April 11, 2012 at 12:10 PM

Food Fight: Monsanto vs. The World: Update, April 11

"...the world is waking up to the dangers Monsanto has unleashed upon the planet"

By Lynn Cline

Gourmet Girl

Lynn Cline is a former food editor and the author of two books – Romantic Days and Nights in Santa Fe and Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers' Colonies, 1915-1950. She also loves to cook, when not dining out.

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Update April 11, 2012 -- Monsanto is threatening to sue the State of Vermont if lawmakers there pass H-722, or the "VT Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," which would require manufacturers to label products containing genetically modified food. Consequently, lawmakers have put a hold on any vote on the bill.

This is typical behavior from the behometh agribusiness, which has forced competing farms out of business and sued organic farmers for "drift" that contaminates their crops with Monsanto seeds. And Vermont has faced Monsanto's wrath before. Back in 1994, the state tried to prevent dairy corporations from marketing milk with containing the rgbH growth hormone, arguing that it was linked to cancer. Monsanto won back then. Which may explain why the current lawmakers have postponed voting on the Right to Know bill. They know exactly what they are up against.

In other Monsanto news, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and a dozens of organic farmers are appealing the decision of a federal judge who threw out a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto that would have protected farmers from being sued by Monsanto for growing organic seed that becomes contaminated with the agrochemical company's patented biotech seed germplasm

Update Feb. 29, 2012 -- A federal judge has thrown out the class-action case filed against Monsanto by dozens of organic farmers, seed growers and organic food organizations, saying that that the suit was "a transparent effort to create a controversy where none exists."

U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Buchwald's refusal to protect farmers from being sued by Monsanto for growing organic seed that becomes contaminated with the agrochemical company's patented biotech seed germplasm "maligns the intelligence and integrity" of the farmers who sought to protect their industry from Monsanto's growing world seed domination, said Daniel Ravicher, the plaintiffs' lead attorney.

The plaintiffs do have the right to appeal the ruling. We'll keep you updated here as to when, and if, the appeal is filed.

Update, Feb. 23, 2012 -- Monsanto and Dow, the nation's top agrochemical producers, have joined forces to reintroduce the use of the herbicide 2,4-D—one half of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange sprayed by American forces to clear jungle during the Vietnam War. That's because the ubiquitus spraying of Monsantao's herbicide Roundup has created superweeds resistant to Roundup. Now Dow says it has developed a new genetically engineered corn that can tolerate 2,4-D, which will be used to kill the superweeds. However, some European countries and Canadian provinces have banned 2,4-D, a suspected carcinogen that has doubled the rate of birth defects and is toxic to honeybees, birds and fish.

The U.S.D.A. is considering deregulating Monsanto's genetically modified corn and is accepting final public comments for a short time. Click here to submit your comment.

In other news, Mexico, the birthplace of corn, has denied Monsanto's request to expand its pilot GM corn project because the country wants further testing done to determine the effects of the GM corn on its native corn species.

For more background, read my original piece below.

Monsanto has been making headlines lately and the news is not good. From battling legislation to label food containing its genetically modified ingredients to denying studies revealing the health dangers of GM foods and fighting a class-action lawsuit, the giant agro-chemical company is under siege.

Established in 1901 in St. Louis, Monsanto got its start manufacturing the artificial, cancer-causing sweetener saccharin for Coca-Cola. It went on to develop Agent Orange, an herbicide and defoliant sprayed by the U.S. Army in Vietnam during the war to remove the canopy of jungle foliage. The chemical caused nearly a million birth defects, disfigurements and deaths.

Now, Monsanto is at it again.

One of the top U.S. chemical companies, Monsanto manufactures DDT, PCBs, aspartame (NutraSweet) and the herbicide Roundup Ready. In the 1980s, the company created rBGH, the bovine growth hormone injected in dairy cows to produce milk containing higher levels of cancer-causing hormones and  lower nutritional value. Every other country in the developed world, except the U.S. and Brazil, has banned the use of rGBH in cows producing milk consumed by humans. Studies have shown that rGBH milk contains increased levels of IGF-1, a hormone that causes cancer.

In 1982, Monsanto began developing genetically modified seeds, known as "suicide seeds" because, unlike natural seeds, they are sterile, forcing farmers to purchase new seed supply every year. Today, Monsanto currently owns 90 percent of the genetically engineered seeds used in the U.S. to grow five major commodity crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets. These GM ingredients are contained in virtually all processed foods.

And a federal judge just deregulated Monsanto's genetically modified alfalfa after five years of court battles with farmers and environmental groups, despite findings that Monsanto's genetically engineered crops could cause infertility in livestock and crop diseases that threaten the world's food supply.

Even Monsanto's own scientists have warned that GM foods cause serious health problems, though Monsanto has tried to bury the evidence. The company's official stance is that "There is no need for, or value in, testing the safety of GM foods in humans."

Really? Monsanto's genetically modified sweet corn contains the Bt toxin, engineered  to protect the crop by rupturing the stomach of any insects feeding on it. According to Monsanto, the Bt toxin will break down before you eat it, but studies on rats that ate the corn reported organ failures, and the toxin has been found in pregnant women who consumed the corn.

Numerous countries have banned the growth and sale of this corn, though the U.S. has not. General Mills, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have pledged not to use Monsanto's sweet corn in any of their products, and public pressure is mounting on Wal-Mart to do the same thing.

Meanwhile, many farmers who do not use Monsanto seeds have had to cease growing their own crops in order to avoid genetic contamination from crops grown with Monsanto seed in nearby fields. That's because Monsanto has driven dozens of farmers in bankruptcy by suing them, creating a climate of fear in rural America. The company targets organic farmers and tests their crops, often without permission. If it finds that those crops are resistant to Roundup, Monsanto sues the farmer for patent infringement.

Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against America's family farmers, and settled another 700 for undisclosed amounts. But farmers are fighting back. A group of 83 plaintiffs representing more than 300,000 organic farmers, organic seed growers and and organic seed businesses, filed a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto last March, claiming the organic farmers can no longer keep the GM seed from contaminating their fields. They're also asking that the court prevent Monsanto from suing the farmers should the company's GM seeds land in their fields.

Other evidence shows that Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide and Bt insecticide create monster resistant weeds and insects that actually cause farmers to spray more pesticides, increasing harm to the environment and human health.  Roundup Ready contains glyphosate, a toxic substance linked to more than 20 health problems including cancer, birth defects and death. Roundup Ready reportedly is flooding the groundwater and contaminating air and rain in areas around the world where it's being used. German scientists just released a study documenting that Roundup Ready causes infertility.

And yet, Monsanto is fighting hard to continue its domination of the agriculture industry, spending tens of millions of dollars a year on advertising, campaign contributions and lobbying. Monsanto spent $1.4 million in the first quarter alone of 2011 to lobby the U.S. government to continue to support its products and its approach seems to be working.  Just this week, a federal judge ruled that alfalfa growers can plant Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa seeds, despite concern from alfalfa farmers that Monsanto's product would be carried by wind and bees into their non-Monsanto planted fields and contaminate their crops.

Unlike the European Union, Australia, Japan, China and India, the U.S. requires no labeling of food products containing genetically modified foods. And leaked Wikileaks cables reveal that U.S. diplomats secretly planned to retaliate against countries in the E.U. that oppose GM crops, while U.S. biotechnology programs promoted GM crops in Africa, Asia and South America.

But the world is waking up to the dangers Monsanto has unleashed upon the planet. China has just announced it will no longer accept GM rice and, after a huge public protest, Monsanto is pulling its operations out of the U.K. Germany and Ireland have banned genetically engineered seeds. In India, the government filed suit last August against Monsanto for attempting to genetically modify the country's unique eggplant varieties, a violation of India's Biological Diversity Act.

Hungary recently destroyed 1,000 acres that had mistakenly been planted with Monsanto's GM corn seed because GM seeds are banned in that country, and Peru has banned GM foods for 10 years. In Costa Rica, Monsanto just withdrew its request to release GM corn in the country after waves of public protest. And the company reportedly is considering liquidating its GMO crop facilities in Germany, the Czech Republic and France, which has publicly reprimanded Monsanto for creating foods that threaten human health and the environment. And a French civil court has just ruled that Monsanto is responsible for poisoning a farmer who inhaled one of its pesticides.

In the U.S., individual states are taking steps to protect Americans from Monsanto's GM products. Vermont, for example, has passed legislation that would require the labeling of products entirely, as well as partially, filled with GM ingredients. Washington state is also considering similar legislation. In Hawaii, residents are lobbying for the labeling of GM foods. California and Michigan are considering taking similar steps. Online petitions asking the U.S. government to require labeling of all GM foods are gathering momentum.

Boulder, Colorado just voted to ban the growing of any GM foods, following in the footsteps of Montville, Maine and Arcada, California along with California's Mendocino, Trinity and Marin counties. And some 60,000 Americans have signed a petition asking Pres. Obama to rescind his appointment of Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto executive and lobbyist, as senior advisor of the Food and Drug Administration.

There is growing outrage over reports that Monsanto's pesticides are killing the world's bees, and news of a whistleblower with documents detailing Monsanto's plans to kill off bee colonies and introduce a new bee species that will only pollinate Monsanto's crops.

Natural Society recently named Monsanto the Worst Company of 2011 for "threatening both human health and the environment." Forbes Magazine has reported that "Monsanto is so despised by environmentalists that Google's first suggested search term for the St. Louis company is 'Monsanto evil.' And 51 percent of the magazine's readers voted Monsanto the world's most evil corporation.

Despite its insistence that its products are "improving agriculture and improving lives" and working to make agriculture "truly sustainable,"  Monsanto has posted a sign in its own cafeteria that really says it all..."No GM foods served here."

You can avoid Monsanto's products by buying locally grown, organic food and growing your own. Your local farmers market is a great source of clean, healthy food. You can also sign online petitions asking the U.S. government to require labeling of all genetically modified foods. Here's a link to one of them: justlabelit.org/takeaction

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