Editorials in the Sept. 6 and 13 editions of the Campus Times have called for change in UR’s investment policy, and the campus group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)is pushing for major changes. The group has put up many posters in Wilson Commons, for example. Unfortunately, SDS has failed to do proper fact-checking and is calling on the University to make irresponsible investment choices based on insufficient research. These recommendations would harm University finances and punish companies that actually make the world a better place.
One of SDS’ targets is Monsanto, a company whose genetic modification technologies are often talked about but rarely understood. The company regularly makes Forbes’ list of top innovators — and for good reason. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and other technologies pioneered by Monsanto have dramatically increased crop yields, saving thousands, if not millions, from hunger. The safety of genetically modified food has been heavily investigated and there’s no grounds for serious concerns.
The anti-Monsanto campaigners at UR have presented several arguments. The most ridiculous is the claim in a Sept. 6 CT editorial that “Monsanto’s predatory business practices have put farmers and their families into severe debt, which contributes to an estimated 1,000 farmer suicides each month in India alone.” The campaigners’ poster cites a sensationalistic article in the Daily Mail (a British tabloid) to support this claim.
However, studies conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute and other scholarly sources debunked these claims. Farmer suicides have decreased since the introduction of Monsanto’s cotton to India, in part because the technology raised yields by 40 percent. Nobel Prizes have been given for less.
The claim in the Sept. 6 editorial that “Monsanto’s profit comes at great ecological, economic and social cost to farming communities and global food security” is equally bogus. SDS’s poster points to a study indicating that some pests might be evolving resistance to genetically modified pest-resistance crops.
Unfortunately, this fails to take into account greater problems (runoff, water pollution, etc.) associated with conventional pesticides, which pests can also adapt to. Pest-resistant GMOs take genes from plants that naturally evolved to ward off specific pests and insert them in other plants. This prevents the use of chemical pesticides that kill nearly every insect. Monsanto also produces pesticides, but Monsanto is unique in leading an agricultural transition toward alternatives that environmentalists should love.
People imagine that because so many special interest groups campaign against Monsanto, something must be wrong with the company. The Sept. 13 editorial claimed that Monsanto had been “formally deemed socially irresponsible by the United Nations and Amnesty International.” In reality, Amnesty’s website contains no documents condemning Monsanto, nor has any U.N. resolution condemned the company. One can find U.N. speeches mentioning Monsanto, but these are not official U.N. actions. Anyone confused about the difference should see Foreign Policy magazine’s list of the top 10 craziest things said in the U.N.
There are also problems with accusations made against other companies. SDS is encouraging the school to divest from Raytheon due to “war profiteering.” Its poster specifically cites Raytheon’s production of cruise missiles and other precision-guided munitions and its development of pain weapons. But these systems are designed as alternatives to other weapons which kill far more innocent people. The poster also cites environmental lawsuits against Raytheon, omitting the fact that Raytheon won these lawsuits.
SDS has called for increased student involvement in investment decisions, and I agree — but let’s base our concerns on thorough research, not populism.
Taylor is a member of the class of 2015.