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Marching Against Monsanto
and the Corporate Oligarchy

by James Bartoli
San Diego, California

"Power is always gradually stealing away from the many to the few, because the few are more vigilant and consistent" -- Samuel Johnson, Adventurer #45 (March 27, 1753)

The recent flood of bad press regarding Monsanto’s duplicity about its toxic seeds, the squelching of independent science, and its blatant corruption of politics from the town hall to the White House, has been nothing short of dizzying. On May 25th, people around the world opposed to Monsanto’s bully tactics and concerned about the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the global food supply will join a local ‘March Against Monsanto’ (MAM). Large numbers of discontented people will express their outrage at the corporate subversion of ‘good government’ and Monsanto’s lead position atop a de facto ‘foodopoly’. (1) They will shrug off the anesthetizing influence of the corporate media and come together in the streets to demand they no longer be made guinea pigs without their consent by the government-supported refusal to label foods containing GMOs.

Inside the USA, large numbers are deeply alarmed by the blatant and corrupting influence of the corporate-government revolving door - especially between Monsanto and the FDA. Outside of the USA, especially in the Global South, opposition to Monsanto is deeply rooted in smallholder struggles for food sovereignty and opposition to US government-supported “science diplomacy.” A May 2013 Food & Water Watch report, “Biotech Ambassadors,” used official cables published by Wikileaks to demonstrate the unbroken ‘bipartisan’ continuity of using Washington’s geopolitical muscle to aggressively advance the interests of agrichemical companies abroad with complete disregard for the economic and food security of the farmers and citizens in the targeted countries. (2) The near complete lack of mainstream media attention to such blatant corruption aptly shows the current extent of the corporate fusion with state power and the implosion of ‘democracy’ in the USA.

Close ties between the chemical industry and U.S. militarism developed rapidly after WWI on the initiative of the United States Chemical Warfare Service, then interested in allaying public opposition to chemical warfare by developing a peacetime agrichemical industry from the poison gases used in WWI. Monsanto and other chemical companies were firmly ensconced within the ‘military-industrial’ complex by the end of WWII, and reapplied their chemical warfare from humans to agricultural pests with government support on a truly global scale.(3) This merger of militarism and the food system has deepened to an obscene degree in the early 21st century - barely distinguishable from Bertram Gross’ dystopian visions of “Friendly Fascism” and the “Inverted Totalitarianism” described by Sheldon Wolin.(4) Monsanto’s ability to direct government power, and its willingness to hire mercenaries to spy on activist groups,(5) is mirrored by the government’s subservience to a criminal banking elite and mainstream media complicity with the recent unconstitutional yet federally coordinated suppression of the Occupy movement.(6)

Foodopolists and the governments that serve them claim extending the model of industrialized agriculture will be necessary to feed the world’s projected population growth. However, increased production is not the problem requiring resolution. They conveniently ignore that current global yields could already meet this projected demand if inequality did not ensure its maldistribution.(7) They also ignore how industrialized agriculture is dependent on already stressed and finite natural resources, thus making it environmentally unsustainable. Agroecological methods and the principles of food sovereignty offer the only sustainable alternative vision, something notably recognized by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter.(8)

The Declaration of Nyéléni, issued by more than 500 representatives from over 80 countries in 2007, defined food sovereignty in contrast to the top-down ‘new green revolution’ proposals of financial elites and ‘philanthropic’ reformers: “Food sovereignty is different from food security in both approach and politics. Food security does not distinguish where food comes from, or the conditions under which it is produced and distributed. National food security targets are often met by sourcing food produced under environmentally destructive and exploitative conditions, and supported by subsidies and policies that destroy local food producers but benefit agribusiness corporations. Food sovereignty emphasizes ecologically appropriate production, distribution and consumption, social-economic justice and local food systems as ways to tackle hunger and poverty and guarantee sustainable food security for all peoples. It advocates trade and investment that serve the collective aspirations of society. It promotes community control of productive resources; agrarian reform and tenure security for small-scale producers; agroecology; biodiversity; local knowledge; the rights of peasants, women, indigenous peoples and workers; social protection and climate justice.”(9)

Sadly, the MAM’s proposed solutions lack such breadth of vision.(10) Until a few days before May 25th, after much push back from below, MAM had limited their messaging to demanding the corporate oligarchy be more transparent and considerate, without addressing the means aside from a diffuse public opinion by which pressure may be applied toward those goals. Hunger and structural inequality did not even appear to be on MAM’s agenda, though inequality provides essential context and incentive for Monsanto’s continued market dominance, while looming cuts to SNAP (food stamp) funding in the Farm Bill now in Congress give these issues incredible urgency. Belatedly (May 22), MAM/AntiMedia are now speaking like the food justice movement has been for years, after initially dismissing calls from local organizers to broaden MAM’s messaging and include existing alternative solutions and international trade agreements like the TPP/TTIP.(11) Yet, although MAM does not bring food sovereignty to the conversation, we all benefit coming together in the streets, by expanding the discussions and building a stronger network to engage with the larger global movement. In a growing discussion, with less privileged voices front and center, we may really consider long term solutions that give global equity and sustainability equal importance alongside health and safety. A more locally rooted and internationally connected sustainable food system is already nascent at the grassroots level around the world - one that, when expanded and federated together across artificial borders, has the potential to replace industrial agriculture. For this better world to grow, however, it is crucial we join together with existing groups doing good work and also create our own groups to liberate more spaces - to scale-out sustainable food systems horizontally rather than scaling-up, vertically. Then, we may feed the world, improve health AND enhance democracy

Published in In Motion Magazine - June 3, 2013.
  • This article was previously published in:
    Growing Discussion About Food newsletter Vol. 1 #3
  • Footnotes