Monsanto May Be a Problem, But Government Is Not The Solution.
On May 24th 2014, demonstrators took to the streets all over the world for the March Against Monsanto. You can see the video from the event at the end of this article. From across the political spectrum, people have become concerned about the economic and health effects of the Monsanto corporation and a handful of others increasingly gaining almost monopolistic control over the planetary food supply. GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms, have become a hotly debated subject the world over, with one side claiming these products will end hunger world wide, and the other claiming an apocalypse is in the works. Likely, the truth lies somewhere in between.
Personally, I first became very concerned about the issue back in 2010 after seeing “The Future of Food” at a Campaign for Liberty meeting. The documentary film explains in some detail a trend taking place in the food industry towards centralization of control over the food supply all over the world. It explains how diverse the human food supply was just a few decades ago, in comparison to how uniform it is today. It explains how much of the food we eat today is not naturally occurring plant and animal material, but rather something of science project created in a laboratory with questionable health effects and motives. If you haven’t seen it, I would encourage you to watch it. I promise you’ll be very uncomfortable after seeing it. Other worthwhile videos include “Food Inc.” and “Genetically Modified Food, Panacea or Poison“.
Diversity of the Food Supply
It used to be that there were thousands of different varieties of apples grown, dozens and hundreds of different types of rice, and potatoes, and corn. This made food supplies resistant to blight, because if some sort of fungus or infection or insect took a liking to one or more varieties of plant, plenty of others survived to make up the difference. Today, that’s not how things work. Our food supply is far more uniform than it ever has been, and that makes it more susceptible to disease and infestation.
As a result, we increasingly rely on pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to keep our food supply from being destroyed. Spraying chemicals designed to destroy other life forms on our food is concerning enough for many. As this happens however, threats to our food evolve and develop immunities to these safeguards. Some of these diverse varieties of food no longer exist, and others are in short supply. So should science fail to keep up with evolving threats to our food supply, going back to the old methods may no longer be an option, and it is entirely possible for us to find ourselves with a shortage of food.
Whether it’s using e-coli to fuse the DNA of a fish into a tomato, or creating corn that kills insects who eat it, much of our food supply is starting to sound more like something out of a science fiction movie, than a farm. For certain, these things were not dreamed up on a farm, and unfortunately, it isn’t fiction either. Even if these products are, as their purveyors suggest, perfectly safe – this is still something worth being concerned about. They are messing with the DNA of living things, and living things evolve. What is safe today, may not be safe tomorrow.
Creating biological agents, putting them outdoors, and expecting them to remain in one place is not a realistic proposal. Plants are cross pollinated by bees and other insects, spreading their DNA. Animals breed, cough, urinate, and defecate. Feeding and fertilizing each with the other, spreads biological material and has the potential to further alter the DNA of both. We have already seen that farmers who did not buy or use Monsanto crops, get Monsanto DNA in their crops without consent. Be it by seeds flying through the air, or cross pollination, or some other, more nefarious method, what happens in the lab, doesn’t necessarily stay there.
Like so many other things in this world, people see a problem and the first thing that comes to their mind is “Government must fix this!” and like every other time this has been tried, it is sure to fail. Anticapitalist sentiment runs rampant in the anti-GMO movement. Many of them see Monsanto as a perfect example of the free market run amok, and call for government to tax, regulate, and even ban products as if this hasn’t been tried repeatedly.
I’ve written before that conspiracy theories are good for libertarianism, but perhaps I should more accurately have said that they provide an opportunity for libertarian outreach. This is one example of the conspiracy theory crowd going in a terrible direction, becoming afraid of private interests and expecting government to solve their problems. The Alex Jones/Infowars team does a great job of making people terrified of the world around them, but this is not a solution in and of itself. If people become afraid of “the corporations” and still think the republic will rise up and save them, this is going to have the exact opposite effect libertarianism seeks to gain.
People will tend to focus on questionable studies from either side on the health effects of GMO foods. If that’s their primary concern, then by all means, let them, but it doesn’t really address the problem. As long as I have a choice whether or not to eat these products, then whether or not they are safe is not the issue for me. Heroin isn’t safe, but I still think it should be regularly available for people who want to use it, I hardly think regulating or banning questionable corn makes sense in that context.
The problem here is choice, and government forcing companies to put questionable labels on their products doesn’t help matters. The fact of the matter is, DNA of GMOs spreads through the wild infecting everything it comes into contact with. To put a GMO label on everything that contains genetically modified DNA would do little more than turn a supermarket into a house of horrors.
The Actual Problems
The problem here is not labels or lack of regulation, the problem is intellectual property, and a disregard for rights of physical property. The economic incentive for spreading genetically modified DNA, is the patent system. Monsanto DNA finds its way into a farmer’s crop, and if Monsanto finds out, Monsanto sues the farmer for a violation of their intellectual property.
Nevermind that the farmer doesn’t want Monsanto DNA in his crop, nevermind that Monsanto DNA is in fact trespassing on his land. Monsanto wants to coerce the farmer into buying products from them, and the government is more than happy to help. Monsanto, with all their millions of dollars hires high powered lawyers to threaten the farmer, and usually without ever going to court, the farmer agrees to their terms.
The more this happens, the more Monsanto DNA finds itself being planted on farms, and the more this happens, the more it spreads through cross contamination. The more it spreads through cross contamination, the more farmers become infected with the DNA and the more farmers Monsanto can sue. This is a really sick, perverse thing and it is happening because of government, not in spite of it.
What we have learned through hundreds of years of history, is that when a government regulates an industry, the leaders of that industry will gain control of the regulatory bodies. They use those regulatory bodies to crush competition and further their own interests. Candidates for public office will often scream about getting money out of politics to avoid this sort of thing, through advertisements bought with that same money. If you’re still surprised that politicians are lying to you about their intentions, please stop voting.
Governments rather appreciate this regulatory capture, it is not a bug, it is a feature. It is not malfunctioning, this is its design. Having a handful of huge corporations completely dominating an industry makes for easier central planning. It is not possible for a government to control the economic activities of hundreds of millions of people who move in all different directions based on their own best interests. It is not possible to make them all act in concert for “the greater good” that governments so often tell us they are pursuing.
With a handful of large corporations in control, this is quite manageable. It is the next best thing to outright nationalizing an industry, and it doesn’t carry with it any of the responsibility. When the central plan fails, the central planners simply blame the free market and demand more control, even if their central plan was directly responsible for the failure.
The solution to this problem is the same as the solution to so many others, get the government out of the issue. Increased regulations only give industry leaders in control of the regulatory bodies more control over the industry. If you want Monsanto to stop monopolizing your food supply, then the last thing you want is to give them more control over the food industry.
Intellectual property is a perverse enough incentive in so many other industries, but when it comes to patenting life forms that reproduce in the wild, the potential for catastrophe is too great to ignore. Putting an end to the patent system removes the economic incentive for seeing the DNA spread, and dampens the incentives for further research into these technologies.
If you want to be free, and happy, and safe, the first thing you need to realize is that government will work to the opposite of these purposes every single time. It was not created to help you, and if it was, it wouldn’t be stealing your money and threatening you with violence. Government is nothing but an excuse to do harm, and every time you ask it to do something, you just give it more excuses.
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