Can we stop Monsanto or does it have total control?

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Can we stop Monsanto or does it have total control?

Monsanto was voted both the best and the worst company. Can we stop Monsanto? Vanessa Baird writes about the company that wants to feed the world.

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On 23 May protesters around the world will be in the streets to ‘March Against Monsanto!’ They say the big company is poisoning and controlling the world’s food. © Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

Lisa Safarian seems a kind person. She writes in a blog on the company’s Facebook page. ‘As a mum and member of the team at Monsanto, I think about food all the time. I think about meals with my family or working with farmers to help us produce more food,’ She is one of the people working at Monsanto who feels strongly and wants to ‘help feed our growing population’. Because as the big seed company says, ‘We want to help feed nine billion people more sustainably by 2050.’

And did you know that Monsanto is paying for girls’ education in rural Vietnam? There’s a picture of the girls smiling in their new white blouses and red ties. Did you know that the company is named by the Human Rights Campaign 2015 as one of the ‘Best Places to Work for Equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) workers’?

But this company was voted the world’s worst company in a digital poll by SumOfUs. Friends of the Earth International say it wants to force GM crops on African nations. For the past two years hundreds of thousands of protesters have been on the streets in over 50 countries to ‘March Against Monsanto’. The protesters say the big seed company has committed many crimes.Genetically Modified (GM) food is back for activists.

Liz O’Neill is from the British campaign group GM-Freeze. Liz says there is a new level of promotion of GM. The companies are much cleverer. They also have big economic power. They spent many millions of dollars on a campaign to stop GM labels on food in the US. More and more they are talking to politicians around the world to support them. There are other big seed companies – Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, and BASF. But Monsanto is the leader working hard in Europe and Asia and, with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in Africa, too.

Is GM Safe?

GM crops started nearly 20 years ago. They are in a tenth of the world’s crop land. But are they safe to eat? Monsanto says, ‘Yes.’ Monsanto says they have tested plants and crops with GM more than all other crops and they are safe for humans and animals.

Scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and Britain’s Royal Society agree. Mark Lynas is a British environmentalist and supporter of GM. He says ‘you are more likely to be hit by an asteroid than be hurt by GM food.’

The Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have accepted the safety tests.

But many scientists think GM is not safe. They say that the GM companies are doing most of the tests or paying for the tests. They say that some studies have found that GM crops can be poisonous. Many studies on animals show problems with their DNA and their liver and kidneys.

One study says GM since 1996 and the use of Monsanto’s Roundup glyphosate pesticide are the reason for the big increase in cases of health problems like coeliac disease, gluten intolerance, autism, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and ADHD.

Another study shows that people who live where GM soy is grown in Argentina are twice as likely to die of cancer. Brazilian soy growers have DNA, liver and kidney problems. Michael Antoniou of Kings College, London University, is a geneticist. He says we need more independent and better studies to find out exactly what is causing the problems. He says that with the studies we have, no GM crops are safe, especially for over long time or over a lifetime. 300 scientists agree.

Later this year Russian and European scientists will start a three-year, $25-million study of the effects of Monsanto GM maize on around 6,000 rats. Monsanto did not want to say anything about this study.

Feed the world or poison the world?

World population is growing, there is climate change, and we are destroying the environment. People will welcome someone with an easy answer to these problems.

In an advertisement, Monsanto seemed to offer the answer to these problems. The advertisement says that GM crops help us to produce more food sustainably and use fewer resources. GM crops give us a healthier environment by saving on pesticides. GM crops have lower greenhouse gases and increase crops.

But the company was forced to stop the advertisement because there was not enough science.

Doug Gurian-Sherman was an adviser with the US Environmental Protection Agency. He says that GM does not increase crops. A USDA report in 2014 agrees. With some crops – soy, for example – there are fewer crops. But Doug Gurian-Sherman says that traditional farming is very successful.

Even with more crops GM cannot help the problem of world hunger. Politics causes world hunger - not all people can get the food, there are problems bringing the food to everyone, and food is wasted. We already grow more than enough food to feed nine billion people. GM companies say crops need less pesticide but this is not totally true.

With GM crops, such as Monsanto’s Bt cotton, there is a little less use of chemical pesticides since 1996. But there is a bigger increase in the use of weedkiller, especially glyphosate used with GM crops.

In the US, for example, pesticide use increased by about 183 million kilograms or seven per cent, compared with non-GM crops between 1996 and 2011. Most western European countries reduced pesticide use and increased crops using non-GM farming.

There is another problem. GM means we need pesticides. Pigweed, marestail, and ryegrass are a few of the superweeds that are now resistant to glyphosate. Today about 28 million hectares of US farmland have these superweeds. They are now in at least 18 countries – most in big GM growing countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Pigweed is a very big problem. It needs more water and light. It grows more than two metres tall, it grows five centimetres a day, and it ruins farming machinery.

Farmers in the southern US states have tried to control pigweed and they have spent millions of dollars weeding it by hand. Aaron Hager is a crop science professor at the University of Illinois. He says, the weeds are winning.

Monsanto’s answer to the big problem was to pay farmers to spray more pesticides with Roundup. Monsanto’s main rival, Dow, made a new pesticide, Enlist Duo – it is glyphosate and 2,4-D. They are the two main chemical ingredients of Agent Orange.

In January this year Monsanto was given the first stage of approval for its new Roundup Ready Xtend crop system, specially designed to stop superweeds. This system will work with Monsanto’s new and even stronger pesticide mix of glyphosate and dicamba. Superbugs – such as corn rootworm – resistant to pesticide from Bt corn, soy or cotton are now also appearing. The situation does not look good.

Is all of this a problem for Monsanto? Maybe. Or maybe not. It is a company that sells seeds and pesticides. Farmers may find they are controlled by pesticides but it’s all good for Monsanto. The Way Monsanto Works

Monsanto is clever. Its business makes a lot of money and it is good at controlling people.

GM is about half of its business, but GM is very important for its power. By changing the genes of seeds, Monsanto can make new products which it can then patent as ‘inventions’. When it sells its GM seeds to farmers, they have to sign an agreement to pay if they use the seed again, or there will be legal action.

Monsanto bought many of the other seed companies and Monsanto is today the world’s largest seed company. It has so much control of the market that farmers often have no other possibilities. And this is a problem if the prices go up.

Monsanto is controlling farmers and it is reducing biodiversity, as Indian scientist and activist Vandana Shiva has been warning for years. It looks like a way for Monsanto to have total control. In 2010 a US Department of Justice looked at Monsanto’s possible illegal control of the seed market. In 2012 they stopped looking.

Robert Fraley is Monsanto’s executive vice-president. He wrote that organic and GM are both part of food’s future. It is difficult to see how. GM farming stops all other possibilities.

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Monsanto has made Argentina the world’s third largest producer of soy – all of it is GM. Pesticide use is very heavy. Activist Oscar Alfredo Di Vincensi tried to stop illegal use of pesticide near homes. He was covered with pesticide. Many studies show that people living near GM soy farms are more than twice as likely to get cancer and other health problems. Monsanto says the problem comes from the way the farmers use pesticides not from the pesticides. Natacha Pisarenko / PA

Organic farmers lose their business when GM material blows over their fields from other farms near them.

Monsanto is good at getting help from politicians. It spends a lot of money in Washington and it has a lot of people who are friendly to the company and who work for the government. Hillary Clinton is a possible future president. She was legal counsel for Monsanto and she supports GM.

The company has political power abroad, too. Tomás Palau is a Paraguayan sociologist who studies farming. He says, Monsanto controls the farming and trade of many South American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

He told Marie-Monique Robin that it’s the company that decides what seeds and what chemical products farmers will use. Monsanto are also using the politicians in Africa in the same way.

Anti-GM activists say that it is bad that most countries do not have the right systems to control GM. They follow the US and trust the GM companies.

But the protests about food-labelling in the US could change things. In the US the processed food is about 80 per cent GM. And supporters of GM don’t want people to know what is in their food.

Monsanto says that it disagrees with compulsory food labelling because it says that GM food is the same as non-GM food. And Monsanto says if we label food, people will think there are differences for diet and health between labelled and non-labelled food. And Monsanto says it would also be ‘unfair to farmers’.

Colin O’Neil is the director of government affairs at the Centre for Food Safety in Washington. He says 90-95 per cent of people in the US want compulsory food labelling. The National Farmers Union wants compulsory food labelling, too.

GM supporters, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, are spending a lot of money – over $100 million so far – to try to stop people knowing what they are eating.

Colin O’Neil says, ‘Why are companies like Monsanto spending so much money to stop labelling?’. Monsanto is famous for not telling the truth, for example, back in the days of Agent Orange and PCB poisoning. ‘The public has not forgotten,’ O’Neil says.

The state of Vermont voted for compulsory food labelling and supporters of Monsanto sued them. Now they are trying to have a law in Congress to stop all food labelling in the future. Food labelling is important, too, in the talks between the US and the European Union about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Friends of the Earth Europe say that at the talks the US have been clear that they want to increase the market in Europe for US seed companies. And that the US say that Europe’s GM labelling laws are stopping trade. In the past the EU stopped most GM crops. But from January 2015 countries in Europe can decide to have GM or stop GM.

Britain’s Conservative government is likely to say yes to GM. It wanted to have Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM crops in Britain quickly. Scotland and Wales have voted to stay GM free, but if GM supporters in the UK and US get what they want, there could be GM crops in England and Northern Ireland next year.

Saying no, saying yes

Around the world people are saying no to GM. In Hawaii, Ghana, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Brazil farmers, environmentalists, health organizations, women’s groups, and some politicians are protesting against the big seed companies and their supporters.

Some US farmers are leaving GM and returning to traditional farming because they are very unhappy with superweeds, less crops, and public concerns about GM.

The biggest possibility for GM is now the Global South, especially Africa. Bill Gates has $23 million of shares in Monsanto. Monsanto and the Gates Foundation are trying to get African nations to accept GM foods and crops.

They may have more problems than they think. African farmers and protesters will use good international research that shows that agro-ecology and food sovereignty are the best way to end poverty and the results of climate change.

And politics may not help US seed company control of the world. China is against US crop imports. They found there was corn with unapproved GM. Russia is perhaps worried about Monsanto’s $140-million non-GM corn seed factory project in Ukraine. In a few weeks’ time people will go to the streets in hundreds of the world’s towns to March Against Monsanto. And when they decide to buy organic food or clothing, they are saying ‘no’ to a powerful and hated transnational company. And they are saying ‘yes’ to freedom and to the right to choose.

Action! What can I do?

The following organizations give advice and information, and campaign on GM, food safety, and sovereignty:

AUSTRALIA Safe Food Foundation GM-Free Australia Federation of Australia

BRITAIN GM-Freeze, GMWatch, GM Education, GeneWatch UK, Beyond GM, GM-FreeCymru, GM-free Scotland, Soil Association

CANADA Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Non-GMO Sourcebook, Canadian Organic Growers

IRELAND GM-free Ireland

UNITED STATES Center for Food Safety, Food Democracy Now, Food &Water Watch, Organic Consumers Association, Non-GMO Shopping Guide (Institute of Responsible Technology)

BOOKS and FILMS

GMO Myths and Truths by John Fagan, Michael Antoniou and Claire Robinson, Excellent resource, updated 2014. Free download available from nin.tl/gm-myths-and-truths.

The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin (The New Press, 2013) and as a documentary nin.tl/world-according-monsanto;

Monsanto vs The World by Jason Louv (Ultraculture Press, 2013);

The Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey Smith, a classic (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2003) plus website.

GMO OMG documentary film by Jeremy Seifert.

To avoid GM, buy products labelled ‘organic’ or ‘non-GM’; in the case of US products, buy only ‘100% organic’.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/2015/04/01/keynote-monsanto-control/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).