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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monsanto's Not So Generous Gift

In 2004, Tennessee farmer Kem Ralph served eight months in jail and was fined $1.3 million for hiding contraband in his barn. Not marijuana or cocaine or what I immediately think of as illegal contraband (mind you, cocaine possession in Tennessee warrants a $2,500 fine) but Monsanto cotton seeds. If one uses Monsanto seeds, a process known as "seed cleaning," they are required to pay royalties to Monsanto or face legal charges. Even if one owns a farm adjacent to another farm upon which Monsanto seeds are used, and those seeds migrate onto their farm, Monsanto can sue for royalties owed.

Monsanto was founded in 1901 to manufacture saccharine and quickly branched out into the production of industrial chemicals. In decades following it became more of an agrochemical company and promoted the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture. Monsanto was also the largest producer of Agent Orange used by U.S. troops in Vietnam. Their chemicals were/are linked to skin rashes, joint pains, neurological disorders, birth defects, and cause kidney, liver, heart, spleen, and adrenal damage in laboratory rats. In 1997 it spun off its industrial chemical business as a separate company and devoted itself to biotech. (Rampton and Stauber, Trust Us, We're Experts!)

Back to the subject at hand. Monsanto is offering earthquake struck Haiti 475 tonnes of genetically-modified seeds, along with fertiliser and pesticides. Not such a generous gift considering that not only will it impair their people's health, but Haitian farmers who use the seeds will have to pay royalties to Monsanto. Too kind.

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