After hearing that GM crops could potentially increase yields, three farmers in Schmeiser’s region planted fields of Monsanto’s seed. Winds pushed pollen from GM canola into Schmeiser’s fields, and the plants cross-pollinated. The breed he had been cultivating for 50 years was now contaminated by Monsanto’s GM canola.
Did Monsanto apologize? No. It sued Schmeiser for patent infringement — first charging the farmer per acre of contamination, then slapping him with another suit for $1 million and attempting to seize his land and farming equipment. After a seven-year battle, the Canadian Supreme Court eventually ruled against him but let him keep his farm and his $1 million. He was one of the lucky ones.
Schmeiser’s case illustrates how Monsanto is dominating — and terrifying — the agricultural world with secretive technologies, strong-arm tactics, and government approval. According to the Center for Food Safety, Monsanto has filed at least 142 similar lawsuits against farmers for alleged infringement of its patents or abuse of its technology agreement. The company has won 72 judgments totaling almost $24 million.
Agriculture is a big industry in Florida. About $130 billion-per-year big, the second-largest industry behind tourism. Statewide, 9 million acres of farmland are divided into more than 47,500 commercial farms. In fact, Palm Beach County is the largest agricultural county east of the Mississippi River.
According to the USDA, 95,000 acres of corn, 125,000 acres of upland cotton, and 25,000 acres of soybeans have been planted in the state in 2013. With Food and Water Watch warning that nationally, 90 to 93 percent of such crops are genetically modified, Floridians have cause to know what’s lurking up the food chain.
A Biotech Revolution
When you’re good at something, you want to leverage that. Monsanto’s specialty is killing stuff.
When lawsuits piled up, putting a crimp in long-term profitability, Monsanto hatched a less lethal, more lucrative plan. It would attempt to take control of the world’s food supply.
This mission started in the mid-’90s, when the company began developing genetically modified crops like soybeans, corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, and wheat (much of it used for livestock feed). Monsanto bred crops that were immune to its leading weed killer, Roundup. That meant farmers no longer had to till the land to kill weeds, as they’d done for hundreds of years. They could simply blast their fields with chemicals. The weeds would die while the crops grew unaffected. Problem solved.
Monsanto put a wonderful spin on this development: The so-called “No-Till Revolution” promised greater yields, better profits for the family farm, and a heightened ability to feed a growing world.
But there was a dark side. First, farmers grew dependent on Monsanto, having to buy new seed every year, along with Monsanto’s pesticides. The effects on human health were largely unknown — would it harm people to consume foods whose genetic profile had suddenly changed after millions of years? Or to eat the animals that had consumed those plants? What about ripple effects on ecosystems?
But agriculture had placed the belligerent strongman in charge of the buffet line.
Monsanto squeezed out competitors by buying the biggest seed companies, spending $12 billion on the splurge. The company bought up the best shelf space and distribution channels. Its braying of global benevolence began to look much more like a naked power grab.
Seed prices began to soar. Since 1996, the cost of soybeans has increased 325 percent. Corn has risen 259 percent. And the price of genetically modified cotton has jumped a stunning 516 percent.
Instead of feeding the world, Monsanto drove prices through the roof — taking the biggest share for itself. A study by Dr. Charles Benbrook at Washington State University found that rapidly increasing seed and pesticide costs were tamping farmers’ income, cutting them from any benefits of the new technology.
Still, Monsanto was doing its best to make them play along. It offered steep discounts to independent dealers willing to restrict themselves to selling mostly Monsanto products. These same contracts brought severe punishment if independents ever sold out to a rival. U.S. regulators showed little concern for Monsanto’s expanding power.
“They’re a pesticide company that’s bought up seed firms,” says Bill Freese, a scientist at the Center for Food Safety. “Businesswise, it’s a beautiful, really smart strategy. It’s just awful for agriculture and the environment.”
Today, Monsanto seeds cover 40 percent of America’s crop acres — and 27 percent worldwide. The company makes nearly $8 billion per year.
“If you put control over plant and genetic resources into the hands of the private sector… and anybody thinks that plant breeding is still going to be used to solve society’s real problems and to advance food security, I have a bridge to sell them,” says Benbrook.
Seeds of Destruction
It didn’t used to be like this. At one time, seed companies were just large-scale farmers who grew various strains for next year’s crop. Most of the innovative hybrids and cross-breeding was done the old-fashioned way at public universities. The results were shared publicly.
“It was done in a completely open-sourced way,” says Benbrook. “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture exchanged all sort of seeds with other scientists and researchers all over the world. This free trade and exchange of plant genetic resources was the foundation of progress in plant breeding. And in less than a decade, it was over.”
The first crack appeared in 1970, when Congress empowered the USDA to grant exclusive marketing rights to novel strains — with the exception that farmers could replant the seeds if they chose and patented varieties must be provided to researchers.
But that wasn’t enough. Corporations wanted more control, and they got it with a dramatic, landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1980 that allowed the patenting of living organisms. The decision was intended to increase research and innovation. But it did the opposite, encouraging market concentration.
Monsanto, which declined an interview request for this article, would soon gobble up every rival seed company in sight. It patented the best seeds for genetic engineering, leaving only the inferior for sale as non-GM brands.
Syngenta and DuPont both sued, accusing Monsanto of monopolistic practices and a “scorched earth campaign.” But instead of bringing reform, the chemical giants reached settlements that granted them licenses to use, sell, and cross-develop Monsanto products. (Some DuPont suits still drag on today.)
It wasn’t until 2009 that the Justice Department, working in concert with several state attorneys general, began investigating the company for antitrust violations. But three years later, the feds quietly dropped the case. (They also ignored interview requests for this article.)
Dr. Peter Carstensen, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, said some states were interested in pursuing the case and “some of the staff in the antitrust division wanted to do something, but top management — you say the word ‘patent’ and they panic.”
Set the Lawyers to Stun
Historically, farmers were able to save money on seeds by using those produced by last year’s crops for the coming year’s planting. But because Monsanto owns patents on its genetically modified strains, it forces farmers to buy new seeds every year.
Armed with lawyers and private investigators, the company has embarked on a campaign of spying and intimidation to stop any farmer from replanting his seeds.
Farmers call them the “seed police,” using words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe Monsanto’s tactics. The company’s agents fan out into small towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants. Some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records.
In one case, Monsanto accused Indiana farmer David Runyon of using its soybean seeds, despite documented fact that he’d bought nonpatented seed from local universities for years. While attempting to pressure Runyon, Monsanto’s lawyer claimed the company had an agreement with the Indiana Department of Agriculture to search his land.
One problem: Indiana didn’t have a Department of Agriculture at the time. Like most Monsanto investigations, the case never went to trial and would appear to be more about intimidation than anything. Runyon incurred substantial costs defending himself without having done anything wrong. In 2006, the Center for Food Safety estimated that Monsanto had pressured as many as 4,500 farmers into paying settlements worth as much as $160 million.
Yet Monsanto wanted even more leverage. So it naturally turned to Congress.
Earlier this year, a little-noticed provision was slipped into a budget resolution. The measure, pushed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), granted the company an unheard-of get-out-of-jail-free card, which critics derisively dubbed “The Monsanto Protection Act.”
There have been some indications of adverse health effects, but Monsanto has largely kept its products from researchers. Long-term studies have been limited, but scientists have found greater prevalence of tumors and digestive problems in rats fed GM corn and potatoes, and digestive issues for livestock eating GM feed. Those who have published studies critical of GM have been besieged by industry-funded critics disputing their finding, assailing their professional reputations, and effectively muddying the water. The feds have never bothered to extensively study GM foods. Instead, they’ve basically taken Monsanto’s word that all is kosher. So organic farmers and their allies sued the company in 2009, claiming too little study had been done on Monsanto’s GM sugar beets.
A year later, a judge agreed, ordering all recently planted GM sugar beet crops destroyed until their environmental impact was studied.
The Monsanto Protection Act was designed to end such rulings. It essentially bars judges from intervening in the midst of lawsuits — a notion that would seem highly unconstitutional.
Not that Congress noticed. Monsanto’s spent more than $10 million on campaign contributions during the past decade — plus another $70 million on lobbying since 1998. The money speaks so loudly, Congress has become tone-deaf.
In fact, the U.S. government has become Monsanto’s de facto lobbyist in countries distrustful of GM safety. Two years ago, WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables showing how the feds had lobbied foreign governments to weaken laws and encourage the planting of genetically modified crops in Third World countries.
Other wires from State Department diplomats ask for money to fly in corporate flacks to lean on government officials. Even Mr. Environment, former Vice President Al Gore, was key in getting France to briefly approve Monsanto’s GM corn.
These days, the company has infiltrated the highest levels of government. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is a former Monsanto lawyer, and the company’s former and current employees are in high-level posts at the USDA and FDA.
But the real coup came in 2010, when President Obama appointed former Monsanto Vice President Michael Taylor as the FDA’s new deputy commissioner for foods. It was akin to making George Zimmerman the czar of gun safety.
Trust Us. Why Would We Lie?
At the same time Monsanto was cornering the food supply, its principal products — GM crops — were receiving less scrutiny than an NSA contractor.
Monsanto understood early on the best way to stave off bad publicity was to suppress independent research. Until recently, when negotiating an agreement with major universities, the company had severely restricted access to its seeds by requiring researchers to apply for a license and get approval from the company about any proposed research. The documentary Scientists Under Attack: Genetic Engineering in the Magnetic Field of Money noted that nearly 95 percent of genetic engineering research is paid for and controlled by corporations like Monsanto.
Meanwhile, former employees embedded in government make sure the feds never get too nosy.
Meet Michael Taylor. He’s gone back and forth from government to Monsanto enough times that it’s not a revolving door; it’s a Bat-pole. During an early-’90s stint with the FDA, he helped usher bovine growth hormone milk into the food supply and wrote the decision that kept the government out of Monsanto’s GM crop business.
Known as “substantial equivalence,” this policy declared that genetically modified products are essentially the same as their non-GM counterparts — and therefore require no additional labeling, food safety, or toxicity tests. Never mind that no accepted science backed his theory.
“It’s simply a political calculation invented by Michael Taylor and Monsanto and adopted by U.S. federal policymakers to resist labeling,” says Jim Gerritsen, a Maine farmer. “You have this collusion between corporations and the government, and the essence is that the people’s interest isn’t being served.”
The FDA approves GM crops by doing no testing of its own but by simply taking Monsanto’s word for their safety. Amusingly, Monsanto agrees that it should have nothing to do with verifying safety, says spokesman Phil Angell. “Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”
So if neither Monsanto nor the feds is ensuring that the food supply is safe, who is?
The answer: No one.
We’ve Got Bigger Problems Now
So far, it appears the GM movement has done little more than raise the cost of food.
A 2009 study by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman looked at four Monsanto seeds and found only minimal increases in yield. And since GM crops cost more to produce, their economic benefits are questionable at best.
“It pales in comparison to other conventional approaches,” says Gurian-Sherman. “It’s a lot more expensive, and it comes with a lot of baggage that goes with it, like pesticide use, monopoly issues, and control of the seed supply.”
Meanwhile, the use of pesticides has soared as weeds and insects become increasingly resistant to these death sprays. Since GM crops were introduced in 1996, pesticide use has increased by 404 million pounds. Last year, Syngenta, one of the world’s largest pesticide makers, reported that sales of its major corn soil insecticide more than doubled in 2012, a response to increased resistance to Monsanto’s pesticides.
Part of the blame belongs to a monoculture that developed around farming. Farmers know it’s better to rotate the crops and pesticides and leave fields fallow for a season. But when corn prices are high, who wants to grow a less profitable crop? The result’s been soil degradation, relatively static yields, and an epidemic of weed and insect resistance.
Weeds and insects are fighting back with their own law — the law of natural selection. Last year, 49 percent of surveyed farmers reported Roundup-resistant weeds on their farms, up from 34 percent the year before. The problem costs farmers more than $1 billion annually.
Nature, as it’s proved so often before, will not be easily vanquished.
Pests like Roundup-resistant pigweed can grow thick as your arm and more than six feet high, requiring removal by hand. Many farmers simply abandon fields that have been infested with it. Pigweed has infested Florida cotton fields, and farmers are now using old pesticides on top of Roundup to combat it.
To kill these adaptive pests, chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow are developing crops capable of withstanding even harsher pesticides. It’s producing an endless cycle of greater pesticide use at commensurate financial and environmental cost.
“It’s not about stewardship of the land,” says Thomas Earnshaw, sustainable farmer, educator, and founder of Outlaw Farmers in the Florida Panhandle. “The north Panhandle is probably the most contaminated land in the state — because of the monoculture farming with all the cotton and soy, both are “Roundup Ready” [GM crops]. They’re just spraying chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers into the soil, it’s getting into the water table, and farmers aren’t even making any more money — biotech is.”
Next Stop… the World!
The biggest problem for Monsanto’s global growth: It doesn’t have the same juice with foreign governments as it does with ours. That’s why it relies on the State Department to work as its taxpayer-funded lobbyist abroad.
Yet that’s becoming increasingly difficult. Other nations aren’t as willing to play corporate water boy as America is. The countries that need GM seeds often can’t afford them (or don’t trust Monsanto). And the nations that can afford them (other than us) don’t really want them (or don’t trust Monsanto).
Though the European Union imports 30 million tons of GM crops annually for livestock feed, it’s approved only two GM crops for human consumption. Although Brazil is poised to become the world’s largest soybean exporter on the strength of Monsanto seed, thousands of farmers there are suing Monsanto for more than $600 million after the company continued to charge them royalties two years after the expiration of its patent. Ecuador and Peru have shied away from GM crops. And even in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, Haiti mistrusted Monsanto so much that it declined its offer of seeds, even with assurances that the seed wasn’t GM.
In April, biotech companies took another hit when the European Union banned neonicotinoids — AKA “neo-nics” — one of the most powerful and popular insecticides in the world. It’s a derivative of nicotine that’s quite poisonous to plants and insects. German giant Bayer CropScience and Syngenta both make neo-nics, which are used to coat seeds, protecting crops in their early growth stage. In America, 90 percent of America’s corn crop comes with the coating.
The problem is that plants sweat these chemicals out in the morning dew, where they’re picked up by bees like a morning cup of Starbucks. Last year, a study linked neo-nics to the collapse of bee colonies, which threatens the entire food system. One-quarter of the human diet is pollinated by bees.
The mysterious collapse of colonies — in which bees simply fly off and die — has been reported as far back as 1918. Yet over the past seven years, mortality rates have tripled. Some U.S. regions are witnessing the death of more than half their populations, especially at corn planting time.
Last year’s study indicates a link to Monsanto’s GM corn, which has been widely treated with neo-nics since 2005.
But while other countries run from the problem, the U.S. government is content to let its citizens serve as guinea pigs. Beekeepers, though, are starting to fight back. This year, two separate lawsuits have been filed against the EPA demanding a more stringent risk assessment process and labeling laws for pesticides.
What’s Mine Is Yours
The same worries apply to contamination from GM crops. Ask Frank Morton, who grows organic sugar beet seeds in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and is among the few non-GM holdouts.
In 2010, a federal judge demanded farmers stop planting GM sugar beets. Farmers were surprised to find there was very little non-GM sugar-beet seed to be had. Since being introduced in 2005, Monsanto had driven just about everyone out of the market.
Morton’s farm is just two miles from a GM sugar beet farm. Unfortunately, beet pollen can travel as much as five miles, cross-pollinating other farmers’ fields and, in the case of an organic farmer, threatening his ability to sell his crop as organic and GM-free.
Morton has to worry about his fields because GM crops have perverted long-standing property law. Organic farmers are responsible for protecting their farms from contamination, since courts have consistently refused to hold GM growers liable.
Kansas farmer Bryce Stephens had to stop growing organic corn and soybeans for fear of contamination and has 30-foot buffer crops to protect his organic wheat. (Wheat pollen doesn’t travel far.)
“Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their side of the fence,” says Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen. “If it was anything but agriculture, nobody would question it. If I decided to spray my house purple and I sprayed on a day that was windy and my purple paint drifted onto your house and contaminated your siding and shingles, there isn’t a court in the nation that wouldn’t in two minutes find me guilty of irresponsibly damaging your property. But when it comes to agriculture, all of a sudden the tables are turned.”
Contamination isn’t just about boutique organic brands. It maims U.S. exports too.
Take Bayer, which grew experimental, GM rice — that was unapproved for cultivation and for human consumption — at test plots around Louisiana State University for just one year. Within five years, these test plots had contaminated 30 percent of U.S. rice acreage. No one’s certain how it happened, but Bayer’s rice was found as far away as Central America and Africa.
Within days of the USDA announcement that this untested GM rice had gotten loose, rice futures lost $150 million in value, while U.S. rice exports dropped by 20 percent during the next year. And Bayer ended up paying farmers $750 million in damages.
Last month brought another hit. A Monsanto test of GM wheat mysteriously contaminated an Oregon farm eight years after the test was shut down. Japan and South Korea immediately halted imports of U.S. soft white wheat — a particularly harsh pill for the Japanese, who have used our white wheat in almost all cakes and confectionary since the 1960s.
Monsanto’s response? It’s blaming the whole mess on eco-terrorists.
Just Label It
Trish Sheldon moved to Florida in 2001, but the bubbly blond still exudes a cool, friendly California air. In 2010, she started a state chapter of Millions Against Monsanto, then in 2011 founded a group called GMO-Free Florida to raise awareness of the risks of GMOs and push for mandatory labeling initiatives.
With Monsanto seeds covering more than 40 percent of America’s crop acres (a March study found that 86 percent of corn, 88 percent of cotton, and 93 percent of soybeans grown here are of a GM variety) and the agri-giant making an expected $7.65 billion profit this year, it’s doubtful the company will go away anytime soon. But as consumers become more aware of the sinister problems lurking in the food chain, activists in many states are pushing for laws that would require foods with GM ingredients to be labeled, much as foods with trans fats are.
More than 23 right-to-know groups have since popped up throughout Florida especially after California’s push for mandatory labeling legislation, called Proposition 37, failed last year. Chemical companies defeated the initiative, thanks to a $46 million publicity campaign full of deceptive statements.
“Even though there were lies and deceit by the biotech industry, that was the catalyst,” Sheldon says. “People were so pissed off that it failed [and] we started gaining steam.” This May, during a global day of action, more than 2 million protesters attended rallies in more than 400 cities across 52 countries. In Miami, organizers lost count when protesters topped 1,300.
“If they’re going to allow the American people to be lab rats in an experiment, could they at least know where it is from so they can decide whether they want to participate or not?” asks Lance Harvell, a Republican state representative from Maine who sponsored a GM labeling law this year. “If the FDA isn’t going to do their job, it’s time we stepped in.”
Maine is just the second state (nine days after Connecticut) to pass such a law. When Vermont raised the issue a year ago, a Monsanto official indicated the company might sue. So the new laws in both Maine and Connecticut won’t take effect until other states pass similar legislation so they can share defense costs.
In Florida, state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs and House Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda have sponsored similar bills — but neither version made it to committee. Both intend to revise and resubmit bills in the next legislative session, in January 2014.
“God gave the seed to the earth and the fruit to the trees,” Harvell says. “Notice it didn’t say he granted Monsanto a patent. The human body has developed with its seeds. You’re making a major leap into Pandora’s box, a quantum leap that maybe the human body isn’t ready to make yet.”
As more information comes out, it’s increasingly clear that GM seed isn’t the home run it’s portrayed to be. It encourages greater pesticide use, which has a negative impact on the environment and our bodies. Whether or not GM food is safe to eat, it poses a real threat to biodiversity through monopolization of the seed industry and the kind of industrial farming monoculture this inspires.
Meanwhile, a study by the University of Canterbury in England found that non-GM crops in America and Europe are increasing their yields faster than GM crops.
“All this talk about feeding the world, it’s really PR,” explains Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The hope is to get into these new markets, force farmers to pay for seed, then start changing the food and eating habits of the developing world.”
But as much as he hates GM, Kansas farmer Stephens is sanguine. “I’ve seen changes since I was little to where it is now,” he says. “I don’t think it will last. This land and these people here have gone through cycles of boom and bust. We’re just in another cycle, and it will be something different.”
Providing we don’t irreparably break it first.
Additional reporting by Sara Ventiera.
“…business is business! And business must grow, regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.”– Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
In India, a cotton farmer drinks a liter of pesticide, killing himself to escape the ruinous combination of his debts and a poor yield. In America, a pediatrician observes improvement in the symptoms of autistic children when they stick to a purely organic diet. In France, farmers burn fields of genetically modified crops. In Paraguay, a politician tells the media that Monsanto was behind the ouster of a democratically elected president. On May 25, 2013, the mainstream media generally ignores millions of protesters in hundreds of cities across the globe rallying against Monsanto and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). All of these seemingly disparate events flow from a single source: the business model of one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and most aggressive corporations on the planet.
Monsanto is a virtual monopoly that exploits various business, legal, communications and political techniques to control its business environment and to force dependency on its main products, Roundup herbicide and Roundup Ready GMOs. I will analyze this Monsantopoly over the course of this five part series. In Part 1: Sowing Dependence, I will demonstrate how the company’s strategy is evidenced by its development and history. Part 2: Corrupt to the Core will show that Monsanto shuts down normal oversight, regulation and criticism by cultivating vast influence over every branch of the government, academia and the media. In Part 3: Seeds of Destruction, I will explore the effects of Monsanto’s products on the environment. Part 4: Harvesting Disease, will display scientific evidence of the threats posed by Monsanto’s products to various species up and down the food chain, particularly humans. In Part 5: Rounding Up Globalism, Democracy and You, I will discuss Monsanto’s influence around the world, how various countries have responded to Monsanto and GMOs, and what you can do as a citizen and a consumer.
The story of Monsanto begins in the auto industry. In the early 20th Century, Henry Ford defined contemporary industrialism. In the business model of Fordism, the company automates production, mass-produces a reliable, standardized product and pays its workers a living wage, enough that they can afford to buy the product. Beginning in the 1920s, this model was challenged and eventually eclipsed by a different business model developed by General Motors Corporation (GM). GM President Alfred P. Sloan believed that the corporation’s goal should not be a cycle of production-wage-consumption, as Ford had built. The corporation’s goal should be very simple: profit. The business model of Sloanism relied on planned obsolescence, evolving fashion, and a product line for “every purse and purpose.” GM hooked the consumer to regularly purchasing an ever-changing product.
As documented by Peter Drucker in his 1973 book Management: Tasks,
Responsibilities, Practices, GM built on this strategy by teaming up with Standard Oil of New Jersey to launch a joint venture: Ethyl Corporation, which produced leaded gasoline to cure the ‘knocking sound’ made by GM cars. In this way, although GM was not a chemical company, it made money on both its cars and the gas that consumers poured into them. Drucker notes that “GM, in effect, made money on almost every gallon of gasoline sold anyplace by anyone.”
Here in Washington, D.C., I sat down with business historian Alan Loeb, who told me, “Professor Drucker pointed out that GM’s strategy for marketing tetra ethyl lead – the lead additive GM developed for use in gasoline – set the product up so its consumer would be dependent on it, and that by doing this GM and its partners made money not only on the sale of cars GM built but on the sale of leaded gasoline to every car on the road. In the end, between this strategic innovation and the chemical discovery, it was the strategy that was the more valuable. Charles Thomas and Carroll Hochwalt, two chemists at GM who worked on developing the lead additive, left to set up their own lab and ultimately ended up as President and Vice-President of Monsanto, respectively, where the same strategy then appeared in its agriculture business. In a sense, Monsanto inherited the strategic innovation developed first at GM.”
People who were instrumental in developing the business model of Sloanism, and the strategy of locking the consumer into dependency on products that require each other, migrated from GM to the top of Monsanto. One can easily see similarity between the GM cars and leaded gasoline of nearly a century ago and Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and Roundup Ready GMOs of today. Throughout its history, Monsanto has developed chemical products which have eventually become controversial or been banned, including DDT, Agent Orange, Bovine Growth Hormone, and PCBs. DDT was used for decades as an insecticide even though its effect on humans was not well understood. Monsanto insisted it was safe, but it was revealed to be highly toxic and was banned. Agent Orange is a highly destructive defoliant, most famous for being used extensively in Vietnam. Decades later, it continues to cause health problems, birth defects and ongoing soil damage. Bovine Growth Hormone was designed to spur cows’ milk production. It caused painful udder inflammations and infections which got into milk. PCBs are a highly toxic chemical used as a coolant. Documents demonstrate that Monsanto knew of the threat posed by PCBs for many years and sought to cover up the danger it posed, while continuing to expose people and the environment to the chemical. Many people have had serious health problems in the town of Anniston, Alabama, where Monsanto dumped PCB waste.
Recently, Monsanto has formed a partnership with a pharmaceutical company. If Monsanto’s history and the GM model are any indication, could it be that Monsanto’s business strategy going forward is to profit from creating reliance on products that make people sick and reliance on the drugs used to treat their illnesses?
Apart from aggressive marketing of shady chemicals, its government relations have played an enormous role in its development. Monsanto President Charles Thomas was tapped to run the Dayton Project, part of the Manhattan Project, which designed the triggering mechanism for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. This project, along with Monsanto’s marketing of DDT during WWII and Agent Orange during Vietnam, reveal another facet of Monsanto’s business strategy: develop government dependency on Monsanto in wartime. This also creates the norm that the government clears red tape for Monsanto’s business. Even during peacetime, this norm sticks.
Monsanto has demonstrated an interest in avoiding regulation since its founding, when, in 1926, it incorporated its own town, Monsanto, Illinois. Monsanto set up shop in its eponymous town at a time when businesses were largely regulated locally.
And it was through deregulation that Monsanto entered a new phase of its history in the 1980s. The Reagan Administration sought to clear away regulations like health and environmental safety testing that they claimed hindered big business’ growth. In one telling vignette, Vice President George H. W. Bush visited a Monsanto laboratory in 1987. Footage of the visit shows someone from Monsanto pointing at a GMO crop and saying the USDA was testing the crop. He said he wasn’t complaining about the USDA, but he then joked that if they had to wait until September for approval, he might say something different. He then laughs with Bush Sr., who replies, “call me, we’re in the ‘de-reg’ business.”
Part 2 tomorrow
Marie Mason Twenty two Years in Jail…This is the longest sentence of any environmentalist “Green Scare” political prisoner in the US.
Marie Mason is a 52-year-old mother of two children, a long-time activist in environmental and labour movements, an artist, gardener, musician, writer, poet, an Earth First! organiser, a volunteer for a free healthcare collective, a worker for numerous charities and a political prisoner in the United States.
In 1999 and 2000, several acts of property damage and arson claimed by the Earth Liberation Front were carried out by Mason and her then-husband, Frank Ambrose. No one was injured in any of these protest actions.
Afterwards, Ambrose was arrested by federal authorities and agreed to become a government informant. He gave them information that then led to Mason’s arrest on March 10, 2008 by FBI agents.
Mason was charged with involvement in two attacks. One was on an office at Michigan State University where research into genetically modified organism (GMO) crops was being conducted by agribusiness giant Monsanto. The other attack was damage to commercial logging equipment.
After being threatened with the prospect of life imprisonment, Mason accepted a plea bargain. She was sentenced on February 5, 2009 to almost 22 years in prison.
This is the longest sentence of any environmentalist “Green Scare” political prisoner in the US.
Green Scare is the name given to the recent arrests of environmentalist and animal liberation rights activists who have been charged with acts of economic sabotage against the property of unethical companies.
Federal authorities have frequently sought excessive sentences, often life in prison, and labelled these environmental radicals as terrorists. This is despite the glaring fact that no one has been killed or injured in any of these acts.
An appeal for a reduction in Mason’s sentence was denied in 2010.
Mason’s supporters say the case is political persecution. It reflects the overly long sentences given to individuals who commit actions against the property of big companies, as part of the “Green Scare” campaign that seeks to frighten dissidents.
These laws are being used disproportionately against anarchists, socialists, radical environmentalists and animal liberationists. The acts of sabotage by militant activists have been redefined as “terrorism”, despite the fact people are not terrorised or injured.
Yet domestic terrorism charges are rarely used against those who assassinate abortion doctors, or commit racist or homophobic crimes. These cases are also being used to attack and erode basic civil rights in the US.
So, while Mason languishes in jail for 22 years for property damage, companies such as Monsanto continue their destructive business.
Agent Orange is a toxic chemical herbicide that was sprayed over 10% of forests and fields of southern Vietnam by the US military for 10 years. More than 20 million gallons was sprayed from 1961 to 1971.
Agent Orange was more than 50 times more concentrated than the normal agricultural herbicides. This extreme concentration had a devastating effect on the affected areas, destroying all plants, as well as having adverse health effects on people and animals.
The Vietnamese Red Cross has recorded that more than 4.8 million people were exposed to Agent Orange. This led to more than 400,000 deaths, 500,000 birth defects, as well as miscarriages, cancers, mental illness and other disabilities.
Even today, its damaging legacy continues to be felt by the Vietnamese people. The use of Agent Orange was later declared to be in violation of the Geneva Contract.
The Vietnamese victims have received no compensation.
PCBs are toxic, chemical pollutants that cause cancer in animals. Its use also raised grave concerns about human health effects, due to it being found in chickens, eggs, fish, shellfish, and other foodstuffs. It was also discovered in seabirds and contaminated soil and water.
PCB production was banned by the US Congress in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001. Before its ban, 99% of PCBs in US industry were used by Monsanto.
So, while people like Marie suffer long terms in jail for acts of resistance against Monsanto, it and other corporations continue to churn out chemical poisons, polluting the earth and producing engineered GM foods.
Mason has received support from many individuals and political groups, including Earth First! Anarchist Black Cross and the Industrial Workers of the World.
Political activist and indie singer/songwriter David Rovics has been organising benefit concerts to raise funds for Mason and the campaign for her rights.
In an April 10 letter last year to Earth First! journal, Mason wrote: “It’s been too many years away from the world now for me.
“I can’t believe it’s been a year-and-a-half that I’ve been living in this tiny little isolated unit here at Caswell. But nothing’s changed for me; my heart’s still wild and free and full of so much love and strength, when I feel connected to all of you still out there fighting for the Earth. Thank you. Until All Are Free. Marie.”
[Further information on Mason’s case and situation can be found at – supportmariemason.org. A protest has been called in Melbourne by Anarchist Black Cross as part of the June 11 International Day of Solidarity with Marie Mason and Eric McDavid ― another US environmentalist political prisoner being held in the US. The protest will held at 6.30pm, June 11, at at 1 Spring Street.
For those who would like to support Mason by writing to her, her address is: Marie Mason, #04672-061, FMC Caswell, Federal Medical Center, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX. USA. 76127.
Due to conditions political prisoners such as Mason face, including use of solitary confinement, mail from supporters is often the only form of communication with other human beings. All letters must be in English and you must use a first and last name on letters and cards when writing. Please also include a return address on the envelope.
It is also a good idea that you put Marie’s name and prisoner number on each piece of correspondence as well, as the prison tends to discard the envelope and then may “lose” track of who the letter or card is going to.
Letters that mention other environmentalist political prisoners may be rejected. Mail is also being read by prison officials,so be sensitive what you write about. Mason’s birthday is January 26.]
What does it take to be the most hated corporation on earth? How many global corporations have had an entire day of global protest declared to draw attention to their nastiness? Well, the worlds leading producer of genetically modified seed, Monsanto, has just managed this feat, with millions having participated in over 450 actions across 52 countries on the 25th of May. It is worth examining how and why Monsanto has become so uniformly hated around the planet.
It is difficult to assume the bottom slot amongst a panoply of corporate villains that pollute and destroy the environment, exploit the poor, corrupt governments, lie about their products, sue their customers and do their best to avoid taxation by every legal and other means possible.
Monsanto regularly takes the honours as the most abhorred corporation, in amongst some noxious competitors. In 2012 Monsanto won the “Greenwash Award” for misinforming the public about its environmental credentials. It won the worst company of 2011 award. In 2009 it won the Angry Mermaid Award during the run-up to the failed Copenhagen climate change talks for misleadingly claiming its GM crops reduced CO2 emissions.
This long list of negative awards should be incredibly damaging to the company. However the investor community embraces rogue corporations and Monsanto’s shareholders have been richly rewarded for its bad behaviour. Were Monsanto an individual and not a corporation it would certainly have been sentenced to jail, probably indefinitely, for repeatedly breaking laws around the world. Yet corporations manage to evade responsibility for the sort of behaviour you or I cannot.
None of this is new. In 2002 Monsanto was found guilty of not only contaminating the town and surrounds of Anniston, Alabama with carcinogenic polychlorinated bi-phenyls (PCBs), but of covering up this pollution for decades. Beside being ordered to pay a paltry $800 000 settlement, it was found guilty of the crime of “outrage.” Outrage is legally defined as conduct “so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society.” It really is difficult to beat that.
Monsanto not only opposed the Anniston case, it attempted to avoid prosecution through its sale of its chemical business to Solutia, insisting it was the problem of the new owner. It took exactly the same tack with its pollution of its ‘home town’ of Sauget, which originally was incorporated under the name of Monsanto in 1926.
In the US Monsanto is linked to nearly 100 superfund sites, two in Sauget alone, where its historical pollution is being remediated, mainly through taxpayer funds. It has managed to avoid similar responsibility in the UK as well. The infamous Vietnam War defoliant, Agent Orange, manufactured by Monsanto and others, was routinely contaminated with PCBs.
When Rachel Carson wrote her carefully researched book “Silent Spring,” outlining the dangers of agricultural chemicals and heralding the a emergence of the environmental movement, she was aggressively targeted by Monsanto, responsible for production of chemicals like DDT that she questioned. Monsanto parodied Carson’s book while viciously attempting to undermine her reputation and vilifying her as a “hysterical woman.” Tactics have changed very little with opponents of GM crops denigrated as luddites or unscientific.
Today Monsanto is better known for its GM crops than its chemicals. It is the world’s single biggest producer of genetically modified (GM) crops, responsible for around 95% of global GM plantings. The most widely grown GM crop, GM soy, is specifically engineered for resistance to Monsanto’s herbicide “Roundup”. The chemicals in Roundup have been linked to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer and gut disease, as well as having serious documented impacts on amphibians, fish, soil biota and other ecological processes. Needless to say herbicide resistant crops have sharply increased the use of chemicals. As weeds develop resistance more potent chemicals are needed and further GM crops are being introduced to resist these chemicals in turn.
The pursuit of GM crops has led Monsanto to morph from a chemical corporation into the worlds largest seed company. Through purchase of seed companies around the world it has acquired an unimaginable wealth seed germplasm. Yet it has sharply reduced the number of seed varieties sold by its subsidiaries, instead concentrating on its core business of pushing GM crops.
Monsanto is fully aware of its inherent unpopularity, which continues despite its every attempt to reform its reputation through extensive public relations campaigns. Its strategy to sidestep this is to form and fund groups and alliances that promote its interests. Organisations like BIO, the US biotechnology association, as well as Africa- and Europa-Bio, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications and Crop Life each support Monsanto’s interests as supposedly independent voices. Additionally, Monsanto spends millions of dollars directly lobbying governments around the world.
Monsanto then negates these massive PR campaigns by its aggressive legal prosecution of farmers it alleges are re-using its seed containing its patented GM genes. While there are constant high profile cases in the USA, Monsanto insists it will not prosecute African farmers for saving or possessing seed contaminated by their genes. In South America Monsanto has gone directly to the governments of Argentina, Brazil and other nations in order to try to leverage royalties on farmer saved GM seed.
Monsanto has also ensured its continued domination of the chemical herbicide industry by contractually linking the sale of Roundup to herbicide resistant “Roundup Ready” and “Yieldguard” soy, maize and cottonseed. Pushing this technology into developing markets has exposed farmers to increased debt through the purchase of seed and chemicals. When crops fail, as they repeatedly have, farmers lose their land or, as happens in India, choose to take their lives to escape debt bondage.
The model of industrial agriculture Monsanto promotes exacerbates problems of chemical pollution, water extraction and indebtedness, while also aggravating social upheaval. Small farmers whose lands and crops are contaminated not only by chemicals, but by patented GM crops are forced into burgeoning urban slums where they are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.
Monsanto has shifted focus toward developing nations in Africa and Asia, after saturating the Americas and rejection from within the EU. It dominates the GM seed market in South Africa, Brazil and India. There is nothing intrinsically beneficial about Monsanto’s business model, as much as it is supported and promoted within the dominant capital market.
These are just some of the reasons why millions of people protest against Monsanto’s destructive proposals to create profit through the privatisation of our food. That this model perversely masquerades as something beneficial, purporting to offer a hope of feeding a burgeoning planet is even more grotesque. The deeper one looks, the more outrageous is the behaviour of this rogue corporation.
In reality Monsanto epitomises so much that is wrong with the world and how corporations conduct themselves. Were it a living person it would be languishing in jail. The time has come to consider instituting a global criminal court for corporations, where their charters are withdrawn and they are put out of business. That is probably wishful thinking in a world where too big to fail has become a corporate mantra embraced by the very governments these psychopathic corporations support and maintain in power. In the meantime it is up to us, the 99%, to direct our ire toward curbing the misbehaviour of this particular corporate misanthrope.
Reliable sources in Washington D.C. have informed the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) that Monsanto has begun secretly lobbying its Congressional allies to attach one or more “Monsanto Riders” or amendments to the 2013 Farm Bill that would preempt or prohibit states from requiring labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods.
In response to this blatant violation of states’ rights to legislate, and consumers’ right to know, the OCA and a nationwide alliance have launched a petition http://salsa3.salsalabs.com to put every member of Congress on notice: If you support any Farm Bill amendment that would nullify states’ rights to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we’ll vote – or throw – you out of office.
On Wednesday, May 15, an amendment to the House version of the Farm Bill, inserted under the guise of protecting interstate commerce, passed out of the House Agricultural Committee. If the King Amendment makes it into the final Farm Bill, it would take away states’ rights to pass laws governing the production or manufacture of any agricultural product, including food and animals raised for food, that is involved in interstate commerce. The amendment was proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), largely in response to a California law stating that by 2015, California will allow only eggs to be sold from hens housed in cages specified by California. But policy analysts emphasize that the amendment, broadly and ambiguously written, could be used to prohibit or preempt any state GMO labeling or food safety law.
Will the King Amendment survive the Senate? No one can be sure, say analysts. However few doubt that Monsanto will give up. We can expect that more amendments and riders will be introduced into the Farm Bill–even if the King Amendment fails – over the next month in an attempt to stop the wave of state GMO labeling laws and initiatives moving forward in states like Washington, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and others.
Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) have admitted privately that they’ve “lost the battle” to stop GE food labeling at the state level, now that states are aggressively moving forward on labeling laws. On May 14, Maine’s House Ag Committee passed a GMO labeling law. On May 10, the Vermont House passed a labeling bill, 99-42, despite massive lobbying by Monsanto and threats to sue the state. And though Monsanto won a razor-thin victory (51 percent to 49 percent) in a costly, hard fought California GMO labeling ballot initiative last November, biotech and Big Food now realize that Washington State voters will likely pass I-522, an upcoming ballot initiative to label GE foods, on November 5.
If Monsanto can’t stop states from passing laws, then the next step is a national preemptive measure. And all signs point to just such a power grab. Earlier this year, Monsanto slipped its extremely unpopular “Monsanto Protection Act,” an act that gives biotech immunity from federal prosecution for planting illegally approved GE crops, into the 2013 Federal Appropriations Bill. During the June 2012 Farm Bill debate, 73 U.S. Senators voted against the right of states to pass mandatory GE food labeling laws. Emboldened by these votes, and now the House Ag Committee’s vote on the King Amendment, Monsanto has every reason to believe Congress would support a potential nullification of states’ rights to label.
The million-strong OCA and its allies in the organic and natural health movement are warning incumbent Senators and House members, Democrats and Republicans alike, that thousands of health and environmental-minded constituents in their Congressional districts or states will work to recall them or drive them out of office if they fail to heed the will of the people and to respect the time-honored traditions of shared state sovereignty over food labels, food safety laws, and consumers’ right to know.
Trouble in Monsanto Nation
Over the past 20 years Monsanto and the biotech industry, aided and abetted by indentured politicians and corporate agribusiness, have begun seizing control over the global food and farming system, including the legislative, patent, trade, judicial and regulatory bodies that are supposed to safeguard the public interest.
In the U.S., despite mounting evidence http://www.earthopensource.org of the damage GE crops inflict on human health and the environment, approximately 170 million acres of GE crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, and squash, are currently under cultivation. These crops, untested and unlabeled, comprise 41 percent of all cultivated cropland, or 17 percent of all cropland and pastureland combined. According to the GMA, at least 70 percent of non-organic grocery store processed foods contain GMOs. And GE grains and mill byproducts now supply the overwhelming majority of animal feed on the factory farms that supply 90 percent to 95 percent of the meat, eggs and dairy products that Americans consume.
Yet despite their marketplace dominance, record profits and enormous political clout in Washington D.C., Monsanto and the biotech industry are in deep trouble. Evidence is mounting that Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide, Roundup, is a deadly poison, destroying important human gut bacteria and likely contributing to the rapid increase of food allergies and serious human diseases including cancer, autism, neurological disorders , Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Those most susceptible http://articles.mercola.com to poisoning by Monsanto’s Roundup are children and the elderly.
Scientists aren’t the only ones raising new questions about Roundup. Farmers are complaining that they’re being forced to spray more and more chemicals on crops increasingly under siege from a growing army of herbicide-resistant weeds. The situation is so bad that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just raised http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_27491.cfm the limits of Roundup residue allowed on grains and vegetables to even more dangerous levels. But just in case the EPA someday stops raising the limits, Monsanto, Dow and the biotech industry are working on a new “solution” to the onslaught of herbicide-resistant Superweeds: They’ve applied for approval of a new and highly controversial generation of super toxic herbicide-resistant GE crops, including “Agent Orange” (2,4-D and dicamba-resistant) corn, soybeans and cotton.
As a recent widely-circulated article points out, http://articles.mercola.com
“The use of 2,4-D is not new; it’s actually one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. What is new is that farmers will now ‘carpet bomb’ staple food crops like soy and corn with this chemical at a previously unprecedented scale – just the way glyphosate has been indiscriminately applied as a result of Roundup Ready crops. In fact, if 2,4-D resistant crops receive approval and eventually come to replace Monsanto’s failing Roundup-resistant crops as Dow intends, it is likely that billions of pounds will be needed, on top of the already insane levels of Roundup being used (1.6 billion lbs were used in 2007 in the US alone).”
In addition to these Agent Orange crops, an expanded menu of genetically engineered organisms are awaiting approval. Next on the menu? GE apples, trees, and salmon.
State Labeling Laws: The ‘skull and crossbones’ that terrify Monsanto
Monsanto’s greatest fear isn’t a federal government charged with protecting the health and safety of its citizens. Congress and the White House seem only too happy to oblige the biotech industry’s unquenchable thirst for growth, power and dominance. No, it’s the massive, unstoppable (so far) grassroots movement of Millions Against Monsanto that strikes fear in the heart of the Biotech Bully. U.S. citizens are waking up. They’re demanding labels on genetically engineered foods, similar to those already required in the European Union. They’re calling for serious independent safety-testing of GE crops and animals, both those already approved (especially Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant crops) and those awaiting approval.
The anti-GMO movement has finally figured out, after 20 years of fruitlessly lobbying Congress, the FDA and the White House, that the federal government is not going to require labels on GE foods. Instead the movement has shifted the battleground on GMO labeling from Monsanto and Big Food’s turf in Washington D.C. to the more favorable terrain of state ballot initiatives and state legislative action – publicizing the fact that a state GMO labeling law will have the same marketplace impact as a national labeling law.
State laws spell doom for Monsanto. Companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills, Coca-Cola, Pepsi/Frito-Lay, Dean Foods, Unilever, Con-Agra, Safeway, Wal-Mart and Smuckers are not going to label in just one or two states. Monsanto knows that U.S. food companies will go GMO-free in the entire U.S., rather than admit to consumers that their products contain GMOs.
As Monsanto itself has pointed out, labels on genetically engineered foods are like putting a “skull and crossbones” on food packages. This is why Monsanto and their allies poured $46 million into defeating a California ballot initiative last year that would have required labels on GMO foods. This is why Monsanto has lobbied strenuously in 30 states this year to prevent, or at least delay, state mandatory labeling laws from being passed. This is why Monsanto has threatened to file federal lawsuits against Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Washington if they dare grant citizens the right to know whether or not their food has been genetically engineered or not.
And this is why Monsanto’s minions are trying to insert amendments or riders into the Farm Bill that will make it nearly impossible, even illegal, for states to pass GMO labeling laws. And there’s nothing to stop them when Congress is filled with pro-biotech cheerleaders who could care less that 90 percent of U.S. consumers want mandatory labels and proper safety testing of genetically engineered crops and foods.
Countering Monsanto’s Final Offensive: Throw the Bums Out!
Only a massive grassroots resistance will deter the U.S. Senate and House from stomping on our rights. Only an unprecedented campaign of public education, petition-gathering and grassroots pressure will be able to convince the ever-more corrupt and indentured politicians in Washington D.C. to back off.
Eighteen state constitutions have century-old provisions for state registered voters to collect petitions and recall state and local officials, forcing them to either resign or stand for reelection. But what very few Americans, and even members of Congress, realize is that 11 states have constitutional provisions to recall U.S. Senators and House of Representative members, as well as state elected officials.
It’s time we exercise the full power of direct democracy, not just state and municipal ballot initiatives. We must continue to support efforts like the current state ballot initiative to label GMOs in Washington state, and county ballot initiatives to ban GMOs, factory farms and other corporate crimes, in the 24 states and hundreds of counties and municipalities where these are allowed. But we also need to use the power we have to recall and throw out of office our out-of-control Congressional Senators and Representatives as well.
If our elected officials in Congress continue to represent Monsanto and big corporations, rather than their constituents, then let’s throw the bums out! If the Washington political Establishment, both Democrats and Republicans, continue to trample on our inalienable constitutional rights and contemptuously disregard the 225-year principle of a shared balance of power between the federal government, the states and local government, then we have no choice but to recall them or throw them out of office.
Please join the nation’s organic consumers and natural health advocates in this strategic battle, the Food Fight of Our Lives. Please join this campaign to save, not only our right to choose what’s in our food, but our basic right to democratic representation and self-determination as well. Sign the petition. http://salsa3.salsalabs.com Tell your Congressmen and women, especially the 73 incumbents who voted last year to eliminate states rights’ to legislate on GMO labels, and those in the House this week who voted to support the King Amendment that “enough is enough,” “basta ya.” Power to the People!
Activists from 55 countries will participate in a global protest this month against biotechnology giant Monsanto. According to mother-turned-protest organizer, Tami Monroe Canal, the idea was born of frustration.
“The first few months after moving to Utah I didn’t have access to farmer’s markets and the fresh produce that I had out in California,” said Canal. “I became increasingly angry every time I would go to the grocery store and spend a small fortune to ensure I wasn’t feeding my family poison.”
Canal began the project as a Facebook page on Feb. 28, and says her anger was sparked by California’s Proposition 37 campaign to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The measure failed, but the fight gave her a clearer picture of GMOs, Monsanto, and the food manufacturers who spent $45 million to defeat the initiative.
“Prop 37 really opened my eyes to what GMOs truly are and how damaging they can be to human health,” Canal said. “I just couldn’t in good conscience feed my family that anymore.”
Consumers don’t buy products directly from Monsanto, but the company’s biotech corn and soy dominate the American market. The protest encourages people to join a growing boycott of companies likely to use GMOs—including Kellogg’s and General Mills—as a way to change the system.
Anonymous endorsed the upcoming event, but organizers say most of the people involved in the march have never been to a protest before. According to Canal, people from all walks of life share her frustration.
“Food affects everyone,” she said.
Monsanto has a legacy of controversial and poisonous products—such as PCBs, Agent Orange, DDT, bovine growth hormone (rBGH), Roundup, and aspartame to name a few. For the past two decades, however, Monsanto’s main focus has been GMOs, and many are concerned that the new food technology threatens human health.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that GMOs are safe, but many farmers, doctors, and researchers disagree. Estimates suggest that roughly 80 percent of U.S. food products contain GMO ingredients. With no labels to identify GMOs, Canal says that Americans still need to know that there is cause for concern.
“We’re trying to raise consumer awareness,” she said, “because who in their right mind is going to give their kids something that’s going to give them all these adverse health issues.”
Soon after Canal developed the march and boycott idea, she enlisted the help of seasoned Seattle activist and journalist, Emilie Rensink.
While critics have been speaking out against Monsanto for years, Rensink says that a combination of unpopular policy decisions and social media created just the right conditions for a big demonstration.
“This was kind of the perfect storm,” she said.
Attention for the march picked up speed soon after President Obama signed a budget bill including a measure dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act. However, critics say the recent legislation is only one example of the blurry line between industry and government.
“I think the whole recipe for [Monsanto’s] success is due in large part to the political favoritism that they receive in the United States,” said Rensink. “The FDA is headed by ex-Monsanto executives, and they give them special subsidies over smaller farmers and other farming operations. They are given an unfair advantage in my view.”
Canal points to Michael Taylor, who for the past two decades has bounced back and forth between his job as Monsanto attorney and head of U.S. food regulation.
“It’s a huge conflict of interest for him to be holding the position of power that he holds,” Canal said. “I honestly think going through the government is futile at this point, because the FDA is so embedded with Monsanto.”
While U.S. regulators have shown little concern for GMOs, outside the United States the push back has been much more significant. According to the Non-GMO Project, most developed nations label, restrict, or ban GMOs.
In an email, Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher said the company had no statement regarding the upcoming protest. However, Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant recently characterized GMO critics as social media elitists who overlook the pressing food problems of the less fortunate.
“There is this strange kind of reverse elitism: If I’m going to do this, then everything else shouldn’t exist,” Grant told Bloomberg in a May 14 interview. “There is space in the supermarket shelf for all of us.”
Monsanto supporters point to the company’s promise to address world hunger with increased crop yields and lower food prices, but critics dispute this claim as well.
In Seattle, protesters will march in front of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to highlight what they consider to be an institution helping to further the GMO agenda.
“Bill Gates has been a large proponent of GMOs as a solution for world hunger,” Rensink said, but studies have shown that GMOs don’t produce higher yields. So the notion that GMOs are somehow able to feed the world is really just an empty assertion.”
The march and rally in Salt Lake City will feature a local Vietnam vet discussing how he lost friends to Agent Orange, a beekeeper speaking about the danger Monsanto pesticides pose to the bee population, and a presentation by Grow Food Not Lawns about self-sustainability, and supporting organic co-ops.
Like other venues around the world, Salt Lake will also feature bands playing protest songs against Monsanto and GMOs.
“We’re trying to keep it a little lighthearted,” Canal said. “But I want people to understand the severity of the issue and realize that it is our time in this nation to stand up to something that is so wrong.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been taken over by an outside organization. RootsAction has launched a campaign demanding a Congressional investigation.
The organization is called Monsanto.
Monsanto is, of course, the world’s largest biotech corporation. These are the people who brought us Roundup weed killer and the resulting superweeds and superbugs, along with growth hormones for cows, genetically engineered and patented seeds, PCBs, and Agent Orange — which Monsanto now wants us to use as herbicide on genetically engineered corn and soybeans.
This chemical company — responsible for environmental disasters that have destroyed entire towns, and a driving force behind the international waves of suicides among farmers whose lives it has helped ruin — has monopolized our food system largely by taking over regulatory agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A recent study links Roundup to autism, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.
While Hungary has just destroyed all Monsanto genetically engineered corn fields, the USDA takes a slightly different approach toward the chemical giant. The USDA has, in fact, never denied a single application from Monsanto for new genetically engineered crops. Not one. Not ever.
The takeover has been thorough. Monsanto’s growth hormones for cows have been approved by Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto lobbyist turned USDA administrator and FDA deputy commissioner. This was after Margaret Miller, a former Monsanto employee, oversaw a report on the hormones’ safety and then took a job at the FDA where she approved her own report.
Islam Siddiqui, a former Monsanto lobbyist, wrote the USDA’s food standards, allowing corporations to label irradiated and genetically engineered foods as “organic.”
The recently passed and signed law nicknamed the Monsanto Protection Act strips federal courts of the power to halt the sale and planting of genetically engineered crops during a legal appeals process. The origin of this act can be found in the USDA’s deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets in violation of a court order. The USDA argued that any delay would have caused a sugar shortage, since Monsanto holds 95% of the market.
The revolving door keeps revolving. Monsanto’s board members have worked for the EPA, advised the USDA, and served on President Obama’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations.
Clearly, an investigation of large-scale government corruption by this singularly destructive corporation is long overdue. RootsAction is asking everyone concerned, wherever you are in the world, to join in demanding the opening of that investigation right now.
And then get ready to join Nation of Change and organizations and individuals around the world in a March Against Monsanto on May 25.
AOJ’s Rosanna Barbero presented a very educational talk interspersed with excerpts from videos that thoroughly demonstrated that this capitalist company puts its profits way ahead of the health of individuals and even the health and safety of humanity as a whole. It prompted a very useful and inclusive discussion.
Genetically modified food
Monsanto’s corporate crimes have so far gone unpunished, and its profits have soared, while it continues to destroy our food supply, our health and the planet. Monsanto is well known as the promoter of genetically modified food, which locks farmers into a dead-end dependence on the company, and the world into a dangerous course of patented and hazardous food crops that ultimately threaten the safety of the world’s food production.
The company is also the major financial beneficiary of Agent Orange, the herbicide used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam for a decade from 1961 to 1971 and destroy the health of millions of Vietnamese and their offspring. Monsanto knew well beforehand, certainly by 1949, after an accident in its plant in Nitro, Virginia, that dioxin, the deadly by-product of Agent Orange production, had terrible health effects, including creating genetic malformations. But it suppressed the knowledge of these results and continued production.
The US military were also well aware of the toxic effects of Agent Orange: “[We] were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. We were even aware that the ‘military’ formulation had a higher dioxin concentration than the ‘civilian’ version, due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the ‘enemy’, none of us were overly concerned”, wrote James Clary, a US Air Force scientist in Vietnam.
Monsanto’s profits have been enormous, rising to $6 billion in 2010-11. Aware of the dangerous game it plays with the health of people and the world, and the likelihood of political and legal challenges by its victims, it has set aside a fund of $256 million to fight court battles. Few individuals will be able to match it. It owns many of the capitalist politicians. Indeed, the George Bush administration became known as “the Monsanto administration”. The United Nations had initially taken a position against genetically modified food, but after Monsanto pressure and lobbying, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation eventually came out with the Monsanto line.
Monsanto also spends a chunk of its fabulous profits on PR. It has set up a foundation, with the stated goal of “contributing to food security”, and claims it is “a human rights organisation”.
Monsanto is now the world’s top seed company, controlling a scary 23% of the world’s seeds. (Monsanto plus the next four global seed companies control 85%!) Its genetically modified seed has to be bought each season from Monsanto, and is dependent on using Monsanto’s “GMO ready” Roundup weed killer. It profits both ways. Once in, there’s no escape for the farmers. Monsanto has a special legal department of enforcers, to make sure no one reproduces seeds the natural way, but has to continue getting the patented seed from Monsanto.
As an indicator of how it operates, after the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, Monsanto donated food and seed. The GMO seed spread. People in Haiti have opposed this, with no success so far. Monsanto threatens to dominate Haitian agriculture.
In Malawi, through the World Bank and USAID, Monsanto donated seed, fertiliser and pesticide. Now Malawi is almost totally dependent on Monsanto, giving it a base from which to subvert African agriculture.
Rosanna Barbero explained how Monsanto works with aid agencies, for example World Vision, under the banner of providing livelihood support and “food security”, but actually enforcing dependence. Unfortunately, Monsanto has also targeted Vietnam, the major victim of its Agent Orange production. In 2000 it set up a plant in Vietnam. There has been opposition; farmers opposed the introduction of genetically modified seed, but their voices were not heard. Many Vietnamese are still insisting, however, that they can’t forget the past, the war and Monsanto’s terrible legacy through Agent Orange production.
We can’t ignore Monsanto’s role in the manufacture of Agent Orange and its refusal to accept responsibility for its crimes, and the threat it poses to agriculture on the planet.
Agent Orange Justice
Since its launch six months ago, Agent Orange Justice has had modest but encouraging success. It’s held forums and campaigned at political events. It’s set up a very informative website and a Facebook page Facebook page. Four AOJ members participated in the second international conference organised by the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin in Hanoi in August. AOJ member Senator Lee Rhiannon presented a speech to parliament on the issue on November 8 . Trade unions and other organisations have affiliated.
AOJ has ambitious plans to develop the campaign in 2012. Further outreach forums will be held, including speaking at events and meetings of other organisations. In June a major four-day event is being organised, an art exhibition focussing on the issue of Agent Orange. Paintings and cartoons from prominent artists have already been promised. During the exhibition there will be seminars, film showings and photographic and poster displays. Contact AOJ to build or contribute to our events, or to join or affiliate <firstname.lastname@example.org>.