In this day and age, it’s pretty much an accepted fact that Monsanto — US agrochemical company largely dominating Argentina’s soybean production and export — is FIFA’s agricultural equivalent: a very powerful and seedy (ha ha) organism making absurd amounts of money off the back of many a South American. Though the latter may be seeing some form of reckoning lately, the former has yet to receive the proper flaying it deserves.
Under the watchful eye of the late Andrés Carrasco — Argentine molecular biologist who first discovered the adverse effects of glyphosate, the main component used in Monsanto’s pesticide Roundup recently declared to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization — scientists and health professionals from the continent over are meeting this week to mark Health Science with a Focus on Decency Week (La Semana de la Ciencia Digna en Salud).
First inaugurated in 2011, the week-long seminar hosted by Rosario University’s School of Medical Science seeks to establish science as a discipline at the people’s service, rather than the private sector’s.
“The people of Latin America have the irrevocable right to develop science in a manner that is transparent, autonomous and which serves the people’s interest,” the event’s manifesto reads.
This year, Carrasco’s image serves as the event’s emblem, drawing special attention to the ongoing struggle against agrochemical companies’ ravaging hand on Argentina’s countryside.
Approximately 320 million liters of glyphosate are sprayed annually across 28 million hectares throughout the South American country, affecting some 13 million people, according to the Physician Network of Sprayed Peoples (RMPF).
Argentina’s union of medical professionals (Fesprosa) claims glyphosate may not only cause cancer but is also most likely associated with increased spontaneous abortions and birth defects as well as skin, respiratory and neurological diseases.
In May, more than 30,000 doctors aligned with Fesprosa officially demanded glyphosate be banned.
“Soy is not the only crop addicted to glyphosate: the herbicide is also used for transgenic maize and other crops. Where glyphosate falls, only GMOs can grow. Everything else dies,” the association declared in a statement.
We’re talking about Sauron-esque levels of evil here when the phrase “everything else dies” is employed in a formal, professional context.
The fact that Monsanto’s headquarters are based in Creve Coeur, Missouri — crève coeur meaning “heartbreak,” in French — really doesn’t do it any favors, either.
The company has repeatedly denied claims that its products could be toxic.
Argentina is the third largest soybean producer and the leading exporter of soy flour and oil in the world. According to the Buenos Aires grains exchange, the country’s 2014/15 soybean harvest will hit a record 60 million tons.
Last month saw more than 4 million people in 438 cities across the globe take to the streets as part of the Global Day of Action Against Monsanto, uniting environmental groups, activists and anyone who’d rather consume cancer-free foodstuff, really, together in massive protests against the multinational’s production of genetically modified (GM) seeds as well as its use of glyphosate.
As has become customary, the 4,500-strong march in Buenos Aires was not reported by Clarín, La Nación, El Argentino or Perfil, some of the capital’s most important news dailys. Likewise, the government remained mum on the day’s events.
And Monsanto’s power continues to go largely unchecked.
The company is now looking to expand the scope of the Monsanto Seed Law — the norm regulating Monsanto-patented seed production and trade — to collect royalties from farmers using the genetically modified soybeans. Farmers have no other option besides using Monsanto’s technology, since all other seeds would perish under the liberally sprayed pesticides. Many farmers have said they refuse to pay additional post-harvest royalties, especially after having already bought their seeds from the US company.
Neil Young put it succinctly in the title track of his latest album, The Monsanto Years:
The farmer knows he’s got to grow what he can sell
So he signs a deal for GMOs that makes life hell with
You know you’ve done something wrong when you’ve got Neil Young on your back.
The Argentine government tentatively intervened by threatening to enact a Necessary and Urgent Decree (DNU) putting the breaks on Monsanto’s royalties clause.
However, according to government sources, the majority of exporters have ultimately accepted the clause.
Raúl Dente, the Collectors’ Federation adviser, explained exporters would have acquiesced following Monsanto threats that they “could have problems with their soy’s entry into China.”
No story is perfect without a bit of tacit bullying.
And that’s not all.
Rumor also has it that Monsanto has approached its major rival, Syngenta, in a bid buy it out for $45 million. Thus far, the company appears to have declined. But the fact that these multinationals are two of six currently controlling 75 percent of the global seed and pesticide sales is alarming.
A potential Monsanto/Syngenta fusion would mean the new monopoly would control 54 percent of worldwide seed sales and one third of global pesticide sales.