RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Monsanto Plows Ahead with GMOs

Ever since I made that New Year’s resolution — the one about figuring out how the stock market worked — things have been weird.

Maybe it’s because I’ve read the Wall Street Journal almost all the way through almost every day, instead of just looking at the jokes and putting the rest in recycling. Did you know, for example, that the Journal broke the story about General Mills creating a GMO-free Cheerio, to be on grocery shelves soon? The article described how hard it was to source enough GMO-free ingredients.

Cheerios, by the way, are mostly oats and wheat; GMO versions of these crops have never been approved. It’s the little bit of corn syrup that was hard to find, since GMO corn has taken over American fields.

Finding the little bit of non-GMO corn syrup forced General Mills to say they won’t be able to make a GMO-free version of their Honey Nut or other varieties. Farmers can’t grow non-GMO corn; seeds are hard to find. And, if they find the seeds, plant the crop and get cross-pollinated by their GMO neighbors, they not only lose the GMO-free crop, but they can get sued by Monsanto for patent infringement.

Weird as anything you’ve seen in The Onion, right?

For a long time, I’ve felt sorry for the folks that work for Monsanto, who don’t understand what their company is doing to the future. Not only the land and the farmers, but the spirit of democracy. How could they work for a company that destroys the future for their kids? Oblivious, Monsanto employees don the armor of the company, that armor embossed with a few faint strokes, an almost unreadable word, “sustainability.” As CEO Hugh Grant wrote in a recent report, “The topic of sustainability has taken center stage around the world and has driven the attention and focus of a growing number of powerful voices and interests around the world.” 

That sentence is a model for anyone that wants to use a bunch of words to say nothing. But the word, “sustainability,” has a definition. It means, according to the UN Commission on Environment and Development, “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That’s the opposite of patenting seeds, hiding the truth about what’s in food, creating superweeds and suing farmers.

Just after New Year’s, I got an email from the National Family Farm Coalition. Would anyone in Missouri like to present a resolution to Monsanto on behalf of stockholders? The resolution said, “Whereas Monsanto spent over $7.1 million to defeat Proposition 37, a statewide initiative to require GMO labeling in California … the movement of material derived from genetically engineered crops is difficult and sometimes impossible to control or recall…many domestic and global food markets demand foods with zero or near-zero levels of material derived from genetically modified organisms … genetically modified crops have been found to contaminate conventional (non-GMO) and organic farms, threatening farmers’ livelihoods, and affecting critical food supply, and imposing a significant financial burden on farmers seeking to satisfy markets for GMO-free products …” The resolution asked the company to prepare a report on the risks related to GMO issues.

In my farm neighborhood, we already know the risks. When Monsanto started selling GMO seeds, first with “Roundup-Ready” soybeans that resisted applications of the herbicide Roundup, farmers knew that weeds would develop resistance. Today, less than 20 years later, dozens of weeds have become immune. Ragweed, which makes millions of Americans sneeze, is now resistant to Roundup. Pigweed, which can grow to the thickness of a baseball bat in one season, is resistant. So farmers are spraying more lethal herbicides to kill the “superweeds.” They have found themselves on an herbicide treadmill; they are hostages to the system and nobody thinks it will end well.

This resolution, prepared by John Harrington Associates was something I could get behind. And, finally, I’d get to meet some of the folks that work for Monsanto.

So, in late January, I found myself preparing for the meeting and working with people from organizations I had only read about on-line. had raised enough money in just a few hours to run a big advertisement supporting the resolution in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Food Democracy Now had come from Iowa to speak on behalf of another resolution, demanding mandatory labeling of GMO foods. This one, by the way, drew a response from the company assuring that they are all for voluntary labeling, either GMO or non-GMO. Just like they’re committed to sustainability.

The Monsantiacs I met had memorized the company line. I was assigned to a guide for the meeting. We had a nice chat. “Do you know what farmers really think of the company?” I asked.

“We have a strong commitment to sustainability,” she answered.

At the end of the meeting, the projectors rolled out a new Monsanto ad. A farmer covers his truckload of cotton and a mom covers her sleeping child in a blanket. “That’s ironic,” I announced, using my classroom voice. “Using cotton as an example when thousands of acres of GMO cotton are being hoed by hand because chemicals don’t work on the weeds any more. We’re moving back to indentured servitude…”

Interestingly, they nodded in agreement. “We have to work on that… we’re very committed to, you know, sustainability…”

Next column: Inside the shareholder meeting…

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2014

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