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Neil Young, Monsanto, Starbucks, and “The Monsanto Years”

By Roberta Attanasio

About two months ago, legendary music icon Neil Young announced the release of “The Monsanto Years“, which will come out on June 29th. The album — the result of a collaboration between Neil Young and Promise of the Real, a band featuring Lukas and Micah Nelson (sons of the legendary Willie Nelson) — includes songs criticizing the multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto. The North American summer tour dates for “The Monsanto Years” have also been released — the tour starts July 5th at the Marcus Amphitheater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Neil Young
Neil Young. Photo credit: Takahiro Kyono, CC BY 2.0

Monsanto is a leader producer of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. For years, Young has railed against it. However, Monsanto is not the only corporate target in the album — other targets are Chevron, Walmart and Starbucks. In the interest of hearing from both sides, Billboard sent Young’s lyrics to these organizations and asked for a response. Monsanto replied: “Many of us at Monsanto have been and are fans of Neil Young.  Unfortunately, for some of us, his current album may fail to reflect our strong beliefs in what we do every day to help make agriculture more sustainable.  We recognize there is a lot of misinformation about who we are and what we do – and unfortunately several of those myths seem to be captured in these lyrics.”

On the title track, Young sings: “The farmer knows he’s got to grow what he can sell, Monsanto, Monsanto / So he signs a deal for GMOs that makes life hell with Monsanto, Monsanto / Every year he buys the patented seeds / Poison-ready they’re what the corporation needs, Monsanto.

Last year, Young announced on his website that he was boycotting Starbucks over the coffee company’s involvement in a lawsuit against the state of Vermont’s new requirements to label genetically modified ingredients. He wrote: “I used to line up and get my latte everyday, but yesterday was my last one. Starbucks has teamed up with Monsanto to sue Vermont, and stop accurate food labeling.”

In the song “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop“, Neil Young and Promise of the Real sing: “A rock star bucks a coffee shop / Yeah, I want a cup of coffee / But I don’t want a GMO / I’d like to start my day off
Without helpin’ Monsanto / Ask Starbucks if coffee has GMO… / Monsanto let our farmers grow what they want to grow / When the people of Vermont voted to label food with GMOs / So they would know what was in what the farmer grows / Monsanto and Starbucks through the grocery manufacturers alliance / Sued the state of Vermont to overturn the people’s will / Monsanto and Starbucks, mothers want to know what they feed their children.

In response to the Billboard inquiry, Starbucks replied: “Starbucks has not taken a position on the issue of GMO [genetically modified organism] labeling. As a company with stores and a product presence in every state, we prefer a national solution.”

As of today (June 18, 2015), Young states on his website: “Still no latte’s for me folks. 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.” And he adds: “Contrary to the misleading information coming from Starbucks, the coffee company is in alliance with other Food Giants, including Monsanto, in suing the state of Vermont to overturn the GMO labeling laws voted for by the people. An alliance is a pact, coalition or friendship between two or more parties, made in order to advance common goals and to secure common interests. Starbucks and Monsanto are members of the Grocery Manufacturers Alliance. The Grocery Manufacturers Alliance sued the state of Vermont to overturn the people’s will to mandate GMO labeling in Vermont. In communications with Starbucks the company was unresponsive to the direct question on whether Starbuck’s coffee product contained GMOs.”

In the first video below, Neil Young performs his song “Monsanto Years” on Maui at OUTGROW MONSANTO (May 23, 2015.) The second video below is the official music video for “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop.”

One Comment

  • Kristen Russell

    A genetically modified organism, or GMO, are “living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering” and are present in the foods we eat. Prior to reading this blog, I did not really pay attention to what I was eating and whether nor not the foods I was ingesting contain GMOs, so I was inspired to do some research about GMOs. According to an article posted by on GMO Education’s website “current commercially GM crops in the U.S. include soy, cotton, canola, sugar beets, corn, papaya, zucchini, yellow squash” and many more. Additionally, the FDA does not require GMOs to be labeled in food ingredient lists! I continued to read and learned that GMOs have been related and linked to “allergic and toxic reactions, sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to many organs studied in lab animals.” What is more alarming to me is the effect of GMOs on humans is not known and has not been extensively studied. I find it kind of alarming that we are ingesting GMOs without really knowing what can happen. Some studies are being done, however, to learn more. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology “several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GMOs including fertility, immune problems, accelerating aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.” The AAEM has even began to ask doctors to suggest advising patients to avoid GM foods. In the future, I plan to pay more attention to what foods I put into my mouth and whether the contain GMOs or not. And as far as Neil Young calling out companies who use GMOs in their products, I applaud him for using his position to raise awareness.

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