What Must Be Done About the Monsanto Corporation, and Why
The following is a joint statement of members of the Green Shadow Cabinet's Ecology and General Welfare branches. Signers include Ronnie Cummins, Administrator, Food and Drug Administration; Mark Dunlea, Director, White House Office of Climate and Agriculture; Margaret Flowers, M.D., Secretary of Health; Jim Goodman, Secretary of Agriculture; Diljeet Singh, M.D. Assistant Secretary of Health for Women's Health and Cancer; Brian Tokar, Director of the Office of Technology Assessment. The statement is issued in concert with the May 25th Global Day of Action to Shut Down Monsanto.
Monsanto Corporation Threatens Food Sovereignty, Biodiversity, Environment and Health: Immediate steps must be taken to preserve our future
The Monsanto corporation is a top “corporate climate criminal” whose drive for profit and control of the global food system threatens food safety, biodiversity, and food sovereignty. Monsanto is the world’s leading producer and proponent of genetically modified agriculture. Through aggressive purchases of seed companies, Monsanto is rapidly taking control of the world’s seed supply.
In addition, Monsanto produces dangerous chemicals that poison communities, add toxics to the food supply and create ‘super weeds’ that require increased application of even more toxic herbicides. Monsanto also promotes farming practices that severely exacerbate climate change by requiring excessive water and energy, and promoting massive deforestation to provide land for genetically modified agriculture.
Monsanto uses its political connections and market power to intimidate farmers and create a near monopoly on seeds creating a fragile, homogenous food supply as well as to protect themselves from liability for their actions. As more information becomes available, it is clear that Monsanto’s practices threaten the future of our ability to grow food and live healthy lives.
Immediate steps must be taken to preserve our food system and future. We recommend the following actions:
- Immediate moratorium on development and certification of new pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops.
- A long-overdue, thorough, science-based examination of GMO and pesticide safety, by scientists not tainted by the revolving door or financial ties to agribusiness industry giants and all research, past and present, must be available to the public.
- An urgent phase out of existing GMOs and pesticides not demonstrated to be safe for people and the environment.This would begin immediately, targeting highest risk GMOs/pesticides first.
- Clear labeling of all foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
- Immediate creation of economic and agricultural supports to expedite conversion from toxic industrial agriculture to sustainable, organic farming - which is healthy for people, the environment and our economy.
- Urgent public investment in crop breeding to increase the supply of a broad diversity of traditional seeds to meet our agricultural needs.
- Public investment in research and education on agro-ecological (organic) farming practices.
- Monsanto must pay for cleanup of the environment, the remediation of the supply of traditional seeds, remuneration to farmers whom they have adversely affected and the ongoing costs of health effects caused by their products
- End production of ethanol for fuel until it can be done in a way that does not adversely affect access to food and does not consume more energy than is produced.
- End Monsanto’s influence over government agencies. As a start, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor must resign from his position, and the Monsanto Protection Act must be repealed.
Food production needs to serve the function of nourishing our communities. And food production needs to be transformed to sustainable, primarily local and organic agriculture that uses less water and energy and creates better soil and healthier food. Monsanto takes the global food system in the opposite direction toward increased use of pesticides, increased use of energy and water, a less biodiverse agricultural system and a food supply of unknown safety.
Genetically Engineered Foods
Monsanto made genetically modified seeds (GMOs) that are resistant to the herbicide, glyphosate (a.k.a. RoundUp) commercially available in 1996. They also claim to have created drought-resistant seeds, although so far they show “only modest results, and only under moderate drought conditions” and do “not improve water use efficiency.” In fact, conventionally bred varieties grown with organic methods are far more capable of resisting the effects of drought than Monsanto’s crops.
Genetically altered strains of corn, soybean, cotton and canola plants are currently on the market. And Monsanto genes are currently found in 80 percent of all corn and 95 percent of all soy grown in the US. These genetically altered crops were introduced and permitted for use in commercial foods prior to adequate safety studies. Instead, in the early 1990s, Monsanto lobbyists pushed heavily on the Food and Drug Administration for de-regulation and policies that allowed genetically altered foods to be considered “substantially equivalent” to traditional foods. This effectively eliminated any requirement for safety testing of this new technology. They also opposed labeling of foods containing genetically altered ingredients using the rationale that such labeling might cause consumers to be confused.
The few health studies that have been done were conducted on rats, are almost entirely short term and often lacking rigorous scientific methods. Nonetheless, given the systemic failure to require routine safety testing, unanswered, troubling questions have been raised by these studies suggesting liver and kidney damage associated with genetically altered foods in the diet. To continue exposing vast numbers of people to this largely untested substance violates the common sense Precautionary Principle - which states that a product must be proven to be safe before consumers are exposed to it.
Monsanto has a history of ignoring and hiding studies which found that their previous products such as Agent Orange (a major contaminant of which is dioxin) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were toxic. Although they have known that RoundUp causes birth defects since the 1980s, they market RoundUp as being safe. It is entirely within reason to suspect that the same obfuscation of information is occurring now.
Additionally, evidence from the Genome Project indicates that genes which were once thought to produce only one protein actually often code for multiple proteins, and the proteins produced cannot be predicted. This calls into question what additional proteins are being created by Monsanto genes and what health effects they may have.
That is why we call for an immediate moratorium on the development and certification of new pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops and clear labeling of all foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The stated purpose of RoundUp Ready crops was to promote no-till farming and to increase crop yield by reducing weeds. The practice of no-till farming has encouraged the farming of land that was too erodible for crops and has caused that land to erode even further. And RoundUp Ready crops are yielding 5 to 10 percent less than traditional crops. Instead of benefiting food production, these crops have caused the development of ‘super weeds’ with increased resistance to RoundUp requiring larger amounts of RoundUp application to crops. This has caused a number of detrimental effects.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, is contaminating air, water, land and foods. According to 2012 report coordinated by Earth Open Source, farmers who grow genetically altered crops use 25 percent more RoundUp. And RoundUp is being sprayed from airplanes in areas where people live and go to school which has been documented to increase cancer and birth defect rates in those populations.
Monsanto markets a number of pesticides that are known to cause cancer, endocrine disruption and to be otherwise toxic such as Acetochlor, Atrazine and Dicamba. In particular, Atrazine, which has been banned in the European Union, is used in the US, especially in farming states. In the state of Maryland, Atrazine is found in 69 percent of the drinking water.
In addition, farmers are struggling to afford the greater amounts of RoundUp and other chemicals required to grow their Monsanto crops and the skyrocketing cost of Monsanto’s seeds. As a result of growing Monsanto’s Bt cotton and the debt incurred to purchase seeds and pesticides, more than 270,000 farmers in India have committed suicide, many by drinking the pesticides that sent them into debt.
That is why we call for a long-overdue, thorough, science-based examination of GMO and pesticide safety, by scientists not tainted by the revolving door or financial ties to agribusiness industry giants. All research - past, present and future - on genetically modified organisms, seeds and pesticides, must be made available to the public. We also call for an urgent phase out of existing GMOs and pesticides not demonstrated to be safe for people and the environment. This would begin immediately, targeting highest risk GMOs/pesticides first.
LOSING BIODIVERSITY AND FARMERS
Monsanto’s practices are creating an alarming loss of biodiversity. The pollen from genetically altered crops contaminates traditional crops, which leads to changes in traditional seeds produced by those crops. In addition to producing and extensively marketing their genetically altered seeds, Monsanto forces farmers to sign contracts guaranteeing that they will not save their own seed for planting the next year’s crop as farmer have always done.
Since the early 1980s, Monsanto has been buying up the world’s independent seed companies. In the decade after the mid-90s, Monsanto spent more than $12 billion to buy at least 30 businesses contributing to the decline of independent seed companies and making Monsanto the world’s largest seed company.
Independent seed companies are often local companies whose seeds are appropriate for their local growing conditions. The loss of biodiversity of seeds, particularly in a time of climate uncertainty, threatens the resilience of our food supply.
Monsanto is also destroying family and organic farms. Farmers who use Monsanto’s seeds are barred from re-using seeds from year to year and are charged skyrocketing prices for seeds and the chemicals that go with them. These farmers are also threatened and intimidated by lawsuits from Monsanto that result in large fines and can lead to bankruptcy. And farmers who do not use Monsanto seeds have to change their farming practices to try to protect their crops from being contaminated by Monsanto crops (for which the farmer can be sued). Organic farmers are particularly threatened by contamination.
Due to the recent droughts, the domination of Monsanto seed for corn, soy and canola crops and the restriction on saving seeds, there are inadequate amounts of traditional seeds to permit an immediate ban on the use of GMO seeds.
That is why we call for the immediate creation of economic and agricultural supports to expedite conversion from toxic industrial agriculture to sustainable, organic farming - which is healthy for people, the environment and our economy. As part of these supports, we call for public investment in crop breeding to increase the supply of a broad diversity of traditional seeds to meet our agricultural needs. This should be complemented in public investment in research and education on agro-ecological (organic) farming practices in general. Finally, for all these reasons, we call for Monsanto to be required to pay for cleanup of the environment, the remediation of contaminated seeds, for the remuneration of farmers who they have adversely affected, and for the ongoing costs of health problems caused by their products.
ETHANOL AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Monsanto promotes genetically altered high starch content corn to be grown for ethanol as a fuel. Rather than reducing dependence on fossil fuels, the process of producing ethanol from the seed to the tank eats up more energy than it produces. It also promotes chemical and water intensive farming practices. And it degrades the land more quickly.
Biofuels worsen the global food crisis. Growth of corn for ethanol displaces land from food production. Forty percent of corn grown in the US is used to make ethanol. If the same land in the US on which crops for biofuels are grown were instead used to grow food, that alone would feed more than 330 million people (a number greater than the entire US population).
Growing food for biofuels increases the cost of corn. As the price of corn goes up, it also raises the price of meat, eggs and milk. And the leftover corn mash from ethanol production that is fed to cattle can increase the incidence of the pathogenic bacteria e coli 0157 which can contaminate meat and produce that are grown using manure for fertilizer.
Growing corn for ethanol promotes big agribusiness instead of what is urgently needed: a transition to small organic and sustainable farms.
That is why we recommend ending production of ethanol for fuel until it can be done in a way that does not adversely affect access to food and does not consume more energy than is produced.
Monsanto exerts undue influence over the government through campaign donations, lobbying and its revolving door of Monsanto executives in and out of government positions. This has turned the government apparatus into a marketing tool for Monsanto products. And Monsanto abuses the court system to promote its own interests and to restrict the ability of farmers and consumers to protect themselves.
Seven Monsanto executives have held top positions in government since the 1980s. At present Michael Taylor is the Deputy Commissioner of Foods for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Taylor led the push to prevent labeling of GE foods and to consider GE foods as “substantially equivalent” to traditional foods in the 1990s. These actions have had the effect of keeping the public in the dark about GE foods and their health and environmental effects. Rather than protecting the public, which should be the role of a public food commissioner, Taylor has placed the public at risk to benefit Monsanto.
This year, Monsanto won a great legal victory through its stealth passage of the so-called Farmer Assurance Provision, which is known as the Monsanto Protection Act. This law prevents the courts from stopping the growing or selling of GE crops even if they are proven to be harmful to the public.
That is why we call for an end to Monsanto’s influence over government agencies. As a start FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor must resign from his position and the Monsanto Protection Act must be repealed.
The above steps are urgently necessary to halt the harmful practices of Monsanto and to begin reversing the disastrous course we have taken towards destroying the global food supply and making climate change worse. To ensure the future of our access to healthy food and our existence on the planet, we must also move immediately to promoting sustainable practices such as maintaining biodiversity, promoting more small scale farms and adopting organic farming methods. We must restore independent scientific study to clarify the agricultural practices that restore and preserve our planet and future.
Signed by the following members of the Green Shadow Cabinet:
- Ronnie Cummins, Administrator, Food and Drug Administration
- Mark Dunlea, White House Office of Climate and Agriculture, Director
- Margaret Flowers, M.D., Secretary of Health
- Jim Goodman, Secretary of Agriculture
- Diljeet Singh, M.D. Assistant Secretary of Health for Women's Health and Cancer
- Brian Tokar, Director of the Office of Technology Assessment