Skip to main content

Neil Young Rocks Monsanto

Neil Young takes on Monsanto, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart on his new album 'The Monsanto Years,' made with Willie Nelson's sons Lukas and Micah.

Canadian ex-pat Neil Young, known for his support of the First Nations’ efforts to stop environmental depredations in the tar sands and to keep families on farms in the U.S. by backing up Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid, is now taking up the fight against genetically modified organisms. His new album is The Monsanto Years, with a band called Promise of the Real, featuring Micah and Lukas Nelson, sons of Willie.

There are plenty of apparently persuasive arguments on both sides of the GMO controversy.

On one hand:

• This is not about whether organisms will be genetically modified but rather the speed of the modifications. Compare Mother Corn at First Contact to what she looks like today. For a more negative comparison, look at the tomatoes bred for mechanical harvesting that are, as César Chávez used to say, “like tennis balls.”

On the other hand:

• If GMOs are so benign, why do the GMO producing corporations fight government labeling requirements tooth and nail?

But again on the one hand:

• Corporate GMO producers would say they oppose labeling because the voting public is too stupid to sort out the science.

And yet on the other hand:

• They do not hesitate to spend corporate funds, since the U.S. Supreme Court unleashed corporate funds in the Citizens United case, to tell the voting public the corporate side of the story though bought politicians rather than legitimate advertising.

Neil Young has nailed the major corporate malefactor, and Monsanto is that regardless of what anybody thinks about GMOs. The business practices associated with GMO production are really awful and Monsanto is particularly infamous. Their favorite genetic modification is to market plants that are immune to the bad effects of their proprietary chemicals (herbicides and pesticides) and so clip the farmers at both ends of the transaction as well as clear the decks for chemical laced fruits and vegetables at the grocery store.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

If you, the farmer, buy Monsanto seeds, you buy Monsanto chemicals and you sign a promise not to save seeds or to pollinate from your Monsanto field—as if you could control the wind. Farmers refer to Monsanto as “the outfit that turns family farmers into sharecroppers” by suing over wind borne pollination and crushing individual farmers in court with corporate money.

Farm Aid, with Neil Young on the board, takes no direct position on GMOs but supports labeling so consumers have a right to know what we eat and demands that farmers have a right to save their seeds—contrary to a common requirement in GMO seed contracts---and be free of litigation based on pollen blowing in the wind.

Neil Young’s musical attack on GMOs generally and Monsanto in particular goes far beyond one corporation. On The Monsanto Years, Young takes on the underlying problem of Citizens United that causes this battle of a few guitars on one side and deep corporate pockets on the other.

When not ripping into Monsanto’s business practices, Young is singing about Safeway’s advertising, Starbucks’ ingredients, and Wal-Mart’s abuse of their workers. No matter what you think on these issues, the idea that these poor corporations are being denigrated for merely trying to serve the public and deal with world hunger is fairly preposterous.

Before Citizens United, corporations could advertise their own wares without limitation, but everybody knows advertising is self-interested. After Citizens United, corporations have been able to swing elections with gobs of money that can be easily hidden both from the public and, thanks to Congressional inaction, even from shareholders.

If this sounds terribly complicated, consider the simplicity of a local food market dominated by Safeway and Wal-Mart with the food producing farmers under the corporate thumbs of Monsanto for input and Archer-Daniels-Midland or Conagra for sale of the output. Other corporate behemoths with thumbs in the agricultural pie are not publicly traded, so we know less about them beyond examples like Cargill and Koch Industries.

If controlling food were not enough, there is the worldwide trend toward privatization of what Fortune called “the oil of the 21st century,” potable water. Corporations seek control of water in some cases to sell it to the public. In other cases, such as the Alberta tar sands and the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of shale formations to produce oil and gas, corporations seek to control sweet water so they can turn it into waste water unfit for humans or other animals to drink.

Corporate control of water and food have become more vital issues since Citizens United sealed corporate control of political communications. The GMO controversy, in Neil Young’s music, exemplifies communication and who controls it, our food and water and who controls them, our democracy and how it is being hijacked by money individuals can’t match.

Neil Young’s tour for The Monsanto Years, like his postponed benefit concert for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations Legal Defense, is an attempt to even up the growing imbalance in the free market of ideas. Activists from GMO Free USA are traveling with Young’s tour, paying their expenses from sale of concert tickets gifted to them by Young and the band, Promise of the Real.

Nothing these musicians have to say is important unless you drink water, buy your food in a supermarket, or vote according to expensive political advertising bought with invisible money. These modern troubadours do have one advantage. Even if you think the issues don’t apply to you, the music will have you smiling and tapping your foot. While listening, think back over Monsanto’s track record and Neil Young’s track record. It’s up to each listener to decide which record shows a heart of gold.