On Nov. 28, the farmers of Karnataka State in southern India burned an illegal Monsanto field trial. This action marked the beginning of a campaign of civil disobedience called Operation Cremation Monsanto, which is continuing throughout India.
The field belongs to a man named Basanna, who only learned what was growing in his field when the local Minister of Agriculture listed his land as one of three sites where Monsanto was conducting trials on genetically engineered cotton.
According to Basanna’s testimony, Monsanto officials went to his farm in July and asked him to grow, free of cost, a new variety of cotton seeds, which they claimed would give high yields. He was never told that this was an experiment in genetic engineering that could endanger the future viability of his farm and surrounding land.
Monsanto officials, who have signed a written declaration admitting their illegal behavior, regularly applied manure and pesticides to the cotton, including heavy doses of insecticides. Nevertheless, the plants became infested with bollworm (the pest that the bio-engineered cotton is supposed to control) and other pests like white fly and red-rot. Despite the heavy use of chemical fertilizer, the plants grew miserably–less than half the size of the traditional cotton plants in adjacent fields.
No single bio-safety measure was undertaken by Monsanto. They didn’t set up a buffer zone around the field or even demarcate the field as a biohazard area. To understand how serious this is, read the following from the Sunday, Oct. 25 edition of the British newspaper The Mail:
“One of the worst fears of campaigners against genetically modified crops has almost come true. An experimental crop of oilseed rape that was altered to be resistant to herbicides has had to be destroyed after it pollinated nearby plants. The fear was that, left unchecked, a new breed of superweeds, which normal chemicals could not destroy, might have resulted, with devastating effects for Britain’s agriculture … Monsanto and Perryfields failed to prevent genetically modified winter oilseed rape cross-pollinating with another field of their normal oilseed rape. A pollen barrier, or buffer zone, of only two meters instead of the required six surrounded the test site … Tony Strickland, trials manager for Perryfields Holdings, of Inkberrow, Hereford, and Worcester, said, ‘We expect to be prosecuted.'”
Basanna has only now learned that this inferior cotton has already polluted next year’s cotton harvest in the whole region, rendering it as useless as his field. He shares the anger of farmers from the whole area, and has given his approval to the cremation of the cotton grown by Monsanto on his land.
Monsanto’s criminal character can be seen from the following Canadian government report published April 21, 1998 (available at: www.nfu.ca/nfu/Gapsreport.html). This report, prepared by the Canadian Administration of Health, describes the illegal tactics used by Monsanto to obtain permission to commercialize Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), the first genetically modified product ever commercialized in the world.
The report says: “Evidence from the animal safety reviews were not taken into consideration. These studies indicated numerous adverse effects in cows, including birth defects, reproductive disorders, higher incidence of mastitis [infection leading to inflammation of the udder], which may have an impact on human health.” It explicitly states (pg. 14): “There are reports on file that Monsanto pursued aggressive marketing tactics, compensated farmers whose veterinary bills escalated due to increased side effects associated with the use of rBST [Monsanto’s brand of bovine growth hormone], and covered up negative trial results. All the four U.S. manufacturers [Monsanto, Eli Lilly, Cyanamid and Elanco] refused to disclose the lists of their research grants to U.S. universities.”
The Canadian government scientists concluded: “The usually required long-term toxicology studies to ascertain human safety were not conducted. Hence, such possibilities and potential as sterility, infertility, birth defects, cancer, and immunological derangements were not addressed.” The scientists who wrote the report testified before an inquiry board in October that they were pressured by higher-ups to alter the content of their report. Two of the report’s authors, and four other Canadian government scientists, testified that they were threatened with transfers to other jobs where “they would never be heard of again” if they didn’t speed up approval of Monsanto’s rBGH product in Canada.
Furthermore, Monsanto may never be held responsible for disasters like the one on Basanna’s land, because the company may be near bankruptcy; it could never pay compensation for the mess it leaves behind. Monsanto’s relentless pursuit of genetic engineering has led to a string of losses and a 30% drop in the value of its stock. Consider:
–Business analysts describe the corporation’s $1 billion investment in rBGH an economic failure that, after four years of heavy promotion, is used on only 4% of American dairy cows.
–The Monsanto Calgene Flavr-Saver tomato was taken off the market in 1996 due to consumer resistance and production failures.
–Monsanto’s entire Canadian genetically-engineered rapeseed crop was recalled in 1997 because of “technical difficulties.”
–Half of Monsanto’s genetically engineered cotton crop in the U.S. was attacked by bollworms in 1996, prompting lawsuits by outraged cotton growers.
–In 1997 the company’s Roundup Ready cotton did little better, with boll damage or deformities that led to still more lawsuits.
–Irish authorities made public U.S. EPA documents revealing that Monsanto’s supposedly Roundup-resistant sugar-beets were dying in significant numbers after being sprayed with Roundup.
–Monsanto is suffering from mounting public relations and marketing problems across Europe, as protesters continue to uproot genetically engineered field crops and organize media campaigns against the company. More and more European supermarket chains are purchasing non-genetically engineered products.
–In the U.S. Monsanto is getting a lot of bad press for prosecuting farmers who save seeds from soybean crops grown on their own land; those crops were grown from Monsanto’s patented “Roundup Ready” soybean seeds. According to press reports, Monsanto has hired Pinkerton detectives to harass more than 1,800 farmers and seed dealers across the country, with 475 potential criminal “seed piracy” cases already under investigation. A group of seed-saving farmers in Kentucky, Iowa, and Illinois have already been forced to pay fines to Monsanto of up to $35,000 each. Besides the cost of the seeds, a $6.50 technology fee is charged by Monsanto for each 50 pound bag of Roundup Ready seed. As Monsanto told the Associated Press on Oct. 27, “We say they can pay (either of) two royalties–$6.50 at the store or $600 in court.”
–On Oct. 30, the world’s largest agricultural research institute (the CGIAR) banned “terminator technology” from their crop breeding programs. Their policy statement reads: “The CGIAR will not incorporate into its breeding materials any genetic systems designed to prevent seed germination. This is in recognition of (a) concerns over potential risks of its inadvertent or unintended spread through pollen; (b) the possibilities of sale or exchange of inviable seed for planting; (c) the importance of farm-saved seed, particularly to resource-poor farmers; (d) potential negative impacts on genetic diversity, and (e) the importance of farmer selection and breeding for sustainable agriculture.”
All these reverses have left Monsanto hurting. Recently the company had to back off from an announced $35 billion merger with American Home Products (AHP), which would have provided Monsanto with the capital and sales force to market its genetically engineered products. Monsanto is now laying off workers, and has taken out a loan from Citibank for several billion dollars in cash. The company also announced plans to sell four billion dollars in new stocks, but financial analysts predict that Monsanto may now be close to terminal bankruptcy.
In the face of the Indian government’s collusion with Monsanto, farmers have taken more action to destroy the bio-hazardous substances Monsanto has planted in their midst. A second cremation occurred in the village of Bannikallu, and a third in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Activists have also stormed Monsanto’s office in Hyderabad. As a result, the Andhra Pradesh government has asked Monsanto to halt all its field trials in that state.
Adapted by Maria Tomchick from two press releases written by The Karnataka State Farmers Association (KRRS) in Sindhanoor, India. The KRRS describes itself as a Ghandian movement of 10 million farmers. For more information, you can visit the following web site: http://www.halcyon.com/dante/monsanto.