Monsanto to Face Biopiracy Charges in India
The government of India has made it very clear that they will not tolerate Monsanto's attempts to commercialize on their indigenous knowledge, a practice known as biopiracy.
India's National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), a government agency, is suing Monsanto, the world leader in genetically modified (GM) crops and seeds, and their collaborators, the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company, for using local varieties of eggplant to develop a genetically modified version.
Quite simply, the biotech giant did not get prior approval to use the naturally occurring breeds for the purposes of genetic modification, and in so doing violated the country's Biological Diversity Act (BDA), enacted in 2002.
India Stands Up Against Corporate Control of Their Food Supply
India's BDA requires that any entity attempting to use a native plant for commercial or research purposes must first get approval from the NBA; the Act is in force specifically to protect the nation's biodiversity.
Monsanto, however, neglected to do this opting instead to essentially steal the native plants in order to modify them for their own commercial gain.
"American seed giant Monsanto and its Indian collaborator, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) are to be prosecuted for allegedly 'stealing' indigenous plant material for developing genetically modified brinjal variety known as Bt brinjal.
The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), a statutory body set up under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, has decided to initiate legal proceedings against the two companies and their collaborators for using indigenous brinjal germplasm without necessary permission. Taking plant material without any permission and using it for commercial purposes is considered an act of biopiracy."
The Environment Support Group, which filed the initial complaint against Monsanto with the NBA, stated that Monsanto and their collaboraters used six local varieties of brinjal [eggplant] for the development of Bt brinjal. Monsanto has fired back, stating they are not to blame for the development of GM eggplant, other than supplying their Cry1Ac gene, a type of Bt toxin. The Indian media called this a "half truth," noting:
"When contacted Monsanto tried to distance itself from the case by saying that it had not developed Bt brinjal, but it had been 'developed by Mahyco, with the Cry1Ac gene accessed from Monsanto, in collaboration with multiple public sector institutions'. This is a halftruth because Monsanto owns 26 percent of Mahyco, and also has a separate joint venture Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Limited which handles its business related to Bt."
Finally, A Country Stands Up to Monsanto for its Indigenous Rights
The case marks the first time a government has accused Monsanto of biopiracy, and the results could set an important precedent for the future of the food supply. In essence, will we continue to allow corporations like Monsanto to steal, profit from, and patent native plants without compensating the native country from which it came?
As stated in The Ecologist:
"The issue of granting intellectual property rights (IPRs) to life forms—such as seeds, plants, or animals—is a contentious one worldwide. Critics say it's impossible to define when the creation of such a thing took place, and that granting patent rights for a crop such as brinjal negates generations of farmers who, using conventional plant breeding techniques, have managed to develop successful cultivars."
Monsanto has long been trying to establish control over the seeds of the plants that produce food for the world, with little regard for farmers' rights or even basic levels of morality. They have already patented a number of genetically altered food crops, which can only be grown with proper license and the seeds for which farmers must purchase anew each year or face legal prosecution. They have even developed terminator technology—which they hope to deploy soon.
These are seeds that have been genetically modified to "self-destruct." In other words, the seeds (and the forthcoming crops) are sterile, which means farmers must buy them again each year.
The implications that terminator seeds could have on the world's food supply are disastrous: the traits from genetically engineered crops can get passed on to other crops. Once the terminator seeds are released into a region, the trait of seed sterility could be passed to other non-genetically-engineered crops, making most or all of the seeds in the region sterile. If allowed to continue, every farmer in the world could come to rely on Monsanto for their seed supply!
Why Bt Eggplant is a Disaster in the Making
There's more reason than biopiracy to thwart the development of Bt eggplant, and that has to do with the technology itself. Some GM crops, such as GM sugar beets and certain varieties of GM corn and soy, are engineered to withstand otherwise lethal doses of Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. Other GM crops, such as Bt eggplant, are designed to produce their own pesticide internally.
In 2011, Cry1Ab, a type of Bt toxin from GM crops, has for the first time been detected in human and fetal blood samples. It appears the toxin is quite prevalent, as upon testing 69 pregnant and non-pregnant women who were eating a typical Canadian diet (which included foods such as GM soy, corn and potatoes), researchers found Bt toxin in:
- 93 percent of blood samples of pregnant women
- 80 percent of fetal blood samples
- 69 percent of non-pregnant women blood samples
As you may know, chronic inflammation is at the root of many increasingly common diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. According to Jeffrey Smith:
"There's already plenty of evidence that the Bt-toxin produced in GM corn and cotton plants is toxic to humans and mammals and triggers immune system responses. The fact that it flows through our blood supply, and that is passes through the placenta into fetuses, may help explain the rise in many disorders in the US since Bt crop varieties were first introduced in 1996.
In government-sponsored research in Italy, mice fed Monsanto's Bt corn showed a wide range of immune responses. Their elevated IgE and IgG antibodies, for example, are typically associated with allergies and infections. The mice had an increase in cytokines, which are associated with "allergic and inflammatory responses."
Monsanto Quickly Falling From Grace
In the grander scheme, India's suit against Monsanto for biopiracy is yet another nail in the coffin for this corporate giant. Along with being named the worst company of 2011 by Natural Society -- for "threatening both human health and the environment" -- genetically engineered seeds are banned in Hungary, as they are in several other European countries, such as Germany and Ireland. Peru is also following the precautionary principle, and has even passed a law that bans genetically modified ingredients within the nation for 10 years.
The cat is out of the bag, so to speak, and it is now becoming common knowledge why Monsanto is top on list of immoral and destructive corporations. Here are just several examples:
- Suing small farmers for patent infringement after Monsanto's GM seeds spread wildly into surrounding farmers' fields contaminating their conventional crops
- Secretly discharging PCB-laden toxic waste into an Alabama creek, and dumping millions of pounds of PCBs into open-pit landfills for decades after PCBs were banned in the US for being a possible carcinogen.
- Being found guilty of bribery to bypass Indonesian law requiring an environmental assessment review for its genetically engineered cotton.
- In 2007, the South African Advertising Standards Authority also found Monsanto guilty of lying when advertising that "no negative reactions to Genetically Modified food have been reported."
- According to one EPA scientist, Monsanto doctored studies and covered-up dioxin contamination of a wide range of its products. She concluded that the company's behavior constituted "a long pattern of fraud."
Unfortunately, in the United States Monsanto still has undue influence. Certain states are passing legislation that protects the use of GM seeds and allows for unabated expansion. To date, 14 states have passed such legislation and Michigan's Sen. Bill 777, if passed, would make that 15. The Michigan bill would prevent anti-GMO laws and would remove "any authority local governments may have to adopt and enforce ordinances that prohibit or regulate the labeling, sale, storage, transportation, distribution, use, or planting of agricultural, vegetable, flower or forest tree seeds."
Bills like these are obviously music to Monsanto's ears, which spends millions of dollars lobbying the U.S. government at the federal level for favorable legislation that supports the spread of their toxic products.
How to Take Back Some of Monsanto's Drive for Power…
It's quite clear that genetically engineered foods threaten not only biodiversity and the environment; they can also pose potentially serious threats to animal and human health when consumed. Unfortunately, the revolving door between Monsanto and the biotech industry as a whole and the agencies in charge of industry legislation makes it very difficult to stop the ongoing madness.
That does not mean it's impossible, however. But it does require your active participation First and foremost, avoid buying GM foods! Since the industry has so far successfully squelched every attempt at getting genetically engineered foods labeled, avoiding them requires you to be an educated consumer.
- Print out the Non-GMO Shopping Guide and refer to it often. It can help you identify and avoid foods with GMOs. You can also download the free iPhone application that is available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.
- Better yet, always buy USDA 100% Organic products when possible, as these do not permit GM ingredients, or buy whole fresh produce and meat from local farmers. The majority of the GMO's you're exposed to are via processed foods, so by cooking from scratch with whole foods, you can be sure you're not inadvertently consuming something laced with GM ingredients.
- When you do purchase processed food, avoid products containing anything related to corn or soy that are not 100 percent organic, as any foods containing these two non-organic ingredients are virtually guaranteed to contain genetically engineered ingredients, as well as toxic herbicide residues.
- For ongoing updates, follow our Non-GMO's page on Facebook.
We CAN shift the balance by simply voting with our pocketbooks and forks. Europe successfully did this over a decade ago, without any government assistance, and Americans can drive GMO's out of our food supply as well, but it requires educating the public about what GM foods are.
Important Action Item: Support California's Ballot Initiative to Label GMO's!
In 2007, then-Presidential candidate Obama promised to "immediately" require GM labeling if elected. So far, nothing of the sort has transpired.
Fortunately, 24 US states have (as part of their state governance) something called the Initiative Process, where residents can bring to ballot any law they want enacted, as long as it has sufficient support. California has been busy organizing just such a ballot initiative to get mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods sold in their state. The proposed law will be on the ballot for 2012.
Michigan and Washington are also starting similar campaigns.
Since California is the 8th largest economy in the world, a win for the California Initiative would be a huge step forward, and would affect ingredients and labeling nation-wide. Last month, a coalition of consumer, public health and environmental organizations, food companies, and individuals submitted the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act to the State Attorney General. Now, they need 800,000 signatures to get the Act on next year's ballot.
I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can.
If you live in California, volunteer to gather petition signatures. If you live outside of California, please donate to help support this Initiative and spread the word to everyone you know in California. Be assured that what happens in California will affect the remainder of the U.S., so please support this important state initiative, even if you do not live there!