Soy Powerful: How Monsanto Pushes Genetically Modified Soybeans on Unwilling Consumers

tractorsCurrently, residents of the United States and Canada consume genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in around 70% of the foods they buy in grocery stores. By comparison, consumers in the European Union nations, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand and other countries are able to avoid GMOs because their governments require mandatory labeling on foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients.

According to Consumers Union, 95% of consumers in the U.S. want products containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled. Yet, in 1996 the FDA ruled that genetically modified foods were not substantially different from others and need not be labeled. Then, in January 2009 as the Bush administration headed out the door, the outgoing FDA ruled that it wouldn’t require the labeling of genetically modified meat or fish.

What’s going on here? We’re told that the free market works because of the rational behavior of informed consumers. How can consumers make intelligent choices when the information they need is deliberately held back by government influenced by powerful corporations?

We’ve talked about the power seed giant Monsanto exerts on our government before. Did you know that Monsanto’s hydra-like tentacles of influence extend across the globe? Let’s explore how the company was able to introduce its GM soybean technology to Brazil.

There was a point in the early part of this century when Monsanto wasn’t doing too well. It couldn’t sell its products in Europe. Nobody wanted them. Americans were getting anxious about consuming foods made from GM seeds. Monsanto needed a new market. A big new market. We’ve already talked about how the soy industry in Brazil has led to slavery and deforestation. The soy industry in Brazil has also had a big impact on Monsanto, essentially saving the company from ruin.

According to a policy brief from Food First, and other sources, Monsanto used illegal tactics to push their GM technology on Brazilian farmers and then strong-armed the Brazilian legislature to make the technology legal.

Brazil had a ban on planting of GM seeds in effect since 1998, but it was one of the only holdouts in South America. Brazil’s neighbor, Argentina, was a large producer of GM soy. Monsanto encouraged farmers in Brazil to plant its “roundup ready” GM soybeans that were illegally imported from Argentina in defiance of the ban. Monsanto knew that once its seeds were in the ground they would be able to make a case for intellectual property rights. Armed with their patents, the company’s lawyers went to the courts to solidify its new Brazilian market.

By arguing that Brazil was impeding its legal right to collect royalties on its intellectual property (the seeds), Monsanto made its case and GM soy was legalized in Brazil in 2003. Still, the essential companion to Monsanto’s Roundup-ready GM soy, the herbicide Roundup, was not legal yet. In 2004, a congressman from southern Brazil pushed through a series of federal amendments legalizing the herbicide. This same congressman purchased a large farm from Monsanto for one-third of the market price. The Brazilian government is investigating the congressman for corruption.

You may be thinking that you’re not eating GM soy because you buy organic. But if you eat organic food that contains soy lecithin (and you probably do since its in everything) check back in two weeks when we wrap up our soy series with a piece about soy lecithin. We’ll explore why the organic rule allows small amounts of non-organic ingredients in organic products and learn that it’s not that simple.

Want to learn more about the drama behind GM foods? Check out this link to news articles from different sources that will give you a good idea of Monsanto’s trials, successes, machinations, and manipulations over the past few years.

Image: Mike138

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.