First Zombies and Now Food Fear

My son and his friend from grade school started a new tradition with the new season of The Walking Dead. On Sunday nights they have their homework done by 8:00 and they get together to watch this crazy zombie show. They used to talk about it during the carpool home from school last year – so I was curious. Yes, I watched.

Here’s the highlight reel: community invaded by zombies. Zombies are slow and not very smart, but strong and lethal – and eventually they turn a lot of the former residents of the community into zombies too. Zombies are not very productive, so there’s not a lot of industry left in the town. The humans that remain barricade themselves together and forage for food in different now abandoned houses. These humans are warriors against the zombies and some of them are pretty decent zombie fighters. As in every good show, not all of the humans get along. Mostly the show provides plenty of gore, the kind that 14-year-old boys love. Have you ever seen a chick swing a sword and pop off a couple of zombie heads in one move? Well, it happens.

This morning I was on the way home from the gym, and on the radio they were interviewing Max Brooks, a zombie expert who likes to talk about fun things like human extinction, zombies, Ebola – all of that good stuff. I thought I could learn a few new zombie facts and dazzle my son with mom brilliance when Max starts talking about real danger. He mentions first that we need to pay attention to the locusts eating all of our food. They’re little and sneaky, and that could happen. AND THEN he says: what if the terrorists come in and attack the Monsanto Global Seed Bank?!  Because – he says, farmers are not allowed to save seed to plant the following year. So we have this trouble with zombies, terrorists, and now Monsanto seed policies.

Had I not just worked out – with all of those endorphins now bathing my system – I may have had my typical mom zombie anger response to this misinformation. Because while people probably don’t really get scared about zombies, they do like to fret about Monsanto.

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Last week I was in Des Moines for the Global Farmer Roundtable and the World Food Prize. People from around the world were getting together to do good things about the future of food production, to learn from each other. When we got on the bus for the capitol, where they would have the ceremony, there were a handful of demonstrators. I walked by a grocery bag of rubber Satan masks. Only one demonstrator was wearing his. Now I’d like to believe that Max Brooks and these demonstrators honestly believe what they say, and they’re not inherently evil, trying to scare the rest of us about our food. So here’s the truth, Max.

  • The seeds that Monsanto sells, while a product of extensive research, are not produced in a factory and then amassed in a bank where terrorists could strike.
  • The seed technology comes from the fields. Farmers grow this seed corn all over the world.
  • Once the seed is grown, it’s not shipped to Monsanto headquarters, it stays in the market where it will be distributed in the spring.
  • There are more companies than just Monsanto that sell seed.
  • Even small seed companies tend to have production of their seed corn geographically spread out, to help them manage risk.

And the objection about not being able to save seed – it has to do with being able to recoup the large financial investment that goes into the research. Think about it this way. If you wanted a high end piece of computer software, you’d buy it with an agreement about how many computers you’re allowed to use it on. I buy my virus software this way. I can’t just give the software away to all of my friends and only pay the fee for one computer. It’s illegal. Saving high tech seed is like that. Sometimes I wonder if the people who put on Satan masks and demonstrate have ever worked in business.

So if you want to know about zombies, ask Max Brooks. If you want to know about food production, Max doesn’t have a clue. Ask a farmer.

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