Thursday, January 20, 2005

Monsanto on the March

Activists have won key victories in the battle against genetically modified food. Several industrial food purveyors--from baby-food giant Gerber to pet-food maker Iams to cereal producer General Mills--have renounced under pressure the use of GMO ingredients. McDonalds and Burger King promised in 2000 not to use GMO potatoes for their French fries (although the beef they use is raised on GMO corn). These and other blows to the growth of GMO have inspired a somewhat celebratory mood in some quarters of the foodie left. Writing in his much-celebrated Coming Home to Eat (2002), local-food guru Gary Paul Nabhan declared 2000 to have been a "watershed in the history of global food politics," marked by broad global protest against GMO and other schemes of industrial agriculture.

Yet, in the meantime, Big Ag has quietly regained its momentum in the GMO struggle. An article in the December 6, 2004, Barron's hails the resurgence of GMO-seed giant Monsanto. Entitled "Eat Up!: Why Genetically Modified 'Frankenfood' is gaining ground," the article makes the smart-money case for Monsanto. (Unfortunately, the article is available on the investment weekly's Web site only for a fee.) It points out that, despite all the protest, biotech crop acreage has surged to a 170 million acres since the technology's 1996 debut, making GMO "one of the most quickly adopted innovations in the history of agriculture, outpacing the emergence of animal-drawn plows, and the rise of tractors on the 1930s." Acreage under biotech cultivation jumped by 22 percent in 2003, a performance likely to be repeated in '04, the magazine stated.

Meanwhile, official opposition to biotech is unravelling. The European Union, which has been stalwart in refusing to accept GMO, last spring eased its ban on importing GMO crops and cultivating GMO seeds. Germany and Great Britain, which count among the world's greenest governments, now allow some. (Barron's reports that the first Frankenfoods have yet to hit Europe's supermarkets; it will be interesting to see how consumers receive them, since Europe does have strong GMO labelling laws).

And even NGO opposition to GMO shows signs of retreating. The Environmental Defense Fund, once a fierce critic, is backing off. A scientist for the group told Barron's that she'd like to see a "bit more regulation" of GMO, but that "this is not a big focus for us as it once was." And the UN has embraced biotech crops as "essential to the future of the planet," a rebuke to those who see that beleagured intitution as the planet's last hope for a global sustainable-development movement.

Exponential growth, dwindling opposition--it all adds up to a windfall for Monsanto. The ag-input giant reported last year that $2.3 billion of its total $5.5 billion in revenue for fiscal '04 came from its biotech arm. And that operation also was the company's biggest contributor to overall profits ($1.6 billion total), surpassing profit from herbicides for the first time ever.

Wall Street has taken note. The company's share price has surged from about $15 in summer 2002 to about $60 today--a staggering 300 percent gain. That means the so-called smart money is betting that Monsanto will defeat its opponents and create a world of bioengineered monocrops fuelled by patented seeds.

Tomorrow I'll post about how the company is continuing its egregious practice of suing farmers who dare save seeds from their own crops.


Blogger Paul Hue said...

Congradulations on this blog. The title, "Bitter Greens Journal," is brilliant. I am unconvinced that the gist of your perspective is "leftie." I do not regard "the left" as advocating small, local businesses, nor "the right" as advocating big, centralized businesses. Rather, I have found that people from both of these camps can support either, in roughly equivilant proportions.

One of the reasons that I voted for Bush II is that I believe that he is more likely to advocate policies that favor small businesses, like the the agri-businesses that you favor. It is Bush, not the Demos, who speak of America becoming a nation of "owners" rather than "employees." I know that you can cite many cases of Bush advocating policies that favor Big Ag, but surely you agree that the Demos do as well.

As you would say that the Demos don't really represent "the left," I would counter that neither do the Repos represent "the right." If you read the columnists from "the right," you will find consistent opposition to many Big Ag policies, such as the retarded farm subsidies. You are also as likely to find among them, as you would among the leftie columnists, advocacy of natural organic foods.

So that your forum might reach its largest following, I recommend that you divorce your leftist views from your organic food views. If you do that, I am certain that you will find supporters amoung those who disagree with you on such matters as: socialized medicine, Castro, affirmative action, minimun wage, school vouchers, Bush's Iraq invasion, flat taxes, tax cuts "for the rich," etc. If, however, you link your advocacy of local organic food with these issues, I think you will get dismissed by a substantial portion of your natural audience.

1/20/2005 03:35:00 PM  
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