After a big win in the Supreme Court on Monday, biotech firm Monsanto Company has more or less solidified its control of the American food supply. Monsanto’s patented genetically modified (GM) seeds comprise roughly 90 percent of the U.S. seed market, driving conventional seeds to near extinction. Now, the company has set its sights on the rest of the world.
A report released Monday from Food and Water Watch details how the State Department has bolstered the biotech industry in its quest to dominate the global seed market. The report found that in 926 diplomatic cables between the State Department and embassies, officials pushed embassies to pressure foreign lawmakers to accept American seeds and intervene in “problematic legislation” banning or restricting GM crops. Even after Monsanto was caught violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and bribing an Indonesian official, U.S. diplomats continued to aggressively promote the company’s interests.
Cables show that embassies in South Africa, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Vietnam lobbied against GMO labeling initiatives, while the embassy in Spain asked for “high-level U.S. government intervention” to combat GM opposition at the “urgent request” of Monsanto. Other outposts regularly worked to kill laws meant to give native farmers a fighting chance against the biotech industry’s rapid takeover of the international seed market:
In 2008, the State Department joined Polish livestock and grain interests and the American Soybean Association to defeat a proposed ban on GE livestock feed. The embassy in Poland promoted pro-biotech rules and legislation but recognized that “we need to take care to be seen as protecting choice, not pushing use.” In 2007, the State Department and the USDA worked with Turkish biotech proponents to defeat proposed legislation that threatened over $1 billion in U.S. GE crop exports. In 2005, the USDA launched a lobbying and public relations campaign to successfully derail proposed anti-biotech legislation in Nicaragua. The embassy in Thailand lobbied to lift the ban on biotech papaya field trials in 2006. The embassy in Egypt tried to break “the regulatory logjam” that was stalling the approval of new GE crops. In Europe, the State Department has targeted the EU to weaken the regulatory safeguards that have delayed the approval of GE crops and to force the EU to accept biotech imports.
Though foreign leaders remain suspicious of these biotech corporations, the media has enthusiastically billed GM seeds as the solution to the global food crisis with little basis. An analysis of articles touting this claim found that virtually none of them identified specific technologies or crops that would help, preferring to make general calls for greater agricultural productivity. Meanwhile, the influential International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development advised that developing nations avoid GM seeds because of their high costs, uncertain yields, and threat to local agriculture. GM seeds, which initially promised greater yields and lower herbicide levels, have actually lowered yields in the U.S. while forcing farmers to apply heavier doses of herbicides to combat “superweeds” that evolved to overcome Monsanto’s gene.
What’s more, several strains of non-GM drought-resistant seeds in India and Africa have actually increased yields and are spreading rapidly. These accomplishments of conventional seed-breeding went largely ignored by the media.
Despite pro-GMO advocates’ insistence that biotech will help feed the world, much of the world apparently does not want to be saved. The backlash against Monsanto and the biotech industry has grown in recent years as the company has pushed foreign lawmakers to force farmers to pay for their seeds. Hungary recently destroyed 1,000 acres of Monsanto corn, while hundreds of farmers in India are rallying against Monsanto’s growing presence in the country. Most African nations, fearing the ruin of native agriculture, have also pushed for a ban on the cultivation and importation of GM crops.
Mexico, which is gradually opening its borders to GM crops, is a case study in the clashes between indigenous farmers and biotech giants. Mexican farmers are protesting the erosion of protections for the nation’s unique maize diversity to make way for Monsanto’s GM corn. In 2007, lawmakers passed an unprecedented seed law banning Mexican farmers from trading or giving away their own seeds and making it harder for non-commercial entities to sell their seeds. A couple years later, former Mexican president Felipe Calderon lifted the moratorium on GM corn after meeting with the president of Monsanto. Mexican farmers managed to block a law earlier this year that would let companies own certain types plants and seeds, as they do in the U.S. Nevertheless, Monsanto and their competitor, DuPont, are poised to plant 2.5 million hectares of GM corn in Mexico, which could wipe out generations of cultivated maize diversity. Should the biotech industry, with the State Department’s help, force open other nations resistant to GM crops, global food diversity could soon become a thing of the past.