Monday, November 18, 2013

Standing Up to Monsanto

The strength of a democracy may best be tested by successful challenges to vested power interests who affront basic rights with the arrogance of might makes right. The Farmer Assurance Provision (a.k.a.  "The Monsanto Protection Act") of 2013 and its recent revocation by means of allowed expiration is a case in point. The behavior of Monsanto, the multibillion dollar agribusiness has been, according to numerous reports, beyond the pale. The legislation allowed the USDA to over-rule court orders to stop the growing and sale of genetically modified crops (GMOs) until the process of legal challenges would finally run its course. Essentially it allowed the Monsanto Company, the primary developer of GMOs, to turn the world's populations into its guinea pigs even if courts were to find that enough evidence existed to halt production.

It is amazing that the legislation was allowed to be inserted into the bill last March, but it is also a source of democratic pride to see that, in the aftermath of a massive reaction by the public and the anti-GMO movement, the law was allowed to expire on September 30th. But the Monsanto Protection Act is only a recent example of incredible corporate bullying that should provoke corrective public action. I refer to the company's lawsuits against farmers for selling crops that have been contaminated with their Roundup resistant GMO crops. The compelling story of Percy Schmeiser is told in the "Monsanto vs Farmer," a blog post from "The Grand Disillusion." The blog quotes a letter sent by Monsanto to farmers who they believe are growing Monsanto's genetically modified grape seed: "We have reason to believe that you might be growing Monsanto’s GM rapeseed without a licence. We estimate that you have so many acres. In lieu of us not sending you to court send us $100 000 dollars or $200 000 dollars in two weeks time and we may or may not send you to court.” And the letter closes with a threat that if it were to be made public the farmer would be "fined." Behavior such as this, if correct, is warrant in and of itself and sufficient reason to dissolve and reorganize the company. I don't know what specific criminal laws are violated by this type terrorizing tactic, however, I am fairly confident that they are on the books. If not, then laws criminalizing such behavior should be enacted.

The other question that needs to be addressed is how it is possible that corporate monsters like Monsanto amass their political power. Clearly, a huge element of the problem is the overwhelming corruption of American politics that is due to the astronomic levels to which campaign financing has evolved, only increasing the unholy alliance between money and politics. If the legalized bribery, otherwise known as campaign contributions made by lobbyists, is eliminated we will go a long way to ending the privileged treatment that companies like Monsanto are accorded. And then, doing something about the revolving doors between industry and regulatory agencies—a problem in most countries—will contribute much towards restoring or, perhaps, creating a new level of social integrity. Political movements to require GMO labeling, despite or because of its defeat last year in the California referendum, are now spreading to many states. It's time to tame the monster.                                                                                  

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