Reading through all the news about the global food crisis, I lacked one thing: the solution to this problem or even the slightest hint to one.
In many discussion fora and through comments on social bookmarking sites, it was often suggested that genetically modified (GM) crops, said to yield a higher production, and to be more pest-resistant, could mean the solution to world hunger.
I started to search around for more info on genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO), and came across several posts referring to a video called "The World According to Monsanto" by a French independent filmmaker, Marie-Monique Robin.
The movie researches the credibility of (or rather lack thereof) US based Monsanto, one of the biggest chemical companies in the world and the provider of the seed technology for 90 percent of the world’s genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Here is what Greenpeace has to say about the movie, and the company:
The story starts in the White House, where Monsanto often got its way by exerting disproportionate influence over policymakers via the “revolving door”.
One example is Michael Taylor, who worked for Monsanto as an attorney before being appointed as deputy commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991. While at the FDA, the authority that deals with all US food approvals, Taylor made crucial decisions that led to the approval of GE foods and crops. Then he returned to Monsanto, becoming the company’s vice president for public policy.
Thanks to these intimate links between Monsanto and government agencies, the US adopted GE foods and crops without proper testing, without consumer labeling and in spite of serious questions hanging over their safety.
Not coincidentally, Monsanto supplies 90 percent of the GE seeds used by the US market. Monsanto’s long arm stretched so far that, in the early nineties, the US Food and Drugs Agency even ignored warnings of their own scientists, who were cautioning that GE crops could cause negative health effects.
Other tactics the company uses to stifle concerns about their products include misleading advertising, bribery and concealing scientific evidence.
Monsanto was founded in 1901 as a chemical company. Its history is intimately linked to the production and promotion of highly toxic chemicals such as Agent Orange (used as a chemical weapon in the Vietnam war) and PCBs (widespread toxic pollutants).
Robin’s movie reveals that Monsanto already knew about the “systematic toxic effects” of PCBs for decades, but instructed its salespeople to stay silent because, “we can’t afford to lose one dollar.”
More recently Monsanto received a bad reputation for the promotion of growth hormones from GE organisms known as rBGH, which the company sells in the US under the brand name Posilac.
Monsanto claims that Posilac holds, “benefits to consumers”. The reality is that, rBGH growth hormones were banned in Europe and Canada after the authorities found out about the health risks resulting from drinking milk from cows treated with rBGH hormones.
Monsanto's way of "addressing" this problem was to sue the Oakhurst dairy company in the state of Maine (US) - attempting to force them, and other dairies, to stop labelling diary products “rBGH-free” and “rBST-free”.
Global reach, control
Over the last decade, Monsanto aggressively bought up over 50 seed companies around the globe. Seeds are the source of all food. Whoever owns the seeds, owns the food.
The process of genetic engineering allows companies, such as Monsanto, to claim patent rights over seeds. Ninety percent of all GE seeds planted in the world are patented by Monsanto and hence controlled by them. Patents on seeds give companies like Monsanto unprecedented power.
Monsanto prohibits farmers saving patented GE seeds from one crop to replant the next season, an age-old practice. To ensure that farmers do not reuse seeds, Monsanto created its own 'gene police', and encourages farmers to turn in their neighbors.
Even farmers that do not use GE seeds are not safe. According to an investigative report by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) farmers have even been sued for patent infringement after their field was contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else’s GE crop.
But Monsanto’s influence doesn't stop at the US border. “The world according to Monsanto”, documents the devastating impact of Monsanto's malpractices around the world. Among others, it includes the real-life stories of cotton farmers in India that ended up in hopeless debts after using Monsanto genetically engineered (so called Bt) cotton, and of a family in Paraguay, South America whose dreams have turned to nightmares after their farm became surrounded by fields planted with Monsanto’s GE soya.
A much needed expose
Monsanto wouldn’t address these issues on camera for Robin, instead referring to the "Monsanto Pledge" posted on their website (which we debunk here).
The movie was shown for the first time on ARTE TV (in German and French) on Tuesday 11 March. You can order a DVD of it (in English, French and Spanish) here.
I went out to look for the video on the Internet, and came across many dead links. It looks like the video was uploaded to many video and file sharing sites, but later revoked. I did find an upload which had the movie broken down in 12 parts. I show the first one, and the links to the following ones on Youtube.
I have updated the links again as YouTube keeps on removing the links, so here is...
You can also find the video on BitTorrent
After watching the video, I hope you will agree with me that commercially modified GM or GE crops are not the solution to world hunger nor the current food crisis, but probably the cause for much more damage than we can expect. Certainly when left in the hands of large corporations like Monsanto, and without proper government regulation and monitoring for the sake of profit.
I would say there are ways (either through natural selection or through gene manipulation) where we can change seeds to an extend they produce healthier plants and products, but then we should have different goals and means in mind:
- the purpose would be to help in the battle against world hunger, and towards a cleaner environment;
- the second generation of the seeds should be fertile, and free to use in the conventional way to increase the permanent independence of small farmers on the seed providers;
- the price should be regulated versus the standard seeds;
- proper and independent verification of the impact and risks on humans, plants and animals should be done by a panel of experts. The monitoring data should be made available for public scrutiny;
- there should be no intellectual property rights on the seeds;
- there should be no random hybrid offspring possible between natural and GM crops;
- ... any more ideas?
If you are in Europe, you can join Greenpeace's action against the introduction of the current commercial GM crops in Europe, by writing a postcard to Mr Stavros Dimas, the European Commissioner for the Environment.
Picture courtesy Greenpeace