Sunday, September 22, 2013

Monsanto and GMOs: a Model of Greed


According to the David Suzuki Foundation, “companies that develop and patent GMO seeds are the same companies that develop and patent the pesticides and herbicides to which the unique seeds are resistant. Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world and owns about 86% of GMO seeds sown globally. It is also the parent of Roundup.” Suzuki adds that, “the safety of GMO foods is unproven and a growing body of research connects these foods with health concerns and environmental damage. For this reason, most developed nations have policies requiring mandatory labeling of GMO foods at the very least, and some have issued bans on GMO food production and imports.”

In Canada we don’t require labeling of GMO products. Canadians are often unaware that the foods we choose contain GMO ingredients.

GMO Labeling & the Right to Know

On May 25, 2013, two million people in over 50 countries expressed outrage over Monsanto's desire to own the food supply through genetically-altered (and patented) seeds, according to Jonathan Landsman of Natural News.

Rachel Parent on CBC TV
Fourteen-year old Canadian Rachel Parent was just awarded “Environmental Hero” by NOW Magazine in Toronto for her energetic work on “the right to know”. Parent is a fearless human rights advocate, journalist, speaker and Healthy Planet Watchdog. This mercurial energetic young woman founded the “Kids Right to Know—Just Label it!” campaign  (www.gmo-news.com) and actively participates in the “conversation” on GMOs throughout Canada.

Parent was a keynote speaker at the March Against Monsanto rally in Toronto the same day and discussed GMO labeling: “Over 60 countries around the world have mandatory GMO labeling, including China and Russia,” said Parent. “Canada and the US are the only two industrialized nations that don’t. In the countries that have mandatory labeling, products that contain GMOs are hardly found because people won’t buy them. In fact, over 30 countries have outright bans on GMOs.”

Parent cited Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Kellogg’s, Nestle, Kraft, Frito-Lay and PepsiCo among the companies that spent over $47 million in ad campaigns to defeat the California bill to label GMO products.

“The truth is,” said Parent, “it’s no coincidence that since GMOs have been introduced into our food system, we’ve started seeing more cases of irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, acid reflux, infertility, cancer, autism, Parkinson’s and many other diseases. Unfortunately, it seems like we’re all a big part of a science experiment.”

“Here in Canada,” said Parent, “[Monsanto is] putting thousands of conventional and organic farms at risk because of contamination by GMO crops. Their herbicides and pesticides are polluting our air and water and have contributed to the collapse of over 50% of our bee colonies. They’re responsible for a whole new species of super weeds and superbugs that have become Roundup resistant so now more and stronger toxic pesticides are being used.”

“All of this could lead up to be the most devastating, destructive, unspoken environmental catastrophe of all time,” she concluded. “Unfortunately, the media is not talking about it because most of their advertisers are brands that use GM ingredients. In fact, over 90% of the advertised packaged goods that are advertised on TV contain GMOs, such as corn, canola, soy, vegetable oils and high fructose corn syrup.”

On the heels of the recent failure of Proposition 37 in California, I was glad to hear that on June 3, 2013, Connecticut became the first US state to pass mandatory labeling legislation for genetically engineered food ingredients. The compromise law, however, requires that four other states pass similar legislation in order to “trigger” Connecticut’s labeling requirement. One of the states must share a border with Connecticut and their combined population must equal at least 20 million people.

Cultivating Cultural Genocide

Monsanto Company is a publicly traded American multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation and leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed and the herbicide glyphosate (marketed as Roundup). The company used to make DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange and recombinant bovine somatrotropin. It currently focuses on providing genetically modified seeds to farmers and agribusinesses. Monsanto’s biotechnology has created DNA-modified seeds that can endure pesticides and herbicides. They also created the “terminator seed”, which produces plants that will never yield fertile seeds.
Monsanto was among the first to genetically modify a plant cell in 1983 and conducted field trials of genetically modified crops in 1987. Monsanto pioneered the biotechnology industry business model in agriculture, using techniques developed by Genentech and other biotech drug companies. In this model companies invest heavily in research and development and recoup the expenses through the use and enforcement of biological patents. In the 1980s Monsanto applied the model to agriculture as part of a growing movement to create a global, uniform system of plant breeder’s rights. This conflicted with the customary practices of farmers to save, reuse, share and develop plant varieties. Its seed-patenting model has been rightly criticized as biopiracy and threatens ecosystem biodiversity.

Parent effectively summarized the insidious nature of Monsanto’s business model: “Monsanto’s trying to change the way farming has been done for thousands of years by patenting their seeds and making it illegal to save or share seeds with other farmers. Do you know why? Because farmers have to buy new seeds from Monsanto every year. This makes it more expensive for farmers and ultimately for us, the consumers. And it gets worse because if some of Monsanto’s [seeds or pollen] fly over and cross-pollinate with seeds on a neighbouring field, Monsanto then sues the farmer for stealing their intellectual property. I know this sounds ridiculous and rather criminal of Monsanto, but it’s a reality for our farmers. Now [Monsanto is] trying to introduce GM alfalfa in Canada. Farmers are concerned that if it’s allowed it will contaminate all-natural alfalfa, which is a feedstock for animals. And so even organic meat and diary products could become contaminated with GMOs. The funny thing is there’s no need for GM alfalfa. Alfalfa naturally, without pesticides, keeps weeds down on its own. This is another case of Monsanto creating a solution for a problem that just doesn’t exist. All so they can sell more chemicals.”

Earlier this year, on March 26th, President Obama signed H.R. 933 with a provision called the Monsanto Protection Act. The Monsanto Protection Act protects Monsanto from being sued for health damages caused by the use of their genetically modified crops.

Maribel Hermosillo of Policymic adds that, “Monsanto's practices with GMO seeds can do more than just hurt the public health; they can also destroy traditional farming methods in communities around the world.”

The insidious nature of Monsanto’s GMO seed production is that, while their poster line is “we are feeding the hungry of the world”, they are, in fact, monopolizing the seed industry across the world through genetic engineering to create more revenue.  It’s a simple model of greed.

In her article The Seeds of Suicide: How Monsanto Destroys Farming in Global Research, Dr. Vandana Shiva tells us that, “Control over seed is the first link in the food chain because seed is the source of life. When a corporation controls seed, it controls life, especially the life of farmers.”

Dr. Shiva adds, “Patents on seed are illegitimate because putting a toxic gene into a plant cell is not “creating” or “inventing” a plant. These are seeds of deception — the deception that Monsanto is the creator of seeds and life; the deception that while Monsanto sues farmers and traps them in debt, it pretends to be working for farmers’ welfare, and the deception that GMOs feed the world. GMOs are failing to control pests and weeds, and have instead led to the emergence of superpests and superweeds… A renewable resource became a non-renewable, patented commodity.”

“One way they have been able to monopolize the seed industry,” says Hermosillo, “is by cutting a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). When countries are in debt, they can ask the IMF for loans to rejuvenate the economy. Some of the conditions of the IMF loan include sustainable practices the country must implement in order to revitalize the economy with western capitalistic development. However, one of the conditions of the IMF includes preferential access to markets by agricultural conglomerates such as Monsanto. Countries impacted by Monsanto include India, Mexico, Liberia and Paraguay.”

My 2007 short story Julia’s Gift explores a family’s personal tragedy—and a  victorious outcome—during a turbulent post-GMO war between pro-biotechnologists and pro-naturalist Gaians.  

Julia’s Gift appears in my short story collection Natural Selection, about the evolution of humanity and our planet, available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other quality bookstores in your area. 







Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.

Nina's book on water "Water Is..." (Pixl Press) represents the "Water Is..." combines personal journey with scientific discovery that explores water's many "identities" and ultimately our own.
culmination of over 25 years of service as a limnologist in Canada and examines the meaning of water. Part history, part science and part philosophy and spirituality,

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