In an interview with Darshan Kakri at the Mahesh Chandra Regmi Lecture series, Vandana Shiva was asked, “Why should countries like Nepal with a predominantly traditional agricultural base be concerned about the entry of a company like Monsanto in its territory?” Regardless of how you feel about the safety of their genetically modified seeds, Shiva’s response provides one of the best reasons why the products of companies like Monsanto should be categorically rejected.
Monsanto has a history in making war chemicals like Agent Orange (also called Herbicide Orange) which was used in Vietnam War, not in working with seeds or agriculture. In 1972, university scientists first discovered the recombinant DNA technology, in which you can take the gene from one species and transfer them into another. A few years later, the scientists who evolved those techniques put a ban on it themselves as they decided that they did not know its consequences. This is called the Asilomar Declaration. But the companies thought otherwise. This new technology made it possible to insert human genes into cows, cow genes into wheat as they are doing in England or scorpion genes into cabbage or bacterium genes, which is the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), into maize or cotton. Therefore, a group of companies like Monsanto got together and formed the intellectual property committee of industries. They thought if seeds could be patented, they could make trillions of dollars, as every farmer will have to pay them royalty. Just like in a zamindari system, the peasant works on the land and the landowner gets the revenue. In a life zamindari, which is what patents on life are, the seeds are the peasants and with a little tinkering, companies like Monsanto collect royalties. Monsanto usually enters a country illegally. And most of the times, governments don’t accept them. Then they exert pressure on the government demanding that they be legalised. This is what happened in Brazil. Genetically modified (GM) soya was smuggled into the country and later the government had to legalise it. Now they collect $2.2 billion in royalties from the Brazilian farmers who have recently sued the company. In India, they entered illegally in 1998 with GM cotton. The government had not been approached. So I filed a case against them in the Supreme Court. They could not sell Bt cotton till 2002. But they started operating via other Indian companies or having licensing arrangements with them. Last year we conducted a study and found that 60 Indian companies are locked in licensing agreements with Monsanto . They cannot sell any other seed but that of Monsanto . That is how other seeds disappear from the market and the farmers can only buy GM seeds. And companies like Monsanto say that farmers choose their seeds. I have an option to buy tap water or bottled water. But if the tap water is dry as in the case of India or Nepal or if it is contaminated with sewage, buying bottled water is not a choice I make. It’s a non-choice. Similarly, Bt cotton is a non-choice for Indian farmers.