Published: 22 November, 2012, 00:09
(Reuters / Robert Pratta)
The United State Department of Agriculture has finalized a report to address concerns from farmers who fear they’ll be next on an ever-expanding list of defendants sued by biotech giants Monsanto, but those worries aren’t about to end.
The Monsanto Company dominates more than just grow fields across the US, as evident in their stellar track record of taking small-time farmers to court and winning cases, an occurrence that Think Progress acknowledges happens roughly a dozen times a year. Time and time again, Monsanto’s patented, lab-made genetically engineered seeds are sold to one farmer, only for Mother Nature to move the crop onto neighboring fields with the help of a bit of wind. Just as often, of course, Monsanto’s team of high-paid litigators take the little guys to court, only to triumph thanks to a legal counsel that collects around $10 million a year just to take other farmers to court.
With Monsanto-led lawsuits all too common, the USDA was tasked with putting together a panel — the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, or AC21 — to analyze, among other items, “What types of compensation mechanisms, if any, would be appropriate to address economic losses1 by farmers in which the value of their crops is reduced by unintended presence of genetically engineered(GE) material(s)?”
The AC21 panel released their findings in a report [PDF] entitled ‘Enhancing Coexistence’ that was sent to the secretary of agriculture this week. In it, however, they have little to say to the farmers who are likely to be brought before a judge while Monsanto and other biotech kings come out on top.
According to the AC21 group, the best maneuver for any Monsanto foe to take right now is to simply buy insurance, suggesting that the top guns will be given the go-ahead to continue with their contested habit of near endless litigation, a practice that has a tendency to leave the little guys bankrupt and out of business — only to be bought up by the billion-dollar Monsanto corporation after their bills can’t be paid.
“In discussions on potential compensation mechanisms,” the panel writes, “the AC21 considered three types of potential mechanisms: (1) a compensation fund, which might be funded by technology providers, by farmers, or by the entire food and feed production chain; (2) a crop insurance-type mechanism, which would likely involve both public financing and farmer choice to purchase the insurance; and (3) a risk retention group, which would essentially be a self-insurance tool that could be purchased by those farmers at risk of economic losses (analogous to extant insurance mechanisms for industries like the trucking industry, private campgrounds, etc.).”
“The AC21 discussed potential impacts on trade relations upon adoption of any of the three potential compensation mechanisms. The entire gamut of potential views was expressed: some members felt that establishing a compensation mechanism would send a signal to purchasers of US organic and non-GE products that there are problems in how the US produces those products, some expressed the opinion that effects would be neutral, and some felt that it would be reassuring to our trading partners in GE-sensitive markets that steps are being taken to ensure containment. All members felt, however, that if a compensation mechanism were to be instituted, that attention needed to be given to potential impacts on trade.”
In their recommendations, the panel suggests, “If the Secretary, in considering the loss data, determines that the situation warrants development of a compensation mechanism to help address such losses, the Secretary should implement such a mechanism based on a crop insurance model.”
Additionally, no real recommendations seem to be presented to farmers regularly targeted by biotech companies in court other than to invest in some solid insurance. In a statement issued Wednesday from The National Organic Coalition (NOC), the group condemns the USDA and its AC21 panel for allegedly putting little work into alleviating a big problem destroying America’s agriculturists.
“Of particular concern in the report is the recommendation that organic and non-GE conventional farmers pay for crop insurance or self-insure themselves against unwanted GE contamination,” the group writes. “NOC strongly asserts that this proposal allows USDA and the agricultural biotechnology industry to abdicate responsibility for preventing GE contamination, while making the victim of GE pollution pay for damages resulting from transgenic contamination.
“This is a completely wrong approach to tackling the GE contamination problem,” says Liana Hoodes, NOC’s executive director. “At the bare minimum, USDA must stop approving additional GE crops, and prevent GE contamination by mandating pollution prevention measures, as well as make transgenic polluters, including GE technology owners, pay for their contamination.”
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety and a NOC member, adds that the AC21’s findings are an “ill-conceived solution of penalizing the victim is fundamentally unjust and fails to address the root cause of the problem – transgenic contamination.”
“The AC21 report takes responsibility for GE contamination prevention out of the hands of USDA and the biotech industry where it belongs and puts it squarely on the backs of organic and non-GE farmers,” Kimbrell says.
According to the lone AC21 panel member that dissented from the rest, the report as a whole does little to alleviate anything for the time being.
“Any farmer/seed grower contaminated will not want to disclose the contamination because they are illegally in possession of a patented material and could be subject to legal action for theft of intellectual property. The committee refused to ever recognize this fact,” writes Isaura Andaluz