The GM Stranglehold

Monsanto brand corn used all over the world; courtesy of Flickr

Monsanto brand corn used all over the world; courtesy of Flickr

In recent weeks some 280 South African corn farmers went to harvest their corn and discovered that although the exterior of the plants looked lush the interior was bare. An article by the Digital Journal reports that millions of dollars were lost to farmers when their three varieties of Monsanto brand corn seeds failed to produce. Monsanto’s “on the record” statement that 75,000 hectares, or 25 percent of the total planted hectares were damaged while other sources choose to emphasize an 80 percent reduction in crop yield for some farmers. Many activists are taking this opportunity to criticize genetically modified (GM) seeds and food in efforts to ban their use in South Africa. Monsanto insists that there was no error in the production technology, rather in the fertilization process and has offered to compensate affected farmers in this instance.

My criticism is focused not at the broad category that is GM but at the single company that has come to control the world’s agricultural production and transitively the fates of many countries. The problem is that Monsanto is a monopoly in global GM seed production and sales. When their seeds prove as unreliable as they have been, the world’s (or at least the countries that depend on Monsanto products, primarily India, Brazil and South Africa) ability to feed itself and all the economic and political complications that follow famine are at the mercy of one company. And that is what it comes down to, Monsanto is a company and its goal is ultimately profit, not the welfare of the people who rely on them. Read More >

Is Smithfield Decision Not to Replace Gestation Crates Ethical?

alan-goldbergAlan Goldberg, Ph.D., is a former commissioner of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production and is a guest blogger today for Livable Future.

The largest pork producer in the world, Smithfield Foods Inc., says it can’t afford to go through with one of its much-ballyhooed animal welfare improvement plans. The company said that it must delay plans to replace its “gestation crates” for pregnant sows with more humane “group housing.” Frankly, the decision comes as no surprise to me. Back in 2007, when the company announced that its 187 Smithfield-owned pig nurseries would be converted within 10 years, the executives refused to admit that the crates were inhumane. Rather, they said their decision was based on consumer preference. If Smithfield were truly concerned about growing consumer awareness and/or preference concerning how animals are raised for food, it would have also required that all of its contract facilities convert within the same 10-year span.

These gestation crates truly are appalling, and some have used the word cruel.  A sow living in a typical industrial facility will spend the majority of her life confined in these metal and concrete stalls that are so small that she can barely lie down, let alone turn around. I won’t belabor how awful gestation crates are – they are awful. Chances are you’ve heard a great deal about them as the Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare organizations campaigned across the country in efforts to legally have them banned.  So far, six states have laws on the books that ban producers from using gestation crates. The European Union was ahead of the curve, requiring farmers to replace all gestation crates by 2013.

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The Debate on Meat Prices from Small Farms

In a piece published in Ethicurean yesterday, blogger and part-time farmer Bob Comis railed against the common argument that food from local, non-industrialized producers reflects the “true cost”—which includes environmental impacts, government subsidies on commodity crops, etc.

Comis argues that small farmers are making too much profit for meat production because they are “unwilling or unable to scale up to reasonable production levels.” He doesn’t say they are striking it rich—that is hardly the case. He does think they just need to scale up production to make themselves more competitive with the industrial model, who really have cheap production down to a science. Read More >