Picture of Marcia Ishii

Marcia Ishii

All aboard the transgenic Titanic

On Tuesday, one of the world’s largest pesticide and biotech companies — Monsanto Corporation — held its annual general meeting in St. Louis. While protestors outside Monsanto headquarters highlighted growing public disenchantment with the industry giant and its genetically engineered products, investors in the meeting were voting on a shareholder resolution from PAN and Harrington Investments.

If passed, the resolution would require Monsanto to report on all financial risks and impacts, including contamination of neighboring crops, associated with its GE/pesticide seed package.

Bright spots in 2011 for Monsanto notwithstanding (Uncle Sam gave the company a sweet holiday gift package in December), there was much for shareholders attending the St. Louis meeting to be concerned about: the impending demise of Monsanto's enormously profitable RoundUp-Ready pesticide/GE seed line; growing numbers of irate farmers and mounting negative publicity over the company’s role in creating superweeds and superbugs now afflicting millions of acres of farmland across the country; surging consumer demand for labeling of GE foods (95% want it); and a share value that has ricocheted wildly between $58 and $78 over the past 6 months.

It is only going to get worse.— Lee Van Wychen, director of science policy, Weed Science Society of America, referring to the superweed epidemic.

In presenting PAN's resolution, we argued that shareholders should take seriously the looming consequences of the risky behavior of the biotech titan. Monsanto’s refusal to acknowledge the evolutionary realities of developed resistance to, and genetic contamination from its ubiquitous GE product lines signaled years ago the company’s complete lack of foresight and accountability.

Not surprisingly, the resolution did not pass in Tuesday's meeting. But the call for greater transparency about Monsanto’s liabilities garnered media attention, including this local TV report.

A risky business

Recent court cases and investigations illustrate the type of liabilities now on the table:

  • In the LibertyLink rice case, 10,000 rice farmers settled for $750 million after Bayer-patented GMO rice escaped from a test plot and caused widespread contamination, causing U.S. rice exports and prices to plummet.
  •  Starlink GMO corn — approved for animal feed but not human consumption due to allergenicity concerns — was discovered in the US food supply in 2001. The product’s distributor, Aventis, had to pay $200 million in settlements, judgments and legal defense. 
  • Over 80 family farmers, family owned seed businesses and agricultural organizations collectively representing 300,000 farmers sued Monsanto last year. The farmers are defending their right to legal protection from the threat of Monsanto suing them for patent infringement, should their crops ever be contaminated by GE material.  
  • Monsanto is increasingly under investigation for violation of anti-trust laws, false advertising and fraud — by the U.S. Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and at least seven state attorney-generals (and counting). An AP investigation exposes the extent of the problem.

It’s not just the financially unstable house of cards or the volatility in Monsanto’s share price that’s at issue. The company’s entire approach to agriculture has violated basic and well-understood laws of nature, and the ecological repercussions of corporate hubris and greed are now coming fast and furiously.

Isn't it about time to stop rearranging chairs on the Transgenic Titanic?

Picture of Marcia Ishii

Marcia Ishii

Marcia Ishii is director of PAN’s Grassroots Science Program and a Senior Scientist with a background in insect ecology and pest management. Her campaign work focuses on supporting and strengthening agroecology movements and policies in the U.S. and globally, in addition to challenging corporate control of our food and seed systems. Follow @MarciaIshii

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