By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
In much of the world Monsanto is required to label Genetically Modified foods (GMO’s) and in some countries growing GMO crops has been banned. In the US no such requirements exist, despite 93% of Americans calling for labeling. Increasingly Monsanto is winning protections in the US that prevent citizens, local governments and courts from creating protections for consumers and farmers.
Monsanto controls about 95% of soybeans, 85% of cotton and 80% of corn in the USA and continues to buy up competitors. This creates a monopoly-like control of the market, allowing them to force small businesses out of competition and dominate industry policy. Monsanto seeds are often accused of blowing into neighboring farms and contaminating crops with their patented brand.
The attorney generals of the states of Montana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia expressed concern that Monsanto was engaging in anti-competitive conduct injuring farmers, ranchers and consumers. These concerns included steady price increases on seeds, with corn seed costs increasing 30% and soybean seeds increasing 25% between 2008 and 2009 and that Monsanto’s control had reached a point where competition from new firms may be nearly impossible. These comments came amid an anti-trust investigation by the Department of Justice which was dropped suddenly with no public statement.
Farmer and local citizens have campaigned for nearly a decade to fight Monsanto’s GMO crops from contaminating their fields and to support GMO food labeling. Efforts like Millions Against Monsanto brought concerns to local governments, often the only level of government that allows public comment and citizen initiatives. Many states, arguably influenced by Monsanto lobbying, created laws preventing any local law affecting the use of Monsanto seeds known as state preemption laws. This leaves the state legislature the only path in many states that can create laws regulating GMO’s in food and farms; often such bodies offer no public comment for citizens input. Some of the states which have passed laws prohibiting local government or local initiatives affecting GMO seed use/labeling include Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota.
Monsanto is often involved in court cases with small farmers over claims of contamination and have faced suit from groups of farmers over their practices. A recent suit brought by 60 family farmers and seed businesses sought protection against GMO crop contamination by Monsanto but was dismissed in federal district court. Shortly after the case, congress passed an act, often called the Monsanto Protection Act, to protect Monsanto from most rulings by a judge or jury that could affect them for a period of 6 months. President Obama signed the law despite a petition turned in with 250,000 signatures asking him not to allow the act into law. This rarely given protection seems to go even beyond the recent corporate personhood bill of rights for corporations by giving immunity from persecution to a corporation with control over much of the food consumed each day.
Local farmers and citizens continue to fight Monsanto. The Rogue Valley in Oregon is home to many organic farms but has recently seen corporate test plots for GMO sugar beets introduced leading to worries of crop contamination and citizen concern. Public meetings have been held to ask local government to prevent planting of GMO crops near the organic farms. According to Occupy Monsanto the planting is in violation of USDA isolation rules that require a 4-mile buffer zone for this type of GMO crop. Perhaps in response to citizens gathering petition signatures and contacting the USDA about violations, Oregon may soon have a preemption law preventing such actions. If passed, citizens would have to gather a higher signature count for a statewide protection campaign or convince the state to get involved in protecting farms and the food produced.
Citizens are increasing demanding an end to Monsanto’s practices leading to ballot measures like Prop 37 in California to label GMO food and public meetings to increase public knowledge of what’s happening to our food. One group known as the GMO-free movement has been growing and held numerous events nationally as well as locally in Arizona such an Earth Day honk n’ wave campaign to get Kellogg’s cereal to label GMO’s in their products. The Arizona group is expected to meet at 2pm Sunday, May 5th at the Saquarro Library, 2808 N 46th St Phoenix, AZ 85008, as well as hold a free showing of Genetic Roulette, Saturday May 11th. On May 25th, a national March against Monsanto is expected to draw 10,000+ citizens out on the streets to ask for an end to Monsanto’s control of food.