Excerpted with gratitude from:

By Barbara Knox, Ph.D.

Corporations & Our Food Supply

Recently I learned that so-called "terminator seeds" have been genetically engineered and patented by the Delta and Pine Corporation, an American Seed Company.

From these seeds plants grow that produce seeds designed not to germinate. Farmers and gardeners must buy new seeds every year. This corporation has the exclusive right to deny or issue licenses to use these seeds. The seeds can't be shared, nor is the age old practice of collecting and saving seed and passing it down from generation to generation possible.

And another thing I found out : a few powerful corporations have bought most of the smaller seed companies, and they only stock what is in high demand. Lots fewer varieties are for sale. Perhaps you can't find the seed for the kind of tomatoes your grandmother used to grow. It was dropped because, while those tomatoes tasted better, they didn't ship well. Agribusinesses didn't buy their seed.

The Monsanto Corporation makes the weed killer Roundup. It has bioengineered and owns the patent on soybeans that are immune to Roundup. Unlabeled, these soybeans are now a common component of many processed foods and animal feeds. Even though it is not yet known whether the Roundup Ready soybeans cause allergies in humans. There is concern that the altered genes may cross to other plants, perhaps producing Roundup resistant or immune noxious weeds, or plants harmful to bees or other creatures that pollinate or feed on them. Of course these soybeans increase the use of the Roundup herbicide, one that is already the third leading cause of illness among California farm workers. We do know that some other genetic manipulations have had harmful, unintended consequences. Brazil nut genes were inserted into soybeans and caused severe allergic reactions in human test subjects. Bacteria were genetically engineered to speed up the manufacture of ethanol. They also killed off a fungus in the soil necessary for the plants' roots to function.

Corporations and Environmental Disasters

There is a Pennsylvania state law that prevents local governments from passing ordinances that keep pork-producing corporations from coming into their area and setting up "farms" with thousands of pigs, with all their attendant potential for pollution disasters. I have no proof that legislators were influenced by pork corporations, but who else benefits from this law? Large contributions to campaigns by these corporations are a matter of record.

Defending Against Corporate Harm

I have mentioned only a few examples of corporate abuse. Citizens who fight against these and other destructive practices of giant corporations can find themselves tied up for years in a battle to stop just one hog factory from locating in their neighborhood, or to keep just one plant from discharging toxic wastes into one stream. How did corporations get to be so powerful? The colonists fought the revolution to free themselves from the East India Company, the Hudson Bay Company, and the other corporations chartered by King George. Even the colonies themselves were chartered for the sole purpose of stripping the New World of its resources and sending its wealth back to England. The revolutionists hated corporate oppression as much as they hated the King.

In fact, the framers of the constitution distrusted corporate power so completely that they did not even mention corporations in the document. They left it to the citizenry, through their elected legislators, to charter only those corporations necessary for the public good.

The states only chartered a handful in the first few decades of the new country. In the beginning, the states limited the life of corporations to 20 to 50 years, and they retained the right to dissolve any corporation for doing harm. States even prohibited corporations from making any political contributions, or influencing legislation either directly or indirectly. State legislatures set the rate that corporations could charge for their products or services and limited them in many other ways. They regarded them with great suspicion.

Times changed; the people forgot about the problems of colonial days.

But even a hundred years later, highly placed government officials, still wary, warned about the wealth and power of the corporations chartered by the states. In 1888 president Grover Cleveland said, "Corporations, which should be carefully restrained creatures of the law and servants of the people, are fast becoming the peoples masters". As late as 1916 Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis referred to corporations as "the Frankenstein monster which states have created by their corporation laws".

Corporate Power

How is it that corporations are now so powerful that few dare to criticize them? The corporately controlled media dismiss clear, practical thinking about corporations as mere "conspiracy theories" cooked up by "unbalanced crackpots". We citizens are not told that we, the sovereign people, still have the power to dictate terms to corporations ( or indeed that we ever possessed that power and exercised it). Instead, unless we just passively accept the harm they do, we spend our time fighting in the regulatory agencies and the courts, where the odds are stacked against us. By getting us to attack each separate instance of failure to follow the law, they deflect us from reigning in the corporation itself and limiting it to serving the needs of the people.

More and more we are living in a world where everything is for sale, where the people no longer can protect human rights, their environment, or their way of life when these values interfere with corporate profits. It comes down, not regulations, but to power, to who defines what corporations are and what they can do. The challenge is not to eliminate corporations, but for we the people, to take back our sovereignty over them.

Continued on next page

Part I   |   Part II   |   Part III   |   Part IV

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