Neil Young has always had the heart and soul of an activist. Consider the closing lines of the haunting 1972 anti-heroin ballad, “The Needle and the Damage Done.”
“I’ve seen the needle and the damage done/
A little part of it in everyone/
But every junkie’s like a setting sun”
But lately, Young has aimed his ire at agribusiness. His latest effort, a double album titled “The Monsanto Years,” doesn’t pull any punches swinging at the biotech giant.
“Yeah, I want a cup of coffee but I don’t want a GMO/
I like to start my day off without helping Monsanto/
Monsanto, let our farmers grow/
What they wanna grow/
From the fields of Nebraska to the banks of the Ohio/
Farmers won’t be free to grow what they wanna grow/
If corporate control takes over the American farm/
With fascist politicians and chemical giants walking arm in arm”
Robb Fraley, Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, says Young has been one of his favorite musicians for decades, and the new album leaves him sad.
“It reminds me once again what a lousy job we have done in communicating about our business and engaging in dialogue around science with the public,” he says. “scientists need to spend more time listening to the public’s questions [about GMOs] and answering them in ways that make sense.”
Scientists don’t have all the answers, and they’re not always right, Fraley says. Moreover, he says Young’s heart is in the right place, and that they may share more common ground than he may realize.
Does Monsanto bully farmers with lawsuits and generally make life more difficult for them? That’s what Neil Young contends, and those are the talking points in anti-GMO circles, but Fraley contends reality looks a bit differently.
“We’ve worked with millions of farmers in the nearly 20 years since we’ve sold GMO seed products, and during that time fewer than a dozen lawsuits have ever gone to court,” he says.
Fraley points to GMO Answers as one way the industry is trying to connect with consumers openly and honestly about how biotechnology works.
Meantime, Young pledges to continue his crusade against Monsanto – along with anyone he feels is in cahoots with the company, including Starbucks, another prominent target of the new album.
“Still no lattes for me, folks,” he says. “I am not going to support a company that actively tries to defeat the will of the people by fighting their right to know what is in the food they eat.”