Are presidential candidates against Monsanto

The lords of the seeds

They want to know what they are eating

"We only want a label" shouted the demonstrators and marched towards the White House on a sunny autumn day. "80 percent of the food in a normal supermarket is made with genetically modified ingredients. But that's not on it," says Megan Westgate, head of the "NONGMO Project" and one of the organizers of the demonstration in the US capital. GMO means "genetically modified organism". Unlike in Germany, for example, genetically modified foods do not have to be labeled in the USA.

The march on the White House and the subsequent rally in the adjacent Lafayette Park are the highlight of the "Right2Know" march. Joseph Wilhelm, the founder of the German organic chain Rapunzel, has already organized two "gene-free walking" marches in Germany. So now "Right2Know", the "right to know". Wilhelm has taken off his shoes and is giving his feet some sun. "I walked all the way from New York City to the capital," he proudly explains.

Monsanto as a symbolic figure

Walked from New York to Washington in protest: Joseph Wilhelm

Actually, Joseph Wilhelm had wanted a different destination for the march: Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis, in the US state of Missouri. For him, Monsanto is "the symbol for the development of genetically manipulated seeds". But a march to St. Louis would have gotten less attention - and that's what this is all about.

Monsanto was founded in 1997 as an agricultural company. However, the history of the predecessor company with the same name goes back to 1901. Her past includes the production of Agent Orange. This notorious herbicide was used by the US Army in the Vietnam War and is now held responsible for massive health problems among US soldiers and Vietnamese.

Monsanto now distances itself from this past and presents itself as a company that only develops and sells "seeds and agricultural products". These include maize and cotton introduced in the 1990s, which are inherently resistant to pests. "The plant produces the poison itself," explains Rapunzel boss Joseph Wilhelm. If it is then fed to animals, for example, "you eat the plant poisons", Wilhelm points out. The feeding of such plants is not subject to labeling in Germany either.

Another variant are plants such as rapeseed, which are resistant to Monsanto's weed killers, such as the frequently used "Roundup". The destroyer destroys every plant in the field, just not the rapeseed that has been specially adapted to it. Monsanto says the plants are harmless to health: "Biologically modified plants have to undergo more tests and examinations before they can be placed on the market than any other agricultural product," writes Mark Buckingham, press spokesman for Monsanto Europe in an inquiry E-mail.

Health concerns

Bill Freese of the US Center for Food Safety disagrees: "When I look at the regulatory system for genetically modified crops, I think it is inadequate." When you genetically modify a plant, you create mutations, he explains: "This could lead to defects: for example, fewer nutritional values, more toxins that are already present in small, harmless quantities in the natural plant, or completely new toxins are created." In his opinion, allergies are a major problem. Due to the lack of an obligation to declare, the consumer cannot understand in retrospect what he may have had an allergic reaction to.

Hans Rudolf Herren, President of the Washington Millennium Institute, also warns of health problems caused by genetically modified plants - especially since, contrary to the promises of companies like Monsanto, more and more poison has to be injected in the long term: "It is no longer enough to inject once, you inject twice and with you a whole cocktail of herbicides. " Because the weeds would become resistant to the poison after a certain period of time. Herren speaks of "superweeds".

The most important weapon in the fight against hunger?

The use in the fight against hunger is often cited as an argument in favor of genetically modified seeds. Monsanto spokesman Buckingham writes: "Genetic engineering offers farmers and consumers a wide range of opportunities that cannot be achieved by other means." He points to India: The cotton harvest there increased from 300 kilograms per hectare in 2002 to 524 kilograms per hectare in 2009.

Makes serious allegations against the seed companies: Vandana Shiva

The winner of the alternative Nobel Prize, Vandana Shiva, is also demonstrating in Washington. The environmental activist from India has been fighting Monsanto for years and refers to the report "The GMO ruler has no clothes" published by her organization Navdanya International in mid-October. It states that Monsanto promises farmers in India much higher yields than those mentioned by spokesman Buckingham - and cannot keep these promises. Shiva also came to Washington to demonstrate. She says the GM crops "didn't increase the harvest. Your claim that you need less chemistry is not true."

Massive allegations

The criticism is focused on Monsanto because, according to Shiva, "95 percent of the cotton seed is controlled by Monsanto, which has licensing agreements with 60 Indian seed companies." Monsanto itself does not provide any information on the market share of its seeds in other parts of the world. In the US, according to Monsanto, the company supplies about a third of the corn seeds and nine out of ten soybean corridors are plowed with Roundup Ready technology from Monsanto and its licensing companies.

Because Monsanto seeds are patented, farmers are only allowed to use them for one sowing. They cannot invoke the right to keep part of the harvest as seed for the next year, as farmers have done since time immemorial. Because they have to buy expensive seeds every year, Vandana Shiva argues, many Indian farmers are deeply in debt. "250,000 farmers in India killed themselves because of the high debt, most of these suicides are in the cotton-growing area," she says.

Obama's promise

However, a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) from 2008 could not establish a direct connection between the cultivation of genetically modified cotton and the suicides of the farmers. According to the study, there was actually an increase in yield in many parts of India due to the use of GM cotton. Crop failures - which have also occurred - were caused by droughts or other adverse conditions.

The Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser (on the right) had to fight Monsanto in court for years

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama had promised in 2007: "We will let people know if their food is genetically modified because we want Americans to know what they are buying". So far, nothing has happened in this regard. The FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, or more precisely the chairman of the food safety division, is responsible for the inspection and labeling of food in the USA. In 2010 President Obama appointed a new man to the office. His name: Michael R. Taylor. One of his previous jobs: Vice President of the Lobbyists Office at Monsanto.

Author: Christina Bergmann
Editor: Matthias von Hein