Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Screed from Environmental Conservation Class

I'm realizing more and more that food is an important factor in a quest for body-freedom. I could probably write a mountain of paragraphs about that, but I'll start with pasting in the essay I handed in this morning. The assignment was to connect The Tragedy of the Commons with Food, Inc. As anybody who reads my facebook knows, I'm kind of obsessed about evil soybean seeds lately.

It isn't my best writing ever, it kind of resembles something I'd've written as a bratty teen, but I'm really not sorry that I used the phrase "destroying the fabric of democracy."

Monsanto’s ownership of genetically modified seed species is an example of the tragedy of the commons.  Their monopoly impacts the large-scale commons of the air, the world economy, biodiversity, constitutional law, and the right to sustain our bodies ethically.

At first, it would seem that farmers have the right to choose whichever seeds they want to plant on their own private property, but for several reasons that is not the case. The air is a large scale commons that covers all of the private land, and birds fly around up there. As in the example we heard in class, if a bird flies over a non-Monsanto soybean field and deposits a seed, then the owner of that field can be sued for patent infringement. This takes farmers’ right to choose what they plant and limits consumers’ choices.

The U.S. economy is a large-scale commons as well. Monsanto’s tactics, such as putting seed savers out of business by suing them for “inciting others to break the patent,” further limits the number of economic choices that farmers have. If farmers are accused of crossing Monsanto, they are often blacklisted from buying their seeds, and since there are very few other soybean options, these farmers often go out of business. We saw examples of this in Food, Inc.

Genetically modified seed technology affects the economy on a global scale as well. On Chris Jordan’s website, one of the most devastating photos “depicts 200,000 heirloom agricultural plant seeds, equal to the number of farmers in India who have committed suicide since 1997, when Monsanto introduced its genetically modified cotton seeds containing terminator technology into that region.” ( To paraphrase Annie Leonard in The Story of Stuff, not just resources but “whole communities are being wasted.” (

Ecosystems are also a commons. According to the Encyclopedia of Earth, “Biological diversity is of fundamental importance to the functioning of all natural and human-engineered ecosystems, and by extension to the ecosystem services that nature provides free of charge to human society. (  By bullying the world’s soybean population down to a single strain, Monsanto is robbing us of the benefits of millions of years of evolution and risking the safety of our entire world food supply.

Our legal system is also a commons, and I believe that Monsanto is putting our Constitutional rights at a huge risk by placing gag orders on farmers who have crossed them. If we allow the people with the most resources to take away expression from those with fewer resources, we are destroying the fabric of democracy.

I am livid at the way that my own body is in some ways enslaved to this system that is hurting everyone’s long term goals in the name of a few people’s short term gains. I plan to make an effort to buy better-sourced food, speak out when I can, and educate my students about better ways to shop and eat.

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