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The Monsanto Menace

The feds see no evil as a belligerent strongman seeks control of America's food supply.

Set the Lawyers to Stun

Historically, farmers have been able to save money on seeds by using those produced by last year's crops for the coming year's planting. But such cost-saving methods are largely a thing of the past. Monsanto's thick contracts dropped like shackles on the kitchen tables of every farmer who used the company's seed, allowing the Monsanto access to farmers' records and fields and prohibiting them from replanting leftover seed, essentially forcing farmers to buy new seed every year – or face up to $3 million in damages.

Armed with lawyers and private investigators, the company has embarked on a campaign of spying and intimidation to stop any farmer from replanting his seeds.

Dr. Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University, found that rapidly increasing seed and pesticide costs were tamping farmers' income, cutting them from any benefits of the new technology.
Dr. Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University, found that rapidly increasing seed and pesticide costs were tamping farmers' income, cutting them from any benefits of the new technology.
Kansas farmer Bryce Stephens had to stop growing organic corn and soybeans for fear of contamination, and has 30 foot buffer crops to protect his organic wheat.
Kansas farmer Bryce Stephens had to stop growing organic corn and soybeans for fear of contamination, and has 30 foot buffer crops to protect his organic wheat.

Farmers call them the "seed police," using words such as "gestapo" and "mafia" to describe the company's tactics. Monsanto's agents fan out into small towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants. Some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors; others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them into signing papers that give Monsanto access to their private records.

Leading the charge, says Dr. Carstensen, is the private police force that once terrorized union organizers from another generation. "You know who does their policing?" he chuckles ruefully. "The Pinkertons. These are the strikebreakers, the railroad goons. It's déjà vu all over again."

In one case, Monsanto accused Indiana farmer David Runyon of illegally using its soybean seeds. Runyon claims the company threatened to sue for patent infringement, despite documentation proving that he'd bought non-patented seed from local universities for years. Monsanto's lawyer claimed the company had an agreement with the Indiana Department of Agriculture to search his land.

One problem: Indiana didn't have a Department of Agriculture at the time.

But most cases never go to trial. In 2006, the Center for Food Safety estimated that Monsanto had pressured as many as 4,500 farmers into paying settlements worth as much as $160 million.

Yet Monsanto wanted even more leverage. So it naturally turned to Congress.

Earlier this year, a little-noticed provision was slipped into a budget resolution. The anonymous measure, pushed by Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), granted the company an unheard-of get-out-of-jail-free card, widely known as the Monsanto Protection Act.

Despite indications that GM foods could have adverse health effects, the feds have never bothered to extensively study them. Instead, they've basically taken Monsanto's word that all is kosher. So organic farmers and their allies sued the company in 2009, claiming that Monsanto's GM sugar beets had not been studied enough. A year later, a judge agreed, ordering all recently planted GM sugar-beet crops destroyed until their environmental impact was studied.

The Monsanto Protection Act was designed to end such rulings. It essentially bars judges from intervening in the midst of lawsuits – a notion that would seem highly unconstitutional.

Not that Congress noticed. Monsanto has spent more than $10 million on campaign contributions in the past decade – and another $70 million on lobbying since 1998. The money speaks so loudly that Congress has become tone-deaf.

In fact, the U.S. government has become Monsanto's de facto lobbyist in countries distrustful of GM safety. Two years ago, WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables showing how the feds had lobbied foreign governments to weaken laws and encourage the planting of genetically modified crops in Third World countries.

The leaks also showed State Department diplomats asking for money to fly in corporate flacks to lean on government officials. Even Mr. Environment, former vice-president Al Gore, was key in getting France to briefly approve Monsanto's GM corn.

These days, the company has infiltrated the highest levels of government. It has ties to the Supreme Court (former Monsanto lawyer Clarence Thomas), with former and current employees in high-level posts at the USDA and the FDA.

But the real coup came when President Obama appointed former Monsanto vice president Michael Taylor as the FDA's new Deputy Commissioner for Foods. It was akin to making George Zimmerman the czar of gun safety.

Trust Us. Why Would We Lie?

At the same time that Monsanto was cornering the food supply, its principal products – GM crops – were receiving less scrutiny than an NSA contractor.

Monsanto understood early on that the best way to stave off bad publicity was to limit research. Prior to a recently negotiated agreement with major universities, the company had severely restricted access to its seeds. Filmmaker Bertram Verhaag's 2010 award-winning documentary, Scientists Under Attack: Genetic Engineering in the Magnetic Field of Money, noted that nearly 95 percent of genetic-engineering research is paid for and controlled by corporations like Monsanto.

Meanwhile, former employees embedded in government make sure the feds never get too nosy.

Michael Taylor has turned that into an art form. He's gone back and forth from government to Monsanto enough times that it's no longer just a revolving door; it's a Batpole. During an early-'90s stint with the FDA, he helped usher Bovine Growth Hormone milk into the food supply and authored the decision that kept the government out of Monsanto's GM crop business.

Known as "substantial equivalence," it declared that genetically modified products are essentially the same as their non-GM counterparts -- and therefore require no additional labeling or testing for food safety or toxicity.

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2 comments
AmaRose
AmaRose

Thank you for this wonderfully insightful article. So many argue we need GM crops to keep the cost of food down and you have squashed that in this article and you have shed light on these modern day tyrants. I did however stumble across this article to find restaurants that through there partnerships support Monsanto. Would you know more on that? I am anti Monsanto I gear toward buying Organic but everyone likes to go out to eat every now and again. I want to make sure I am not supporting these monsters when I do. Thanks, Ama Rose

paval
paval

Excellent article, but being a food article it should have added some of the likely bad boys in the supermarket shelves for GMO content:

- Huge commercial chocolate makers use soy lecithin as an emulsifier. A very high percentage of all soy grown in the US is GMO. Look for non-GMO soy lecithin labeling on Chocolate bars

- anything containing corn (HFCS, syrup, starch, etc) in any form is rather suspicious, specially if its used instead of sugar. That means its used to make a cheaper product not necessarily better. Huge red flag in my book

-  soy products produced in the US due to the high amount of soy being produced in GMO

- cottonseed oil, the new mass usage oil of the food industry

read further on http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/what-is-gmo/ 


Labeling is always the best way. If you want to be a cheap producer and use everything the cheapest. But label it as such so consumers can decide if they want it or not. I am certain most consumers will decide against the bad stuff.

 
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