“What Monsanto is trying to do is control the food chain”
Elsa Chanduví Jaña 2/6/2009 Interview with journalist Marie-Monique Robin
French journalist and filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin, author of the book and documentary The World According to Monsanto, an exhausting investigation into genetically-modified organisms and Monsanto, the world´s largest transgenic seed producer, spoke with Latinamerica Press managing editor Elsa Chanduví Jaña about the effects of these seeds and Monsanto´s ambitions to “control the world´s food chain.” Robin participated in the seminar “Seeds of Diversity vs. Transgenics” in Lima Jan. 28-29, which Comunicaciones Aliadas and Latinamerica Press co-organized.
How would you describe Monsanto´s world vision? What Monsanto wants to do is control the food chain with patented transgenic seeds. It’s a totalitarian project because to control food is to control the world, it’s to control people. [Monsanto] is a multinational that has been using dirty practices for almost a century. Many of its products are prohibited today because they’re very toxic, such as PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls], for example, which used to be used in all countries as electric transformers. Monsanto hid the information it had. It lied saying that those PCBs were not dangerous, until it was finally discovered and after a lawsuit in the United States seven years ago it was ordered to pay US$700 million.
There are other examples, such as Agent Orange, that cocktail of herbicides used during the Vietnam War. In this case, Monsanto paid scientists to deny the relationship between exposure to Agent Orange, which contains dioxin, and cancer.
What is Monsanto´s strategy to control the food chain? Its strategy has many forms. One of the most important is called “revolving doors” in the United States. In the case of transgenics, the fundamental text, which is the basis for worldwide regulations on transgenics, was published in 1992 by the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA], and written by a former Monsanto lawyer who got on the FDA to write the text and later ended up as Monsanto´s vice president. Those are revolving doors. You come from an industry, you get an important position in a government agency, or even an international organization, you stay for a few years and then you go back to the industry. Incredible. They can put their people in key decision-making positions. In the FDA, or the EPA [the US Environmental Protection Agency], the top person was a lawyer for Monsanto.
The other strategy is paying. There are two proven corruption cases. One case in Indonesia: two or three years ago in the United States, Monsanto was found guilty of corruption for paying some 100 Indonesian government officials to introduce Bt cotton seeds. There was a corruption attempt that was also uncovered by a parliamentary commission in Canada in which Monsanto offered US$2 million to be able to put a growth hormone on the market.
If not, they pressure universities. In the United States, there is already an advanced privatization of the universities, so they pressure to fire scientists who have done studies or want to that Monsanto thinks are against its interests. The same thing happens with journalists.
How did Monsanto enter the genetically-modified organisms business? Monsanto has been the top seed company since 2005. But 10 years ago, it had no seeds; it had just invented transgenics. The first was Roundup Ready soy. Well, it had this invention without knowing what to do with it. First, it thought: “Let´s sell the license to seed companies.” But then it later thought, “No, it’s better to buy those seed companies.” So it sold its pharmaceutical division that was very important and generated a lot of money, to finance this purchasing program. Little by little, in 10 years, it was able to purchase more than 50 seed companies around the world, which has made Monsanto the top seed company in the world, which is incredible because it was a big chemical and pharmaceutical company, but nothing to do with seeds.
It´s a very well thought out strategy because every time it buys a seed company, it puts in its patented transgenic seeds, and that means that farmers don´t have any other option. In India, it has purchased cotton seed companies, and farmers don´t have other options because there are only patented transgenic seeds. In the United States, there are a group of farmers that have collectively filed a lawsuit against Monsanto alleging that it violated anti-trust laws for buying so many seed companies. Monopolies in the United States are prohibited. Some people think that Monsanto could go through the same thing as Microsoft did years ago, which had a monopoly and had to sell off some of its companies because it had too much.
What are the risks that transgenics pose? On an environmental level, the risk that has been proved is that it causes a great loss of biodiversity because of contamination. This has been proved in Canada, where transgenic rapeseed had contaminated everything and caused non-transgenic rapeseed to disappear, both conventional and organic.
For human health, unfortunately there are very few studies that have been done on this because Monsanto was able to impose, thanks to the “revolving doors,” the so-called principle of substantial equivalence, which is the basis of all regulation on genetically-modified organisms in the world. The principle says that a transgenic is equivalent to one conventional plant and that´s why studies are not necessary. If it is equivalent, why bother?
That principle has no scientific basis and it is a decision of the White House to support the very rapid development of transgenics. That principle makes it so there are very few studies that truly verify what the consequences of transgenics on human health could be. The only well-done studies that have been done are by independent scientists. I interviewed two of them, who, when they discovered that there were problems with rats that had eaten transgenics, they were thrown out of their jobs. It´s always the same story.
But if there is no problem I don´t understand why a study is not conducted by an independent team, recognized on a global level, to do a two-year study, and that the figures can be published so that the whole world verify. They do everything possible to impede those studies, with very dirty methods, with defamation campaigns, tremendous pressure.
Are you against the production of all transgenic crops, even in countries with little biodiversity? Why? Yes, of course. With those transgenics, the only thing there is in the fields are plants with pesticides, manipulated plants, either to resist fumigations with a very toxic pesticides such as Roundup or manipulated to make corn that contains an insecticide. What good is that? I don´t want to give my daughters transgenic food. Why would I give them corn containing an insecticide or rapeseed oil fumigated with toxic herbicide? Now, let them continue making studies in closed, controlled laboratories, but not in open fields. I have nothing against scientific investigation, but it´s something else in our fields.
What can be done to stop the advance of these transgenics? There are many things to do, depending on the country. I know that here [in Peru] a law is being prepared to allow transgenics to enter the country, so the consumers in cities could at least ask for labeling on the products. That is very important for them to choose [what to buy]. Those [transgenic] products should be boycotted as much as possible and we should eat as much organic food as we can. It’s the only way. —Latinamerica Press.
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