13 April 2009

world according to monsanto

Every company's major objective is to generate revenue - this is the responsibility it owes to its shareholders and its stakeholders. However, there are some among those who achieve this agenda in an ethical manner, paying attention to the triple bottom line; there are others who don't care and there are ones who pretend to care. Monsanto falls under the fourth group - pure evil.

Monsanto started off as a chemical company. It is the company responsible for Agent Orange, for the release of PCBs into the ecosphere. More recently they were responsible for bovine growth hormone (rBHG) in milk. It has since remodeled itself into the world biggest agri-biotech company. What are they after now? Global monopoly over the building blocks of human sustenance - the seed.

Over the last decade, Monsanto has aggressively bought over 50 seed companies world over. The rationale being, whoever owns the seeds owns the food. The process of genetic engineering allows companies, such as Monsanto, to claim patent rights over seeds. 90% 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 neighbours.

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.

This expose, goes on to show how Monsanto has been manipulating government agencies to approve their GM seeds and policies. It also shows how the company has exploited many poor farmers world over. It gradually builds up case after case against Monsanto pointing to its ultimate aim of taking over global food production in some sort of macabre transgenic revolution. I found a link on youtube that shows the documentary in ten parts. You can order a DVD of it (in English, French and Spanish) here.

This issue is worth educating yourself about. Food is universal and affects everyone. Apart from the substantial health risks there are also enormous environmental implications involved through the cultivation of GM. Consumer pressure is the only thing that can keep companies like Monsanto from taking over global food supply. Currently in India Mahyco, based in Maharastra a subsidiary of Monsanto has participated in testing Bt Brinjal and there are currently 20 different vegetables, food grains etc under GM research. Releasing Bt Brinjal will be catastrophe. The most precious Indian crop - rice, will soon follow. This will threaten not only livelihoods of millions of farmers but also the 75000-odd(!) indigenous varieties of rice which will die out.

Speak out. Let agriculture remain the right of small farmers world over. Apathy is no longer an option. Choose to let your voice be heard.


S.Monkey said...

would you be up for GE crops if we were able to grow and produce more in small area of lands, thereby not requiring us to destroy forests for more land?

lets face it, our population is growing and food supplies are not miraculously going to increase either.

How can we have it all as biologists?

I'm not FOR GE crops. I hate the monotonous tasting shit i eat here. I miss the real rich tasting fruits and veggies in India. Im certain that it (GE) affects taste and aroma but hey produce looks consistently better.

Of course the major downside is losing diversity.

I dont know. Monsanto is a company and all companies are pretty much evil from some perspective. But I think the major point youre trying to convey is that GE is bad.

Btw Monsanto recruits very actively at UCDav. the HQ are close by there. and they collaborated with us..who am i kidding, they collaborate with us all the time = $$

S.Monkey said...

Have you heard of Golden Rice? it sounds really ethically wrong however, the aim of the project is to make rice (staple food in large parts of the world) nutritious enough (vit A) so people can really lead a healthy life on it.

How do you rationalize GE and projects like Golden Rice?

Can there not be grey areas?

I dont have answers...just thinking out loud.

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said...

I didn't know you actually read my blog. Thanks for the support and keep reading!

First of all, I'm not for any form of GE. Regardless of size of land under GE production, there is alwasy a risk of out-crossing due to pollen transfer. Yes, population is growing but right now there is no food shortage, there is severe food mis-management. Think about all the food that is wasted everyday in various parts of the world that can feed the food-less.

As biologists, our first responsibility is to the 'bios' (Gr: Life). The environs supports life, so biology does not exist without the environment. Food production has become a field of macro-management when it need not be so.

My solution is organic farming, permaculture and vertical farming in countries who can afford that technology. These are all environmentally viable options which produce healthier food with less pesticide use and no foreign DNA in it. Why is no-one considering these options? Simply because there is no 'hi-tech' associated with them.

As for Golden Rice - the whole project is a scam. One of the most frustrating things about GE is that it seldom does what it says on the bottle because parameters in the wild and parameters under field trial vary vastly. Golden Rice is genetically engineered to produce pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene)but people have to consume 12 times more than what they normally eat to get the required amount of Vit A.

This product is being aimed at the so-called poor or people with nutrition deficiencies. If they could afford to eat that much (of anything) they wouldn't be nutrient-deficient in the first place!

Also all the money being spent on ridiculous technology which ultimately is a waste of energy and effort should be diverted into actually alleviating problems like correcting food distribution channels, mal-nourishment etc.

GE in any way, is not the answer.

S.Monkey said...

GE may not be the answer for this [the points I brought up], but I think there is potential to understanding transgenetics.

but transgenic technology has helped out in a bunch of ways.
here is an interesting article on how transgenic technology helped wt papaya from getting wiped off of Hawaii. http://www.apsnet.org/education/feature/papaya/

Without proper studies/research, we can't shoot down transgenics. Thats all i'm saying. i see potential in biofuels, etc.

Controlled studies are the way to go for now.

I think both sides [pro GMO (monsanto) and anti- GMO (greenpeace)] have their own agendas. As independent thinkers (me for example, not you..haha ) we have to read both sides, see the potential evil and potential good.

If you start mixing science with emotion (plight of farmers) and politics ($ better food management) then it gets more complicated and agendas arise.

S.Monkey said...

Oh and also about golden rice.

theoretically i think it is brilliant.

I think it is extremely naive to think that running 5 experiments will result in a perfect solution.

there are drawbacks and researchers are working on fixing that.

everything has taken time in the past, whats different now?

Can't jsut label it a scam coz the first round of results had defects.


"Think about all the food that is wasted everyday in various parts of the world that can feed the food-less"

We can agree to disagree here since i believe there are no numbers to support your claim. Afirca, South america, asia, and even americans now (thanks to economy) go to bed hungry.

I dont think the "Waste" is enough to feed that many people.

again, moot argument as i dont think there are numbers...verifiable anyway.

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said...

Been busy/travelling so havent got back to you:

1) Transgenics is a viable concept but again not sure about effects on the field in the large-scale.
2) Golden rice is a very exciting concept - so are many other GE possibilities. as a scientist myself, it is intellectual and cool. But the other side of me keeps wondering what else... we're heading for a fake plastic world.
3) food wastage statistics:
Vienna disposes of enough unsold bread every day to supply Austria's second largest city, Graz. The United Kingdom's Economic and Social Research Council estimates UK households throw away 378 pounds of food per person each year. USDA calculates 20% of the country's food goes to waste, representing an annual value of about $31 billion in lost resources. Roughly 49 million people could be fed each year by the United States' lost food resources. In a report by the ministry of food processing last year in India says a whopping Rs 58,000 crore (Rs 580 billion) worth of agriculture food items get wasted in the country every year.

And only recently the EU passed a law saying that 'cosmetically imperfect' fruit and vegetables can be sold. Uptil last year there were strict standards on how they should look, size, weight etc. The criteria has been loosened to reduce food wastage.

I'm not saying that food wastage will feed everybody who is hungry. I'm saying it will feed SOMEBODY if directed properly.