Big Win for Real Food: Monsanto Finally Loses in Court
It hasn’t been a good year for Big Ag giant Monsanto. After a long court battle including an appeal, a French court has done what would be unthinkable here in the U.S. — found Monsanto guilty of poisoning a farmer with one of its chemicals. Unfortunately it wasn’t the infamous “Roundup” in question but an older product called “Lasso.” It is, however, a step in the right direction and shows that sometimes David really can win against Goliath.
The ruling isn’t a mortal wound for Monsanto. It’s not even a bloody nose. It’s more like a bee sting. But here’s the thing: one bee sting won’t kill you, but a thousand might. And this isn’t the only hit the toxic company took this year.
California listed glyphosate, Roundup’s main ingredient, as a known carcinogen. The World Health Organization declared it “probably carcinogenic.” The biggest Native American tribe in California legally declared their lands a “GMO-free zone.” And the EPA, in a stunning reversal of itself, revoked its approval of a new weed killer that combines glyphosate and one of the ingredients of Agent Orange.
Herbicides and pesticides are linked to a list of health problems a mile long, but it’s notoriously hard to prove the connection in court. Because the damage usually happens due to chronic exposure, courts usually rule that there’s not enough evidence to prove the connection. As one farmer so eloquently put it, “It’s like lying on a bed of thorns and trying to say which one cut you.”
The French case is different.
Monsanto “lassos” itself in France
The case originally went to trial in 2012. The farmer, Paul Francois, claimed that after breathing some of Monsanto’s “Lasso” pesticide accidentally he developed neurological problems. He had headaches. He had memory loss. He developed a stutter, among other things. He said that the label had no warning that it could cause those problems. He sued.
Remember, we’re talking about a country where people don’t sue at the drop of a hat. And we’re talking about a company which has been caught repeatedly lying about both the way their products work and the effects they can have.
Monsanto has claimed that Roundup is “safe enough to drink.” They’ve said it isn’t absorbed into the food crops it’s sprayed on. They’ve claimed that it biodegrades, and quickly. None of this is true. In fact, Monsanto was fined in France for lying about these very things years before the Francois case. France had also already banned Lasso several years before this case hit the courts. So when Mr. Francois filed his suit, France had already shown it wasn’t about to put up with Monsanto shenanigans.
It didn’t. The court sided with the farmer and told Monsanto to pay up.
Until Roundup came along, “Lasso” was Monsanto’s blockbuster. It was the most popular pesticide in the U.S. for years. Like so many other Monsanto products, it’s been linked to a massive number of health problems, from liver damage to cancer. Britain, Belgium, and Canada banned it in the mid-2000s. France banned it in 2007. Monsanto gradually “phased it out for commercial reasons” here in the U.S. — meaning, they forced farmers to take GMO seeds that don’t need it — but it’s still legal here.
This year the Francois case was heard again on appeal, and once again the French courts stood up for the little guy. They ordered Monsanto to pay damages, which have yet to be determined.
Has the world finally had a bellyful of GMOs?
I hope the price tag for this case ends up being more than a token, and there’s a chance that it might. France has been on the forefront of the anti-GMO movement, one of the growing number of European nations to ban them. Corn is currently the only GMO crop allowed to be grown in Europe, and last year France stood up and said, “No more!” even to that. Hungary and Russia have also banned GMOs.
This year several European countries have also moved to ban products containing glyphosate, and more have pulled it from garden store shelves even without an official ban. Meanwhile, here in the U.S. the debate over GMO labeling rages on. Roughly 90% of us want to know if we’re eating Frankenfood, but the FDA says we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about the issue. Big Food says they’ll lose money if they have to label GMOs.
They’re right. But not because printing three extra letters on the label would use so much ink. They’d lose money because most of us, on seeing those three extra letters, would opt for something natural.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, though — an effort to stick an anti-labeling clause in the spending bill Congress just passed failed. The measure would have denied states the right to create their own labeling laws. Since several states have already passed such laws, and more have proposed similar bills, that would have been a catastrophe for those of us who want to know what we’re actually eating.
All this gives me hope that maybe Monsanto isn’t “too big to fail.” The first GMO labeling law goes into effect this summer. If Big Government keeps its nose out of the States’ business, we just might have a chance to defeat Goliath.
In the meantime, the best way to avoid GMOs is to buy what you can locally. Contrary to popular belief, GMOs are not available to small farms. Buy grass-fed beef and free-range poultry and eggs — animal feed is heavy on GMO corn. Buy organic whenever possible. And don’t be fooled by labels that say “all natural” or something similar. If you’re buying from a store and not from a farm stand, real organic produce is clearly marked “organic” — and organics can’t contain GMOs. Yet.
The most common GMO crops are:
• Canola oil
• Milk (the hormone dairy cows are fed to make them produce more milk is GMO)
• Sugar, other than cane sugar
• Yellow squash
• and papaya
Read labels. If it doesn’t say organic (or in the case of milk, “hormone-free” or something similar) don’t buy it. If we refuse to eat GMOs, Monsanto will fall.
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