Despite Kidney Disease Link, Sri Lanka Places Monsanto Herbicide Ban on Hold

Wimal Rajarathna receives dialysis treatment at Anuradhapura General Hospital. He and others have been affected by a mysterious kidney disease in Sri Lanka, India and Central America. Photo credit: Anna Barry-Jester

Given its size and scope, when Monsanto pushes back, it usually gets what it wants.

That’s why organizations like Food Democracy Now! want people to divest from the seed giant and it’s also why Sri Lanka is postponing its ban of the active ingredient in the company’s top-selling herbicide, Roundup.

Less than a month ago a Sri Lankan minister told reporters that glyphosate would be immediately removed from the country’s marketplace because it was the main cause of a kidney disease epidemic. Suddenly, the country isn’t so sure about that.

“There is no evidence that glyphosate complexes effectively with arsenic, cadmium, or other nephrotoxic metals,” Thomas Helscher, director of corporate affairs at Monsanto, told the Center for Public Integrity. “Glyphosate is actually a relatively poor chelator for heavy metals when compared to pharmacological chelation agents.”

Wimal Rajarathna receives dialysis treatment at Anuradhapura General Hospital. He and others have been affected by a mysterious kidney disease in Sri Lanka, India and Central America. Photo credit: Anna Barry-Jester

Wimal Rajarathna receives dialysis treatment at Anuradhapura General Hospital. He and others have been affected by a mysterious kidney disease in Sri Lanka, India and Central America. Photo credit: Anna Barry-Jester

A previous Sri Lankan study by the World Health Organization detected glyphosate and cadmium, along with other pesticides and heavy metals, in kidney patients’ urine and in areas impacted by the disease, which also include Central America and India. Initially, Sri Lanka’s government believed scientist Dr. Channa Jayasumana’s theory that glyphosate bonds with toxic metals in the environment like cadmium and arsenic to create compounds consumed in food and water that do not break down until reaching the kidney.

But now, the government has received complaints from Monsanto, other agrochemical producers and Sri Lankan officials like Registrar of Pesticides, Dr. Anura Wijesekara, all of which have led to halting the ban. Additionally, Director General of Agriculture Dr. Rohan Wijekoon told The Island that the Pesticides Technical Committee has requested a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa about the “far-reaching repercussions” of the ban.

“It is an interesting hypothesis, but we don’t have any evidence for it,” Wijesekara told the Center for Public Integrity. “[The ban] will affect the tea plantations and also the [rice] paddy cultivation drastically.”

A European glyphosate task force also continues suggesting there is no true link to the kidney disease.

Still, an average of 13 people per day had been dying of kidney failure in Sri Lanka prior to Jayasumana’s study. The kidney disease was prevalent in at least 89 agrarian divisions in Sri Lanka.

“Glyphosate acts as a carrier or a vector of these heavy metals to the kidney,” Jayasumana said.

A 2012 Monsanto study suggested that glyphosate a less potent chelator for heavy metals like calcium, manganese and iron than other plant compounds, but U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Paul Capel begs to differ.

“As far as I know, there are no other common herbicides that would have this same sort of strength of interactions with metals,” he said.

He added that glyphosate was also likely to bond with cadmium. However, Jayasumana’s data that could link glyphosate to cadmium or arsenic have yet to published, though preliminary tests of well water consumed by Sri Lankan kidney patients found glyphosate with high levels of calcium and other metals.

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Out-of-State Money Pours Into Local Fight Against GE Crop Ban

money

A recent report by The Oregonian found that enormous amounts of money are being spent by agrichemical and biotechnology companies in one Oregon county to stop an ordinance that would ban farmers from being able to plant genetically engineered (GE) Crops. This current legislative fight encapsulates the uphill funding battle that anti-GE activists face when organizing state and local level campaigns.

money

Good Neighbor Farms has more than $556,000 cash on hand which is a colossal amount for a local measure. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The ordinance that will appear on the upcoming May ballot in Jackson County, OR, will ban the planting and rising of GE plants within the county. The ordinance also calls for the county to conduct inspections and allows enforcement through citizen lawsuits. Jackson County was the only county exempt from a law enacted last fall that made the state the regulator of agricultural seeds.

The county’s measure qualified for the May ballot before the Oregon Senate passed S.B. 863, which preempts localities ability to regulate seed, so it was exempted in the bill. The bill preempts the efforts in Benton and Lane counties to restrict GE agriculture. Despite state preemption, Josephine County has a similar measure on the May ballot to ban GE crops.

According to a recent report in The Oregonian, the ordinance is facing strong opposition from out of state funding sources. According to the report, six pesticide and plant biotechnology firms have donated $455,000 to Good Neighbor Farms, an organization fighting the GE crop ban.

Pesticide and biotech firm Monsanto Company donated $183,294, GMO seed producer DuPont Pioneer $129,647, biotech firm Syngenta Crop Protection $75,000, and $22,353 each from biotech firms Bayer CropScience, BASF Plant Science and Dow AgroSciences. Good Neighbor Farms has more than $556,000 cash on hand which is a colossal amount for a local measure.

The opposition to this measure has dramatically out-fundraised the two political action committees supporting the measure, GMO Free Jackson County and Our Family Farms Coalition, which have a combined $102,368 cash on hand. The lead up to this ballot measure is reminiscent of recent GE labeling efforts in California and Washington where anti-GE labeling efforts flooded the states with outside corporate money.

One of the original concerns behind the ordinance is organic farmers’ inability to protect themselves from GE crops drifting or cross-pollinating with their crops. A recent survey by Food & Water Watch, Organic Farmers Pay the Price for GMO Contamination, found that one-third of U.S. organic farmers have experienced problems in their fields due to the nearby use of GE crops, and over half of those growers have had loads of grain rejected because of unwitting GE contamination. In May of 2013, USDA announced that unapproved GE wheat was found growing in an Oregon wheat field. After this discovery, Japan cancelled its order to buy U.S. western white wheat. Monsanto has not conducted field trials in Oregon since 2001 when it reportedly withdrew from the state.

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Chile Derails ‘Monsanto Law’ That Would Privatize Seeds

monsanto

This month, rural women, indigenous communities and farmers in Chile found themselves on the winning end of a long-fought battle against a bill that had come to be known by many in this country as simply, the “Monsanto Law.”

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Anti-Monsanto protests have been commonplace in Chile as the multinational company has pushed to privatize seeds for monetary gain. Photo credit: New America Media

The bill, which would have given multinational agribusiness corporations the right to patent seeds they discover, develop or modify, was withdrawn by the Chilean government now controlled by newly elected members of the center-left coalition known as the New Majority, amid concerns that the law would bring harm to the country’s small and mid-sized farmers. 

In making the announcement on March 17, new Secretary General Ximena Rincón pledged that the Chilean government will “analyze all that is known in our country and internationally about this issue in order to protect the rights of agricultural communities, small and medium-sized farmers, and the heritage of seeds in our country.” 

Rincón has been a leading voice of opposition to the bill in the Chilean government, and part of a larger alliance of approximately fifteen organizations and elected officials across the country who have been lobbying and protesting its passage since the introduction of the bill four years ago. 

“We reject this law because it is a threat to family farms and to biodiversity,” said Lucía Sepúlveda from the Alliance for a Better Quality of Life/Pesticide Action Network of Chile.

Last August, her organization and thousands of other Chileans took to the streets of cities across the country in mass protests against the law. 

Sepúlveda explained that the Monsanto Law—derived from the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991 Act—would allow companies to register patents for the vast majority of seeds in Chile, and require small and medium producers to pay those companies for the right to use similar seeds. This, said Sepúlveda, would create a barrier for small and medium producers to use strains of seeds that have been developed and used by farmers and indigenous communities in Chile for generations. Producers would be faced with renewing their seed rights every year for a high price, or leaving agriculture all together. 

“We’re left without farmers and without production,” said Sepúlveda.

The steady decline of small and medium–scale agriculture is a growing problem for Chile. While the country is one of the world’s most prolific fruit exporters, many Chileans complain that the main importers of their agricultural goods such as Japan and the United States, have more access to quality produce than Chileans do. Large multinational companies generally produce solely for export, whereas small and medium producers produce for the domestic market, selling their goods at local markets or ferias.

Alicia Muñoz, co-director of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (Anamuri), visited parliament five times during the last year to convince senators to reject the law. Anamuri mobilized women across the country to take a stand for the sake of preserving “food sovereignty.” She described the withdrawal of the bill as a great achievement: “All of the resistance that rural organizations, principally indigenous communities, led during these past years was a success. We were able to convey to the parliament how harmful the law would be for the indigenous communities and farmers who feed us all. Big agriculture, or agro-business is just that, a business. It doesn’t feed our country.”

Muñoz said that further privatization of seeds in Chile would harm the autonomy of small and medium producers. She said that, currently, “they (small farmers) don’t have to depend on a Monsanto, Bayer or a Syngenta to get seeds,” referring to other agri-business giants. The inability of smaller growers to use family-developed and shared strains of seeds, she said, would not only be a financial blow, but would erode what the non-profit organization GRAIN calls Chile’s “genetic heritage.” 

“It would erase the history of our grandparents, our ancestors who taught us how to care for and grow our seeds,” explained Muñoz. 

Environmental groups joined the fight with organizations like Anamuri because of the bill’s impact on biodiversity. Agri-business companies insisted that the bill would not allow for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or foods, to be produced for the domestic market in Chile, but activists disagreed. “If the vast majority of seeds in Chile are registered, the traditional species of seeds will fall into disuse,” said Sepúlveda. 

GMOs are controversial around the world as environmental and consumer protection groups say they harm biodiversity and violate consumer rights because of their potential health effects. And the long controversy over the Monsanto Law in Chile is just one example of the struggle across Latin America between campesinos, small farmers and the corporate leaders of the global food industry. In Colombia, a national agricultural strike rocked the countryside in 2013 as farmers protested the effects of their own Monsanto Law that was included in a free trade agreement with the United States in 2010. In Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico, seed patenting bills have similarly generated public uproar. 

The rejection of the law in Chile is being viewed as a triumph for rural and indigenous communities, yet for Chilean social and environmental activists, the struggle is not over.

“There are three possible scenarios that could occur now,” explains Francisca Rodriguez of Anamuri and the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC-Via Campesina). “The best would be that the president [Michelle Bachelet] agrees to permanently withdraw the bill.” However, the government could also choose to set up a mixed commission to investigate its impact, which would mean consulting social and environmental organizations as well as corporate organizations. The third and worst option in the eyes of peasant and indigenous rights groups is that the bill could be rewritten and reintroduced by the Agricultural Commission. 

“The corporate lobby is large and powerful and they will try to reintroduce the bill,” Rodriguez warns. Corporate stakeholders who seek to privatize seeds and facilitate the spread of GMO crops around the world face widespread resistance in Chile but continue to have the upper hand in terms of political power and wealth. 

If the seed patenting law does resurface in Chile, organized groups of women, peasants, and indigenous communities appear ready to continue to defend their rights to seeds and small-scale agriculture. 

“We need to keep insisting publically that the president withdraw it for good. We have to continue organizing,” concluded Rodriguez.

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Related  Content:

Brazil Seeks Ban on Monsanto Herbicide Due to Alarming Toxicity Risks

Sri Lanka Bans Monsanto Herbicide After Report Suggests Link to Deadly Kidney Disease

France Stands Up to Monsanto, Bans Seed Giant’s GMO Corn

 

Brazil Seeks Ban on Monsanto Herbicide Due to Alarming Toxicity Risks

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Brazil’s Federal Public Prosecutor has asked the country’s justice department to suspend the use of glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup—the world’s top-selling herbicide.

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Emerging toxicity concerns may prompt Brazilian officials to ban one or more popular herbicide products. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In addition, the prosecutor has also targeted another herbicide known as 2,4-D and the active ingredients methyl parathion, lactofem, phorate, carbofuran, abamectin, tiram and paraquat, according to GMWatch.

Actions have already been filed within Brazil’s court system, the first of which seeks to compel the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) to reevaluate the toxicity of the eight active ingredients suspected of causing damage to people’s health and the environment.

The actions request a preliminary injunction which would allow the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply to suspend the registration of the products until a final conclusion about their toxicity is reached by ANVISA.

Regarding 2,4-D, the prosecutor has asked that the National Biosafety Technical Commission prohibit the widespread sale of genetically engineered seeds resistant to the herbicide pending a final position by ANVISA.

The news comes as another huge blow to the biotech industry, following last week’s unanimous ruling by Brazil’s Federal Appeals Court that decided to cancel the cultivation of Bayer’s Liberty Link GM Maize, according to Agro Link. 

Two weeks ago, Sri Lanka ordered a ban on glyphosate due to concerns the chemical may be linked to a mysterious kidney disease that has killed thousands of agricultural workers, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

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The legislature in El Salvador approved a ban on dozens of agrochemicals including glyphosate last September, but the proposal has so far not been signed into law.

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Related Content:

Sri Lanka Bans Monsanto Herbicide After Report Suggests Link to Deadly Kidney Disease

Monsanto Ad Banned in South Africa Due to Deceptive GMO Messaging

5 Reasons Monsanto’s ‘Science’ Doesn’t Add Up

 

Monsanto Ad Banned in South Africa Due to Deceptive GMO Messaging

The ASA also told Monsanto to

On March 20, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of South Africa ordered Monsanto to immediately withdraw an unsubstantiated radio ad that touted the benefits of crops containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), according to AllAfrica. 

The ASA also told Monsanto to

Protests have sprung up across South Africa that question the safety of GMO foods. Photo credit: March Against Monsanto South Africa Facebook Page

The African Centre for Biosafety lodged a complaint with the ASA following an advertisement on Radio 702 that claimed genetically engineered crops “enable [Monsanto] to produce more food sustainably whilst using fewer resources; provide a healthier environment by saving on pesticides; decrease greenhouse gas emissions and increase crop yields substantially.”

The ASA gave Monsanto an opportunity to substantiate its claims, but all the oversight organization received were links to documents on the agriculture giant’s website. Since Monsanto didn’t provide independent and credible data—which is required by South African law—the order was given to pull the ad from airing in the country’s heavily populated Guateng Province where Johannesburg is located. 

“We are elated with this decision,” said Mariam Mayet, executive director of the African Centre for Biosafety. “Monsanto has already been warned by the ASA as far back as 2007, that it needs to substantiate its claims from an independent and credible expert … regarding its claims of the so-called benefits of [GMO] crops. However, it appears Monsanto does not have much regard for South African law as it is hell bent on disseminating false information to the South African public.”

The ASA also told Monsanto to “ensure that it holds proper substantiation for its advertising claims” or risk attracting further sanctions.

Last week’s news from the ASA follows a pair of other high-profile international Monsanto bans in France and Sri Lanka. 

Earlier this month, France’s agriculture ministry temporarily banned the sale, use and cultivation of Monsanto’s MON 810 genetically engineered (GE) corn—the only variety that has been authorized in the European Union (EU).

Then, in an abrupt and surprising turn, Sri Lanka ordered a ban on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide Roundup, due to concerns the chemical may be linked to a mysterious kidney disease that has killed scores of agricultural workers.

Visit EcoWatch’s GMO page for more related news on this topic.