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Monsanto Milk
April 3, 2008 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear. "Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics–ruthless legal battles against small farmers–is its decades-long history of toxic contamination."
posted by homunculus (77 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here is a guy from Saskatchewan who beat em, kind of.
posted by bitteroldman at 1:19 PM on April 3, 2008


Farmers call them the “seed police” and use words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe their tactics.
Uhm, is RIAA in a new trade?

Interesting find, I am definitely reading it. Thanks!
posted by elpapacito at 1:20 PM on April 3, 2008


One hell of a company: Monsanto uses child labor in its Indian cottonseed fields
posted by homunculus at 1:28 PM on April 3, 2008


jeez,in that canadian link, monsanto owns all of their genetically modified seeds, even if they happen to blow onto your property. sounds like they shuld be charged for littering.
posted by lester at 1:36 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Uhm, is RIAA in a new trade?

From the article: “I don’t know of a company that chooses to sue its own customer base,” says Joseph Mendelson, of the Center for Food Safety. “It’s a very bizarre business strategy.”

Exactly what I thought when I hit that sentence. Good article and every time I read another article on Monsanto I keep thinking to myself 'that's gonna be a biiiig problem one day'
posted by rooftop secrets at 1:38 PM on April 3, 2008


This just makes me sad. It's not about a company protecting it's interests, it's about a company doing whatever it takes to ensure that they'll have a monopoly, regardless of ethics or consequences. Proving that in court is hard, and no one law suit will change much anyway. If congress wasn't already in their pocket you could hope that something could be done at that level, but I won't hold my breath. And they're pursuing this on a global level, not just in the US and Canada.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:39 PM on April 3, 2008


I remember as a kid traveling with my father to another farm, where we purchased soybeans. It is clear in my mind, so exciting because what we were doing was illegal. Second generation RoundupReady soybeans, in unmarked brown-paper bags. I didn't understand at the time, and still don't, how a company can monopolize a gene in a plant that produces food. Or how they can distribute a seed that will produce more seeds that cannot germinate. Or how they can prosecute a farmer who attempts to plant seeds that he himself cultivated and harvested with his own equipment.

My notions of farming are not romantic - my father got out while he could after 22 years and it was the best thing he ever did. Monsanto and the mentality of owning genes is monstrous no matter which way you look at it - all the more so when their vicious lawyers (I've heard stories firsthand) are on the attack.

May they reap what they have sown.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 1:40 PM on April 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


It's not about a company protecting it's interests, it's about a company doing whatever it takes to ensure that they'll have a monopoly, regardless of ethics or consequences.

Which is basically what all companies in that position do until their stranglehold on their market is broken either by their competition or by regulation.

As I get older and see more and more of this crap, it's harder and harder for me to see the benefits of government non-intervention when it comes to protecting consumers against predatory practices.

I want the Ralph Nader from the 70s to run for president.
posted by psmealey at 1:43 PM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Funny, a long time ago someone was describing to me the Pentex corporation from the White Wolf game (werewolf). Monsanto was the first thing I thought of.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:45 PM on April 3, 2008


Thanks for the post, homunculus. Monsanto is evil and besides the Reagan Republicans (Bob Dole, I'm looking at you specifically), they've done more to try and kill small farms than most anything I can think of that isn't a force of nature.

Also, I remember someone from Ohio telling me about Monsanto building a hill of trash and covering it with dirt so that it was an instant hill that everyone could be on. This seems like BS and I can't find anything about it right now, but the person was from Ohio and, given it was Monsanto, it wouldn't surprise me at all.
posted by sleepy pete at 1:59 PM on April 3, 2008


bio patent law needs an major overhaul to protect everybody: consumers and producers.
posted by wantwit at 2:08 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Having worked for Monsanto for a brief period I would say that their tactics are more for self preservation than anything else. They are always getting sued for GM crops getting mixed with non GM crops that in the long run it is probably cheaper to maintain a soviet style control than to be sued to death.
posted by Gungho at 2:09 PM on April 3, 2008


Gungho, I won't say much because of where I work (GM crop company, not Monsanto), but in the long run I've seen them often publicly perceived as assholes despite other companies being in a similar business barely getting any negative press.

Maybe it's just because they're sticking up out of the crowd because they're largest in the GM field and have the patents that other companies are licensing, but I tend to think (and yeah, I'm probably biased) that they do so in the least PR-friendly way ever. As the field becomes more competitive I might decide my employer is a jerk along these lines too, but I really hope that's not the case.
posted by mikeh at 2:25 PM on April 3, 2008


I'll leave the issue of whether Monsanto is "evil" to others, but this article's attempts to use absolutely unremarkable litigation events ("they wanted more depositions!" "they wanted more documents!" "they wanted to look at their computers!") as evidence of nefarious behavior is a bit of a stretch.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:30 PM on April 3, 2008


What Monsanto is pursuing as a business strategy is really bad for humanity. Exceedingly bad. It's worthy of serious concern. Seed banking, GMOs, genetic material as intellectual property, and biodiversity are going to be as huge a concern and discussion as global warming has been.

See also the New Yorker piece Sowing for Apocalypse.
posted by Miko at 2:41 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Doesn’t “monsanto” loosely translate as “my saint”? How devilishly clever of them.
posted by Huplescat at 2:43 PM on April 3, 2008


Uhm, is RIAA in a new trade?

Actually, I think it's the other way around - the RIAA is taking lessons from Monsanto.

My introduction of Monsanto's tactics came from an old Nova/Frontline episode called Harvest of Fear. Although it focuses more on creepy hybrid plants, the debate regarding who owns genes is present.

I remember being struck by the concept that Monsanto genetics could accidentally cross-pollenate another farmer's crop; thereby causing that farmer's crop to become the property of Monsanto.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:44 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I remember being struck by the concept that Monsanto genetics could accidentally cross-pollenate another farmer's crop; thereby causing that farmer's crop to become the property of Monsanto.

That's happened. It's so awesome how we're clever enough to genetically engineer plants but lack the wisdom to realize that tinkering with the genes of the wind-pollinated grains we love the best might not be our best idea ever.
posted by Tehanu at 3:03 PM on April 3, 2008


Also see The The Future of Food - especially with regards to the Terminator Gene™.
posted by dinoworx at 3:04 PM on April 3, 2008


A Maine dairy labels their milk Hormone free. They buy milk from farmers who don't use rbhg (recombinant bovine growth hormone). It's not organic, but Oakhurst milk tastes better than other brands, and I like not getting the extra hormones. Monsanto sued them for making the true statement on their label. Oakhurst Dairy won and their milk is still labeled.
posted by theora55 at 3:11 PM on April 3, 2008


Clearly what needs to be done here is to turn the rabid fundamentalist religious types onto this company to go after them for 'thwarting Gods will' or some such. Let the predatory capitalistic engine grind up against the immovable object that is the hard-line religious right and see what happens.

I figure, if nothing else, it would be fun to watch.
posted by quin at 3:27 PM on April 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Also see the Monsanto House of the Future
posted by anazgnos at 3:30 PM on April 3, 2008


pardonyou? writes "but this article's attempts to use absolutely unremarkable litigation events ('they wanted more depositions!' 'they wanted more documents!' 'they wanted to look at their computers!') as evidence of nefarious behavior is a bit of a stretch."

The problem aren't the requests per se, which certainly are permitted by law/judge, but the stalling effect and overload effect on an organization with limited financial resources and therefore limited affordable man-hours, as compared to an opposite party that can count of comparatively unlimited litigation resources that can pursue
the most expensive routes without batting an eye.

It's the same problem lamented by some corporate lawyers when they fight against the State, which have theroetically infinite fighting resources , or when the State can take theoretically infinite time to answer.

On a tangent: I find it "amusing" that Monsanton (or similia) should accuse a company of defamation/libel/youknowitbetter when they claim their milk is "free of SomeProduct" and then claim that they should mandatorily print that the milk obtained by SameProduct is the same as milk obtained without it. So why isn't Monsanto
obliged to print that their patented grain is not the same as a not genetically engineerded grain ?
posted by elpapacito at 3:30 PM on April 3, 2008


The Clintons have been in bed with Monsanto ever since Hillary got to second base with them at the Rose Law Firm. Just one more reason why she is the candidate I second most want to vote against.
posted by Huplescat at 3:46 PM on April 3, 2008


I wonder if anybody thought of having "open source" seeds where any changes you make get submitted back to the source.
posted by CrazyJoel at 4:02 PM on April 3, 2008


Also check out the excellent documentary "The Future of Food," which has a lot of information on Monsanto and their Terminator Gene and Roundup Ready Genes that they put in their seed- also the RIAA-like copyright lawsuits they pull on farmers to promote their business practices.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 4:02 PM on April 3, 2008


Some level of intellectual property protection is presumably necessary to induce the developers of such seeds to continue their research, but providing rights that need to be defended against such a broad base and so aggressively does seem counterproductive.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 4:05 PM on April 3, 2008


Monsanto scares me.
posted by Vindaloo at 4:15 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Clintons have been in bed with Monsanto

The Clintons are in bed with a lot of corporations.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:20 PM on April 3, 2008


Some level of intellectual property protection is presumably necessary to induce the developers of such seeds to continue their research,

I'd say the opposite seems true - the stuff we DO want (golden rice, feed the poor etc) is developed largely by non-profit organizations who have to beg and borrow the "right" to develop these worthy things, from companies like Monsanto which managed to patent the techniques necessary to do the work. So IP protection is getting in the way of doing useful GE, not helping.
Meanwhile, the same IP protection is inducing all the stuff we DON'T want - terminator genes, increased pesticide dependence, lawsuits of Evil, etc, as these now have massive profit motive driving them.

While I agree that the ideal GE situation would probably involve some IP protections, I think that no IP protection whatsoever would be a marked improvement over the current debacle.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:51 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Biotech companies have an average of 17 years [1] to actualize a profit on their intellectual property, before the patents expire. They may get another 5 to 7 years from patent extensions.

It's not surprising, therefore, that Monsanto or whomever would want to make as much money on their technology before it is no longer protected, and be as aggressive as necessary in the process.

That said, Monsanto have a reputation for acting like dicks. In the end, they might consider how that has negatively impacted their bottom line over the life of their patents.

[1] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6T64-4CJ3RVF-3/2/b60d034b65214e5c5864d13b46633229
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:10 PM on April 3, 2008


Meanwhile, the same IP protection is inducing all the stuff we DON'T want - terminator genes, increased pesticide dependence, lawsuits of Evil, etc, as these now have massive profit motive driving them.

This is an odd view. If nobody wants the things that Monsanto provides, where is the massive profit coming from? Are you claiming that it's all been a massive scam (if that's even the right word), and everyone would actually prefer not to use their seeds, but they buy them anyway?

Or do you mean something very particular by "we?"
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:19 PM on April 3, 2008


If nobody wants the things that Monsanto provides, where is the massive profit coming from?

Steve, you've already answered your own question:

providing rights that need to be defended against such a broad base and so aggressively does seem counterproductive.

It's not counterproductive. It's a revenue stream.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:32 PM on April 3, 2008


It's not counterproductive. It's a revenue stream.

If you look at their financial statements, they appear to make their money by selling seeds and agricultural chemicals.

I doubt they make much money (if any, after costs) by suing people. The suits are apparently to protect the seed business, and that was my original point--it would be nice if their valuable seed business could be protected without them having to sue lots of people.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:48 PM on April 3, 2008


Monsanto reminds me of the Church of Scientology: a monolithic corporate entity with relatively unlimited funds, legal savvy, and despicably aggressive and harassing tactics. The legal system certainly must be sculpted to disallow this wanton aggression facilitated through the courts and legal process.

I'll leave the issue of whether Monsanto is "evil" to others, but this article's attempts to use absolutely unremarkable litigation events ("they wanted more depositions!" "they wanted more documents!" "they wanted to look at their computers!") as evidence of nefarious behavior is a bit of a stretch.

Um no this is a legal tactic that may very well force a case to settle as the smaller entity must fund virtually all discovery requests made of it.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 5:54 PM on April 3, 2008


Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto.

Having family who are farmers and ranchers part of me wants to say some of this is the farmers fault in the first place. Farmers are the ones who so throughly embraced Roundup like it was a savior sent from heaven. And that shit was always awful.

One hell of a company: Monsanto uses child labor in its Indian cottonseed fields

But it's consensual. So it's all okay.
posted by tkchrist at 6:15 PM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


One hell of a company: Monsanto uses child labor in its Indian cottonseed fields
But it's consensual. So it's all okay.


One does wonder what the child laborers would be doing otherwise.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:44 PM on April 3, 2008


Why don't you ask your child butler, steve?
posted by jonmc at 7:23 PM on April 3, 2008


Why don't you ask your child butler, steve?

Does it offend you to wonder what would become of child laborers if their employer disappeared?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:32 PM on April 3, 2008


My child butler has this to say:

"I would much rather be picking cottonseeds than butling for Joseph Gurl right now."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:36 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder if anybody thought of having "open source" seeds where any changes you make get submitted back to the source.
Well, as with so many technologies our civilization is built on, that is how it worked for the first ten thousand years or so.
posted by hattifattener at 7:50 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Every one's complaining about the system. Well, we created it. Stop kvetching and do something. Otherwise, it's worse than what Monsanto is doing.

Go out and buy a share in your local CSA. Put your money where your mouth is.
posted by valentinepig at 8:03 PM on April 3, 2008


From the linked article:
"... Whoever provides the world’s seeds controls the world’s food supply. ..."
That's one takeaway from this piece of yellow journalism. Monsanto is not a shady conspiracy, and you can grow soybeans, or run a dairy operation entirely without Monsanto products. You probably won't make as much money, as people using Monsanto technology, and your products may cost consumers more therefore, and be of lesser quality in terms of uniformity or other traits Monsanto products and processes offer, but it's up to you and your customers.

Save your own seed, raise your cows on grass, and make your case in the market. If Monsanto products wind up in your production chain, why wait for them to contact you, if you and your market value your efforts to avoid Monsanto products? If being "Monsanto free" really has market value, sue Monsanto and their customers for contamination any time you find their stuff in your production chain. But perhaps it is not surprising, that nobody does that, or generally even bothers to look for Monsanto GM in seed, until Monsanto comes knocking.

It's telling that in the final section, having been hammered over the head for 6 pages, we get this:
"... Kleinpeter Dairy has never used Monsanto’s artificial hormone, and the dairy requires other dairy farmers from whom it buys milk to attest that they don’t use it, either. At the suggestion of a marketing consultant, the dairy began advertising its milk as coming from rBGH-free cows in 2005, and the label began appearing on Kleinpeter milk cartons and in company literature, including a new Web site of Kleinpeter products that proclaims, “We treat our cows with love … not rBGH. [emphasis added]” ..."
That emphasized motto's construction is clearly intended to disparage rBGH. Putting that statement on a milk carton serves no other purpose, in light of current scientific evidence about rBGH. It's just code for appealing to "natural" food folks, but it does disparage rBGH indirectly, which is a Monsanto product. Why not just say "produced naturally?" Because the Kleinpeter Dairy undoubtedly uses anti-biotics, feed grown with the aid of insecticides, and chemical products to sterilize their milking equipment, as a matter of course. I doubt there's anything "natural" or "organic" about Kleinpeter milk, or that there ever has been, so it can't make those claims. But saying it doesn't use rBGH pushes some people's hot buttons, and that gets them 22¢ a gallon more at the checkout, for product they put in their distinctive HDPE milk jugs.

and then, later, this:
"... Even if Monsanto’s efforts to secure across-the-board labeling changes should fall short, there’s nothing to stop state agriculture departments from restricting labeling on a dairy-by-dairy basis. Beyond that, Monsanto also has allies whose foot soldiers [emphasis added] will almost certainly keep up the pressure on dairies that don’t use Monsanto’s artificial hormone. Jeff Kleinpeter knows about them, too. ..."
I'd bet in that in the original transcript "foot soldiers" was "brown shirted, jack booted, stiff armed saluting thugs." I bet it killed the propagandist authors that it didn't go to print that way.

It's a crappy hit piece.
posted by paulsc at 8:03 PM on April 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Does it offend you to wonder what would become of child laborers if their employer disappeared?

No. It offends me to act like some corporation using them as cheap labor is actually some kind of benefactor, regardless of how much uglier the alternatives might be.
posted by jonmc at 8:15 PM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Intellectual property protections on the genetic endowment of organisms are a menace to the entire planet. I don't know anything else to do about it, so I will keep posting this comment whenever these threads come up.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:17 PM on April 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


Intellectual property protections on the genetic endowment of organisms are a menace to the entire planet.

Which is why they have a lifetime that expires.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:25 PM on April 3, 2008


"One does wonder what the child laborers would be doing otherwise"

The same thing children did in Western countries when child labour laws were passed: attend a state primary school, perform domestic duties, and play, while their parents enjoyed the increase in wages that accrued from the newly shunken labour pool.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:50 PM on April 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


I would happily pay more for any food product if it had a label which said "made with no monsanto anything".
posted by bravelittletoaster at 8:58 PM on April 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: Which is why they have a lifetime that expires.

A concept that corporate bribery has almost eradicated for copyrights and only survives in the patent arena because patent loss helps as many corporations as it hurts.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:21 PM on April 3, 2008


A concept that corporate bribery has almost eradicated for copyrights and only survives in the patent arena because patent loss helps as many corporations as it hurts.

I'm not defending its abuses and excesses, but the general framework exists for a reason and, it is safe to say, has yielded a vast net benefit to society. Many of the cool prescription drugs that doctors get to prescribe, generics and brand name, exist because of patent law, for example.

That doesn't excuse Monsanto's behavior (hey, look, we're talking about it like it's people, isn't that cute) but it does, perhaps, explain it to some degree, and doesn't necessarily implicate the patent system as broken. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:33 PM on April 3, 2008


Local hero : jose bove, who urged people to boycott monsanto products in the past, is persona non grata in the USA. Check this. This is what many people think of Monsanto in Europe. And you can imagine why people are afraid of lobbying.
posted by nicolin at 2:26 AM on April 4, 2008


paulsc writes "That emphasized motto's construction is clearly intended to disparage rBGH. Putting that statement on a milk carton serves no other purpose, in light of current scientific evidence about rBGH."

It's yet another commercial claim. In your opinion it's disparaging, to me it just says that they use extra care and don't use rBGH, so what? Cheesy , ok , but also informative and not patently false. But clearly, if you want to see smear you are more likely to see it.


paulsc writes "If being 'Monsanto free' really has market value, sue Monsanto and their customers for contamination any time you find their stuff in your production chain. But perhaps it is not surprising, that nobody does that, or generally even bothers to look for Monsanto GM in seed, until Monsanto comes knocking."

Theoretically, one should check each and every seed to claim that it's free of any traces of Monstanto product, but I guess the seed is destroyed in the process. Similarly the absence of rBGH can be measured only as far as the sensibility of the measuring instrument and robustness of statistical analysis can go on a wide enough sample of milk.

Yet this measuring has a nonzero cost that may not be offset by a current market perception of absence of rBGH ; unsuprisingly so as monsanto appears to sue some of these who claim they don't use rBGH , thus making the claim a more likely liability, thus discouraging other companies from effectively making the claim, which surely doesn't help making the claim popular, which may be a reason if not the primary reason behind its lack of "market value" to begin with.

Additionally, monsanto seems to appreciate the claim that there is no difference between the milk of on rBGH cow and that of not rBGH treated cow.

Clearly, that's patently false as the first difference is evident: they are produced by cows not treated with the same product. Yet, by comparing and
constrasting milks (final product) instead of cows (producers) they may also state that , according to contemporary measurement technologies, it seems that there
is no difference between the two milks. Yet, I think they never wanted such a claim to appear, stating the following : no one can't tell if there's a difference with today techologies.

No wonder they probably wouldn't appreciate that claim, as it casts a doubt on Monsanto abilities to claim, without any shadow of doubt, that the two milks are effectively the same, while there is solid evidence that among cows those treated with rBGH seems more susceptible to some health problems. Monsanto seems to bank on the popular misconception that , if no difference is found with today tech, then there is no difference at all an none will ever be found. That's bullshit.

paulsc writes "I doubt there's anything 'natural' or 'organic' about Kleinpeter milk, or that there ever has been, so it can't make those claims."

While monsanto can claim that rBGH is indeed occourring naturally in cows, what's again not mentioned is that its concentration isn't natural at all. If it was, why would they inject additional rBGH ?
posted by elpapacito at 2:32 AM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


"... Theoretically, one should check each and every seed to claim that it's free of any traces of Monstanto product, but I guess the seed is destroyed in the process. Similarly the absence of rBGH can be measured only as far as the sensibility of the measuring instrument and robustness of statistical analysis can go on a wide enough sample of milk.

Yet this measuring has a nonzero cost that may not be offset by a current market perception of absence of rBGH ; unsuprisingly so as monsanto appears to sue some of these who claim they don't use rBGH , thus making the claim a more likely liability, thus discouraging other companies from effectively making the claim, which surely doesn't help making the claim popular, which may be a reason if not the primary reason behind its lack of "market value" to begin with. ..."

"... Additionally, monsanto seems to appreciate the claim that there is no difference between the milk of on rBGH cow and that of not rBGH treated cow. ..."

"... While monsanto can claim that rBGH is indeed occourring naturally in cows, what's again not mentioned is that its concentration isn't natural at all. If it was, why would they inject additional rBGH ? ..."

posted by elpapacito at 5:32 AM on April 4

Statistical sampling for GM in seeds isn't onerous, and is a negligible burden on seed producers. Similar programs have been done n the U.S., in one form or another, for over 100 years on corn and wheat crops, as one means of developing improved hybrid strains via cross-breeding, well before modern genetic engineering methods came into play. It's well developed art. So, I think your assertion that checking seed for GM would destroy 100% of the seed is ludicrous. It's certainly not borne out in science or agricultural practice.

As to your second sentence, I don't have a clue as to how one measures the absence of something, and I don't think you do, either. Most people involved in agricultural and food product testing look for the presence of something harmful. That's how testing generally works.

I can't parse your second paragraph quoted above, so I haven't a clue what you're trying to say there.

As to your assertion in your third paragraph quoted above, that "monsanto seems to appreciate the claim that there is no difference between the milk of on rBGH cow and that of not rBGH treated cow." it's not just Monsanto that appreciated it, it was Health Canada, who in 1999 found "no biologically plausible reason for concern about human safety if rbST were to be approved for sale in Canada. The only exception to this statement is… [possible hypersensitivity]." Health Canada declined to approve rbST (rBGH) not on human health considerations, but on animal welfare concerns. They may revisit that decision in the future.

On your fourth paragraph quoted above, rBGH never occurs "naturally" in cows, and Monsanto would never claim it does. BST (sometimes known as BGH) does, of course, but rBGH is Monsanto's synthetic product. rBGH is injected to increase lactation (milk production) in dairy cattle, as a means of reducing milk costs. It's so effective in doing that, dairy farmers are willing to pay Monsanto to use it.
posted by paulsc at 4:12 AM on April 4, 2008


bravelittletoaster: I regret that I have only one favorite to give for this post.

I'm generally in favor of genetic modification; we can, should, and must understand how the bits and pieces that we're made of work. But part of research is transparency. Anything artificially modified that is eaten must be tested, tracked, labeled and disclosed. No exceptions.
posted by Skorgu at 4:51 AM on April 4, 2008


paulsc writes "So, I think your assertion that checking seed for GM would destroy 100% of the seed is ludicrous. It's certainly not borne out in science or agricultural practice."

No it's not ludicrous, as an effective check of zero presence would imply checking each and every seed; should the test need the extraction of DNA from the seed, as far as I know that would imply destroying the seed.

But as you say Statistical sampling is indeed a reasonable consolidated practice that prevents from checking each and every seed, as it could be demonstrated that if there is less then % presence of monsanto product in a seed batch, then there is an high probability that the batch was just accidentally contaminated. That's perfectly fine, what's more complicated is the consensus on what constitutes a naturally occouring contamination. Today it could be that , over all the sampled seed in a country, 1 out of 100 seeds are almost certainly recognizable as monsanto's. What about tomorrow ? The standard should be updated, or at least as frequently as non negligible increases in contaminations appear to happen.

Now all this standard setting and analysis doesn't cost zero, but I have little doubt that monsanto would sustain most or all of it, when faced with an alternative of not being able to keep control on who's using the product. I don't mean to suggest that monsanto is out to take control of the life of each farmer, because that is not only hardly achievable, but it's not even needed to obtain and maintain a lion share of the seed market.

paulsc writes "Most people involved in agricultural and food product testing look for the presence of something harmful. That's how testing generally works."

Well indeed I managed to poorly represent my point, kudos for me. Let me rephrase. Let's assume somebody wants milk from cow that weren't treated with some substance X , AND that my company want to present my milk as made from cows not treated with substance X. Therefore, I shall start advertising my product as not made by cows that are treated with X

When I claim that my milk is made by cows treated with love and not with X , the message is possibly cheesy, but I don't see how it can't but be constructed as detrimental for X reputation. Or similalrly a message such as "milk produced by cows not treated with X substance" , how is that necessairily demeaning for X substance ? I could write "milk produced by cows treated with love ... not fed with wheat" , how's that necessarily bad for wheat ?

Yet, if my company is sued for claiming not to use X , then other company may take a hint and choose not to claim that, because they can't just turn their head away and not see my company being sued and incurring extra costs. Eventually, they may decide that any reference to any product not made by cows treated with X is best avoided.
That doesn't help the market for product made by cows without X flourish.

A new product also suffers from very low / low volumes, so an initial additional lawsuit cost and aborted advertising campaing is likely to raise the unit cost, thus making the product even less likely to gain a foothold. That's not bad luck, that's monsanto slapping me.


paulsc writes "'monsanto seems to appreciate the claim that there is no difference between the milk of on rBGH cow and that of not rBGH treated cow.' it's not just Monsanto that appreciated it, it was Health Canada, "

And that's a good appeal to a reputed Authority, used to address health concerns issues ; but that's not really the same as claiming that there is no difference between the two milks. So why should rBGH-free producer eventually be compulsed to write that there is no difference between the two milks, when not even monsanto claims that but, wisely so, seems to prefer a no biologically reason for concern claim made by an indipendant (at least on paper) authority ?
posted by elpapacito at 7:20 AM on April 4, 2008


No. It offends me to act like some corporation using them as cheap labor is actually some kind of benefactor, regardless of how much uglier the alternatives might be.

I don't think anyone was acting like Monsanto was a "benefactor." It's curious to me that you would prefer the "uglier" alternative for these children, but I suppose they can just be thankful that you're not making the decisions.

The same thing children did in Western countries when child labour laws were passed: attend a state primary school, perform domestic duties, and play, while their parents enjoyed the increase in wages that accrued from the newly shunken labour pool.

Ah, but that was accomplished through domestic laws of general applicability to both foreign and domestic employers that destroyed the market for child labor, so the situation isn't really at all analogous. I'm of course in favor of India passing child labor laws, but I don't think that's on the table, and it's not at all clear that Monsanto can destroy the market for child labor in India.

Monsanto pulling out of India can only have any real benefit for these children if there's no domestic employer competing for their labor, and we have no reason to believe there isn't. Consequently, one wonders.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:34 AM on April 4, 2008


If you look at their financial statements, they appear to make their money by selling seeds and agricultural chemicals.

Steve, you seem to have misunderstood. I didn't mean the lawsuits are where they make their money; I meant that the lawsuits are how they make their money: They sue (or threaten to sue) in order to protect and reinforce the monopolistic stranglehold their patents provide them.

Whenever word gets out that a farmer has received a document from Monsanto stating something along the lines of, "It seems as though some of our product has blown onto your field and is now growing among your crops; if you intend to harvest it, you must pay us this much," other farmers might strongly consider buying Monsanto's product simply to avoid a similar legal hassle.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:11 AM on April 4, 2008


So it's ok for musicians to protect their intellectual property, but not corporations?
posted by electroboy at 9:06 AM on April 4, 2008


I'm not sure we'd all agree that musicians should be protected to the extent they currently are, either.

Intellectual property law is terribly threating to human development, in general - at least, when taken to the extremes that we've been seeing for the past twenty years.

I do think that all the property issues should be considered in the same ways, whether we're talking about seeds, writing, music, patent inventions, etc. So if you're looking for hypocrites, it's not safe to assume you've found them.
posted by Miko at 9:31 AM on April 4, 2008


"... Now all this standard setting and analysis doesn't cost zero, but I have little doubt that monsanto would sustain most or all of it, when faced with an alternative of not being able to keep control on who's using the product. ..."

"... When I claim that my milk is made by cows treated with love and not with X , the message is possibly cheesy, but I don't see how it can't but be constructed as detrimental for X reputation. ..."
posted by elpapacito at 10:20 AM on April 4

elpapacito, your first point quoted above is a duffer's reading of my argument, which was that people interested in avoiding Monsanto technology ought to be testing for it, as adulteration in their seed stock, at their own expense, to assure themselves and their customers of the basis of their claims to some greater genetic purity. Monsanto need not, and never should bear that expense, simply as a matter of principal. But the fact is, the seed producers Monsanto sues fail to do that. They're unable to claim any real interest in selling "non GM" seed, Monsanto GM or not, because they aren't testing to see if they really are free of GM DNA. In my view, that makes them charlatans of the same class as pawn brokers who fence stolen merchandise.

Moreover, the fact they're not testing means they're not assembling the base of science and fact necessary to demonstrate that Monsanto's (or any other organization's) GM is ever drifting into unintentional distribution. If they were, they'd perhaps have a basis to confront Monsanto in court, on a theory of pollution, as others have for chemical pollution. But that's not happening, either because Monsanto's vigilance in tracking its GM is effective in preventing that (my personal but untested theory), or because they don't care if superior Monsanto traits wind up in their seed stock, "accidentally." I find it silly that people like those who wrote this article on the one hand whip Monsanto for past failures to control chemical pollution, but now also castigate them for trying to prevent the dispersal of their GM beyond licensed uses, while holding up GM as some bogey man threatening humanity's very future.

Monsanto buys and tests seed from many organizations, in an effort to protect its intellectual property and control distribution of its products, as it has an affirmative duty to do. When it finds its property rights infringed, it has a fiduciary responsibility to its stakeholders (shareholders, employees, and customers) to prosecute those infringing its patents and trade secrets, to maintain the value of that intellectual property. All that is settled law. It's how the free enterprise system works for GM. It's how the U.S. Supreme Court, in cases it has reviewed, has affirmed that it works. It's how the world financial markets capitalize further GM research, and reward GM success turned into products.

As for your second point quoted above, claiming that the cows who produce your milk are treated with "love" is worse than "cheesy" (not my pun), because it is scientifically untestable, since "love" is an intangible in commercial dairy production. There's no recognized way any testing organization can find love, or the metabolites of love, in a blood or milk sample, because love isn't something dairy cows metabolize. So, equating "love" with rBGH is defamatory, because implying that you treat your dairy cows with "love," while other dairies cruelly shove needles full of rBGH into theirs, is nothing but sophistry and pandering to emotion, in an attempt to make a veiled animal rights argument, without assuming the burden of scientific proof in sustaining that argument.
posted by paulsc at 1:04 PM on April 4, 2008


"... Intellectual property law is terribly threating to human development, in general - at least, when taken to the extremes that we've been seeing for the past twenty years. ..."
posted by Miko at 12:31 PM on April 4

You mean the "extremes" since the Berlin Wall came down, since statues of Lenin and Marx were pulled off pedestals, since even China and dozens of other repressive regimes have at least signed the Berne Convention (whether they fully enforce it yet, or not), since membership in regional trade organizations like the EU and Mercosur has increased, and world trade has risen to an all time high? I ask, because I read the last 20 years of history, marked by such watershed events, mainly as a march toward greater freedom and equity, and a boon to human development, largely due to the spreading of respect for intellectual property and the rights of people to individual reward for their work.
posted by paulsc at 1:22 PM on April 4, 2008


I think you should read the New Yorker article I linked, paulsc.
posted by Miko at 1:40 PM on April 4, 2008


Oh, and besides the very serious issues discussed in that piece, you're setting up an all-or-nothing model of the intellectual property discussion. I'm all for "the spreading of respect for intellectual property and the rights of people to individual reward for their work," but I was careful to use the word "extreme" for a very specific reason - that intellectual property protections of all kinds have been allowed to expand beyond a reasonable protection for the rewards of individual creative or scientific labor. I believe in legislating very conservatively for protections on creative work, trademark, patent, and copyright. There is certainly room for people to profit from their labors while still protecting biodiversity and preventing ridiculously lengthy protections which actually suppress new creative and scientific output and hinder cultural development and individual freedom over the long run.
posted by Miko at 1:48 PM on April 4, 2008


"... I think you should read the New Yorker article I linked, paulsc. ..."
posted by Miko at 4:40 PM on April 4

Like "Sowing for Apocalypse" isn't a perfect title for what is bound to be a polemic. Oh, all right, it's Friday evening, and I've got a few minutes. I'll humor you.
"... She did not look up from sorting through the seeds as two visitors passed, and, with her lips moving silently, she appeared to be lost in thought, or prayer. ..."
"... We tend to imagine apocalypse coming in the form of a bomb, an asteroid, or a tsunami, but should a catastrophe strike one of the world’s major crops Fowler and his fellow seed bankers may be all that stand between us and widespread starvation. ..."
I don't know. The Israelites wandering the desert survived on manna for more than 40 years. It's probably equally likely to rain manna again, right after the apocalypse, as that Fowler will be our Savior.
"... Should that happen, the only remedy—genetic resistance—might lie in an obscure variety, stored in a seed bank. ..."
Or, equally likely, it might lie in a Monsanto GM lab. Or in non-genetic remedies not imagined by this article's narrowly focused author.
"... “The powerful tools of biotechnology are now being wielded largely by a narrow set of corporations which claim to want to use them to eliminate hunger, protect the environment, and cure disease, but which in fact simply want to use them as quickly as they can to make money just as fast as possible.” ...
I think a drumroll is supposed to accompany that last one, to heighten it's dramatic effect. "Wielded" "claim" "simply" and "just" are all used, in sentences like these, throughout the article for pejorative effect. As style, it's tiresome. As rhetoric, it's ineffective. But a polemic the title promised, and a polemic was delivered, so kudos, I guess, for that.

Oh, look, Miko, I know this whole slow foods thing is damn near become your religion. And you're welcome to it, as a religion. More power to you, if you or someone like Fowler actually does selflessly save humanity on the cusp of the apocalypse.

But even Fowler isn't totally against the very GM that his hole in the frozen ground of Norway hopes to be the last bastion protection against:
"... On the other hand, perhaps a few of the seeds inside the vault will hold the answers for the farmers of the future. “When you think about it, the plants have already been there,” Fowler said. “When Columbus brought maize to Europe—that was a climate change. When maize then went to Africa, that was a climate change. We need to figure out how the plants were able to adapt to these changes, and repackage those traits.”
Sounds like a blanket endorsement of GM to me, if I can imagine Fowler not weaseling out of experiments to use yeast and bacteria for trangenic vectors for soybean enhancement.

I'm not against bio-diversity, seed saving, non-GM agriculture, or any of that, for anyone who wants to roll that way. But I am mightily put out by people who want to restrict my ability to eat corn fed beef, and hybridized corn products, and fish that are fed soybean meal. I'll wear cotton which can only be grown with aid of nitrogen fertilizer and broadband insecticides, and wool grown on Dolly, if the price is right and the products are good.

Monsanto, ADM, John Deere, Cargill, the USDA and Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska been good to me.

I hope Fowler and his hole in the ground be good to you.

On the evidence, one doesn't preclude the other, in my view. And neither has a claim of superiority, moral, intellectual or otherwise, except as they fill my grocery basket efficiently, and at lowest cost with the best nutrition. Which Fowler's efforts have less and less to do with, every week, at my local grocery store.
posted by paulsc at 3:13 PM on April 4, 2008


"... - that intellectual property protections of all kinds have been allowed to expand beyond a reasonable protection for the rewards of individual creative or scientific labor. ..."
posted by Miko at 4:48 PM on April 4

"Allowed to expand?" "Allowed to expand?" Who allowed this travesty? You, Miko? Did you allow this to happen?

Because in the U.S. of A, in the last 20 years, expansion of intellectual property has been repeatedly voted by both Republican and Democratic Congresses, upheld by the courts, and enforced by both Democratic and Republican Administrations. It's pretty clearly the will of the people, unless you think the whole of national governance has become unhinged from the body politic over the last twenty years. Not that you aren't entitled to your opinion, but, well, geez, if you really think that, you're maintaining that the majority of us are all easily led dolts, and you, by force of superior intellect, I suppose, are not.

Good luck with that.
posted by paulsc at 3:32 PM on April 4, 2008


guin wrote:

Clearly what needs to be done here is to turn the rabid fundamentalist religious types onto this company to go after them for 'thwarting Gods will' or some such.

Sounds great in theory but in practice is virtually impossible. You only get to the sheep through the shepherd and the shepherd gets his money from the politicians who get their money from Monsanto...and people wonder why these people vote against there own interests - because they allow themselves to be led by the nose.
posted by any major dude at 3:56 PM on April 4, 2008


Every Monsanto thread should include this just in case there is someone left on the internet who hasn't seen it.
posted by any major dude at 4:02 PM on April 4, 2008


paulsc writes "Monsanto need not, and never should bear that expense, simply as a matter of principal."

paulsc writes "They're unable to claim any real interest in selling 'non GM' seed, Monsanto GM or not, because they aren't testing to see if they really are free of GM DNA. "

They don't need to. Their own interest clearly is in not being sued by monsanto or anybody else , but I really don't see why should they sustain the burden of proving that they seeds are monsanto free.

Consider the following : imagine some company have success in patenting a number of "dna patterns" , so that in association with other companies in the group or alone, they directly on indirectly can claim that most of the seeds in the market actually contain portions of their patented dna. They don't need to own all of the world dna , but clearly a lion share of the seed market would suffice.

If the other seeds producers were to prove , for each and every sequence, that the contamination was occasional, they probably would sustain significant costs , possibily multiplied by the number of patents, whereas the abovesaid patent holding companies would have a significant interest in proving that the other seeds contain some DNA ; but that NOT to only defend their own patents, which is just one goal (diligence in protecting) that you correctly point out to, but also to obtain the payment of royalties.

At that point producing actual seeds become less relevant than being able to demand royalties from the most important seed makers in the world.

But let's assume monsanto isn't going to patent squat like others. I concour with you that other companies should band up and start collecting evidence that contamination may occour and its likelyhood, but I still don't see why the burden of proving that there was no wilfull or negligent infringment should be sustained by the sued company. It seems to me likely a presumption of being guilty until proven innocent.

Of course I understand that the sued party may be deliberately accepting desiderable contamination and doing nothing to prevent it, but I think it should be patent owner burden to make its techonology such that the contamination is only occasional or close to zero, economically insignificant, and It not hard to believe monsanto is doing exactly that. After all if the other party isn't actively seeking desiderable contamination (if it occours) and just letting nature do whatever nature does, it surely not their fault.

The problem is, if the mere presence of genetic code is considered proof of infringment, than they may be in serious problems even if they may be perfectly innocent ; yet it seems to me you are suggesting the burden of proving their innocence rests on their shoulders. I disagree entirely : monsanto should produce evidence that contamination is only occasional or up to a certain % and repeat the tests over time ; should they be succesful in keeping their products in control, more power to them and they will reap the rewards of that.
posted by elpapacito at 4:34 PM on April 4, 2008


elpapacito, I read your whole comment, but I really didn't need to, after this:

"Their own interest clearly is in not being sued by monsanto or anybody else..." That maybe an interest of seed producers claiming to market only non GM products, but it is not their only interest, or even their major exposure. If it is their only claim to market share, it's their major marketing point, my friend. It's their whole enchilada, and the source of their commercial credibility. For this reason, I say that their major interest in seed testing should be self-interest, and their duty to their customers to deliver on their advertised promises of being GM free. Statistical testing should be their expense, because they are the ones making that claim, as a market differentiator.

If you build your brand of hamburgers on being more nutritious than McDonald's, you have some commercial responsibility to monitor your meat to see that you are delivering less fat, higher protein, and fewer contaminants than McDonald's does. Fail to do that, and not only will McDonald's be right to sue you, but your customers should be encouraged to do so, too.

Monsanto's customers don't sue them, despite Monsanto's efforts to protect their IP, precisely because Monsanto does, demonstrably, deliver what it promises, with its GM products. Use Monsanto seed, you get more yield, or crop lower losses. Use Monsanto dairy support products, you'll get more milk. Farmers buy Monsanto products to get those benefits, and not only does Monsanto deliver, they have a ton of research that shows why, and a mountain of case study evidence that demonstrates other farmers getting those benefits, too.
posted by paulsc at 5:17 PM on April 4, 2008


"Every Monsanto thread should include this just in case there is someone left on the internet who hasn't seen it."
posted by any major dude at 7:02 PM on April 4

After having their case reversed on appeal, Jane Akre has become the editor-in-chief of InjuryBoard.com, which it gets its major backing from Florida's personal injury lawyers. Not that she's trading on the notoriety of her and her husband's (Steve Wilson) suit against Fox, and her attached reputation as a "hard-hitting investigative journalist," or anything...

Steve left Florida to join the staff of WXYZ-TV in Detroit, where he promptly got on Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's case, even if a little late, as Kilpatrick's ship was already taking water fast. But, to hear Steve's promos, you'd think he's Bob Woodward.

But sure, any major dude, YouTube TV journalism about FoxNews editorial policy, or the lack thereof, and the veniality of the people involved does belong in every Internet thread in which Monsanto is mentioned. Otherwise, it is one big corporate conspiracy, and Fox/Monsanto/the government/dudes with black helicopters win!
posted by paulsc at 6:00 PM on April 4, 2008


Not that you aren't entitled to your opinion, but, well, geez, if you really think that, you're maintaining that the majority of us are all easily led dolts,


Good to know that you support all legislation created by our representatives of both parties over the last twenty years. That'll settle a lot of future questions for us.
posted by Miko at 10:17 PM on April 4, 2008


"Good to know that you support all legislation created by our representatives of both parties over the last twenty years. ..."
posted by Miko at 1:17 AM on April 5

How do you get that broad generalization, out of anything I've written here? Or even the fragment you've quoted? My comment was specific to the broadening of IP protections, which you challenged as "terribly threating to human development, in general - at least, when taken to the extremes that we've been seeing for the past twenty years."
posted by paulsc at 10:38 PM on April 4, 2008


I stand by my informed opinion. You're entitled to yours. More fun than that I am not interested in providing you. Enjoy your evening.
posted by Miko at 10:43 PM on April 4, 2008


Monsanto's Seven Deadly Sins. (pdf)
posted by adamvasco at 4:31 AM on April 7, 2008


Let's not forget about the ethanol debacle. Ethanol derived from corn is economically and ecologically unsound in just about every aspect: Bulldozed wetlands, poisonous runoff, diminishing food stocks, and on and on.

All that corn? You guessed it: Monsanto.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:17 AM on April 7, 2008


Food price rises threaten global security - UN
posted by adamvasco at 12:29 AM on April 9, 2008


Government officials around the globe have been coerced, infiltrated, and paid off by the agricultural biotech giants. In Indonesia, Monsanto gave bribes and questionable payments to at least 140 officials, attempting to get their genetically modified (GM) cotton approved.[1] In India, one official tampered with the report on Bt cotton to increase the yield figures to favor Monsanto.[2] In Mexico, a senior government official allegedly threatened a University of California professor, implying “We know where your children go to school,” trying to get him not to publish incriminating evidence that would delay GM approvals.[3] While most industry manipulation and political collusion is more subtle, none was more significant than that found at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

An FDA Created Health Crisis circles the globe

ooh, i wonder if that's kinda like the credit crisis circling the globe?
posted by infini at 10:16 AM on April 9, 2008


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