Monsanto's marketing efforts pull imagery of an idyllic world of cooperation, support…downright hippy-esque harmony between the largest seed and pesticide company in the world and millions of struggling farmers. But the controversial manufacturer known for the toxic glyphosate-based Roundup and widespread genetically modified and hybrid seeds, paints a much different picture than what's really going on in the fields.
It's been nothing short of a banner year for the biotech industry, especially Monsanto. The USDA has eventually approved virtually every genetically modified organism presented for deregulation by Monsanto and others in the industry (including Cargill, Syngenta, ConAgra). While most of the developed world bans or requires labeling of GMO foods, there are no such laws in effect in the United States where at least 70 percent of all processed foods contain GMOs, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture; and at least 86 percent of four major crops grown in the U.S. are genetically modified (corn, canola, soy and cotton). California hopes to become the first state to require mandatory labeling of GMO foods through a ballot initiative getting underway in 2012, and not a moment too soon say activists, especially when looking at Monsanto's resume over the last 12 months. Here's some of the biggest victories and challenges for Monsanto in 2011.
1. Monsanto's GMO Alfalfa was deregulated at the beginning of 2011 without condition, despite efforts by the organic industry to get some safeguards for organic farmers. Alfalfa, which makes up 15 percent of total U.S. crop land, is known for being naturally quite pest-resistant, and a huge source of food for the nation's livestock.
2. Glyphosate, better known as Monsanto's Roundup becomes the #1 selling pesticide in the world—used in more than 90 countries. But it's not without controversy. Earlier this year, Monsanto was under investigation by the SEC for allegedly offering incentives to distributors and sellers of Roundup to suppress sales of cheaper competing products.
3. The USDA allows biotech companies to conduct their own safety studies on GM seeds. Rather than inundate the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services with doing the research, they now just review what companies submit—allowing for a self-regulated industry to decide whether or not genetically modified foods are safe for the environment and human consumption.
4. 200,000+ Wikileaks documents show that the U.S. government supports Monsanto's pressure on EU countries to allow them in; France, long outspoken against GMOs eventually caves and reverses a GMO ban.
6. Two teens die and several more are injured in a Monsanto cornfield by electrocution from an irrigation system while detassling GMO corn.
8. Nepalese officials and citizens fight back against Monsanto's hybrid corn seeds, which the company claims they had permission to plant.
9. Despite a few backslides, Monsanto wins a ruling allowing their controversial GMO sugar beets to stay in the ground while consumer groups and activists fight the decision, stating that a mandatory Environmental Impact Statement was never conducted.
10. India accuses Monsanto of 'eggplant biopiracy'—stealing one of the nation's most beloved vegetables so that they can create a GMO version.
11. Genetically modified sweet corn has been on the market for several years via Syngenta, and Monsanto has a version poised for distribution soon.
12. 'Superweeds' are found to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup pesticide, and are growing out of control and damaging farm equipment. It's caused farmers to use excessive amounts of Roundup and resort to stronger pesticides no longer commonly used including 2.4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange.
13. Rootworms in the Midwest have also shown resistance to Monsanto's Roundup in as few as three generations, causing farmers problems similar to the superweeds.
14. Raindrops, groundwater and air samples collected throughout the Mississippi Basin tested above allowable limits for glyphosate, the ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup pesticide. Monsanto has long insisted that glyphosate would bind with soil and not leach into groundwater, but the research proves otherwise.
15. Declining Monarch butterfly populations are linked to genetically modified seeds and glyphosate exposure.
16. A never-before-seen pathogen was identified living in livestock animals fed genetically modified grains and has the potential to cause serious illness to the animals, their offspring and the humans that consume GMOs.
17. Nineteen studies were reviewed by a team of researchers and connect genetically modified foods with serious human organ damage, primarily kidney and liver.
18. Monsanto steps into the produce market by developing hybrid fruit and vegetable seeds. Not 100 percent genetically modified, the hybrid seeds are still affecting the true expression of the plant.
19. Hungarian officials burn nearly a thousand acres of GMO corn illegally planted in the country.
21. Bolivia, facing a food shortage vows to use only non-GMO seeds in efforts to feed its people.
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Image: Lars Plougmann