The most obvious answer is “yes!” Consider the story of Monsanto. The Ag-Chemical giant has been in and out of court for everything from cancer possibly caused by the wildly profitable Round-Up, to lawsuits they filed themselves against unsuspecting non-customer farmers for inadvertent cross-pollination of said farmer’s crops by Monsanto’s GMO seeds. Clearly they’re the bad guy. Those seeds, by the way, are modified to tolerate direct application of Round-Up, after which we eat the Doritos, sodas and hamburgers (via feedlot cows) that result, pesticide residue and all. So whether or not it does cause cancer, it’s no wonder the question is raised; the last time a company promoted pesticide so safe it could be eaten was DDT (also a Monsanto product, by the way), and that didn’t go well.
But before we call out Monsanto as the bad guy in the demise of modern agriculture, consider a day in the life of Hugh Grant, Monsanto’s final and highly awarded CEO. (Grant announced his departure in March, after Monsanto was acquired by Bayer.)
Grant (suddenly top candidate as bad guy in our story) led Monsanto from 2003 to 2018. He would have woken up those 15 years with a handful priorities, most of them related to profit. But does that make him a bad guy? His 10 million dollar compensation puts a target on his back, but that pales against the 2.27 billion net income he created his final year for shareholders.
And who are the shareholders?
Most of us, actually. As a part of both S&P 500 and Dow Jones, the value increase of Monsanto stock was likely tucked into your (and certainly my) 401k and IRA to create a diversified retirement account. So really, we all profited from Grant’s business acumen and profit focus. Meanwhile, we all got the cheaper food we asked for (at least indirectly by voting with our dollars), so does that make US the bad guy we’re looking for?
Maybe. But nobody can blame us for investing our money wisely, and trying to save on groceries. And our buddy Grant was actually obligated by law (and pressured by shareholders, like any corporate CEO) to create maximum shareholder value. Our hunt for a bad guy comes to an end. There IS no bad guy. As far classic storytelling goes, this story stinks!
Or does it.
Classic storytelling requires a protagonist, an unlikely hero who “undergoes change” to overcome adversity.
I think THAT’S us. We Americans are the protagonist, the hero of our own story. Historically we have asked for groceries to be cheap, creating a need for the Monsanto’s (now Bayer’s) of the world. GMO’s and factory farming have replaced poly-cultures as we vote with our dollars, at the cost of soil and human health.
But Americans are a clever bunch. At our family’s Six Sigma Ranch & Winery, we saw 4,000 guests last year who figured it out. They came to see grazing cows and sheep-filled vineyards. And they voted with their dollars to the tune of $19 per pound for bacon, and $48 for a great bottle of Tempranillo. Is that expensive? Yes. But it makes an event out of a meal with friends and family, and steers clear of many issues tied to factory farming.
So the bad news is that we all created the problem. The good news is that we can switch our purchasing from corporate farms to thousands of transparent family operations and fix it.