Factory Farming: Who are the Real Statists Here?

In the mainstream libertarian movement, accusations of “statism” typically focus on a fairly predictable set of targets. Anyone who complains of racism, sexism or other social justice issues, the economic exploitation of workers or degradation of the environment is reflexively accused of statism on the assumption that exploitation, injustice and pollution could only be problems for people who hate freedom.

This is perhaps nowhere as true as with factory farming and genetically modified crops. For example, Ron Bailey at Reason regularly defends these things against organic farming and sustainable agriculture advocates, and other supposedly “statist” enemies on the Left.

But in fact it’s hard to be more statist than the agribusiness interests themselves. The so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” — actually a rider attached to a farm bill last year — provides that unless and until the Secretary of Agriculture makes a regulatory decree against Monsanto’s genetically modified crops, courts will be prohibited from issuing injunctions against the planting and distribution of such crops based on tort litigation against them. Companies like Monsanto  regularly, repeatedly and consistently push to prohibit food producers or grocers from advertising products as GMO-free, on the grounds that such advertising amounts to disparagement of genetically modified crops by implication, when — according to the industry — “sound science” shows that GMO crops are just as safe as non-GMO ones (a claim, by the way, that Bailey parrots in virtually every article he writes on GMOs).

But guess what? Since the passage of the Monsanto Protection Act, a new study by ProfitPro (“2012 Corn Comparison Report”) has found that chlorides, formaldehyde and glyphosate — substances not found in natural corn — are present in genetically modified corn. Glyphosate, in particular, is found in GMO corn at 13 parts per million. The EPA limits glyphosate in drinking water to 0.7 ppm, and exposure at 0.1 ppm has caused organ damage in some lab animals. Glyphosate, a strong organic phosphate chelator, immobilizes positively charged minerals like manganese, cobalt, iron, zinc and copper, which are vital for normal growth and development of crops, and strips them of nutrients — which perhaps explains why non-GMO corn has 437 times the calcium, 56 times the magnesium and seven times the manganese of GMO corn. That Monsanto Protection Act just might come in handy.

As if this weren’t enough, Monsanto’s business model depends on strong patent monopolies, which it enforces in the most thuggish ways imaginable — namely, accusing farmers adjoining GMO crops of “piracy” if their crops are contaminated by Monsanto’s proprietary pollen. If anyone is entitled to legal damages, it would be the farmers whose crops are contaminated by Monsanto’s poison. But of course the USDA — which amounts to an executive committee of corporate agribusiness, staffed by political appointees who came through a revolving door from Monsanto, Cargill and ADM — doesn’t see things that way.

Meanwhile, agribusiness interests in a dozen states are pushing so-called “Ag Gag” bills that would criminalize whistleblowing and undercover investigation of animal cruelty in factory farming operations.

On top of everything else, consider that the biggest agribusiness operations are either situated on stolen land (like the big farms in California, many of which were haciendas occupied by politically favored Anglo settlers after the Mexican war), or are enormous concerns actually paid for holding most of their land out of use (like the biggest cereal farms in the Midwest and Plains). And the big California agribusiness interests depend on subsidized irrigation water from all those dams the Army Corps of Engineers likes to build.

Throw all this together, and we see that corporate agribusiness is a virtual creature of the state, and depends on the state on a daily basis not only for its profits, but its continued existence. So it turns out that the real enemies of the free market are not all those anti-GMO activists, but the agribusiness interests themselves. Perhaps that’s why former Archer Daniels Midland CEO Dwayne Andreas said “The competitor is our friend. The customer is our enemy.”

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory