There’s generally a protest de jour going down on that corner almost daily, so one becomes immune to the signs, car horns, etc. as you drive by the usual suspects picketing the most current cause. However this one was far bigger and getting far more attention – it was against Monsanto.
There are so many facets to this saga it’s hard to know where to begin.
But the whole Monsanto story is about GMO’s – genetically modified organisms. No, this isn’t about Craig Glazer, it’s about seeds, seeds and big, big business.
It’s been a huge deal here in the U.S, for some time. Back in 2000 an in house Monsanto newsletter stated that “Agricultural biotechnology will find a supporter occupying the White House next year, regardless of which candidate win the election in November.”
Yep, our corporate neighbor over in St Louis has no shortage of cash and clearly they knew they could buy whomever they needed. No surprise given the corruption and always open palms of our Senators and Congressmen.
All the way back in 2000, the GMO scare got increasing levels of attention and over the next eight years the demand began to label food products containing GMO’s because of the ties to health concerns in early testing.
It got so much attention that in the 2008 Obama campaign, he promised to label food-containing GMOs so we’d know if they were in what we were eating. However, after the election, he immediately appointed former Monsanto VP and attorney Michael Taylor as the Head of Food Safety at the Food and Drug Administration.
And that’s only the beginning of this story.
The FDA is in charge of determining the safety of all our foods and drugs, and in this case, that includes Monsanto’s growth hormones as well. To prove GMO’s safety, Monsanto had to submit a series of scientific reports to the FDA.
And just before the report was submitted, Miller got an offer she couldn’t refuse. Where? At the FDA. What was her first job? To analyze her own report!
So while we protest and play around the edges of this issue with feel good measures, Monsanto has been banned in Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Madeira, New Zealand, Peru, South Australia, Russia, France, and Switzerland.
In April, Poland was added to the list and India isn’t far behind.
Nowhere is the Monsanto problem worse than in India.
You can call the problem part Monsanto or part lack of business acumen by the Indian farmers, but in my mind, the Indian farmer has become the victim of the fast talking, fortune promising seed salesmen.
Around 2000, Indian farmers were victims or benefactors – depending on where you come down on this issue – of the free market system. At that point they could choose from a wider range of products. Then Monsanto flooded India with sales people who promptly convinced the farmers to start buying genetically modified Bollgard BT cotton seeds.
As the sales presentation went, the seeds were able to resist and kill the American Bollworm. No insecticides, huge yields and never before seen profits, all waiting for Indian farmers and all just a seed away. It was a one-call close and by 2009, 85 percent of cotton grown in India was Monsanto controlled. What could possibly go wrong?
Here’s where the business acumen comes in.
The seeds Monsanto sells in India cost about 100 times more than traditional seeds. Most farmers in India didn’t have that kind of cash lying around, so they turned to local “money lenders.”
Seeing endless profits on the horizon they over-borrowed to buy the magic seeds. To add to the problem, the seeds they bought from Monsanto are sterile forcing them to have to buy more seeds every year. Another uncommon business practice because, like most farmers, they planted a portion of their crops with next year’s seeds.
In the farming biz, crops fail, seed costs climb, debts can’t be paid but unlike good old American farmers, Indian farmers don’t take Chapter 11, they just kill themselves.
How big is the problem?
So how do they do it? Almost always by drinking the same insecticide they were sold by Monsanto.
India’s corporatization of the farm increasingly locks out the small to medium farmer who used to control the process. Now, displaced from their farms, they are hired for $1.80 a day to spray pesticides on crops that were never supposed to need pesticides. With no face mask protection which leads them to an early demise as well. First their farms, then their lives.
I interviewed a local biomedical engineer with one of the leading firms here in the metro. His observation was, “Monsanto is just a straw man. The real problem is a society that values cheap products more than a robust economy.”
Which brings up ethics in the fashion industry.
Chances are, if you’re an all-natural fiber guy like me, the cotton in your shirt came from India; dirty, white gold.
If you go to Monsanto’s page they tell a whole different story.
“With the combination of higher yields and reduced pesticide costs, India’s cotton farmers have increased their incomes. And with this additional money, they are able to purchase vehicles, provide education for their children, afford better housing for their families and purchase farm equipment. Additionally, because these farmers have additional income, they are able to put resources back into their villages’ economies.”
I assume this is for the farmers lucky enough to still be alive.
Monsanto’s spin is that they didn’t start the fire and that the suicide rate “has numerous causes with most experts agreeing that indebtedness is one of the main factors. Farmers unable to repay loans and facing spiraling interest often see suicide as the only solution.”
But again, it’s not their fault.
That’s India, where things seem the worst.
Next up: What it means to us here in the good ole USA.