One doesn't have to look far to find vehement public disgust with Monstanto's less than savory business practices. As the world's leading biotech giant, Monsanto's behavior is often compared to that of the oil lobby — peddling a disputed product to the masses while utilizing cutthroat tactics to neutralize their competition. But however repugnant their greed, corruption, and thirst for power may be, the GMOs (genetically modified organisms) they sell are not all inherently evil and still count among our best hopes for remedying global hunger.
As temperatures rise to record-breaking heights, humans are sharing a very painful collective lesson in the cause and effects of modern technology, unchecked pollution, and our growing populace. Our biggest addiction undoubtedly remains a suicidal fixation with fossil fuels. Oil, once the seed of our industrial revolution, is far-too-slowly being recognized as our environment's most cancerous affliction. And yet, we are still too complacent to break off our dependence of this supposedly "essential" product and too comfortable to truly pursue healthier or smarter alternatives. Oil conglomerate pimps continue to peddle countless barrels of liquid decay, corrupt the sovereignty of untold foreign nations, decimate our environment, suppress scientific research, and shower open-mouthed politicians on both sides of the aisle with limitless funds. They've made a mockery of our democracy, and continue to cynically push their next "safe" energy alternatives. Their hunger for profits blind them to the fact that their children will also inherit the desecrated planet they so casually leave in their wake — acting like modern day pharoahs, building pyramids of wealth atop our broken world.
With this Oil industry example as the pinnacle of so-called success, Biotech companies have been eager to mimic the model of greed in their own creative fashion. Monsanto's behavior has shifted the public debate over GMOs away from feeding the hungry masses, stabilizing fragile crops, or discovering nutritional genetic combinations, and towards bankrupting small farmers, patenting plant genes (including the self-destructive "terminator seeds"), pushing unhealthy foods on the public, and toxifying the soil with pesticides only Monsanto plants are immune to.
In the aftermath of Monsanto's recent aggressive and underhanded political maneuverings, the public trust for GMOs in general is starting to wean. This represents a problematic shift, as researched and vetted GMOs remain one of the few hopes we have to achieve pragmatic and environmentally conscious solutions to world hunger.
The problem with a company investing too heavily in one product, whether it be oil or a pharmaceutical pill, is the inherently massive financial incentive to ignore or outright undermine the viability of competitive alternatives. If you run a mega cattle ranch, you can't afford to quander the environmental costs of cutting down dense forestry so you can warehouse thousands of corn-stuffed beef balloons. If you're part of the gas-fracking gold rush, you have to placate any fleeting guilt you might feel over potentially poisoning people's water supplies by telling yourself that if you don't do it someone else will. Similarly, Monsanto has a clear financial motivation to transform the rich biodiversity of our complex food chain, into a simple and manageable alternative:
But many scientists would urge us to distinguish between Monsanto's lust for profit and power, and the potential global benefits of well-designed, diverse GMOs. Norman Borlaug was the Nobel Peace prize-winning father of the Green Revolution, and is often hailed as the "man who saved a billion lives." Using plant pathology, he created high-yield, disease-resistant wheat, which allowed several countries (including Mexico and India) to drastically increase their food security — saving millions of people from starvation. His initial experiments encouraged scientists in the biotech field to pursue a variety of food modifications. From rice packed with diverse vitamins to tomatoes that can tolerate cold climates because they've been blended with the antifreeze genes of certain fish, GMOs have increased food security across the globe. Obviously consumers have met this explosion of experimentation with mixed responses, and Monsanto's aggressive pursuit of only the most profitable avenues has served to muddy the waters even further.
The point stands, however, that GMOs offer us a way to significantly increase crop yields, ignore temperature and climate restrictions, and surge our food's nutritional value. Meanwhile, advocates for a purely organic and GMO-free world must face certain harsh truths and admit that most alarmist myths have been thoroughly debunked. We've been meddling with our crops and food since we first planted seeds in fields thousands of years ago. Perhaps we could theoretically produce enough natural grain to feed the world, but most of it would rot in a field before we could deliver it. Unless we're prepared to invest billions of dollars in delivery infrastructure, transport, harvesting machinery, train tracks and railroad cars (especially in vast countries like Russia) as well as dramatically improved storage silos, we must accept that GMOs offer a far more viable and lasting solution.
Unlike solar or nuclear energy alternatives to oil, we are nowhere near ready to implement radical food alternatives at our current level of consumption. With futuristic super pills jam-packed full of nutrients still a distant sci-fi fantasy, the "foods of tomorrow" list still reads like a mixed bag of awkward alternatives.
Synthetic Meat (or lab meat/in-vitro meat) is an efficient alternative to producing beef or chicken that doesn't require any animals … or farms for that matter. Specialized proteins are applied to a few sample animal cells to encourage growth and duplication — theoretically producing millions of pounds of meat without emitting greenhouse gases or using arable land. There are many hurdles to pass before this option can be brought to market, not least of which is taste! Algae-based cuisine is another contender, and algae bio-fuel is already being looked at by shipping and airline companies as a fuel source. Algae can produce 10,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, act as a fertilizer, reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, and provide sugars, oils, and fats. Again, there is a taste and presentation hurdle, seeing as few people are lining up to eat an algae burger. This leaves the most interesting option of all: Insects. Entomophagy is already practiced throughout Asia, South America and Africa, but assimilating the Western world to insect consumption may prove a little more cumbersome. Despite the creep factor, insect farming requires far less land than regular animal farming, converts plants into edible meat at a far more efficient rate, emits almost no greenhouse gases, and offers a rich diet of proteins, calcium, and iron (also low in fat!).
Meanwhile, back in reality, the House passed the farm bill without including food stamps for the fist time since 1973, so food shortages may soon become a very real problem for Americans. CBS's Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer called out his guest Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.) on the shameful act of depriving children, vets, the poor and the elderly of food assistance:
"You pass a farm bill in the House. It gives billions of dollars, much of it to large corporations that own farms. It's almost like welfare for the wealthy. But you don't include a dollar for hungry people for food stamps. What kind of a message is that you're sending?"
It's clear that food production needs to be taken away from a crippling monopoly of rich owners, and desperately diversified to meet our evolving demands. Few things are more intimate than what we choose to eat and what we allow our children to eat. We should be exploring every possible inventive solution. There are too many people in the world, and we've run out of room for cattle to graze or corn to grow. It's vitally important we have informed discussions about which long-term solutions can benefit our health and environment and distinguishing between the genetic splices that can actually save lives, versus those that solely serve to increase a company's profit margins. We should be attacking Monsanto's monopolistic ambitions, but not the field of science we can still use to save our agriculture.