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Resistance to GM in North America

 

"Call me, we are in the 'dereg' business."
Vice-President George H. W. Bush, while on a tour of Monsanto, May 15 1987, offering help to Monsanto if it had problems getting its products through the regulatory system (from the documentary The World According to Monsanto Arte, 2008).

 

Key Information

The US is by far the world's biggest grower of GM, and has played a major role in promoting it across the world, whether by taking Europe to court over its precautionary approach or by insisting that hungry nations receive GM food aid or none at all. By comparison, Canada's acreage of GM crops is tiny, but much of the food supply there still contains GM ingredients. In both nations opposition to GM is increasing, as farmers reject specific GM crops and consumers campaign for labelling. Canadian farmers Percy and Louise Schmeiser are well known for their resistance to Monsanto, who took them to court when it was found that their fields had been contaminated with patented GM canola.

 

Context

Child with placard 'Don't experiment on me'The US has over 50% of the world's GM crops1, while Canada, with a fraction of this amount is still the forth biggest grower in the world2. In 2009 there was a decrease in the amount of GM soya grown in the US for the first time ever, mainly because many grain merchants are now paying premiums for anything that is guaranteed non-GM.3 It was the US that first pushed the principle of 'substantial equivalence' for testing GM foods (whereby a company only has to demonstrate that it's new GM product shares a few key characteristics with a non-GM food already on the market and it is passed as 'safe' with no further investigation of any unique problems it might cause.) The Canadian Royal Society produced an extremely critical report in 2001 recommending that GM foods should be tested in their own right, (which would be much more expensive for the industry), but the principle is still in place, not just in Canada, but throughout the world.4

 

Labelling

In both countries over 70% of foods in grocery stores are estimated to contain GM5, yet there is no mandatory labelling system to enable people to even know what they are eating, and some supermarkets have prevented non-GM products from being labelled as such6. This is despite the fact that a recent poll found that 53% of US Americans would prefer not to eat GM food, and 87% would support mandatory labelling.7 The campaign, a group which describes itself as 'Grassroots Political Action', aims to bring about labelling legislation in the US and calls for organic farms to be better protected from GM contamination. The 'Non-GMO project', due to be launched later this year, will provide independent certification for GM-free food, for the first time.8 While there is no guarantee that prices for these labelled foods won't become disproportionately inflated, making choice possible only for those who can pay, the fact that so many companies think it is worthwhile to sign up to the scheme is a testimony to the strength of consumer opposition to GM.

 

GM Alfalfa - banned by court

Farmers were so concerned about GM alfalfa, which is pollinated by bees and so very easily contaminates other crops, that the US Center for Food Safety launched a legal challenge against the US Department of Agriculture. In 2007 a federal judge agreed that the approval of the crop was illegal and called for a complete ban on new planting, and for information about the location of existing crops to be made public.9

 

GM wheat rejected

On December 23rd 2002, while many Canadian farmers were focused on Christmas, Monsanto applied for approval of a Roundup Ready variety of wheat. In spite of what seemed like attempts to avoid publicity this action sparked massive protest from farmer's unions and organic associations.10 A Canadian family farmers' group organised a nationwide tour calling for a boycott of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide,11 and in Ontario a diverse group of protesters gathered to present the Agriculture Minister loaves of home-made GM free bread, and a 'GM-Free Holiday' card.12 In May 2004 Monsanto finally announced that it would abandon plans to place GM wheat on the market.13

 

Boston biojustice festival

Boston die in demoIn 2007, the Biotech Industry Organization, BIO held a conference in Boston to promote genetically engineered food, unaffordable high-tech medicines and dangerous 'biodefense' research, (i.e. biological weapons). The group 'BioJustice 2007' organised a series of events to dramatise their opposition to the BIO agenda and to present viable alternatives.14

 

Percy and Louise Schmeiser15

Percy SchmeiserThe Schmeisers are Canadian farmer who, in 1998, Monsanto attempted to sue for the fact that their crops were contaminated with their patented Roundup Ready canola. They were by no means the only people to be put in this situation, but their example is particularly famous because of the way they fought back. Rather than settling for Monsanto's first 'offering' to withdraw from the court case on the condition they signed a contract to buy 'Roundup Ready seeds and pay the license fee, they took the case through every court in the country protesting their innocence. The Canadian Supreme Court finally agreed that his crop had become contaminated accidentally (rather than his having illegally bought seeds from a neighbour without paying the license fee, as Monsanto claimed), and agreed that he had not profited from the contamination, and therefore did not order him to pay the money the company was demanding. However, they also ruled that the Schmeiser's plants were Monsanto's property because of the patented genes, thus setting precedent for future cases in which GM companies were trying to sue individuals.

Despite this mixed result, the Schmeisers did not give up on battling Monsanto through the courts, and filed a case of their own, arguing that they deserved compensation for the contamination. In 2008 Monsanto agreed to a precedent-setting out of court settlement, whereby they paid the costs for removing the contaminated canola, and allowed a "no-gag order" whereby the Schmeisers maintained the right to sue a second time if contamination occurred again.

 

Read more

 

Footnotes

1: 'Who benefits from gm crops? The rise in pesticide use', Friends of the Earth International, Executive Summary, January 2008, p4

2: 'GM crops: growing around the world', 12.02.09, http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/agri_biotechnology/gmo_planting/, last viewed 23.05.10

3: 'More US farmers planting non-GMO soybeans this year', The Organic and Non-GMO Report, http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/mar09/farmers_planting_non-gmo_soybeans.php, last viewed 10.05.10

4: 'Substantial Equivalence', Food Safety Network, University of Guelph, 2008, www.foodsafetynetwork.ca/userfiles/ file/FACT%20SHEETS%20(2008)%20PDF/FS Substantial%20Equivalence 200'Who benefits from gm crops? The rise in pesticide use', Friends of the Earth International, Executive Summary, January 2008, p4 8(1).pdf, last viewed 17.05.10

5: http://www.thecampaign.org/, last viewed 23.05.10

6: Klein, Naomi, 'Memories of Consumer Choice', 20.06.01, http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2001/06/memories-consumer-choice, last viewed 10.05.10

7: 'Major labelling initiative in the US: the Non-GMO Project', 21.10.08, http://fooddemocracy.wordpress.com/2008/ 10/21/major-gm-labelling-initiative- in-us-the-non-gmo-project/, last viewed 10.05.10

8: 'Land of the GM free? How the American public are starting to turn against GM food', Soil Association, 2008

9: 'Federal judge orders first-ever halt to planting of a commercialized genetically-altered crop', 03.05.07, http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/AlfalfaFinalInjPR5_3_07.cfm, last viewed 10.05.10

10: 'Genetically Engineered Wheat', Sierra Club Canada website, http://www.sierraclub.ca/national/programs/health-environment/ food-agriculture/ge-wheat.shtml, last viewed 10.05.10

11: Price, Tom, 'Farmers Fight to Keep Monsanto's Genetically Modified Wheat Out of Canada', 05.03.03, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=5790, last viewed 10.05.10

12: 'Farmers, Citizens and NGOs Protest Genetically-Modified Wheat at Agriculture Minister's Office', Sierra Club Canada website, 09.12.03, http://www.sierraclub.ca/national/media/item.shtml?x=553, last viewed 10.05.10

13: 'Grim Day for Monsanto', Multinational Monitor, May/June 2004 - VOLUME 25 - NUMBERS 5 & 6, available at http://multinationalmonitor.org/mm2004/05012004/may-june04front.html, last viewed 10.05.10

14: 'BioJustice 2007 to hit Boston!', 13.04.07, http://indymedia.us/or/topic/geneticengineering/archive.shtml, last viewed 10.05.10

15: all information from http://www.percyschmeiser.com/