June 2, 2013
Why millions marched against Monsanto
by Jean Kenyon
"Roundup Ready" alfalfa is about to be registered for use in Eastern Canada in June or July, over the protests of farmers and concerned consumers. So says the latest update from the activist group CBAN ‑ the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
The new genetically modified hay variety is a Monsanto product, to be distributed in Canada by Forage Genetics. If you and your family eat beef or drink milk, the introduction of this new cattle feed could soon be important to you.
The National Farmers' Union (NFU) held a protest outside Kitchener's Delta Hotel last October, where the Canadian Seed Trade Association was meeting. The CSTA, which includes Monsanto, Forage Genetics, and other agribusinesses, was promoting the idea that genetically modified (GM) alfalfa could "coexist" with conventional hay, so farmers wouldn't need to worry.
But few people believe Monsanto's assurances any more.
Protester Phillip Woodhouse, president of NFU Grey County Local 344, said the term `co‑existence' is merely industry spin meant to allay farmers' concerns about contamination. "Make no mistake ‑ GM alfalfa will cross‑pollinate with non‑GM and organic alfalfa, and will threaten the very livelihoods of Ontario's family farmers," he warned.
For one thing, farmers are terrified of being sued by Monsanto, if a few unwanted GM plants should turn up on their land. After all, Monsanto "owns" these life forms ‑ they have patents saying so. In the state of Indiana, Monsanto agents have been known to go onto farms at will, sample what's growing there, and then show up at the supper table to serve farmers with huge lawsuits. Farmers can be rapidly put out of business or forced to settle out of court, while Monsanto "snitch lines" turn neighbour against neighbour.
A similar thing happened to Saskatchewan canola farmer Percy Schmeiser, with the Supreme Court of Canada finding in Monsanto's favour. The commentator who tells the Indiana story in the stunning documentary The World According to Monsanto, calls these company tactics "totalitarian".
Conventional farmers are also afraid of losing export markets, if they can no longer guarantee that their crops are 100% GM‑free. As for organic farmers, they will be out of business if the pasture and hay on which their cows graze might be contaminated with GM alfalfa. They are desperate to stop it from ever being approved here.
A Canada‑wide protest against GM alfalfa in April was ignored by the Harper government. There was one small victory, though: the approval didn't come through in time for this year's planting season. So the protests against Monsanto are being stepped up.
The effect of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) on human and animal health hasn't been definitively established. In fact Monsanto makes sure of that! Dozens of scientists who have attempted to investigate the health effects of Monsanto products over the years have lost their funding, jobs, and reputations.
But the 2012 study "Myths and Truths of GMOs", by Earth Open Source, reports some alarming findings. In Quebec's Eastern Townships, pregnant women and their fetuses had insecticide chemicals in their bloodstream that are found in Bt plants. (Bt's are a type of GMO that secretes insecticide, killing not only pests but beneficial insects ‑ a real wonder crop!) Did the women get the chemical from eating Bt corn (or animals that had consumed it), or living near a plantation of these Franken‑crops? Obviously further study is needed.
People with a nut allergy developed symptoms after eating soy beans grown from seeds into which a Brazil nut gene had been blasted.
The insertion of the foreign gene is about as accurate as a BB gun, and depending on where the gene lands in the DNA of the target plant, the effects can vary. The World According To Monsanto shows pictures of monstrous specimens of corn that have resulted in Mexico from contamination by U.S. GM corn imported at subsidized prices under NAFTA, and by lab experiments with random insertion of the genes.
Yet the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would have us believe that GMO crops are "substantially equivalent" to conventional crops, and therefore need no special testing! Monsanto officials and their friends in the FDA must be laughing on their bar stools after these pronouncements are made. After all, they're often the same people, switching position every few years through the industry‑government revolving door.
Canadians may remember how three federal scientists were fired in 2004, after one of them revealed to a Senate committee that Monsanto had offered a bribe to Health Canada to approve Bovine Growth Hormone. Thanks to the scandal, BGH was never approved for use in Canada. But their careers were sacrificed.
Now their research linking BGH to mastitis in cows, as well as increased use of antibiotics, joint problems, and more, is becoming public knowledge. In 2008 the US too stopped the use of BGH.
"If genetically engineered products like this were safe, Monsanto would put `made with GE' in big block letters on all its products," said Josh Brandon, an agricultural campaigner with Greenpeace. "Instead Monsanto is doing everything it can to obstruct the consumer's right to know what they are eating. Monsanto's strategy backfires, once consumers start asking questions about the health and environmental safety of GE products."
In response to these and a host of other issues involving Monsanto, in February a concerned American named Tami Canal started a social media campaign. She called for rallies around the world on May 25 against Monsanto's practices and against government collusion with the company. A key demand was for mandatory labelling of foods containing GMOs. She put up a very informative web site at: www.march‑against‑monsanto.com
When the day came she told Yahoo news, "If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success." But instead she was overwhelmed by the response. At last count, "March Against Monsanto" protests were held in 52 countries and 436 cities on six continents!
We must hope it will prove to be the beginning of resistance to one of the most destructive multinational corporations in history.
The film The World According to Monsanto can be viewed for free on RY Blog
See also Canadian Biotechnology Action Network www.cban.ca. CBAN calls for the banning of all GMOs.
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