Monsanto is a corporation that, for many these days, is synonymous with evil. If you are unfamiliar with Monsanto, what you need to know is that they are a sustainable agriculture company best known for their work with genetically modified organisms or GMOs. They are also the creator of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), the leading growth hormone used in cows in the United States. According to their website they are also focused on “empowering farmers – large and small – to produce more from their land” while conserving resources. However, despite these statements of support for farmers, they have a reputation as a bully to small farms. Monsanto, like many large corporations, uses their substantial funds to get involved in the political sphere through the use of Political Action Committees (PACs).
Much of Monsanto’s negative image comes from a botched launch of GMOs in Europe almost 20 years ago. At the time, British newspapers referred to Monsanto as ‘the biotech bully boy.” Documentaries such as Food, Inc (2008) and several high profile lawsuits against family-owned farms also contributed significantly to Monsanto’s negative image. Celebrities such as Neil Young have taken to the stage to fight against the corporate giant. Young, a big supporter of American farms and a co-founder of Farm Aid, which is a non-profit organization that supports the family farm, is a particularly vocal adversary of Monsanto. His album The Monsanto Years and recently released documentary Seeding Fear (2015) both take aim at Monsanto.
In the infamous case of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian canola farmer, Schmeiser was sued by Monsanto for patent violation. According to Schmeiser, the Roundup Ready (pesticide resistant) canola seeds accidentally blew into his field. The crop began to grow and Monsanto found out, hence the lawsuit. And so began a very public and expensive lawsuit that went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. Monsanto won the Supreme Court case but Schmeiser counter-sued Monsanto for trespassing, contaminating his fields, and libel. Monsanto ended up settling with him out of court.
After Schmeiser’s initial run-in with Monsanto he ended up having his field again contaminated with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola plants. Schmeiser demanded Monsanto remove the plants from his fields. Monsanto offered Schmeiser and his wife a non-disclosure agreement and asked that they sign a statement saying they wouldn’t take Monsanto to court. When the Schmeisers declined to sign the statement, Monsanto ignored them. Schmeiser ended up paying workers to remove the plants then billed Monsanto for the labor, and they didn’t initially pay. The Schmeisers took them to court and Monsanto settled out of court, agreeing to pay for the clean-up costs of the canola infestation. In the documentary David versus Monsanto (2009), Schmeiser gave an interview where he said “It came like a — like a time bomb, like a shock to me, that my seed was ruined through cross-pollination or direct seed drift by a substance, by a seed I didn’t want in my land. And so, it was very disgusting and hard to take that I had lost something that I worked fifty years on.”
Schmeiser isn’t the only farmer they’ve sued and he certainly won’t be the last. There is a pattern that emerges within these Monsanto lawsuits. According to Schmeiser, Monsanto starts by intimidating farmers with phone calls, watching their house, and sending letters threatening lawsuits. For a small farm already on shaky financial ground, the very threat of a lawsuit could be enough to get them to do whatever Monsanto wants because they wouldn’t be able to fight.
Most of Monsanto’s litigation is off the basis of patent infringement. This would include crimes such as the long-implemented practice of saving seeds. Seed saving is when a farmer harvests a crop and saves the seeds or other reproductive parts of the plant to re-plant.This is a practice that farmers have used since farming was invented. In present day, this allows the farmer to lessen the financial burden of acquiring new seeds by allowing them choose to purchase new seeds or use seeds they harvested from the plants they grew. If you are purchasing Monsanto products, they want you to purchase whole new seed every year. When farmers buy seeds patented by Monsanto they are required to sign an agreement stating they won’t save and replant the seeds.
In the ever-growing monster that is the American political machine, money is the oil that sets the gears in motion. The saying “money makes the world go ‘round” is an apt description of the political process in this country. You need money to run a campaign and a whole lot of it if you want to run a successful one. Over the decades, the US government has created laws, such as the Campaign Reform Act of 2002, to regulate monetary contributions by individuals and corporations. It’s supposed to prevent corporations from “buying” politicians, but where there is a law, there is a way around it.
In 2010, the Supreme Court overturned sections of the Campaign Reform Act in Citizens United v. FEC, making it legal for corporations to use their general treasuries for political endeavors like campaigns. This lead to a rise in the popularity of Political Action Committees, also known as Super PACs. Companies like Monsanto use Super PACs to support candidates who support what they do. The Monsanto Good Government Fund uses Monsanto funds to support political issues and candidates that Monsanto believes are in line with their goals. They also have the Monsanto Citizenship Fund which uses money donated by people employed at Monsanto to support political candidates. So far in 2016 they have donated well over $500,000 to both the House of Representative and the Senate.
Super PACs support candidates by pooling together donations from companies, unions, and even individuals. While they aren’t allowed to directly fund candidates, they are able to support them indirectly by doing things like running ads, supporting ballot initiatives and legislation.
Hillary Clinton has been an advocate for GMOs for years. In 2014, Clinton was paid $335,000 as a speaking fee to deliver the keynote address at a Biotechnology International Organization (BIO) Convention. BIO also happens to be one of Monsanto’s main GMO lobbying groups. The Clinton Global Initiative has partnered with Monsanto in the past, most notably on Monsanto’s project on honey bee health. Recently, Clinton appointed longtime Monsanto lobbyist, Jerry Crawford, as her adviser to the Super PAC “Ready for Hillary.” Monsanto also donates generously to the Clinton Foundation. Up until December 2015 they had donated over $1 million dollars to the Clinton Foundation.
Monsanto is a corporate giant who uses their millions to fund politicians to further their own political reach and they’re using Super PACs to do it. Whether you love or hate Monsanto, voters should pay attention to where a candidate’s campaign funds come from. When deciding who to vote for this election season, and every election season, where the money comes from matters as much as where goes.
Featured photo courtesy of Torbak Hopper.