Mexico bans planting of Monsanto’s GM-Corn!



by Selvam Canagaratna

"Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the Food and Drug Administration’s job."

- Phil Angell, Monsanto’s Director of Corporate Communications.

The sheer audacity of the claim leaves one momentarily speechless. Unbelievable thought it is, Monsanto’s bigwig was ‘quoted’ as above in the New York Times Magazine of October 25, 1998 in an article appropriately titled Playing God in the Garden.

Unarguably, Phil Angell’s attitude in 1998 said it all – and, whether we like it or not, still does.

But it didn’t take too long for the game of ‘playing God’ to go badly awry for Monsanto et al.

Almost 15 years to the day, October 2013 proved to be a terrible month for the multinational agri-giant as well as the biotech industry as a whole.

On October 22, 2013, Mexico banned the planting of genetically-modified corm in the entire country. Citing the risk of imminent harm to the environment, a Mexican court ruled that, effective immediately, no genetically-engineered corn could be planted in the country. Monsanto and their like will no longer be allowed to plant or sell genetically-modified corn within Mexico’s borders.

At the same time, the County Council for the island of Kauai passed a law that mandated farms to disclose pesticide use and the presence of genetically-modified crops. The bill also required a 500-foot buffer zone near medical facilities, schools and homes, among other locations.

And the big island of Hawaii County Council has given preliminary approval to a bill that prohibits open air cultivation, propagation, development or testing of genetically-engineered crops or plants. The bill, which still needs further confirmation to become law, would also prohibit biotech companies from operating on the Big Island.

Ocean Robbins, founder and co-host (with best-selling author John Robbins) of the 85,000-member Food Revolution Network, in an Op-Ed article on the AlterNet website on October 25 suggested that perhaps the biggest bombshell of all was now unfolding in Washington state.

"The mail-in ballot state’s voters are already weighing in on Initiative 522, which would mandate the labeling of genetically-modified organisms," she wrote. "Knowing full well that 93 percent of the American public supports GMO labeling, and that if one state passes it, many others are likely to follow, entrenched agribusiness interests are pulling out all the stops to try to squelch yet another state labeling effort."

But this time round things aren’t going quite as planned by the biotech industry.

On October 23, Washington state Attorney-General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the public face and lobby for the junk food industry; the GMA has been by far the largest donor to efforts to defeat the GM-labeling initiative. The lawsuit alleges that the GMA illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors.

The source of the money has now been exposed: it turns out to be Pepsico, Coca-Cola, NestleUSA, General Mills and a few other junk food companies. The lawsuit reveals that the GMA leadership held a series of secret meetings to plot how to perpetrate a money laundering scheme and illegally hide member donations from Washington state voters, in direct violation of campaign disclosure laws.

"All this label fighting and money laundering leads to some very significant questions," says Robbins. "Why are Monsanto and the junk food industry willing to spend many tens of millions of dollars every year trying to keep you in the dark about your food? What doesn’t Big Food want you to know? And what are they afraid might happen if you did?

"Monsanto tells us that their products are about the best thing to come along since sliced bread. For years they’ve been promising that GMOs would reduce pesticide use, increase yields, reduce water consumption, and offer foods that are more tasty and more nutritious. I wish they were right.

"But in the 20 years since GMO crops first came on the market, studies have found that they have led to higher pesticide use, and no meaningful improvement in flavour, nutrition, yield or water requirements. Instead, what they’ve created are plants that are engineered to withstand massive dosing of toxic herbicides, and plants that function as living pesticide factories. In case you didn’t know, Monsanto’s Bt. corn, for example, is actually registered with the EPA as a pesticide!"

Well, well. Filmstars generally consider all publicity – be it favourable or otherwise – as a positive career-boost; I doubt Monsanto thinks likewise about Project Censored’s choice as the 2014 winner "for an article or topic that was ignored or inadequately covered by the mainstream corporate media". The choice was announced, yes, in that awful month of October! [Ah, well, it never rains . . .].

Project Censored chose journalist Belén Fernandez’s Dirty White Gold: Monsanto’s Claim That It’s a ‘Sustainable Agriculture Company’ Doesn’t Hold Water. Excerpts:

Given Monsanto’s legacy as a producer of the lethal defoliant ‘Agent Orange’ during the Vietnam War, Southeast Asian agriculture would presumably beg to differ with this characterization as ‘sustainable’.

Sustainability is not the first word that comes to mind when contemplating Monsanto’s policy of sowing the earth with genetically modified seeds that destroy soil and are designed with nonrenewable traits so as to require constant repurchase as well as acquisition of a variety of other company products like fertilizers and pesticides.

Nor would the term appear to define a situation in which nearly 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995 after being driven into insurmountable debt by neoliberal economics and the conquest of Indian farmland by Monsanto’s Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton.

In tragic irony, many kill themselves by imbibing pesticides intended for their crops. [Sales, one way or another!]

Author Vandana Shiva outlined Monsanto’s contributions to a "suicide economy" in India: an increase in the price per kilogram of cotton seeds from 7 to 17,000 rupees!

Indigenous cotton varieties can be intercropped. Bt-cotton must be grown as a monoculture. Indigenous cotton is rain fed. Bt-cotton needs irrigation. Indigenous varieties are pest-resistant. Bt-cotton, even though promoted as resistant to the bollworm, has created new pests, and to control these new pests, farmers are using 13 times more pesticides then they were using prior to introduction of Bt-cotton. And finally, Monsanto sells its GMO seeds on fraudulent claims of yields of 1500 kg/year when farmers harvest 300-400 kg/year on an average.

There are a couple of reasons why mass farmer suicides have not generated the international attention that should ostensibly accompany such a phenomenon. For one thing, the image of desperate peasants killing themselves by the hundreds of thousands does not mesh particularly well with the portrait of India fabricated by free market pundits, who hallucinate rampant upward economic mobility among the country’s citizens thanks to globalization.

According to filmmaker Leah Borromeo, director of the forthcoming Dirty White Gold about cotton and fashion, the dearth of international concern over the issue is also a result of the fact that "people haven’t made the connection between our consumer habits and the lives and deaths of farmers."

The objective of the film, which shines a light on the entire cotton supply chain, is to help force legislation that will "make ethics and sustainability the norm in the fashion industry." As Borromeo wrote in a recent article for the New Statesman: "I’m exploring science and the idea of open-sourcing technology to take power away from corporations and anyone who makes a killing out of suicides."

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