We’ve followed the story of the slow but increasing and badly needed pushback against Monsanto’s predatory business practices, which force farmers to buy Monsanto seed annually, rather than re-use it. Worse, Monsanto seed has been genetically engineered so as to require the use of Monsanto herbicides and fertilizers.
And with (until recently) the seeds patent protected, farmers could be sued for having Monsanto genes in their crops. And with Monsanto having established a near monopoly in seeds, it has set prices so as to extract a higher percent of agricultural revenues than it could otherwise command. Needless to say, what is good for Monsanto is not at all good for farmers, as these excerpts from a Daily Kos post illustrates:
I am a small farmer, and I am deeply concerned about the broad power Monsanto and other seed companies wield. Their patents on life, unfair business practices, and aggressive genetic engineering of seed for commercial farming are making farmers dependent on their very expensive seed and killing the millennia-old practice of saving seed.
Since I was a child, the cotton business has been radically changed by developments like Round-Up Ready cotton. Farmers are forced by market pressures to adopt new practices, like using Monsanto seed, that are locking them into annual tithes to a monopolistic seed company. Monsanto, in particular, has forced hundreds of small seed companies out of the business with litigation and threats of litigation, and it’s no accident. Farmers are afraid to collect seeds at all, for fear that Monsanto will accuse them of patent infringement….
In visiting my husband’s family in Bangladesh, my brother-in-law complained about the lack of rice varieties available for consumption. In the past, hundreds of tasty varieties were available. Now only a very few with much less taste are on the market. These varieties, grown in the very unhealthy chemically dependent and unsustainable manner espoused by Monsanto to encourage the use of their many pesticides and herbicides, depletes the land and contaminate the waterways. Fish populations, on which the Bangladeshi population depends heavily for protein, are disappearing. Only the farm-raised varieties are in vast supply, those also being of less nutritional value and raised in polluted waters.
Monsanto’s hold on the seed market is especially problematic in that they also manufacture the chemicals with which the seeds are grown. This is forcing many farmers to use GMO seeds and unsustainable methods whether they want to or not. Neighboring farms (specifically, organic or those choosing to use non-GMO seeds) are having their seeds contaminated by the GMO varieties. Native varieties and hybrids, grown for 10,000 years and adapted to optimize local growing conditions, are bought up by Monsanto and removed from the market, denying options to farmers and consumers. Those not bought up are in danger of contamination by Terminator genes, which would lead to their extinction. The same way we protect animal species from extinction, we should protect plant species, especially the tens of thousands of food varieties, from companies like Monsanto that are consciously eliminating them. Would we allow genocide to occur in any other circumstance?
GMO crops have not been tested properly for safety. In India, farmers allowed their cattle to graze on GMO cotton plant stubble as they had grazed their cattle for millennia; all those cattle died within a few days. Many GMO varieties are neither better yielding nor requiring less fertilizer or water. They are designed to increase the use of Monsanto chemicals. These varieties are more expensive to grow, and the farmers are not allowed to save seed for the next year or the seeds have “Terminator” or “Traitor” genes to make new seeds sterile, causing them added expense. Monsanto’s methods are depleting the soil in areas already stressed.
I hope you will rein in these companies and start to restore a sense of fair play to agribusiness. Family farmers have enough to deal with without big chemical and seed companies holding them hostage.
The US courts have begun to whittle away at some of Monsanto’s efforts to monopolize seed production:
The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) announced today that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has rejected four key Monsanto patents related to genetically modified crops that PUBPAT challenged last year because the agricultural giant is using them to harass, intimidate, sue – and in some cases literally bankrupt – American farmers. In its Office Actions rejecting each of the patents, the USPTO held that evidence submitted by PUBPAT, in addition to other prior art located by the Patent Office’s Examiners, showed that Monsanto was not entitled to any of the patents.
Monsanto has filed dozens of patent infringement lawsuits asserting the four challenged patents against American farmers, many of whom are unable to hire adequate representation to defend themselves in court. The crime these farmers are accused of is nothing more than saving seed from one year’s crop to replant the following year, something farmers have done since the beginning of time.
One study of the matter found that, “Monsanto has used heavy-handed investigations and ruthless prosecutions that have fundamentally changed the way many American farmers farm. The result has been nothing less than an assault on the foundations of farming practices and traditions that have endured for centuries in this country and millennia around the world, including one of the oldest, the right to save and replant crop seed.”
Raw Story describes the latest anti-Monsanto salvo, this by India :
India refused to grant permission Wednesday for the commercial cultivation of its first genetically modified (GM) food crop, citing problems of public trust and “inadequate” science.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said he was imposing a moratorium on the introduction of an aubergine modified with a gene toxic to pests that regularly devastate crops across India.
“It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary, principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release,” until scientific tests can guarantee the safety of the product, said Ramesh…
“I cannot go against science but in this case science is inadequate,” he added. “I have to be sensitive to public concerns.”
Indian regulators had approved the new aubergine back in October and its introduction would have made it the first GM foodstuff to be grown in India.
But the decision roused huge opposition and a broad spectrum of voices, including farmers, environmentalists and politicians of all stripes had urged the government to prevent its cultivation…
Ramesh said there was “no overriding food security argument” for the introduction of GM aubergines.
He said he had considered the views of different interest groups in making his decision but denied he had been pressured by members of his cabinet or by companies producing genetically modified crops.
“My conscience is clear. This is my decision and my decision alone,” he said.
India is one of the largest aubergine producers globally.
Reader John D, who pointed us to the piece, adds:
They are fighting Monsanto trying to patent the genes from their indigenous plants.
The history of GMO crops in India is like elsewhere. The first few years are great then they need more herbicide and more fertilizer to get yields and that drives the farmer into bankruptcy. India has had a rash of farmer suicides due to crop failures. They didn’t have this with indigenous seeds. The costs were much less and they could muddle through.
The concerns about safety are also legitimate. As Scientific American pointed out:
Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.
…Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects.
Research on genetically modified seeds is still published, of course. But only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal. In a number of cases, experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering. “It is important to understand that it is not always simply a matter of blanket denial of all research requests, which is bad enough,” wrote Elson J. Shields, an entomologist at Cornell University, in a letter to an official at the Environmental Protection Agency (the body tasked with regulating the environmental consequences of genetically modified crops), “but selective denials and permissions based on industry perceptions of how ‘friendly’ or ‘hostile’ a particular scientist may be toward [seed-enhancement] technology.”
Some research recently raised questions on the adequacy of Monsanto’s research on the health of GMOs (a mere 90 days) and some small scale animals studies have found consumption of Monsanto GM products are associated with organ damage. One reader noted:
I am fairly well-qualified to comment on this, as both a PhD in genetics who has made hundreds of transgenic plant lines (albeit in Arabidopsis) and a former Nature editor.
I don’t doubt for a second that Monsanto has failed to adequately investigate the potential negative effects of BT toxin (MON 810 and MON 863) and bar (NK 603) overexpression and possible toxicity. This is even more warranted by the fact that these genes are being regulated by a strong viral promoter (CaMV35S) that is producing levels of these proteins that far exceed what would normally occur in a plant–even though these gene products don’t normally in plants. (Both genes are bacterial in origin.)
That’s a long winded way of saying concerns about Monsanto, from both a health and economic perspective, are far from alarmist.