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DiarioCoLatino , El Salvador

Monsanto: Many Devils and No Saint



By José Acosta

Translated By Robert Sullivan

27 June 2013

Edited by Lydia Dallett


El Salvador - DiarioCoLatino - Original Article (Spanish)

Founded in 1901, the multinational agribusiness Monsanto is the world's largest. It is headquartered in Missouri, United States, and has more than 400 offices in 66 countries. Their profits are in the billions of dollars. Monsanto is also one of the companies that has faced the highest number of lawsuits concerning its impact on the ecosystem and on people living near its factories or where its products are applied.

In the 1960s, Monsanto was hired by the U.S. government to produce an herbicide called “Agent Orange,” used in the Vietnam War to destroy the Vietnamese jungle and crops. Agent Orange was a potent chemical that caused about 400,000 deaths; 500,000 children were later born with birth defects. Monsanto has left its lethal mark not only in Vietnam, but also in the city of Bhopal, India, where in 1984 a toxic gas leak from a pesticide plant owned by the company left thousands dead and sickened.

It has also left its criminal mark in El Salvador. Decades ago in the city of San Miguel, Monsanto ran a factory that was dismantled in 1998, leaving behind 94 barrels of toxaphene. A study by the Ministry of Environment showed contamination of soil and water sources on this site, where currently 400 locals suffer from chronic kidney disease. Another product manufactured by Monsanto and used by thousands of tons in El Salvador is DDT. This pesticide was used in past decades for the production of cotton on the eastern coast of El Salvador.

Currently Roundup is one of the most widely used pesticides in El Salvador. Monsanto began production of this herbicide in 1976; it quickly grew to become the best-selling pesticide worldwide. In 2012, it projected a production of 300 million gallons of Roundup, with sales of $1.9 billion. Friends of the Earth International says that Roundup is associated with severe disease and congenital malformations. Communities living near plantations where this product is applied are affected with serious health problems and their lands are poisoned.

Associated with the use of Roundup is the production of transgenic seeds, since most of these have been developed to be resistant to the herbicide. Also, transgenic varieties are sterile, which means that the farmer is forced to buy new seeds for each planting, generating a very lucrative business for Monsanto, which also requires farmers to buy herbicides, pesticides and other poisons from the same company.

Steps have been taken in El Salvador to introduce such crops, for example with the amendment of Article 30 of the Seeds Act, which prohibited the entry of GMOs. Also, the Agricultural Producers Association, a group in which Monsanto is one of the main partners, reported that they are only waiting for permits from the Ministry of Environment to cultivate 1,000 manzanas (a manzana is approximately 1.72 acres) of transgenic white maize in the department of La Libertad.

Similarly, there is a strong campaign to elevate pesticides and biotechnology as the solution to the problems of hunger and poverty in the countryside.

Coincidentally, the principles and values of Monsanto appear to be more like those of an NGO than of those who made DDT or Agent Orange.

However, the truth is far from the propaganda. Greenpeace warns that Monsanto plans to turn the global food and agricultural production into a large genetic experiment, totally dependent on their patented seeds. Indian activist Vandana Shiva reveals that hybrids and genetically modified organisms produce less nutrition per acre of land and are vulnerable to climate change, pests and diseases. Replacement of agricultural biodiversity and transgenic hybrid crops is a recipe for food insecurity.

It is also shown that GMOs are counterproductive to health. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine published in May 2009 its position on GMO foods. For the health and safety of consumers, they call for an urgent establishment of a moratorium on genetically modified food and the immediate implementation of independent and long-term testing of their safety.

However, despite the dangers of pesticides and GMOs, they are still a good business. According to researcher Silvia Ribeiro, the trick is in the reversal of logic that transnationals have succeeded in imposing. Instead of warning labels on foods containing pesticides and GMOs, they enforce separation, labeling and higher costs for organic and healthy food.

Fortunately, not everyone is controlled by Monsanto. Recently the company announced it would withdraw from part of the European Market. German daily Tageszeitung reported that Monsanto does not plan to try to obtain licenses for new genetically modified crops in Western Europe. Ursula Luettmer Ouazane, Monsanto’s spokeswoman in Germany, said: "We have come to understand that, at the moment, it doesn’t have broad acceptance. It is counterproductive to fight against windmills."

Also, more and more farmers and farming communities are challenging the interests of the transnational.

The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano notes that in 2010, a few months after the earthquake, Haiti received a great gift from Monsanto: 60,000 bags of seeds produced by the chemical industry. The peasants gathered to receive the offering and burnt all the bags in a huge bonfire.

For 360 million years, plants have been producing fertile seeds that create new plants and new seeds. People of the world, taking advantage of this bounty of nature, domesticated and developed more than 7,000 food crops and never charged anything because money is not everything, not even the most important thing.

Rosalio Ramirez, Salvadoran farmer from the Canoe community, explains: "A technician from a seed producer came to my house and said that if I bought the seeds they would have an output of up to 120 bushels of corn per manzana, which could make lots of money, but I told him that I was not interested in making money. What I want is to be healthy to live a few more years."

Monsanto will control the business of pesticides and seeds, but never agriculture; this human activity has deep roots in the wisdom and heart of millions of farmers around the world.



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