Monsanto leads in genetically modified agriculture, trails in ethics

ItMonstanto's gen mod cotton a ball of trouble's not easy being Monsanto. At least, not this year. While remaining the undisputed colossus of food and agriculture -- think Microsoft with even less competition -- Monsanto reported that second quarter net income declined by nearly 19%.

Don't shed any tears for Monsanto, though. In actual dollars it "only" pulled in around a net $887 million as opposed to well over $1 billion in previous second quarters. Nevertheless, the decline isn't shocking considering the kind of year it's been for the corporation so far.

In addition to the Justice Department investigation into its monopolistic business practices, and the news than its genetically modified seeds might cause organ failure, Monsanto has recently been named on a list of the world's most to least ethical corporations.

The Swiss research outfit Covalence ranked 581 corporations from most ethical to least ethical. And where was Monsanto on the list?

Dead last. 581 out of 581. The least ethical corporation in the world. Now, you might be asking whether they included some of the other well-known and notorious corporations. I mean, they had to have left out baddies like Philip Morris, AIG or Exxon Mobil -- surely they would've been ranked as less ethical than Monsanto. Actually, they all made the list and, in fact, scored better than Monsanto. Philip Morris was 577, Halliburton was one notch better at 580, AIG was 563. Health insurance giant WellPoint, which recently hiked premiums for customers in California by as much as 39%, ranked 438.

How awful does a corporation have to be for it to be regarded as less ethical than every single major tobacco company in existence -- companies that market solely in cancer and addiction? Such a dismal ranking below the realms of cancer merchants implies that Monsanto must actually work hard to screw over the world -- not to mention screwing over other corporations.

On that note, we're still not sure what the long-term negative health impact might be from Monsanto's genetically modified crops. At this point, I'd be satisfied if you and I could at least know whether or not the nacho chips our kids are eating at school contain engineered corn. Unless we exclusively buy organic food, there's no way of knowing exactly what species of mutant product we're getting, much less the potentially negative health impacts of that product.

All we can do is to guess our way through the grocery store, zigzagging around one questionable item after another. And they keep making more.

Last week, we learned that scientists are working on an enhanced soybean that can actually help you lose weight. Naturally (or unnaturally in this case), Monsanto is supporting the research and will surely have first dibs on the patent, if its history of patent hoarding is any indication.

Basically, soy that contains high amounts of an enzyme called beta-conglycinin might actually block the absorption of certain fat-inducing proteins by the digestive system. They've also discovered additional proteins beyond beta-conglycinin that might accomplish the same thing.

The scientist working on the gut-busting soy told Science Daily, "The peptides fight inflammation by blocking key enzymes in the body's immune response."

So they're working on a soybean that meddles with the human immune system. Not to be too snarky about it, but I can't imagine anything going wrong with that.

A colleague who specializes in food-borne illnesses told me, "The fake proteins won't be digestible by the system. And as they run through, they'll flush out every nutrient in your body with it!" So the result is that we'll have very skinny, but very sick people. I suppose the old Fernando maxim applies here: "It's better to look good than to feel good."

And finally, Monsanto has announced that one of the first "superbugs," the pink bollworm in India, has developed a resistance to its genetically-modified cotton seed known as "Bollgard." The seed is specially modified and patented by Monsanto to kill the pink bollworm, but, as the saying goes, life found a way.

This is dangerous on a couple of levels. First, as predicted, Monsanto GMOs are indeed giving rise to super bugs that will evolve beyond the ability to be controlled or killed, thus making all crops susceptible to destruction. Second, it makes farmers dependent upon Monsanto for the next generation of seeds capable of killing the next generation of superbug. The cycle continues ad infinitum unless something is done -- and soon.

It goes without saying that Monsanto is using the resistant pink bollworm as a marketing tool for selling Bollgard II: the latest, greatest seed that will kill the superbugs. That is, until the rise of the super-duper-bugs, I suppose.

Incidentally, it's worth noting that in the same press release in which it announces this destructive, yet profitable turn of events, it also begs for government-funded -- dare I write "socialist" -- corporate welfare: "To support such innovation, Government policies should encourage investment in R&D which will result in Indian farmers having a wider choice of better and advanced technologies."

Scott Eden from wrote this week that the decline in Monsanto's stock price could have something to do with investors shying away from the controversy that hangs like a genetically modified cloud over the company. The results of a reader poll in Eden's report shows somewhat split results. Around 44% of respondents are shying away from Monsanto due to the controversy, while 55% don't seem to mind. However, I don't imagine this 10% margin holding up as the stories pile up and corporate earnings decline.

Monsanto still has the market share to endure beyond this, unfortunately. It would take a groundswell of epic proportions to take it down. But it's not entirely out of the question, considering how quickly events are turning against them.

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