(MintPress) – In April, it was reported that multinational agricultural corporation, Monsanto, is likely playing a hand in what is possibly the largest wave of recorded suicides in history as Indian farmers were taking their own lives at a rate of one suicide every 30 minutes. Now, five million Brazilian farmers are banding together to file […]
(MintPress) – In April, it was reported that multinational agricultural corporation, Monsanto, is likely playing a hand in what is possibly the largest wave of recorded suicides in history as Indian farmers were taking their own lives at a rate of one suicide every 30 minutes. Now, five million Brazilian farmers are banding together to file a lawsuit against Monsanto for charging exorbitant royalties on repurposed seed, a potential contributing factor to suicides as poor crop harvests put the farmers at economic odds with the company.
The practice of using “renewal” seeds to harvest a crop requires farmers to repurpose seed used from the previous year’s harvest— in this case, Monsanto’s widely used genetically-engineered seed. The economic effect of using “renewal” seeds can add up for the farmers involved, particularly for the growers who are already financially unstable. The lawsuit asks for $7.7 billion in compensation.
Monsanto charges an initial royalty fee for its seeds that it supplies farmers with. The lawsuit targets the corporation’s practice of charging an additional 2 percent royalty fee for repurposing the seed for “renewal” crops, despite the fact that the seed is of an older generation.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Jane Berwanger, lawyer for the farmers, said there is no precedent for Monsanto’s practice of double-charging farmers for repurposed seeds that have an increased risk of yielding poor crops.
“Monsanto gets paid when it sells the seeds. The law gives producers the right to multiply the seeds they buy and nowhere in the world is there a requirement to pay (again),” Berwanger said. “Producers are in effect paying a private tax on production.”
Monsanto is the world’s largest producer of genetically engineered seed and the herbicide glyphosate, commonly marketed to consumers as “Roundup.” The corporation is also facing another lawsuit that was filed in April, alleging the company’s use of toxic pesticides are causing birth defects in children living in the Misiones region of Argentina.
Another lawsuit in February saw 300,000 farmers, with the help of the Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGTA), battle back against Monsanto after the company claimed the farmers were infringing on patents by stealing the company’s genetically modified (GM) seeds. The farmers argued that the seeds had no value to the farmers because they were part of OSGTA and the genetic modifications would violate their farming practices. The group claimed that the seeds landed in their crops through pollination and weather patterns.
“If we become contaminated by Monsanto, not only is the value of our organic seed crop extinguished but we could also be sued by Monsanto for patent infringement because their contamination results in our ‘possession’ of their GMO technology,” said Jim Gerritsen, President of OSGTA and Maine organic seed farmer.
‘The GM Genocide’
In India, where much of Monsanto’s involvement is in the cotton growing trade and other agriculture, a humanitarian crisis has unfolded itself to the tune of more than 1,000 farmer suicides each month, according to the Indian Ministry of Agriculture.
Many of the suicide stories are alike as well: A farmer is pressured into changing the seed they use to plant crops, taking on a Monsanto GM seed with the promise that it will produce high yields and ample amounts of income. More often than not, the bumper crops that were promised do not show, however. The loss of promised income creates large amounts of debt owed by the farmers to Monsanto and the pressure leads the farmers to take their own life.
The main selling point in India is the promise that “bacillus thuringiensis” (BT) cotton is a cost-effective alternative pushed by Monsanto for Indian farmers to reduce their need of extra pesticide. BT is a bacterium that lives in soil that can act as a pesticide.
But the alleged luxuries of the products come at a price. The Daily Mail reports that the farmers were able to purchase 10 times more of their traditional seed than they could with the GM seed sold to them by Monsanto. When the seeds did not produce the expected crops, the farmers were in over their head with debt.
“We are ruined now,” said the wife of one farmer who committed suicide. “We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the cotton and swallowed insecticide.”
In the Maharashtra region of India, an estimated 44,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997, accounting for over a fifth of the total suicides seen in the country. Estimates from the New York University School of Law suggest that more than 250,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves since doing business with Monsanto. The study also suggests that those estimates could be low because women are not accounted for by the Indian government.
“While striking on their own, these figures considerably underestimate the actual number of farmer suicides taking place,” the NYU report said. “Women, for example, are often excluded from farmer suicide statistics because most do not have title to land – a common prerequisite for being recognized as a farmer in official statistics and programs.”
The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) has called upon the Indian government to intervene with Monsanto and its business with the farmers, saying it is now an issue about protecting rights.
“Under international human rights law, India has a duty to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights,” a CHRGJ report said. “The duty to respect is essentially a duty of non-interference with existing access to rights. The duty to protect entails an obligation to ensure that third-party, non-state actors, including corporations and other business enterprises, are not interfering with the enjoyment of a particular human right.”
In other countries around the world, Monsanto’s products have been vilified to the point of boycott. Recently, Poland issued an official ban on Monsanto’s GM corn because it felt the BT pesticide in the kernels was partially responsible for the dramatic drop in its honey bee population, known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Robert Smith of 24 Medica, a publication dedicated to national and world health, wrote that Monsanto is essentially free to make its own rules as these lawsuits remain open, acknowledging that there is very little precedent dictating how Monsanto can act.
“Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to forge ahead in the unmitigated, and largely unregulated, cultivation and use of GM crops,” Smith wrote. “Despite countless grassroots efforts to put at least some restraint on GM agriculture, including a number of state initiatives that would require GMO labeling on food, Monsanto’s products continue to dominate much of the American agricultural landscape.”