Worldwide Mobilizations Against Monsanto Continue, by Reid Mukai, CAGJ Co-Chair
If we should accept corporations as persons under U.S. law as the 2010 Citizens United ruling argued, then Monsanto would be among the most psychopathic persons on the planet. There’s no other way to describe one who intentionally contaminates the environment and global food supply with potentially harmful GMOs, developes and propagates chemicals that cause birth defects, death, and long-term environmental damage, bullies and exploits small farmers to the point of bankruptcy and in some cases, suicide, and monitors, discredits and/or infiltrates groups that dare criticize them by working with contract mercenary groups like Blackwater. These are just a few examples from Monsanto’s long and ever-growing list of misdeeds.
Corporate psychopaths like Monsanto may currently have the money and connections to get away with murder but there’s a growing worldwide movement to bring them to justice consisting of a diverse range of groups and tactics. In the current legislative session there are 14 states debating whether to mandate labelling of GMO food and over a half million people have signed the Just Label It petition to put pressure on the FDA. In California, grassroots organizations including the Organic Consumers Fund are pushing for a ballot initiative to make GMO labels mandatory. According to the OCF website, polls show 80% support the proposal and since California is the 8th largest economy in the world, a new labelling law will affect packaging and ingredient decisions nation-wide. Two similar bills (supported by groups including the Center for Food Safety, Organic Consumers Association, GMO Free Washington and AGRA Watch) HB 2637 and SB 6298, are currently going through the Washington State House and Senate. Meanwhile, groups like the Biotechnology Industry Association and Monsanto are spending millions of dollars lobbying against such bills that could potentially curb their profits drastically. According to the USDA 93% of the 2011 soybean crop were GMOs, and data from the Grocery Manufacturers Association indicate GMOs are present in 80% of conventional processed foods in the US. These percentages could drop dramatically and rapidly if more consumers suddenly became aware of which foods contained GMOs and make better informed purchasing choices.
On January 24th, protesters rallied outside of Monsanto’s corporate headquarters in St. Louis during their annual shareholder’s meeting. Among the protesters was Adam Eidinger, an organic food activist who presented a shareholder resolution on behalf of Harrington Investments with help from the Pesticide Action Network of North America. The resolution proposed a study of material financial risks and operational impacts of GMOs and chemicals produced by Monsanto. Unfortunately, the resolution was voted down while the company’s CEO and directors were reelected until 2015. In a message to shareholders regarding the Harrison Investments proposal, Monsanto representatives stated “Farmers should have the freedom to choose which production method is best suited for their needs, whether organic, non-GM conventional or biotechnology traits. All of these systems can and do work effectively side by side.” John Harrington, CEO of Harrington Investments said in response “While I am heartened by Monsanto’s sudden concern for the freedom of farmers, the unfortunate reality facing American farmers right now, is that genetic drift from GMO crops is contaminating their conventional and organic crops. This can be disastrous because many GMO crops cannot be sold to important markets, such as Europe, China and Japan. The potential legal implications for Monsanto are staggering.”
While the protest at the Monsanto shareholder’s meeting was taking place, protesters from Occupy London staged a “flash protest” at the UK Monsanto headquarters in Cambridge as part of an international week of protest against Monsanto held in solidarity. Occupy Maui also participated by rallying at the Kihei Monsanto offices as part of their own week-long series of actions designed to bring attention to the dangers of pesticides and GMOs. The issue is particularly relevant to people of Hawaii because GE corn has become the state’s number one crop. One week prior to the rally a panel discussion was held at the University of Hawaii to discuss concerns about GMOs and respond to controvery surrounding the acceptance of $500,000 from Monsanto by the UH’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources last September.
Last spring the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) filed a suit against Monsanto on behalf of 60 family farms, seed businesses and organic agriculture organizations to challenge the company’s GMO patents. This was a preemptive and defensive measure to protect farmers from accusations of patent infringement should their crops be contaminated by GMO seeds or pollen as has happened in the past. One of the most famous examples was Monsanto’s suit against Canadian canola farmer Percy Schmeiser in 1999. The court ruled that Percy did not have to pay Monsanto but upheld the validity of Monsanto’s patent. Soon after OSGATA filed the lawsuit, Monsanto released a statement claiming they wouldn’t sue farmers with “trace” amounts of GMO contamination. However, they refused to make their promise legally binding and instead defended their right to sue for patent infringement farmers whose crops are contaminated by GMOs. Now OSGATA is calling for a citizen’s assembly outside of Manhattan District court on January 31st as the judge hears oral arguments for the decision.
According to an AP story from January 16, Argentina’s tax agency AFIP discovered inhumane treatment of workers when they raided a Monsanto contractor. They found illegally hired farmhands forced to work 14 hour days, prevented from leaving the premises and who had salaries withheld. The previous month Argentina’s congress overturned dictatorship-era laws by giving farmhands 8 hour days and other benefits. AFIP says they will hold Monsanto responsible for the slave camp-like labor conditions. On January 13, food activists in France scored a victory when agriculture and ecology ministers announced they would uphold a ban on MON810 (a type of GM corn containing bacillus thurengiensis or Bt genes) after meeting with farmers. France is the sixth European Union nation (after Germany, Greece, Austria, Luxemburg, and Hungary) to prohibit MON810 cultivation. The ban was previously overturned by the French high court in 2008 following a ruling by the European Court of Justice that said the ban was based on the wrong EU legislation. During the January 24th Monsanto shareholder’s meeting, food activists, farmers and beekeepers in southern France invaded the Trèbes Monsanto plant to protest a planned distribution of MON810 to French farmers ahead of spring sowings. In response, Monsanto claimed the GMO seeds held at the French plant were intended for export markets only and a few days later officially announced they would not resume sales of MON810 in France.
In the past week there’s been stories circulating on Organic Common Sense, Earth First! Newswire and other websites highlighting actions that Anonymous staged against Monsanto. The disruption of Monsanto’s website by Anonymous (the notorious group of hackers and activists known for wearing the Guy Fawkes masks from “V for Vendetta”) took place last July but has gained publicity in light of more recent attacks on FBI and Justice Department websites in reaction to the shutdown of file-sharing site Megaupload. For those who missed it, the Monsanto attacks were part of Operation Antisec which began last spring and continued through the summer. This campaign began as a protest against censorship and involved the hacking of government sites in the U.S., Brazil, Tunisia and Zimbabwe, law enforcement agencies, military contractors and also corporations such as Monsanto who harm people and the environment. In a related video statement Anonymous demanded an end to Monsanto’s psychopathic behavior and called for further protest, organization and education on the issue. It’s possible that some members of Anonymous are also organic farmers or food activists because the closing statement echoed what such groups including CAGJ have been saying for years: “Say no to poisonous chemicals in your food! Say no to GMO! Say no to Monsanto!”