GMO Crops
How Did it Happen?  

When it comes to GMO crops, Monsanto is the "go to" company.   In fact, genetically engineered corn, soybeans and canola owe their existence to Roundup, their brand name herbicide.  

Roundup has been a huge moneymaker for Monsanto but by branching out and developing, patenting and producing genetically modified seeds, the company was able to lock in huge profits on engineered seeds plus dramatically increase their sales of Roundup.  

The original purpose of genetically engineering corn and soybeans was to make them resistant to Roundup.  Farmers who made the switch to GMO crops could now pour on the Roundup without having to worry about killing the crops along with the weeds.

The results were hugely successful.  In 2009, Monsanto sold $7.3 billion worth of seeds and seed genes, placing it far ahead of DuPont, its nearest competitor.  That along with its other financials won it Forbes magazines company of the year for 2009. 

What a difference a year makes.   In 2010, the roof seems to have fallen in on Monsanto.

Marion Nestle in her "Food Politics" blog summed it up pretty succinctly.

She pointed out that its latest generation of GMO corn (SmartStax) didn't live up to crop yield projections.  In addition, sales of Roundup are way down since it came off patent.

Furthermore, cheap Chinese herbicides are making headway and after years of being exposed to Roundup, weeds have evolved into a new super weed that is resistant to Roundup just like the GMO crops.

The straw that breaks the camel's back may be that both Marion Nestle and Jim Cramer have indicated that Monsanto may be a target for one of the Obama administrations anti-trust forays. 

In addition to all that, Net sales/revenue were down 11.3%, 
gross profit down 31.9% and operating income down almost 94%.

In a remarkable "tell all" book, author and researcher Marie-Monique Robin in her book "The World According to Monsanto" documents her three-year journey across four continents to uncover the disturbing practices of the giant multinational agribusiness Monsanto.  It is an eye-opener.  Click to book's cover to look it over or buy it.

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Super Bugs

Genetic modification coupled with saturation of crops and farmland with glyphosate, aka Roundup, has not only created super weeds but super bugs as well.  Just as Mother Nature defeated GMO seeds and allowed weeds to become resistant, so has she done with bugs. 

Specific to the corn crops, consider the corn rootworm.  This insect is a voracious eater and is hugely destructive to the corn crops.   Monsanto's answer to the rootworm was to insert a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into the corn's dna. 

It produces a gene in the corn that kills the larva of the rootworm.  The grand idea was that if the corn plant itself is the insecticide, then the farmer would not have to spray so much insecticide on the crop.

The only problem is that Mother Nature always wins and the rootworm has become resistant to Bt.  Some farmers have reported as much as 66% of their Bt-corn crop being destroyed by rootworms.  So now scorched earth spraying of pesticides on crops is making a comeback. 

What will it Take to Rein in Monsanto?

At any rate, Monsanto may be down but it is far from out. Let's not forget that the company has friends in high places such as the FDA and USDA so the threat of an anti-trust action may never get out of the gate. Besides, over 90% of U.S. soybeans and over 80% of the corn and cotton crop are grown with Monsanto's GMO crop technology.

Many, if not most, of the complaints about Monsanto are the result of its business practices.  Apparently corporate greed at Monsanto is boundless since they have elevated the practice of suing farmers into an art form.   One problem is that GMO crops don't stay put.

Winds carry the 14 to 18 million pollen grains per corn plant all over the countryside, very often pollinating neighboring non-GMO crops with genetically modified pollen.  All Monsanto had to do was bide it time, then send inspectors to check the neighboring fields. 

Of course they would find genetically modified corn stalks growing; corn from seeds that the farmer had not purchased from Monsanto and for which the company held a patent; corn that was in effect, a "gift" of nature. 

Thanks to nature and ruthless corporate lawyers, innocent farmers found themselves on the receiving end of corporate power and greed.  Monsanto's aggressiveness and coercion in "protecting its patents" is legendary.

The lawsuits were liberally used to keep existing Monsanto customers in line as well.  Since corn farming began, the practice among farmers was to set aside a part of crop to reclaim its seed for the next years planting. 

It was a very smart move in that the strongest and most productive plants could carry their genes on to the next season.   Monsanto had a different idea.  If they could find a farmer who was cleaning and reusing seed for the next planting and that seed turned out to be genetically modified, surprise!  Lawsuit time. 

Monsanto claims that provisions in their contracts with farmers using GM seeds prohibit saving and reusing the seed thus forcing the farmer to buy new seed year after year.  Apparently this is Monsanto's idea of customer relations.  

Don't believe it?  Just Google "Monsanto sues farmers" and your eyes will be opened.

Articles such as Vanity Fair's Harvest of Fear or the video Food, Inc. added more fuel to the fire.

The Food, Inc. DVD can be ordered from Amazon just by clicking on its image to the left. 

The most authoritative landmark report on Monsanto's coercion and pressure on U.S. farmers can be found online at Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers. Other articles such as the one in the Huffington Post about GMO crops causing organ damage in rats, or the French made film The World According to Monsanto didn't help Monsanto's public image much either.

The French made film can be viewed online by clicking the link but 
it is almost two hours long so get a nice cup of tea or coffee and settle in.  It is a must watch presentation.

In the U.S. GMO crops are receiving pretty wide acceptance mainly because the large corporate corn and soy farmers can 
afford the higher priced seeds and ancillary herbicides that go along with the production.   Worldwide, it is a very 
different story.

What's Happening to the Farmers in India?

In a word, suicide is happening to the Indian farmers.  Dr. Mercola reports in his blog of September 3, 2010 that the Indian National Crime Records Bureau has tallied almost 183,000 Indian farmer suicides between 1997 and 2007 and estimated that 46 Indian farmers take their own lives every day.

Mercola's blog places the blame directly at Monsanto's doorstep, claiming that the company has been "ruthless" in their drive to push genetically modified Bt cotton seeds on the Indian farmers. 

"Bt" stands for bacillus thuringgiensis which is a Monsanto genetically engineered cotton seed designed to withstand the onslaughts of the bollworm which causes extensive damage to cotton crops if left unchecked.  

In pushing the Bt seeds on Indian farmers, several cultural aspects of farming were overlooked or ignored to the detriment of the farmers. 

First is that traditionally farmers save the best seeds from the current crop for planting the next season.  Since Monsanto's GM seeds are patented, the farmers are prohibited from saving seeds for replanting and the GM Bt cotton seeds are four times more expensive than traditional seeds.  

Next is that the GM seeds require a reliable, regular source of water either from irrigation or rainfall but few farms in the region have irrigation and rainfall is sporadic at best.  Also the GM seeds require pesticides and fertilizer that only Monsanto can supply.

It doesn't take long before the farmer finds himself hopelessly in debt and one crop failure away from the loss of his farm and financial ruin.  All too often suicide is the escape of choice. 

Proponents of GMO crops in India say that the water, pesticide and fertilizer requirements are explained on the packaging and the farmers should have known what they were getting into.  The flip side is that a majority of India's small farmers are illiterate and, at any rate, the package instructions are in English.

In addition to the suicides, bollworms have evolved to be more resistant to the Bt seeds and are now a bigger problem than ever before.  The increased use of Roundup has created a class of resistant super weeds as well as new pests to deal with.

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GMO Crops in Europe

GMO crops have been banned for quite a few years in several European countries including France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg. 

It appears that there is no such thing as states rights (or country rights) in Europe since just recently the Advocate General, which happens to be the top advisor to the European Court of Justice, ruled that the EU's constituent countries could not ban GMO crops on their own.  Only the EU itself can initiate product bans.

While the ruling by the AG is only a recommendation at this time, the European high courts usually follow the AG recommendations.   It looks like Monsanto at least has their nose under the European tent. 

In the meantime tremendous pressure from the U.S. continues to be applied to the European Union to accept GMO crops, seeds and biotech engineered foods.  The fact that millions of Europeans have signed petitions to keep Europe GMO free doesn't seem to matter.

Monsanto's GMO Crops in South America

Argentina's experience with Monsanto and GMO crops serves as a good case study in how the company operates internationally to gain control of the indigenous agriculture industry.   The business model, if you can call it that, follows the same pattern in enough countries that it can be concluded that it is the Monsanto way of building international markets.

The step-by-step plan is to target the cash crops, find a way in, infect the seed supply with the genetically engineered seed, bide their time then take control by milking the country or farms for royalties. 

Argentina is the text book case for South and Central America. 

Monsanto got the government of Argentina to approve the planting of Roundup Ready soybeans knowing full well that Argentinean farmers save and recycle the best seed from season to season.  This practice is allowed by Argentina's Seed Law and, in addition, the country does not recognize Monsanto's patents. 

Monsanto then went into the waiting period and watched the GMO crops spread throughout the farming regions and spread into neighboring countries.  Within six years the GMO soybeans were firmly established throughout the region and it was time to start the threat and intimidate phase.

Farmers are threatened over their illegal use of the Roundup Ready seeds and the government is pressured to enforce the law.  Concurrently, Monsanto starts selling the GMO crop seeds via contracts that contain extended royalties wherein the farmers have to pay the company a fee plus tax for every bag of seed they save from their harvest. 

The final phase is the "smash and grab" otherwise known as the takeover.   The way it works is that Monsanto announced that it was suspending its soybean business in Argentina due to lack of profitability and placed the blame on the seed-saving farmers. 

The government caved in and sets up a royalty scheme in which farmers must pay a fee for sales of their soybeans to elevators and exporters.  The proceeds of this "inventor’s rights" scheme go to Monsanto. 

After the predictable outcry occured and numerous meetings and negotiations were conducted, the government went through the motions of enforcing Monsanto's patents and established a new royalty on all soybean imports from countries that do observe the patents. 

This money goes into a Technology Compensation Fund for Monsanto.  The result is that the company now owns the seed market, has the government in its pocket and makes a lot of money.   Who suffers?  The farmers, who else?

The pattern is repeated in numerous other countries with variations depending on laws, customs and culture. 

Paraguay has been taken over and largely deforested by GMO crops.  Traditional farmers have lost their land, seen their 
families sickened by the excessively sprayed herbicides that drift onto neighboring farms and pollute ponds and 
streams through runoff. 

Mexico has had a similar experience with the infect, threaten and takeover pattern seen in other countries, as had Bolivia.

Setting the Stage for Worldwide Famine

Here's an interesting scenario.   What if a large, rich seed, fertilizer and pesticide company with lots of political clout developed a line of seeds for GMO crops that were only good for one growing season? 

This would be possible because the seeds produced by the first crop that could feasibly be used for the next years planting would be sterile.

Third world farmers who have saved and reused seed for generations would now have to buy new seed every year.  Most likely they would not be able to afford to purchase the new seed year after year. 

Even worse, since so many of them are illiterate, they may not even know the new high tech seed was sterile.  so when they saved and replanted the seed, their following year’s crop is guaranteed to fail. 

Starvation and spreading famine would be the natural result since collectively, these small farmers feed a huge percentage of their neighbors throughout the developing world.

It is more than just an interesting scenario...its real.  

About ten years ago or so, Monsanto genetically engineered 
just such one-season seeds.   The technology is known as Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURT) and was developed for the purpose of making sure that customers could only use the genetically modified food seed for one season.  

A more generous interpretation would be that it was developed to prevent the spread of genetically modified seed into the countryside.  Yeah, right!  More colorful terms such as "suicide seeds" or "terminator technology" have been applied to the technology.

What about non-third world countries like the U.S. or Europe or Australia or many of the major South American agricultural economies?  

It turns out that due to such a tremendous outcry against GURT from these countries, Monsanto agreed not to commercialize it.  As a fallback position, the company makes buyers of its genetically modified seed sign a so-called Technology or Stewardship Agreement that they will not "save or sell seeds from their harvest for further planting, breeding or cultivation".

Besides death and taxes, one other thing is a certainty.  If something exists, sooner or later, it will be used; sort of like the atomic bomb.

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