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Thursday, March 7, 2013 02:21 pm

In battling Monsanto’s greed, tenacity matters

Remember the 1950s horror movie “The Bad Seed”? Any remake should cast Monsanto in the title role, because whenever something scary is being done to our food, you can usually find Monsanto lurking in the shadows.

During the past two decades, this biotech behemoth has used its political connections to obtain a monopolistic grip on the creation, sale and proliferation of Frankenseeds – the seeds of corn, cotton, soybeans and other crops that have had genetically modified organisms spliced into their natural DNA structure by corporate lab techs.

Why insert risky, inadequately tested genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into our food supply? To produce crops that can survive heavier doses of toxic pesticides – specifically, the Roundup brand of pesticides marketed by Monsanto. The corporation gets more profit; we get more pesticides. Plus, a new manmade health and environmental risk.

 That’s enough to make a truly horrific movie about bad seed, but Monsanto has added to the horror by almost sadistically exerting its monopoly muscle to squeeze another unwitting victim: farmers. Yes, Monsanto’s own customers!

Having patented the GMO technology, the corporation asserts that when the plants grow in a farmer’s field and subsequently produce their own seeds, those second-generation seeds do not belong to the farmer, but are Monsanto’s private property. Farmers are prohibited by Monsanto contracts from gathering and later planting the seeds produced by their own land.

Thus, the seed-saving ethic that has sustained agriculture all around the world for centuries has been decreed illegal to benefit Monsanto – and the profiteering giant prowls the country to find and sue any of its own customers who dare practice the sensible art of seed saving. The bully has 75 staffers and a $10 million-a-year budget dedicated to monitoring, investigating, prosecuting and intimidating small farmers, even if some second-generation GMO seeds inadvertently crop up in their fields.

This is a case of one deep-pocketed, multibillion-dollar corporation perverting patent law in order to monopolize the sale of seeds, gouge thousands of farmers, and endanger both human health and the environment. What a deal!

But Monsanto doesn’t win them all, and sometimes it actually loses when it appears to have won.

This happened last November in the monumental food-labeling fight embodied in California’s Proposition 37. This citizens’ initiative would’ve required food marketers to tell consumers if any of their products contain ingredients with genetically manipulated DNA. Monsanto, by far the biggest manipulator, saw this simple, straightforward right-to-know proposal as a direct threat to the huge profit it reaps from selling its GMO seeds. So it revved up a campaign to kill Prop 37, not only pumping millions of its own dollars into its anti-consumer effort, but also getting a hoard of such huge processors and retailers as ConAgra, PepsiCo, Unilever and Wal-Mart to pump in many millions more.

Using their piles of political cash, deceptive advertising and outright lies, the corporate goliaths squeaked out a narrow victory over a scrappy coalition of consumers, environmentalists, organic producers and others.

But while big money “won” the election, the brand-name corporations lost the hearts and minds of their own customers, for they exposed themselves as greedheads going to extremes to deny people’s right to know what they’re putting into their own bodies – and into their children’s bodies.

Jim Hightower is national radio commentator, columnist and author.