A Pre-Christmas Reflection
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.Leviticus 19:9
Back in 2008 documentary film maker Robert Kenner went on a journey throughout America to document the ways in which massive corporate interests had taken control of the agriculture industry and control nearly all aspects of the food chain from family farms, to grocery stores, restaurants and everything in between. The resulting film, “Food, Inc.” made $4.6 million at the box office (a huge success for a documentary) and was nominated for Best Documentary Film at the 2009 Academy Awards.
One segment of the film told how the production of grains had been transformed into a biochemical science dominated by the massive chemical technology firm Monsanto. Beginning in the 1970s, Monsanto developed genetically engineered strains of plants that could resist drought and produce higher crop yields. They also developed pesticides and fertilizers. Monsanto is perhaps best known as the maker of the weed killer RoundUp which basically kills every green plant it touches and was recently proven to cause Cancer in humans who handled large quantities of it. They were also one of the manufacturers of Agent Orange, the chemical the U.S. Military weaponized to defoliate the jungle during the Vietnam war.
The segment focused mostly on Monsanto’s development of hybrid seed technology and their efforts to protect their patents by forcing farmers to purchase only their seed every spring. Why is that important? Because by doing so Monsanto was attempting to eliminate the ancient agricultural practice of seed drying.
Seed drying is as old as agriculture itself. Also known as using heirloom seeds, it is the act of taking a portion of the harvest, drying and storing it over the winter to plant again the next season. These heirloom seeds create generations of the same strain of plants again and again in an endless sustainable cycle. Over several generations these plants create local characteristics that are unique to their environment sometimes creating flavors and strains of plants not found anywhere else. But Monsanto, and other massive corporations view this as a threat to their brand. They believe that by drying and replanting seeds from plants originally purchased from Monsanto farmers are stealing their intellectual property and have attempted to sue farmers who practice seed drying for trademark and copyright infringement.
What made this story even more absurd was the fact that Monsanto successfully sued one farmer and forced him to shut down his seed drying operation even though he had never purchased a single seed from Monsanto. The judge in the case ruled that since neighboring farms did purchase Monsanto seed there was no way for the farmer to prove that any of the seed from those neighboring farms hadn’t inadvertently blown into his field. The fact that there was no way Monsanto to prove that it had happened notwithstanding.
The case illustrates two very important points. First, that corporate interests have taken such complete control of our daily lives that there is simply no going back. Even if you think you are being counter cultural and non-conformist, the corporations have so completely infiltrated our lives that we simply cannot escape them even if we try. Case in point Amazon’s 2017 purchase of Whole Foods Market. Second, it is becoming increasingly difficult and even illegal to follow God’s law. Now to be fair I am not a legalist when it comes to taking on a Christian walk but when God says in Leviticus to leave a portion of your harvest behind, he means us to do so to take care of the poor and landless. It’s through this act of charity that Ruth, the great-grandmother of Jesus, was able to remain alive. By lobbying to outlaw seed drying Monsanto has effectively killed the Baby Jesus.
Hyperbole? Maybe, that’s for you to decide – Merry Christmas.