Friday, January 1, 2010

Monsanto and Genetic Engineering of Seeds

Here is a post from one of my students, Beverly Berry, which is very informative that I wanted to share with everyone:

1. What are the politics of seeds and Monsanto and genetic engineering? How did Monsanto try to take over Basmati rice and who stopped them?
Monsanto has been patenting seeds and buying up small seed companies. This requires farmers to buy their patented seeds from them. Usually it is the “Roundup Ready” GM seeds that are impervious to Monsanto’s weed killer, “Roundup”. This means farmers can spray their fields, plants seeds, spray again and not have to worry about weeds. Most of them like it. However, this means that Monsanto owns almost all of the seeds. They are able to require that farmers buy seeds from them each planting season. They can no longer save seeds from their own crops. This also means Monsanto gets to set the prices for the seeds. Last year, Monsanto’s genes were in 95% of all soy beans and they raised the price of the seeds 28% last year. Monsanto’s genes were in 80% of corn seeds and they raised the price of them 25%. Where does it end? Because so much of our food is based on corn and soy beans, this means Monsanto is basically controlling the price of all of our food. They decide how much we pay for everything. They can also run farmers out of business at will. If farmers are not using their seeds, Monsanto can get samples of their crop and test it for their genes. If Monsanto finds their genes, they will sue the farmer for patent infringement and keep him in court until he either pays them or they run him out of business. Monsanto has a lot of lawyers and a lot of money to use for legal fees. They are not match for the small family farmer just trying to make a living. Watch “The World According to Monsanto” to find out more. You can see the first part (maybe all of it) on the website below:

Monsanto believes it is the job of the organic farmers to keep their crops from being corrupted by the GM seeds. Greenwatch UK and Greenpeace have started a GM Contamination register to keep track of intentional or accidental release of GM organisms or illegal planting or GM crops. The website, GM Contamination Register, had some information I found surprising such as a GM papaya taken into the EU from Hawaii (a Papaya, really?). Also, honey is being affected especially in the Americas and Canada because the bees use GM maize or GM soy pollen to make it. I had not thought of that. Honey made from GM pollen? I had not taken it that far in my mind.

Basmati rice has been grown in India for thousands of years. Monsanto wanted a piece of that business and started in Jharkhand, considered the birthplace of rice and the place with the most genetic diversity of rice. Local farmers in found out that Monsanto had planted GM rice with the Bt gene and burned it. Basmati rice is important economically in India and as soon as GM rice began growing there, it would cross-pollinate with their rice. Monsanto would then claim that their patented rice was in the rice that had been farmed there for thousands of years and demand to be paid. This would run the farmers out of business just as it has happened in the U.S. and Canada. A farmer had leased two acres of land to Mahyco not knowing what was going to be grown. It turned out to be Monsanto GM rice. They planted their corn without any regard to the laws or nearby farmers. The crop should have been separated from nearby farms by a wall or netting. When it was time to harvest, only a portion of the crop was harvested. Part of it was left standing which violates the law that said it must be burnt. The rice plants that were harvested were thrown to the side of the field rather than destroyed. The farmer that owned the land along with 500 other farmers burned down the rice. However, due to the careless way the plants were handled, a second generation of rice came up and was tested. It also contained the Mahyco gene which shows the gene had escaped into the environment. If the gene is detected in rice that is to be exported to European, Middle Eastern or African countries, it could destroy India’s economy. Their export of rice to those countries would end at that point. It is amazing how much damage planting a two acre field of rice in the middle of thousands of acres of rice could do. This actually happened in the U.S. when a company called Ventria planted ONE GM rice field. Years later, GM contaminated rice exported from the U.S. turned up in Germany and Japan. It was not accepted and the U.S. lost millions of dollars. The American rice farmers were irreparably damaged by this “leak” of one crop’s genes.