Around here, we Linux geeks tend to focus on technology, its place in society, and why monopolizing it into the iron fists of a few global corporations is a Bad Thing. The reasoning is that technology is central to all of our lives, cradle to grave, school to office, and we dare not allow a tiny oligarchy of billionaires to control everything that technology does.
What could be more dastardly than monopolizing the world's computers? Monopolizing the world's food.
Monsanto, in the emerging science of biotechnology, has become the Microsoft of food. Here in Iowa (a state with no small interest in agriculture) I get to witness the struggle firsthand; Monsanto commercials aimed at farmers dominate much of local television. Very few non-Monsanto companies manage to get equal billing.
The parallels between Microsoft and Monsanto are plain. Just the Wikipedia page on legal actions involving Monsanto reaps bold examples: Monsanto has filed patents on numerous genetically engineered specimens. They have filed suit against 145 individual U.S. farmers for violating those patents. The Public Patent Foundation has blown the whistle on some Monsanto patents. The U.S. Justice Department in 2009 has also opened investigations against Monsanto for anti-trust; that's still pending. And the legal battles outside North America are even more telling; stories abound of farmers being driven out of business, markets controlled, and even child labor. Oh, and Monsanto is a political lobbyist - a really, really big one - in the US, UK, and continental Europe. And corporate food patents, litigation, and fallout damage has been the subject of at least one documentary name of Food, Inc.
Oh, and one more parallel between Microsoft and Monsanto - Bill Gates has a huge financial stake in both.
In battling for technology freedom, we are permitted to not take ourselves quite so seriously. At the most, renegade programmers battling corporate dictatorships brings to mind cyberpunk "hacker wars". But when it comes to food, all silliness ends. This is a world with 925 million starving people, and the last thing we need is billionaires suing people for planting corn and soy without their permission.
Now, don't get me wrong: Does this mean that GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are a bad thing? Of course not! This isn't about resisting scientific progress in agriculture - I am in fact hugely enthusiastic about biotechnology and genetic research and think that, if anything, it's not progressing nearly fast enough. Genetic modification of an organism in a laboratory is simply the sped-up version of the same thing nature has been doing for millions of years. Just so we're clear, I'll be first in line for genetically engineered chow, medical treatments derived from gene therapy, or adopting a four-assed monkey.
It's the part where we put a barcode on every DNA strand and let a few corporate dictators literally control the building blocks of life and the necessities for survival that our troubles begin.
On the other hand, I'm also not signing up allegiance with the fruitbat conspiracy theory nuts. So when Googling Monsanto news, I'm careful to dodge Infowars and NaturalNews and other sites that are more about Illuminati conspiracies and "science = bad" reasoning than the actual problem. And of course, I'm trying to avoid OWS and TEDx moonie-loonies on sheer principle.
So, I'm trying my best to screen out the cornflakes. But the bottom line is that we should be as concerned, if not more concerned, for a Monsanto world monopoly as we should about a Microsoft world monopoly. Hopefully cornflake-free further reading:
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