Monsanto is the largest producer of genetically modified seed in the world. This company with its tentacles spread across continents has a tightening grip on the production of some of the world's basic foods, like corn and soy. Its grip doesn't have to do with the superiority of its products but with its relentless pursuit of profit at any cost and with any tools at hand. Genetically modified seed production is the latest and most ominous of its activities. Here is a link to a summary of some of its actions and products among thousands. Monsanto is like an unchained monster in a horror movie. This sounds alarmist, but it's not.
Monsanto, along with a few other companies made its name known through the production of Agent Orange which was used to such devastating effect in Vietnam. It is headquartered in St. Louis, MO, and for quite a number of years I drove, shuddering, past its campus on my way to work. Its name was frequently associated in St. Louis with problems of pollution linked to Dioxin in Times Beach and for toxic dumping in the Mississippi near Sauget, Illinois, for instance. Its name became linked, and accurately, with extremely severe toxic spills elsewhere and with its efforts to cover up what it was doing. An especially tragic case occurred in Anniston, Alabama. It has been identified as the responsible party by the EPA in at least 93 toxic waste Superfund sites There have been incidents of seeping toxic waste burial sites in Great Britain. Look these up and you'l find much more: there are a million links. You can find a good overview in Vanity Fair in an article called "Monsanto's Harvest of Fear." It is impossible to encompass the terrible deeds of Monsanto in a web post.
Monsanto branched out from chemicals to genetically modified seeds in the late 1990s. It has been so successful in spreading its genetically modified seeds because it has patented them. It uses patent law, of all things, as an extremely deadly weapon.
How can you patent genes, you ask. Before 1980, you couldn't. But in 1980, in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, a 5-4 decision said that genetically modified bacteria could be patented because the modified bacteria didn't exist in nature. This lay the groundwork for patents on DNA sequences that are less than a whole gene, and thus the groundwork for Monsanto.
Monsanto also produces the worlds biggest-selling herbicide, Roundup (used, incidentally, to devastating effect in the "War on Drugs" in Colombia in an amped-up form known as Roundup Ultra). Many of its seeds have been genetically modified to work with Roundup. Its GM seeds are patented and so is Roundup.
GM seeds are not, in and of themselves, evil. But they are extremely dangerous in the hands of unscrupulous businesses like Monsanto. Genetically modified seeds and research into them belong in highly protected lab settings and only in the hands of researchers who don't have any interest in spreading them around without full knowledge of the consequences and the ways to handle them. Anyone handling GM seeds should have a well-developed set of ethics which includes recognizing the need to protect human beings and the environment and the need to avoid a single, or eve a few, corporations dominating food production
The problems of corporate-produced genetically modified seeds are multiple, but we can roughly summarize them in three categories: environmental, social, and economic.
You can read about environmental damage caused by Monsanto by following another million links. One concept to think about is that Monsanto is assuming a steady-state environment, but the environment is always evolving A simple-to-understand problem is that Monsanto's seeds which are genetically modified to work with Roundup are not resistant to weeds which evolve to survive Roundup. Got that? Like germs and antibiotics: many germs have evolved to survive our current crop of antibiotics. So for the Monsanto's GM crops to avoid drowning in super-weeds, some of which have already evolved, they'll need an even more powerful herbicide...not so great for the environment. This gets really weird. GM seeds that escape can cross-breed with the weeds themselves -- and thus produce herbicide-resistant pest plants.
Another problem is the expanding use of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup. Thus, the more seeds developed to work with Roundup, the less variety in the kinds of pesticides people use, the more likely weeds are to grow resistant to glyphosate. Because these seeds are used on an enormous scale, the problem increases drastically. A kind of side effect is that in, for instance, Argentina, the use of GM seeds (a tangled story indeed) has led to the rapid expansion of the production of soybeans and consequent deforestation to make room for more soy. It also has led to a decrease in crop diversity and destruction of the livelihoods of small farmers there.
Remember, this is just a limited glimpse of the environmental problems.
Social problems result from full frontal attacks, via patent law, on farmers who don't use Monsanto seeds. Monsanto has what amounts to a huge secret police that monitors farmers' fields. If farmers have not purchased Monsanto GM seed and Monsanto finds ANY evidence of a Monsanto seed on the farm, it institutes endless legal proceedings for patent violation. It seems the purposes are ultimately to get money from "offending" farmers and to make it impossible for them to use non-Monsanto GM seeds. This hurts small farmers: Monsanto seeds are expensive and they contain a "patent-based technology fee." In other countries, the use of GM seeds has a devastating effect on local farmers' abilities to sustain themselves as occured in Argentina.
Monsanto, in short, is a ruthless organization that will lie, cheat, hide, bend and break the law, obfuscate and attack ruthlessly in order to keep itself growing.
What we might call the economic effects are pretty interesting. For one thing, Monsanto is gaining control of huge swatches of food production. The New York Times in an editorial on October 23 of this year said,
"Many people think of agriculture as a tradition-bound occupation. It is far more like information technology, as high tech companies genetically engineer seeds and a few powerful companies strive to dominate the market. Following a decade of unchecked consolidation, it is time for the Justice Department to take a hard look at potentially anticompetitive behavor....
"A good place to start is with Monsanto....[whose seeds] are present in 90% of the soybean crops and 79% of the corn [in the United States], akin to Microsoft Windows on computers....
"Agriculture is at the frontier of technological progress. Its innovations will determine, to a large extent, whether and at what cost this country and the world will be able to feed its growing populations. No company should dominate such an essential business."
And yet Mexico has just granted 15 permits for GM seed research projects in the states of Sinaloa, Chihuaha, Sonora and Tamaulipas, with another eight pending. Nine of the just granted permits go to Monsanto, six to its brother-in-crime Dow AgroScience.
Of course the goverment offers all kinds of assurances and in fact has put in place some protections. But according to El Processo,
"[T]here was no pressure, but rather everything is according to the law, now that the most important thing is to guarantee to society that the goverment is doing its best. Enriqe Sánchez Cruz, director in chief of the National Public Health and Food Safety Service explained that expert opinion was taken into account in setting up experimental seed projects, that it is all according to law, and that they have the support of the [Mexican] Inter-departmental Commission of Biosecurity on Genetically Modified Organisms.
"He said that the plantings which will be undertaken will be strictly experimental and that they will take place on controlled plots and totally isolated from other types of cultivars.
"Addressing the measures of biosecurity established by law, Mauricio Limón Aguirre, subsecretary of Management for the Protection of the Environment, referred to the construction of cycle fencing to avoid easy access to these little land parcels where the experiments will take place; mentioned that there will be a minimum distance of 500 meters from other crops, and there will be a temporary period of isolation after a month to avoid the flow of genetic material to a possible conventional maize crop.
"Furthermore, [they will be required] to specify geographic coordinates; to establish a log, to erect pollen plants so that there won't be any flow through this means (whatever that means), and in addition to burn the product so that it doesn't enter the food supply.
"During the press conference, Juan Elvira Quezada [head of the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural resources, or Semarnat] did not specify exactly what the permits said and what area was covered, among other things. He only said that you could find the information on the [Senasica] web page.
However, at consulting the page at www.senasica.gov.mx and linking to transgenics, only the phrase, 'Forgive the inconvenience. The information which meets the criteria of your search does not exist.'"
Here's what La Jornada reported in May when Monsanto was first said to be interested in Mexico:
"Mexico, Monsanto's New Garbage Dump" by Ana de Ita
"European civil society has succeeded impressively with victories in its war against transgenics. Seven countries: France, Austria, Luxemburg, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and this past month, Germany, have passed moratoriums on the sowing of the only variety of transgenic corn permitted in Europe, Mon810, a Bt variety of Monsanto that is resistant to insects. Italy has a general prohibition against all genetically modified cultivars while a referendum in Switzerland in 2005 established five years of moratorium against these commercial cultivars The government expanded it to 2013.
"European prohibitions are the result of civic pressure on the government and the autonomous decision of citizens, campesinos, farmers and the population in general to establish areas voluntarily free from transgenics. There are now 196 such areas.
"The governmeents, to respond to the social problems of trangenics in the fields and on dining tables, have taken for their justification scientific studies which show the impact on the environment, the lack of knowledge of the effects on human and animal health, and also the certainty that it is impossible to protect the production of conventoinal and organic crops from contamination by transgenics
"Monsanto has responded forcefully in trying to block the prohibitions against the planting of their transgenic varieties, starting with pressuring governments, including challenging judicial pronouncements against them, as is the case with Germany. The fact is that transgenic maize in Europe only represents 0.01 percent of world cultivation of maize, and it is expected that it will become even less.
"To counter this tendency [in Europe] Monsanto seeks to advance rapidly in countries of the south, using the false argument that its transgenics will resolve hunger problems in the world.
"During the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland at the end of January, Hugh Grant, not the actor but the international president of Monsanto, met with President Felipe Calderón and then congratulated him for his agricultural policy, mainly the one that addressed small and medium-sized businesses and he repeated his interest in supporting technological development in Mexico.
"This past March 6th, a presidential decree put an end to the de facto moratorium on the sowing of transgenic maize which since the end of 1998 had prevented the plantings of experimental or commercial transgenic crops in the country.
"The unilateral decision of the president gave the starting shot to the advance of transgenic maize, although the road was already paved by the Law of Biosecurity and Genetically Modified Crops, popularly known as the Monsanto Law (2005).
"Only a month later, Monsanto sought approval for 12 experimental plantings of three varieties of transgenic maize in Sonora, Sinaloa and Chihuaha, and in May, Dow and Pioneer-Dupont, two other corporations of the six that monopolize the transgenic seed market, sought permission to experiment with another 12 varieties in the same states.
"The corporations seek to begin these tests during the next cycle of planting in autumn-winter in experimental public research fields and in the fields of "cooperative farmers" in the north. INIFAP (National Institute of Forest, Agriculture and Fisheries Research) and Monsanto will supervise the research.
"The experiments are to be in the phase necessary to look into aspects of biosecurity and to permit moving to the following stages which are pilot and commercial. The experiments uniquely center on agronomic aspects such as yields, costs and effectiveness against infestations and don't address impacts on biodiversity, the environment, health, rural agriculture, ecology and culture in general.
There are three transgenic varietie of maize which Monsanto seeks to experiment with. One is maize resistant to Roundup Ready, [a herbicide] also produced by Monsanto and which independent researchers have categorized as highly toxic in experiments with rats and embryos.
The second variety is Maize BT, resistant to insects (Mon 89034 x 88017). The European prohibition against the variety Mon 810 had as its rationale the study of rats fed with Bt Mon 863 which demonstrated symptoms of poison in the liver and kidney. Other studies report high toxicity of the pollen from bt maize for butterfly larvae, and also the destruction of soil fertility The third variety is a combination of the first two.
Sagarpa (the Department of agriculture, cattle farming, fisheries and food) maintains that Mexico cannot [quedar rezagado] of this technology. However, after almost 14 years of transgenic plantings, it can be seen that Monsanto and Co. have taken refuge in the countries of the south where the absence of environmental regulation constitute one of their main competitive advantages. The planting of transgenic maize in Mexico turns us into Monsanto´s ew garbage dump.