Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Monsanto's Saintly CEO

Here’s a little addendum to the last post on Monsanto. The CEO of Monsanto is a Brit or a Scot named Hugh Grant; he’s also Chairman and President of what, to hear him tell it, is a corporation modeled on the work of Mother Theresa. That’s if you can ignore the “compensation” he gets for all his good works, including, in 2009, a salary of $10.8 million, and, in 2011, his sale of 150,620 shares of his corporation’s stock at $75 a share, amounting to another $11,296,500 (yes, Monsanto’s stock has done well in recent years, with annual average earnings growth of 19.2% over the last 10 years.) Of course, the business pundits don’t feel any need to ignore the compensation: indeed, they seem to take it as indicative of Grant’s prowess, with Barron’s putting him on its annual “most respected CEO” list in 2009, and Chief Executive Magazine naming him its "CEO of the Year" in 2010.
Grant himself seems to agree. In a speech featured on the website, he spoke, believe it or not, to the 2010 Business Social Responsibility Conference in New York. He started by raising the specter of population growth—“Between the time you got up this morning and the time you’ll go to bed, there will be 210,000 new people on the plant. By 2050, that’s three new Chinas.” Here, according to Grant, is where Monsanto, the alleged champion of “how to do more with less,” comes in as saviour. For Grant, that’s developing new, more efficient agricultural products, specifically a more “water-efficient Maize” that can transform the low-efficiency African farmer (corn farms yielding only 20 bushels/acre there) into an operator more akin to his high-tech American counterpart (160 bushels per acre). Grant cited a recent trip he made to Malawi, where one Monsanto project giving villagers American hybrid seed produced so much corn the ecstatic villagers had to use the local schoolhouse to store the bumper crop. For Grant, this pointed to two things: first, new partnerships to produce, store and sell the new bumper crops, and second “the promise in a seed, giving people tools we’ve had for 70 years.” Perfect language for the conference Grant was addressing, the BSR being, according to the article, the “largest and most highly-regarded conference in corporate responsibility.”

Just gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it? Seeing Monsanto and its CEO being so socially responsible, so concerned about the poor wogs in Africa, about sustainable agriculture for the newly-starving masses? But wait. What about the great GMO products, the ‘frankenfoods’ Monsanto has pioneered? What about the gathering evidence that the application of increasing quantities of glyphosate to Roundup Ready seeds are undermining the most productive agricultural acreage in the world (the American Midwest) with their deleterious effects on microorganisms upon which all life depends? What about the evidence that crops grown in such conditions and fed to livestock are turning the stomachs of the ruminants into breeding grounds for god-knows-what monstrous organisms? What about Monsanto’s lawsuits against small organic farmers whose fields have been contaminated with GMO seeds—which Monsanto terms an unlicensed use of its patented products? What about Monsanto’s corruption of the USDA, the FDA, the EPA to not only accept this genetic tinkering but to try to force it on farmers worldwide? What about the fact that higher food yields inevitably lead to benighted optimism and increasing populations that soon outstrip the new capacity? Grant mentions none of this. Nor, apparently, does the Business for Social Responsibility Conference, nor Barron’s nor Chief Executive. All simply keep on keeping on with “newspeak”—criminality dressed up in the language of empathy and social responsibility that we’ve come to expect. Forget shame. Forget the truth. All is hype and advertising and the most voracious wolves still, after all these years, safe in their sheep’s clothing, still able to persuade the majority of the sheep that steely fur is wool, that rapacious eyes are loving, that razor teeth are not for slashing and tearing but only for nuzzling.

And the lambs, ah, the lambs are silent.

Lawrence DiStasi

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