By Dylan Love
To many, it has long seemed hopeless that independent farmers could stand a chance under a Monsanto monopoly. Paul Stamets is a man with a plan: A David ready to fight the Monsanto Goliath. Except Stamets isn’t throwing stones; he’s growing mushrooms.
In 2006, Stamets obtained a patent that’s being hailed as revolutionary, with claims that it could undermine Monsanto’s grip on the farming industry.
Stamets is an eminent mycologist, a person who studies fungi and its uses. “Fungi are the grand recyclers of the planet,” he says in one media report. They have the potential to regenerate ecological systems and “re-green” the planet. Before taking on pesticides, he developed mycotechnology with petroleum-eating mushrooms that clean up oil spills.
SMART pesticides, a mycotechnology he successfully patented in 2006, wouldn’t just strike a blow to Monsanto — he suggests that using mycopesticides could fuel an ecological revolution, restoring and rehabilitating polluted ecological sites. So-called “SMART” pesticides work via “sporulation,” sprouting fungi in the insects that consume them. Once the first batch of insects dies, other pests are driven away from the area.
Without pesticide control, insects can ruin crops, destroying farmers’ livelihoods and causing produce shortages. So farmers both big and small rely on chemical pesticides for success when growing food in bulk. But the costs are massive: ground water pollution, the epidemic of dying bee populations, and numerous other problems mean that there are many more difficulties than conveniences to growing food successfully. California saw over 1,000 cases of pesticide poisoning a year in the time Stamets was developing his patent.
Stamets first discovered fungi’s insect repellent potential when his own home was infested with carpenter ants. Using mushrooms with entomopathogenic (insect-killing) properties, he found a solution to his home improvement issue. Saving the environment was an added bonus.
Monsanto’s domination has expanded the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides that they produce, like Bt and Roundup. The corporation encourages farmers to spray more chemicals as insects and weeds become resistant, to the detriment of the global environment and our collective health.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Monsanto’s pesticide practices “fly in the face of established science and common-sense precautions…in favor of the company’s annual bottom line.”
SMART pesticides, on the other hand, provide an eco-friendly and natural solution, eliminating use of harmful chemicals and their negative side effects.
Most importantly, the SMART pesticides could cripple Monsanto’s monopoly on seeds – a monopoly built on their foundation of seeds genetically engineered to withstand these strong chemical herbicides and pesticides. As they spread, farmers must conform to keep their crops. Now, all that could change.
Stamets’ SMART pesticides were called “the most disruptive technology” that the industry has ever witnessed by pesticide executives themselves. His discovery has the potential to completely alter the future of food with sustainable and non-destructive growing methods.
It’s also good for business — SMART pesticides could potentially free farmers stuck under Monsanto’s thumb, paying for genetically engineered seeds and pesticides. Stamet’s patent indicates that the mycopesticide fungi can be grown at home using agricultural waste, practically for free. For small business farmers, Stamets’ SMART pesticides could be the ticket to truly sustainable, organic and independent farming. Fungi may just hold the ticket to the future of farming.