Sunday, June 01, 2008

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MONSANTO

International — A new movie has dealt yet another severe blow to the credibility of US based Monsanto, one of the biggest chemical companies in the world and the provider of the seed technology for 90 percent of the world’s genetically engineered (GE) crops.
The French documentary, called “The world according to Monsanto” and directed by independent filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin, paints a grim picture of a company with a long track record of environmental crimes and health scandals.



The story starts in the White House, where Monsanto often got its way by exerting disproportionate influence over policymakers via the “revolving door”. One example is Michael Taylor, who worked for Monsanto as an attorney before being appointed as deputy commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991. While at the FDA, the authority that deals with all US food approvals, Taylor made crucial decisions that led to the approval of GE foods and crops. Then he returned to Monsanto, becoming the company’s vice president for public policy.

Thanks to these intimate links between Monsanto and government agencies, the US adopted GE foods and crops without proper testing, without consumer labeling and in spite of serious questions hanging over their safety. Not coincidentally, Monsanto supplies 90 percent of the GE seeds used by the US market.

Monsanto’s long arm stretched so far that, in the early nineties, the US Food and Drugs Agency even ignored warnings of their own scientists, who were cautioning that GE crops could cause negative health effects. Other tactics the company uses to stifle concerns about their products include misleading advertising, bribery and concealing scientific evidence.


Monsanto's background

Monsanto was founded in 1901 as a chemical company. Its history is intimately linked to the production and promotion of highly toxic chemicals such as Agent Orange (used as a chemical weapon in the Vietnam war) and PCBs (widespread toxic pollutants). Robin’s movie reveals that Monsanto already knew about the “systematic toxic effects” of PCBs for decades, but instructed its salespeople to stay silent because, “we can’t afford to lose one dollar.”

More recently Monsanto received a bad reputation for the promotion of growth hormones from GE organisms known as rBGH, which the company sells in the US under the brand name Posilac. Monsanto claims that Posilac holds, “benefits to consumers”. The reality is that, rBGH growth hormones were banned in Europe and Canada after the authorities found out about the health risks resulting from drinking milk from cows treated with rBGH hormones. Monsanto's way of "addressing" this problem was to sue the Oakhurst dairy company in the state of Maine (US) - attempting to force them, and other dairies, to stop labelling diary products “rBGH-free” and “rBST-free”.


Global reach, control

Over the last decade, Monsanto aggressively bought up over 50 seed companies around the globe. Seeds are the source of all food. Whoever owns the seeds, owns the food. The process of genetic engineering allows companies, such as Monsanto, to claim patent rights over seeds. Ninety percent of all GE seeds planted in the world are patented by Monsanto and hence controlled by them.

Patents on seeds give companies like Monsanto unprecedented power. Monsanto prohibits farmers saving patented GE seeds from one crop to replant the next season, an age-old practice. To ensure that farmers do not reuse seeds, Monsanto created its own 'gene police', and encourages farmers to turn in their neighbors.

Even farmers that do not use GE seeds are not safe. According to an investigative report by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) farmers have even been sued for patent infringement after their field was contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else’s GE crop.

But Monsanto’s influence doesn't stop at the US border. “The world according to Monsanto”, documents the devastating impact of Monsanto's malpractices around the world. Among others, it includes the real-life stories of cotton farmers in India that ended up in hopeless debts after using Monsanto genetically engineered (so called Bt) cotton, and of a family in Paraguay, South America whose dreams have turned to nightmares after their farm became surrounded by fields planted with Monsanto’s GE soya.


A much needed expose

Monsanto wouldn’t address these issues on camera for Robin, instead referring to the "Monsanto Pledge" posted on their website (which we debunk here).

After seeing “The world according to Monsanto”, Greenpeace International campaigner Geert Ritsema said:

“Mrs. Robin should be congratulated for revealing the sinister practices of the world’s leading producer of genetically engineered seeds. Her film is alarming and should be a call to action for everybody who cares about the quality of our food and a healthy future for our planet.”

The movie will be shown for the first time on ARTE TV (in German and French) on Tuesday 11 March at 21.00. You can order a DVD of it (in English, French and Spanish) here.

07 March 2008 GREEN PEACE

As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon

As a result of misguided American policy, the threat of another military confrontation hangs like a dark cloud over the Middle East. The United States' enemies have been strengthened, and Iran - despite being branded as a member of the so-called "axis of evil" - has been catapulted into regional hegemony. Iran could never have achieved this on its own, certainly not in such a short time.

A hitherto latent rivalry between Iran and Israel thus has been transformed into an open struggle for dominance in the Middle East. The result has been the emergence of some surprising, if not bizarre, alliances: Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and the American-backed, Shiite-dominated Iraq are facing Israel, Saudi Arabia, and most of the other Sunni Arab states, all of which feel existentially threatened by Iran's ascendance.

The danger of a major confrontation has been heightened further by a series of factors: persistently high oil prices, which have created new financial and political opportunities for Iran; the possible defeat of the West and its regional allies in proxy wars in Gaza and Lebanon; and the United Nations Security Council's failure to induce Iran to accept even a temporary freeze of its nuclear program.

Iran's nuclear program is the decisive factor in this equation, for it threatens irreversibly the region's strategic balance. That Iran - a country whose president never tires of calling for Israel's annihilation and that threatens Israel's northern and southern borders through its massive support of proxy wars waged by Hizbullah and Hamas - might one day have missiles with nuclear warheads is Israel's worst security nightmare. Politics is not just about facts, but also about perceptions. Whether or not a perception is accurate is beside the point, because it nonetheless leads to decisions.

This applies in particular when the perception concerns what the parties consider to be threats to their very existence. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats of annihilation are taken seriously in Israel because of the trauma of the Holocaust. And most Arab governments share the fear of a nuclear Iran. Earlier this month, Israel celebrated its 60th birthday, and US President George W. Bush went to Jerusalem to play a leading part in the commemoration. But those who had expected that his visit would mainly be about the stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were bitterly disappointed. Bush's central topic, including his speech to Israel's Knesset, was Iran. Bush had promised to bring the Middle East conflict closer to a resolution before the end of his term this year. But his final visit to Israel seemed to indicate that his objective was different: he seemed to be planning, together with Israel, to end the Iranian nuclear program - and to do so by military, rather than by diplomatic, means.

Anyone following the press in Israel during the anniversary celebrations and listening closely to what was said in Jerusalem did not have to be a prophet to understand that matters are coming to a head. Consider the following:

First, "stop the appeasement!" is a demand raised across the political spectrum in Israel - and what is meant is the nuclear threat emanating from Iran.

Second, while Israel celebrated, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying that a life-and-death military confrontation was a distinct possibility.

Third, the outgoing commander of the Israeli Air Force declared that the air force was capable of any mission, no matter how difficult, to protect the country's security. The destruction of a Syrian nuclear facility last year, and the lack of any international reaction to it, were viewed as an example for the coming action against Iran.

Fourth, the Israeli wish list for US arms deliveries, discussed with the American president, focused mainly on the improvement of the attack capabilities and precision of the Israeli Air Force.

Fifth, diplomatic initiatives and UN sanctions when it comes to Iran are seen as hopelessly ineffective.

And sixth, with the approaching end of the Bush presidency and uncertainty about his successor's policy, the window of opportunity for Israeli action is seen as potentially closing.

The last two factors carry special weight. While Israeli military intelligence is on record as saying that Iran is expected to cross the red line on the path to nuclear power between 2010 and 2015 at the earliest, the feeling in Israel is that the political window of opportunity to attack is now, during the last months of Bush's presidency.

Although it is acknowledged in Israel that an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would involve grave and hard-to-assess risks, the choice between acceptance of an Iranian bomb and an attempt at its military destruction, with all the attendant consequences, is clear. Israel won't stand by and wait for matters to take their course.

The Middle East is drifting toward a new great confrontation in 2008. Iran must understand that without a diplomatic solution in the coming months, a dangerous military conflict is very likely to erupt. It is high time for serious negotiations to begin.

The most recent offer by the six powers - the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany - is on the table, and it goes very far in accommodating Iran's interests. The decisive question, however, will be whether it will be possible to freeze the Iranian nuclear program for the duration of the negotiations to avoid a military confrontation before these negotiations are completed. Should this newest attempt fail, things will soon get serious. Deadly serious.

Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, led

Germany's Green Party for nearly 20 years. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate-Institute for Human Sciences (c) (www.project-syndicate.org).

Friday, May 30, 2008 THE DAILY STAR

DANDELION SALAD