This weekend, environmental activists gathered for the March Against Monsanto marches.
The tone was standard anti corporation, anti-GMO, anti-technology, anti-science baloney we expect by this group. And despite some estimates that the crowds at the marches weren’t quite so high this year, it’s still sad to see these sorts of alarmist movements take hold.
Lost so often in these conversations about GMO labeling and safety and the idiotic claims that Monsanto — a company that nets around $16 billion dollars a year (putting it financially on par with such world super powers as Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, and Honduras) — is taking over the world, is the much-needed discussion of what GMO technology is doing to help developing nations.
Writer Tamera Haspel has a thoughtful piece this morning in The Washington Post where she examines this and other important questions on which none of these March Against Monsanto protestors seem to be focused:
After spending many hours talking with scientists, touring labs and visiting farmers, I came away convinced that the most important conversation we can have isn’t about GMOs, and it’s not about traditional crop varieties. It’s not about corporate control of the food supply, and it’s certainly not about dignity. It’s about money. Because there’s one thing — and, as far as I can tell, only one — that we absolutely cannot export to the developing world, and that’s the idea of farms that don’t make any.
In Kenya, I asked a lot of people — drivers, guides, hotel staffers — how they ended up in Nairobi. Most came from surrounding rural areas and left for one reason: to find jobs. AGRA’s Wangalachi said that is the norm. “ ‘If you want me to consider agriculture, show me the money,’ the young people say. Farmers want to make money. They don’t want to do it as a pastime.”
Making money. It’s something the March against Monsanto (and the Occupy Wall Street-type) protesters always deny is a motivation—a legitimate motivation of which no one should be ashamed. And while many of these protestors want to keep poor farmers in Africa and other developing nations poor, they refuse to acknowledge their own comfortable lives—largely made possible by technology not denied to them.
Hidden in this anti-corporate, anti-big farm, anti-GMO rhetoric is the quite patronizing and, frankly, somewhat racist sentiment that poor farmers just don’t understand how the world works and should be protected from these companies—companies that are developing seeds and other technology that can increase crop yields, reduce the need for more land use, protect crops, and reduce the need for many agro-chemicals.
Haspel addresses this in her piece, asking the anti-Monsanto and anti-GMO mob to think a bit more deeply about these important issues and revealing just how demeaning the anti-GMO rhetoric can be to poor farmers:
If you think that denying those people tools because you’re afraid that’s how multinational corporations are going to cash in — by making farmers dependent on seeds and chemicals they can’t afford — ask yourself a couple of questions. Do you think African farmers are incapable of understanding how GMOs work and weighing the pros and cons? Do you think they don’t realize that hybrid or patented seeds have to be bought every year and make sense only if the yield improvement outweighs the increased cost? Do you think those are decisions African farmers can’t make, or that it’s math they can’t do?
These are all questions these protestors—and those who casually go along with the anti-GMO anti large-farm rhetoric (yeah, people on FB who too quickly share memes and other GMO nonsense, I'm talking to you!) — should ask themselves.
GMO technology isn’t a solution to the troubles of the world. It’s a tool to make the world a bit better and provide farmers an easier life and a chance at turning a profit.