At stake is not only the nature and quality of food we and successive generations get to consume, but who gets to control it.
Monsanto, the 113-year old St. Louis-based company that long perfected the art of befriending and subverting governments, academia and national regulators worldwide, has found itself in the rather unusual position of being on the back foot. In markets around the world – in particular in the West – the company is waging what appears, for now at least, to be a losing battle against a growing, globally coordinated movement of farmers, consumers and environmentalists.
That’s not to say that the battle is won – not by a long shot! Rather, that there is at least a little cause for quiet optimism.
The Good News
In Latin America, currently the epicenter of the GMO movement, accounting for anywhere between 60 and 70 percent of total global GMO production, Monsanto faces an unprecedented backlash. In Mexico a federal judge by the name of Marroquín Zaleta has suspended the granting of licenses for GMO field trials sought by Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, Pionner-Dupont and Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources [read… Mexican Judge Departs From Script, Turns Monsanto’s Mexican Dream Into Legal Nightmare].
At the Southern tip of the continent, in Argentina, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of GMO seeds, a relentless campaign by anti-GMO activists recently put paid, at least temporarily, to Monsanto’s plans to build the world’s biggest GM plant in the central state of Cordoba. Likewise, the governments of countries such as Colombia and Chile have bowed to public pressure and withdrawn – again, temporarily – their so-called “Monsanto Laws”, which seek to force farmers to exclusively use certified seeds (i.e. seeds patented by the world’s largest agribusiness companies), in the process outlawing as “bio-piracy” the millennia-old practice of seed swapping.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Union reached an agreement in June this year, allowing its member states to restrict or ban GMO crops in their territory. That was preceded a month earlier by Russia’s blanket ban on all GM products, as part of its retaliatory sanctions against the West, as well as China’s decision to outlaw the import of US GM corn.
Even in Monsanto’s home market, the United States, where genetically modified organisms now account for 80 percent of processed food ingredients, the resistance is growing.
To wit, from the Wall Street Journal:
State ballot initiatives have sought to compel companies to label foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs—which the industry fears would be a scarlet letter. Vermont in May became the first state to unilaterally adopt such a measure. Meanwhile, companies like General Mills and Chipotle are stripping GMOs from some foods in response to consumer groups raising health and environmental concerns.
Taken together, these developments should be welcome news to anyone who doesn’t fully trust the agenda of a company that is responsible for such benign creations as Agent Orange, the defoliant liberally used to devastating effect during the Vietnam War; the once harmless DDT, now banned worldwide; or a family of industrial chemicals called PCBs that are now considered highly toxic.
The Bad News
One would be foolish, however, to write off Monsanto just yet. After all, the company didn’t get to the position it enjoys today by playing Mr. Nice Guy. Unlike the “terminator seeds” it hopes to one day sell to farmers around the globe, Monsanto does not readily throw in the towel.
As such, while “officially speaking” Monsanto may have turned its back on the European market, “extra-officially speaking” it is working tirelessly in the shadows to ensure the smooth passage of TTIP, the game-changing trade pact between the U.S and the EU that would grant Europe and America’s largest corporations – corporations like its good self – uninhibited access to all signatory markets.
In Mexico, the company is pulling out all the stops to get Zaleta, the uppity federal judge who refuses to follow its script, removed from the bench – so far without success. All the while, in its home market it is using all manner of dirty tricks to derail a grassroots campaign demanding mandatory labels of all products containing GMOs – and with good reason: as a seed executive for Monsanto admitted 20 years ago, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.”
Even with its back firmly up against the wall in many of its primary markets, Monsanto continues to do what it does best: open up a new front. That new front is Africa, a potentially enormous semi-virgin market where only four countries – Burkina Faso, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa – have fully commercialized GM crops.
Barely noticed by the world’s media, Mahyco, a part-owned Indian subsidiary of Monsanto’s, recently bought a 49 percent stake in Africa’s only cottonseed company, Quton. The acquisition follows close on the heels of Dupont Pioneer’s purchase in 2013 of an 80 percent stake in South Africa-based competitor Pannar Seed Limited, and Swiss biotech giant Syngenta’s take-over, in the same year, of Zambian seed company MRI Seed.
In other words, in the space of barely a year three of the world’s largest biotechnology companies, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, have established a significant foothold on the continent in markets for two of the three major global GM crop varieties: corn and cotton.
Making a Quiet Killing
For Monsanto, the main objective behind its covert acquisition is to open up new markets in Africa for its Bt cotton seeds – the same cotton seeds that account for 95 percent of India’s cotton crop and which are blamed for the suicide of more than 270,000 Indian farmers.
As The Guardian reports:
Most cotton farmers are barely able to cover their output costs, let alone make any profit to support their families. India – which competes with the likes of the US, where cotton is heavily subsidized – is grappling with the rising costs of genetically modified seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, as well as the impact of unpredictable weather patterns.
Ironically, in its home state of Maharashtra, Mahyco is now prohibited from selling Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds. The state government took the punitive action in 2012 in the wake of widespread complaints against the company accusing it of supplying inferior quality seeds which aggravated the agrarian crises in rural Maharashtra and spurred suicides among farmers. As a top state agriculture department official told the Times of India, henceforth all trading activities of the company would be “illegal” and any violations could attract “criminal action”.
Naturally, the company has appealed the ruling – while, of course, expanding its operations into Africa.
The Rockefeller-Gates Connection
The creation of a predominantly privately owned seed industry in Africa is an essential component of Africa’s “Green” Revolution, which equates agrarian transformation in Africa with the adoption of commercial (corporate) certified seed and other expensive inputs such as fertilizer.
The Green Revolution is being spearheaded by AGRA, an “independent” organization based in Kenya that has already drawn heavy criticism for its cozy ties with the GMO industry. AGRA’s “partners” include the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, both of which own large stakes in (yeah, you guessed it…) Monsanto. Indeed, the Gates Foundation’s liaison with AGRA is one Dr. Robert Horsch, a 25-year Monsanto GMO veteran who was on the team that first developed Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready GMO technologies.
Other “partners” include the UK Department for International Development, Canada’s International Development Research Center and the Association of European Parliamentarians’ for Africa. There are even rumors of financial involvement by USAID.
And there the tight loop conveniently closes. In the center of it is AGRA, a supposedly independent organization heavily funded by Western governmental institutions and private foundations, all with a direct stake in the financial performance, geo-strategic and geo-economic role of GMO producers. Through AGRA, they hope to stealthily “revolutionize” agriculture in Africa, just as it was “revolutionized” in India, Argentina, the United States, Brazil, Colombia and all the other countries that are now rising up in a wave of counter-revolution.
The lines are drawn and the stage is set for the mother of all food wars. At stake is not only the nature and quality of the food that we and successive generations of earth dwellers get to consume, but who gets to control it. By Don Quijones. An exclusive for Wolf Street.
Meanwhile, the secret battleground of overcoming national restrictions of GMOs are the new generation of “free trade” pacts. Secret because they’re hashed out in secrecy between government negotiators and lobbyists. And only when a document is leaked do we know about the details. And “free trade” is at best a misnomer, at worst an oxymoron: These pacts contain little related to trade. So what are they really about? Hidden Agenda Behind Free Trade Deals: “Everyone but China”