Monsanto and the Industrialization of Food

The industrialization of agriculture in the United States has increased significantly in recent years.  Known as the Green Revolution, the “transformation of agriculture […] through agricultural research, technology transfer, and infrastructure development” has both health and environmental impacts (Welsch, 2015).  In particular, new biotechnology produced by Monsanto causes changes to foodways around the world.  Monsanto is an agriculture company that creates a variety of products for farms.  The company is constantly being scrutinized for their production of genetically modified seeds, among other things.

Monsanto produces modified seeds which are insect and herbicide resistant.  They also have used selective breeding techniques to produce the “best” varieties of vegetables, such as sweet corn and squash.  Unfortunately, the production of the “better” seeds has many negative impacts on the farming industry.  Farmers are forced to sign a contract with Monsanto saying that they will not save their seeds; this means that every year farmers must purchase new seeds from Monsanto in order to grow their crops.

This industrialization of seeds has a large impact on our environment.  Pesticides, such as Roundup (owned by Monsanto), need to be applied to crops to prevent weed growth.  Since seeds are now modified to survive the application of pesticides, these farmers can apply the weed killer more liberally on their fields.  The pesticides then end up polluting water sources through runoff.   As time goes on, the pests can become resistant to the pesticides, and more harsh chemical must be used to kill them.  Moreover, the addition of pesticides to our soil is a factor in soil depletion, which means that soil contains less nutrients.  This vicious cycle is detrimental to our environment.  Anthropologically speaking, our relationship with our environment has changed for the worse.  It is important that we begin to think about how we can help improve our environment while continuing to produce food for the country.  Sustainability is a huge issue that farmers and environmentalists must begin to consider.      

The industrialization of food in the United States also has a huge impact on our health.  Genetically modified foods maybe be altered to create a better tasting product, but these are not necessarily better for our health.  Over the past 50 years, fruits and vegetables have been declining in nutrients.  For example, an apple from 1970 contained more nutrients than the same apple that we eat today.  This is due to the industrialization of our food: our soil contains less nutrients and the seeds germinate faster, creating a less nutritious product. This small change can impact us in a large way and contributes to the fact that many people in the United States are both overweight and malnourished.  Obesity is a huge issue revolving around the food industry and as foods have become more processed, obesity rates have risen.  It is possible to be obese but malnourished because the foods that people consume are not healthy.  A connection can be made linking seeds from Monsanto to malnourishment because the increasing industrialization of farming yields a less nutrient-rich crop.  Looking at this issue from an anthropological perspective makes it clear that there is a link between health problems in the United States and the food industry.  

Welsch, R. L., & Vivanco, L. A. (2015) Cultural anthropology: Asking questions about humanity. New York: Oxford University Press.


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