Playing God with Seeds
Industrial cotton is heavily involved with GMO (genetically modified) seeds produced by Monsanto. Using Roundup-Ready GMO seed allows spraying the herbicide Roundup to eliminate weeds without causing the cotton plant to die. Monsanto and university researchers are working to develop a GMO cotton seed that can tolerate drought as well as herbicides, marketing this as the best way to adapt to climate change and reduce the environmental impacts of cotton farming by reducing water, fuel, fertilizer and herbicide use. Yet the history of GMO plants shows that pesticide and herbicide use declines only briefly if at all, and that crop yields are often not as good as non-GMO plants – which certainly doesn’t jive with what Monsanto promises farmers who buy into their marketing hype.
GMO genes have already escaped into weeds and adjacent crops, carrying herbicide resistance into mutant superweeds and making weed control much more difficult and expensive. Farmers in the mid-west are already having to resort to expensive and even more-toxic herbicides, and old-fashioned manual labor in attempts to control weeds that are resistant to Roundup.
YOUR PLANTS ARE MY PLANTS
Monsanto has successfully patented their genetically modified seed and requires their customers to buy its expensive seed every year under their licensing agreement. Farmers cannot collect and reuse their own seed because Monsanto “owns” the GMO genetic code. They have successfully sued farmers for patent violation after those farmers’ normal plants and seed were contaminated by pollen from GMO crops from nearby fields, most famously in the case of Percy Schmeiser of Canada, whose canola was polluted by GMO pollen blowing into his fields.
This extremely litigious behavior along with government treatment of GMO crops as intellectual property threatens traditional agriculture worldwide, which has always been based on collecting seeds for future planting. Organic farmers have even lost their organic certification due to contamination by windblown GMO pollen, without compensation for the damages from Monsanto.
Monsanto has often made extraordinary claims for the productivity and potential of GMO seeds, yet these claims have rarely panned out. Their golden rice, which was marketed as a benefit for poor third world countries, failed to produce significant amounts of Vitamin A. Creating Roundup-resistant plants seems to mostly just be a means to sell more Roundup.
Health concerns about GMO plants have never been adequately researched. Monsanto has consistently made its in-house research results hard to access, claiming them to be proprietary business information. Monsanto has corrupted science by buying scientists and scientific institutions with donations and research grants made for supportive results. Monsanto has also ruthlessly attacked the reputation and work of scientists who dared to publish results unfavorable to Monsanto’s claims of no negative health effects.
"BIOTECH" OR RUSSIAN ROULETTE?
Calling GMO “biotechnology” makes it sound as though it is a highly advanced science with predictable results, yet the truth is nothing like the hype. Science’s understanding of genetics is in its infancy, and to create genetically modified organisms, genes are inserted randomly by a “gene gun,” creating completely unpredictable results. While “lucky shots” might produce an effective, competitive plant, this is most often not the case. The risks and consequences of genetic pollution or the unnatural proteins produced by GMO plants are largely unknown.
French farmers have united against the threats to their traditional crops and land from GMO seeds, pulling out sample plots of Monsanto corn in 2005. Yet Monsanto and the U.S. government bullied the European Union, forcing the end of its blanket ban on GMOs through legal action in the World Trade Organization. Now the EU requires careful scientific documentation of each GMO product’s benefits and risks before allowing its entry into Europe.
Monsanto, with revenues exceeding $7 billion per year, spends a lot of money on lobbying politicians, influencing scientists and scientific advisory panels, and on litigating dissidents worldwide. They hire agents to spy on farmers and take samples from farmers’ fields without notice when they suspect seed “piracy.”
AN UGLY COMPANY WITH AN UGLIER HISTORY
Monsanto is the same company that brought us PCBs, dioxin, Agent Orange and recombinant bovine growth hormone. This is the same company that horribly polluted Anniston, Alabama with PCBs and failed to notify its residents for decades, despite knowledge of the deadly health effects. The U.S. Veterans Administration recognizes the health impacts of dioxin by treating Vietnam veterans for health effects of exposure, despite a lack of concrete evidence of individual exposure, thanks to complicity of the Defense Department and Monsanto back in the 1960s and 1970s. Thousands of Vietnamese civilians live with birth defects and cancer as a result of dioxin exposure from the widespread use of Monsanto’s Agent Orange to defoliate the jungle by American planes.
While Monsanto’s lobbying efforts have been very successful in the US and Canada, so far Europe has resisted GMO plants except as animal feed. While the EU ban on GMO plants and grain has ended (thanks to US government bullying of the European Union on Monsanto’s behalf), public hostility is very strong in Europe. In fact, American farmers have seen their formerly large export trade of corn and soybeans to Europe almost completely dry up because of European consumers’ refusal to eat GMO food.
Things have changed significantly for Monsanto this year as superweeds became a real problem in the Midwest and South, causing yields to fail to meet promises and Monsanto’s pipeline of new “products” to dry up. As Grist food editor and organic North Carolina farmer Tom Philpott wrote in early October 2010:
"From my perspective, what we're seeing is signs that GMO technology is much cruder and less effective than its champions have let on. After decades of hype and billions of dollars worth of research, much of it publicly funded, the industry has managed to market exactly two traits. More devastating still, it has failed on its own terms: it has not delivered the promised dazzling yield gains.
As Monsanto execs scramble to win back their mojo with Wall Street investors -- the lot that brought us the dot-com and housing busts in the past decade alone -- the rest of us would do well to remember that the surest path to a bountiful future lies in supporting biodiversity, not in narrowing it away by handing the globe's seed heritage to a few bumbling companies."
It would appear that behind the marketing niceities of "feeding the world's hungry" through GMO seeds, is a control-freak, high-risk corporation hell-bent on world domination, heedless of its environmental, human health and ecological consequences. Sounds like business as usual.