By Dr. Mercola
Monsanto has long been trying to establish control over the seeds of the plants that produce food for the world. They have patented a number of genetically altered food crops, which can only be grown with proper license, and the seeds for which must be purchased anew each year.
Alas, genetically engineered (GE) crops cannot be contained. And rather than being found guilty of contaminating farmers' property, Monsanto has successfully sued hundreds of unsuspecting farmers for patent infringement when unlicensed GE crops were found growing in their fields. Many farmers have subsequently, quite literally, lost their farms.
Percy Schmeiser of Saskatchewan, Canada, is but one of Monsanto's victims, but contrary to so many others, he refused to quietly tolerate the injustice. In a classic case of David versus Goliath, Schmeiser fought back against one of the most powerful businesses in the world.
David versus Goliath
It all began in 1998, at which time Schmeiser had grown canola on his farm for 40 years. Like any other traditional farmer, he used his own seeds, saved from the previous harvest.
But, like hundreds of other North American farmers, Schmeiser ended up being sued by Monsanto for 'patent infringement' when more than 320 hectares were found to be contaminated with Roundup Ready canola—the biotech giant's patented canola, genetically engineered to tolerate otherwise lethal doses of glyphosate.
The company sought damages totaling $400,000. Most farmers end up settling, but Schmeiser was angry enough to fight back, and countersued Monsanto for:
- Libel, by publicly accusing him of committing illegal acts
- Improperly obtaining samples of his seed from a local seed plant
- Callous disregard for the environment by introducing genetically modified crops without proper controls and containment
- Contamination of his crops with unwanted GE plants
The case eventually went before the Federal Court of Canada, and after a decade-long battle, Schmeiser won when, in March 2008, Monsanto settled out of court, agreeing to pay for all cleanup costs. The agreement also specified that Schmeiser would not be under gag-order, and that Monsanto can be sued for recontamination. This landmark case is now featured in the documentary film "David versus Monsanto," which you can view in its entirety above.
The Dangerous Contamination Propagating All Around Americans
Sadly, Schmeiser's victory is a rare case. While Monsanto and the rest of the opposition of California's Proposition 37 try to instill fear of lawsuits, which they claim could result if genetically engineered foods were to require labeling, they themselves have no problems suing farmers for patent infringement when their seeds migrate and contaminate neighboring fields.
This despite the scientific evidence (in addition to the common knowledge of every traditional farmer out there) that GE contamination is an absolute given. You simply cannot contain it within a given area. What's worse, we now have proof that GE crops not only spread outside the boundaries of any given field, they're also combining into brand new, completely unintended forms in the wild! According to a study published in the journal PLoS ONE1 last year:
"[W]e conducted a systematic roadside survey of canola (Brassica napus) populations growing outside of cultivation in North Dakota, USA, the dominant canola growing region in the U.S. We document the presence of two escaped, transgenic genotypes, as well as non-GE canola, and provide evidence of novel combinations of transgenic forms in the wild. Our results demonstrate that feral populations are large and widespread. Moreover, flowering times of escaped populations, as well as the fertile condition of the majority of collections suggest that these populations are established and persistent outside of cultivation." [Emphasis mine]
Still, Monsanto gets away with these ridiculous lawsuits, when in fact they are the ones who really should be held responsible for cleaning up the mess when its seeds spread beyond intended perimeters. But contamination isn't the only issue showing up in court. Farmers also sign an "iron-clad" agreement to not save or use the seed for the next planting season. They must repurchase the seed for each planting. This has turned ancient agricultural practices into an outright crime...
Patented Seeds Turn Ancient Agricultural Practices into a Crime
Most recently, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal by Indiana soybean farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman—one of seven current appeals before the court—who disputes Monsanto's claim that his farm used the patented seeds without authorization.
As reported by Bloomberg2:
"Bowman used the patented seeds, but also bought cheaper soybeans from a grain elevator and used those to plant a second crop. Most of the new soybeans also were resistant to weed killers, as they initially came from herbicide-resistant seeds, too. Bowman repeated the practice over eight years. Monsanto sued when it learned what he was doing. The company has filed lawsuits around the country to enforce its policy against saving the seeds for the future."
Last year, CBS News Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian investigated the problems facing farmers as a result of patented biotech crops3. David Runyon and his wife almost lost their 900-acre farm over a seed they claim they never planted. Mrs. Runyon told CBS:
"I don't believe any company has the right to come into someone's home and threaten their livelihood [and] to bring them into such physical turmoil as this company did to us."... "Pollination occurs, wind drift occurs. There's just no way to keep their products from landing in our fields," David [Runyon] said.
Farmers are not the only ones getting sued. Mo Parr, a 74-year old seed cleaner was also sued by Monsanto for "aiding and abetting" farmers in violating the company's patent. Seed cleaners are hired by farmers to separate debris from the seed to be replanted. "There's no way that I could be held responsible. There's no way that I could look at a soy bean and tell you if it's Round-up Ready," Parr told CBS4. Amazingly, Monsanto won its case against Parr.
Should Genetically Engineered Foods Be Labeled?
A recent article in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette5 highlights the issues at hand when it comes to labeling of these patented crops. The article quotes farmer Jim Bridge, who does not use GE seeds on his farm:
"Here is my argument on the whole deal. When you read the seed catalogs, the licensing agreements for genetically engineered corn say you can't feed animals any of the corn husks, corn stock or any byproduct off those seeds. "So what the hell am I eating the corn for?
This is the issue facing California voters on November 6. Proposition 37, a state ballot initiative that would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled, has become a hotbed of controversy as the biotech industry, led by Monsanto, has pulled out all the stops to mislead the public into voting against it.
Their entire premise is flawed. Just consider how many other ingredients must by law be included on the label, yet somehow something as critical as whether the food has been genetically altered or not is supposed to be of no consequence to buyers! Nothing could be further from the truth—especially in light of mounting evidence demonstrating that GE foods can cause severe health problems over the long term.
Shocking Report: Americans Eat Their Weight and More in GE Foods Each Year
All the safety studies submitted to approve GMO seeds were only short term. The world's first lifetime feeding study discovered that rats fed a diet containing 11 percent GE corn developed massive breast tumors, kidney and liver damage and other serious health problems in the 13th month of life. The average life span of a rat is about two years. Again, this was the FIRST study to evaluate the health effects of a GE-containing diet over the course of a lifetime. This despite the fact that the first GE crops were introduced into the US food supply in the mid-90's!
The fact of the matter is that the long-term health effects and safety of these crops have never actually been properly evaluated or affirmed prior to being approved for widespread planting. This information is absolutely critical for American families raising young children. Yet at present, they have no way of avoiding foods that contain GE ingredients, should they wish to do so.
To put the findings of this animal feeding study into human perspective, if the average lifespan of a person is 80 years, these health problems would start rearing their ugly head somewhere during the 43rd year of life, provided your diet contained just over 10 percent GE foods and you began eating them in early childhood.
Well, guess what?
Any child in the US who eats processed foods on a regular basis consumes at least 10 percent GE ingredients. The actual percentage is in fact likely to be FAR higher than that. According to a shocking report released by the Environmental Working Group6 on October 15, Americans are eating their weight and more in genetically engineered food every year—an average of 193 pounds of GE foods annually!
"'What's shocking is that Americans are eating so much genetically engineered food, yet there have been zero long-term studies done by the federal government or industry to determine if its consumption could pose a risk health,' said Renee Sharp, lead author of the report and the director of EWG's California office. 'If you were planning on eating your body weight of anything in a year or feeding that much food to your family, wouldn't you first want to know if long-term government studies and monitoring have shown it is safe?'"7
Keep Fighting for Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods
While California Prop. 37 failed to pass last November, by a very narrow margin, the fight for GMO labeling is far from over. The field-of-play has now moved to the state of Washington, where the people's initiative 522, "The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," will require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients. As stated on LabelitWA.org:
"Calorie and nutritional information were not always required on food labels. But since 1990 it has been required and most consumers use this information every day. Country-of-origin labeling wasn't required until 2002. The trans fat content of foods didn't have to be labeled until 2006. Now, all of these labeling requirements are accepted as important for consumers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also says we must know with labeling if our orange juice is from fresh oranges or frozen concentrate.
Doesn't it make sense that genetically engineered foods containing experimental viral, bacterial, insect, plant or animal genes should be labeled, too? Genetically engineered foods do not have to be tested for safety before entering the market. No long-term human feeding studies have been done. The research we have is raising serious questions about the impact to human health and the environment.
I-522 provides the transparency people deserve. I-522 will not raise costs to consumers or food producers. It simply would add more information to food labels, which manufacturers change routinely anyway, all the time. I-522 does not impose any significant cost on our state. It does not require the state to conduct label surveillance, or to initiate or pursue enforcement. The state may choose to do so, as a policy choice, but I-522 was written to avoid raising costs to the state or consumers."
Remember, as with CA Prop. 37, they need support of people like YOU to succeed. Prop. 37 failed with a very narrow margin simply because we didn't have the funds to counter the massive ad campaigns created by the No on 37 camp, led by Monsanto and other major food companies. Let's not allow Monsanto and its allies to confuse and mislead the people of Washington and Vermont as they did in California. So please, I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can, regardless of what state you live in.
- No matter where you live in the United States, please donate money to these labeling efforts through the Organic Consumers Fund.
- If you live in Washington State, please sign the I-522 petition. You can also volunteer to help gather signatures across the state.
- For timely updates on issues relating to these and other labeling initiatives, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.
- Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the Washington initiative.