Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Avery Yale Kamila email@example.com
(Continued from page 1)
Organic seed potato farmer Jim Gerritsen heads a trade association that is suing chemical giant Monsanto.
Photo by Charlotte Hedley
MONSANTO – A CONTROVERSIAL HISTORY
MONSANTO HAS BEEN raising the ire of concerned citizens since the days of its involvement in nuclear weapons development and its manufacture of the pesticide DDT and the dioxin-laced defoliant Agent Orange. DDT has since been banned in the U.S. Meanwhile, the legacy of Agent Orange sprayed on the people of Vietnam during the Vietnam War lingers on in higher rates of genetic diseases and shockingly deformed stillborn babies.
AMERICAN SOLDIERS serving in the Vietnam War also suffer from health problems linked to their exposure to Agent Orange and other warfare chemicals. Both Vietnamese victims and U.S. soldiers have filed class-action lawsuits against the companies that manufactured Agent Orange, including Monsanto.
MAINERS WILL REMEMBER the lawsuit Monsanto filed against Oakhurst Dairy when the milk processor began labeling its products as free from the corporation's synthetic bovine growth hormone. The lawsuit was settled out of court, with Oakhurst agreeing to add a statement saying the Food & Drug Administration finds no difference in milk from cows treated with the artificial hormones.
THESE DAYS, Monsanto is known for its genetically modified seeds, some of which create plants that can withstand heavy applications of Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. While purchasing Roundup requires no special license or training, independent scientists are discovering adverse health and environmental effects that appear to be linked to this chemical. Recent studies have suggested a link between Roundup and soil degradation, human cell death, infertility and a new AIDS-like disease in genetically-modified plants.
MONSANTO IS CURRENTLY under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission over alleged financial kickbacks offered to pesticide dealers to encourage them to sell more Roundup.
Monsanto developed multiple strains of transgenic potatoes in the 1990s under the name New Leaf. However, when major food companies such as McCain, which operates a french fry processing plant in Easton, and McDonald's rejected genetically-modified potatoes, Monsanto was forced to pull its transgenic strains off the market.
Gerritsen said the lawsuit will also seek to clarify what he sees as Monsanto's contradictory stance on its genetically modified seeds.
When arguing against labeling of transgenic food, Monsanto and other biotech companies claim that genetically modified seeds are substantially equivalent to traditional seeds. However, when seeking patents, the same companies claim the insertion of foreign genes creates unique seeds deserving of patent protection.
"Which is it?" Gerritsen asked. "It's one or other, but it can't be both. Is it the same? Or is it different?"
All genetically modified seeds are designed to do something different from the original seed. This can mean the modified seed will produce increased quantities of a particular substance inherent to the plant, manufacture chemicals foreign to the original plant, or withstand heavy applications of herbicides and pesticides manufactured by the same corporation seeking the seed patent.
Helscher said, "these genetic modifications in seeds do not significantly change composition, nutrition or safety of resulting food products and thus the food products are not required to be labeled." He did not comment on why seeds that he states do not contain significant changes from the originals would merit patent protection.
Despite Monsanto's legal muscle, Gerritsen remains convinced the current lawsuit will succeed. He also sees hope in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has spread rapidly around the world and has demanded an end to corporate greed and dominance.
"What I understand the Occupy movement to represent is resistance to the growing tradition of power concentrated in the hands of the few, which is most often corporations," Gerritsen said.
Citing the revolving door between corporations (including Monsanto) and the government agencies which purport to regulate them, Gerritsen said, "we basically have a dysfunctional government. The Occupy Wall Street concept is to try to give power back to the people."
In the same vein, the lawsuit against Monsanto seeks to restore the power of citizens and farmers to choose food free from genetically modified organisms.
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org