Dubbed “Monsatan” and “the world’s most evil corporation”, Monsanto takes the heat for their contributions to the chemical and pesticide boom and bringing GMO crops to farmers and consumers’ tables globally. While anti-GMO activists and the media rally on the varieties of chemicals and GMOs the corporation has developed, a giant elephant in the room is ignored, let alone recognized by anti-GMO advocates. Dwindling profits in agriculture, unstable weather patterns, and modified social structures will require us to innovate and adapt at an even faster rate if we are to survive as a species. As we go into the future, agriculture related technologies and human behavior are and will inevitably become more integrated.
The media has had a field day bashing GMOs despite that more than 2,000 studies have confirmed that GMOs do not pose a threat to human health. There is the possibility that GMOs could be causing us a slow death, but as of now, it is unknown. One thing we do know for sure is that corn is the foundation of the growing Western diet. About 88% of all corn produced is genetically modified. Across America, corn is a staple ingredient for the majority of livestock diets, especially cattle. As emerging market economies, like China, continue to grow their middle class, demand for more expensive meat-rich diets will only continue to increase. As a result, more of the global population will become reliant on corn. So what does this actually mean? Biotechnology is going to play an even bigger role in the food-production system and will continue to be a cornerstone of modern agriculture. GMOs are deeply entrenched in our food system whether we like it or not. It’s too late to turn back now.
At this point in time, it is not GMOs that are evil but rather the centralized control of intellectual property in such a predominant part of the food system. Exclusivity in the market, especially the agricultural industry, can be devastating. GMO technology comes with patent protection. Simply put, corporations owning certain GMO technology have exclusive rights to the use and production of that technology. A biotech oligopoly in an industry that controls such a crucial necessity to humankind’s existence is precarious to say the least. This is about to become more of an issue given the current merger-acquisition slew in agribusiness.
The Bayer-Monsanto merger is on track with shareholders’ approval confirmed, a $2.5 billion asset sale for merger clearance . Earlier this year, Trump blessed this merger in a meeting with Monsanto and Bayer CEOs back in early January 2017. Monsanto and Bayer aren’t the only ones involved. Dow Chemical is purchasing Dupont and the implications are monumental. If the Bayer-Monsanto deal goes through, the resulting company would own 29 percent of the global seed market and 25 percent of the global pesticide market. A Dow Chemical and Dupont merger would result in control of 41 percent of corn and 38 percent of soybean seed market shares . If both deals go through, there would effectively be a duopoly on the corn and soybean seed market. Basically a majority of the breeding ground for GMO crops would be owned by only two large corporations.
Alternatively, the nature of the ChemChina Syngenta acquisition is a little different. It challenges the status quo of Western-centric, closed intellectual property systems. It gives China a seat at the global agribusiness and biotech table enabling them to finally participate and compete for food sovereignty and food security. You could even make the argument that ChemChina is acquiring a company that has begun to position itself as anti-Monsanto over the past few years by taking steps towards open-source GMOs.
In January 2013, Syngenta launched the world’s first e-licensing platform, called TraitAbility . It provides access to patented Syngenta traits for commercial vegetables while promoting technologies that move genes into plants and express their proteins. This IP model is structured to promote innovation by protecting innovators while enabling easy access to outsiders. Syngenta is aiming “to become the iTunes of plant patents. It’s one-stop shopping for fair prices with as much transparency as possible,”. TraitAbility has even gone so far as to allow free access to their patented information for universities and NGOs. What makes this so important? Most research programs are exclusively through universities. The results of their research is then passed on to the producers in the state through one of the state’s extension programs. At a time when farmers can barely make ends meet as it is, accessibility to new innovations in plant breeding could easily be considered the saving grace for many operations.
Researchers and non-profit breeders are now able to experiment freely with GMOs according to their native locality. The implications are huge for the new platform as a source of technological development. We are at a pivotal moment in agriculture. “The real key to genetic engineering is control of intellectual property of the food crops we depend on” says Michael Pollan, a vocal critic of bioengineering, yet a leading evangelist of ag-biotech open-sourcing. Sustainability requires indefinite productivity while maintaining biodiversity. Just like ecological and biological ecosystems, technology ecosystems require industry diversity to achieve indefinite productivity. In a world where technology and humans are becoming more integrated, diversity greases the wheels of innovation. Democratizing biotechnology is crucial to continuing innovation. Anti-GMO supporters fail to address and accept this truth only to contradict themselves by guaranteeing that the power to engineer our food remains exclusively in the hands of “the world’s most evil corporation.”