The Monsanto menace takes over

The feds see no evil as a belligerent strongman seeks control of America's food supply

Historically, farmers have been able to save money on seeds by using those produced by last year's crops for the coming year's planting. But such cost-saving methods are largely a thing of the past. Monsanto's thick contracts dropped like shackles on the kitchen tables of every farmer who used the company's seed, allowing Monsanto access to farmers' records and fields and prohibiting them from replanting leftover seed, essentially forcing farmers to buy new seed every year — or face up to $3 million in damages.

Armed with lawyers and private investigators, the company has embarked on a campaign of spying and intimidation to stop any farmer from replanting his seeds.

Farmers call them the "seed police," using words such as "gestapo" and "mafia" to describe the company's tactics. Monsanto's agents fan out into small towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants. Some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors; others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them into signing papers that give Monsanto access to their private records.

Leading the charge, says Carstensen, is the private police force that once terrorized union organizers from another generation. "You know who does their policing?" he chuckles ruefully. "The Pinkertons. These are the strikebreakers, the railroad goons. It's déjà vu all over again."

In one case, Monsanto accused Indiana farmer David Runyon of illegally using its soybean seeds. Runyon claims the company threatened to sue for patent infringement, despite documentation proving that he'd bought non-patented seed from local universities for years. Monsanto's lawyer claimed the company had an agreement with the Indiana Department of Agriculture to search his land.

One problem: Indiana didn't have a Department of Agriculture at the time.

But most cases never go to trial. In 2006, the Center for Food Safety estimated that Monsanto had pressured as many as 4,500 farmers into paying settlements worth as much as $160 million.

Yet Monsanto wanted even more leverage. So it naturally turned to Congress.

Earlier this year, a little-noticed provision was slipped into a budget resolution. The anonymous measure, pushed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), granted the company an unheard-of get-out-of-jail-free card, widely known as the Monsanto Protection Act.

Despite indications that GM foods could have adverse health effects, the feds have never bothered to extensively study them. Instead, they've basically taken Monsanto's word that all is kosher. So organic farmers and their allies sued the company in 2009, claiming that Monsanto's GM sugar beets had not been studied enough. A year later, a judge agreed, ordering all recently planted GM sugar-beet crops destroyed until their environmental impact was studied.

The Monsanto Protection Act was designed to end such rulings. It essentially bars judges from intervening in the midst of lawsuits — a notion that would seem highly unconstitutional.

Not that Congress noticed. Monsanto has spent more than $10 million on campaign contributions in the past decade — and another $70 million on lobbying since 1998. The money speaks so loudly that Congress has become tone-deaf.

In fact, the U.S. government has become Monsanto's de facto lobbyist in countries distrustful of GM safety. Two years ago, WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables showing how the feds had lobbied foreign governments to weaken laws and encourage the planting of genetically modified crops in Third World countries.

The leaks also showed State Department diplomats asking for money to fly in corporate flacks to lean on government officials. Even Mr. Environment, former Vice President Al Gore, was key in getting France to briefly approve Monsanto's GM corn.

These days, the company has infiltrated the highest levels of government. It has ties to the Supreme Court (former Monsanto lawyer Clarence Thomas), with former and current employees in high-level posts at the USDA and the FDA.

But the real coup came when President Obama appointed former Monsanto vice president Michael Taylor as the FDA's new Deputy Commissioner for Foods. It was akin to making George Zimmerman the czar of gun safety.

Trust Us. Why Would We Lie?

At the same time that Monsanto was cornering the food supply, its principal products — GM crops — were receiving less scrutiny than an NSA contractor.

Monsanto understood early on that the best way to stave off bad publicity was to limit research. Prior to a recently negotiated agreement with major universities, the company had severely restricted access to its seeds. Filmmaker Bertram Verhaag's 2010 award-winning documentary, Scientists Under Attack: Genetic Engineering in the Magnetic Field of Money, noted that nearly 95 percent of genetic-engineering research is paid for and controlled by corporations like Monsanto.

Meanwhile, former employees embedded in government make sure the feds never get too nosy.

Michael Taylor has turned that into an art form. He's gone back and forth from government to Monsanto enough times that it's no longer just a revolving door; it's a Batpole. During an early-'90s stint with the FDA, he helped usher Bovine Growth Hormone milk into the food supply and authored the decision that kept the government out of Monsanto's GM crop business.

Known as "substantial equivalence," it declared that genetically modified products are essentially the same as their non-GM counterparts — and therefore require no additional labeling or testing for food safety or toxicity.

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19 comments
ask.4j
ask.4j

Current members of the board of directors of Monsanto are:

  • David L. Chicoine, president of South Dakota State University Yikes!
  • Hugh Grant, president and CEO (" a Scottish-born business executive and CEO ..."Hugh Grant Is Elected President and Chief Executive Officer of Monsanto"--Scotland--isn't that where mad cow disease was created?
  • Arthur H. Harper, managing partner of GenNx360 Capital Partners ("As front-line operating executives at General Electric, several of our senior partners led and transformed diverse industrial businesses; generating billions in operating profits. ")
  • Gwendolyn King, president of Podium Prose, a speakers bureau
  • Laura K. Ipsen, senior VP and general manager of Connected Energy Networks at Cisco Systems, Inc.(NASDAQ:CSCO)
  • C. Steven McMillan, former chairman and CEO of the Sara Lee Corporation  (McMillan=Cargil)
  • William U. Parfet, chief executive officer of MPI Research Inc. ("...built its reputation on its toxicological experience and knowledge with small molecules. However, the company is ahead of the curve in responding to recent market trends with biotechnology-derived products, commonly known as “biologics,” or biopharmaceuticals.")
  • Janice L. Fields, president of McDonald's USA (food that doesn't rot or nutritious -my personal thouts/experience)
  • George H. Poste, chief executive of Health Technology Networks
  • Jon R. Moeller, chief financial officer of The Procter & Gamble Company.[64][65]

Lobbyist--here's one example: http://www.ibtimes.com/army-lobbyists-led-monsanto-helped-neuter-gmo-labeling-law-connecticut-1295489


that's one powerful board but isn't it just as easy to make lots of money creating edible safe food?  do we really need to kill every weed, insects and small animal that attacks crops resulting in food that may harm those who eat it?  The world is protesting and here's what's going on in your world:  http://occupy-monsanto.com/


their moto is "feeding the world" or is this a new form of birth control--kill off the poor.  sad but making lots of money isn't satisfying enough, complete world control is the ultimate level of self-serving satisfaction.  Oh there's lots of stuff out there about Monsanto to read most is bs but it is a sign that "we've had enough and we're not taking it any more" and our main weapon is sarcasm which just confuses and voids any real protests.

ExpertShot
ExpertShot topcommenter

I wonder how much I can get paid writing for Monsanto on comments like these?  Does anyone know? 

earl.jacob.netwal
earl.jacob.netwal

The city pages should be ashamed to print this yellow journalism.

jujucar2002
jujucar2002

Maybe someday they will see the connection between Celiac and other food intolerances like Gluten intolerance and sensitivity. Those illnesses exploded as Monsanto products became more and more widespread. I have to be careful what foods I eat, most foods make me explosively ill. 

We need labelling on our foods so those of us who cannot tolerate these modified non-foods can steer clear of them.

gratefulmom
gratefulmom

Deepest thanks for your well-informed coverage of this important issue.  GMOs are next cigarettes--the FDA has totally abdicated its job protecting us from these "foods." 

Even the University of Minnesota says HALF of the studies they reviewed showed risk inherent in eating GMOs. And most of the rest are industry funded. 

Minnesota has a bill in the House and Senate to label GMOs--at least we should be able to decide whether we eat GMOs or not. But that's only the first step. Farmers are taking their livestock off GMO feed because they're becoming sick and infertile--and we're still feeding them to our kids.

No yield increases, toxic chemicals, health risks for all of us, profits for big biotech. It's sad that our government is in the pocket of this industry. Twenty years from now we're all going to be talking about who was to blame for letting us eat untested GMOs for so long and no one will take responsibility.

Look for the non-GMO seal, organize to pass labeling, and do all you can to fight the corporate takeover and contamination of the food on which we all depend.

RSweeney
RSweeney

"Learning" of Monsanto from this biased propaganda screed is like learning African-American history from the KKK.

Monsanto's seed patents expire in 20 years, to be free for ALL.

The first Roundup-ready seed to expire is soybean, becoming free in 2014.

Non-gmo seed is available, no one FORCES farmers to buy GMO, but farmers prefer the lower cost farming and greater yields provided by the GMO varieties. Roundup ready saves an immense amount of expensive tractor fuel and no-til has allowed America to avoid a dust bowl despite droughts.


Take the ignorant 2 minute hate somewhere else.

anjh
anjh

My backyard squirrels won't eat GM corn.

Yvonne Schram
Yvonne Schram

If we had labeled food, we could choose to stop buying GMOs.

Drewey
Drewey topcommenter

Why would a "job creator" hurt us? This sounds like more "lame stream media" brainwashing. This is the kind if governing that happens when we are completely divided as a country. While we waste our time arguing about simple equality issues and backwards abortion laws politicians are playing yes men to guys with a shit load if cash.

RSweeney
RSweeney

@jujucar2002  

So you believe that a gluten molecule from one corn ear is different from another?

How about the sugar molecules in GMO beets? 

foodisgood
foodisgood

@RSweeney Round-up Ready seeds lose their effectiveness much earlier than 20 years.  In mono-culture systems, pests, weeds, & disease respond as if on cue every time.  GM crops solve nothing.  They simply prolong an agri-business model that has only existed a relatively short time on a massive scale.  

pammanda
pammanda

@RSweeney Actually, seed diversity is going down in countries that grow GMOs...Nongmo varieties are simply not available to them.  Patents are going to be extended via trade agreements (see the TTIP, TPP), plus it doesn't matter as Roundup is not working any more so they just create new patented varieties to replace them.  Please dig deeper before spreading your hate. 

earl.jacob.netwal
earl.jacob.netwal

@anjh 

Corn's a great example, it's not a natural food to begin with, It was cross bread recently in history. ~5,000 years ago. Virtually all the corn you see today are hybrids form the 1860s and on.

RSweeney
RSweeney

@foodisgood @RSweeney  

We have lived (in the US) in monoculture system of agriculture for over 100 years.

But you are correct, evolution never sleeps.

RSweeney
RSweeney

@pammanda  

So here we are in a 2 minute hate screed against Monsanto and I am the one spreading hate?

Please.

 

 
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