On May 25th, 2 million people around the world protested against Monsanto (a company whose main products are genetically modified foods), solidified under the name “Occupy Monsanto.”  It is rare for both liberals and conservatives to unit under a unifying cause, but this movement as well as the general protest against GMOs have been taken up by conservatives and liberals alike.

Much like “Occupy Wall Street,” “Occupy Monsanto” has no clear goal or cause, but from what I can gather the movement’s main concern is for the safety of genetically modified foods for human consumption.  Yet they don’t seem to be merely raising the question of GMO safety, but creating a monster of Monsanto to attack. They have gone as far as crafting conspiracy theories around Monsanto as a corporation with western governments under its heel, forcing the poor to eat and grow their food.

The website, occupy-monsanto.com  has a section called “The Genetic Crimes Unit” within which they cite the wealth of supposed crimes Monsanto has committed against humanity – and by ‘wealth,’ I mean just one. The article reports Indian farmers to buy their seed, causing them to go into debt, which in turn caused them to commit suicide – 250 000 farmers in total!

The site links to the fair and balanced Aljazeera.com, which reported on the same story.  Aljazeera then links to the India Tribune’s online website, which tells an entirely different story about the cause of 250 000 farmer’s deaths.  Though it was once thought that Monsanto was at fault for the deaths, it was soon discovered that the pressure to conform to a changing market, and the farmers’ inability to do so, is what lead to their suicides.  The article states:

The major causes that were identified were this: India was transforming rapidly into a primarily urban, industrial society with industry as its main source of income; the government and society had begun to be unconcerned about the condition of the countryside; moreover, a downturn in the urban economy was pushing a large number of distressed non-farmers to try their hand at cultivation; in the absence of any responsible counselling either from the government or society were many farmers who did not know how to survive in the changing economy.  Such stresses pushed many into a corner where suicide became the only option for them.

Monsanto had absolutely nothing to do with the farmer’s suicides, but this kind of ‘half-truth telling’ about GMOs is all that I’ve found on the internet through a basic search on Google, yet the dangers of GMOs and the evils of Monsanto are treated as proven fact.

It seems to only take poorly crafted and poorly defended rumours to make a conservative go liberal.  I’m repeatedly reminded by perplexed, conservative GMO opponents that Monsanto doesn’t care about our best interest, very much like the left’s complaint that corporations don’t care about our best interest.  I then remind them that neither Wal-Mart nor most other corporations whose goods and services benefit society care about our best interest (or put our best interests anywhere near first).  Yet like liberals, conservatives have no problem imploring government – the very entity they claim is too big – to go as far as ban GM foods from being sold.

NewAveyOwynsICONEven if we managed to ban the sale and production of GM products, it wouldn’t really harm the West because we’ve already reached a standard of living that would allow us to survive the rise in food prices, resulting in the cheap and affordable grains and meat GMOs provide us no longer being available.  But who would a ban on GMOs hurt?  The poor – especially the third world.  There is something about the West that causes us to first attain a new standard of living through technological advancement before we then ban said technological advancements for the rest of the world; fossil fuels and DDT come to mind.

This article doesn’t do much to disprove the claim the GMO’s are dangerous, but serves to point out that much of this anti-Monsanto movement is no more than fanaticism.  Google: “evidences that GMOs are harmful,” and you’ll find nothing more than speculations in place of evidences (for instance, ‘toxins harmful to insects MIGHT BE harmful to humans’) or just bad ‘three-degrees-of-separation’ reporting like the example above. 

It’s the kind of movement from which I’d expect support from the left, quick to denounce any corporation profiting well from imagined ‘rights’ (food, healthcare, loans etc.), but not from conservatives, in support of free markets and consumer choice.

Avey Owyns | University of Windsor (Ontario) | @AveyOwyns