|More trouble for Monsanto (27/3/2007)|
1.More trouble for Monsanto
EXTRACTS: Monsanto, its seed distributors and growers stand to lose up to $250 million if the [GM] alfalfa... is taken off the market for the two years it takes to complete the study, the company said in court papers filed late on Friday.
[Monsanto's] "appropriate stewardship measures"... include making sure that Roundup Ready crops are grown as much as 3 miles away from conventional crops to prevent cross-pollination. (item 3)
1.More trouble for Monsanto
On March 6, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC] filed a civil complaint in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleging that in 2002 Charles M. Martin, then Monsanto Co.'s "Government Affairs Director for Asia, authorized and directed an Indonesian consulting firm to pay a bribe totaling $50,000 to a senior Indonesian Ministry of Environment official."
The payment, the filing said, "was made to influence the Senior Environment Official to repeal language in a decree that was unfavorable to Monsanto's business in Indonesia."
Later the SEC explains the "unfavorable" decree was a mid-2001 government ruling that required "bio-technology products . . . such as Monsanto's Bollgard Cotton . . . for the first time, to undergo an AMDAL process (environmental impact assessment) before they could be cultivated in Indonesia."
That assessment, the SEC continues, "posed a considerable obstacle to the success of Monsanto's existing Bollgard Cotton project and Monsanto's ability to successfully market other GMOs in Indonesia and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region."
Especially so, notes the SEC, because in "February, 2001, Monsanto obtained limited approval from Indonesia's Ministry of Agriculture allowing farmers in South Sulawesi, Indonesia to grow Bollgard Cotton. . . . "
Shortly thereafter, however, a change in government brought a change in rules.
The $50,000 payment wasn't the only money Monsanto spent on Indonesian officials. As the Martin complaint explains in a paragraph labeled "Other Relevant Entities," the SEC already had moved against the St. Louis biotech company in early 2005 "for violating the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)..."
On Jan. 6, 2005, the SEC "filed two settled enforcement proceedings" against Monsanto whereby the company - "without admitting or denying the Commission's charges" - consented to pay "a $500,000 civil penalty" as "a final judgment in (a) federal lawsuit."
The suit, brought by the SEC, "charged that, from 1997 to 2002, Monsanto inaccurately recorded, or failed to record, in its books and records approximately $700,000 of illegal or questionable payments made to at least 140 current and former Indonesian government officials and their family members."
The settlement agreement adds, "The approximate $700,000 was derived from a bogus product registration scheme undertaken by two Indonesian entities owned or controlled by Monsanto."
But since the SEC "considered the cooperation that Monsanto provided the Commission staff during its investigation" important to connect the Indonesian dots, the U.S. Justice Department "entered into an agreement . . . to defer prosecution on charges of violating the anti-bribery and books and records provision of the FCPA."
The deal meant that if Monsanto paid a "$1 million monetary penalty" and retained "for a period of three years an independent compliance expert" to ensure such violations would not occur again, the company would face no other charges.
Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, an authoritative weekly newsletter on white collar crime, describes deferred prosecution deals like the one Monsanto agreed to as "criminal activity without any criminals."
In a lengthy 2005 treatise on the rising use of deferred prosecutions (at www.corporatecrimereporter.com), Mokhiber explains it this way: "You can commit any crime you wish, from bribery to corruption to fraud. Just help us put the individuals in jail, and we will let you off the hook. No conviction. No record of criminal wrongdoing."
Under the 2005 deal Monsanto cut with Justice, its three-year compliance period will end just after it hopes to conclude its $1.5 billion buyout of Delta & Pine Land Co., a purchase that will give it a virtual lock on the U.S. biotech cottonseed market.
The buyout is presently undergoing an antitrust review at the same U.S. Justice Department that granted Monsanto the deferred prosecution in the Indonesian cotton scheme.
ALAN GUEBERT's column appears on this page each Tuesday. His e-mail address is [email protected].
2.Why Monsanto loves ethanol
American farmers, spurred by ethanol frenzy, are planting the largest corn crop in more than 50 years.The demand is so high, reports Farm News, that seed companies are running out of the most popular varieties of corn seed.
At the top of the list are "triple stack hybrids" sold mostly by Monsanto-owned subsidiaries. A triple stack hybrid combines genetic modifications that result in three different "traits." In this case, the corn comes with built-in resistance to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, and built-in insecticides that target two of the corn plant's most fearsome foes, the dreaded corn borer and the equally devastating corn rootworm. (The corn borer and corn rootworm toxins are derived from two different subspecies of the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis -- triple stack hybrids thus include two different "Bt" genetic modification "events.")
For Monsanto, the apparent popularity of triple stack hybrid corn seed is an opportunity to tout the market's embrace of its latest products. For critics of GM corn, the rush to such varieties presages a future filled with weeds that evolve to resist Roundup and new generations of corn borers and rootworms that shrug off Bt toxins.
No doubt Monsanto plans to come up with new, "improved" corn seed products that will target new, improved pests, and will be able to resist new, improved herbicides. That is the treadmill that the human race has put itself on, and whether we'll ever be able to get off of it seems a highly doubtful proposition, unless food prices rise so high that biofuels become politically impossible. But that dreary quagmire is not the point of this post.
For some time, How the World Works has been convinced that the rush to biofuels will significantly boost the ongoing rollout of genetically modified organisms. There's just too much money at stake in the energy business for it to be otherwise. The popularity of the latest biotech crops is a perfect illustration of this. These seeds aren't cheap -- they are top-of-the-line products. But for well-financed farmers and industrial-scale agribusinesses aiming to cash in on ethanol demand, seed costs are not a significant barrier. It seems reasonable to expect, in the not-too-distant future, quadruple- and quintuple- and sextuple-stacked hybrids that do all kinds of fancy things such as incorporate herbicide resistance, targeted pesticides, and modifications that make the corn cheaper and easier to industrially transform into ethanol.
As more and more modifications are incorporated into a single organism, our ability to understand and predict how wide-scale proliferation of those organisms will affect the greater environment will become even more difficult than it already is. So maybe "treadmill" isn't the best metaphor to describe the current dynamic. A rocket launch into territory unknown might offer a more appropriate analogy.
3.Monsanto asks court to allow sale of GMO alfalfa
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Monsanto Co. has asked a San Francisco federal court to allow it to continue selling its genetically modified Roundup Ready Alfalfa while the USDA conducts a court-ordered environmental impact study.
Monsanto, its seed distributors and growers stand to lose up to $250 million if the alfalfa, which was designed to survive the company's Roundup herbicide, is taken off the market for the two years it takes to complete the study, the company said in court papers filed late on Friday.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer halted the sale of the modified alfalfa at the request of farmers, environmentalists and consumer advocates who say that it could harm the U.S. economy and the environment.
The judge voided the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 approval of Roundup Ready Alfalfa, finding the agency had not conducted a full environmental impact statement. Breyer banned seed sales and gave farmers until March 30 to plant seeds they had already purchased.
Judge Breyer has set a hearing for April 27 to consider the plaintiffs' request for a permanent injunction.
Alfalfa, a fodder crop pollinated by bees and wind, is among the most widely grown crops in the United States, along with corn, soybeans and wheat.
In its brief, Monsanto presented testimony from scientists who said there was an "extremely low" risk that Roundup Ready Alfalfa would pollinate conventional crops if "appropriate stewardship measures" were taken.
Those measures include making sure that Roundup Ready crops are grown as much as 3 miles away from conventional crops to prevent cross-pollination.
Monsanto argued that a continued ban on Roundup Ready seed would force farmers "to plant lower-yield alfalfa breeds that pose more complicated and costly weed control problems, and require the use of more toxic or environmentally problematic herbicides."
The Center for Food Safety, which is among the groups that sought the injunction, said Breyer's order marks the first time a federal court has overturned a USDA approval of a biotech seed and halted planting.
The Center and other plaintiffs have argued that the biotech alfalfa could create super weeds resistant to herbicides, cause farmers to lose export business and contaminate natural and organic alfalfa.
They also alleged that Monsanto could try to force farmers whose crops were contaminated with Roundup Ready Alfalfa to pay for the company's patented gene technology whether they wanted it or not.