Analyzing Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele's “Monsanto's Harvest of Fear”
In 2008, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele collaborated on an article exposing a new trend in agriculture that allows corporations with large sums of money and power to essentially monopolize certain aspects of the industry. The pair begin with a narrative about a farmer from a small town in Missouri who recalls being hunted down by private detectives for allegedly “saving seeds.” He was accused of rebelling against the binding regulations of a massive corporation entitled Monsanto whose ultimate goal is to capitalize on the world's most natural practice, that is, farming. Throughout their article, Barlett and Steele attempt to reveal the horrifying truth that lies in the business side of food cultivation and address how the issue ultimately corrupts people's ability to make choices about what they eat.
In “Monsanto's Harvest of Fear,” the authors imply that the most vital issue does not rest in a monopoly's effects on the capital market, but rather it is the personal impact that large corporations make that is the most disturbing. Barlett and Steele use the central example of the seed distributor, Monsanto, to solidify their point regarding the corruption of the agricultural industry. In this case, the article's thesis is easily identified in the claim that “the company now profoundly influences—and one day may virtually control—what we put on our tables.” (Barlett and Steele 3). To expand on this, the authors propose that the cause for concern is not so much embedded in the issue of economic competition, but instead that the most crucial problem at hand is the direct affect that this has on consumers. This is not to dilute the magnitude of the “capital problem,” but rather, the authors choose to focus more heavily on the big picture and how the issue of monopolies in the agricultural market shape an entire population's food options.
Barlett and Steele reinforce their claims by providing an inside look into the lives of agricultural laborers. By shining light on the treatment that they have received under the supervision of Monsanto, the authors support their allegations toward the company by assessing primary evidence regarding the issue. The bulk of the article consists of the authors' summaries of first-hand accounts that depict the harsh reality of the modern food production industry and its affects on farmers and consumers. Barlett and Steele treat this piece very much as an “investigative journal,” recalling meetings of the two men that they interviewed. This is most likely for the purpose of justifying their assumptions and rage toward Monsanto, as it is easy to see that the problem is in fact real. For example, when making the claim that farmers have no choice but to “settle because they don't have the money or the time to fight Monsanto” (Barlett and Steele 6), the authors immediately jump into another report of the Missouri farmer, Gary Rinehart. This provides concrete evidence by proving that there are in fact real people who are readily willing to verify the traumas that Monsanto has caused them. Alongside the personal narratives, the two include excerpts of other scholarly works that address the same issue. When talking about Rinehart's long battle with the corporation, Barlett and Steele immediately cite a report from the Washington Center for Food Safety. They recount the Center's analysis of the suits filed by the company and use examples from specific cases in which “investigators...show a farmer a photo of himself coming out of a store, to let him know he is being followed.” (6). This strategy of using both personal accounts and exterior academic commentary creates dimension within the evidence that further legitimizes the article's assertions.
To provide some context, it is important to note that Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are two field reporters who have been working together for over forty years. Their strong bond as partners along with their combined experience over time leaves it safe to conclude that they yield genuine authority on a wide range of social issues. Bearing in mind that the two have spent their entire careers exposing so many otherwise “restricted” conversations that challenge the status quo, the clear target audience is the entire general public. Barlett and Steele structure their writing almost as if to resemble a public service announcement. They fuel this by establishing an assertive tone, consciously guiding the audience's thoughts toward one central conclusion. In addition to their strong-willed intonation, the writers activate some level of fear in order to drive the message home and ensure that their work is memorable. For example, when digging into just how powerful Monsanto is, they suggest that “there's nothing to stop” (Barlett and Steele 11) certain allies of the corporation from controlling logistics of food cultivation, labeling, and distribution. Using potent vocabulary such as when describing Monsanto's accomplices as “foot soldiers” (11), further adds to the tone and intensity of the piece. The aim is to inform the population, incite rage, and direct action toward progress or reform. This is not to say that the writers of the article do not value personal interpretation, however they are more fixated on the goal of sparking a collective consciousness, and leaving the subject of how to initiate positive change in the hands of the readers. By structuring the chronology of their piece from specific to general, Barlett and Steele further supported their argument of how one seemingly straightforward “capital” issue so heavily impacts the rest of the world. Tying one argument to another creates a “train” of ideas that lays the foundation for the authors' very broad thesis.
To conclude, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele in their analysis of the monopolization of agriculture use the tools of establishing tone, strategic structure, and heavy amounts of primary evidence to make broad but legitimate generalizations about the corruption of the modern food cultivation industry. On that final note, it is important to dwell on their argument that “whoever provides the world's seeds controls the world's food supply.” (Barlett and Steele 5).
Barlett, Donald L. and Steele, James B. “Monsanto's Harvest of Fear.” Vanity Fair. May 2008: Online.
Posted 3rd December 2014 by Anonymous