When Hating Monsanto Isn't Enough.

Spencer Ackerman says he's tired of arguments like the one I made yesterday about Monsanto. In brief, I said that painting a giant bull's-eye on the agri-giant and launching all of our arrows in that direction is, perhaps, not a fully-formed strategy. "Monsanto is a despicable corporation," writes Spencer. "Monsanto's evil is both distinct and strong."

And Spencer's sentiment is right. Monsanto's impact on the world of agriculture has often been enormously damaging. That, in fact, is the case I made when I detailed how Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority imposed upon Iraq a seed patenting regime that seemed ordered up by Monsanto itself. I tied Iraq's new agricultural reality to what's happening in India, where farmers caught in corporate farming's cycle of debt are killing themselves by the thousands -- sometimes by drinking Monsanto's RoundupĀ® herbicide. I've also written about how Monsanto and its ilk are warping research and development in the U.S.' ag schools; today, there's plenty of money for professors and grad students to study ever-more virulent pesticides, far less for sustainable organics. And I've written about how, as a result, we've all-too-quietly gone from dedicating about 10 percent of soybean acres to GM crops when I was a teenager to more than 90 percent today.

In other words, I get it. Monsanto is guilty of perpetrating bad acts. Still, Monsanto is the poster child for a whole agricultural system gone horribly wrong. It's kinda the Bob Rubin of the food business. The problems go much deeper, and are far broader. After studying Monsanto, here's a start on a wish list of what needs to happen so that a company like Monsanto doesn't have such a stranglehold over our food system:

  • More government and foundation funding for research on sustainable agriculture at land-grant schools in the United States and other ag research programs -- including the extension agents seeded throughout farm country. Farmers need to be able to call their extension agent for advice and get better guidance than "douse it with pesticide."
  • Get Congress to finally reorganize the federal agencies so that the industry-captured USDA and the underfunded FDA aren't responsible for food policy. (Here's one decent proposal.)
  • While USDA does have oversight responsibilities, fund an office there that's capable of actually policing the $20 billion organics industry.
  • Organize challenges to the laws that make the stuff of life the stuff of patents. Spencer mentions the 1980 Supreme Court ruling in Chakrabarty, which opened the door to making plant life private property. That's a start.
  • Spur grass-root investment in farming cooperatives where farmers share equipment and get community-based funding. Independent farmers need to have a means to get a foothold outside Monsanto or Purdue.

Righteous anger against Monsanto is indeed righteous. And deserved. And necessary. But I do think it makes a lot of sense to use it to fuel an overhaul of the conditions that make Monsanto possible in the first place.

--Nancy Scola

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