By Ralph Nader
Corporate CEOs are always strategizing in their quest for greater revenues and profits. Often these strategies — and their resulting, insidious successes — have shaped our elections, our government, our education system, our media, our publicly funded research and development, our tax and credit systems, our trade agreements and so on. The world has never seen such an ingenious, power-concentrating machine as the modern, global corporation.
Even science, which ideally should carry the banner for rigid standards, openness and integrity, has suffered the undue influence and control of autocratic, commercially-driven multinational corporations. In many disturbing cases, independent science has been increasingly displaced by the far more devious “corporate science” which places profits over people, above safety, and above revealed scientific method and peer-reviewed accountability.
The food we eat is increasingly engineered by such corporate science. Biotech companies like Monsanto and DuPont have moved towards monopolizing the seed market — an antitrust investigation of Monsanto by the Department of Justice was quietly ended in 2012, and no steps have been taken by regulators since.
Monsanto, with its massive, relentless marketing and harassing litigation campaigns, has repeatedly claimed that its genetically-modified patented seeds (GMOs) are superior to traditional seeds — claiming that genetically modified foods are safe, cheaper, higher yielding, more nutritious, requiring lower chemical inputs, and resistant to drought and blight. Yet Monsanto has refused to meet its burden of proof about these claims with evidence. Moreover, it intimidates independent scientists from testing its proprietary products!
Corporate science is, above all else, secretive. The flimsy excuse of “trade secrets” is used to prevent independent or academic scientists from evaluating exaggerated corporate claims. Scientists who wish to replicate or test the biotech industry’s claims about their products find a paucity of available grants, obstructed access to the products, and a litigiously backed up refusal to disclose. Research on the migration of genetically-modified pollen from farms to non-GMO-farms; the level of developing bacterial, viral, and insect resistance to GMO-linked herbicides; and longer-run studies of the consequences of GMO seeds and crops on the environment is grossly underfunded, whether by government agencies or foundations. The cover-up continues.
One Monsanto claim is that GMO seeds provide higher yields than traditional seeds. A report released earlier this year by the USDA’s Economic Research Service showed that those claims are untrue. The report states:
Over the first 15 years of commercial use, GE [genetically-engineered] seeds have not been shown to increase yield potentials of the varieties. In fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties.
Lester Brown, founder of WorldWatch and President of the Earth Policy Institute, puts it more bluntly: “…no genetically modified crops have led to dramatically higher yields… Nor do they seem likely to do so, simply because conventional plant-breeding techniques have already tapped most of the potential for raising crop yields.”
And there is the issue of farmers who enter into one-sided adhesion contracts with GMO seed suppliers and find themselves ensnared in a tight web of control. Under these contracts, farmers are forbidden from saving seeds (forcing them to buy new seed every season), are subject to intrusive inspection provisions, and much more. (See faircontracts.org)
Other claims, such as the long-term effects of consuming genetically-modified food remain inconclusive, largely for lack of consumer-oriented testing.
Basic openness has been pushed aside in the realm of commercialized global agriculture. Take for instance the fact that consumers overwhelmingly want the right to know what is in their food by mandating the labeling of genetically engineered food. A poll in The New York Times last year showed that 93 percent of Americans support labeling of food containing GMO’s.
Public sentiment shows that Monsanto is in trouble. While the seed production conglomerate has fought off several attempts by states to require GMO labeling, ballot initiatives to require labeling in Oregon and Colorado this November are promising developments in the food safety movement. GMO labeling has already passed in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, although only Vermont has put the law into effect. Over 60 countries, including the members of the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Russia and China have also required labeling of GMO’s. The new book, The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know about the Food, Corporations, and Government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk is a comprehensive, definitive collection of essays by leading experts on the subject of genetically-modified food. Edited by Sheldon Krimsky, arguably the nation’s leading advocate of ethics in science, and lawyer Jeremy Gruber, this book is essential reading for those interested in the ongoing debate about the future of our food. (I wrote the introduction.) Sheldon Krimsky puts it best in his summary conclusion of the anthology:
The real and potentially adverse effects of GMOs have been understated or negated by many in the scientific community who accept uncritically a corporate-crafted message. A fair-minded and unbiased individual looking at all the evidence must reach the conclusion that there is a great deal we do not know and what we do know impels us to be both cautious and concerned, skeptical of an early manufactured consensus, and critical of a framing that fails to recognize the diversity of public objections to GMOs.
The history of corporate marketing has long used secretive corporate science and engineering to promote products. This has been the case with polluting products, pharmaceuticals, nuclear power and industrial materials and chemicals. GMOs follow these practices in the more ominous process of changing the nature of nature.
Together with resisting farmers, challenging scientists, and liberated civil servants, an aroused public will recognize that its own interests and those of posterity must be preeminent over these corporate monopolists and their short-range, narrow commercial pursuits.
For more information and to acquire a copy of The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know about the Food, Corporations, and Government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk see The Council for Responsible Genetics.