ENVIRONMENT POLITICS - I first heard about the company Monsanto during my high school days in what was then a fairly rural area of New Jersey. My initial thoughts were, “Another DuPont – we know that story… Huge, wealthy chemical magnate takes over the world and so on.” What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that this huge, wealthy chemical magnate really was taking over the world; so much so, in fact, that they are no longer subject to obeying ordinary laws.
Monsanto Corporation, founded and incorporated in 1926, has been at the forefront of chemical and genetic engineering for the past century. The company’s infamous production history includes owning the largest PCB-producing plant in the United States; being associated with at least 31 Superfund sites; developing and selling RBST and RBGH (bovine growth hormones); and bringing the world its old favorite, Agent Orange.
In recent decades, Monsanto’s primary activity within big agribusiness has shifted slightly from chemicals and pesticides (though Roundup saw yet another year of increased sales in 2011) to GMOs and seed manufacturing. Monsanto is now the top producer of corn, soy and alfalfa seeds in the United States, used for both human and animal feed. If you take a look at the Fortune 500 Company’s website, Monsanto brands itself as a family-oriented, farmer-friendly operation, dedicated to “producing more, conserving more and improving lives”.
This would be a pretty great motto if it were true. Unfortunately, only the “producing more” part stands up to consideration. Since the 1990s, Monsanto has filed and won lawsuits against 145 individual farmers for a variety of patent infringements and/or breach of conduct claims, including the famous incidents wherein GMO (genetically modified) seeds manufactured by Monsanto blew into non-Monsanto neighboring fields (how dare you, Nature!).
James Brumley: “With HR 933 now a law, however, the court system no longer has the right to step in and protect the consumer.”
On March 26, President Obama signed H.R. 933, a large-scale budget bill, to keep the US government’s finances afloat. Slipped into the pages of the bill is the Farmer’s Assurance Provision… or what has now become known as the Monsanto Protection Act – which essentially grants GMO producers like Monsanto legal immunity in the event of risks posed by their products.
Senator Roy Blunt, who has strong ties to the corporation, wrote the Act, Section 735 of the bill; despite the fact that several consumer and environmental advocates signed a petition against it, Obama moved forward with his consent. In the weeks following the bill’s acceptance, some individual states like Oregon, have also been moving forward to sign similar protections into law.
What exactly does this all mean? Well, Jon Stewart has a pretty great breakdown, but if you’re not into satire, here’s why this is important. Even if you could not care less about the health and/or environmental concerns related to the widespread distribution and consumption of GMOs, you should be concerned about the precedent this sets in regard to the control such an exception gives to major corporations, and what that means for consumer rights.
James Brumley, a reporter for Investor Place, explains a little more thoroughly just how dangerous the rider is now that biotech companies are allowed to bypass judicial scrutiny.
Up until it was signed, he writes, “the USDA [US Department of Agriculture] oversaw and approved (or denied) the testing of genetically modified seeds, while the federal courts retained the authority to halt the testing or sale of these plants if it felt that public health was being jeopardized. With HR 933 now a law, however, the court system no longer has the right to step in and protect the consumer.”
So we return to the ever-present quandary: What do we do now? March forward. Get involved with local and national movements that protect consumers, farmers, livestock and the environment. Food Democracy Now! is a grassroots community that comprises a variety of individuals who share a common desire to restructure our broken food system.
You can sign a petition to mandate labeling of GMO and GE products. Likewise, take a look at the Organic Consumers Association webpage, where you can also see how to take action to make sure GMO and CAFO products are labeled.
If you are interested in planting your own crops from Monsanto-free seed, here is a list of alternative distributors. We have a right to know where our food is coming from and what is being put into it, and we equally have the right to oppose the big agribusiness owning our government.
Read more about the Monsanto Protection Act and why it matters at Mother Nature Network.
(Courtney Sexton is a New Jersey native (which to her means summer peaches and tomatoes), turned part-time Vermonter, Courtney recently completed her graduate degree in Nonfiction Writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She's a treehugger and is mildly obsessed with her dog, a hound named Remy. This important article was posted first at Urban Times)
Vol 11 Issue 35
Pub: Apr 30, 2013