The Independent (Kampala)

2 January 2014

Uganda: The Monsanto Menace

(Page 4 of 8)

Trust Us. Why Would We Lie?

At the same time that Monsanto was cornering the food supply, its principal products--GM crops--were receiving less scrutiny than an NSA contractor.

Monsanto understood early on that the best way to stave off bad publicity was to limit research. Prior to a recently negotiated agreement with major universities, the company had severely restricted access to its seeds.

Filmmaker Bertram Verhaag's 2010 award-winning documentary, Scientists Under Attack: Genetic Engineering in the Magnetic Field of Money, noted that nearly 95 percent of genetic-engineering research is paid for and controlled by corporations like Monsanto.

Meanwhile, former employees embedded in government make sure the feds never get too nosy.

Michael Taylor has turned that into an art form. He's gone back and forth from government to Monsanto enough times that it's no longer just a revolving door; it's a Batpole. During an early '90s stint with the FDA, he helped usher bovine growth hormone milk into the food supply and authored the decision that kept the government out of Monsanto's GM crop business.

Known as "substantial equivalence," it declared that genetically modified products are essentially the same as their non-GM counterparts--and therefore require no additional labeling or testing for food safety or toxicity. Never mind that no accepted science backed his theory.

"It's simply a political calculation invented by Michael Taylor and Monsanto and adopted by U.S. federal policy-makers to resist labeling," says Jim Gerritsen, a farmer in Maine. "You have this collusion between corporations and the government, and the essence is that the people's interest isn't being served."

The FDA is a prime example. It approves GM crops by doing no testing of its own; it simply takes Monsanto's word for their safety. Monsanto spokesman Phil Angell says the company agrees that it should have nothing to do with verifying safety: "Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible," he told the New York Times. "Assuring its safety is the FDA's job."

So if neither Monsanto nor the government is doing it, who is?

The answer: no one. A boy with a Native American dance troupe holds a sign during a protest against agribusiness giant Monsanto in Los Angeles on May 25, 2013. Marches and rallies against Monsanto and genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food and seeds were held across the US and in other countries with protestors calling attention to the dangers posed by GMO food. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK

We've Got a Bigger Problem Now:

So far, it appears that the GM revolution has done little more than raise the cost of food.

A 2009 study by Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, looked at four Monsanto seeds and found only minimal increases in yield. Since GM crops cost more to produce, their economic benefit seemed questionable at best.

"It pales in comparison to other conventional approaches," says Gurian-Sherman. "It's a lot more expensive, and it comes with a lot of baggage . . . like pesticide use, monopoly issues, and control of the seed supply."

Use of those pesticides has soared as weeds and insects become increasingly resistant to them. Since GM crops were introduced in 1996, pesticide usage has increased by 404 million pounds. Last year, Syngenta, one of the world's largest pesticide makers, reported that sales of its major corn-soil insecticide more than doubled in 2012, a response to increased resistance to Monsanto's pesticides.

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