Monsanto, a giant biotechnology company, claims to care about “feeding the world” and has a playbook anyone can read. The truth is, corporations like Monsanto care only about the profits. They’re not offering genetically modified (GM) seeds to South America out of charity; they want to take over the seed markets and squeeze farmers for as many pesos as they can get.
The playbook Monsanto follows goes like this: Focus on the major cash crops like soybeans, maize and cotton, next find an entry point and contaminate the seed supply. then follow that move up by stepping in to take control.
Argentina is the first country outside of North America to start planting GM crops. But it won’t be the last. The same playbook is being replicated around the world and the story of what has happened in Argentina should serve as a two-minute warning that the game is almost over, and global citizens have lost.
In 1996 Argentina’s government approved the commercial planting of genetically modified Roundup Read soybeans from Monsanto. Farmers would save, multiply and sell the seeds to other farm owners that lived down the round or around the corner. The acreage planted in these genetically modified soybeans grew tremendously. From under a million acres in 1996 to 14 million in 2003.
The soybeans also started to emigrate or cross Argentine borders. People would smuggle them across the national lines into Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay — all countries where genetically modified seeds are outlawed.
Monsanto has a patent on the GM soybeans, but the patent isn’t recognized in Argentina. The company’s patents are limited by the nation’s “Seed Law.” The Seed Law allows farmers to save their own seeds for their own use, but doesn’t allow them to sell or even give them away.
Monsanto sits back and watches doing nothing to stop the large-scale smuggling of its GM seeds. The seeds slowly creep out over the continent as large-scale landholders of the Pampas and other areas turn to the industrialized farming technique of no-till farming on a giant scale.
As Monsanto watches and keeps silent, many take the silence of the company as consent. Then slowly people realize that the spread of GM crops through contamination and the violation of the country’s laws is an intentional act; A strategy of Monsanto to spread the seeds.
As GM soy becomes more common in Argentina, and spreads fast, Monsanto begins to threaten farmers over their “illegal” use. Demanding that the Argentina government do something, police raids are carried out and a few small operations are put under surveillance. The selling of farmer-saved seeds continues though as soybean plantations also continue to spread.
The seeds have moved beyond the traditional farming region and are starting to spread into the forests of the Chaco region and other fragile ecosystems in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The “Maradona” soybeans, as they’ve recently become known as, are famous and in demand in Brazil.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S. soybean farmers start to notice the increase of soy bean sales in South America and have started to complain about the competition. In 1999 Monsanto began to sell its seeds through contracts that call for “extended royalties.” Under this system, Argentine farmers are required to pay $2.00 (USD) for each 50 pound bag of seeds they save from their own harvest for their own use.
The contract violates Argentina’s Seed Law which stipulates that farmers can use their own seeds with no strings attached. As powerful people in Argentine government are being wined and dined and receiving huge financial rewards directly from Monsanto, the government does not object to the $2.00 tax.
Monsanto begins 2004 with the announcement that they are suspending the soybean business in Argentina because it’s no longer profitable for the company. Pointing its greedy finger at the farmers who sold and gave the seeds away to friends early on, Monsanto makes a threat. It will limit its activities in Argentina to the maize and sorghum seed business while denying that the move to end soybean sales had anything to do with putting pressure on the government.
National Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos announced a few days later that the government is studying a “global royalties” law that would be formed around a new technology compensation fund. The fund would be managed by his Department and paid for by fees paid by farmers on sales of their soybeans.
Royalties would be paid to Monsanto from the fund. In the through-the-looking-glass world which is Argentina government it seems the National Agriculture Secretary is saying that there is a new federal tax paid by the farmers, directly into Monsanto’s already deep pockets.
With her own palms being greased, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner sends it to some Parliamentary committees.
In an effort to move the bill along authorities sit down with Monsanto. Sitting aside the grandiose, empty gestures, they strike an agreement to establish a “Technology Compensation Fund” within a month and a half. Again, the government has made Monsanto very happy.
At this point, it’s the small farmers who are suffering, and will continue to suffer, as Monsanto and the Argentine government continue this romp in the bedroom together.
Monsanto definitely has a playbook, and now anyone can read it.
Editorial By Jerry Nelson