On March 11 a new documentary was aired on French television. It is a documentary most Americans will never see, explaining how the gigantic biotech corporation Monsanto is threatening to destroy the agricultural biodiversity which has served mankind for thousands of years.
For millennia, farmers have saved seeds from season to season. But when Monsanto developed GM seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup, Monsanto patented the seeds. For nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented. But in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court allowed for seed patents in a five-to-four decision, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply.
Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company. Farmers who buy Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year.
Monsanto puts pressure on farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers, and anyone else it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. To do this, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents. They secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops. They infiltrate community meetings. They gather information from informants about farming activities.
Some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the “seed police” and use words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe their tactics.