Monsanto CEO wrongfully receives an honorary degree
Amanda Wolff
Student Life, April 26 2012

Last week, Washington University announced it will award retired chair and CEO of Monsanto, Richard Mahoney, an honorary degree at the upcoming graduation ceremony. While Monsanto has strong financial ties to the University, they are complex and controversial. Monsanto is an international agricultural biotechnology company that is most famous for monopolizing the herbicide and genetically engineered seed markets. Along with several other companies, Monsanto is responsible for the disaster that has come of our global agricultural system. If Wash. U. awards honorary degrees to “distinguished men and women who have made outstanding contributions to their fields,” then the University has incorrectly selected Mahoney as a recipient.

When Richard Mahoney worked at Monsanto, he helped transform it into the biotechnology patent factory that it has become today. Monsanto is not improving agriculture; it is a company that manipulates life, endangers our environment and bankrupts farmers while claiming that it improves the lives of the starving people of Third World countries. Ask a Bt cotton farmer in India why he is abandoning his farm and he will tell you that the pesticide treadmill that Monsanto put him on failed him. I want to be clear Richard Mahoney is not a bad person. However, Wash. U. should not award such a prestigious honor to someone responsible for a company that seeks to profit off the destruction of our agricultural system.

While I understand the benefits of biotechnology and genetic manipulation such as the production of modern medicine and biodegradable plastics, Monsanto is a for-profit business that goes beyond playing the role of God. Monsanto generates profits by acquiring intellectual property patents for the genes that they produce for agricultural seeds. However, when you patent the genes of a plant or any other living organism, you are patenting life itself. Genetic engineers have no control of their product once it has left their hands, and the genes manipulated in plants are in a sense alive, often affecting the plant in unintended ways.

Monsanto is also the leading producer of Roundup herbicide. Obviously, this liberally-sprayed pesticide is toxic to humans, animals and the environment, and by producing Roundup and Roundup Ready crops, Monsanto encourages destructive agriculture practices. This company is further infamous for their aggressive lobbying techniques that have put countless innocent farmers out of business. Farmers who grow Monsanto crops sign a technology agreement that obligates them to never save their seed, ensuring that they purchase Monsanto seeds every year. Invariably, seeds containing Monsanto’s genes may blow into another farmer’s field either from wind dispersal or from casualties of shipping seeds. Frequently, Monsanto investigators will illegally trespass onto land owned by farmers who are not planting Monsanto seed, find a Monsanto seed and sue the farmer for illegally using their product, even if the farmer never planted Monsanto seed.

Our university is heavily connected to Monsanto, and their funding negatively transforms the way that Wash. U. teaches and conducts research. It is dangerous to mix education with corporations, and in the end, our university is being used by Monsanto. No longer is our biological research about gaining knowledge, but when Monsanto funds a study, they have the ultimate say in the outcome. If they do not find the results of a study favorable to generating profits for the company, they can immediately eliminate funding and prevent any results from being published. Like other departments at Wash. U., research should not be controlled or manipulated by a for-profit company because education is not a for-profit business.

If we want an unbiased education free from corporate control, then we need to cut the ties that our university has to multinational mega-corporations. We certainly should not be recognizing their CEOs for the “outstanding contributions” they make to the destruction of our environment, health and global agricultural system. Monsanto has far too much control of our university and our education, and it is wrong for Wash. U. to give such a distinguished honor to Richard Mahoney.