The Multinational Monitor


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Monsanto Sued

Monsanto has led a global cartel engaged in biotech product- and price-fixing, charges a landmark class action lawsuit filed in December in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The Foundation on Economic Trends and the National Family Farm Coalition filed the suit on behalf of both U.S. and international farmers who purchased genetically modified (GM) corn and/or soybeans, as well as farmers engaged in farming non-GM crops in the 1999-2000 growing season.

A 1996 internal Monsanto document known as the "Maize Protection Business Plan" describes how the company, along with numerous co-conspirators, including DuPont, Dow Chemical, Novartis and AstraZeneca, formed a global cartel to monopolize and restrain trade in the GM seed market, effectively precluding additional competitors from entering the marketplace, according to the plaintiffs' complaint.

The lawsuit also alleges that Monsanto failed to adequately test GM seeds and crops for human health and environmental safety prior to marketing them, thereby causing a collapse in international consumer and regulatory confidence in GM food products. As a result, U.S. and international farmers suffered economic losses, the complaint alleges.

Because of cross-pollination in the field and intermingling during handling and storage, even farmers who grew non-GM seeds suffered in the market, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit seeks both damages and injunctive relief, with the plaintiffs petitioning the court to ensure that GM seeds are no longer sold until Monsanto has "adequately tested GM seeds and crops for human health and environmental safety, and subjected such tests to independent scientific review and public disclosure."

"It is my hope that this class action lawsuit will refocus the global discussion around GM foods by shifting the public debate away from the more narrow issues of trade relations and government regulatory protocols toward the broader issue of corporate concentration of power over world agriculture in the emerging biotech century," says Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends.

"Monsanto and the other co-conspirators named in this class action litigation represent a new and potentially dangerous exercise of influence over agricultural markets just as was the case at the beginning of the twentieth century when Standard Oil controlled much of the oil market and used its influence to dictate the terms of industrial life," Rifkin says.

Rifkin says there is a chance that the government might join the lawsuit sometime this year and that similar cases could be filed in other countries.

"This action is another in a series of unsuccessful attempts by veteran antagonists to stop a technology with the potential to improve our environment, increase food production and improve health," responds David Snively, assistant general counsel for Monsanto. "We're confident this suit will be dismissed."

The Foundation on Economic Trends and the National Family Farm Coalition are launching a public education campaign to parallel the litigation. Rifkin kicked off the campaign on December 15 with a briefing for members of the French National Assembly and business leaders in Paris. Three hundred seventy non-governmental organizations in 47 countries have already consented to be advisers to the lawsuit.

"As a family farmer, I can tell you that farmers and consumers of the world have been sold a bill of goods because genetically modified organisms (GMOs) do not perform as advertised," says Bill Christison, president of the National Family Farm Coalition.

"The efforts of Monsanto and their co-conspirators has been to flood the world with seeds that produce products consumers do not want to eat," Christison says.

"For family farmers this lawsuit is historic. Today, Monsanto and its co-conspirators have monopoly control over our food system. Their operations threaten world food security. This litigation exposes their practices."

In a prepared statement, Monsanto stated that claims that it has monopolized the GM corn and soybean seed markets are groundless because "farmers today have more choices of high quality seed than ever before. This year in the U.S. alone, hundreds of locally suited seed varieties, both with and without traits imparted through biotechnology, were available to growers. This is in contrast to several decades ago, when growers could expect only a limited number [of] new seed varieties in each crop each year."

The company also claims that its seeds have been "subjected to intense scrutiny by regulatory agencies," including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, EPA and FDA.

"Monsanto is committed to the farmer's right to have access to high quality seed choices that allow them to continue in the outstanding progress they have made in producing more food with fewer resources on less land," Snively adds.

In 1998, the market for soybeans in the United States was estimated at $17.7 billion. The 1999 U.S. corn market was slightly larger, estimated at $20 billion.

Charlie Cray