By Darío Aranda
A leading company, an agricultural model and its social and health consequences. The French researcher addresses all the keys to contextualize the soy monoculture and pesticides on a global level.
Interview with Marie-Monique Robin, author of "The World According to Monsanto"
- How do you define Monsanto?
-Monsanto is a rogue company. I say this because there is concrete evidence of it. It was condemned many times for its industrial activities, for example the case of PCBs, a product that is now prohibited, but continues to pollute the planet. For 50 years the PCB was in power transformers. And Monsanto, which was convicted of it, knew that they were very toxic products, but hid information and never said anything. And it's the same story with two other herbicides produced by Monsanto, which made up the cocktail called "Agent Orange" used in the Vietnam War, and they also knew it was very toxic and did the same. What's more, he rigged studies to hide the relationship between dioxins and cancer. It is a recurring practice at Monsanto. Many say that this is the past, but it is not, it is a way of obtaining profit that is still in force today. The company never accepted its past or accepted responsibilities. He always tried to deny everything. It is a line of conduct. And today the same thing happens with GMOs and Roundup.
- What are the common practices of Monsanto in the global order?
–It has common practices in all the countries where it operates. Monsanto hides data about its products, but not only that, it also lies and falsifies studies about its products. Another particularity that is repeated at Monsanto is that every time independent scientists try to do their in-depth work with GMOs, they are pressured or lose their jobs. That also happens in United States agencies such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Monsanto is also synonymous with corruption. Two clear and proven examples are the bribery attempt in Canada, which sparked a special session of the Canadian Senate, when it came to the approval of dairy growth hormone. And the other case is in Indonesia, where Monsanto was convicted because it corrupted a hundred top officials to put its transgenic cotton on the market. We do not doubt that there are more cases of corruption where Monsanto is the one who corrupts.
- You also affirm that the modality of “revolving doors” is a habitual practice.
-Definitely. In the history of Monsanto there is always what in the United States is called "the revolving door". A clear example: the regulatory text that regulates GMOs in the United States was published in 1992 by the FDA, the North American agency in charge of food and drug safety. Which is supposed to be very serious, at least I always thought that, even before this job. When they said that a product had been approved by the FDA, they thought it was safe. Now I know that is not so. In '92, the FDA text was written by Michael Taylor, a Monsanto attorney who joined the FDA to make that text and later became a vice president of Monsanto. A very clear example of a “revolving door”. There are many examples, all over the world.
–Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange, PCB and Glyphosate. And he has misleading advertising convictions. Why do you have such good press?
- Due to the lack of serious work by journalists and the complicity of politicians. It's the same all over the world.
- Why doesn't Monsanto speak?
"Have you tried calling them?"
- Yes, but they did not accept questions.
- It is also the same all over the world. Before any critical journalist, Monsanto has only one policy: "No comments" (no comments).
- What does Monsanto mean in the world food market?
–Monsanto's goal is to control the food chain. GMOs are a means to that goal. And patents a way to achieve it. The first stage of the "green revolution" is already behind us, it was that of high-yield plants with the use of pesticides and environmental pollution. We are now in the second stage of that "revolution", where the key is to enforce patents on food. This has nothing to do with the idea of feeding the world, as advertised at the time. The sole purpose is to increase the profits of large corporations. Monsanto wins in everything. It sells you the complete tech package, proprietary seeds, and the mandatory herbicide for that seed. Monsanto makes you sign a contract that prohibits you from saving seeds and forces you to buy Roundup, you cannot use a generic glyphosate. In this model, Monsanto wins in everything, and it is the complete opposite of food safety. By the way, let's remember that the transgenic soy grown here is not to feed Argentines, it is to feed European pigs. And what will happen in Argentina when meats from Europe must be labeled that they were fed with transgenic soy. They will stop buying meats of this type and Argentina will also receive the blow, because the demand for soy will decrease.
–He was in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. What peculiarities did you find in the region?
- We must remember that Monsanto entered here thanks to the Carlos Menem government, which allowed transgenic soy to enter without any study. It was the first country in Latin America. Then, from Argentina, a smuggling of transgenic seeds, from large producers, was organized to Paraguay and Brazil, which were forced to legalize it because they were crops that were later exported. And then Monsanto came to claim their royalties. It was incredible how GM soy spread in the region, and in just a few years. It is a unique case in the world.
-In the 90's, Argentina was called a model student of the IMF. Today, with 17 million hectares with transgenic soybeans and the use of 168 million liters of glyphosate alone, can it be said that Argentina is a model student of agribusiness?
-Yeah right. Argentina adopted the Monsanto model in record time, it is a paradigmatic case. But there were also some problems with the model student. Since GM seeds are patented, Monsanto has the intellectual property right. That means, as I saw in Canada and the United States, that they make growers sign a contract in which they agree not to keep part of their crops to replant next year, which farmers around the world tend to do. Monsanto is reporting it as a patent infringement. So Monsanto sends the "gene police", which is something incredible, private detectives who go into the fields, take samples, verify if it is transgenic and if the farmer has bought his seeds. If they haven't bought them, they make lawsuits and Monsanto wins. It is part of a global strategy: Monsanto controls most of the seed companies and patents the seeds, requiring each farmer to buy their seeds. What happened here is that Argentine law does not prohibit saving the seeds of one harvest and using them in the next planting. At first Monsanto said it would not ask for royalties, and gave cheap seeds and cheap Roundup. But in 2005 he began to ask for royalties, broke the initial agreement and for that reason he has a legal confrontation with his favorite student.
–The Roundup has a leading role in this model. Many peasant and indigenous communities denounce its effects, but there are few prohibitions.
"It's an incredibly muted impact." No one can deny what is involved in spraying with this totally harmful herbicide. I am sure that it will be banned at some point, as was the PCB, I am sure that moment will come. In fact, in Denmark it was already banned due to its high toxicity. It is urgent to analyze the danger of agrochemicals and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).
-However, the large companies in the sector have promised for decades that with GMOs and pesticides it will be possible to increase production, thus ending world hunger.
–Argentina is the best example of that lie. How has it been with the soybeanization of the country? It has been lost in the production of other staple foods and there is still hunger. This model is the monoculture model, which kills off other vital crops. It is a very profound transformation of agriculture, which leads directly to the loss of food sovereignty, and unfortunately it no longer depends on a government to be able to reverse it.
- Why do you call the current agrarian process "the soy dictatorship"?
- It is a dictatorship in the sense of a totalitarian power, which encompasses everything. It must be clear that whoever controls the seeds controls food and controls life. In that sense, Monsanto has totalitarian power. It is so clear that even Syngenta, another large company in the sector and a competitor of Monsanto, called Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina "the united republics of soy." We are in the presence of a political program with very clear aims. A simple question proves it: Who decides what is going to be grown in Argentina? Neither the government nor the producers decide, Monsanto decides. The multinational decides what will be sown, regardless of the governments, it is decided by a company. And to make matters worse, the second wave of transgenics is going to be very strong, with an agrofuel model that leads to more monoculture. And, by now, it is already clear that monoculture is a loss of biodiversity and is the complete opposite of food security. There is no longer any doubt that monoculture, be it soy or biodiesel, is the path to hunger.
- What is the role of science in the agribusiness model, where Monsanto is only its most famous face?
- Before I thought that when a study was published in a prestigious scientific journal, it was a serious work. But no. The conditions in which some studies are published are dismal, with companies like Monsanto putting pressure on magazine editors. On the transgenic issue, it is very clear that it is almost impossible to carry out studies on the subject. In many parts of the world, the United States or Argentina, research laboratories are paid for by large companies. And when the subject is seeds, transgenic or agrochemicals, Monsanto is always present and always conditions the investigations.
- Are scientists afraid or are they accomplices?
-Both. Fear and complicity are present in the laboratories of the world. In the book, I make it clear that there are scientists, in all countries, whose only function is to legitimize the work of the company.
–What is the role of governments for companies like Monsanto to advance?
- Governments are the best propagandists of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). They do an amazing lobbying job. Monsanto brings them his studies, his information, his magazines and photos, all very nice. They tell politicians that there will be no pollution and they will save the world. And politicians do their thing. And there are also pressures. French deputies have publicly denounced the pressure from Monsanto, even acknowledging that the company contacted each of the 500 deputies to legislate according to the interests of the company.
- And the role of the media?
- I am very sorry because I am a journalist and I believe in what we do, I think it is a profession with a very important role in democracy, but there is a great manipulation of the media. In everything related to transgenics, the press does not work seriously. The media looks at Monsanto's propaganda and publishes it without question, as if they were employees of the company. It is also public that Monsanto invites journalists to lunch, gives them gifts, takes them on a trip to Saint Louis (where its headquarters are); the journalists are very happy, they walk through the laboratories, they don't ask anything and that's it. This is how the media works with Monsanto. I also registered cases in which Monsanto seeks, in each media outlet, an advocate. Make contact with him and get favorable opinions. I don't know if there is corruption, but I know that Monsanto achieves its goal. In Argentina it is clear how it works, when looking at some articles of rural supplements it is seen that instead of newspaper articles they are advertisements for Monsanto. It does not seem that a journalist wrote it, it was directly the company.
- What assessment do you make of the confrontation between the Government and the agricultural employers' entities?
–In 2005 I interviewed Eduardo Buzzi, he was furious about the matter of royalties claimed by Monsanto. He was talking about the Monsanto traps. And he also talked about the problems that soy brought, he even put me in contact with small producers who told me about Monsanto's lies, about the resistance shown by weeds, that more herbicides had to be used and that the fields were left like dead earth. . Buzzi knew all that and told me that he questioned that model, affirmed that soybeans brought the destruction of family agriculture and told me that the Agrarian Federation represented that sector, that it faced the sowing pools and large companies. And Buzzi denounced this model a lot, a very good speech. But now I don't know what happened. I never saw him again and I would like to ask him what happened to him that he now joins with the larger entities, I am very surprised by the change he shows. And above all, Buzzi is with Aapresid (Argentine Association of Direct Sowing Producers –integrated by all the large companies in the sector, including seed companies and agrochemicals–), which is the one that gains the most from this whole model, and which appeared little in this conflict . Aapresid manipulates everything and is with the large soybean farmers, who are not farmers and who even promote a model without farmers. So I don't understand how the Agrarian Federation claims to represent small producers and is with Aapresid. The Agrarian Federation is very strange, it is not understood.
- And the role of the Government?
- The retentions could be that they slow down something of the soybeanization process. But it is not a solution against such an aggressive model. The solution has to be something much more radical and not short-term. Of course, the temptation of governments is great, soy brings good income, but you have to think long term. There are no simple and short-term solutions for a model that drives peasants off their land and, through spraying, pollutes water, land and people.
Darío Aranda, Page 12, Argentina