What if a corporation isn’t evil incarnate? A progressive’s dilemma.

confusedguyIt all used to be so easy. There were the good guys, us, and there were the bad guys, them. Then I meandered into the issue of GMOs. That’s when everything became complicated. I support the use of transgenics for our food supply, simply because I trust the science behind it and because all my research has led me in that direction. What bothers me is the idea that at least tacitly, I find myself in agreement with and sometimes defending corporations.

I hate corporations. They’re greedy, treat their workers like shit and have too much influence in our political system. All in all, aren’t very good citizens. Yet I find myself at times sort of defending corporations like Monsanto. I hate that.

And it gets worse. I agree with opinion pieces written by conservatives and folks from conservative and libertarian think tanks and op-eds by industry trade group representatives. It pains me to agree with a guy like Henry Miller who was a pimp for the tobacco companies, but on this issue he is right.

It all makes me uneasy and I can’t very well forward these articles to friends. They would immediately dismiss them as industry propaganda.

But here’s the thing. The fact that they may be conservative, libertarian and running dog lackeys of the oppressive bourgeoisie, they are actually correct on the issue of GMOs. And I can understand why many people don’t trust them.  If I didn’t know what I know, I wouldn’t trust them either.

These guys may have motives that are less than altruistic, but they are, in a rare instance, using facts and evidence to bolster their case. What are the odds?

I think it’s because the science is the science. It’s solid, it’s known. They don’t have to buy off scientists. They don’t have to spin it. It’s a gift to industry pimps since they don’t have to lie. Of course they don’t lie, but overstate. They overplay their hand as corporations and their apologists do.  New and Improved! This will save the world! It’s called advertising.

But, it still makes me feel queasy.

Yeah, Monsanto has a checkered past. They have since reinvented themselves. As far as evil corporations go, there are worse and more successful with more clout. I mean hell, how bad can they be if they were voted the number one place for LGBT people to work by the Human Rights Campaign? Apparently, it’s a great place to work.

In a blog post over the Real Food blog, Marc Brazeau correctly points out the absurdity of the anti claims about the power of Monsanto.

Let’s put aside the fact that this line of thinking would mean that while fossil fuel behemoths Exxon Mobil (market cap:$394.83B), Chevron (market cap:$215.45B) and BP (market cap:$150.07B) (total: $760.35B) have been completely stymied in their efforts to buy the scientific consensus they desire on climate change, but a medium large company like Monsanto (market cap: $57.43B) has been able to manipulate tens of thousands of scientists performing thousands of studies for three decades with no whistleblowers resulting in a scientific consensus that has been bent completely to their will. 

And that was written by a guy who lives in Portland.

Moving on…

Then there are industry claims labeling will increase costs of food. I’ll admit, I was wary of their claims, my natural reaction to industry claims. Anti-gmo activists claim it’s a minimal cost since it’s just a label. But I have read some non-industry explanations that detail all that is involved for what antis call a simple label. One of the best explanations was this one, a blog written by Jennie Schmidt, a farmer and registered dietician who laid it out in detail on her blog, The Foodie Farmer. It bears out the food industry claims.

Again, it doesn’t seem they are lying.

Can you say cognitive dissidence?

Now, none of this means I’ve fallen in love with corporations. Most are still exploitive and greedy. But sometimes corporations aren’t the epitome of evil. Monsanto seems to be one of those. I’m sure they’ve used what clout they have that isn’t affordable to the average citizen. Do they have lobbyists? Sure, but so does the Organic Industry. But that doesn’t make them completely evil.

A few years back Monsanto was implicated in a bribery scandal in Indonesia. According to the company, take it for what it’s worth, it was the company that brought the bribery to the attention of the feds. The bribery was uncovered in an internal audit. The people involved were fired and Monsanto willingly paid the fine from the SEC.

That doesn’t mean Monsanto is all unicorns and puppies shitting rainbows. But most companies would fight the allegations and try and cover it up.

And this nonsense about wanting to control the seed market. Maybe they do. But what is the organic industry doing by denigrating the conventional and farmers who use gmo crops? They’re trying to gain market share. They want to be the dominant food system. When have you seen companies like Monsanto, et al., denigrate organic farming?

The burning question for us all then becomes how – and how quickly – can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming? The first step is to change our labeling laws. —Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

In an age when we are trying to get corporations to become better corporate citizens it seems attacking one that is at least making an attempt to not be completely evil is counterproductive.

Bad behavior is not exclusive to faceless corporations. I wrote about a survey done a few years back by Urban Habitat that found

 in a 2011 survey of 500 organic growers in California found, “only 7.5 percent were in favor of labor standards. Forty-seven percent felt strongly that organic standards should not include labor standards and over 50 percent felt that organic certification should not require growers to provide workers with health insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacation, or the right to unionize.”

Where is the outrage from the anti crowd? Oh, groups like the Organic Consumers Association, one of the leading Monsanto demonizers, pay lip service to improving farm workers’ lives, but where does most of their money go? Certainly not to this issue.

Treatment of farm workers is a real world issue with real victims. The anti-gmo fight is an imaginary one based on imaginary fears built around an imaginary boogeyman. Back in 1951, writer and social commentator Eric Hoffer wrote in True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movement

Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil. Like an ideal deity, an ideal devil is omnipotent and omnipresent.

So, maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, or maybe not. I still have an innate distrust of corporations but less knee jerk. The left rightly made fun of Reagan when he made the Freudian slip, “Facts are stupid things,” and correctly recoiled when Karl Rove was quoted as saying  “We create our own reality.” I see the anti-gmo crowd as embracing those very ideas.