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12.09.09

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Monsanto at the Coffee House

The nightmare adventure of Sally Smart, cub reporter

By Juliane Poirier


Was that a nightmare, or did she really have coffee with the father of genetically engineered corn? It was late. Cub reporter Sally Smart sat with an untouched latte in the darkest corner of the coffee shop, writing her first story about agribusiness. "Hmm, GE corn seeds may triple in price in 2010," Sally mumbled to herself, head dropping. The clock struck midnight and Sally fell asleep.

The apparition that woke her was Monsanto incarnate, a decrepit figure in an Armani suit. He appe–ared beside her table, a clattering cup and saucer in one hand and a paper bag in the other, and sat down without asking. The young reporter recoiled from the whiff of chemicals, the pallid face. Her glance fell to his lapel, and Sally identified Monsanto instantly by the gold pin he wore, shaped like an ear of corn.

"Like it?" he asked stabbing at it with a bony index finger. His voice was gravelly, like Tom Waits on a downer. "Kind of a joke, really. I hate corn."

"Oh?" Sally said, recalling well-studied notes. "Is that natural corn you hate? You surely couldn't despise your own creation, the Franken-corn you engineered to fatten livestock and children. The American junk food industry is built on GE corn syrup. Millions of kids would not be facing obesity, diabetes and shortened life spans without your contributions to corn."

"That's harsh," he said, lifting his coffee with an unsteady hand. Unblinking eyes bulged at her over the cup rim, impervious as a cadaver to the hot steam roiling from the brew. "Don't blame federal farm subsidies on me. And kids who eat cheap food don't need to live as long as the rest of us," he added. "The poor are disposable and always have been." He gulped the scalding drink without flinching.

"I can't believe you said that," Sally said weakly, her stomach turning. She had never met the incarnation of a multinational corporation before, even in a nightmare.

"Why fret over it," he said as the shoulder pads in his suit went up and down mechanically. This creep is not real, she told herself. Even though Sally had learned in school that corporations have the rights of persons, there was, like, no way Monsanto was this dead-looking guy having coffee at her table.

"Nightmares are a spin-free zone," he said, leaning closer to her. "So I don't have to make up any pleasantries." His mouth stretched open to reveal yellow kernels where teeth should be. "I do it for the money. There, I said it. Now, let's enjoy ourselves. Do you like my suit?"

Sally leaned back in horror. Then, with a silent prayer to the crusading late columnist Molly Ivins for courage, Sally picked up her notes and read aloud. "Genetically engineered crops have increased herbicide use by 383 million pounds in the last 13 years," she read. "But you, Mr. Monsanto," she pointed, "you engineered the crops to contain Roundup, so why should there be a rise in herbicide use?"

"Oh, please," he replied flatly. "Of course weeds developed resistance to my Roundup Ready corn and soy plants. But I also sell Roundup separately, so I make money either way. It's a win-win." He unscrewed the cap from a bottle inside the paper bag and poured a tan liquid into his coffee, gulping greedily. "Want some?"

"Farmers are complaining that your latest GE corn and soy plants, Roundup Ready 2, have lower yields," she said. "And these inferior new GE seeds cost 42 percent more than the old seeds."

Monsanto barked a laugh, spraying espresso on his sleeve. "Isn't it clever?" he asked. "I make them dependent for seed upgrades, and even if it's an inferior product, each new version costs more. And when my Roundup-implanted crops don't kill weeds as promised, farmers have to buy more of the Roundup I sell. Get it?"

Sally stood up. "I get it," she said. "So will my readers." She picked up her things and marched confidently out of the nightmare.

"Hey!" Monsanto yelled after her in slurred speech. "You never said whether you liked my suit."


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