The GMO Debate: A Farmer vs. Monsanto

Learn where farmers and Monsanto stand on GM seeds

The ongoing GMO debate is a contentious one.

This is one in a series of stories; visit The Daily Meal Special Report: GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) for more.

To many foes of GMOs, most definitely including a good number of small farmers, the multinational Monsanto Company, heaquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri, is the Great Satan — a pioneer of genetically engineered seed and perceived enemy of biodiveristy around the world. Its defenders see it as a forward-looking agricultural biotechnology company whose innovations help to feed a hungry world.

To help clarify some of the issues involved, we asked spokesmen of both points of view — an activist farmer, author, and lecturer who is outspoken (to put it mildly) in his opposition to much of what Monsanto represents, and a high-ranking official at Monsanto itself — to answer a series of related questions about GMOs and agriculture.

Joel Salatin, proprietor of Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and a self-described "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-farmer." 

Please tell us a little bit about how you feel GMO seeds are affecting farmers.

GMOs do not respect property lines. The GMO issue is primarily a property rights issue and a personal identity issue. The U.S. Constitution guarantees that a person shall be secure in their persons — that's why law enforcement officers must get a warrant under probable cause in order to penetrate that personal property and space barrier. GMOs do not respect any of this and therefore can fundamentally alter a farmer's landscape without the owner's consent. That is egregious trespass, similar to a neighbor's bull trampling my flower bed. In our convoluted cultural thinking; however, we have decided that not only is the owner of the trampling bull not liable for damages, the flower bed owner must pay a royalty to the bull owner for the privilege of having his flowers trampled. To not be able to guarantee the fidelity of my crops or production due to promiscuous GMO trespass not only destroys my market, it destroys my personal identifying distinctive.

How do you feel about animal GMO seed consumption and the effects it could have on the quality of meat?

The research is pouring in now from all over the world linking GMOs to social, physical, and cognitive dysfunction. Behavioral abnormalities, inhibited organ growth, and other problems are surfacing as a direct effect of GMOs. Ancillary issues may even be bigger: abortions and fertility issues from the extra herbicides are now possible with GMO tolerance. Most people concerned about GMOs view animals fed GMO grains as similar to the direct GMO crop. That said, chlorophyll in plants can remediate a host of ills. It would not surprise me if future research revealed significant offsetting remediation of GMO harms in livestock if those animals were also eating large amounts of fresh pasture. Pastured livestock can cure a multitude of ills. That's why factory organic livestock is not nearly as good as pastured GMO-grain-augmented livestock.

Do you feel that there is enough educational, factual information available to farmers and food purveyors regarding genetically modified foods?

Absolutely. That's like asking if you really think people have enough information to know that exercise is important to maintain health. Of course they do. We could ask that question on a host of different items, from McDonald's to Coca-Cola. People become knowledgeable about what they value. The average person is far more interested and informed about the latest dysfunction in the Kardashian household than about what is going to become flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone at 6 p.m. Whose fault is that? If the purveyor of all the information necessary to know is the government, then we will become subservient to the government's ideas. The government is synonymous with the biggest players; it's not a balanced entity. The responsibility lies on each individual to decide how to live, what to eat, who to believe. If you embrace ecological honesty and scientific integrity, the evidence as to the evils of GMOs is overwhelming. If you don't, nothing in the world will change your mind. Ultimately, all of our decisions are emotional because our hearts screen what our eyes and ears see and how our brain interprets them. That's why paradigms and ethical frameworks are so important.

What problems/benefits do companies like Monsanto present to you?

Monsanto presents no benefit to me. I don't agree with much of anything they say or do. By the same token, they don't present any problem to me either as long as their fist does not hit my nose — that means their owned, patented beings do not trespass on my property and adulterate my beings into strange life forms alien to my property — and as long as they don't create prejudice in the marketplace. To be sure, both of those caveats are being abridged big time. In theory, I really don't have any problem with Monsanto and their GMOs. I have a problem with trespass and I have a problem when Monsanto parks their recruitment bus at land grant universities, plugged into taxpayer-supported utilities for a week, to offer jobs to graduating seniors. The problem is that Monsanto purchases tax, liability, and marketplace concessions that create a prejudicial playing field for my production. U.S. ambassadors around the world, paid for by my taxes and representing my citizenship, are strong-arming countries to buy Monsanto products. This is immoral, unethical, and evil. Monsanto and the government are one. As soon as the government gets out of the empire-building business, marketplace meddling business, education business, agriculture business, environmental business, and the investment business, we'll have a level playing field, protection of private property, and nothing for which to lobby. Giving the government more power to regulate only enhances Monsanto's concessionary standing. The government is supposed to protect me from Monsanto, and the government that does that best is the government that's so small it has nothing to sell Monsanto. Or me, except liberty.

What do you feel people do not realize about genetically modified crops?

How dangerous they are.

What can farmers possibly do to prevent cross contamination?

Not much. But if all the effort that's been invested in labeling laws was directed instead at enforcing ancient trespass law, we would be much further down the GMO-elimination road than we are and it would have done so within a context of personal protection rather than centralized tyranny through regulation.

What do you feel are the most detrimental/beneficial effects to the farming ecosystem?

Detrimental: a Conquistador mentality, the USDA (started by the country's worst president, Abraham Lincoln), loss of domestic culinary arts from the culture (food preparation, preservation, packaging, and processing being done outside the home rather than inside), cheap food policy, food safety laws (eliminate innovation), the nearly universal feeling that integrity requires someone else besides me to change, faith that humans are clever enough to outsmart nature, people who believe they have a right to food, clothing, and shelter, even if it means taking someone else's property violently to get it (try not paying your taxes and see who comes to take your property — so much for violence), progressives.

Beneficial:  a nurturing mentality, entrepreneurial farmers, people jazzed up about domestic culinary arts, people who think it's more important to know their farmer than Bambi and Thumper, people who would rather spend their money on food than pharmaceuticals, people who believe they are responsible for themselves, believing nature's template is best, realizing nothing changes until I change, libertarians.

How could genetically modified seeds economically affect farmers?

Tainted crops are a huge problem. Asking this question is like asking how would cyanide affect water drinkers. Making something that is supposed to be pure into something impure makes it suspect in the marketplace and makes it perform differently under use. Adulterating and tainting a product is as wrong as getting into your classmate's book bag and marking up her homework with a Sharpie. This is really a very simple issue — one we should have come to terms with in first grade. What adults have not learned about staying out of each others book bags indicates a society hurtling toward barbarianism."Making something that is supposed to be pure into something impure makes it suspect in the marketplace and makes it perform differently under use." — Joel Salatin

What can farmers do to help take control of their crops in terms of incorporating or avoiding GM seeds?

We need to be joining property rights groups. Perhaps an alliance with the National Rifle Association would be good. They seem to have a lot of clout. Look, if my stuff is not sacred to my person, then I have no identity. If I have no stuff, then stealing no longer exists. Protecting personal liberty starts with protecting personal stuff. That's simple. Farmers should not plant GMO crops. Just don't use them. Don't buy them, don't eat them, don't use them, and explain to your customers and friends why. Give them bulletins or books or link them to websites to explain the problems.

In addition, I'd be remiss if I didn't also say that if we quit feeding grain to herbivores — and this includes organic folks — we'd so change the economics of grain that it would send the industrial agri-fraternity into chaos. If all the omnivores were integrated into the landscape — chickens next to each kitchen we'd drop grain requirements another many percent.


Bottom line: if our agriculture went to a nature-template protocol, we wouldn't need 80 percent of the grain currently being produced. That would quit funding the cartel and move the entire foodscape to a perennially-based, integrated, localized, carbon-centric, soil-building, hydrating, and transparent system. Take that, Monsanto.