Coming soon to your backyard, Monsanto and gang!
Coming soon to your backyard, Monsanto and gang!
by Andrea Brower
May 30, 2013
When the handful of corporations set on owning, controlling and über-profiting from our common seed heritage — Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow, BASF and Bayer — began experimenting with their proprietary chemicals and genetically engineered crops in Hawaii in the 1990s, barely a peep was made. Two decades later, we can’t even convince our Hawaii state government to pass a law making these companies release basic information about the pesticides they spray next to primary schools. Children are sent home vomiting and with nose bleeds.
The national US-level is even more outrageous. Some will have heard of the infamous revolving door between Monsanto and the Federal Government. The recently passed “Monsanto Protection Act” that mandates the government to allow planting of GE-crops even if courts rule they pose health risks. Monsanto’s triumphant suing of family farmers to the tune of USD$27 million (many of whom did not plant Monsanto’s patented seeds but are victims of cross-pollination). Or even the current push to prohibit states from passing GE-labeling laws (despite the fact that 82% of Americans support labeling). The power of these biotech/chemical (all are both) companies in the US reaches from the highest offices of government to local Farm Bureaus, and from university research centers to primary school gardens. Their political and economic power is anti-democratic and dangerous to food security and sustainability, and should serve as a warning of things to come if New Zealand does not start making some strong decisions to take it in another direction.
Monsanto and gang are already more entrenched in proudly “GE-free, Clean and Green New Zealand” than commonly perceived:
• In the food chain — Though New Zealand does have labeling laws, these don’t apply to some “highly processed” ingredients, and it is estimated that around 70% of processed foods from imported soy, corn, canola and cotton seed contain GE derived ingredients. There are already 76 varieties of foods approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand Authority (FSANZ), and FSANZ was recently the first in the world to approve Dow’s controversial soy and corn engineered to resist higher doses of 2,4-D (the infamous component of Agent Orange).
• Major players in the seed and agrochemical markets — The “Big Six” corporations (that together control 75% of the global pesticide market and with a few others account for 73% of the world’s commercial seed sales) are becoming major players in New Zealand’s seed and pesticide markets. The Pioneer (DuPont) or Seminis (Monsanto) signs tagged next to fields are emblematic of the global restructuring of agriculture, where increasingly corporations control what goes in and what comes out, and farmers are reduced to mere labor.
• The dairy industry’s developing dependence on GE-feed — The last decade has seen a continuing intensification of New Zealand agriculture, compensated in no small part by the “ecological subsidies” of nitrogen fertilizers and imported livestock feed. Huge increases in imported GE cotton seed meal and soy to feed dairy cows, which does not have to be labeled under NZ law, means farmers may not even be aware that they are using GE. Consumers in other countries may be quick to ditch NZ dairy as they discover “grass-fed” is being replaced by “roundup-ready-soy-fed”.
• Appropriation of “indigenous values” — Last year, the Federation of Māori Authorities was a sponsor of the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference, stating that “We will bring a unique element to the discussion because of our cultural and environmental values where taking care of the land that we operate businesses on is just as important as making a profit.” Te Waka Kai Ora (the National Māori Organics Authority Aotearoa) sees this as part of the industry’s insidious campaign to push their agenda onto indigenous communities. GE is being pitched to Māori growers “under the guise of financial benefit” and without the “full story about the total ramifications of introducing GM and its impacts on the whakapapa and genetic make-up of our food.” The NZ government also paid a hefty sum to sponsor the biotech conference, though exact numbers have not been revealed.
• Influential folks pushing GE — The US government has spent the last decade trying to convince NZ that it has a moral imperative to adopt GE. It funds “educational programmes” to “promote the uptake of biotechnology in New Zealand by outlining its benefits and pointing out the flaws in the statements of detractors” (US Embassy Reports). The threat of “crisis” has regularly been manipulated to justify sidestepping any form of precaution — during the recent drought in NZ, Federated Farmers’ vice-president William Rollerston advocated for changing the country’s “restrictive” GE-regulations in order to develop drought-resistant grasses and crops. Similarly, Monsanto has used the case of the devastation of the kiwifruit industry by Psa disease to lobby for GE-solutions, despite indisputable evidence that such “solutions” can cause the very types of catastrophes they claim to avert (take, for example, the superweeds and superbugs spreading across the US).
Though already concerning, these trends, and the power of the biotech/chemical industry to force its way into New Zealand more generally, will expand radically with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The TPPA is a highly secretive international agreement being negotiated under the pretext of “trade” between eleven Asian and Pacific-rim countries, including the United States.
If passed, TPPA will amount to the biggest corporate power grab New Zealand has seen since colonization, putting the rights of corporations above those of elected governments and sovereign nations. Under the cryptic title of “Investor State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS), foreign corporations could challenge New Zealand laws and regulations that undermine their expected profits, holding them liable for these losses. Challenges could be brought for everything from attempts to stop potentially harmful GE-foods from entering the food chain, to regulating the impacts of pesticides on water quality. The government would be tried in private offshore tribunals that lack transparency and due process.
These private tribunals routinely put the economic interests of corporations ahead of the rights of governments. Under NAFTA’s ISDS provisions the Mexican government was sued by three separate corporations for their tax on High Fructose Corn Syrup, and forced to pay nearly USD $170 million. The highest monetary award in the history of ISDS was ruled on last year when Ecuador was ordered to pay $1.77 billion to Occidental Petroleum Corp for terminating their oil contract. We might think of the recent debate over asset sales in NZ, and how decisions that should be the result of democratic processes and dialogue could instead be decided by overseas courts staffed with corporate attorneys.
The US government and biotech/chemical industry are pushing hard to use the TPPA as a vehicle for “developing a common regulatory approach” for GE. In other words, exporting the anti-democratic, non-transparent, and non-scientific US “regulatory” regime to other countries. This could put labeling laws on the chopping block, undermine countries’ ability to conduct rigorous risk assessments of GE, and absolve corporations of responsibility for unapproved GE contamination.
The effects of past “free-trade” agreements are well-documented, and the TPPA is even more extreme and destructive in its reach. If passed, it will lower environmental and labor protections, weaken biosecurity and food safety efforts, encourage a “race-to-the bottom” in agricultural production, cripple local food economies, lead to further corporate consolidation in all parts of the food chain, and threaten Māori rights to land and resources. Most fundamentally, the TPPA will radically undermine people’s ability to participate in defining what kind of future they want. While we can’t know the exact details of the TPPA because it is being negotiated in secret, what is certain is that it is advancing a food future designed by Monstanto, DuPont, Syngenta and the rest of the agricultural giants— one where the only logic is profit accumulation through expropriation and exploitation of common resources and the common good. In an age of climate change and fossil fuel depletion, when we urgently need a food system that is resilient and regenerative, equitable and democratic, the TPPA is taking us in exactly the opposite direction.
Andrea Brower is a food sovereignty activist from Hawaii who has moved to Aotearoa / New Zealand to do a sociology PhD on the possibilities of a post-corporate food system. For more information, visit It’s Our Future, It’s Our Food on Facebook.