Join the “March against Monsanto”
Something unheard of is happening on May 25: there will be people gathering all over the world—in 41 countries and 300+ cities—to protest not against a country or a phenomenon, but rather a corporation. That unique corporation is the biotech giant Monsanto. Who is Monsanto, why are they so feared, and why should anybody, especially Indians, care about this corporation or this protest?
Monsanto is a chemical, biotech and a seed company that controls what most Americans eat or drink. They used to be a chemical company that made many dangerous pesticides and chemicals like DDT, PCB and Agent Orange—the deadly chemical used in Vietnam War. Later on, they got into the business of genetically engineering plants and crops. In the 1990s, they introduced genetically modified corn, soy and canola, and within twenty years, monopolized these crops. Today, more than 90% of these crops—along with cotton, canola, sugar beets and papayas—in the U.S. are genetically modified (GM). Many varieties of zucchini, squash and pineapple in the supermarket are also GM. Wheat, potato, chick peas and even rice have all been genetically modified in the labs and being introduced aggressively. More than 70% of all the packaged/processed food you find in a supermarket have GM ingredients like corn or soy.
So what is the big deal here? We all love technology, don’t we?
Well, the devil lies in the details.
The genetically modified plant, otherwise known as genetically modified organism (GMO), usually comes with one of two characteristics: 1) being resistant to powerful herbicides that kill all other plants, and 2) the plant being able to produce pesticides on its own.
Take the herbicide resistant GMO. These are resistant to Roundup, a powerful herbicide made by none other than Monsanto. At first sight, it makes the farmer’s life easy—they can just spray Roundup, rather than manually removing the weeds. However, over the years, weeds have become resistant to Roundup, and Monsanto has had to come up with ever increasing toxic versions of herbicides. The main ingredient of Roundup is glyphosate which has been associated with kidney damage, liver damage, immune disordersand more. The use of Roundup also financially ruins the farmers since each year they have to spend more and more money on newer versions of biotech seeds and the corresponding herbicides. Many Indian farmers have committed suicides because they went bankrupt, thanks to Monsanto.
In case of the pest resistant GMOs, the plants become little factories of a pesticide called “Bt.” There are Bt versions of soy, corn, cotton, potato and more. When you think about it, it’s really gross since you can’t wash off the pesticides in a Bt plant. The pesticide is built into the vegetable or the fruit. When you take a bite, you get a dose of the Bt pesticide. Again, although we were told that Bt is not harmful to anything or anybody other than a few insects, studies have shown otherwise.
GMO technology is not like any other technology we are used to. You can use an iPhone while your friend uses a Blackberry, and nothing happens. However, if I have a GMO farm next to your organic farm, eventually, because of wind, birds and bees, your farm will have some GMO plants. ThenMonsanto will come and sue you for “stealing” their intellectual property. Then, you have two choices: either stop farming or become a lifelong customer of Monsanto. Then every year, you have to buy seeds from Monsanto, along with its herbicide. You cannot save seeds like farmers have done since the dawn of civilization. This is how Monsanto has converted 90% of corn, soy, canola and beets into GMO, all within a span of twenty years. Today, more than 90% of all cotton in India are Bt cotton.
GMO technology is killing biodiversity. In Brazil, millions of acres of rainforests are being eradicated to make way for GMO corn and soy. In India, where we have more than 3000 varieties of rice, Monsanto is trying to introduce its GMO rice. They even have the audacity to introduce GM bananas in India, the country known for its amazing fruits. GMO potatoes are waiting to be approved by the FDA. In Australia, they are trying to introduce GMO wheat. And on and on. If we don’t do something, the world will be full of corporate controlled Frankenstein crops. Vegetables and fruits that have been eradicated because of GM plants can never be gotten back.
As Indians, we cannot forget how East India Company came to trade with us but ruled us eventually. Monsanto is the new East India Company.
When the British tried to control salt, Gandhi organized the famous “Dandi March” that set in motion the fall of the British Empire. This is the Dandi March for all the citizens of the world to bring down the Monsanto Empire. Mark your calendar for May 25, get your friends and join the event near you. There will be peaceful marches, speakers and opportunities to learn more about GMOs.
Chris Kanthan is an Indian American writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. His e-book “Deconstructing Monsanto” (available on iTunes and Amazon) gives a more in-depth analysis of the risks of GMOs and the undue influence of Monsanto. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.