The People vs Monsanto (and other GM giants)
1 - The bee all and the end all
A small group of Mexican beekeepers inflicted a blow on biotech giant Monsanto, halting the company’s ambitions to plant thousands of hectares of GM soybeans. A district judge in the state of Yucatán overturned a government permit issued to Monsanto that allowed commercial planting of the company’s Roundup Ready soybeans over 253,000 hectares.
The judge was convinced by the scientific evidence presented about the threats posed by GM soy crops to honey production. These include the use of glyphosate pesticide and environmental damage to soil, water and bee colonies. The important European export market for Mexican honey would also suffer if the honey became contaminated with GM pollen, the judge heard.
2 - Campesinos aren't criminals
Ten days of widespread protest by an alliance of indigenous people, trade unions, farmers’ and women’s associations did the trick. In September 2014, the Guatemalan Congress overturned the country’s hated ‘Monsanto law’. This would have made criminals of farmers who cultivate corn and beans originating from natural seeds.
If these natural seeds had become contaminated by GM patented seeds as a result of insect pollination or wind, the farmers would have had to buy a licence for seed from a corporation like Monsanto, or face legal proceedings.
3 - Not your tomatoes
Thanks to sharp-eyed European activists, Monsanto was stripped of a patent for tomatoes by the European Patent Office in December 2014. The No Patents on Seeds! coalition had spotted a cleverly worded patent that was enabling Monsanto to claim as a new GM invention tomatoes that already had a natural resistance to a fungal disease called botrytis.
‘Revoking this patent is an important success,’ said Cristoph Then from No Patents on Seeds! ‘It was more or less based on a combination of fraud, abuse of patent law and biopiracy. The patent could have been used to monopolize important genetic resources.’
4 - A motherload of protest
Zen Honeycutt is the mother of three children, one of whom has life-threatening allergies. She found that allergy and autism symptoms lessened when she fed her children organic food and avoided GMOs and pesticides. In 2012 she founded Moms Across America to connect with mothers who had had similar experiences.
Within 18 months the mothers had held over 400 events in what had become a nationwide campaign for freedom from GMOs. In January this year, Honeycutt was one of a handful of activists who managed to speak at Monsanto’s annual shareholders meeting.
She told CEO Hugh Grant: ‘I’m imploring you to choose a new direction. Stop poisoning our children.’ At the same meeting digital activists Sum-of-Us submitted a shareholder resolution calling for Monsanto’s CEO to be accountable to an independent chair of the board of directors – rather than just himself. And As You Sow demanded disclosure of lobbying payments.
5 - Rumbling the bio-smugglers
‘My grandfather would be spinning in his grave,’ writes Pamela Boakye. She comes from a farming family and supports the movement of farmers, fishers and campaigners against the introduction of a Plant Breeders Bill (aka the ‘Monsanto Law’) in her native Ghana.
This would prohibit traditional farmers saving and exchanging seed and force them to buy or pay royalties to seed corporations like Monsanto. Attempts to smuggle the bill through parliament during the World Cup were rumbled by farmers, fishers and campaigners who mobilized under the banner Food Sovereignty Ghana.
International support has come from groups like the British charity Global Justice Now, whose email campaign got 80 British MPs to pledge not to back the ‘Monsanto Law’ which derives from the British- and US-backed New Alliance for Food and Security Programme. The battle is not over, though.
6 - Aussie organic farmer battles on
Steve Marsh is an Australian organic farmer who has the guts to take on Monsanto and keep fighting – against all odds but with a growing number of supporters. Steve comes from a farming community in Kojonup, Western Australia. In 2010, the state government lifted the ban on GM canola (rapeseed).
Steve’s neighbour started growing Monsanto canola, some of which was blown onto Steve’s fields. This resulted in 70-per-cent contamination and Steve lost his organic certification. Monsanto gets a no-liability agreement signed with every GM farmer and so takes no responsibility in such cases.
Steve decided to fight for his right to farm GM-free and took the matter to court. He lost his case in May 2014 and is now liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal costs and fees. But he has lodged an appeal, with Australia’s Food Foundation running a fundraising and support campaign for this important test case.
7 - A thorn in their side
Vandana Shiva has for many years carried the torch for biodiversity, seed and food sovereignty and opposed the monopolizing drive of corporations like Monsanto. Her repeated assertions that Monsanto’s seed patents are impoverishing Indian farmers has put her in the firing line on many an occasion.
Responding to a ‘character assassination piece’ by journalist Michael Specter in the New Yorker in 2014, Shiva said: ‘Ever since I sued Monsanto in 1999 for its illegal Bt cotton trials in India, I have received death threats, my websites have been hacked and turned into porn sites, the chairman of a girls’ college founded by my grandfather has been harassed. Actions have been taken to impede the work of Navdanya [a network of seed savers and organic producers] by attempting to bribe my colleagues to leave – and they have failed.’