The World Food Prize is Presented to Monsanto & Co: what a farce!

By Matthieu Ricard on November 04, 2013

On October 17, the” World Food Prize” was presented misleadingly as a ‟Nobel Prize for Food". It was given to the Vice President of Monsanto, and a founding member of the group Syngenta and Marc Van Montagu, a? Belgian part of a powerful European pro-GM lobby (European Federation of Biotechnology). This presentation is like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to arms manufacturers. There is also an obvious conflict of interest as Monsanto and Syngenta are among those who financed the World Food Prize (Monsanto gave 5 millions USD a few years ago).

Monsanto, in particular, has embodied institutionalized selfishness for nearly a century. Best known as the world leader in GMO seeds, the company based in 47 countries, is a major contributor to the massive expansion of monocultures. It exercises strict control over the farmers to whom it sells seeds and they are not allowed to reuse them from one year to another.

What is less known is that, since its creation in 1901, the firm has been one of the largest producers of highly toxic chemicals, including PCBs that have contaminated the entire planet, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and the infamous Orange agent used during the Vietnam War. Thousands of people died because of these products, which contain dioxins.

For decades, Monsanto has concealed and denied the harmful effects of these products on human health until a series of trials revealed their wrongdoing. Today, Monsanto presents itself as a company of ‟life sciences”, interested in ‟sustainable development”.

‟Integrity, transparency, dialogue, sharing and respect” are the values proclaimed in the Charter of Monsanto in 2005. Really? As initially announced by Monsanto, ‟Roundup”, its miracle herbicide, ‟can be ‟safely used in places where children and pets play, since it breaks down into natural ingredients.” Since then, the company has been convicted in several countries for misleading advertising.

In her book and film documentary entitled ‟The World According to Monsanto”, Marie-Monique Robin, a French journalist and laureate of the Albert Londres prize, reported the results of a meticulous investigation conducted on all continents. Argentina, in particular, where Roundup is commonly discharged from aircrafts over large soy plantations, many cases of human poisoning, some fatal, have been reported. In the United States, declassified documents have shown that laboratories working under the aegis of Monsanto have hidden records revealing the toxicity of Roundup to animals. Since then, a series of scientific studies has linked its use to an increase in certain cancers in the United States, Canada and Sweden.

Regarding GMOs themselves, in the United States, more than 90 % of corn, soybeans, and cotton are grown from genetically modified seeds for which Monsanto owns patents. Monsanto controls its seeds with an iron fist and has engaged in countless lawsuits against farmers and small businesses that have reused the Monsanto seeds from one year to another. The heaviest sentence pronounced against a farmer amounted to $3 million USD, and the average level of penalties reached $380,000, enough to ruin a farmer. The worst part is that if you own a farm next to another farm in which Monsanto seeds are used and, if by some chance seed migrate to your land swept by wind or brought by birds, Monsanto will sue you to claim royalties.

‟As an agricultural and technology company committed to human rights, we have a unique opportunity to protect and advance human rights.” Thus says Hugh Grant, the current president of Monsanto. By destroying biodiversity, local skills and sustainable farming methods, the technologies used by Monsanto and similar companies undermine the ability of nations to feed themselves.

This is what has happened in South America and what might happen soon in Africa. Before the arrival of GM seeds, Argentina grew a variety of grains (corn, wheat, sorghum), oilseeds (sunflower, peanut, soybean), as well as vegetables and fruits. Milk production was so developed that people spoke of the region as a ‟milk pool.” Today, some area of Argentina such the province of Santiago del Estero, have one of the world's highest deforestation rates. Forests with rich biodiversity are giving way to soybean monocultures. The local labors have lost their work and their source of income. Large companies often eject small farmers from their land by force.

In the short term, intensive cultivation of GM soy has helped Argentine emerge from bankruptcy, since Argentine government levies on grains and oils represent 30 % of the national budget. But the long-term damages are of a magnitude hardly conceivable. The intensive use of Roundup tends to create barren lands, as it kills everything but the GMO soybeans. Thousands of species of microorganisms that give life to the earth disappear. In terms of health, local doctors have observed a significant increase in abnormalities in fertility, such as miscarriage or early fetal death, and many other problems in the villages that are most frequently subjected to massive aerial spraying of the insecticide.

India, meanwhile, is buckling under the high price of ‟Bt” cotton seeds from Monsanto and of the fertilizers that go with them. Farmers have been plunged into debt. When the selling prices of their crops fall, many householders commit suicide often by swallowing insecticide or fertilizer — the same poison that caused their ruin. The Hindu Times reported 270,940 suicides of farmers in India since 1995. Monsanto denies that there is a link between suicide and the introduction of Bt cotton, but Indian farmers and grassroots NGOs do think otherwise. Vandana Shiva, winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2003 and named by the British newspaper The Guardian as one of the hundred most remarkable women of the world, protests against such practices that are at the root of so many acts of desperation in India.

In 2007, Navdanya, Vandana Shiva's Foundation, has launched a campaign called ‟Seeds of Hope”, in counterpoint to the title of V. Shiva's book ‟Seeds of Suicide”. She calls for a return to organic seeds that farmers can reuse over the years. She advocates for a transition from chemical farming back to organic farming, and for the elimination of unfair trade based on artificial prices. According to her field experience, she believes that farmers who followed this model now earn ten times more than farmers growing Bt cotton.

To address hunger in the world and feed 9 or 10 billion people in 2050, it is wise to invest in green agriculture and not in the use of costly genetic manipulations that threaten biodiversity and farmers engaged by the greed of multinational corporations. Government leniency and the proliferation of these patents hide the manipulations of these multinationals who use globalization only to their own advantage. Instead, a globalization based on solidarity and understanding of the interdependence of living things and their ecosystem can better engender close cooperation for the good of all.

Recommended reading: Marie Monique Robin. The World According to Monsanto (2011).