Nel's New Day

April 8, 2013

Can Monsanto Be Stopped?

Over four decades ago I went on a free ride at Disneyland called “Adventures thru Inner Space” sponsored by Monsanto. Forty years, I didn’t know anything about the company—just that it provided a “free ride” once I paid to get inside the amusement park. Little did I know that Monsanto, that started as a small chemical company in 1901, would grow into a huge biotechnology seed company that would be destructive to our environment and our food supply.

Monsanto originally made its fortune selling saccharin to Coca-Cola before it moved on to producing DDT (now banned in the United States) and Agent Orange, an herbicide and anti-defoliant that killed or maimed 400,000 people and caused another 500,000 children to be born with birth defects after its use during the Vietnam War. Its most recent money-maker is selling genetically-engineered seeds complete with herbicides and pesticides. Because of its dangers, people have tried to legislate ways to label food as genetically engineered, for example the failed California’s Prop 37, but Monsanto has been successful in defeating these efforts.

rootworm-300x203Monsanto spent $4.2 million last year to kill the ballot initiative that would bring California’s laws in line with those passed in Japan, China, the European Union, and Australia, which already require labels on genetically modified foods. In the United States, 91 percent of voters support GMO labeling, yet the FDA does not require safety studies before approving genetically-modified foods. Because of the danger of these GM foods, the EPA decided to look into the problem of “superweeds” and “superworms” that resist Monsanto chemicals.

The latest species of worm that has evolved to withstand pesticides are called “armyworms” because their infestation is like a military onslaught. The only answer farmers have at this time is to drastically increase the use of toxic chemicals on their crops.

Thanks to an anomymously-added rider to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, now signed into law, Monsanto is immune from any lawsuits against its poisoning the public. Nicknamed the Monsanto Protection Act, this law was even written by Monsanto and then slipped in with neither hearing nor review. President Obama signed the protection for Monsanto into law because it was part of the federal budget Continuing Resolution, necessary for continuing the government operations. Members of Congress who might have opposed it have said that they were unaware that it was part of the bill.

More people are familiar with the new law thanks to a segment on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, in which he said that these lawmakers operate “with the same level of awareness as a flatulent grandpa.” He further quipped, “The laws in the most powerful nation on Earth are written with the same level of accountability as Internet comments.”

Section 735 of the Continuing Resolution states that a seed approved by the USDA but challenged by a court ruling can still be used and sold until the USDA says otherwise. A USDA spokesperson said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked for a review of section 735, “as it appears to preempt judicial review of a deregulatory action, which may make the provision unenforceable.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) proposed an amendment to remove the rider out of the CR, but it never came to a vote. He slammed the House of Representatives for “slipping  ‘corporate giveaways’ into a must-pass government funding bill.” He wrote in a statement:

“Montanans elected me to the Senate to do away with shady backroom deals and to make government work better. These provisions are giveaways worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country and deserve no place in this bill.”

bluntRep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is taking credit for the biorider, saying that he “worked with” Monsanto to craft it. Monsanto’s office is located in Missouri, and the company has contributed generously to Blunt’s campaigns.

A serious problem of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds is that farmers cannot use seeds from their crops in the next year. Because Monsanto has patent rights, they are claiming—in the U.S. Supreme Court—that farmers that buy previously harvested soybeans for planting are infringing on Monsanto’s rights. Approximately 90 percent of the country’s soybeans are subject to this ruling because of being genetically modified, giving Monsanto a virtual monopoly to control access to this crop.

The case of Monsanto v. Vernon Hugh Bowman, an Indiana soybean and wheat farmer, surrounded the issue that all Monsanto seed buyers must sign a “Technology Agreement,” prohibiting them from saving and replanting the seeds or doing research on the seeds, and pay a technology fee.

As usual, Justice Clarence Thomas did not recuse himself although he is a former Monsanto lawyer.  Bowman got his seed from his local grain elevator to plant as a high-risk crop after he harvested his wheat. Losing in two lower courts, Bowman is the using the argument of patent “exhaustion,” meaning that the patent owner has no rights to an item after an initial authorized sale of that patented item.

Monsanto also claims that it controls the pollen from Monsanto corn, also dominant in U.S. crops, and seeds distributed by animals, winds, or waterways and mixing with non-GMO plantings. The company maintains that the seeds of Monsanto seeds retain the company’s exclusive patent rights until perpetuity. If Monsanto wins its case—and with its money it is likely to do so—then almost all farmers will be forced to pay Monsanto for all their seeds. Monsanto has the ability to sell seeds that cannot re-propagate, meaning that farmers cannot use its existing crops to plant seeds during the next year.

Monsanto doesn’t stop there. Their products include herbicides, pesticides, and biocides that make soil toxic and water poisonous. Their genetically-modified products have not had enough testing on the health impacts.

Bill Maher put it well in his “New Rules” section: “If you are one of the millions of Californians who voted against labeling genetically modified food, you can’t complain when it turns out there is horse meat in your hamburger.” In his description of mislabeled foods, he said:

“Did you know your Chilean sea bass is neither Chilean, nor bass, nor from the sea? …. And your Mahi-Mahi is really made of mercury drenched bottom feeders like tile fish …. And if you like sushi, you really don’t know what you are eating because those fish are mislabeled 74% of the time.”

If there is any good news about this whole debacle, it is that the Monsanto Protection Act has been passed for only six months because the budget bill is in effect for only six months. It’s up to the people in the United States to stop this from happening again.

Other countries are fighting back against Monsanto’s control:

Five million farmers in India are suing Monsanto for as much as $7.7 billion for taxing the farmers to financial shambles with ridiculous royalty charges for “renewal” seed harvests, crops planted using seed from the previous year’s harvest.

Hungary destroyed 1000 acres of maize after the country found that it was grown with genetically modified seeds. Genetically modified (GM) seeds are banned in the country.

Peru has passed a 10-year ban on GM foods.

Argentina‘s tax agency is holding Monsanto responsible for  “slave-like conditions” among workers at a Monsanto contractor. Rural Power SA hired all its farmhands illegally, prevented them from leaving the fields, and withheld their salaries.

Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Madeira, New Zealand, South Australia, Russia, France, and Switzerland have removed Monsanto seeds and banned them.

Poland is also taking action against Monsanto.

Congress is due to return after its latest two-week recess, and the Senate may begin debate on gun legislation tomorrow. Let’s hope that they decide to protect the people in the United States as much as they protect Monsanto.



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