Sunday, June 10, 2012

Monsantophobia Explained

Monsantophobia: A schizophrenic bi-polar like condition characterized by an irrational fear of modern science and technology as it relates to food production in general, and in many cases specifically related to Monsanto Corporation.  Monsantophobia is prevalent throughout the population, including those with either left or right wing political tendencies.

Monsantophobia is NOT TO BE CONFUSED with a general concern for food safety, or even general criticism of biotechnology, or refusal to consume, grow, or market GMO products. Where criticism and fear of biotechnology crosses the line is when one attempts to project their personal preferences related to biotechnology onto others through petitioning the government for laws, regulations, or other restrictions that override or limit other people's preferences about biotechnology and food production. This obsession to limit the freedoms of others, and control their day to day personal choices from gate to plate is the most egregious aspect of what can be characterized as monsantophobia.

Examples of Monsantophobic Behavior:

Many (largely left leaning)critics of biotechnology are concerned that giant agribusinesses (like Monsanto) have too much market power and control over the food supply.  Some on the right often have the same concern, but believe Monsanto to simply be another wing of government oppression.  Thus, we have both anticapitalist and antigovernment activists in the same camp. Yet, in spite of the large body of scientific evidence supporting the safety of biotechnology, they support the existing outdated excessive regulatory framework (administered by not one but many regulatory agencies including the FDA, EPA, and USDA) that creates barriers to entry and economies of scale that promote and encourage larger corporations at the expense of small startups and public research. In addition, disregarding the science to the contrary, they also want to add to the regulatory burden by petitioning for unscientific labeling laws. 

Many left leaning critics are also very supportive of subsidies and regulations to promote environmental sustainability, yet, reject the evidence showing that through the price and profit motive almost all family farmers have adopted GMOs and created environmental benefits outweighing the impacts all subsidies and bureacratic edicts and government interventions. 

In addition, many of these same critics while rejecting the science supporting biotechnology are critical of those on the right for rejecting the evidence related to climate change.

Many on the right often promote free markets and capitalism, yet when it comes to biotechnology (which is the synergy of science, technology, and capitalism) many want more restrictions and even call for labeling. Instead of allowing family farms to choose the technologies best suited to meet their needs, we often can find some on the right supporting anit-GMO anti-capitalist and interventionist ideals.

This irrational fear of biotechnology that characterizes monsantophobia leads to policy preferences that are diametrically at odds and inconsistent. This fear in its extreme isn't that different from other conspiracy theories ( 'truther' theories about 911, etc.). When the government pulls experts from industry and academia that have experience in biotechnology, its viewed as putting 'Monsanto people' in charge of our food supply.  Take for instance the following article Obama Moves To Crush Poland After Global Genetic Disaster Revealed from the European Union Times:

"To what the Americans will do to protect themselves from the “mad scientists” unleashed by the Obama regime against them there appears to be nothing as, and as always, their mainstream propaganda media organs will not let them know the truth, while at the same time they refuse to listen to any others."

Solutions to  Monsantophobia

Perhaps the best approach is education. Borrowing a quote from Jonathan Foley, "Sometimes we need to differentiate popular environmentalism (a collection of beliefs) from environmental science (a body of evidence)." Sharing knowledge about modern agriculture with others becomes a challenge when popular media figures such as Oprah and Dr. Oz work to perpetuate the mythology surrounding the dangers of biotechnology. Sometimes it takes a little outreach from the farm, as this one farmer sent an open invitation to Oprah Winfrey to 'come to my farm and see why biotechnology makes sense.'

Disclosure: The term 'monsantophobia' is not my own. I think that I first came across the term at the very well written Eat Drink Better blog post entitled 'Monsantophobia: Sustainability Concern or Wealthy Convenience'. Referring to people that are critical of biotechnology as monsantophobes probably isn't the best approach when communicating with them. However, recognizing the inconsistencies in policies and positions related to biotechnology (that we might characterize as 'monsantophobic') may be a useful exercise for determining an effective approach to communicating to critics the benefits of modern sustainable agriculture.


Joyce Pinson said...

Irrational fear? REALLY? Ever heard of The Irish Potato famine and a little something called monoculture?

Science is a good thing, providing many advances. It can also be a bad thing; in the case of vegetable seed and Monsanto, eroding genetic diversity.

Body of evidence? Consider this

JanPrimus said...

This sounds like one hell of a one sided corporate sponsored hit piece on people that have problems with Monsanto. Talk of Capitalism but not Anti-Trust behavior, Suing farmers that get cross pollinated due to wind, resisting legislation to allow for the labeling of GMO's, and many more issues. This story does not hold up to showing both sides of a is just as slanted as the story it is trying to report.

TroyB said...

Great piece.

By 2050 it is predicted there will be 9 billion mouths to feed on this planet. It means we need to produce as much food in the next 40 growing seasons as we have in the last 4,000 years combined.

That kind of food production will not happen simply by magic, pixie dust or unicorn farts...

Anonymous said...

@Joyce: Look at these for more on genetic diversity.
National Geographic, while creating a nice infographic, may have it wrong.

@JanPriumus: I think you've caught monsantophobia! :) Your first concern (lawsuits) is a myth; if it were true everyone would be sued because the wind does blow with incredible regularity.

The second (labeling) is true. However, it doesn't make sense to label something that is safe...that has no impact on the final food product, so I see no problems with that.

Matt Bogard said...

Thanks for all of the comments. A few follwup notes- I address the issue of monsanto and anti-trust thoroughly via the link to my post on the Monsanto anti-trust case, monopoly, and regulation. The answer of course, is modernization and deregulation. However, we see many otherwise libertarians complaining about lack standards and even supporting more restrictions on speech and consumer choice via unscientific labeling laws. While they would normally applaud the market for delivering better options than governent, and oppose similar restrictions that have free market solutions like smoking bans, they seem to forget the market provides an abundance of alternatives to GMOs. People and companes are free to choose organic, natural, non-GMO or whatever 'politically correct' food option they prefer. I cant grasp this overwhelming desire among otherwise libertarians to have such a zeal for controlling our food choices , and this uncharacteristic flavor for anticapitalist propoganda. I have an easier time accepting it from the left.

Matt Bogard said...

I also am careful to explain, 'monsantophobia' is not an endictment of people that have issues with monsanto. Only those that want to project those positions onto others, and promote increased regulation to override others free will (and effectively remove a valuable tool from the family farmer's tool box). Monsantophobia is a toung in cheek analogy illustrating the many inconsistencies and contradictory views of extreme critics of modern science and capitalism.

Anonymous said...

As an anti-capitalist - as a Communist - I'd disagree with your comment. As communists, it isn't corporations or science in which we oppose, but how corporations and science is being used via profit-driven interests.

When private corporations are using legitimate science, like GMO production, for profit only, I have problems with that. GMO production itself? I have absolutely no problem with that. Whenever new robotic technology emerges, and is used for war instead of benefiting humanity, I have problems with that.

As a Communist, I obviously wish for socialism instead of capitalism, because I believe more progress and more advancement, in both corporations and science, can occur through social upheaval, collective organizing, and creative technological innovation.

As for this anti-science fringe group Take the Flour Back, as far as I'm concerned, they're a bunch of ultra-leftists who are fueled and guided more by emotion than actual scientific, critical thought. The problem with the anti-GMO crowds is, 1) pseudoscience, and 2) conspiracy theories. Both of these guide them, and it turns them into paranoid eco-terrorists, rather than critically thinking activists.

You and me may disagree with what we wish socio-economically, but I can guarantee you that we agree about science and technology being our future, and what'll drive practically everything. GMO production is just one of many scientific advancements in which has a bright future, and I'll support it whether it be under capitalism or socialism, but I'd much rather prefer it under socialism.

Sharon Lorraine said...

Speaking from my own experience, I was diagnosed with an illness whereby medical science said stem cells were my only hope. When I quit eating GMO food and ate only organic food, I was able to get off all my medications.

I'm almost completely recovered now, and I continue to avoid GMO food like the plague. Consumers have a right to know what's in their food. Did you know that Biotech leaders have tried to cover up animal deaths from Genetically Modified Corn?

Thankfully I found out about GMO's in time to reverse the damage they had done to my body. Do you really want to take the chance of being their next statistic? If you don't care about your own health, then at least help educate your fellow man about the risks of eating GMO's. is a good site to help you get educated on this subject.

Anonymous said...

People can put markets before health all they want, but that does not change that cattle died after eating Bt cotton or that pigs got kidney disease from feed that was RoundUp (TM) ready. That's all this "monsantophobia" lie is about-- obscuring the true problem that consumers who want to eat healthy food are not being told via labels what they are eating. If being force-fed weed killer is your idea of "freedom," then all you care about is money.