Resources Research

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘Cargill

Monsanto drops GM crop plans in Europe

leave a comment »

'Monsanocchio', by Raymond Burki, a Swiss cartoonist whose works are published in the Lausanne daily 24 heures. Courtesy: Presseurop

‘Monsanocchio’, by Raymond Burki, a Swiss cartoonist whose works are published in the Lausanne daily 24 heures. Courtesy: Presseurop

The signs have been gaining substance over the last two years. In western Europe (Britain excluded), citizens and independent researchers have demanded and end to GM food products. The support given to the seed-biotech-fertiliser conglomerates of the USA and Europe, by their governments has been well met by organised consumer awareness and resistance. It is no wonder then that these cartels have shifted the use of their tactics to Asia, where political establishments can be more easily influenced and where consumer awareness about the dreadful dangers of GM is generally lower than in western Europe.

Europe’s press is reporting that Monsanto, the fertiliser and biotechnology company, is withdrawing all permits requested to the European Commission to grow genetically modified corn, soy and sugar beet because it does not see “a commercial outlook” for these products (that’s what the public relations scoundrels call what we know and practice as informed consumer awareness).

German daily Die Welt reported that only a request to grow genetically modified corn (of the MON810 type) will be renewed. For the moment, this type of corn is the only genetically modified organism commercially cultivated in Europe, said Die Welt. While MON810 corn type is admitted into the EU, several countries including France, Germany and Italy have banned it at the national level, following citizen initiatives. Last year, German chemical firm BASF threw in the towel and relocated its biotechnology centre to the USA because genetic engineering is so strongly contested in Europe.

Monsanto has loudly insisted that its genetically modified products, including maize MON810, which is authorised in Europe, are safe for humans. It has an army of compromised ‘scientists’ on its payroll in every single country where it wants to push its GM products, and using its public relations agents has infiltrated media in every country that it sees as a market. But the evidence that GM is dangerous for humans and animals, for insects and plants alike grows by the day. A study conducted on rats for two years by a team of French researchers on Monsanto NK 603 corn revealed an abnormally high tumour and death rate – Monsanto’s own in-house studies, pushed out as counter-evidence by mercenary accomplices, were conducted for no more than three months!

Roadside shacks of people whose land has been taken over for soy fields in Alto Parana, Paraguay, which is among the South American countries with the most unequal land distribution. Paraguay has seen this situation escalate to the point where today, 2% of owners control 85% of the farmland. The regional situation is worse when one considers that the neighbouring countries – Brazil especially but also Argentina – are also experiencing land concentration for transgenic soybeans. Photo: Grain / Glyn Thomas / FoE

Roadside shacks of people whose land has been taken over for soy fields in Alto Parana, Paraguay, which is among the South American countries with the most unequal land distribution. Paraguay has seen this situation escalate to the point where today, 2% of owners control 85% of the farmland. The regional situation is worse when one considers that the neighbouring countries – Brazil especially but also Argentina – are also experiencing land concentration for transgenic soybeans. Photo: Grain / Glyn Thomas / FoE

Greenpeace noted the company will also seek to continue sales of its controversial MON810 maize, which was already approved in Europe and is the last remaining GM crop grown there. “The EU-wide authorisation for the cultivation of MON810 is expiring at the end of a ten-year period and the safety of the crop is due to be reassessed. The company is permitted to continue to use MON810 in Europe until the European Commission announces its decision,” stated Greenpeace.

The GM Freeze campaign welcomed Monsanto’s announcement that it is withdrawing pending applications to cultivate GM crops in the European Union but said this is not the end of Europe’s GM story. GM Freeze pointed out that Monsanto’s GM crops will still be imported into the EU, primarily for use in animal feed and biofuels, so the damage to ecosystems and human health caused by GM will continue elsewhere. The lack of labels on meat, eggs, dairy products and fish produced using GM feed means that Europe’s reliance on GM is hidden from consumers so they cannot easily avoid buying GM-fed products. Food companies should meet the clear demand for entirely non-GM foods by labelling those produced without GM, as is done successfully by many companies in Germany, Austria and France.

In tiresomely typical contrast, the government of the United Kingdom is to push the European Union to ease restrictions limiting the use of GM crops in the human food chain, reported The Independent. Britain’s Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is next week due to announce a UK government drive to increase Britain’s cultivation of GM foods! The newspaper said Britain’s ministers are hopeful of building support in Brussels for a change of heart on GM, with Germany seen as a key swing voter. The government of Britain’s craven attempts to relax the rules will face opposition from countries like Poland which in April became the eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of GM crops.

Forgetting their ‘commitments’ to get GM out of their supply chains, big British food retailers – Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Tesco – have gone in the opposite direction. Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have joined Monsanto, Cargill and Nestle on the absurd Roundtable on Responsible Soy, a group that has been condemned by organisations around the world as a greenwash of existing bad practice in industrial soya monoculture. The Roundtable ‘certifies’ (judge and jury) GM soya as “responsible” despite growing evidence of adverse health, environmental and socioeconomic impacts in producer countries. Tesco is now backing GM soya production in South America, where it is grown in huge monocultures sprayed frequently with Roundup to the detriment of people and ecosystems there.

Tiffin: GM in China, land in Colombia, soya republic, the dodgiest food prize

leave a comment »

1) China is the world’s biggest grain producer and maintains a standing policy that forbids growing GM grain. But China does allow imports of certain GM products. In 2012, China imported over 58 million tons of soybeans – mostly genetically modified. Public opinions on GM crops in China are polarised, with a great number of people holding suspicions toward GM products.
Rao Yi, a professor and dean of Peking University’s School of Life Sciences, said that while some GM-related concerns still need to be discussed, there are also rumors that need to be dispelled. Domestically-grown soybean is scarce in China, as China’s imports of GM soybeans rocketed to 58 million tons from less than 3 million tons in 1997. Many farmers have abandoned soybeans for other crops, as imported soybeans are cheaper. GM technology is the future of agriculture, said Fang Zhouzi, a biochemist and vocal supporter of GM technology, adding that it will be harder for China “to catch up with the USA” if China does not recognize this fact.

2) Cargill, the world’s largest food company, has been secretly amassing land from small farmers in eastern Colombia, despite a law prohibiting the practice. When the two countries signed a free trade agreement last year, Cargill emerged as the owner of 52,574 hectares where it grows corn and soybeans. The small farms in the isolated high plains of Vichada department in eastern Colombia were given to poor peasants in the 1990s under a scheme to convert ‘wasteland’ in an area that had become a stronghold for the lucrative cocaine trade. Colombian law prohibits any one person or entity from owning more than one “agricultural family unit” of this land in an effort to diversify land ownership in a country where most land is owned by a small wealthy minority.

3) The profound impacts of the agribusiness model know no borders between rural and urban. In rural areas and outer suburbs they are measured in terms of agrotoxin poisoning, displaced farmers (who swell the ranks of the urban poor), ruined regional economies, correspondingly high urban food prices, and contamination of the food supply. Ultimately, what we are looking at is a social and environmental catastrophe settling like a plague over the entire region. Wherever you live, you cannot ignore it.
The handful of people and companies responsible for this chain of destruction have names: Monsanto and a few other biotech corporations (Syngenta, Bayer) leading the pack; large landowners and planting pools that control millions of hectares (Los Grobo, CRESUD, El Tejar, Maggi, and others); and the cartels that move grain around the world (Cargill, ADM, and Bunge). Not to mention the governments of each of these countries and their enthusiastic support for this model. To these should be added the many auxiliary businesses providing services, machinery, spraying, and inputs that have enriched themselves as a result of the model.
To put some numbers on the phenomenon, there are currently over 46 million ha of GE soy monoculture in the region. These are sprayed with over 600 million litres of glyphosate and are causing deforestation at a rate of at least 500,000 ha per year.

4) The 2013 World Food Prize has gone to three chemical company executives, including Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, Robert Fraley, responsible for development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Yet, GMO seeds have not been designed to meet the Prize’s mandate and function in ways that actually impede progress toward the stated goals of the World Food Prize.
Almost twenty years after commercialisation of the first GMO seeds, by far the most widely used are not engineered to enhance nutrient content, but to produce a specific pesticide or to resist a proprietary herbicide, or a combination of these traits. Even in reducing weeds, the technology is failing, for it has led to herbicide-resistant “super weeds” now appearing on nearly half of American farms.
This award not only communicates a false connection between GMOs and solutions to hunger and agricultural degradation, but it also diverts attention from truly “nutritious and sustainable” agroecological approaches already proving effective, especially in the face of extreme weather. Developed and controlled by a handful of companies, genetically engineered seeds further the concentration of power and the extreme inequality at the root of this crisis of food inaccessibility.

Food reserves, strategic foodgrain stocks and port protests

leave a comment »

Sujit Kumar Mondal sailing to his floating garden - one of the initiatives cited for Bangladesh's success in fighting under-nutrition. Photo: IRIN/Peter Murimi

Sujit Kumar Mondal sailing to his floating garden - one of the initiatives cited for Bangladesh's success in fighting under-nutrition. Photo: IRIN/Peter Murimi

Food inflation and industrial action have come together in a new signal about the unsustainability of consumption. Port workers in Argentina had stopped, for three days, the loading of vessels with soya, of which Argentina is a major producer. Their reason is the continuing high cost of food in their country, which in this Reuters report on the matter is recorded as having been 25%. They struck work and blocked loading to demand higher wages so they could afford to buy their household food needs. They’re also directly responsible for loading an East Asian food staple. Block food to buy food.

The blockade by members of Juarez’s cooperative targeted a terminal north of the city of Rosario shared by Bunge and Argentina’s AGD, and at another nearby facility operated by Cargill. Argentina is the world’s No. 3 soybean exporter and a major supplier of corn and wheat. About 80 percent of its soyoil and meal is produced around Rosario, located 180 miles (300 km) north of the capital Buenos Aires.

The two terminals account for about 16 percent of the South American country’s soyoil-processing capacity. Argentina is the world’s biggest supplier of soyoil and soymeal. Earlier on Friday, port workers suspended a brief protest that halted shipping activity in the southern grains ports of Quequen and Bahia Blanca, SOMU shipping workers’ union Omar Suarez told Reuters. He said the union wanted exporters to use a logistics company that hires its members, but had called off the protest following a request from the government.

Major grain importing countries are set to build more storage silos and expand strategic stocks after seeing the role played by record food prices in political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, Reuters has reported. Egypt, South Korea and Saudi Arabia are among nations which have already unveiled strategic plans as grain markets adjust to the prospect of further supply crunches over the next few years.

Global demand for grain has risen steadily as consumers in emerging economies grow richer and suppliers have struggled to overcome erratic climatic conditions, which last year included Russia’s worst drought in decades and heavy rains in Australia. The upshot has been a near-60 percent surge in key US wheat prices in the year to March, while global food prices as measured by the United Nations hit their second straight record high in February.

Importers also no longer have the safety net of large stocks held by exporters such as the European Union, which has sold off the grain mountains it first accumulated in the 1980s and moved to more market-oriented policies. Nomani Nomani, vice chairman of the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC) in top wheat exporter Egypt, said in February it was looking to improve and boost storage capacities.

“We have a long-term plan to improve storage capacity in Egypt and to build a network of silos that would allow GASC to purchase at the suitable time. We are also seeking improving performance of storage,” he said. South Korea, the world’s fourth-largest grain importer, is also among those building a strategic grain reserve, while another major importer Saudi Arabia hopes to double wheat reserves within three years. International Grains Council figures issued last week show a major shift in stocks from exporting to importing countries, said the Reuters report.

China is expected to hold 114.6 million tons of grain by the end of 2010-11, more than the combined total of 104.5 million tons held by all the major exporters, according to IGC estimates. Nie Zhenbang, state administration of grain head, said in an interview with the official Ziguangge magazine that China would continue to build up local government reserves of grains and edible oils and expand stockpiling capacities.

Mexico, the world’s second-largest maize importer, has not yet expanded its stocks but has plenty of space if necessary. Maize stocks currently total around 2 million tons, little changed from previous years, but the national association of warehouses (AAGEDE) estimates there is storage space for about 11 million tons. AAGEDE director Raul Millan said there is no deficit in storage space but that infrastructure is lacking in the southern part of the country where warehouses are not as well equipped. Mexico has no strategic reserves of grain, although there are some stocks held by the government to hand out to the poor.

In India, the government maintains a ‘Food Security Reserve’ of 3 million tons of wheat and 2 million tons of rice. This reserve – maintained from 2008 – is part of what the Indian government calls ‘buffer’ norms’. The buffer stock norms are recalibrated four times a year and as on 2010 October, the ‘buffer stock norms’ stood at 14 million tons for wheat and 7.2 million tons for rice. Against these norms, the government’s actual stocks were 27.7 million tons of wheat and 18.4 million tons of rice. From 2009 July, the actual stocks of total foodgrains in India has been held at around 50 million tons, much above what the government calculates it needs for the Public Distribution System and other welfare programmes.

Calling it agri reconstruction, they pushed suspect seeds into flooded Pakistan

leave a comment »

A submerged street near Nowshera, Kyhber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Rising water in dams could create more havoc © Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN

A submerged street near Nowshera, Kyhber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Rising water in dams could create more havoc © Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN

In the third week of September 2010, Huma Beg, a journalist who works in Pakistan, sent out this alarm by email: “Dear friends. I raise alarms from Pakistan and solicit your help. Floods and its consequences are bringing many potential issues and challenges at a speed which is not allowing us to debate and make right decisions.”

“A major issue that has come to light is the question of seeds as sowing season in flood and agricultural areas is between 15 Oct to 15 Nov. Monsanto and others have focused on the devastation as an immense opportunity to freely distribute their seeds. Our governments are involved as well.”

“Please raise alarm and assist if you can advice us. We are starting a campaign on “Local seed for local farmer…” using floods as an opportunity to focus on issues of genetically modified seeds. We can later tie up other potential ideas like multi cropping techniques and high value crops…dos and don’ts etc.”

“But for now seeds and non-GMO seeds are on the table. We have no time as ‘others’ are planning to flood the flood with seeds. Please help fast. Kind regards, Huma.”

Now, a release from Grain, Roots for Equity and PANAP (Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific) has confirmed Huma’s worst fears.

A man uses a large cooking pan as a boat near the Reikhbaghwala village in Rajanpur district in Punjab. Photo: IRIN News / Jaspreet Kindra

A man uses a large cooking pan as a boat near the Reikhbaghwala village in Rajanpur district in Punjab. Photo: IRIN News / Jaspreet Kindra

“In October, a consignment of 2,000 bags of wheat seeds was dispatched to flood-hit farmers by the Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman Foundation (MKRF) and the Imran Khan Flood Relief Fund (IKRF),” says the release. A scheme was launched to provide wheat seeds to farmers owning 25 acres of land in every flood-hit province without discrimination. Under the scheme, certified and good quality seeds were provided to farmers covering 150,000 acres of land. Also since early November, the United States government has provided about US$ 62 million to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to expand an agriculture recovery program to the Province of Balochistan. The program includes provision of seed and fertilizer to flood-affected farmers, to help salvage the winter planting seasons and restore livelihoods for farmers in flood-affected areas.”

“Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, has said last month that the government’s attention is focused on the rehabilitation of more than seven million flood-affected people and efforts are being made to give Rs100,000 (US$ 1,165) as well as seeds and fertilisers to each survivor family free of cost. There are reports, however, that not all of this is free, as the seeds are being tied to micro-finance packages where fertilisers and services are only provided to small farmers through loans.”

As part of its rehabilitation program, Pakistan’s agriculture ministry entered a deal with Monsanto for a large-scale importation of its Bt Cotton seeds, despite strong opposition from local seed producers and farmers groups. The Seed Association of Pakistan (SAP) has warned the Punjab government to refrain from signing an agreement with Monsanto, believing this will “annihilate national seed companies, besides causing huge financial burden on the national treasury.” The group also believes that the importation of Bt cotton seed by the Pakistani government will cost the country millions of dollars in compensatory and royalty payments.

From miscalculation to emergency, the wheat crisis of 2010

leave a comment »

Wheat trade, CBOT

Wheat trade on the CBOT, 2009 April to 2010 September. Chart from CME

The wheat supply and price crisis from June 2010 onwards has meant that consumers, producers and food industry processors are now struggling with price increases of as much as 90%. The wheat problem of 2010-11 is lurching from crisis to miscalculation to emergency at all scales. And even then, some big international commodities traders are counting windfall profits.

In the first week of August, Reuters reported that Russia’s worst drought on record has devastated crops in parts of the country and caused international grain prices to spike as markets placed bets that without shipments from one of the world’s leading exporters, global supplies would be restricted. Soon thereafter, Bloomberg reported that the share prices of US agricultural companies including Archer Daniels Midland, Monsanto and Potash Corp of Saskatchewan rose in New York trading amid speculation that US wheat exports will jump as importers seek alternatives to Russian grain.

According to the average estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will forecast that global wheat stockpiles before the 2011 harvest will drop to 171.09 million metric tons, from 193.97 million tons a year earlier. That will be smaller than the USDA’s 174.76 million ton estimate last month. The USDA has cut its estimates every month since May, when it predicted stockpiles at 198 million tons.

Photo: USDA, Amber Waves, 2010 SeptemberFarmers in Russia, the world’s third-largest wheat grower last season, lost between 50% and 60% percent of crops in the drought-stricken central and Volga River regions this year, Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergei Korolyov has told a conference in Moscow.

The Russian government’s ban left some of the world’s largest wheat importers scrambling to secure alternative supplies. Typically, Cargill, one of the world’s biggest grain agglomerators and foodgrain logistics companies, attacked Russia’s ban, saying that this amounted to “trade barriers”. Cargill’s cynical and profit-driven reaction indicates the rush to profit from what is clearly a foodgrains disaster in Central Asia and which has major implications for foodgrains importing countries in developing Africa and Asia.

Wheat trade, CBOT

Wheat trade on the CBOT, 2010 June to 2010 September. Chart from CME

Still, over a 3-6 month period, rising wheat prices will probably pinch foodgrains suppliers (who also take powerful positions in the international agricultural commodities trade) because they have signed contracts to supply wheat at lower prices than are prevailing in September. But, since the beginning of July 2010, wheat prices have jumped straight up. Increasing demand from important regions of the world and other supply problems beyond Russia’s drought, such as floods in Canada, crop failure in Ukraine and foodgrains storage and movement problems in India will substantially add to the 2010-11 global wheat crisis.

The uncertainty has also spread to corn. Reuters has reported crop forecaster Informa Economics stating that the USDA report will show the corn yield at 164.8 bushels per acre, below the USDA’s August estimate of 165 bushels. Informa also told clients that the USDA’s final yield estimate for 2010 was likely to be significantly lower at 158.5 bushels per acre. Informa’s estimate of the USDA’s likely final yield count helped propel Chicago Board of Trade corn futures to their highest level in nearly two years.

Photo: USDA, Amber Waves, 2010 SeptemberEarlier last month (August 2010) the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) monthly report, which provides USDA’s comprehensive forecasts of supply and demand for major global crops, said that global wheat supplies for 2010-11 are “reduced sharply with world production lowered 15.3 million tons, mostly on reductions for FSU-12 (former Societ Union) and EU-27 (European Union) countries”. It said production for Russia is lowered 8.0 million tons as continued extreme drought and record heat during July and early August have further reduced summer crop prospects. Kazakhstan production is lowered 2.5 million tons reflecting the same adverse weather conditions as in Russia. Ukraine production is lowered 3.0 million tons as heavy summer rains damaged maturing crops and hampered harvesting in western and southern growing areas.

WASDE also said EU-27 production is “lowered 4.3 million tons with yields reduced for northwestern Europe on untimely heat and dryness”. Yields are lowered for southeastern Europe as heavy rains from the same weather pattern that affected Ukraine reduced output. Production is also lowered for Algeria, Brazil, Uruguay, Belarus, and Croatia. Partially offsetting are increases for India, the United States, Australia, and Uzbekistan.