Was it a bribe, Monsanto?
In some circles, it would be called a bribe, at best. Evidence revealed last week shows that Monsanto's former Chief Financial Officer admitted that the agrichemical corporation planned to spend $150 million in cash and trade incentives in Latin America, North America and Europe to spur the uptake of the pesticide glyphosate, better known as RoundUp. $150 million is no small change — and surely that's not all that's been spent.
The news came to light last week as part of an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Sadly, small farmers around the world know all too well the carrot and stick approaches that Monsanto and other pesticide giants use to lure farmers (and nations) toward industrial agriculture and onto the pesticide treadmill.
The consequences have been devastating. Farmers are forced to use more and more — and increasingly toxic — chemicals to control insects and weeds that develop resistance to pesticides. Very bad for the pocketbook, driving farmers into dependence on global pesticide corporations (and sometimes bankruptcy). Bad for the health of farm families, who suffer from exposure to toxic pesticides. And bad for the planet, driving the vitality out of resilient ecoystems that have supported food and life for millennia.
According to Jack Kaskey, reporting in Bloomberg,
Monsanto said the SEC probe involves customer-incentive programs relating to glyphosate products, the generic name for Roundup, in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. The company planned to spend as much as $150 million “of incremental price concessions or trade incentives” in the Roundup business to establish the brand in Latin America, North America and Europe, Carl M. Casale, Monsanto’s former chief financial officer, said in a February 2010 conference call.
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) partners across the globe have long documented such illegal and unfair practices, which spurred, in part, the creation of an entire set of international standards to deal with these problems. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides, developed in 1985 and most recently updated in 2002, establishes standards for "all public and private entities engaged in or associated with the distribution and use of pesticides, particularly where there is inadequate or no national legislation to regulate pesticides." Yes, that means Monsanto.
Unfortunately, violations run rampant. PAN's most recent global report, Communities in Peril, documents the realities in the voices of more than 2000 farmers and farmworkers in 13 countries around the world, who, despite such a global standard as the FAO Code, continue to experience pesticide poisonings and violations of the standard on a daily basis.
While a global standard is critically important, its enforcement lies in the hands of people who together push for ever stronger, legally binding mechanisms for liability and accountability. And who rebuild food communities together, from the ground up. What's needed, and what PAN seeks to be part of, is a robust and vital food democracy: eaters, workers and farmers coming together across the food chain to reclaim farming and food, creating a fair, productive and resilient system for us and for the earth.
We can no longer allow our eating dollars and our political capital to continue feeding giant agribusiness corporations.