What To Do About Monsanto

Monsanto. The word alone conjures headlines and memes of so many alleged abuses against humanity and the environment it rivals ISIS. The international agro-business giant has essentially become the pop-culture bogeyman of our time.  But, why? There is an extensive list of national and international corporations that have committed atrocities against people and the environment within the past fifty years, not to mention the last century. Organizations like General Motors, Enron, British Petroleum, and KBR are just a few that top the list. Further, many of the aforementioned organizations have entities or subsidiaries that operate within our beautiful state of Hawaii.

This begs the question; how is it possible that society has such a short term memory regarding these conglomerates yet seemingly refuses to grant Monsanto the same clemency?  The short answer, according to a recent article in Modern Farmer, is that Monsanto is terrible at spin control. Decades prior to the recent GMO controversy sweeping the globe, Monsanto was involved in several other controversies. The industrial agriculture giant was amongst a handful of companies that produced and sold Dioxin, or Agent Orange, and it sold DDT and the cancer-linked Aspartame sweetener. Unlike other organizations with the same history Monsanto has clearly not done an adequate job in cleaning up its image. The debate regarding GMO’s and the purported evils Monsanto has bequeathed the earth has become increasingly emotional and less analytical in recent times; to the extent the topic requires a novel vice an editorial article.

Let us turn to what this article is truly about: what does Monsanto have to do with Hawaii? In short the answer is local jobs and their impact on the local economy and the well-being of families supported by these jobs. According to the company, Monsanto employs more than 1,000 residents in Hawaii, with 700 full-time employees and over 300 part-time or seasonal employees. The company currently operates on Oahu, Maui, and Molokai. The latter location is a critical employer for many local residents who would otherwise have to leave the island or state in order to find adequate work to support their families. Employed individuals buy things, pay their taxes, and help support many facets within their respective communities. An employed community is a healthy community. The reality is that rural and economically strained locations like Molokai currently have few options to sustain themselves. This is not to say the actions of an organization should be ignored or swept under the carpet in order to preserve jobs for the local populace. It does mean that viable solutions or varying courses of action need to be readily available in situations like this. If Monsanto is the epitome of the evil industrial complex then it is correct to say it should have no place in our state. However before we start high-fiving ourselves for ending this alleged evil empire’s reign on our island, we had best be sure to have options and opportunities readily available for the individuals and families who will no longer have a livelihood. Monsanto is no economic savior for communities like Molokai, however, it is best to plan an exit strategy for these communities before ending the company’s alleged villainous reign. One need look no further than Puerto Rico to see an example of what happens to an island with no exit strategy once the supposed “big bad wolf” is kicked out.  The issues Puerto Rico is currently experiencing are on a much larger scale than what Monsanto presents our state, however, it is a warning sign we should heed as a community and ohana.