Monsanto are basically horrible shits and I don’t want to defend them at all but to me, this feels like buying a hydroponic setup and then suing the salesperson when you fill it up with manure rather than the prescribed nutrients.
Yes, you will end up with a 25% increase in yield if you purchase this product, provided you read the manual and use it in the way that it was intended. If you can’t be bothered to put in the (at most) three hours’ reading that 5,000 words will take, maybe you shouldn’t be investing in the technology at all and you should stick with the yields you already had.
None of the instructions explained in the linked article seem arduous at all. Shit, I’m growing chilli plants on my balcony and I have read at least three times that amount trying to work out optimum temperatures, pH levels, watering cycles and NPK ratios. I’m doing this as a hobby; 5,000 words doesn’t seem like an unfair barrier to entry if your whole livelihood depends on the correct implementation of propagation techniques.
No one is forcing these farmers to buy Monsanto products; if they can’t be bothered to implement the tech correctly, why are they buying it at all?
As I understand it from the farmers whose presentations I’ve attended (note this was a meeting about what makes organic produce organic, so there’s the bias), it’s difficult to do large crops without buying from Monsanto – or another giant agricorp of the same ilk. Just like with electronics and other products, they are near-monopolies who want to trap their customers in their ecosystem (a literal one in this case).
It’s a late-stage capitalism situation where choice is being taken away from the consumer, but it has extra resonance in this case because 1) it’s about the food supply and 2) the people whose crops are really suffering are not necessarily Monsanto customers – they’re just downwind from farmers who are.
If the Monsanto-buying farmers don’t win the lawsuit mentioned in the article, they’ll be vulnerable to lawsuits from the other farmers whose crops were damaged by the genetically keyed weedkiller.
People want ease of use but technological products may not be easy to use. Many years ago we bought an HP fiber optic module which had a screw on the back labelled “Do not undo this screw”. On about page 4 of the maintenance manual was the instruction “Remove the screw marked ‘Do not undo this screw’. This instruction is for people who do not read manuals.”
I was thinking of this just the other day because I was buying an adhesive which had very mixed reviews on the net, and was in fact advertised as not being suitable for the use to which I intended to put it. But I had read the manufacturer’s application note which explained precisely why they said that, and what instructions you needed to follow to make it work. They are quite complex as to clamping pressure, time and temperature and the need to apply wood preservative.
It became obvious that the negative reviews were from people who had not read the instructions.
Now, that said, I regard Monsanto as an evil, monopolistic company that tries to leech off of farmers. But what do I know, I’m just a European, and not a biologist.
However, people are de facto being forced to use them due to the fact that you can’t really put 50M high walls round farms, and at least one agribusiness has sued a farmer for growing a crop contaminated by blow-over from another farm using its products.
Why is this suddenly the case? I must confess my ignorance in this regard but I don’t see why large-scale, non-GM commercial farming is no longer viable, just because Monsanto release a product that is more efficient (provided it is used correctly).
Shouldn’t they absolutely be vulnerable to exactly those lawsuits if they misuse a product and poison their neighbours’ land? I don’t think that following the instructions on a more technologically advanced product in order to take advantage of higher yields is a particularly high barrier to entry; am I missing something?
Isn’t the problem here that the wrong person is getting sued and isn’t there room for the wronged party to launch a counter suit?
If individual farmers are failing to follow instructions because they think that basic meteorology is beyond them, isn’t that kind of on them? To use an analogy, if I use a plane to crop dust my fields with a non-GM weedkiller that is clearly going to kill my neighbour’s crops without taking precautions to protect them, doesn’t the responsibility lie with me rather than the person who sold me the weedkiller in the first place? If I could have avoided the problem by reading a 5,000 word instruction manual, aren’t I guilty of failing to take the most basic of precautions?
I’m sure I’m missing something in all of this but it seems like the default position is always “Monsanto is evil”, which doesn’t take into account the fact that they are supplying instructions for the correct usage of their products which individual farmers aren’t following. I dislike Monsanto for a bunch of reasons but I feel like if you tl;dr the instructions, you should be ultimately responsible for the damage you cause…
??? It’s been the case since at least the 90s. Never mind GMO or not, it’s hard to procure seeds in large quantities while avoiding large agricorps.
And if the seeds are designed to use specific herbicides, farmers are in a double bind. Remember when on-line music stores tried to have it so you could only play music on their players bought from their stores?
So you’ve got a situation where if they want the crop, they have to buy the seeds and the weed killer as a set.
I think you’re discounting the ease of following the instructions. The one thing that jumped out at me was the “24 inches max height” stipulation. That eliminates the use of crop duster airplanes, for starters.
That makes sense and I guess that my own experiences of growing plants for pleasure don’t really take into account the sheer scale of industrial farming but I’m still slightly confused that commercial farmers wouldn’t dedicate a portion of their land to seed production.
Why buy seeds every year if you are already producing the things that make the seeds in the first place? On a similar note, what happened to the non GM agricorps that were producing seeds before? Have they all been subsumed by the megacorps and/or decided that patenting genomes etc is more profitable for them?
I’m genuinely interested by the answer to these questions; please don’t take them as snark. It seems weird, if a product has the obvious flaws that Monsanto products tend to have, that there isn’t a viable alternative in the marketplace…
The law of course doesn’t make any distinction between a multibillion turnover company that employs QCs and a farmer with a turnover of maybe £40000 a year that has trouble finding the money to pay a local solicitor, or time to attend court.
@Cynical, I often agree with your posts but on this occasion you seem wilfully to be misunderstanding how stacked up things are against small farmers.
Please excuse me; it’s not wilful at all, just general ignorance. I am not exposed to discussion of these sorts of topics in my day-to-day, and the macro narrative leaves me genuinely confused, which is why I say that I’m sure I’m missing something.
As you’re aware by now, I am very much “city folk” and find it strange when I see people with multiple hectares complaining that they can’t find a way to turn a profit. In this particular case, it seems to me that they have a perfectly good way to make more profit than they would have been able to make even a decade ago, provided they read 5,000 words and follow some basic instructions. I guess I’m just not sure why Monsanto should bear the responsibility for their failure to do so…
Sensible, but guess what? Buying the commercial seed typically includes a contractual obligation not to save any seed – a farmer can and will be sued if they do so. Similar legal logic to copying a music file you bought.
Also, some of these crops (most often the GMO ones, but some more traditionally produced varieties as well) do not produce viable seeds anymore, so saving isn’t an option. The seed providers are trying to make it so you have to buy seed every year, either for biological or economic reasons. “Economic reasons” meaning even if you can legally store the seed, you may not be able to afford dedicating the necessary amount of land to seed production.
Plus, if a given variety had been bred to only be useful with certain herbicides and pesticides, the agricorps can use seed purchasing as a throttle for how much chemicals they sell you in a given year.
Surprisingly enough, Monsanto will sue you if you keep seed from the crop, whether to sell or use yourself. Terms and conditions, you know, and the courts have gone along with it.
Oops, ninja’d by gadgetgirl.
You assume that (a) Monsanto’s yield claims are correct, (b) that all externalities have been accounted for. In fact for agrarian farmers the time of summer rainfall can make the difference between success and failure. I am not a farmer…but last year we produced fruit but very little in the way of vegetables and this year we can’t find any more people to give food away to. Farming is not like making iPhones. And if you knew how much stuff farmers are bombarded with about miracle this and superior that you would be amazed. Around here there’s a farmers’ co-operative that has its own vets and independent advisers, and then farmers have to decide who to believe - the government, the co-op, or agrichemical businesses.
Attempts at planned farming such as those in the former Soviet Union proved not to work either.
Agribusiness, in fact, often seems like a less ethical version of the music business. For their managers, the farmers are the crop.
Great summary! Yeah, that is not the first time I’ve heard of Monsanto and like corporations claiming they’re solving world hunger while they conveniently make customers reliant on their products.
You must be a Big Organic / anti-vaxx shill! How dare you suggest that Monsanto is anything other than genetically modified goodness!
I… I got nothing.
I’ve had too many conversations IRL that went 'round in circles before the opposite number would finally acknowledge that just 'cos it’s scientific, doesn’t mean it’s being put to good use.
And about the same number of frustrating IRL conversations about how just 'cos it’s scientific, doesn’t mean it’s automatically evil.
It’s bloody difficult being an artsy who likes science, I tells ya.
Science is neutral. You can make safer quarrying explosives or more destructive bombs.
Where it all goes wrong is when the money men get involved. Money itself is just a convenient way of book-keeping. But when people start to worship it, as a street rabbi once commented, things go downhill.
Genetically modified food could have worked very well if it had been done by something like the NIH. But not by for-profit corporations.
Edit - also see the human genome project and how it was rescued from Venter.
This is a starting point for the seed reuse question.
i whole-heartedly disagree. the topics we chose to pursue in science are part of our cultural, personal, and as you say – economic – bias. there’s nothing neutral about it. ( even which papers get published, and who and what gains notoriety can be very political. )
the fact that atomic science was pursued for the sake of the bomb can’t be ignored. nor can can things like anthropology and primate studies which for a long time looked solely ( and still overwhelmingly ) with the male gaze. ( ex. alpha-beta males, the “man the hunter” myth, etc. )
you may mean that facts are neutral ( though i’m told reality has a well-known liberal bias ) and so, over time, our knowledge should steer towards more “truth”.
i certainly hope that we are headed towards a more equal and more just world where what we know and how we interpret it becomes ever more honest, i am not sure, however, that this is guaranteed. if history has shown anything its that we tend to forget that which is inconvenient.
i think it’s hard to say if gmo science would even be a thing.
if we really kept the profit motive out of critical research and infrastructure – maybe the strife in countries which are frequently racked with famine ( which some gmo research seeks to reduce ) wouldn’t be nearly the issue that it is in the first place.
the context of our world – political and otherwise – defines many of the scientific questions we even believe are worth asking.