The feds see no evil as a belligerent strongman seeks control of America’s food supply
When you’re good at something, you want to leverage that. Monsanto’s specialty is killing stuff.
In the early years, the St. Louis biotech giant helped pioneer such leading chemicals as DDT, PCBs, and Agent Orange. Unfortunately, these breakthroughs had a tendency to kill stuff. And the torrent of lawsuits that comes from random killing put a crimp on long-term profitability.
So Monsanto hatched a less lethal, more lucrative plan. The company would attempt to take control of the world’s food supply.
It began in the mid-’90s, when Monsanto developed genetically modified (GM) crops such as soybeans, alfalfa, sugar beets, and wheat. These Franken-crops were immune to its leading weed killer, Roundup. That meant that farmers no longer had to till the land to kill weeds, as they’d done for hundreds of years. They could simply blast their entire fields with chemicals, leaving GM crops the only thing standing. Problem solved.
The so-called no-till revolution promised greater yields, better profits for the family farm, and a heightened ability to feed a growing world. But there was one small problem: Agriculture had placed a belligerent strongman in charge of the buffet line.
Monsanto knew that it needed more than genetically modified crops to squeeze out competitors, so it also began buying the biggest seed businesses, spending $12 billion by the time its splurge concluded. The company was cornering agriculture by buying up the best shelf space and distribution channels. All its boasting about global benevolence began to look much more like a naked power grab.
Seed prices soared. Between 1995 and 2011, the cost of soybeans increased 325 percent. The price of corn rose 259 percent. And the cost of genetically modified cotton jumped a stunning 516 percent.
Instead of feeding the world, Monsanto simply drove prices through the roof, taking the biggest share for itself. A study by Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University, found that rapidly increasing seed and pesticide costs were tamping farmers’ incomes.