by Jeff Clemetson, Editor
As I began writing this GMO update in advance of the upcoming worldwide March Against Monsanto on May 25, I wanted to include all the latest news about just why we should take the time to rally against the chemical and biotech firm. The last few weeks have had a flurry of news stories involving GMO crops, pesticides and the like. A quick roundup (pun intended) of the latest GMO news seemed like an easy task – write down some quick reminders why we as consumers should support local, organic food and continue our efforts to force labels and reduce or eliminate cancer-causing pesticides in our world. But every time I sat down to write the story, a new headline involving GMOs or Monsanto would pop up and I’d have more work to do. Although the news wasn’t always the victory for organics that I would hope for, the very fact that the issues are gaining traction in the mainstream media means that our efforts are working and people are beginning to wake up to the danger of having a chemical company mount such a harmful and blatant corporate takeover of our food system, the way Monsanto has. So here are the latest news on GMOs from around the world, both the good and the bad. Take them in and please consider joining others on May 25 around the world to March Against Monsanto.
The Supreme Court dealt the final blow to soybean farmer Vernan Bowman of Indiana this week when it ruled that Bowman had violated Monsanto’s copyrighted soybeans after he planted seeds he obtained from a grain elevator rather than purchasing newer, more expensive seeds direcly from the company. Bowman had argued that the copyright didn’t apply to him because he had previously purchased Monsanto seeds and that the copyright didn’t apply to seeds he purchased from the grain elevator. Monsanto countered that their copyright makes it clear that farmers can only harvest seeds once and that storing or saving seeds is against their contract. The Supreme Court’s decision, besides solidifying the reign of expensive biotech seeds over the more natural practice of reseeding land from previous crops, has implications for other products that have copyrights and can be easily replicated after purchase.
GMOs get burned
While our government is making it easier for GMO companies to take over our food system, others are making it harder – much harder. Case in point, in March, Hungary enforced its ban on GMO corn by burning thousands of acres of corn that tested positive as genetically modified. In addition to burning the crops and fining the farmers who planted them, Hungary decided to make planting illegal GMOs a felony in that country. It is likely that the farmers will never be compensated and that’s a shame because many were probably duped into planting the seeds by the seed distributor which has now been liquidated. The ban on GMOs was a necessary step in Hungary because GMNO farmers there were carelessly spreading their seeds and contaminating organic crops, a practice that happens here but so far Congress has failed to act on protections for organic farmers.
The U.S. doesn’t give a Bee
In late April, the European Union enacted a two-year ban on pesticides that contain neonicotinoids after scientists there determined them to be the cause of diminishing bee populations in what is now known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a group that fights for the elimination of chemical pesticides praised the EU decision.
“The EU vote comes after significant findings by the European Food Safety Agency that these pesticides pose an unacceptable risk to bees and their use should be restricted. Along with habitat loss and pathogens, a growing body of science points to neonicotinoid pesticides as a key factor in drastically declining bee populations,” said a statement by PAN.
Meanwhile, our own Environmental Protection Agency seems to not be as supportive of our honey-making friends. This week, the EPA ignored its own reports and reports by the USDA that clearly put neonicotinoids as a major cause of CCD and approved the use of highly toxic new pesticide called sulfoxaflor which some environmental advocates have dubbed a “fourth-generation neonicotinoid.”
Your tax dollars at work… for Monsanto
As polarizing as our politics have gotten here in the US, a report this week by Reuters has the potential to bring anti-tax conservatives and lefty environmentalists together with blood-boiling rage against Monsanto. It appears that despite Monsanto’s extremely deep-pockets to hire their own lobbyists, the company has convinced the US to lobby foreign countries on its behalf. That’s right, your tax dollars are funding Monsanto’s efforts to plant GMOs around the world just as a good portion of the world is beginning to soundly reject GMO crops.
According the the Reuters report, a group called Food & Water Watch reviewed 926 diplomatic cables to and from over 100 foreign embassies and the U.S. State Department that promoted GMO seeds produced by corporate giants like Monsanto. The cables, which stretch between 2005 and 2009, were made public in 2010 by the Website Wikileaks.
Many of the cables urged countries to use GMO crops, even as opposition to biotech grew in those countries by farming communities that didn’t want to use expensive, copyrighted seeds and pesticides and herbicides. For example, it 2009 the embassy in Spain requested direct government intervention in Spain at the request of Monsanto to try and quell GMO opposition there.
“It really goes beyond promoting the U.S.’s biotech industry and agriculture,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It really gets down to twisting the arms of countries and working to undermine local democratic movements that may be opposed to biotech crops, and pressuring foreign governments to also reduce the oversight of biotech crops.”
While Monsanto reaped in massive profits over the four year period that the Food & Water Watch report covered, our cash-strapped government footed the bill for lobbying efforts that included pressuring foreign lawmakers, producing pamphlets and DVDs promoting GMOs – even to far as sending Monsanto’s propaganda to high schools in Hong Kong.
This isn’t the first time Monsanto has been caught red-handed trying to influence the business of foreign countries. In 2005, the company was fined $1.5 million for bribing an official in Indonesia in direct violation to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Unfortunately, it seems Monsanto learned its lesson that it should just bribe our own politicians and let them try and influence countries around the world to adopt the poisonous practice of GMO farming. Are ya’ll ready to march yet?