cancer, disease and birth defects, as seen in the photo series “Argentina: The Country that Monsanto Poisoned?”
Critics claimed that Monsanto is corrupt in documentaries such as “The World According to Monsanto” and “Food, Inc.,” and people are protesting Monsanto products all over the world, specifically in countries like the United States and Mexico. But many believe that genetically modified foods are a good thing if produced and developed properly.
“I think that GMOs are good for making the crops more effective, and in addition to that, making them more nutritious and resistant to pesticides. A better food crop for people in developing countries is definitely necessary. As far as long-term effects, I’m sure more studies would have to be done on what consuming GMOS does to the human body in 50 years. For the foreseeable future, it just seems like we don’t know,” said Ben Duong, a sophomore microbiology and political science major at UF.
Monsanto is a leader of genetically modified seeds and claims that its agricultural innovations will increase production yield and nutritional value, and hopefully, put an end to world hunger. Although opponents still question the long-term effects of altering the natural composition of food, it is clear that these herbicidal chemicals need to be handled with caution, and that more research must be conducted on the long-term effects of the process in its entirety.
Health concerns are only one issue in the debate that surrounds the agribusiness giant.
To be continued.
Featured photo courtesy of:Vegan Magazine
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