Article published in the West County Gazette, July 2004, Page
the GMO Invaders
By Patricia Dines
(c) Patricia Dines, 2004. All rights reserved.
Monsanto's GMO Threat
Have you heard about Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser's epic battle with Monsanto? Monsanto's patented GM (Genetically Modified) canola seeds drifted onto Schmeiser's land, as seeds do. He didn't want them there, because they corrupted the canola seed line he'd been culling for decades. But, instead of Monsanto taking responsibility for this trespass, they sued Schmeiser for theft!
Schmeiser is not the first farmer Monsanto has sued; there's evidence that there are hundreds, even thousands. Faced with high court costs, most just pay Monsanto's "settlement offer." While an understandable response, this allows Monsanto to continue spreading their GMO pollution -- and charging the victims for the privilege. (Note: GMO means GM Organisms.) A dreadful outcome loomed: Truly, the end of all non-GMO farms and even ecosystems.
But Schmeiser said, "No," and farmers and the anti-GMO community worldwide gratefully supported this opportunity to turn back Monsanto's steamroller. Schmeiser's battle in the Canadian courts recently ended with a Canadian Supreme Court ruling that was primarily a loss for Schmeiser. He calls the Court's affirmation of Monsanto's broad canola patent "an injustice," threatening the rights of farmers who have saved canola seeds for generations.
But Schmeiser does see some positives in the ruling. Because the court affirmed that Schmeiser didn't owe Monsanto any money (although he still must deal with his legal bills), he expects it will be harder for Monsanto to get judgments against other farmers. And Schmeiser believes that "Monsanto will face huge liability issues down the road.... With ownership comes responsibility and I assume more lawsuits will be filed against them for the contamination of farmer's fields." What a wonderful aikido move, to use this ruling asserting Monsanto's ownership to hold Monsanto responsible for their gene pollution.
A group of Canadian organic farmers are making just this move. They've requested class action status to hold GMO companies legally liable for the damage that GM canola's introduction has caused organic farmers. GM canola drift has so infiltrated Saskatchewan's environment that Arnold Taylor, President of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, says, "We can't grow certified organic canola any more." This is a real loss -- in money, market, and ecosystems.
So the stakes are big, and what happens now will determine key elements of our future food and farms.
Support GMO-Free Sonoma County
Luckily, Sonoma County doesn't have GMO crops (yet), and we have an opportunity to learn from (and avoid) Canada's experience by not allowing GMOs in the door. Internationally, there's been an upswell of regional GMO bans. This March, Mendocino County became America's first county to ban GMO crops and animals (despite the GMO industry's heavy lobbying and big bucks). Now almost a dozen California counties are following their lead -- including Sonoma County.
Right now, the key goal for GE-Free Sonoma County is gathering enough signatures to get their ban on the ballot. (Note: GE, or Genetically Engineered, is another term for GM.) They say people are delighted to sign, but time is short, so you can make a big difference by pitching in with tabling, phone banking, donations, etc. The group expects the biotech industry to "likely spend huge amounts of money trying to frighten and confuse voters." However, we have important facts and rights on our side, and this is a great time and place to stand up for these principles. We can protect our county while joining the ranks of the anti-GMO heroes! For more information, see <www.GEFreeSonoma.org> or call (707) 823-4410.
To me, GMO bans are the only reasonable response to Monsanto's actions. If they insist on polluting (and burdening their victims with the costs), the only choice left is to say, "Don't bring your pollution near me." GMO drift could threaten the marketability of this county's crops, the viability of local organic farms -- and present myriad health and environmental risks. Time after time, GMO proponents' claims have been disproved: there's clear evidence that GMOs aren't the best strategy to "feed the world"; key aspects haven't been tested; etc. But, even deeper than that, with this level of concern worldwide, we have a right to choose whether these "novel organisms" infiltrate our local agriculture, food, and ecosystems. And, as Canada's experience shows, it's smartest to choose that before infiltration starts. We have a right not to pay the cost for Monsanto's benefit.
David Henson, Campaign Director of GE-Free Sonoma County and Director of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, says, "This is about protecting farmers' rights and our agricultural economy, the public health of our citizens, and the integrity of our natural ecosystems."
It doesn't get much more important than that.
Patricia Dines is author of "The Organic Guide to Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties." For more information, see <www.healthyworld.org>.
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