Warning: Hating Monsanto Impedes Global Economic Growth

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Monsanto attracts quite a bit of criticism for its transgenic crops and seeds, more commonly referred to as Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs. The agricultural pioneer has introduced several engineered products aimed at reducing the amount of pesticides, herbicides, and time required during the planting season. In fact, corn and cotton crops that contain genes to produce toxins created from a naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, have saved farmers $57 billion in pesticide costs from 1996 to 2011.


Yet despite mountains of scientific and economic evidence pointing to the benefits of transgenic crops, many people in the United States and Europe are vehemently opposed to their use and consumption. Public pressure has even led to the creation of state and national mandates, whether they are pending or already passed as law. That is a luxury when you're surrounded by food 24/7. Sadly, this popular and misguided view of agricultural biotechnology compromises the assimilation of genetically modified foods in African countries. It influences international trade and humanitarian aid, thereby stunting economic growth for the world's poorest people. More worrisome: it costs lives.

The West vs. The Rest
In 2001 and 2002, a major drought struck Zambia and Malawi, which caused a food shortage for over three million people. When the international community contributed over $600 million to minimize the social and economic costs of the impending humanitarian crisis Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa rejected American corn for his people, labeling it "poison" for its transgenic properties. While country officials claim no lives were lost in the debacle, official reports show only 11% of food supplies were successfully delivered to citizens in the seven months after an emergency was declared.

President Mwanawasa's negative and misinformed opinion on GMOs was likely influenced by the strict standards of European trading partners. You can browse through the list of all transgenic crops approved by the European Commission, but the grand majority of products from Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta , Dow Chemical , and BASF are approved for animal feed only. Given the strength of trading partners to the north and the importance of agriculture to African countries, there is little economic incentive to import, export, or trade in transgenic crops -- even if they can save lives at home.

Worse yet, Europe imposes such strict regulations despite its own findings. In a 2009 report (link opens PDF) conducted by the Union's Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety titled Long-term Effects of Genetically Modified (GM) Crops on Health and the Environment, researchers concluded:

In more than 20 years of experimental field releases and more than 10 years of commercial cultivation, adverse long-term effects reported in the scientific literature concern (i) the development of resistance in Bt crop target organisms and (ii) tolerance in weeds to complementary herbicides used in (herbicide tolerant) crops. No other long-term effects have yet been established.

It's worth noting that cases of weed and pest resistance are occurring in isolated geographic regions -- and farmers abusing the advantages of biotechnology are likely the culprits. That being said, the conclusion above is an awfully empty defense of the asserted health risks posed by GMOs, especially when it results in the loss of lives and economic potential of those who can benefit the most.

Take a look at the importance of agriculture in several African economies:

Country

GDP Attributed to Agriculture

Labor Force in Agriculture

United States

1.1%

0.7%*

France

2%

3.8%

Zambia

20.4%

85%

Nigeria

30.9%

70%

Mali

36.9%

80%

Ethiopia

46.4%

85%

Source: CIA World Factbook *includes forestry and fishing

Let's be clear: there are many more issues plaguing the world's poorest nations: government corruption, pestilence, droughts, starvation, poor family planning, and more. While agriculture and food supplies are just a part of the equation, the industry has many positive feedbacks for these economies at a national level. African countries will continue to struggle to take the next step in economic development -- to more skilled industries -- as long as they struggle to feed their citizens and maximize their agricultural outputs -- a major source of livelihood. Biotechnology can expedite the process.

GMOs as an economic springboard
Fast forward a decade and Zambia is now participating in the United Nation's Millennium Village Project, which was developed to address the challenges of extreme poverty by encouraging the use of modern agriculture (high-yield seeds, proper irrigation techniques, and fertilizers), education, health care, and other social development directives. Villages are hosted in more than 20 African countries; including the four used in the GDP comparison above (France continues to ban transgenic corn -- easy to do when agriculture only contributes 2% to your top line.)

Think the advantages of biotechnology are fantasies? Think again, but don't take my word for it. Just take a look at data from the first Millennium Villages to implement high-yield crops:

Village

Year

Grain yields (ton per hectare)

Area planted (hectares)

Production (tons)

Sauri, Kenya

2004

1.9

220

418

2005

5.0

325

1,625

2006

6.2

364

2,257

Koraro, Ethiopia

2004

0.13

1,067

139

2005

0.58

1,970

1,148

Mwandama, Malawi

2004-2005

0.8

690

552

2005-2006

6.5

1,272

8,268

Source: Common Wealth, Jefferey D. Sachs (adapted from Sanchez et al.)

To be fair, utilizing genetically modified seeds did not account for all of the production gains above. But while transgenic crops are more of an insurance policy -- against the list of things that could possibly go wrong each year -- for American farmers, they are a lifeline for African farmers and local economies. We can't weather-proof seeds (yet), but drought-resistance varieties are exponentially more valuable in Zambia than Iowa.

Foolish bottom line
Why can't agricultural biotechnology, with proven results and even greater potential to help the world, distance itself from the negative press? Employing teams of cutthroat lawyers that target the iconic American farmer when she strays from the industry's strict guidelines likely has a lot to do with it. But if we evaluate transgenic crop specialists on the heels of economic and scientific progress alone, it is difficult to argue against them.

So when anti-Monsanto sentiment leads to the passage of just one law banning or restricting the use of transgenic crops in your state, the impacts are felt oceans away. Such bans complicate trade policies and endanger economic growth and the lives of millions of people in the most impoverished nations. Remember that before leaving your thoughts in the comments section below.

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The article Warning: Hating Monsanto Impedes Global Economic Growth originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Maxx Chatsko has no position in any stocks mentioned. Check out his personal portfolio, his CAPS page, or follow him on Twitter @BlacknGoldFool to keep up with his writing on energy, bioprocessing, and biotechnology. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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14 Comments

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Dan

"Many people in the United States and Europe are vehemently opposed to their use and consumption. Public pressure has even led to the creation of state and national mandates, whether they are pending or already passed as law... "

Wait, what, public opinion influenced policy? Ridiculous!!

This calls for a thorough investigation.

"...That is a luxury when you're surrounded by food 24/7. "

I went for swimming the other day at a public pool. Not being a cannibal I did not consider myself to be "surrounded by food", but yes, there is a lot of food in this country (Britain).

Luxury? Is it? But I thought GMO food was supposed to be better for you? Surely we are *denying* ourselves the luxury of eating GMO food?

If that is indeed the case, this also goes on at the Monsanto HQ Canteen. A little bird tells me that the staff are cruelly denied the chance to eat GMO food. Company policy or something.

Instead they have to put up with organic!

April 03 2014 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dan

Whilst some anti-GMO hysteria is just that - hysteria, they are right about one thing.

Monsanto is evil. Only a fool would trust their benevolence. And their patent hoarding behaviour and only pursuing things like crops for proprietary pesticides...

This slows progress in other areas because nobody besides Monsanto and their handful of oligopoly partners gets a look in. The only progress made is the progress Monsanto deems necessary for their own interests, since they have a monopoly/oligopoly.

They may not be always right but the reason Africans and other nationalities don't trust America is because it is not trustworthy! It has a weak government that is beholden to the corporations that have it on a leash.

"To be fair, utilizing genetically modified seeds did not account for all of the production gains above. "

I couldn't have said it better myself! European corn yields are similar to the USA, and do we use GMO corn? No, we don't.

We also are not having a problem with superweeds. That was created by the USA and the Monsanto monocultures. Poor USA. Allow me to extend my sarcastic congratulations.

Congratulations.

I have a conundrum for you. When superweeds (eventually) affect all or most of Monsanto's crops, who do you think will be left hung out to dry?

Not pretty when 70% of a country's labor force work in farming.

We are already seeing in the long run GMO monocultures, while initially a boon, eventually create great problems that require a lot of money to solve.

Americans can afford it, Africans cannot, and they have lost their food security. So what exactly do they stand to gain other than getting more frucked than they already are?

We need to help Africa and other malnourished regions of the world help themselves. NOT help Monsanto "help" them in the way that produces the greatest profits for Monsanto.

"Put your anti-Monsanto effort to use elsewhere".

I appreciate the advice, but no, I think I'll continue doing what I'm Doing.

April 03 2014 at 1:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
s404n1tn0cc

Stop playing with your food. If you want to sell food we want the same food as our ASIAN Friend and that\'s no GMO. \"Hell no\" to GMO,

October 18 2013 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Will Herrin

Family friends of mine were in Africa recently. There were a bunch of avacados, they were everywhere. Nobody ate them. They considered them animal feed.

October 18 2013 at 2:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tjcnopops2

The Motley Fool has been hawking someone's stock for 20 years.

October 18 2013 at 12:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
David Coker

Monsanto and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have teamed up to implement the Illuminati plan for population control. The population we be reduced to 500,000,000. The combination of genetically modified food and vaccines are the route being taken. Bill's daddy, former head of Planned Parenthood would be so proud. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZ6mjx4J7dM
Also YouTube "The Georgia Guidestones" the Illuminati plan for population control

October 18 2013 at 12:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to David Coker's comment
s404n1tn0cc

Way to go.. hit them in they're greed pocket book.

October 18 2013 at 3:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Siris Quin

Most humans are aware that Monsanto is a criminal organization--no amount of lies posing as fact will hide it anymore. People are seeing with their *own eyes* the horrific effects these frankencrops are having on farmers' yields and peoples' health. Remember folks, Monsanto was behind Agent Orange and DDT--which, *remember*, they also told us were safe at the time! Filthy LIES that we all suffered for! BTW, am I supposed to take an article written by a self-proclaimed "motley fool" seriously? LOL!

October 18 2013 at 11:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Joe Prince

Damned consumers for not lining up for something they don't want! How could they?!?! They will ruin EVERYTHING!

First rule of economics: supply does not equal demand. The two may be related, but just because it exists doesn't mean people want to purchase it, at any price.

October 18 2013 at 11:26 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
mdale500

I am a 63 year old American farmer. I am appalled at the comments posted after this article. The anti-GMO movement is based on urban myth, facts passed from ignorance to conspiracy theorist. This movement is sounding a drum-beat of fear, such as the Indian farmer claiming damage to his soil. He is a victim of fear, hate, and ignorance. I could write for 30 minutes but it would be futile. We've been raising GMO crops for about 18 years. It isn't even POSSIBLE to damage your soils using them. As far as pesticide resistance, pests eventually become resistant to any control applied. Modern science solves that by constantly developing new technology. Nearly all food problems over the last 10 years are tied to organic foods. There have been zero issues with GMO foods. The GMO foods are the only ones that are tested for safety by multiple governments and multiple governmental organizations. I had much prefer to eat GMO corn than non-GMO corn which is far more likely to contain aflatoxins and natural molds. People need to study the science - and not the false science created by the anti-gmo industry.

October 18 2013 at 8:58 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Penny Melko

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-seeds-of-suicide-how-monsanto-destroys-farming
http://www.seattleorganicrestaurants.com/vegan-whole-foods/indian-farmers-committing-suicide-monsanto-gm-crops/

On August 8, thousands of farmers and activists from across 20 Indian states demonstrated in New Delhi against the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, and demanded an end to GMOs in India. 53-year-old farmer Jaswant Sainhara, standing with his son, proudly held up a placard that read, “Monsanto, Quit India.”
August in Delhi is among the hottest months of the year, with temperatures ranging from 40 to 45 degrees Celsius (104 to 113 Fahrenheit). Yet under the sweltering summer sky, the people whose voices rose together that day knew they were not fighting for their justice alone, but were fighting for the basic human right to safe food.
India seems to have awoken to the dangers of GM crops. In a recent move, the courts here rejected two patent appeals by biotech giant Monsanto, dealing a sizable blow to a company that recoups its research investments in large part via patents.
Monsanto wanted to patent its “Methods of Enhancing Stress Tolerance in plants and methods thereof,” and “A method of producing a transgenic plant, with increasing heat tolerance, salt tolerance or drought tolerance.” But both the Patent Appeals Court and the Intellectual Property Appellate Board rejected the company's claims, saying they involved no “inventive steps” as required in the Patents Act of 1970, and that they offered a “mere application” of already known science.
For the many farmers protesting the GM poisoning of their fields, crops and their very livelihoods, the courts' decision was a significant victory and validation for India's food growers. Sainhara, for example, said he didn’t really understand what GM crops were all about until his son — who had been educated through a local NGO — explained to him how GM food and seeds worked.
“For years, I saw my yield going down,” he said. “Where was the strong disease resistant cotton I was promised? I could visibly see the soil quality deteriorating. I was poisoning my sole source of livelihood with my own hands.”

October 18 2013 at 6:03 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply