The composition of the agricultural industry has changed tremendously over time. New technology and corporations have impacted and changed the traditional culture of agriculture. Farming with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has increased in popularity in the United States. Monsanto has revolutionized the agricultural industry through its genetically engineered seeds (Ferrell, Fraedrich, Ferrell, 304). Monsanto is a highly scrutinized corporation due to its infamous reputation for accusing farmers of patent infringement and its manipulation of dairy products through biotechnology processes. In this paper I focus on the history of Monsanto, genetically engineered seeds, and the use of Posilac to reduce the production cost of dairy products. This corporation has stimulated many uncertainties, issues and global debates. I will utilize a utilitarian lens to analyze Monsanto’s actions through its effects on different entities or stakeholders. Utilitarianism or consequentialism is the theory that assesses the rightness or wrongness of an act through the magnitude of its consequences. The costs and benefits of an action have to be evaluated and weighted to determine what initial action produces the best possible outcome (Gregorowius, Matthies, Huppenbauer, 267). I will specifically examine Monsanto’s use of patents and prove they generate more costs than benefits for the majority of entities involved. In addition I will analyze Monsanto’s decision to not label Posilac dairy products and ultimately determine labeling would do more harm than good. Consequentialism’s goal is to “maximize the overall good for the greatest number of morally relevant entities” (Gregorowius, Matthies, Huppenbauer, 268).
Monsanto created genetically modified soybeans, known as Roundup Ready seeds, in the 1990s. These seeds revolutionized the agricultural industry since they were resistant to the herbicide, glyphosate (Nottingham 42). The Roundup Ready seeds were first used for commercial planting in 1996. Farmers could spray their entire fields with Roundup to kill weeds without killing the crops. Soon Monsanto genetically engineered corn, cotton and canola as well. Today more than half of the America’s crops are genetically modified (Ferrell, Fraedrich, Ferrell, 304). Genetically modified seeds benefit customer farmers since biotech crops have higher yields on the same amount of land (Ferrell, Fraedrich, Ferrell, 305). However farmer’s increased dependency and reliance on Monsanto for these genetically modified seeds is hazardous.
A patent is an “exclusive intellectual property right on organisms, genes or processes for up to twenty years” (Nottingham 104). Many multinational corporations, such as Monsanto, have patents on their GMOs. Patents are a way to protect the corporation’s considerable investment in research and development (Nottingham 104). Monsanto requires their customers to abide by a “technology use agreement” or TUA. This agreement requires farmers to pay a certain fee per acre to grow the Roundup ready seeds in addition to the initial cost of the seeds (Walker 1). The TUA also requires customers to buy new seeds for every season (Walker 2). Monsanto will fine the respective farmer if it finds its genetically engineered seeds in an unlicensed field or crops from a previous season. Inevitably the patent gives Monsanto excessive power and control over its seeds and customers.
Contamination is a high source of contention between farmers and Monsanto. Genetically engineered seeds and pollens have been mixing with noncustomer farmer’s crops. Monsanto’s seeds frequently migrate to other areas by bees, insects and the wind (Ferrell, Fraedrich, Ferrell, 307). Contamination has caused a major issue in the industry, especially for organic farmers since it is now more difficult to grow non-genetically engineered crops. “Farmers have found themselves stuck between Monsanto and a hard place” (Delano 1). The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) feels threatened by Monsanto. OSGATA’s mission is to produce pure organic seeds and healthy food, but genetically engineered seeds are detrimental to its mission (Flahardy 1). “We submit that farmers should not be saddled with the obligation to keep this gene off their land. It should be Monsanto’s obligation to keep the gene from spreading” (Walker 2). Monsanto has a duty to monitor and contain these seeds rather than using other farmers as scapegoats.
Not only are farmers concerned about contamination, they are also worried about possible patent infringement fines and lawsuits. There are many cases of farmers being falsely accused of patent infringement due to unknown seed contamination from neighboring fields. Monsanto should be held accountable for their actions rather than accusing farmers of infringement (Flahardy 1).
Monsanto takes its investigations very seriously. Investigators, also known as “seed police” or “mafia” by small farmers, are known for being very accusatory and severe (Ferrell, Fraedrich, Ferrell, 309). If Monsanto suspects a patent violation they send investigators to question the farmer. Investigators may search the farmer’s records while a sample team tests the fields (Ferrell, Fraedrich, Ferrell, 309). If the farmer’s field has any traces of Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds, the farmer will be fined. “The Organic Seed plantiffs’ complaint detailed Monsanto’s abusive business and litigation tactics that have put several farmers and independent seed companies out of business” (OSGATA 2). Monsanto is an intense persecutor and acts ruthlessly to enforce patents. Studies show Monsanto has trespassed and accused 500 farmers a year of patent infringement (OSGATA 2). Furthermore The Center for Food Safety claims Monsanto has filed 144 lawsuits for patent breaches over the years (Berry 1).
Monsanto’s patent obviously protects the company. However this patent has had extensive impacts on other entities. It has had the largest impact on agricultural farmers, both customer and noncustomer farmers. Customer farmers have to buy the seeds from Monsanto as well as sign a licensed agreement that requires them to pay a certain fee per acre to grow the crops (Walker 1). The genetically engineered seeds may allow the farmer to grow more crops per acre, but the patent negatively affects the autonomy of the farmer. The customer farmer is required to purchase new seeds every season from Monsanto. Traditionally farmers saved and collected seeds from previous harvests to use in upcoming seasons (Ferrell, Fraedrich, Ferrell, 309). This requirement increases farmers’ financial burden since they now have to purchase new seeds for every harvest. Consequently farmers became more reliant on Monsanto. “Outside observers see the TUA as a way for Monsanto to continue to squeeze profit from a pesticide with an expiring patent” (Walker 1). The licensed agreement supports Monsanto’s profits, but increases customer farmer’s production costs and dependence on the corporation.
Noncustomer farmers are affected by Monsanto’s patent as well. Monsanto’s investigators have introduced the fear of contamination and threat of patent infringement to the industry. Many competing farmers take expensive precautions or completely avoid using their land to avoid being wrongly accused by Monsanto for patent infringement (OSGATA 1). Vernon “Hugh” Bowman is an example of a noncustomer farmer who suffered from the negative consequences of Monsanto’s patent (Berry 1). Bowman purchased used soybeans at a local grain elevator, a place where farmers sell their crops. However these unlabeled soybeans were Monsanto’s seeds. Bowman unknowingly violated Monsanto’s TUA by planting second-generation seeds harvested from first-generation Monsanto crops. He had to pay $84,000 in damages to Monsanto even though he didn’t violate the TUA on purpose (Berry 1). Clearly the patent only truly benefits Monsanto and creates many negative consequences for both customer and noncustomer farmers. The patent has allowed powerful Monsanto to take control over the agricultural industry.
Monsanto does not only focus on genetically engineered seeds, they also have concentrated on recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST). In 1983 Genentech produced rbST and sold its rights to Monsanto to commercialize this product. rbST boosted the milk production capacity of cows. Farmers could produce more milk with the same number of cows, thus reducing costs of production and increasing profits (Eaton 71). Monsanto studied the effectiveness and safety of rbST for ten years before commercializing the product in 1994 under the name Posilac (Eaton 71).
The major issue surrounding Posilac was labeling. Monsanto did not want to be required by the FDA to put a label on the milk or meat products that came from Posilac-treated cows. Monsanto argued products from rbST-treated cows were no different from regular dairy products and posed no detrimental effects to people’s health. Labels would only force Monsanto to do more work and spend more money. Furthermore Monsanto was nervous labels would discourage consumers from buying their milk products.
The main entities Monsanto needs to consider when making a decision whether to label Posilac dairy products are the company, industry, farmer customers, nonfarmer customers and consumers (Eaton 88). If Monsanto labeled Posilac products they may avoid some of the activist’s criticisms, but their distribution and marketing costs would skyrocket and their products would be highly scrutinized. Monsanto’s decision to label would inevitably affect the industry’s regulations, consequently making competitors label as well. The monetary costs of labeling for all producers using biotechnology processes would be high and the public may be more suspicious of biotechnology foods (Eaton 89). Posilac products would be less likely to penetrate the market. Posilac labels would benefit noncustomer farmers by allowing them to sell to a certain niche market. However the production costs of not using rbST are higher, so noncustomer farmers would need to increase their price enough to offset these higher costs to be able to compete (Eaton 90). Consumers would need to pay more for Posilac-free dairy products if labels were mandatory. There would also be an unnecessary amount of confusion among consumers about the health effects of Posilac. Labels would make people believe there is a major difference between products produced by biotechnology processes. “…since labels falsely imply that milk products from rbST-treated cows are less safe than regular milk, all labels undermine consumer well-being by creating confusion about biotechnology food safety” (Eaton 91). Although consumer’s confidence may increase if they had the information to make a decision whether to purchase biotechnology food, the cost of the confusion would outweigh this benefit. Upon analyzing the costs and benefits of labeling Posilac dairy products for all entities, it seems the negative consequences would outweigh the benefits since the Posilac products do not impose health risks to humans. Overall there would be an increase in the distribution and marketing costs for many producers. Society would have a negative perspective of biotechnology and there would be unneeded confusion and uncertainty of dairy products (Eaton 93).
Monsanto gained control over the agriculture industry through its patent on genetically engineered seeds and use of Posilac. These new methods of farming have reduced the production costs of food and changed the composition of the industry. Due to countless cases of patent infringement and lawsuits, Monsanto has been referred to as the “most evil corporation” with a fierce reputation (Hamilton 1). Noncustomer and organic farmers have suffered tremendously from the consequences of Monsanto’s patent on genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto should consider and weigh the consequences of its actions on all entities if Monsanto intends to repair its reputation among smaller farmers in the agricultural industry.
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