To Monsanto: Burn Baby Burn!
Rural Haitian farmers gathered in Papaye, June 4, 2010. Many wore straw hats reading, « Aba Monsanto – down with Monsanto and Aba Preval – down with Preval. »
Thursday, 20 January 2011
by Ryan Stock, Truthout
« A fabulous Easter gift, » commented Monsanto Director of Development Initiatives Elizabeth Vancil. Nearly 60,000 seed sacks of hybrid corn seeds and other vegetable seeds were donated to post-earthquake Haiti by Monsanto. In observance of World Environment Day, June 4, 2010, roughly 10,000 rural Haitian farmers gathered in Papaye to march seven kilometers to Hinche in celebration of this gift. Upon arrival, these rewarded farmers took their collective Easter baskets of more than 400 tons of vegetable seeds and burned them all.[i] « Long live the native maize seed! » they chanted in unison. « Monsanto’s GMO [genetically modified organism] & hybrid seed violate peasant agriculture! »
According to Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, coordinator of the Papay Peasant Movement (MPP), « there is presently a shortage of seed in Haiti because many rural families used their maize seed to feed refugees. »[ii] Like any benevolent disaster capitalist corporation, Monsanto extended a hand in a time of crisis to the 65 percent of the population that survives off of subsistence agriculture. But not just any hand was extended in this time of great need, rather: a fistful of seeds. The extended fist was full of corn seeds, one of Haiti’s staple crops, treated with the fungicide Maxim XO. With similar benevolence, not just any tomato seeds were donated to the agrarian peasants, but tomato seeds treated with Thiram, a chemical so toxic the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ruled it too toxic to sell for home garden use, further mandating that any agricultural worker planting these seeds must wear special protective clothing.[iii] Happy Easter! Monsanto’s web site’s official explanation for this toxic donation is that « fungicidal seed treatments are often applied to seeds prior to planting to protect them from fungal diseases that arise in the soil and hamper the plant’s ability to germinate and grow. The treatments also provide protection against diseases the seed might pick up in transfer between countries. »[iv] However, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, « repeated exposure [to Thiram] can affect the kidneys, liver and thyroid gland. High or repeated exposure may damage the nerves. »[v] Why would Monsanto be so eager to donate seeds that could potentially compromise the health of so many famished people?
« The Haitian government is using the earthquake to sell the country to the multinationals! » stated Jean-Baptiste. Welcome to the new earthquake.
« [It’s] a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds … and on what is left of our environment in Haiti. » – Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, executive director of the Peasant Movement of Papay.
A Brief History of Violence
Monsanto is also responsible for other life-changing inventions, such as the crowd-pleasing Agent Orange. The Vietnamese government claims that it killed or disabled 400,000 Vietnamese people, and 500,000 children were born with birth defects due to exposure to this deadly chemical.[vi] Up until 2000, Monsanto was also the main manufacturer of aspartame, which researchers in Europe concluded, « could have carcinogenic effects. » In a rare demonstration of social justice, in 2005, Monsanto was found guilty by the US government of bribing high-level Indonesian officials to legalize genetically-modified cotton. A year earlier in Brazil, Monsanto sold a farm to a senator for one-third of its value in exchange for his work to legalize glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.[vii] In Colombia, Monsanto has received $25 million from the US government for providing its trademark herbicide, Roundup Ultra, in the anti-drug fumigation efforts of Plan Colombia. Roundup Ultra is a highly concentrated version of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide, with additional ingredients to increase its lethality. Colombian communities and human rights organizations have charged that the herbicide has destroyed food crops, water sources and protected areas and has led to increased incidents of birth defects and cancer.
With more than 11.7 billion dollars in sales in 2009 and more than 650 biotechnology patents – most of them for cotton, corn and soy – Monsanto is an economic powerhouse. Nine out of ten soybean seeds in the US are also linked to Monsanto. Together with Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, Monsanto controls more than half the world’s seeds with no effective anti-trust oversight. One of the world’s most powerful corporations, Monsanto teamed up with United Parcel Service to have the 60,000 hybrid seed sacks transported to their intended destination for Easter 2010 in its drive to trickle down some good to the little guys. Distributing Monsanto’s seeds on this auspicious occasion was a $127 million project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), called « Winner, » designed to promote « agricultural intensification. »[viii] According to Monsanto, the original decision to donate seeds was made at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,[ix] unbeknownst to Haiti.
« Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible. » -Monsanto’s former motto.
The genetically-modified seeds such as those donated and later immolated, cannot be saved from year to year. Some so-called terminator seeds – the DNA of which is altered so as to not drop seed after harvest – require the farmer to buy new seeds from Monsanto the following year in a legally binding contract, instead of collecting the seeds that would have naturally developed on the plant before its DNA was modified. Other GMO seed which do drop fertile seed may not be replanted by contract. Diminished yields, health problems and weakened prospects to buy the next season’s seeds in consequence of and combined with that binding contract with Monsanto have driven many rural farmers to poverty, and subsequently led to a rash of farmer suicides in rural India. Since 1997, more than 182,936 Indian farmers have committed suicide, according to a recent study by the National Crime Records Bureau.[x] « As seed saving is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable traits, seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year. This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness. As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell kidneys or even commit suicide, » Indian author Vandana Shiva noted in her 2004 article « The Suicide Economy Of Corporate Globalisation. »[xi]
The hell with « Climate justice »… Let’s bring land justice!