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Among the left-leaning progressives that make up a substantial part of Portland's general population, there is a profound fear of GMO food that's becoming an identity belief--a belief that's held not because it's supported by evidence, but because it helps define membership in a group.

It's frustrating to talk to the anti-GMO crowd, in part because these conversations always involve goalposts whipping around so fast I'm afraid someone will poke my eye out. It generally starts with "I don't like GMOs because food safety," but when you start talking about how evidence to support that position is as thin on the ground as snowmen in the Philippines, the goalposts quickly move to "I don't like GMOs because Monsanto." Monsanto, if you listen to Portland hippies, is a gigantic, evil mega-corporation that controls the government, buys off all the world's scientists, intimidates farmers, and rules supreme over the media.

So I got to thinking, How big is Monsanto? Because it takes quite a lot of money to do the things Monsanto is accused of doing--when they can be done at all, that is.

And I started Googling. The neat thing about publicly-traded corporations is they have to post all their financials. A quick Google search will reveal just how big any public company really is.

I expected to learn that Monsanto was big. I was surprised.

As big companies go, Monsanto is a runt. In terms of gross revenue, it is almost exactly the same size as Whole Foods and Starbucks. It's smaller than The Gap, way smaller than 7-11 and UPS, a tiny fraction of the size of Home Depot, and miniscule compared to Verizon and ExxonMobil. That's it, way down on the left on this graph I made:



You can't shake a stick in the anti-GMO crowd without hearing a dozen conspiracy theories, almost all of them centered around Monsanto. Lefties like to sneer at conservative conspiracy theories about global warming, but when it comes to GMOs, they haven't met a conspiracy theory they don't love to embrace.

Most of these conspiracy theories talk about how Monsanto, that enormous, hulking brute of a magacorporation, has somehow bought off all the world's scientists, creating a conspiracy to tell us GMOs are safe when they're not.

Now, hippie lefties usually aren't scientists. In fact, anyone who's ever been part of academia can tell you a conspiracy of scientists saying something that isn't true is only a little bit more likely than a conspiracy of cats saying tuna is evil. As an essay on Slate put it,

Think of your meanest high school mean girl at her most gleefully, underminingly vicious. Now give her a doctorate in your discipline, and a modicum of power over your future. That’s peer review.


Speaking of conspiracies of scientists, let's get back to conservatives and their "climate change" scientific conspiracy. Look at the left-hand side of the chart up there, then look at the right-hand side. Look at the left side again. Now look at the right side again.

ExxonMobil makes more than 26 times more money than Monsanto, and has a higher net profit margin, too. Combined, the country's top 5 oil companies have a gross revenue exceeding $1.3 trillion, more than 87 times Monsanto's revenue, and yet...

...they still can't get the world's scientists to say global warming isn't a thing.

If the oil companies can't buy a conspiracy of scientists, how can a pipsqueak like Monsanto manage it?

I'm planning a more in-depth blog post about GMOs and anti-GMO activism later. But the "Monsanto buys off scientists" conspiracy nuttiness needed addressing on its own, because it's so ridiculous.

It's easy to root for the underdog. One of the cheapest, most manipulative ways to make an argument is to refer to something you don't like as "Big" (Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big SCAM as I like to think of the Supplemental, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine community). We are culturally wired to love the underdog; a great deal of left identity is wrapped up in being the ones who root for the common man against Big Whatever.

So the ideology of Monsanto as the Big Enemy has emotional resonance. We like to think of the small guy standing up against Big Monsanto, when the reality is Whole Foods, so beloved of hippies everywhere, is basically the same size big corporation as the oft-hated Monsanto, and both of them are tiny in the shadow of far larger companies like 7-11 and Target.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to head down to Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte and listen to the hippies rant about how much they hate big corporations like Monsanto.


Comments

( 47 comments — Leave a comment )
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cjhm
Sep. 6th, 2014 01:22 pm (UTC)
I already have shares in Starbucks, so please keep supporting them. It looks like I should be buying Exxon.
I wonder where Tim Horton's fits in there - or will after the Burger King takeover.
Lauren Des Marteaux
Sep. 6th, 2014 02:20 pm (UTC)
On that note..
Great post!

The end made me laugh, as I recently encountered a facebook post shared from "GMO Inside" with "#StopMonsanto" and "#GMO" accompanying!

http://media.foodbabe.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/FB_SBPumpkinSpiceLatte_5-2.jpg

It took a good while to round up some numbers and post a long-ish rant in defense of this stupid latte.
kawakiisakazuki
Sep. 6th, 2014 03:52 pm (UTC)
When food crops are genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with poison that kills every other form of life, proving that the genetic engineering is safe isn't all that reassuring, though.
tacit
Sep. 6th, 2014 10:01 pm (UTC)
Um, what? Crops are genetically engineered to resist glyphosate, which is poison to many plants but not to "all other forms of life." For example, it's not all that toxic to you--it's less poisonous to humans than baking soda.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Sep. 8th, 2014 03:23 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Sep. 8th, 2014 10:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
honeybees - (Anonymous) - Sep. 9th, 2014 03:49 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: honeybees - (Anonymous) - Sep. 10th, 2014 10:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: honeybees - tacit - Sep. 10th, 2014 10:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: honeybees - (Anonymous) - Sep. 11th, 2014 06:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: honeybees - tacit - Sep. 11th, 2014 07:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: honeybees - (Anonymous) - Sep. 12th, 2014 04:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: honeybees - tacit - Sep. 12th, 2014 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: honeybees - (Anonymous) - Feb. 16th, 2015 12:25 am (UTC) - Expand
peristaltor
Sep. 6th, 2014 05:43 pm (UTC)
Alas, quite true. I object to the GMOs myself, but food safety is not my reason.

I've found it quite frustrating to be against something and to have a gazillion people who agree with me constantly undermining my argument.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 6th, 2014 06:24 pm (UTC)
poison that kills every other form of life???
"When food crops are genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with poison that kills every other form of life, proving that the genetic engineering is safe isn't all that reassuring, though."

Dude! That comment earns a double "wot?" Glyphosate is one of the least toxic pesticides available. It is not poison to every other form of life. Where on earth did you get that?
(Anonymous)
Sep. 6th, 2014 06:45 pm (UTC)
Its Income, not Revenue that is important
Well Gross Revenue isn't even relevant. You can't bribe scientists or politicians with Revenue, only INCOME. Which is a WHOLE lot smaller number than the figures on that graph. Importantly, Monsanto is also in a very competitive business, that relies on short lived patents, so they have to sink a lot of that income into ongoing research, and thus the average salary they have to pay to their employees, a large percentage of which are scientists, is going to make their expenses quite high. Thus for the last 3 years, their income has been: $1.6 Billion, $2 Billion and in 2013 $2.5 Billion. In comparison, Gross income for Starbucks, with approx. the same revenue has been 2.16B 2.59B 3.18B http://www.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/sbux/financials http://www.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/ups/financials http://www.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/mon/financials


(Anonymous)
Sep. 6th, 2014 09:10 pm (UTC)
Flawed argument
Have you heard about the Union of Concerned Scientists?

They are not flaky left-leaning hippies, yet they often voice legitimate concerns about the way in which companies such as Monsanto operate.

For example: http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/monsanto-fails-at-improving.html

Refuting the potential harm of a company such as Monsanto by pointing out that many of its critics know nothing about science is not very scientific.

It simply means that you are picking targets that are easy to ridicule while ignoring others which present legitimate scientific arguments.


Stating that it is a small company is also not very enlightening, since all the companies listed in the bar chart are very large. The fact that it is only 17th in the list of North America's biggest trading companies does not mean that its lobbying resources are non-existent.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

tacit
Sep. 7th, 2014 12:01 am (UTC)
Re: Flawed argument
Yeah, heh, about the Union of Concerned Scientists...

Doug Gurian-Sherman, the anti-GMO spokesperson at the UCS, has been dismissed, in what may signal a change on the UCS's stance on GMOs.

And rightly so, too. The "Union of Concerned Scientists" has had a bad few years, ignoring scientific research in favor of fearmongering and hysteria (not just about GMOs, but on other topics as well). Their credibility among other scientists is in tatters:

On Double Standards and the Union of Concerned Scientists: The Union of Concerned Scientists criticizes antivaxxers...then makes exactly the same arguments against GMOs that antivaxxers make against vaccines.

Union of Concerned Trolls: Deconstructing Doug Gurian-Sherman's flawed anti-GMO arguments.

Does the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Doug Gurian-Sherman misrepresent GMOs? "The article is classic Gurian-Sherman, mainstream scientists familiar with his method of operation say—a mixture of half-truths and outright misrepresentations. His comment about the lack of consensus on GMO crop safety is particularly outrageous."
Re: Flawed argument - margareta87 - Sep. 7th, 2014 09:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Sep. 7th, 2014 12:00 am (UTC)
to buy a scientist
true: Monsanto is big, Monsanto is influential, Monsanto goes for global influence, Monsanto does (almost) everything to sell their product (almost, because their PR is lousy). I do not like Monsanto very much because I had an unpleasant discussion with them.
However, I do not know anyone in my scientific environment who received money or even research funding from Monsanto. In contrast, I know a whole bunch of scientists who were bought/payed by the anti-GMO lobby (including at least one whole university department that was financed by an anti GMO consortium).
I sometimes think about what I did wrong in my life: why am I not one of the 95% of scientists who get payed by Monsanto so that I could have a yacht, a villa in the Carabean, fast cars and beautiful women like all the others have?
ashbet
Sep. 7th, 2014 12:57 am (UTC)
I dislike Monsanto because they sue farmers who save seeds.

Source: http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/saved-seed-farmer-lawsuits.aspx

Specifically, they not only enforce their patent agreement with farmers who have purchased seed directly from them (and have signed a contractual agreement not to save and replant seeds), they also vigorously pursue claims against parties with which they have no agreement (Bowman, et al.)

I frankly don't care terribly much about GMO vs. non-GMO in most contexts, although I do argue that pesticide-resistance genes can cause unintended environmental impacts to non-pest insects and plant life if pesticide application goes up.

My concerns with things like GMO salmon have to do with the fact that fish farming (GMO or not!) can do a lot of damage to the surrounding aquatic environment (parasites, exceeding load capacity for waste, etc.), and that escaped GMO salmon may interbreed with wild salmon (which isn't necessarily a bad thing overall, unless you're fixated on "species purity" -- with salmon in particular, interbreeding might cause subsequent generations to have abnormal spawning patterns.

The other issue is that it would likely damage salmon's protected status if individual populations were no longer considered to be wild-type -- and that would cause harm to subsistence fishermen and Native populations, particularly if certain rivers and fish-ladder areas were deregulated.

(The third issue with that one, ironically, feeds into your point with this post -- right now, wild-caught salmon can be certified as non-GMO, which means that the "Monsanto is the Devil" types are supporting the industry. If the wild population genome becomes contaminated by farmed GMO salmon, it may damage the salmon industry and, again, potentially lead to preserved waterways losing their protection.)

I'd eat the hell out of a GMO salmon raised on a farm that had minimal negative environmental impact, though. Salmon is *delicious!*

-- A <3

Edited at 2014-09-07 12:58 am (UTC)
Doug Ducat
Sep. 7th, 2014 06:24 am (UTC)
>>I dislike Monsanto because they sue farmers who save seeds.

Source: http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/saved-seed-farmer-lawsuits.aspx

Specifically, they not only enforce their patent agreement with farmers who have purchased seed directly from them (and have signed a contractual agreement not to save and replant seeds), they also vigorously pursue claims against parties with which they have no agreement (Bowman, et al.)<<

GMO seed is protected by patent against illegal usage. Farmers have the option to contract to use GM seeds in planting. If they do so, they must agree not to save seeds for replanting. This has been a common practice in patent protected plants, including non-GM hybrids, since the mid 1900's. This is not unique to GM seed in any way.

Monsanto does, and MUST, sue contract violators and patent violators. Most people don't realize it, but, when a company chooses not to enforce their patents, they are literally giving up the right to that patent. An example of this happening is with Aspex Eyewear in the following case:

https://www.courtlistener.com/cafc/KGo/aspex-eyewear-inc-v-clariti-eyewear-inc/

You mentioned Bowman. Bowman obtained feed stock seed that contained Roundup Ready seeds from a grain elevator and had no license to plant it, knew this, and intentionally planted it anyway. He then used Roundup to kill all the non-Gm plants and select out the RR plants. Then he harvested seeds from those plants and planted his fields with them, thinking he circumvented the patent. It was a premeditated and dishonest endeavor on his part and he deserved to be sued for it.

>>"I do argue that pesticide-resistance genes can cause unintended environmental impacts to non-pest insects and plant life if pesticide application goes up."<<

Bt and RR crops have significantly reduced the amount of pesticides used on crops. That's largely their purpose and they have been quite successful in that regard.

>>"My concerns with things like GMO salmon have to do with the fact that fish farming (GMO or not!) can do a lot of damage to the surrounding aquatic environment (parasites, exceeding load capacity for waste, etc.), and that escaped GMO salmon may interbreed with wild salmon (which isn't necessarily a bad thing overall, unless you're fixated on "species purity" -- with salmon in particular, interbreeding might cause subsequent generations to have abnormal spawning patterns."<<

I don't know much about environmental impacts of fish farming in general that you are mentioning here, however, GM salmon is being engineered to put on substantial amounts of muscle that is not present in wild salmon. For this reason they have to eat substantially more than wild salmon and are not able to survive in the wild. Even if some GM salmon escaped and bread with wild salmon, the offspring would be at such a severe disadvantage, that they wouldn't be able to survive for long. It's similar to the notion of a domestic cow escaping into the wild. It could breed with a wild ox, but it probably won't survive that long and it's offspring certainly will not.

If you would like to learn more about specifics and participate in GMO related discussions, you should come visit the GMO Skepti-forum. We have compiled a huge amount of information on our wiki and have ongoing discussions about GMOs, farming, pesticide use, Monsanto, and other related topics.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/GMOSF/
(no subject) - ashbet - Sep. 7th, 2014 07:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ashbet - Sep. 7th, 2014 07:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Sep. 7th, 2014 05:13 pm (UTC)
Walmart?
Curious as to why Walmart is not on the chart. From a quick search, seems their revenue is just above Exxon.
tacit
Sep. 8th, 2014 02:08 am (UTC)
Re: Walmart?
Walmart would be the extreme right hand side of the chart, above ExxonMobil.

I wasn't tryingo to put together a comprehensive list of large companies, but rather just Googling companies that came to mind more or less randomly, to get a sense of the relative size of Monsanto with respect to other companies we're all familiar with. There are dozens of large companies way bigger than Monsanto that would dominate the right of the chart: Apple, GM, Wal-Mart, General Electric, CVS, Costco, IBM, and more.
Damian Mason
Sep. 8th, 2014 03:28 pm (UTC)
awesome
Love this article for the data and the commentary!
(Anonymous)
Sep. 8th, 2014 06:41 pm (UTC)
What? Who do you work for?
I wonder if you work Monsanto, it seems like it as this article states nothing relevant. People hate Monsanto because of their cut throat lawsuits. They hate Monsanto because once you use gmo you cannot go back. GMO is transgenic once its in the environment its there for good. They hate Monsanto and GMO because its a lie, it doesn't produce higher yield, it takes more water to grow plants, and its all untested beyond the Monsanto controlled fda. Not only that the water is becoming a toxic mix of herbicides and pesticides that is killing all sorts of life. The reasons for it are become less and less since the super weeds are adapting too quickly so you need more pesticides not less. The only way to work with nature is with it not against it.
tacit
Sep. 8th, 2014 11:53 pm (UTC)
Re: What? Who do you work for?
Nope, I don't work for Monsanto. Do you by any chance work for Whole Foods? How much do they pay you to go on the Internet and talk about the "Monsanto-controlled FDA" and "toxic water," I wonder?
(Anonymous)
Sep. 8th, 2014 09:17 pm (UTC)
Monsanto
You did not comment on Monsanto's, near total domination and control of the seeds that farmers use to grow our crops.
tacit
Sep. 8th, 2014 11:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Monsanto
Monsanto's "near total domination and control of the seeds that farmers use to grow our crops"? As seed companies go they're neither particularly large nor particularly powerful.

It's common to read anti-GMO "news" sites that say things like "Monsanto controls our food supply." I've read articles that make claims like "Monsanto controls 95% of the seed market" and "Monsanto controls all the nation's farms." In fact, Monsanto's market share is only around 30% of the commercial seed market overall; DuPont and Syngenta are bigger and control more of the market. (For instance, as of 2012, the last year for which I can find data online, DuPont has a 36% market share in soybeans, vs. Monsanto's 28%.)

DuPont spends more in lobbying every year than Monsanto, but both Monsanto and DuPont combined spend way less than Google. Privately-held company Cargill is a giant compared to Monsanto (it's bigger than Ford in terms of gross revenue), and exerts far more influence in agribusiness, in part because it is aggressive about vertical integration--Cargill sells seed, fertilizer, pesticide, and animal feed, and also operates granaries, mills, and slaughterhouses. In areas where it operates, that vertical integration allows it to set prices by controlling the entire market from end to end.

Singling out Monsanto is a little weird. They're not especially large, they're not particularly influential, and yet people will make outrageous claims like "Monsanto controls 95% of the seed market" with a straight face.

I honestly don't get it--doesn't anyone do fact-checking any more?
Re: Monsanto - shumpgulion - Jul. 24th, 2015 09:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Sep. 9th, 2014 11:18 am (UTC)
The power of graphs (or charts...). Illustrating the difference between information and fact.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 9th, 2014 01:50 pm (UTC)
What really are GMO's
People are so concerned about genetically modified organisms but I wonder if people realize that this has essentially been going on since 12,000 B.C. through selective breeding in which plants were selected for desirable traits to improve humans' quality of life. I wonder how people in starving countries would feel if they didn't have access to life-saving GMO's like golden rice. Golden rice is a variety of Oryza sativa rice produced through genetic engineering to biosynthesize beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, in the edible parts of rice. The research was conducted with the goal of producing a fortified food to be grown and consumed in areas with a shortage of dietary vitamin A, a deficiency which is estimated to kill 670,000 children under the age of 5 each year.
Saving lives sounds pretty "evil" to me. LOL
The great thing about living in the United States is we can choose if we want to pay more for our food and have deep pockets to do so and shop at Whole Foods or are okay with shopping at places that can accomodate those with smaller budgets and are okay with eating the healthiest and safest food supply in the world!
Biggest thing I hope for is that we can all appreciate each others' opinions and agree to disagree, but not instill fear into people with misinformation or cause businesses hardships just because you don't agree with them... kind of how misinformation made Americans loose jobs and hurt the beef industry with lean, finely textured beef.... But that's a whole other topic.
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