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article imageOp-Ed: An antidote to Monsanto?

By Alexander Baron     May 18, 2013 in Business
Whatever one thinks of Monsanto, the company's name is mud with significant tranches of the public the world over. Without taking sides, is it possible to resolve this problem?
The company itself would argue there is no problem, or that as far as any problems exist, they are in other people's heads. Here is its pledge. These are fine words, but are they matched by deeds? According to Paul Wallis, the company's name is the world’s only eight letter four letter word, and that bit about sharing, well, the recent court case Bowman v Monsanto might make some people think differently.
This is a complex judgment, but it is one that will be impossible to enforce, if not in the United States then elsewhere. For example, if the Chinese Government decides to "steal" one of Monsanto's patents, who is going to take it on?
Broadly speaking, there are two arguments used against Monsanto: the safety argument and the usual anti-corporation argument. The safety argument - which is extremely wide ranging - is of course valid. The decisions we make regarding our flora and fauna can and will and do affect future generations. To take just two examples from the UK: mink were introduced by accident from the US, and are a menace to a wide variety of our native wildlife. Japanese knotweed was introduced as an ornamental plant in the 19th Century; now it is like the triffids, choking to death many or our natural flora.
Whether or not we like it, Monsanto is here to stay, and will doubtless have a significant role to play in feeding a still increasing world population. If we can't trust the company, we have to trust our governments to ensure that it develops its products to the highest possible safety standards.
The other argument against Monsanto is the usual anti-capitalist rhetoric, ie this is a big corporation that is ripping off and oppressing the downtrodden masses, ad nauseum. We've recently heard a variation of that argument in the UK Parliament with the claim by Margaret Hodge that Google is "evil". The reality is that although small may be beautiful, it isn't always efficient. Generally, only massive companies are capable of delivering goods and services at affordable prices. If you don't believe that, think of the machine in front of you. Could this really have been developed and produced by some guy working out of his garage? That may have been the way Steve Jobs started, but Apple had to grow in order to deliver the goods.
With its recent court case - far from its first - Monsanto is attempting to preserve its monopoly. In practice, a monopoly can be enforced only by law. Murray Rothbard made an excellent analysis of this in 1984. All legally enforced monopolies are bad, although some we have to live with. The state having the monopoly of force, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master, which is why we must watch it constantly. The most pernicious monopoly is the monopoly of credit, the one we need ultimately to break, but whether or not Monsanto can enforce its monopoly in China or anywhere, this is a monopoly that is limited to its own products, it cannot prevent other companies from developing similar or alternative products.
The word that springs to mind here is Mozilla.
Monsanto has rivals already, but a not-for-profit could take it on the same way Mozilla took on the software giants.
In 1993, CERN donated the technology of the World Wide Web to the public domain. Where would we have been today if it hadn't? In order to rival Monsanto, enormous funding would be needed, not-for-profit or not, that would entail both foundation and government support. In fact, governments worldwide are in this business anyway, and have been since before any of us were born.
The Agricultural Research Institute at Pusa in Imperial India was carrying out research on rice diseases, bee-keeping and wheat cultivation before the First World War. Today, Bangladesh Agricultural University is involved in the development of aquaponics.
With proper funding and coordination by dedicated activists worldwide, the Monsanto monopoly can be rendered ineffective. This practical approach would be far more beneficial than the usual political lobbying and the hate campaign to which the company has been subjected, especially in the alternative media.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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