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Friday, May 16, 2008

Monsanto is the gorilla controlling the seed industry

POSTED: May 12, 2008 By David Kruse
The Times-Republican
135 West Main Street,
Marshalltown, IA 50158

Fred Stokes, a prominent figure in the Organization for Competitive Markets wrote: “As you know, the seed industry has become highly concentrated, with Monsanto becoming the dominant global player in the industry.”

It is said that he who controls the seed controls the food supply. Monsanto clearly is the 800-pound gorilla and has a reputation for playing rough. The OCM is launching a new project that will take a critical look at the seed industry and the ills of concentration. On Wednesday, April 16, Michael Stumo, OCM General Counsel, and I were guests on the Derry Brownfield Show and discussed the new project and seed industry concentration.

The following Monday, Derry Brownfield was notified that his right to broadcast over the Learfield Communications Network was being terminated; presumably because of the April 16th broadcast.”

Monsanto is ranked 305th out of the fortune 500 in 2007, with revenue of over $8.6 billion and profits of $993 million, up 44.1%. A recent article in Vanity Fair called “Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear,” was scathing in accusations describing Monsanto corporate tactics as “ruthless.”

Vanity Fair wrote, “In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover ‘a live human-made microorganism.’

The precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980’s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.”

Monsanto first went through the court system to solidify its legal grip on the patent rights of the genetics it develops and then went about changing long held practices of farmers by selling seed but retaining the rights to the genetic traits they have patented. Farmers were used to saving seed, ‘brown bagging’ it as the practice was called.

Farmers were denied the right to save Monsanto’s seed from one crop for the next. When they buy patented seed they don’t “own” the genetic rights, they’re only renting them on an annual basis for a fee.

A lot of farmers did not initially accept the new way of doing business or Monsanto’s patent rights and Monsanto went methodically about teaching lessons to all those who violated their patented rights and seed agreements. Whether Monsanto’s claim to their genetic monopoly is morally right or wrong, it has been legalized by the courts. Monsanto aggressively defends those rights.

You can think the worst of them and call them bad names but Monsanto holds the genetic keys to the future of global food production in their vault and without them, the world will produce less food and fiber at a higher cost. That’s a heck of a valuable monopoly to own.

Monsanto is not infallible. A number of years ago, I challenged them and lived to tell about it.

I have never challenged their patent rights. My companies follow the law and seed agreements both here and in Brazil. I’m a “good” customer of Monsanto and very pleased with the products they sell today. I wasn’t always pleased, however. That’s where my run in with Monsanto occurred.

When they first introduced RR soybeans it was common knowledge that initially in a rush to get their product on the market, they put the RR gene into poor genetic soybean seed and yields lagged. University yield trials showed the yield lag. I confirmed it on my own farm as did neighbors, yet Monsanto bombarded the air waves with a commercial that claimed “higher yields” from their new RR soybean varieties.

A local radio station provided me a copy of the commercial and I produced a CommStock Radio Report interviewing a local farmer who had experienced the RR soybean yield lag and pasted in Monsanto’s erroneous claim to higher yields as “but Monsanto says ... Higher Yields!” Monsanto spends a lot on advertising, giving them clout beyond the control of what gets aired in their commercials. I was summoned by the station owner, who in a very uncomfortable situation for him, backed me.

I was right. Everybody knew it. The result was that Monsanto dropped the “higher yields’ commercials. They ceased to air. Maybe that was a coincidence, but I doubt it. It was simple truth in advertising.

An Asgrow agronomist (Monsanto owns Asgrow), confirmed the technical reasons for the initial RR soybean yield lag and also why it would eventually go away as their breeding program matured.

It did. He was right. I grow RR soybeans today. I don’t believe Monsanto will allow the same thing to happen with their new genetic products. I think it was a case where their advertising department temporarily overshot their genetic capability.

Today, RR soybeans likely do out yield non-GMO varieties, if for no other reason than that nothing is put into seed research for non-GMO varieties any more because seed companies make less money from plain seed and farmers want GMO seed traits. Trendline corn/soybean yields are climbing today and Monsanto genetics can take a lot of credit for that.

Not long after my on air challenge of Monsanto’s commercial advertising, a Monsanto executive paid me a visit. He was professional, cordial and unthreatening. I practice the Golden Rule.


David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments,Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

Deadly gift from Monsanto to India

ISIS Press Release 12/05/08
The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 51885, London NW2 9DH
telephone: [44 20 8452 2729] [44 20 7272 5636]

To follow up on your articles, Organic Cotton Beats Bt Cotton in India ( SiS 27) and Message from Andra Predesh:Return to organic cotton & avoid the Bt cotton trap ( SiS 29), I enclose photographs of mealy bugs infested cotton plants in the demonstration plots of different seed companies in Vidarbha: Ganga Kavari, Paras Bbhrahma, and Banny. All of the plots have the Bollgard label. These mealy bugs have never been in our region on any plants before Bt cotton was introduced. I learned about the devastation of cotton in China two years ago. This alerted me to photograph and video the demonstration plots regularly. So, anybody can say with confidence now that the mealy bug has entered Vidarbha cotton fields through the Bt cottonseed.
Now when the cotton plants have died, the mealy bug is shifting to nearby plants. By mid June, farmers will go for the new cotton crop or plant another crop. But before that, the bug will have multiplied like any thing. It has shifted to Congress weed nearby, and many other weeds and plants in gardens.
At the same time I am studying the sudden death of plants. The new generation cotton seeds, called ‘Research Hybrid seeds'; are all male sterile. In short, they are terminator seeds; and proven by the high-level government committee in 1993. I have the report of it. The breeder then published an article advising farmers that they should not use the F2 seeds of such hybrids, as the plants coming out of them are 100 percent sterile. Your article, Killing Fields Near You ( ISIS News 7/8) confirmed this for me.
I am an organic farmer residing at Yavatmal in the state of Maharashtra. Our organisation, Vidarbha Organic Farmers Association, has been propagating organic farming since 1994. We have been helped a lot by Dr Vandana Shiva. She was the first person to tell us about about terminators. Right now, we are working for her organisation Navdanya.
Ram Kalaspurkar , organic farmer, Vidarbha Organic Farmers Association, Yavatmal, Maharashtra, India

Bt cotton plant infested with mealy bugs

Close-up of big mealy bug on Bt cotton plant

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It CAN be done! Toward a greener future

Norway island stores wind power for still days

by Nina LarsonTue May 13, 7:27 AM ET

How to keep the lights on when all is still and the local windmill won't budge? A small Norwegian island testing a way to store wind-generated energy for calm days may have found the answer.

The tiny, windswept island of Utsira, situated off Norway's southwestern coast, is home to what is said to be the world's first full-scale system for cleanly transforming surplus wind power into hydrogen.

Perched atop a 40-metre-high wind turbine on a perfectly windstill day, technician Inge Linghammer explains that at times like this or on days when the gales whipping the unsheltered island get too strong the windmill shuts down and stops pumping out power.

"You need to have back-up power when this happens," he says, nodding towards the motionless blades.

On a good day, the island's two wind turbines, planted on a small hill overlooking several red-painted wooden houses, produce more energy than the 210 people living here can use.

When they are down however, most of Utsira, which measures only six square kilometres, is furnished with electricity from the mainland.

But 10 households receive clean, wind-generated electricity regardless of the weather conditions, thanks to a pilot project launched here in July, 2004 making it possible to store wind power by transforming it into hydrogen.

Surplus wind-generated energy is passed through water and, using electrolysis, the hydrogen atoms are separated from the oxygen atoms that make up water molecules.

The hydrogen is then compressed and stored in a container that can hold enough hydrogen gas to cover the energy needs of the 10 households for two windless days.

"Utsira has more than enough wind power to be self-sustained ... but the problem arises on a day like today when there is not enough wind," explains Halgeir Oeya, who heads up the hydrogen technology unit at Norwegian energy giant StatoilHydro, which is running the project.

"This system allows us to deliver power with expected quality and reliability," he says, standing next to the large metal electrolyser box baking in the spring sun.

Combining renewable energy and hydrogen, he says, makes most sense in secluded areas like the numerous islands lining the European coast or in remote Australian communities, which until now have been heavily dependent on carbon dioxide-spewing diesel fuel provided by a constant flow of truck convoys.

Islands like Utsira have long been considered ideal laboratories for renewable energy due to their total dependence on outside energy supplies and their access to powerful wind energy.

Oeya boasts that the people participating in the Utsira test project have no restrictions on how they use power, switching on the lights, dishwashers, television sets and stereos without a thought to how the wind is blowing.

And amid growing alarm over greenhouse gas-promoted global warming, they can do so with a clean conscience, he says, pointing out that "the only emission is oxygen."

Producing and storing energy this way however is still, nearly four years after testing began, far more expensive than the hydraulic power produced on Norway's mainland.

StatoilHydro has no intention of building up the system to compete with large-scale energy production, but even making it competitive in the small, remote communities far off the grid that make up its target market remains years off.

"This is not a commercial project as it stands," Oeya acknowledges.

"We must have a bigger scale in order to compete ... and this will take a number of years," he says.

Utsira mayor Jarle Nilsen is nonetheless ecstatic about the system and its effects on his small island community.

"This is a fantastic project that has been good for Utsira," he says, pointing out that initial concerns about noise levels and birds getting caught in the turbines had been laid to rest.

"We haven't found a single dead bird," he says.

Most importantly, the system was helping nudge his Utsira towards its goal of zero emissions within the next decade and had become a major tourist attraction.

"The tourists go over to the lighthouse first, but then they go to look at our windmills. They want to see the world's first full scale wind and hydrogen project in action," he says proudly.

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I live on the Pacific slopes of the Talamanca mountain range in southern Costa Rica. My adult children live in the United States. I have a Masters Degree in Gerontology but have worked as a migrant laborer, chicken egg collector, radio broadcaster, secretary, social worker, research director, bureaucrat, writer, editor, political organizer, publicist, telephone operator, and more. My hobby of photography has garnered some awards.

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