Monsanto had its humble origins in saccharine production (back in 1901) but later rose to the ranks of modern behemoths. Gradually invading multiple manufacturing spheres, the company even stepped into sustainable agriculture by 1945.
Two of its most renowned products include the glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer of 1974 and genetically modified seeds of 1996. All of this sounds promising on the surface, but beneath it lurks something sinister.
Over the years, Monsanto has been the object of much ridicule owing to its controversial chemicals. Some scientists have gone as far as calling the company an “enemy of nature.” If that is true, the agrochemical corporation (now known as Bayer) is anything but the answer to sustainable agriculture.
In this article, we will explore ways in which Monsanto/Bayer has shown itself to be the problem, not the solution.
1. Pesticide Resistance and its Aftermath
Monsanto’s famous Roundup weed killer was marketed in fancy ways. The company considered its weed control technology to be convenient, profitable, efficient, and sustainable. Roundup was portrayed as the perfect product to reduce herbicide use and soil erosion.
But you will rarely hear the other side of the story from Monsanto/Bayer. In the early 2000s, not only genetically engineered crops but even their weeds started developing resistance to Roundup. By 2011, several agricultural weed varieties across the US would not respond to the normal dosage of the weed killer.
These came to be known as superweeds as they quickly infested thousands of acres of US agricultural land. The major problem was there was no way to economically control these superweeds. The scenario became quite similar to the devastation of cotton crops in the 1920s.
Why did this problem take historical proportions?
- Monsanto created such an image of Roundup that farmers relied solely on this weed killer.
- Monsanto convinced farmers to ditch traditional approaches like alternating herbicides.
- Monsanto severely downplayed Roundup’s hazards and overstated its effectiveness.
To tackle the growing superweed problem, farmers started using Roundup in greater quantities. This worked in Monsanto’s favor because it smoothly sacrificed sustainability on the altar of profits. However, biodiversity was getting affected since only a handful of Roundup-resistant crops could survive massive quantities of the weed killer.
Locally grown fruits and vegetables in the neighboring areas were vulnerable to harm since they had no resistance to Roundup. Not to mention excessive exposure to Roundup put the lives of farmers at risk too. Studies have found that glyphosate is toxic to the human body, causing health issues like cancer (especially Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma).
There is even an active Federal lawsuit against Bayer/Monsanto for Roundup use-related health injuries. The company is losing ground as Roundup lawsuit payouts and settlement amounts reached a massive $10.9 billion. One would expect such cases to teach Bayer a lesson, but it only decided to stop residential-use Roundup production.
2. False Advertising and Lobbying
If a company was the face of manipulation and gaslighting, it would be Monsanto. Over the years, it has made tremendous efforts (involving huge amounts of money) to persuade Congress and the public. The company has been accused of lobbying government officials to push its agriculture agenda.
Millions at once are thrown towards lobbying high-profile members and influencing public policy. To date, Monsanto’s lobbyists have –
- Weakened Congress’ patent reform efforts
- Protected the company from allegations involving gene contamination
- Offered a short-term crop insurance program exclusively to farmers who opted for genetically modified corn varieties sold by Monsanto
- Prevented the printing of artificial growth hormones on milk packets
- Tried to defeat the Food Safety Modernization Act
- Pushed the printing of the word “natural” on Roundup’s labels
The company even advertised Roundup specifically as a safe herbicide that posed no health risks to humans. But the cracks in its story started appearing soon enough. Notwithstanding the famous March against Monsanto and public outrage, Bayer only seems to be getting worse.
According to TorHoerman Law, the Roundup lawsuit also holds Monsanto/Bayer responsible for false advertising despite being aware of the product’s health hazard. It looks like Monsanto’s efforts of twisting the truth are rooted in an eerie desire to control the world’s food supply.
3. Excessive Advocacy of Genetic Engineering
By definition, genetic engineering (GE) of plants is to insert new DNA into a genome. Since DNA consists of the instructions needed for the development and reproduction of any organism, GE changes the crop.
When looked closely, there is nothing natural about a genetically modified crop. One is compelled to wonder how nature will go against itself for GE crops to become sustainable. Then, Monsanto has always advocated its GE products as agricultural game-changers.
The current situation is such that farmers feel like they cannot manage large-scale food production without GE products. Classical breeding methods that can yield more desirable varieties of crops affordably are discouraged. This traditional technique can even produce worm and drought-resistant crops.
Then there are farm management practices like cover crops, crop rotation, mulches, etc., used by organic farmers. These methods reduce pollution, soil erosion, and even pest incidences. However, Monsanto has maintained its lopsided story that GE products produce better yield and other benefits.
Given how powerful the company is, its constant marginalization of alternatives has left farmers with no choice except GE methods.
Back in 2018 when the first-ever Roundup lawsuit was filed, Monsanto was accused of bullying scientists into hiding the herbicide’s dangers. The company has a sad history of suppressing research (that contradicts or challenges its findings).
Even if all evidence is put aside, the fact that a chemical company wants to promote sustainable agriculture should raise eyebrows. Bayer now claims that its end goal for sustainable agriculture is to feed the entire world.
Will this vision work out with reduced tillage and artificial seeds? At least the outcome will not be desirable. But the saying, “control the oil, and you control the nations; control the food supply, and you control the people,” fits perfectly in Monsanto’s puzzle.