Saturday, September 15, 2012


How Mitt Romney Helped Monsanto Take Over the World
| Fri Sep. 14, 2012 3:00 AM PDT 
Today, Monsanto looms over the global ag landscape like a colossus. It is the globe's largest seed purveyor—and its dominant vendor of genetically modified traits. How dominant? Here's NPR on the company's mastery over the US GMO market: "More than 9 out of 10 soybean seeds carry [Monsanto's] Roundup Ready trait. It's about the same for cotton and just a little lower for corn." It also sells nearly $1 billion worth of herbicides every three months.
But for all its clout, Monsanto is a relatively new player in the Big Ag game. While fellow ag giants like ADM, Cargill, Bunge, and BASF have been in the game for a century or more, as recently as the late 1970s Monsanto was known mostly as a chemical company; herbicides were a relatively small sideline, and genetically modified seeds were just the gleam in the eye of a few scientists in the R&D department. And its flagship chemical business had plunged into crisis. In 1976, Congress banned the highly toxic industrial coolant PCB—the US production of which Monsanto had enjoyed what the Washington Post called a "lucrative four-decade monopoly." According to the Post, Monsanto had been actively covering up the dangers of PCB exposure for years before the ban, opening the company to a thicket of lawsuits. To make matters worse, the company had also been heavily invested in the toxic pesticide DDT (banned in 1972) and the infamous Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange—both of which carried their own legal and public-relations liabilities.
How did Monsanto pivot from teetering, scandal-ridden chemical giant to mighty high-tech (though still quite controversial) agribiz firm? As the veteran investigative reporter (and Mother Jones contributor) Wayne Barrett shows in a new Nation article, a young consultant called Mitt Romney helped push the firm on its highly lucrative new path. Monsanto first tapped the consulting services of the Boston-based consulting firm Bain in 1973, the same year Bain launched. When Romney joined Bain fresh out of Harvard in 1977, he quickly began working with the ailing chemical firm. Here's Barrett:

Dr. Earl Beaver, who was Monsanto's waste director during the Bain period, says that Bain was certainly "aware" of the "PCB and dioxin scandals" because they created "a negative public perception that was costing the company money." So Bain recommended focusing "on the businesses that didn't have those perceptions," Beaver recalls, starting with "life science products that were biologically based," including genetically engineered crops, as well as Roundup, the hugely profitable weed-killer. "These were the products that Bain gave their go-ahead to," Beaver contends, noting that Romney was a key player, "reviewing the data collected by other people and developing alternatives," talking mostly to "the higher muckety-mucks."
In other words, Romney and Bain played crucial roles in shaping Monsanto's strategy of selling off big chunks of its legacy chemical businesses and reinventing itself as ag-biotech firm.
And one of those "higher muckety-mucks," then-Monsanto CEO John W. Hanley, was so impressed with Romney's work that he helped launch Bain Capital, the spin-off private-equity firm to which Romney owes his fortune, explicitly as a vehicle to keep Romney in the Bain fold, Barrett reports. Hanley even placed $1 million of his own cash in Bain Capital's original investment fund.
There's no mystery why Monsanto would want to distance itself from its old business lines. As we know from documents that have dribbled out from legal proceedings over the years, Monsanto had essentially been operating as a corporate criminal. Here's a 2002 Washington Post article on the company's PCB business:
[F]or nearly 40 years, while producing the now-banned industrial coolants known as PCBs at a local factory, Monsanto Co. routinely discharged toxic waste into a west Anniston [Alabama] creek and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills. And thousands of pages of Monsanto documents—many emblazoned with warnings such as "CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy"—show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew.
In 1966, Monsanto managers discovered that fish submerged in that creek turned belly-up within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dunked into boiling water. They told no one. In 1969, they found fish in another creek with 7,500 times the legal PCB levels. They decided "there is little object in going to expensive extremes in limiting discharges." In 1975, a company study found that PCBs caused tumors in rats. They ordered its conclusion changed from "slightly tumorigenic" to "does not appear to be carcinogenic."
It's not clear how much Romney knew about these depraved acts in the late 1970s, but as noted above, the strategy he helped cook up was certainly smart, in a reptilian, money-making sort of way: Quietly skitter away from the now toxic (in PR terms) chemical industry, selling old business lines as fast as possible, and invest the proceeds in a new, shiny, positive-sounding field called "biotechnology." And specialize in "feeding the world," which sounds a hell of a lot nicer than dumping carcinogenic gunk in creeks. The strategy was by no means as obvious as it now seems in hindsight: Monsanto was exiting a steady, established business, industrial chemicals, in favor of a highly speculative and new one, ag biotech. But it worked brilliantly—by the time those PCB revelations came out in 2002, Monsanto could plausibly protect its image by saying, that was all in the past; we don't make those kinds of chemicals anymore.
Of course, in its new, Bain-ified manifestation, Monsanto 2.0 remained quite ruthless in its pursuit of profit. As Barrett puts it, the metamorphosis merely meant "trading one set of environmental controversies for another."
One difference is that Monsanto the ag-biotech giant is having a much better time with the regulatory agencies than Monsanto the chemical giant did in the '70s. A President Romney would certainly be a "very old friend in a very high place" for Monsanto, as Barrett writes, but the current Oval Office inhabitant is pretty friendly, too. Even as Monsanto's Roundup Ready seed empire gets increasingly choked by a welter of Roundup-resistant weeds and inspires gushers of herbicide cocktails, the USDA keeps approving new Roundup Ready products—and appears on the verge of okaying novel ones that threaten to bring forth even more superweeds and even more-toxic herbicides.
But then again, Monsanto the chemical giant enjoyed several decades of impunity before the federal government finally cracked down in the '70s. Perhaps the agrichemical giant, too, will one day see its regulatory fortunes turn.

Friday, September 14, 2012


The Global Food System Casino

Published on Friday, September 14, 2012 by The Asian Age
Food is our nourishment. It is the source of life. Growing food, processing, transforming and distributing it involves 70 per cent of humanity. Eating food involves all of us. Yet, it is not the culture or human rights that are shaping today’s dominant food economy. Rather speculation and profits are designing food production and distribution. Putting food on the global financial casino is a design for hunger.
After the US subprime crisis and the Wall Street crash, investors rushed to commodity markets, especially oil and agricultural commodities. While real production did not increase between 2005-2007, commodity speculation in food increased 160 per cent. Speculation pushed up prices and high prices pushed an additional 100 million to hunger. Barclays, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan are all playing on the global food casino.
A 2008 advertisement of Deutsche Bank stated, “Do you enjoy rising prices? Everybody talks about commodities — with the Agriculture Euro Fund you can benefit from the increase in the value of the seven most important agricultural commodities.”
When speculation drives up prices, the rich investors get richer and the poor starve. The financial deregulation that destabilised the world’s financial system is now destabilising the world food system. The price rise is not just a result of supply and demand. It is predominantly a result of speculation.

Between 2003 to 2008, commodity index speculation increased by 1,900 per cent from an estimated $13 billion to $260 billion. Thirty per cent of these index funds are invested in food commodities. As the Agribusiness Accountability Initiative states, “We live in a brave new world of 24-hour electronic trading, triggered by algorithms of composite price indices, fits of investor ‘lack of confidence’ and of unregulated ‘dark pools’ of more than $7 trillion in over the counter commodities derivatives trades.”

The world commodity trading has no relationship to food, to its diversity, to its growers or eaters, to the seasons, to sowing or harvesting. Food diversity is reduced to eight commodities and bundled into “composite price index”.

Seasons are replaced by 24-hour trading. Food production driven by sunshine and photosynthesis is displaced by “dark pools of investment”. The tragedy is that this unreal world is creating hunger for real people in the real world.

In The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away with it — a cover story for Harper’s — Fredirick Kaufman says, “The history of food took an ominous turn in 1991, at a time when no one was paying much attention. That was the year Goldman Sachs decided our daily bread might make an excellent investment.”
And the entry of investors like Goldman Sachs, AIG Commodity Index, Bear Sterns, Oppenheiner and Pimco, Barclays allowed agribusiness to increase its profits. In the first quarter of 2008, Cargill attributed its 86 per cent jump in profits to commodity trading. ConAgra sold its trading arm to a hedge fund for $2.8 billion.
Gambling on the price of wheat for profits took food away from 250 million people. Speculation had separated the price of food from the value of food. As Austin Da-mani, a wheat broker, told Fred Kaufman, “We’re trading wheat, but its wheat we’re never going to see. It’s a cerebral experience”.
Food is an ecological experience, a sensory experience, a biological experience. With speculation it has been removed from its own reality. Grain markets have been transformed, with futures trading by the grain giants in Chicago, Kansas City and Minneapolis combined with speculation by investors.
And as Mr Kaufman says, “Imaginary wheat bought anywhere affects real wheat bought everywhere.” So if we do not decommodify food more and more people will be denied food; as more and more money is poured into the global casino, the artificial processes of speculation are driving up prices of food and taking it beyond the reach of millions.
The rules of the World Trade Organisation, the structural adjustment programmes of the World Bank and the IMF and bilateral free trade agreements have forced the integration of local and national food economies into the global market. And now the global financial system is speculating on food commodities, influencing prices and the right to food of the poorest person in the remotest corner of the world.
The spike in the world food prices started to reappear in 2011. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, in January 2011, the food price index was up 3.4 per cent from December 2010. Cereal price index was three per cent above December, and at the highest level since July 2008, though still 11 per cent below its peak in April 2008.
In India, the prices of onion jumped from Rs. 11/kg in June 2010 to Rs. 75/kg in January 2011. While production of onion had gone up from 4.8 million tonnes in 2001-2002 to 12 million tonnes in 2009-2010, prices also went up, showing that in a speculation-driven market there is no correlation between production and prices. The price difference between wholesale and retail was 135 per cent.
Food that has been put on a global casino is serving speculative investors and agribusiness well, but it is not serving people. We need to get food off the global casino and back on people’s plates. Food democracy and food sovereignty can only be achieved by putting an end to financial speculation.
Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the World Food Programme, related the Egyptian revolution of 2010 to the rise of food prices. “In many protests, demonstrators have brandished loaves of bread or displayed banners expressing anger about the rising cost of food stables such as lentils. When it comes to food, the margins between stability and chaos are perilously thin. Volatility on the markets can translate quickly to volatility on the streets and we all should remain vigilant.”
The growing concern about speculating on food has forced some banks to stop investing in food commodities. Germany’s Commerzbank and Austria’s Volksbanken have both removed agricultural products from their index fund products. Deutsche Bank had earlier done the same. It is time that every government and every financial institution put people’s right to food above the hunger for profits.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Join activists around the globe for the
 September 17 2012 Global Week of   
Action against Monsanto!

"Whether you like it or not, chances are Monsanto
contaminated the food you ate today with chemicals
and GMOs. Monsanto controls much of the world's
food supply at the expense of food democracy
worldwide" - Occupy Monsanto,
more information at


Global Week of Action Events in California

Sacramento, CA
Seminis, Inc.
37437 State Highway 16
Woodland, CA
Sunday September 16, 2012
12:00 PM

Davis, CA
Monsanto Company
1920 Fifth Street
Davis, CA
Monday September 17, 2012
6:00 AM

Fresno, CA
FDA Fresno CA Regional Staff
1752 East Bullard Ave., Suite 102
Fresno, CA
Monday September 17, 2012
8:30 AM

Oxnard, CA
Seminis, Inc.
2700 Camino Del Sol
Oxnard, CA 
Monday September 17, 2012
4:00 PM

Walnut, CA
Mt. San Antonio College
1100 North Grand Avenue
Walnut, CA 
Monday September 17, 2012
12:00 PM

San Jose, CA
2280 Hecker Pass Highway
Gilroy, CA 
Monday September 17, 2012
9:00 AM

San Diego, CA
Intersection of Robinson Ave. & 10th Ave.
Hillcrest Neighborhood
San Diego, CA
Monday September 17, 2012
5:00 PM

Organic Consumers Association

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Stanford's "Spin" on Organics Allegedly Tainted by Biotechnology Funding

Scientists Tied to Tobacco Industry Propaganda, and Funding from Monsanto, Turn Attention to Organic Food

Cornucopia, Wis. - September 12 , 2012 - A recent study by Stanford University researchers made international headlines when it claimed that organic foods are no more safe or nutritious than conventional foods.  Organic researchers, farmers and advocacy groups immediately recognized the study as woefully flawed, and alleged underlying political motivations.
"People don’t buy organic food just because they think it contains slightly higher levels of nutrients, they buy organic for many other reasons, primarily to avoid toxic pesticide residues and toxins that have been genetically engineered into the food," says Charlotte Vallaeys, Food and Farm Policy Director at The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit organic farm policy organization.
Academics and organic policy experts, including at Cornucopia, immediately recognized that Stanford’s research in fact substantiates dramatic health and safety advantages in consuming organic food, including an 81% reduction in exposure to toxic and carcinogenic agrichemicals.  Unfortunately, readers would never know it by the headlines, since the results of the study were spun by the Stanford researchers and public relations staff, and accepted without the necessary fact-checking by journalists in a rush to file stories over the Labor Day weekend.
Not surprisingly, the study’s glaring errors, both in understanding the important and complex differences between organic and conventional foods and in the researchers’ flawed choice of research methods, prompted organic advocates to look closely at financial ties between Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, which supports the researchers, and the chemical and agribusiness industry.
"There was just no way that truly independent scientists with the expertise required to adequately answer such an important question would ignore the vast and growing body of scientific literature pointing to serious health risks from eating foods produced with synthetic chemicals," says Vallaeys. 
"So we were not one bit surprised to find that the agribusiness giant Cargill, the world’s largest agricultural business enterprise, and foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which have deep ties to agricultural chemical and biotechnology corporations like Monsanto, have donated millions to Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, where some of the scientists who published this study are affiliates and fellows."
Stanford researchers had touted their independence by stating they had not received outside financial support for their study, but failed to delineate the close ties between their internal funding sources and industrialized agriculture and biotechnology interests.
Organic advocates also discovered that one of the study’s authors has a well-documented history of accepting research funding from the tobacco industry when a growing body of scientific literature in the 1970s pointed to serious health risks from smoking. 
Dr. Ingram Olkin, a Professor Emeritus in statistics at Stanford and co-author of the organics study, accepted money from the tobacco industry’s Council for Tobacco Research, which has been described as using science for “perpetrating fraud on the public.” 
"Make no mistake, the Stanford organics study is a fraud," says Mike Adams and Anthony Gucciardi of, who discovered the link between the organic study author and Big Tobacco.  "To say that conventional foods are safe is like saying that cigarettes are safe.  Both can be propagandized with fraudulent science funded by corporate donations to universities, and we’re seeing the same scientist who helped Big Tobacco now helping Big Biotech in their attempt to defraud the public."
Researchers with expertise in organics became suspicious about corporate funding and other industry ties after finding no other explanation for the Stanford study’s glaring omissions and flaws. 
For example, multiple studies have drawn attention to the negative impacts of pesticide residues on children’s neurological health and development.  Pesticides commonly used in conventional agriculture and often found as residues on conventional foods are known to be toxic not only to the neurological systems of insects but also of mammals, including humans, with developing fetuses, infants and children especially at risk.
"When the Stanford researchers left out any mention of pesticide residue impacts on human health, well-documented in a number of respected peer-reviewed studies, it immediately raised a red flag that Stanford's analysis was likely designed to favor the agribusiness corporations in their desperate attempts to convince an increasingly educated and skeptical public that pesticides are safe," says Vallaeys.
As an example, the Stanford researchers omitted a 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics by researchers at the University of Montreal and Harvard, which found that children with higher urinary levels of organophosphate metabolites, breakdown products of commonly used insecticides that are prohibited in organic agriculture, were more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. 
The Stanford study also omitted any acknowledgement of potential cancer risks from exposure to agricultural chemicals on conventional foods.  This seems especially reprehensible to the scientists at Cornucopia in light of the 2009 President’s Cancer Panel report, which states: “Nearly 1,400 pesticides have been registered (i.e., approved) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for agricultural and non-agricultural use. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to brain/central nervous system (CNS), breast, colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma.” 
The authors of the President’s Cancer Panel advise Americans to decrease exposure to pesticides by choosing food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.  Extensive research, including studies cited in Stanford’s study, indicates that organic food is demonstrably lower in agrichemical residues.
"Journalists failed to do due diligence to check the credibility of the Stanford study," says Mark Kastel, Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute.  "Wanting to be ahead of the news curve, reporters rushed out their stories on this study, over a holiday weekend, without seeking the expert advice of scientists who have studied the harmful effects of chemicals used in conventional food products and the documented advantages of an organic diet."
September 12, 2012
4:32 PM
Charlotte Vallaeys, 978-610-6844
Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042
The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community.  Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.  Their web page can be viewed at


No GMOsOur GMO Boycott is Changing

September 11, 2012

Getting genetically engineered foods properly labeled is an uphill battle, and Big Food is spending huge sums to make sure that doesn’t happen. Here’s what you can do about it.
Three weeks ago we told you about how the parent companies of some organic food brands are very quietly donating large sums of money to fight Prop 37 (theCalifornia Right to Know Act, a.k.a. Label GMO). On the one hand, they want to be seen as supporting organic; on the other hand, they don’t want you to know what food is genetically modified. We also pointed out that some of the companies’ “natural” brands even contained genetically modified ingredients.
In addition to spending millions to stop GMO labeling in California, these companies are also supporting disinformation campaigns in which wild charges are made, such as the charge that labeling GMO will greatly increase food prices—it’s complete nonsense, as we reported last month.
With so much money available to the other side, and so much disinformation to rebut, the Label GMO initiative is truly a David-vs.-Goliath battle. But if we mobilize effectively, we can still win.
We launched our boycott together with other natural health groups. Almost at once, we found that it was causing confusion in California—the front lines of the Label GMO battle. We intended to boycott the organic brands of the Big Food companies fighting against us behind the scenes. But some people thought we were boycotting organic foods in general! Definitely not the case!
So this week we are redirecting the boycott. Now we are targeting the food companies that are directly fighting Prop 37 with their donations—in some cases, over a million dollars, in many cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Beware—it’s a looooong list, and could be much longer. That’s because each conglomerate may own dozens and dozens of different, well-known brands.
Monsanto Company$4,208,000.00
E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co.$4,025,200.00
PepsiCo, Inc.$1,716,300.00
BASF Plant Science$1,642,300.00
Bayer CropScience$1,618,400.00
Dow Agrosciences LLC$1,184,800.00
Nestle USA, Inc.$1,169,400.00
Coca-Cola North America$1,164,400.00
ConAgra Foods$1,076,700.00
Syngenta Corporation$821,300.00
Kellogg Company$632,500.00
General Mills, Inc.$519,400.00
Del Monte$484,125
General Mills$388,798
Bumble Bee Foods$270,426
Sara Lee$246,766
Campbell Soup$179,545
Ocean Spray$60,546
Land O’Lakes$59,321
Hero North America$58,028
Kraft Foods$34,404
Reily Foods Co.$13,214
Idahoan Foods$7,181
Bunge North America$5,193
Abbott Nutrition$3,918
We have set up a page on the ANH-USA website listing the various consumer brand names and products of the companies trying to prevent your right to know what’s in your food. We also include links to the company websites so you can see everything they produce—and learn what to avoid. When you see a name like ConAgra you may not realize that they make food to sell to consumers. Please use this link to find out who is who and help us send a powerful message.
Why is this GMO labeling fight so important? Once GMOs are labeled in California, it will bring a cascade effect in other states as well, since most national companies won’t create two labeling schemes, one for California and one for the rest of the country. Moreover, once products containing GMOs are labeled, people will stop buying them—and this economic pressure will be enough to force GMOs off the market.
That’s why all the companies that are actively working to fight the labeling of GMOs deserve a consumer boycott. They are trying to keep you and your family in the dark about what you are eating. They care nothing for your health, despite their propaganda to the contrary.
The only way they will listen is if it affects their bottom line. Hit them where it hurts—in the pocketbook. Refuse to buy their brands or products until they stop donating to the pro-GMO camp.
Please take action now!
Right now, please sign our warning message to the companies trying to stop you from knowing which products contain GMOs:
Take Action!
And also sign our letter of thanks to the companies that are supporting the initiative:
Take Action!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Since the introduction of GMOs into South Africa fourteen years ago, food prices have actually increased. (photo: unknown)
Since the introduction of GMOs into South Africa fourteen years ago, food prices have actually increased. (photo: unknown) 

Monsanto, Syngenta Cash In on Disaster, No Relief to Farmers

By GMWatch
10 September 12

frica's Frankenfoods
Toward Freedom, 05 September 2012
Nairobi, Kenya-In the sprawling hills of the Kangundo district in Kenya's Eastern Province, just a few hours outside of capital city Nairobi, Fred Kiambaa has been farming the same small, steep plot of land for more than 20 years.
Born and raised just outside Kathiini Village in Kangundo, Kiambaa knows the ups and downs of agriculture in this semi-arid region. He walks up a set of switchbacks to Kangundo's plateaus to tend his fields each morning and seldom travels further than a few miles from his plot.
Right now, all that remains of his maize crop are rows of dry husks. Harvest season finished just two weeks ago, and the haul was meager this time around.
"Water is the big problem, it's always water. We have many boreholes, but when there is no rain, it's still difficult," he said.
Kiambaa and his wife, Mary, only harvested 440 pounds of maize this season, compared to their usual 2,200. They have six children, meaning there will be many lean months before the next harvest, and worse: though March is Kenya's rainiest month, it's been mostly dry so far.
"The rain surely is not coming well this year. Rain is the key. We can only pray," he said.
Farmers like Kiambaa are central to a push to deploy genetically modified (GM) technology within Kenya. In recent years, donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have invested millions of dollars into researching, developing and promoting GM technology, including drought-resistant maize, within the country - and have found a great deal of success in doing so through partnerships with local NGOs and government bodies.
The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), a semi-autonomous government research institution, recently announced that after years of trials, genetically modified drought-resistant maize seeds will be available to Kenyan farmers within the next five years. Trial GM drought-resistant cotton crops are already growing in Kidoko, 240 miles southeast of Nairobi.
Researchers and lobbyists argue that in a country so frequently stricken by food shortages, scientific advancements can put food into hungry bellies. Drought-resistant seeds and vitamin-enriched crops could be agricultural game changers, they say.
But serious concerns about viability, corporate dependency and health effects linger - even while leading research firms and NGOs do their best to smooth them over.
Agriculture dominates Kenya's economy, although more than 80 percent of its land is too dry and infertile for efficient cultivation. Kenya is the second largest seed consumer in sub-Saharan Africa, and Nairobi is a well-known hub for agricultural research. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, farming is the largest contributor to Kenya's gross domestic product, and 75 percent of Kenyans made their living by farming in 2006.
Half of the country's total agricultural output is non-marketed subsistence production - meaning farms like Kiambaa's, where nothing is sold and everything is consumed.
On top of that, the country is still reeling from the worst drought in half a century, which affected an estimated 13 million people across the Horn of Africa in 2011. Kenya is home to the world's largest refugee camp, housing 450,000 Somalis fleeing violence and famine, increasing the pressure to deal with food security challenges.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga recently called on parliament to assist the estimated 4.8 million Kenyans, in a country of about 40 million, who still rely on government food supports, as analysts predict that this year's rainy season will be insufficient to guarantee food security.
"The situation is not good... Arid and semi-arid regions have not recovered from the drought," Odinga said.
At the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a massive NGO working on GM research and development in partnership with KARI, Regulatory Affairs Manager Dr. Francis Nang'ayo says GM crops are "substantially equivalent" to non-genetically modified foods and should be embraced as a solution to persistent drought and hunger.
In 2008, the AATF received a $47 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This partnership involved the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and American seed giant Monsanto.
In 2005, the Water-Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) program became one of the first main partners in a program aimed at developing drought-resistant maize for small-scale African farmers. Monsanto promised to provide seeds for free. The Gates Foundation claimed at the time that biotechnology and GM crops would help end poverty and food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Gates Foundation had invested $27.6 million in Monsanto shares.
Donors had been investing millions in KARI for decades in an effort to develop seeds that would produce pest- and disease-resistant plants and produce higher yields. Monsanto promised results, with the goal of distributing its seeds to small-scale farmers across Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Since then WEMA's African partners have made major strides in bringing GM crops to Kenya, most notably when KARI announced in March that it is set to introduce genetically modified maize to farmers' fields by 2017. Until 2008, South Africa had been the only country using GM technology. Now Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Ghana are researching GM seeds and growing trial crops of cotton, maize and sorghum.
"Five years ago it was only South Africa that had a clear policy. Since then a number of countries have put their acts together by publishing policies on GM technology laws. In Kenya we're moving on to create institutional mechanisms," said Dr. Nang'ayo.
Deeply Divided
But Nang'ayo and his team face several challenges. Popular opinion on the technology is deeply divided in Kenya, in large part due to suspicions about the giant foreign corporations that control it.
Monsanto-patented seeds are usually costly, which has led to numerous accusations of exploitation and contemporary colonialism. But how long will these particular strains of seeds last? What are the guarantees? Critics fear dependence on corporate fertilizers and pesticides, the emergence of super-weeds and pests that can no longer repel GM varieties, and terminator seeds that only last for one planting season.
At Seattle's AGRA Watch, a project of the Community Alliance for Global Justice, director Heather Day said there aren't enough questions being asked about introducing GM technology to developing countries.
"Our campaign started because of our concern about the Gates Foundation's influence on agriculture and the lack of transparency and accountability. We also have ecological concerns, in terms of food sovereignty and farmers' ability to control their food system. We need to be concerned about the industrialization of the agricultural system," she said.
AGRA Watch's objective is to monitor and question the Gates Foundation's push for a "green revolution" in Africa.
Monsanto has promised an indefinite supply of royalty-free seeds for this project, but Day said the pitfalls have the potential to devastate the continent's agriculture.
"Genetically modified crops actually haven't been that successful," Day said. "We've seen massive crop failure in South Africa, and farmers there couldn't get financial remedies or compensation for their losses. There's genetic resistance and super-pests, these things are happening now, and it's not surprising. It's what you would expect from an ecological standpoint."
The horror stories are real - in India, for example, farmers who purchased Bollgard I cotton seeds from 2007 to 2009 wound up spending four times the price of regular seeds, and paying dearly for it. It was believed that Monsanto's patented GM seeds would be resistant to pink bollworms, which were destroying cotton crops across swaths of India, but by 2010 Monsanto officials were forced to admit that the seed had failed and a newer breed of far more aggressive pests had emerged. The solution? Bollgard II, an even stronger GM cotton seed.
As of December 2011, Monsanto was actively promoting the latest Bollgard III cotton seed, stronger than ever before. Pesticide spending in India skyrocketed between 2007 and 2009, forcing thousands of farmers into crushing debt, and hundreds more into giving up their land. Some media outlets later drew a connection between the Bollgard debacle and a rash of suicides across farms that had purchased the seeds.
Land Grabs
Kenya is a country where land-grabbing is all too common, be it on the coast to make way for new tourist resorts, or in Nairobi, where slum demolitions left hundreds homeless when the government bulldozed several apartment buildings to reclaim an area near the Moi Air Base.
Farmers here are skeptical of risking everything for a few seasons of higher yields. In Kangundo, Kiambaa said he would try GM technology if it was a matter of life or death - but he is wary.
Kiambaa uses the Katumani breed of maize, a widely available seed that is reasonably drought-tolerant and affordable. Higher yields are tempting, of course, but Kiambaa said he doesn't want to chance his livelihood on a foreign corporation. While his family has been on the land for decades now, Kiambaa said they didn't get to farm it until British colonialists returned it to local farmers. He pointed out trees that line the steep hillside, planted by the British.
"It's because of Mzungus that we have charcoal," he said, smiling wryly.
After the last harvest, Kiambaa can't even afford to use Kenya's standard DAP fertilizer, which costs 59 cents per pound. Instead, he has a lone cow tied to a post in his fields.
"This provides the fertilizer we need. We can't afford anything else. The maize yield could have been much better, but we know our plants will grow each year. It is better we keep it the way it is. My family has been on this land for 100 years. We have always survived," he said.
At the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), CEO Willy Tonui claims media hysteria and inaccurate reporting are to blame for resistance to GM technology, arguing the NBA maintains stringent guidelines about GM seeds in Kenya. Referring to the plans to allow GM maize seeds in by 2017, Tonui said, "The National Biosafety Authority does not have the mandate to introduce GM maize or any other crop into Kenya. We only review applications that are submitted to the authority. To date, the authority has not received any application on commercial release of GM maize or any other crop."
Anne Maina, advocacy coordinator for the African Biodiversity Network (ABN), a coalition of 65 Kenyan farming organizations, said that's not a good enough answer.
"Who's controlling the industry?" she asked. "If you are going to talk to the National Biosafety Authority, they'll tell you the information is available, but there is a confidential business information clause where whoever is controlling the industry is not held accountable. The level of secrecy and lack of transparency is unacceptable."
Farmers' Needs
The ABN has actively lobbied the government since 2004 to crack down on GM technology slowly filtering into Kenya, with some measure of success. A 2009 Biosafety Act required all GM imports to pass stringent government standards before entering the country.
Maina recognizes the uphill battle she's facing.
"Our public research institutions must shift their focus back to farmers' needs," she told The Indypendent, "rather than support the agenda of agribusiness, which is to colonize our food and seed chain. We believe that the patenting of seed is deeply unethical and dangerous."
Joan Baxter is a journalist who has spent years reporting on climate change and agriculture in Africa. Reporting now from Sierra Leone, Baxter was quick to point out that even if a farmer chooses not to use GM technology, it won't guarantee crop safety.
"Farmers are always at risk of contamination from GM seeds. That has been shown in North America. The farmers [in Africa] may lose their own seeds, perhaps be given GM seeds for a year or two, then have to purchase them and be stuck in the trap and in debt," she said.
Like Maina, Baxter sees a problem in how GM technology is being marketed, and slowly introduced, into African countries, under the guise of ending famine. With climate change becoming an increasingly influential factor in the GM debate, Baxter said companies claiming to help are only looking for profit.
"Basically this is disaster capitalism. The disaster of hunger and drought, climate change and policy-related, is now a profit opportunity for Monsanto and Syngenta. The Gates Foundation buying shares in Monsanto tells you what the real agenda is: To get GMOs in Africa," she said.
In 2010, NBA's CEO resigned after it was revealed that 280,000 tonnes of GM maize had found its way into Kenya from South Africa through the Port of Mombasa.
Farmers mobilized en masse after the Dreyfus scandal (named for the South African company responsible for shipping the seeds) was revealed, marching on Parliament to demand an end to secret imports. After the most recent GM announcement, however, there were no protests. The long rains that would ensure a good yield haven't come. The drought may continue.
Added to the potential problems with GM technology are health risks-the strains of maize that were illegally imported in 2010 had been deemed unsafe for children and the elderly. Maina also worries about animal feeding trials that showed damage to liver, kidney and pancreas, effects on fertility, and stomach bleeding in livestock that has consumed GM feed. A more recent study carried out on pregnant women in Canada found genetically modified insecticidal proteins in their blood streams and in that of their unborn children, despite assurances from scientists that it wasn't possible.
The political scandal that erupted after 2010's illegal imports brought GM technology into the forefront of Kenyan public debate, but last year's massive drought has shifted public and political discourse. The ABN doesn't have a $47 million grant to keep it going, and the pressures it faces from politicians and corporations, now waging their own propaganda war, are overwhelming.
GM Treadmill
At the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health in Toronto, researchers recently released a report titled "Factors in the adoption and development of agro-biotechnology in sub-Saharan Africa." The report, which was financed by a grant by the Gates Foundation, came to the conclusion that "poor communication is affecting agbiotech adoption," and that "widespread dissemination of information at the grassroots level and can spread misinformation and create extensive public concern and distrust for agbiotech initiatives."
Lead researcher Obidimma Ezezika declined to comment on Monsanto's involvement with GM technology, and denied that his team was creating corporate propaganda.
"I think it is important to actively and soberly engage in the debate by offering facts to the policy makers, media and public on ag-biotech which will dispel fears and anxieties," he told The Indypendent.
The mounting evidence, health questions and political scandals all mean Kenya would be wisest to take a step back before jumping on board the GM train, says Maina.
"Our key concern is that the development of insecticides and pesticides is primarily the emergence of companies getting farmers to buy highly toxic chemicals, which they will become totally dependent on. We don't yet know the extent of the health risks posed, nor how we are expected to trust companies that have a record of putting small farmers out of business. It is time for sober second thought," she said.

MOs have made no impact on food security in South Africa in fourteen years. ACB responds to DA position on GMOs
African Centre for Biosafety, 7 September 2012
On the 5th of September 2012 James Wilmot, Democratic Alliance MP and Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry, issued a press release claiming that poor consumers cannot benefit from the "cost savings offered by GMOs" because genetically modified (GM) foods cannot be labelled. He claimed that labelling could not be implemented without a testing facility and "without an active testing facility, the SABS cannot ensure the safety of GMOs for consumption by the general public. As a result, the Department's interim solution has been to ban a number of GMOs until the testing facility is operational."
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), an organisation that has campaigned rigorously on GMO labelling and related issues over the past decade, claims that James is confused. "It is clear that Mr. James does not understand how GMOs are regulated in this country, and has mixed up the functions of the Departments of Trade and Industry and Agriculture. He also does not realise the extent of GMOs in our food system. There is no import ban due to labelling issues; South Africa stopped importing bulk GM shipments from Argentina and Brazil in 2010 when these countries approved GMOs that have not passed through South Africa's biosafety system. Shipments originating from these countries will contain a mix of approved and unapproved GMOs. Under the rules of the United Nations Biosafety Protocol, South Africa may not allow unapproved GMOs into the country".
In addition, Swanby pointed out that the University of the Free State runs a state-of-the-art GMO testing facility and highlighted the fact that "testing facilities do not ensure the safety of GMOs, they test for GM content. There is no independent safety testing done for GMO permit applications anywhere in the world, this is left up to the producers of the technology".
South Africa is the 9th largest producer of GMOs globally and has cultivated, imported and exported GMOs since 1998. About 72% of our maize production is genetically modified and over 90% of soya production is modified. The South African government granted approximately 1200 permits for GMO maize, just in the last three years. Up until 2010 South Africa was a major importer of GM maize, importing over 2 million tons from Argentina in 2007 alone. However, in that year South Africa produced an enormous 4 million ton surplus and has subsequently exported nearly 6 million tons of GM maize.
Since the introduction of GM crops in South Africa, some fourteen years ago, labelling has been a contentious issue. While the food industry has fought labelling tooth and nail, consumers have been campaigning for the "right to know and the right to choose". In October 2011, consumers believed that their wish had been granted - the Consumer Protection Act required that all foods containing 5% or more GM content must be labelled. However, the food industry stalled the implementation of the labelling laws by convincing the Department of Trade and Industry that the law is not clear or implementable. Said Swanby, "They would like GM labels to apply only to living modified organisms, for example GM seeds, but not to products made from GMOs or containing GM ingredients. This robs consumers of their rightful choice, but apparently industry has successfully lobbied the Department of Trade and Industry to protect their interests over that of the public."
The introduction of GMOs into South Africa has profoundly transformed the country's seed sector - South Africa's domestic maize seed market is now dominated by three companies. A proposed merger between DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred and South African seed company, Pannar, could very soon reduce the ownership to just two - Monsanto and DuPont. Both of these companies are currently in the National Competition Commission's spot lights. ACB researcher, Mr. Gareth Jones, claims that, "it is these multinational seed companies, together with big agri-business, who are the real beneficiaries of GM seeds. For farmers, the cost of seed as a proportion of production costs has doubled in the last 5 years, while a 5kg bag of maize meal is today 84% more expensive than it was in 2008. Fourteen years of GMOs have not brought down food prices or brought relief to some 20% of the population still without adequate access to food".

udan introduces GM cotton in partnership with Brazil
Fibre2fashion News Desk (India), September 6 2012
Sudan has successfully introduced genetically modified (GM) cotton technology in the country, in partnership with Brazil, the Ministry of Agriculture has announced.
According to the Ministry, cotton is planted this year on 300,000 acres of land in rain-fed areas, and on another 200,000 acres of field under irrigation.
The cultivation of GM cotton has met with success in several areas, especially Rahad and Suki, the Ministry said.
It added that initially the cultivation failed in Gezira Scheme and Halfa regions due to not preparing the land for GM cultivation, which caused the crop to sink during rains. However, the cotton crop has grown again in these regions.
Sudan received good rains and is expecting rich cotton harvest this year.