Monsanto, the real problem with GMOs

Lots of protests worldwide against Monsanto these days. The Genetically Modified crops (GMO, O is for organism-genetically modified crops are a special case of GMO, because you can modify animals also) leader has taken a lot of heat. But most people do not understand the real problem, here I go over it. The protests are okay, but are not for the right reasons.

Monsanto claims to modify crops genetically to improve yields and improve resistance to pests (these are the major two). Then they sell their own pesticides which go hand in hand with their seed. The farmer is bound by contract to plant their seed and buy their pesticides (Glyphosate or Roundup, and others). The farmer signs long term agreements to buy the seed from Monsanto (they can't even replant the seed from their crop).

The Science behind Monsanto (or all GMO crop companies) having done any good is dubious. 

Man's selection of crops, together with natural selection, has improved yields and resistance to pests enough that no one in Europe or Americas died of hunger since about 1500..what is Monsanto improving? The monopoly motivated city folk together with the unscrupulous scientists who work for Monsanto make up all kinds of data to show that their crops are better (higher yield, more resistance to pests). The US FDA falls for all this and the United States, the most important agricultural country in the world since 1800, falls for these people. Thankfully the monopoly of Monsanto in the US is countered by other GMO companies, who with equally bad science, provide a balance. And being a developed country the monopoly is controlled by a smart, agriculture favoring government and a good judicial system. So Monsanto prospered in the US, and the US farmer has not seen many problems, but unfortunately, outside the US, the governments are not that smart and the Monsanto monopoly becomes really oppressive for the farmers.

However, even in the US, there are some problems. The US court system in it's zeal of Intellectual Property protection has ruled against the farmer (see example here) but most farmers seem to be okay planting Monsanto seeds and buying pesticides from it. The stupidity of the Science behind the patents is not questioned-and Monsanto, like Apple, becomes another purveyor of patents and intellectual property rights. An Iphone is a completely different thing from a soyabean seed-one is a luxury, the other a necessity-and we start giving patents against farmers the food supply is bound to go down. The most friendly country for agriculture-USA-has fallen for the machinations of a wily monopolist. That Monsanto, a company which is valued at 50 billion dollars sues an individual farmer (in the link above) to protect it's Intellectual property is more a poke in the eye of the US patent office than the poor farmer-the whole patenting of seeds should not be allowed. The US Patent Office is taken for a ride by Apple and Microsoft, but now even the "farmer friendly Monsanto" is using it to win against farmers in courts.

Smith was very lauding of farmers-he said that they readily and willingly shared improvements in the techniques of agriculture with one another, they were free from the spirit of monopoly and "hiding my secret" which pervades in the city folk. Well with Monsanto, the city folk found a way to oppress the farmers!

Contrary to what many believe, the GMO crops do not have any health risks

300 million americans in the USA and several other large countries in the Americas have been eating these grains for a few decades and they seem to be living on just fine. The ignorant public is swayed by the health risk of GMOs and goes around protesting against Monsanto-the clear data than hundreds of millions of people eat GMO crop grains without major health problems is completely sidelined. The real problem-the bad science behind Monsanto and the contracts they impose on the farmers, is not talked about.

Everything around you is modified (genetically by man) anyway. The apples, pears, oranges etc. you see are selected by man to suit his tastes. Wheat, maize etc. are the same way selected for what we want. Darwin formulated his theory of evolution on this very basis-that in a few generation man could create new species and varieties of all kinds of plants and animals. His detailed "Variation under domestication of plants and animals", which is really the big book (two volumes) from which the data for the "Origin of Species" is taken, gives you a history of all domestic plants and animals, where they come from, etc. concluding that most do not exist in the wild state, and are modified by man be slow selection (and sometimes fast selection) to suit his needs or fancies. The point is-that we have been genetically modifying plants and animals since a long time, and there is little likelihood of us doing much wrong by "combination and permutation" of genes. The varieties of wheat, maize, etc. we see today in our fields are carefully selected and optimized for the highest yields, pest resistance etc..and the funkiness of Monsanto's science is really not needed at all to improve them, simple selection by man will improve the crops, plants and animals much better.

Stuff like exotic gene splicing, of putting fish genes in plants or a dog (which scares a lot of people, even the learned Mr. Nassim Taleb), are not cutting-edge science; they are a foolish scientist trying to create something new. The plant or animal which one creates by 'insertion' of foreign and very different genes will most probably die, and has an even lower probability of reproducing (a necessary thing to create lots of individuals of the species). This is covered well by Darwin throughout his book, and the second volume of it. Hybrids are difficult to form, and even more difficult to breed, is the constant message in his works.

In summary-the seeds Monsanto (and all other GMO crop makers) makes are not better than seeds developed by man without direct genetic modification (by artificial (man induced)  selection; over a few years, you get the same modifications...just that the process is slower, and we have done quite well in agriculture in Europe without GMOs). They do not give higher yielding crops or more resistant crops than what man already had (some minor exceptions may exist). The yields on French farms are not significantly lower than US farms (France has banned GMO), and no matter how much data is published by Monsanto, it should be taken with a grain of salt. If the technology of Monsanto is slightly better, or not better at all (my personal view), then the fact that Monsanto makes these massive contracts and monopolies is a reason enough for farmers not to want to plant genetically modified seeds.

Banning GMO crops is a good thing, and France (among several other intelligent countries) has not fallen for the bad science of this monopolist disguised as a cutting-edge science company, and I hope that other countries will follow suit.

Let the farmer produce without contracts and legal complications-it is the abundance of food which is the original cause of economic development of humanity.

On GMO animals, it is a different story, and drug development based on genetics is good science-as long as the final result is for humans. A lot of fudging of data (a constant theme in this websit: data is readily discarded or polished to suit the researchers needs) goes on there also, but at least in principle, it is a good thing-because primate studies are expensive (primates are expensive to raise and killing them or losing them therefore is costly).  There are also moral issues in killing a lot of primates to test new characteristics-they are closely related to us. Therefore using GMO animals to learn about humans, because we can't experiment with humans like we can with crops, and first principles research in developing drugs or even removing certain problematic genes in animals and humans is okay (I still believe that this should not be done by the private sector, they will fudge the results and the science for profit, it should be with the Government or non-profit organizations. See my other articles on why I favor public medicine) . But GMO crops are useless and based on bad science, the improvements, if any at all, are minor; and are not necessary for continuing human prosperity.

One exception would be getting plants modified for specific illnesses/specific pests, which could have a genetic reason and solution; but that should be figured out by artificial selection by man; and there is not need for farmers to be paying expensive research fees to Monsanto. General statements like "our seeds are more pest resistant" (there are thousands of pests!) and high-yielding (marketing talk) are non-scientific and false.

An analogy might help-imagine you have the water distribution system infected with some microbe. A company comes and treats the infection successfully. All is good, you get good water now...but the company now says that it has improved the water quality considerably *of all kinds*, and that you need to only buy water technology from it with a 10 year contract, that it's water making technology is more resistant to further water infections, and that you can't even drink water from another source. That is what Monsanto is.

Some validation for my ideas from researchers-details here.