What does a Food Monopoly Look Like?

by Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
July 20, 2011

This is something that is always in my head, especially when I read Monsanto’s ideas to enhance and perpetuate their control of the food supply. Those ideas include the monopoly of every single form of food that exists; vegetable, animal, artificial and so on. Monsanto also wants to control the production of seed, as they already do with the Bt cotton and other genetically modified organisms.

The evil genius in this idea is clear. If you control food, you control people. The same happens with banking; if you control the money supply, you can control the economy. “We now believe that Monsanto has control over as much as 90 percent of (seed genetics). This level of control is almost unbelievable,” said Neil Harl, agricultural economist at Iowa State University.

Although some lawsuits have tried to curb Monsanto’s and other biotech companies’ thirst for food and seed monopolies, none of those lawsuits have been strong enough to effectively stop corporations from seeking their dreamed control of everything we grow and eat. But Monsanto is not alone, and neither is it all about controlling seed and food. The issue of control spreads to manipulating prices, markets, buying off politicians and braking previously signed agreements with farmers when things don’t go as planned.

So what would a food monopoly look like?

Recently, countries in Africa and even Australian farmers have gotten a taste of what a monopoly feels, sounds and looks like. In Australia, the government has officially allowed CISRO to begin GMO trials on people. This fact propelled re-known chefs to protest and call for a ban on food experiments with genetically modified organisms.

Meanwhile, in Africa things are even worse. It is widely known how debt drove farmers to suicide because their costs increased exponentially, their yields decreased enormously and their soils became so depleted that not even weeds would grow on them. Who hasn’t seen the film “The World According to Monsanto“?

A food monopoly means that not even during a time of bonanza do farmers get real benefits for adopting genetically modified seeds and planting their land with one single crop. In Burkina-Faso, a short boom in cotton prices ended abruptly after the government and regional cotton monopolies, decided to not only to increase the prices of fertilizers by 38 percent, but also to pay farmers as little as 39 percent of the world’s price for their ‘white gold”. That is what a monopoly look like, feels like and sounds like. Government and corporations in bed fighting against the farmers.

Companies such as Paris-based Geocoton and Paul Reinhart AG of Winterthur, Switzerland control the cotton markets in Burkina-Faso as the government allowed the creation of monopolies that mandate farmers to sell their cotton to them. A finger pointed committee is in charge of setting the rules that in turn determine cotton prices there. Now, those rules were changed, for the benefit of the corporations. The committee decided to alter the formula used to set prices. That cut payments for last season’s crop by 39 percent and reduced the base price announced in April.

Thomas J. Bassett, Illinois University

This should have been a year “when people can finally get a few dollars and put metal roof on their house,” said Thomas J. Bassett, a geography professor at the University of Illinois. Basset has written about west africa’s cotton farmers for many years and he believes these ways of doing business are the ones that spur poverty and misery, especially when they are adopted in places like Africa.  “… they result in poverty for producers and wealth for companies and traders. It’s subtle and it’s dastardly.”

So what might be the origin of the changes in the rules? According to Yannick Morillon, chief executive officer of Paris-based Geocoton, it is a math issue. His company, along with others that operate in Burkina-Faso had set up sale prices before the great boom in cotton prices occurred, therefore by following those contracts, they wouldn’t have ripped the results of an ever more valuable crop. The monopoly controllers decided to simply decrease payments and increase the price of fertilizers to make up for the “loss”. “The economic equation wasn’t possible any longer,” he said in an interview at Geocoton’s headquarters off the Champs Elysees. “And if the entire industry collapses, it’s the farmers that are affected.”

Although government complicity is one of the corporations’ closest allies, there is another component in this fraudulent formula. The companies that control the monopoly of cotton and other crops take advantage of the fact that most farmers are illiterate. Amado Kafando is one of those farmers. He says he doesn’t understand the formula used to pay him, and consequently, neither does he get the changes that affected the changes in prices. Although Kafando will get more money for his cotton than what he got last year, the total amount will be substantially less that he was supposed to obtain as profit from his cotton sale.

“The price has multiplied by three or four times, so at our level it should be multiplied three or four times as well,” Kafando said. “The monopolies are getting fat, and we are the ones who are feeding them.” One direct  result of the corporations’ fraudulent practices was the anger expressed by the farmers. The government’s response to that anger was a public relations campaign to pacify the farmers given their intentions to boycott the production of cotton. As it happens in many parts of the world, money spoke louder and farmers’ representatives were invited to meetings to talk about their anger and find a solution to the problem.

During one of those meetings, the agriculture minister, served as the corporations’ salesperson to calm everyone down and to offer them another deal. He said farmers should enter into a “new and dynamic contract” to allow the plantation and production of cotton to continue uninterrupted. With the government and the corporations playing in the same team, farmers really did not have any options to choose from. They had to hear the sales pitch, say yes, and hope for the best, or say no and go back home with their hands empty. Is that a real choice?

This is an example of what monopolies look like. It is simply another form of colonialism; legalized colonialism. Farmers must choose between not planting cotton, or growing it and selling it to the regional or national monopoly at whatever prices they want to pay.

Top Chefs: End GMO Trials, Production

Leading chefs Neil Perry and Martin Boetz have launched a major public attack against the development of genetically modified food in Australia.

July 19, 2011

Chef Neil Perry

In a column that appeared today on The National Times website, Perry and Boetz urge the Australian government to “put a stop” to GM wheat trials.

“We are disturbed by the prospect that Australia could become one of the first countries to grow and eat genetically modified wheat,” they say in the column.

“Wheat is a fundamental part of our daily diet, the basis of bread, pasta, noodles, pastries and many other foods.”

“Whether or not you agree with its methods, Greenpeace’s destruction of the GM wheat from a CSIRO trial site just outside Canberra last week has stirred up the debate. And the state of our food – and the ways it is produced its a debated worth having.”

“The CSIRO claims its experimental GM wheat could help reduce bowel cancer rates because of more “resistant starch which is good for digestive health. Encouraging more people to eat more brown bread, rice and oats would seem eminently safer and more sensible and affordable.

“Even more troubling is the fact that GM plants have never been proven safe to eat.”

Genetically modified wheat has no place on the menu

We are proud to be two of Australia’s leading chefs and food industry spokesmen. Making and serving fresh and tasty food is a great pleasure for us. We have built our lives and careers around this passion.

But we are disturbed by the prospect that Australia may become one of the first countries in the world to grow and eat genetically modified wheat. Wheat is a fundamental part of our daily diet, the basis of bread, pasta, noodles, pastries and many other foods.

Whether or not you agree with its methods, Greenpeace’s destruction of GM wheat from a CSIRO trial site just outside Canberra last week has stirred up the debate. And the state of our food – and the ways it is produced – is a debate worth having.

The integrity of our food is continually being depleted by the demands of a fast-paced modern lifestyle. Our relationship with food is generally an unhealthy one. Agri-food manufacturers play on people’s time poverty to sell ultra-processed fast foods full of salt, sugar, highly refined carbohydrates, additives and preservatives. These foods have nothing in common with the fresh fruit and vegetables and whole cereals that should make up the bulk of a healthy diet.

The CSIRO claims its experimental GM wheat could help reduce bowel cancer rates because of more ”resistant starch”, which is good for digestive health. Encouraging people to eat more brown bread, rice and oats would seem eminently safer and more sensible and affordable. And this can be done without turning to GM crops, which we consider to be unsafe. But of course that’s not attractive to big international biotech firms that see a commercial advantage in GM crops.

The CSIRO and the Australian government are contradicting their own health advice that people should eat more wholegrains and a more varied diet. If people carry on eating the same kind of processed foods, drained of all the nutrients and life-giving energy we need, we can expect health problems to continue. GM wheat won’t help this; the likelihood is it will only increase the amount of unnatural, processed food on supermarket shelves.

Even more troubling is the fact that GM plants have never been proven safe to eat. Through trial and error over many thousands of years, we have found what we can eat for health and nourishment and what we must stay away from.

New forms of food such as GM wheat have never been tested for safety. They have not undergone the kind of trial and error that all our naturally occurring foods have over thousands of years of being consumed – they are a whole new form of genetically modified life. And they have not been through the kind of safety testing demanded of new pharmaceutical products.

Food is a fundamental part of life. Protecting the integrity of our food and the reliability of our food supply is critical. We must ask what kind of world we are building for ourselves and for our children where we would prefer to spend billions of dollars creating unnecessary and risky genetically modified products, rather than following our grandmothers and mothers’ advice of simply eating a balanced diet.

In a few generations our food and farming systems have been radically transformed. Once based around nature and human need, they are now controlled by corporations, from seed to supermarket, for the purpose of profit.

The menus in our restaurants, like those of other restaurants, cafes and family kitchens all around the country, feature wheat products such as bread and pastry every day. GM wheat will jeopardise our capacity to serve wholesome food we can rely on.

As leading chefs in Australia, we will stop using wheat products if GM becomes prevalent, or we will exclusively use certified organic wheat.

Australia’s reputation as one of the best food producers and places to eat in the world is at risk. We are urging the Australian government to stop risking Australia’s food industry and to put a stop to GM wheat trials.

Neil Perry is the owner of Spice Temple and The Waiting Room in Melbourne, and Rockpool Bar and Grill in Sydney and Perth. Martin Boetz is the owner and executive chef at Longrain restaurants in Melbourne and Perth. Both are signatories to Greenpeace’s Chef’s Charter, which aims to protect the quality and diversity of Australia’s food.

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