In Brazil, it is Monsanto vs 5,000,000
By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | JUNE 4, 2012
Monsanto is one of the most powerful corporations on the planet and one of a handful that heavily influences government policy when it comes to food production. This company is also one of a few that has proposed as their main goal to control perhaps the most important aspect of human existence, which is the food supply system. Together with Cargill, Monsanto is known as the thugs of the food supply, as they are charged with the poisoning of our food system. Monsanto is a biotechnology giant, and as such, it makes its money by selling genetically modified organisms often implanted in food crops such as corn, soy, cotton and others. As many people are well aware, these three agricultural products are probably the top ones when it comes to feeding the world and that is why the company’s intention to patent them is worrisome.
Hundreds if not thousands of farmers from around the world have tried to sue Monsanto for what they consider are illegal practices, monopolistic policies, food contamination, and other issues in an attempt to cut off the tentacles that are now strangling the food supply. But every single time, Monsanto has managed to defeat lawsuit after lawsuit. In response to accusations of fraudulent business practices, the bio-tech giant has counter sued farmers who dared challenge its supremacy in order to convince others that it is impossible to end its growing monopoly on food production. As seen on films such as Food Inc and Farmaggedon, Monsanto spares no resources when it comes to punishing farmers that seek to cancel their contracts, or even those who don’t want to do business with them.
But the problem with Monsanto is not only about its present actions. Its past is almost as concerning as its intention to own every single form of food. The company is the creator of the artificial sweetener saccharin, which it sold to Coca-Cola and canned food companies as a sugar replacement. It is also used in Splenda and almost all chewing gum and candy. In its most toxic form, artificial sweeteners like aspartame are known to cause cancer. The company also developed Agent Orange, first produced as an herbicide and defoliant, but later used as a military weapon by the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Over 12 million gallons of the chemical described as “perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man”, were dropped over people, towns, farms, and water supplies.
Monsanto also brought us the Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, which is used worldwide, except for a few developed nations. “The milk we drink today is quite unlike the milk our ancestors were drinking without apparent harm for 2,000 years,” said Harvard scientist Ganmaa Davaasambuu. “The milk we drink today may not be nature’s perfect food.” According to analysis conducted on milk that originated from rBGH-injected cows, the high levels of this hormone found in the milk, caused higher levels of cancer-causing hormones and lower nutritional value. And we cannot forget Monsanto’s growing seed production, which the company claims produce foods that are perfectly safe to eat. As many will suspect, the only studies that have concluded such thing are Monsanto-sponsored tests or others that they company has conducted itself.
If Monsanto’s game is one of numbers, then that what it is going to get. Recently, five million Brazilian farmers began a legal feud with US biotech giant Monsanto for what they claim is the unfair payment of royalties for the use of their seed with genetically engineered organisms. GMOs were illegally introduced in Brazil over a decade ago, and now 85 percent of the soy produced in the country is genetically modified. Much of Monsanto’s success is owed to the complicity of powerful local and foreign land owners who chose quantity over quality. The government agencies that are supposed to oversee food safety haven’t done their job either, as GMOs haven’t been properly labeled.
The legal battle between Monsanto and the 5 million farmers stems from their refusal to pay royalties to the US company. In 2008, millions of farmers agreed to fight Monsanto and its policy to collect payment for the use of its technology, even from farmers who did not do business with the corporation. The farmers complain that Monsanto unlawfully demands that producers of transgenic soy pay 2 percent of their earnings in royalties. “Monsanto gets paid when it sell the seeds. The law gives producers the right to multiply the seeds they buy and nowhere in the world is there a requirement to pay for a second time. Producers are in effect paying a private tax on production,” said lawyer Jane Berwanger.
Although a Brazilian judge ruled that Monsanto’s policy of requesting royalties was not legal, and demanded that the company returned the money taken from farmers since 2004, the company appealed the decision and took it to a federal court, which is supposed to make a decision by 2014. Such decision will consist of a court upholding Brazilian laws or bending over to Monsanto’s interests. Some Brazilian farmers believe that the higher the case goes, the less of a chance they have to come out on the winning side. There is just too much money involved. Government numbers show that sales of genetically modified soy, used for animal feed, oil production and biofuel, among other things, have reached $24.1 billion, adding up to 26 percent of Brazil’s agricultural exports in 2011. Most of that soy is sold to China.
Besides the dangers presented to humans, animals and other plant species, transgenic soy also brings another problem: the issue of running an agricultural model based on monoculture. “Transgenic soy occupies 44 percent of land under grain cultivation but represents only 5.5 percent of farm jobs,” says Sergio Schlesinger, a researcher who describes the advance of soybean monoculture in his book The Grain that Grew too much. Mr. Schlesinger talks about the fact that a monoculture scheme is not beneficial due to the fact that the highly mechanized system requires much less labor, which leads to less need for farm workers.
The Brazilian government has gone from banning GMOs to opening the lands to it, to investing and taking part on research and development of GMO. Today, GMO soy is present in 17 states in Brazil, where the southern lands of Mato Grosso, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul account for the largest production. Along with Brazil, Argentina, China and India are also big players in the soy production and trade markets. Brazil has been sought as an option for the plantation of large amounts of soy and other GMO products due to its abundant water and land resources and it is expected to become the largest soybean producer. This has so-called environmentalists very worried in Brazil due to the acceleration of deforestation and water waste that Big Agra usually brings along anywhere it goes.