California’s Prop. 37 is the latest salvo in the growing rebellion against GMOs (genetically modified crops) and the companies that produce them. The ballot issue, if passed in November, will require food manufacturers who sell their products in California to reveal on the label if the product contains GMOs.
Earlier this year, some 300,000 organic farmers and private citizens brought a lawsuit against Monsanto to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement by the company if their crops are found to be contaminated by Monsanto’s GMOs. Monsanto is notorious for its “seed police,” who surreptitiously test farmers’ crops to discover if the company’s patented crops have sprung up on the fields of farmers’ who have not paid for the right to grow them. The farmer is then sued, often out of existence. Since unintended pollination can easily occur, this is a huge problem for organic farmers. One judge dismissed the lawsuit, but it has been appealed and is now being supported by numerous law professors and nonprofits.
An organization calling itself the Genetic Crimes Unit staged a protest in Oxnard, California, on September 12, shutting down Monsanto’s shipping and receiving access points. The group is a part of the Occupy Monsanto movement, which is planning actions throughout the world including the US, Germany, Canada, India, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Argentina, Australia, Spain, Russia, and Japan.
Elsewhere in the world, five million Brazilian farmers are suing Monsanto over the company’s demand that farmers who are replanting the company’s patented soybean seed must pay Monsanto a 2 percent royalty on all soybeans sold ... forever. The court awarded the farmers $2 billion but, of course, Monsanto appealed.
In India, Monsanto is facing charges of biopiracy for developing a genetically modified eggplant from a local variety of eggplant without gaining proper license for field trials. Biopiracy is defined as the use of indigenous knowledge of nature, originating with indigenous people, used by others used by others for profit, without permission from and with little or no compensation or recognition to the indigenous people themselves. Patenting GM varieties of local species of plants could easily lead to Monsanto suing growers of the local plant for patent infringement.
Monsanto offered to donate Roundup Ready GMO seeds to Haitians in May of 2010, but the minister of agriculture rejected the offer. The company then sent 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides. Local activists threatened to burn them.
In February, China’s State Council proposed a grain law restricting research, field trials, production, sale, import and export of GM rice seeds. Because rice is a key crop in China, GM rice is considered too great a risk to Chinese health and the nation’s economy.
GM seeds are banned in Hungary, and in 2011 1,000 acres that were mistakenly planted with Monsanto’s genetically modified corn were destroyed. Rumors have it that, due to virulent public opposition, Monsanto is liquidating its facility is in Germany, France and the Czech Republic.
Russia's consumer-rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, recently announced that it suspended the import and use of a genetically engineered corn made by Monsanto. This was after a two-year rat study conducted at France's University of Caen found that rats fed Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn, NK603, developed more severe diseases and tumors than rats fed regular corn.
Monsanto has enormous clout, and nations that defy the company’s efforts to introduce its seeds suffer the equivalent of diplomatic and economic warfare. Time will tell if public awareness and outrage will succeed in curtailing the company’s power. Meanwhile, stay tuned for more information on California’s Prop. 37 battle.