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The problem is that plants sweat these chemicals out in the morning dew, where they're picked up by bees like a morning cup of Starbucks.

Last year, Dr. Christian Krupke, an associate professor of entomology at Purdue University, did one of the first studies linking neo-nics to the collapse of bee colonies, which threatens the entire food system. One-quarter of the human diet is pollinated by bees.

The mysterious collapse of colonies — in which bees simply fly off and die — has been reported as far back as 1918. Yet over the past seven years, mortality rates have tripled. Some U.S. regions are witnessing the death of more than half their populations.

University of Wisconsin Law School professor Peter Carstensen notes that Monsanto's seed police are the Pinkertons. "These are the strikebreakers, the railroad goons. It's déjà vu all over again."
University of Wisconsin Law School professor Peter Carstensen notes that Monsanto's seed police are the Pinkertons. "These are the strikebreakers, the railroad goons. It's déjà vu all over again."
"They're a pesticide company that's bought up seed firms," says Bill Freese, of the Center for Food Safety. "Business-wise, it's a beautiful, really smart strategy. It's just awful for agriculture and the environment."
"They're a pesticide company that's bought up seed firms," says Bill Freese, of the Center for Food Safety. "Business-wise, it's a beautiful, really smart strategy. It's just awful for agriculture and the environment."

"We're looking at bee kills, persistently during corn-planting time," Krupke explains. "So what was killing these bees at corn planting?"

While he's still not sure how much responsibility the chemicals bear, his study indicates a link to Monsanto's GM corn, which has been widely treated with neo-nics since 2005.

But while other countries run from the problem, the U.S. government is content to let its citizens serve as guinea pigs.

What's Mine Is Yours

The same worries apply to contamination from GM crops. Ask Frank Morton, who grows organic sugar-beet seeds in Oregon's Willamette Valley and is among the few non-GM holdouts.

This became abundantly clear in 2010, when a federal judge demanded that all U.S. farmers stop planting GM sugar beets. Farmers were surprised to find that there was very little non-GM sugar-beet seed to be had. Since the GM variety was introduced in 2005, Monsanto had driven just about everyone out of the market.

Morton's farm is just two miles from a GM sugar-beet farm. Unfortunately, beet pollen can travel as much as five miles, cross-pollinating other farmers' fields and, in the case of an organic farmer, threatening his ability to sell his crop as organic and GM-free. The contamination can arrive in the most benign ways.

"Some guy from a landscaping company goes driving by in his dump truck and sees this potting soil full of Roundup Ready sugar-beet roots and gets the farmer to sell it to him," says Morton. "A scientist who works at Oregon State University and knows me happened to go into this landscaping business and was buying some potting soil when she saw these roots, and she knew what they were.

"The company that was responsible for the roots had to go out and find all the people," he continues. "They went out and paid people to let them recover the roots from their soil. And to not say anything, they gave them $100 each. I know, because the lady who owns the liquor store told me that she bought some of the soil and they paid her not to mention it."

It's especially galling because GM crops have perverted longstanding property law. Organic farmers, for example, are responsible for protecting their farms from contamination, since courts have consistently refused to hold GM growers liable.

Kansas farmer Bryce Stephens had to stop growing organic corn and soybeans for fear of contamination; he has thirty-foot buffer crops to protect his organic wheat. (Wheat pollen doesn't travel far.)

"Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their side of the fence," says Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen. "If it was anything but agriculture, nobody would question it. If I decided to spray my house purple and I sprayed on a day that was windy, and my purple paint drifted onto your house and contaminated your siding and shingles, there isn't a court in the nation that wouldn't in two minutes find me guilty of irresponsibly damaging your property. But when it comes to agriculture, all of a sudden the tables are turned."

Contamination isn't just about boutique organic brands, either. It maims U.S. exports, too.

Take Bayer, which grew unapproved, experimental GM rice at test plots around Louisiana State University for just one year. Within five years, these test plots had contaminated 30 percent of U.S. rice acreage. No one's certain how it happened, but Bayer's rice was found as far away as Central America and Africa.

Within days of the announcement, rice futures lost $150 million in value, while U.S. rice exports dropped by 20 percent during the next year. (Bayer ended up paying $750 million in damages.)

Last month brought another hit. A Monsanto test of GM wheat mysteriously contaminated an Oregon farm eight years after the test was shut down. Japan and South Korea immediately halted imports of U.S. soft white wheat — a particularly harsh pill for the Japanese, who have used our white wheat in nearly all their cakes and confectionery since the 1960s.

Monsanto's response? It's blaming the whole mess on eco-terrorism.

Just Label It

Given Monsanto's history, is it any wonder that developing countries like Ecuador, Peru and Haiti have shied away from GM crops? Haiti felt strong enough that in the wake of its 2010 earthquake, it turned down Monsanto's offer of seeds, even with assurances that the seed wasn't GM.

Brazil is poised to become the world's largest soybean exporter on the strength of Monsanto seed. Still, the country's farmers aren't big fans of the company. Thousands of farmers are suing Monsanto for more than $600 million after the company continued to charge them royalties two years after the expiration of its patent.

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17 comments
Andy Peters
Andy Peters

While I appreciate Westword's support for longer form journalism like this, I'm not sure what new information it's brought to the table. "Monsanto is evil cuz here's a tangentially related quote from a competitor, and here are some angry farmers and circumstantial evidence of cronyism," is old hat by now. So what's new? Why can't organic farmers affected by GMOs litigate? Or can they and they choose not to? Why have Monsanto's products seen such success despite evidence that seems to condemn them? How does Monsanto exert monopoly pricing power when it only serves a plurality of the market? If neither Monsanto nor USDA test GM products before they go to market, what is the purpose of the approvals process? Is it simply a charade?

Annette Cannon
Annette Cannon

Fracking is bad too! Yes both are banned in other countries, but not in the good ole complacent USA.

Annette Cannon
Annette Cannon

Monsatan is more than just GMO'S in the food supply! They are EVIL and only care about Money, Power, Greed and Control. I am in a lawsuit with them for murdering my Dad by knowingly exposing him to Asbestos. Monsanto has quite a history in our world and are just a very small branch of a mega-mega corporation. Check out the big picture of these corporations and their destruction of the earth and the people.

Ben Beeby
Ben Beeby

I dont like Monsanto either, but as much as GMO sucks, you know what sucks more? Starvation. A generation ago, you know before Monsanto, that used to actually happen. Locusts would wipe out the food, and people would starve to death. I wonder how quickly we would all want GMO back if we had 1000 calories a day rations until summer.

Cody Young
Cody Young

Fracking and GMOs are not outlawed.

Carrie Alison Cazes
Carrie Alison Cazes

People need to stop hating frac'ing and read about GMOs. And how they are outlawed and why. This is a movement I will support.

Deborah Watts
Deborah Watts

Scum slim balls have an espionage team, that law suit targets farmers for saving seed and or if the Monsanto seed creeps into a non Monsanto neighboring field that farmer is targeted also. WHO ever heard of a farmer not allowed to save seed. PRAY the 5 million farmers that are now taking legal action for 7.7 billion, will stop the selfish greedy people in control at Monsanto. Who will surly burn in the lake of fire if they do not repent for their sins! Monsanto's soy seed is round up proof. I do not want to eat that GMO CRAP and not have knowledge or a choice. YOUWHO..you are a fool if you do!

Paul Alexander Flores
Paul Alexander Flores

Thank you for finally getting this out to the public. This needs to be heard and we as a human race need to stop this evil evil company.

WillieStortz
WillieStortz

@Ben Beeby Hippies don't care about children starving in India, all they care about is their organic carrots from Whole Foods for $12/a pound.

 
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