Monday, 30 August 2010

Gates Foundation Invests in Monsanto and I write to Bill and Melinda Gates

30 August 2010


Bill and Melinda Gates
c/o Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Main Office
Seattle, Washington
info@gatesfoundation.org


Dear Mr and Mrs Gates

I recently read on the Community Alliance for Global Justice website about your Foundation's investment in the transnational corporation Monsanto (http://www.seattleglobaljustice.org/ ). This caused me to wonder if either of you have read the book by Marie-Monique Robin called The World According to Monsanto, Pollution, Corruption, and the Control of our Food Supply, An Investigation into the World’s Most Controversial Company, New York: The New Press, 2010. It is a very well written book that could change your minds about investing in this company. As the title suggests, Robin uncovers corporate behaviour that has been destroying lives, communities, biodiversity and the environment for over 100 years and is still doing it.

I am in the process of researching to write my own book – first one. I have set up a blog and make new posts regularly. It’s called “When Corporations Rule the Food Chain, Agri-food business law and policy: health and environment issues” and can be found at http://foodlawandpolicy.blogspot.com/. I’ve included a bibliography and events page to show where I am in my research. Although I originally set out to write this letter solely in response to the news of your Foundation's investment in Monsanto, I now think it is more constructive to offer my project as one small, albeit worthwhile, alternative investment. Like many other books, I hope it will be enjoyable to read and add to the knowledge bank. What follows is a brief history of this project and some of my ideas.

News that GM potato test trials were to begin in Norfolk not far from where I live in Peterborough, England, was the catalyst that got me started on this project. That was in June. I’ve covered a lot of ground since then. As an organic whole food supporter and having lived in Northern Ireland for around twenty years, I found that I was very much out of touch with what has been happening in the food industry. It may be that I am naive, but when I think about it, I still cannot believe that we spray toxic chemicals on our food or give animals drugs to make them produce more food. But, there are many people in the world who have the same difficulty I have in understanding our “developed” way of producing food.

Not long ago, I watched a video where you, Mr Gates, expressed interest in genetically modified organisms (GMOs – EU definition on my blog) to help developing countries. This is a popular theme with corporations in the industry and many writers. However, I find gaps and flaws in the logic that GMOs are beneficial. One difficulty arises because of our tendency to put things in isolated boxes. We have to remember that GMOs are being developed as part of industrial farming. When discussing starving people in developing countries, we are taking GMOs from an industrial perspective and applying it to countries that primarily have systems of smallholder farms. But more than this, I think we should first look at what we have become as developed nations. Is this an achievement that smallholder farmers and developing countries can admire? Have we attained superior health and managed our environment in a positive fashion? Has the development of GMOs over the past decade or so shown signs of improving food systems anywhere or only added to corporate wealth?

To this end, I would ask you to look at the parent country of Monsanto, the company you have chosen to invest in. Look at the United States and see the state of the nation’s health. You will see that people are not well. They are fat, depressed, on medications, and generally getting unhealthier. The nation is not well environmentally either. Fast food and industrial farms create much pollution. This is what you are promoting by investing in Monsanto. And you are promoting the spread of it throughout the world.

The efficiency models for food production were developed by the founders of fast food, many of whom did not have much formal education. Their ideas were simple and have made fortunes for a few people. But their legacy is a food production system that makes people eat and work like machines. Instead of nutritional food and employment that suits our nature, transnational corporations have created a global conveyer belt of misery. I do not believe that replacing the misery of starving with the misery caused by fast food is a desirable goal.

Developed societies have come to the point where they believe that science can ‘fix’ nature and humans are superior to nature. These are mistaken beliefs. We have the power to improve nature, but only if we work in tandem with it because, of course, we are part of nature. And the popular notion of escaping to outer space when this planet is “used up” is hardly a panacea.

I am planning to write an article for my blog about amaranth. So far, I have discovered that it is a highly nutritious, prolific plant that can be grown in awkward climates, especially in developing countries. Yet, my research to date mostly shows it being used as a colour additive and complained about because of the weedy variety -- the herbicide-resistant strain of Amaranthus palmeri or Palmer amaranth which is glyphosate-resistant and so cannot be killed by Monsanto’s popular Roundup herbicide. However, it can also be a beneficial weed as a companion plant. I believe that this plant may be one of nature’s sign posts for sustainably solving our global food problems and I plan to look into why, after 26 years since a similar claim was made by a US government research report, it has not been followed.

Thank you for considering these issues. I would be delighted to hear from you.

Yours sincerely

Jennie Wilson

Jennie Wilson, BSc, LLB, GDip (Law), PGDip (LPC)