Monsanto is a massive company that focuses on biotechnology. The declining honeybee population of the world is a major threat to many agricultural products, and finding out why bee populations are dropping off is a serious concern for many researchers. This sample environmental science paper argues there is no direct evidence that Monsanto’s genetically modified plants are to blame, the company should aid researchers as much as possible and that it does, in fact, bear an ethical responsibility to prevent bee population decline.
Monsanto’s ethical choices and the impact on declining bee populations
It has been estimated that bees pollinate nearly 75% of all crops used for human consumption. However, the global bee population has been in decline for many years. This startling trend could lead to a global food shortage if the problem is not rectified soon. There is increasing public awareness that the giant biotechnology company Monsanto, and its use of transgenic seeds which produce their own pesticides, may be a large part of the problem in regards to increased bee mortality.
Public outrage has caused the Monsanto Company to take steps to show that they have a vested interest in sustaining the global bee population. Monsanto held a conference in June to show that they were interested in working closely with the apiarist community and environmental groups. Monsanto also recently announced that they have been researching a way to eliminate a parasite that has been devastating bee populations.
Company denies claims
Though these actions seem to show that Monsanto is actively trying to ensure that their products do not have an adverse effect on bee populations, many view these actions as an attempt to improve their public image rather than acknowledge any wrongdoing and attempt to fix flaws in their transgenic plants. The Monsanto Company is behaving unethically because they continually repress research that would reflect negatively on their products.
Monsanto also employs lobbyists to gain a legal advantage that benefits their company financially without regard for any negative environmental impacts that their products may cause. The Monsanto Company spends millions to promote its public image rather than addressing a potential flaw in their products while simultaneously continuing to sell transgenic seeds and pesticides that could decimate the world’s bee population and cause a global crisis.
Overall, their response to potential threats to the global bee population caused by their genetically enhanced plants has been unethical and it could have dire consequences.
Lack of evidence linking bee decline to Monsanto
Since there isn’t a definitive link between Monsanto products and the declining bee population, it is arguable that the Monsanto Company has no ethical responsibility to either terminate use of their genetically enhanced plants and pesticides used to enhance plant growth or research new methods of pest control that are proven to be safe for bees. It is illogical for the Monsanto Company to spend millions of dollars to rectify a problem that they are not sure actually exists.
Many different studies have been done regarding the negative effects of pesticides and transgenic plants on bee populations and there has not yet been a definitive link between these pesticides and increased bee mortality rates.
A recent analysis of twenty-five different studies that examined the effects of insect-resistant crops on honeybees showed, “When all studies were combined, no statistically significant effect of But Cry protein treatments on survival of honey bees was detected” (Duane, Marnier, Hosing, Direly, Huang, 2008, p. 4).
The majority of scientific studies elicit the same conclusion. While researchers have found traces of pesticides in bees, their larva, and the honey they produce, there is not sufficient evidence to support the hypothesis that Monsanto’s pesticides and genetically altered plants violated environmental policies in the U.S. or are the culprits behind the declining bee population.
With sparse evidence to support claims that Monsanto products are causing the recent decline in the health of global bee populations, the Monsanto Company continues to manufacture its potentially hazardous products with impunity.
However, Monsanto’s pesticides and transgenic seeds are a relatively new innovation so there has not been enough time to adequately research the effects of these products on the environment. Furthermore, this research has been stymied by Monsanto in what many consumers view as an unethical attempt to prevent the link between their products and increased bee mortality rates from ever being proved.
The company’s ethical responsibility
Though Monsanto has no ethical responsibility to amend an unproven link between their products and the declining bee population, their decision to hinder research into this matter is decidedly unethical. Since a proven link between Monsanto products and an increased bee mortality rate would hurt Monsanto financially, they have a vested interest in ensuring that any research which might prove this link does not occur.
Since Monsanto holds the patent on all of their transgenic seeds, anyone who wants to research their products must also sign a licensing agreement.
According to a recent article in the Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law, Monsanto has used this licensing agreement to not only prevent the reproduction of their transgenic seeds and pesticides but “have also explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research” (Gregory, 2013, p. 766).
This means that Monsanto is the judge of who gets to research their products’ effects on bee populations. This results in many studies that reflect negatively on Monsanto being forbidden to be published in peer-reviewed journals. Consequently, this also allows for more studies that do not show a definitive link between transgenic plants and increased bee mortality to be published.
Taking this fact into account, it is not difficult to see why there is not sufficient scientific data that links Monsanto’s products with the decline in bee population. However, restricting access to their intellectual property through a licensing agreement is not the only way that Monsanto has been accused of stymieing research into the negative effects of their products on the global bee population
Colony Collapse Disorder and genetically modified plants
The Monsanto Company recently purchased the company Beeologics. This company was originally created to research the link the between transgenic seeds and pesticides and the growing rate of bee mortality. Their emphasis was on finding this aforementioned link and then eliminating the genetically engineered plants if they were proved to be the culprit.
Beeologics was at the forefront of this research until it was purchased by Monsanto in 2011.
Now, according to an article in St. Louis Today, “The company is working on a new technology intended to control a tiny insect, called the varroa mite, that has been a major factor in the decimation of honey bees” (Gustin, 2013).
Though this may seem like an ethical endeavor by Monsanto, it is important to note that they shifted the emphasis of Beeologics away from proving the link between transgenic seeds and the declining bee population. Furthermore, Monsanto has made the goal of Beeologics to find a way to apply a cure to bees rather than trying to fix flaws in their own products.
Monsanto dodging bee research
If Beeologics had continued on its original path and proved a link between Monsanto Products and the declining bee population, Monsanto would have suffered tremendous financial losses. Instead, Monsanto purchased the company and integrated a marketing strategy that shifted its goal away from research that might reflect negatively upon Monsanto.
Researching a way to improve bees’ resistance to problems that may be caused by Monsanto products is less costly to the company than being forced to stop selling Monsanto products and attempting to fix any flaws that are discovered. Monsanto is essentially attempting to fix the effects of a problem rather than fix the cause.
This is both an illogical and unethical solution that is being undertaken strictly to save Monsanto money. This seemingly altruistic research is only a small part of the Monsanto Company’s recent public relations campaign.
Varroa mite responsible for some bee decline
The newly announced research into the varroa mite is one of many ways that the Monsanto Company has been trying to improve its public image. Monsanto recently held a summit in June to address the concerns of beekeepers and environmental groups.
According to Jerry Hayes, who heads Monsanto’s research on bees, the purpose of this conference was, “to connect the beekeeping industry more closely to Monsanto, and to connect Monsanto more closely to the beekeeping industry” (cited in Gustin, 2013).
In lieu of this recent conference, the Monsanto Company also instituted an advisory council on honey bee health. All of these actions are ways for the Monsanto Company to bolster its public image. However, the summit and newly introduced council only serve as a strategic marketing and media plan designed to redirect attention away from any flaws that may be discovered in Monsanto’s products.
The Monsanto Company continues to ignore any criticism of their products while continuing to sell their transgenic seeds to farmers without regard for any detrimental effects their products may be causing. In addition to repressing research that may be detrimental to their company and attempting to shift the spotlight away from their potentially dangerous products, the Monsanto Company also spends millions of dollars every year on lobbyists to ensure that they receive beneficial treatment from the United States’ legal system.
Congressional ruling regarding Monsanto’s role in bee destruction
Congress passed the innocuous sounding Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act earlier this year. However, within this Act was an anonymously submitted provision in section 735 that has caused a public outrage. This provision has led some to refer to this act colloquially as the “Monsanto Protection Act”. The provision reads as follows:
“In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation” (U.S. Senate, 2013, Sect. 735).
This basic idea of this provision is that the federal courts would not have the power to discontinue the sale or planting of potentially hazardous genetically modified food crops while the Department of Agriculture was investigating the risks associated with those crops. Furthermore, it allows for the manufacturing and use of potentially hazardous crops upon request from companies or farmers. The idea that a company could continue to legally produce a product that could be potentially devastating to the environment and public health during an investigation is ludicrous.
Though there has been a public outcry for this provision to be repealed, companies like Monsanto consistently spend money on lobbyists to ensure that they can continue to produce their potentially hazardous products. No senator has come forth claiming responsibility for the provision and it has not been repealed yet. It is decidedly unethical for Monsanto to back a law that allows them to make money off of a product that can have dire environmental consequences.
In conclusion, the Monsanto Company has been conducting business unethically because they continually repress any research that reflects negatively on their products through licensing agreements. They also employ lobbyists to gain beneficial legal treatment regardless of any detrimental effect that their company’s products may have on the environment. They have achieved the ability to sell a potentially hazardous product even during an ongoing investigation into said product’s environmental and health risks.
Furthermore, they also spend money to bolster their public image and keep the spotlight away from their potentially dangerous products rather than spending money to research ways to remove any potential threats to the environment that are contained in their products. The Monsanto Company creates genetically altered plants in an attempt to bolster the world’s food supply by creating plants that grow bigger, faster, and are more resistant to pests. The idea that they continue to produce and sell a product which could potentially decimate the global bee population and lead to a global food shortage is in direct opposition to the purpose of their company and is both illogical, and unethical.
Duan, J. J., Marvier, M., Huesing, J., Dively, G., Huang, Z. Y., & Hector, A. (2008). A meta-analysis of effects of bt crops on honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae). PLoS ONE, 3(1), 1-6. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from the Google Scholar database.
Gregory, G. (2013). What’s immoral about Monsanto? Strengthening the roots of the moral utility requirement by amending the U.S. Patent Act. Cardozo Journal of International & Comparative Law, 21(3), 759-794. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from the Academic Search Complete database.
Gustin, G. (2013, June 14). Monsanto hopes to win over beekeepers with cure. St. Louis Post. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/monsanto-hopes-to-win-over-beekeepers-with-cure/article_19e82066-0e5f-5a57-bcfd-9232d81db401.html
U.S. Senate. 113th Congress, 1st Session. H.R. 933, Consolidated and further continuing appropriations act. Washington, Government Printing Office, 2013. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr933/text