Seeds of Destruction

 

For centuries farmers have saved seeds from season to season to replant in the spring, then harvested in autumn, the seeds are reclaimed for the next spring. Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head. 

Monsanto developed G.M. (Genetically Modified) seeds which are resistant to its own herbicide, Roundup, this offers farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. Monsanto has also patented these seeds. For nearly all of its history, the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented.

In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court (in a five-to-four decision) granted the patent, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply. The precedent was set, and Monsanto took full advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company.

Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a massive bonus for Monsanto.

However, some farmers don’t understand that they aren’t supposed to save Monsanto’s seeds for next year’s planting. Others do, but ignore the rules rather than throw away a perfectly usable product. Moreover, other farmers say that they don’t use Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds, but seeds have been blown into their fields by wind or deposited by birds.

It’s certainly easy for G.M. seeds to get mixed in with traditional varieties when seeds are cleaned by commercial dealers for re-planting. The seeds look identical; only a laboratory analysis can show the difference. Even if a farmer doesn’t buy G.M. seeds and doesn’t want them on his land, it’s a safe bet he’ll get a visit from Monsanto’s seed police if crops grown from G.M. seeds are discovered in his fields.

Most Americans know Monsanto due to the ubiquitous weed killer Roundup. What they may not know is that the company now profoundly influences, and one day may virtually control what we put on our tables. For most of its history Monsanto was a chemical giant, producing some of the most toxic substances ever created, residues from which have left us with some of the most polluted sites on earth.

Monsanto is now buying up conventional-seed companies. In 2005, they paid $1.4 billion for Seminis, which controlled 40 percent of the U.S. market for lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetable and fruit seeds. Two weeks later it announced the acquisition of the country’s third-largest cotton seed company, Emergent Genetics, for $300 million. It’s estimated that Monsanto seeds now account for 90 percent of the U.S. production of soybeans, which are used in food products beyond counting. Monsanto’s acquisitions have fuelled explosive growth, transforming the St. Louis– based corporation into the largest seed company in the world.

In Iraq, the groundwork has been laid to protect the patents of Monsanto and other G.M.-seed companies. Monsanto has said that it has no interest in doing business in Iraq, but should the company change its mind, the American-style law is in place.

Monsanto’s no-holds-barred tactics have made it feared and loathed. Like it or not, farmers say, they have fewer and fewer choices in buying seeds. Ever since commercial introduction of its G.M. seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers.

Even more significant, are the number of farmers who settle lawsuits because they don’t have the money or the time to fight Monsanto. “The number of cases filed is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Bill Freese, the Center’s science-policy analyst. Freese says he has been told of many cases in which Monsanto investigators showed up at a farmer’s house or confronted him in his fields, claiming he had violated the technology agreement and demanding to see his records. According to Freese, investigators will say, “Monsanto knows that you are saving Roundup Ready seeds, and if you don’t sign these information- release forms, Monsanto is going to come after you and take your farm or take you for all you’re worth.” Investigators will sometimes show a farmer a photo of himself coming out of a store, to let him know he is being followed.

Lawyers who have represented farmers sued by Monsanto say that intimidating actions like these are commonplace. Most give in and pay Monsanto some amount in damages; those who resist face the full force of Monsanto’s legal wrath. Hundreds of foreclosures have happened already - don't let this be you.

Who controls the food, controls the world.

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