There's a story doing the rounds again, about how Monsanto, one of the world’s largest profiteers of genetically engineered (GE) food, banned GE food from its own corporate canteens!
Monsanto had its pants pulled down by Friends of the Earth in 1999, who revealed that the company was refusing to serve to its own staff the very same GE food that it incessantly foists upon impoverished nations on the premise that it will save populations from starvation. Although it has never been proved, Monsanto constantly claims that GE food is harmless – so why wasn't it serving it in its own office?
In one canteen, run by external provider, Sutcliffe Catering, a notice read that a decision has been taken to remove, as far as practicable, GE soya and maize from all food products served in the canteen. “We have taken the above steps to ensure that you, the customer, can feel confident in the food we serve", the provider said.
“We believe in choice”, said Monsanto, while the company actually made sure that by not serving GE food in its canteens they did not give staff the opportunity to ‘choose’ whether or not to eat GE food as they de facto ensure that the staff did not get to eat GE food. Yet the same choice isn’t available to farmers around the world, who most of the time have no choice but to plant GE crops, thanks to a seed market that is often dominated by Monsanto.
Once the GE seeds are in the ground, a vicious circle is started; farmers no longer have the opportunity to choose, as once GE seeds have been released into the environment it is not possible to contain or control them, as an individual seed travels with wind or is swept away by rainwater and may set root in soil owned by a farmer who does not at all want to plant GE seeds. In a recent protest in a Manhattan courtroom US farmers said it is no longer possible for them to keep GE seeds off their fields due to contamination.
If Monsanto decided for its staff that it cannot eat GE food, and actually removes the staff’s own right to choose, how come the rest of us cannot have the same opportunity? Over 90% of all processed food in the US - such as breakfast cereal and the chicken nuggets often served to kids -are now contaminated by GE, even if the farmers who produced the food actually did not intentionally grow any GE crops.
In one Monsanto office location, staff was reportedly happy to eat GE food, as they preferred food sprayed with fewer pesticides. However, the widespread and increasingly intensive use of pesticides in association with the use of GE crops poses suspected further risks to the environment and human health, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and birth defects. Monsanto's sales pitch to farmers continues to promise reduced labour and financial savings by simplifying and reducing the costs of weed control. The reality turns out to be somewhat different, with GE crops attracting increasing health, biodiversity and environmental concerns, and the development of weed resistance.
Genetic Engineering, corporate control of people's food and the over reliance on pesticides and herbicides are not the solutions. So what is? Ecological Farming. It's safe. It's do-able. And it's happening now. Help us support farming for the future.
So Monsanto, if you feel so confident in the food you serve up to the rest of the planet – are you serving GE food in your canteen these days?
Read more about ecological farming
Caroline Jacobsson is a Communications Manager at Greenpeace International
Edited and updated, on 10 February 2012