Is Monsanto the Big Bad?

We all play the blame game. When we look for someone to pin our fears on, we invest them with power and they get bigger and badder in our minds.

Bullies make easy targets – they are big and bad by definition. And, if critics are to be believed, Monsanto is the biggest, baddest bully of industrial agriculture, stomping all over the little guy, shooting out bullets in the form of GM seeds – seeds designed to withstand the chemicals Monsanto produces to kill weeds and pests and other undesirables; chemicals that poison water and linger on in soil.

I am not a scientist, or an expert in agriculture. I am a concerned citizen with a voice. I wrote a work of fiction with seed banking at its heart, because I care about our natural world. And because I think seed banking is sexy. And exciting, and magical, and noble.

I don’t like being preached at, and I wouldn’t presume to preach. But if an issue bothers me, and I can make it interesting by giving it a human face and a story that rides the facts, if I can stir in a little love intrigue and even a little poetry, then I will have done what I set out to do.

There is a big bad in The Seed Thief. It’s called ‘SeedCorp’. Not very subtle, but I wanted a straightforward name that gets to the heart of the issue, which is corporate control of natural resources.

When a company tries to control something that has been free for citizens of this earth since its beginnings (and I include animals among those citizens), when they try to ‘own’ a genetic code they didn’t create, and try to stop others from sharing the earth’s generosity so that they can profit from those restrictions, I think we have a problem.

And when the ‘codes’ they are claiming are the ones that provide basic foods for the people who live closest to the ground, who have the least in terms of material goods but who have the most honest conversation with the earth, when that conversation is silenced, and people go hungry as a result, then we have a problem.

Is Monsanto the bad guy?

Is Monsanto the bad guy, or just a victim of bad press? The best way to answer this question is to get informed.

In the South African context, which is the one in which I live, the African Centre for Biosafety is an excellent starting point.

Their mission statement says they campaign against “the genetic engineering, privatisation, industrialisation and corporate control of Africa’s food systems, and the commodification of nature and knowledge.” The ACB supports “efforts towards food systems that are equitable and ecologically sustainable, built upon the principles of food sovereignty and agro-ecology.”

That sounds good to me.

If you’re interested in the issues of GMO crops, food security and seed sovereignty in South Africa, take a look at  this Press Release from the Food Sovereignty Campaign on South Africa’s Portfolio Committee on Agriculture’s public hearings in May 2015 on two bills that protect and regulate the commercial seed industry: the Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) Bill and the Plant Improvement Bill.

Seed Freedom is another informative site. (I like the way it’s name works with/against ‘The Seed Thief’…)

There’s a lot of information out there. It’s a rabbit hole you can get lost in. But if there’s one voice I’d listen to when it comes to seeds and biodiversity, it is Vandana Shiva’s.


I first heard Dr Vandana Shiva speak at the UNCED conference in Rio in 1992, and was moved by her passion and humanity. She’s just as inspiring today, and her message is even more urgent. Here’s why.

© Danhughes | Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Danhughes | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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