Friday, July 6, 2012

Monsanto Gets Screwed

I disagree with vegan/organic/natural wingnuts on most everything, but in one case, our feelings line up perfectly: Monsanto is evil. You'll find a very strong anti-corporate bent in the vegan/organic movements, and in many cases, I think that this is well-founded hate.

Major corporations are interested in profits. We feel safe in buying their food because we assume that their profit interests and our health line up, since most corporations would not want to kill their customers... because then it would have no more customers. Reality, though, is a lot more sinister.

Many companies are completely fine. They very much do care about their customers. But others do not. In the book Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner, an Imagineer at Disney recounts the general opinion of guests to the theme parks: scum. The executives, the park managers, the entirety of the company had zero respect for its customers. In fact, they borderline hated their customers. Does Disney feel that way today? I don't know, but I suspect so.

This is Disney. They are one of the companies about which people get all warm and squishy. Imagine what other companies feel. Look at the venom with which the major banks hated their customers, as revealed by the investigations following the 2008 collapse. They thought nothing of their customers.

We see this behavior in all levels of society, not just among corporate executives. We judge the hell out of each other. We are a truly judgmental species. The drive to judge is doubly fueled both by anger but also by perspective. People will judge others based on their life, not the life of the others. For example, a poor person would call a Porsche needless and ostentatious, but a rich person may see it as positively demure in comparison to Lamborghinis and Ferraris. Neither person is correct.

Similarly, people of power and prestige will judge the lives and behaviors of those who do not have power and prestige as negative. This is the problematic thread in conservativism. "I did it, so can you!" They are so disconnected from the lives of the average person, that they lose all perspective with which they can make accurate assessments. People comfortably ensconced in positions of power judge like crazy and they are wildly inaccurate when they do so. That so many companies grow to have a top-down hatred of their hoi polloi customers is no surprise..

As such, having a healthy distaste for corporations is quite sensible. I think that there are few better applications of this sensible distrust than with American food.

Perhaps because food, more so than any other industry, is at the convergence point of socioeconomic status,  cultural identity, racial identity, and religion, food is discussed and argued in more ethical and spiritual terms than any other item. Food has been the very centerpiece of society since the beginning of time. It is, quite literally, our life blood. Food stops being merely a gathering point, or something that fun, or an excuse to party. People start referring to it in quasi-spiritual, transcendent terms. And problematically, they start to judge others based on those terms.

America seems worse than other countries, and I suspect that the impression is more than just that, an impression. I suspect that there is actual, quantifiable truth to it. In my mind, there can be only one reason for this: religion. Western religion infects our outlooks on life even for those who aren't religious. Those who are fat are bad people, because good people resist food. Gluttony is a sin. Those who eat are sinful people. Even in the face of ever-mounting data to the contrary, people persist in their belief that being overweight is some choice that some are making, and thus deserve to be mocked and shunned for this greedy decision.

Imagine an executive at a food company holding this opinion, which I'm sure many of them do. A company like Kellogg's has to know that most of their products are complete garbage. Yet they continue to shovel out slop. Look at the resistance with which research about trans-fats was met. If that sounds like the same cynical response that tobacco executives had to research indicating the extreme addictiveness of tobacco, that only further illustrates the problem. It is no coincidence that one of the biggest mergers of all time was between Nabsico and RJ Reynolds Tobacco.

Look at the race to the bottom illustrated in fast food. The companies talk about quality and dedication to the customer, but that's complete bullshit and everyone knows it. The logical counterpoint to this view is not that these companies actually do care, it's that their products are at least decent for the price, which is generally true. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of a company, but true.

What does all of this have to do with Monsanto? Well, Monsanto is famous for having one of the most famous patented life forms: Round Up Ready seeds. These seeds are resistant to the weed killer Round Up, meaning that a farmer can plant the seeds and then spray Round Up with abandon, killing the weeds and leaving the seeds unscathed.

It doesn't take much hard thinkin' to realize that patenting a life form has a lot of serious problems, and those problems have been borne out quite well in real life. Monsanto has been on a tear since the release of these seeds in the late 90's, suing farmers all over the world... even if the farmers never wanted the Round Up Ready seeds in the first place. And compliments of a massive war chest, Monsanto has won most of these casees because they can simply outspend the small farmers. This has caused hundreds (possibly thousands) of farmers to go out of business. Monsanto is using the court system as its personal WMD.

Well, in this case, Monsanto appears to have finally bitten off more than it can chew. They may own the court systems in the United States (although that has more to do with broken patent laws than anything else), other countries are much more treacherous. One of those treacherous countries is Brazil, where Monsanto just lost a little ol' court case — lost it to the tune of $2 billion dollars.

I spend a lot of time ranting about patents, copyright, and food. All three of these issues combine into one, evil, mega-conglomerate in the form of Monsanto. However, wherever, and whenever they get fucked is a good thing. There are no exceptions. I am not one for hyperbole. Sweeping statements very rarely hold up to scrutiny. But this sweeping statement is one of such veracity that I am willing to make it. Monsanto is one of the worst companies on Earth. They are putting farmers out of business, increasing the centralization of American agriculture for no reason other than greed, and giving fuel to an inane "locavore" movement that won't solve any of the dietary problems currently facing our society.

Monsanto represents the worst corporate greed, avarice, cynicism, and belligerence that our world can muster. As I mentioned, food is at the very heart of our society, and the American heart is undeniably sick. Monsanto's perverse philosophy as manifested by their behavior is a big reason for that sickness.

This court case won't do anything to fix the underlying problem of the fucking absurdity of patenting a life form, but it does take some money from Monsanto and give it to a smaller entity. Whether I agree with the behavior of the farmers in Brazil or not is immaterial, since they would have to be Nazis to make me side with Monsanto over them.