Monsanto, the multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, is evil. But not for the reasons you might suspect. Sure, Monsanto puts small farmers all over the world out of business but this doesn’t necessarily make it evil. Proponents of unfettered free markets might argue that Monsanto simply makes better products more cheaply. Monsanto manufactures genetically modified crops so they are resistant to popular herbicides (which also happen to be manufactured by Monsanto), but this doesn’t necessarily make them evil either. Genetic modification is a hotly contested issue, and opposition to GMOs is an argument against genetic modification itself, not necessarily an argument against Monsanto as a corporation.
Recently, Monsanto was accused of spreading toxic substances throughout a small town in West Virginia during the manufacture of the infamous defoliant known as “Agent Orange.” But this doesn’t necessarily make them evil. Numerous companies and government agencies were involved in the manufacture and distribution of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Transition here Monsanto has an army of lawyers that fight for its right to patent genetically modified seeds. When the wind happens to blow these seeds into a farmer’s field, Monsanto sues the farmer for violating their intellectual property rights. Okay, this might make Monsanto evil, but it’s still not the most nefarious practice Monsanto participates in.
Monsanto is evil because it epitomizes the undermining of democracy. Monsanto is the poster child of revolving door politics. Several former Monsanto employees have held or currently hold influential government positions. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas worked as an attorney for Monsanto in the 1970’s. In 2001, Thomas wrote the majority opinion for J.E.M. Ag Supply, Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., which found that “newly developed plant breeds are patentable.” This case greatly benefitted corporations that profit from GMOs, of which Monsanto is the largest. Linda Fisher was the Vice President of Monsanto from 1995 to 2000. Fisher became the deputy administrator of the EPA in 2001. Most recently, President Obama re-appointed Michael Taylor as the deputy commissioner of the FDA. Prior working in government, Taylor worked for a law firm that lobbied for FDA approval of Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone.
These types of appointments exemplify the cozy relationship between the government and powerful corporations. Perhaps it’s the case that Linda Fisher and Michael Taylor were the most qualified persons for the positions. Or, perhaps an extraordinarily powerful multinational corporation has the ability to influence political appointments. Monsanto’s political action committee gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to federal candidates, both Democrats and Republicans. Monsanto spent almost $9 million on lobbying last year, working closely with advisors at the FDA to get its products approved. This isn’t democracy. This isn’t meritocracy. This is bona fide cronyism.
Citizens ought to have ultimate control over the kinds of foods they consume, and drugs they take. In theory, we elect representatives who then prudently appoint individuals to advise policy makers. When these “prudent” appointments tend to heavily favor corporate interests, it demonstrates the disproportionate amount of influence corporations hold. Citizens cannot meaningfully contribute to agriculture and health policy when they are excluded from the policy making process. When a revolving door exists between government and corporations, the democratic process that is designed to represent the will of the people falls apart.
Some readers might argue that Monsanto isn’t the problem. Campaign contribution policies or Obama’s acquiescence to industry is certainly a factor. However, companies like Monsanto are the engines that drive imprudent undemocratic practices in politics. Political momentum over the past couple of years heavily favored corporate interests over citizens’ interest. The Citizens United decision, formation of Super PACs, and an increasingly blurry line between public and private interests has left citizens disenfranchised and upset.
So why is Monsanto evil? It’s evil because it actively works to perpetuate the revolving door politics in Washington. It’s evil because it works to keep citizens influence out of agencies like the FDA and EPA. It’s evil because it exercises its power to foment cronyism, rather than fight against it.