Posts Tagged ‘Monsanto’

Monsanto and Its Philanthropy

August 24, 2015

Over a period of several years Monsanto, a multi-billion dollar transnational corporation (TNC), has worked very hard to build its image as a champion of the poor. To legitimize this image it is engaged in a high profile effort through giving grants to some established NGOs such as the World Vision.

Monsanto established “Monsanto Fund” in 1964 as the charitable arm of the company. It states that “our philanthropic goal has been to bridge the gap between people’s needs and their available resources. We want to help people realize their dreams, and hopefully inspire them to enroll others in their vision.”

Monsanto has also Monsanto Fund Matching Gifts Program. This program “gives permanent Monsanto employees and active members of the Monsanto Board of Directors an opportunity to join Monsanto Fund’s support of not-for-profit institutions.” Monsanto makes it candid that the request for support of an NGO is honored “if the recipient organization adheres to the guidelines of the Matching Gifts Program.” “Eligible organizations include, but are not limited to: Colleges and universities, private and public elementary and secondary schools, organizations that serve youth, museums, libraries, health and human service agencies, environmental, community and cultural organizations.” World Vision is one of the recipients of the “matching gifts”.

Monsanto’s philanthropic activities are meant to not only improve its image, but also provide key relationships. It understands better than anyone that relationships, partnerships and network are the key for success of the company.

On November 1, 2006, in his 2006 IBM lecture at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on “Sabina Xhosa and the New Shoes: Introducing Technologies into Developing Countries”, Hugh Grant, Chairman, President, and CEO of Monsanto, focused on agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. He took Malawi as a model. Agriculture is the primary industry in Malawi. According to him, “seventy-two percent of the people’s caloric intake depends on maize, or corn.”1 Maize or corn is the staple food in most Sub-Sahara African countries.

Monsanto was seeking a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. Grant said:

We haven’t broken through in Africa in any of the Sub-Sahara African countries. So what do we need? We need one African country to say yes. One African country to start field trials. We need to start the field trials and start testing this in African soil, and at Monsanto we’re ready to work with an array of partners to make happen.1

The opportune time for Monsanto arrived with the arrival of severe drought in Malawi in 2004. Any predator looks for a vulnerable prey. Malawi, after the drought, was just the kind of prey predator companies like Monsanto look for. According to Grant, Monsanto held “a discussion with relief organizations, non-government organizations, the Malawi government, and some of the relief agencies, particularly an agency called World Vision. We got together and said this is going to keep on happening unless we take a different approach. And that’s what we did.”1 On December 20, 2005 Monsanto announced its intention to donate 700 metric tons of “quality hybrid maize seeds” to farmers in Malawi. This “high quality seed” was “donated” to the farmers through “some of the NGOs and government and relief agencies working on delivery and distribution systems.”1

U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Alan Eastham praised Monsanto for its donation. He said, “The donation of hybrid seed to local farmers will potentially have a significant impact on the quality of next year’s harvest and represents the best tradition of socially responsible giving by the U.S. private sector.”2 A representative of World Vision Malawi, one of seven members of the NGO consortium, said, “This donation is addressing both the short-term and the long-term needs of the people in Malawi, and fits very well with our programs in this country.”2 The nexus between the US government and Monsanto is evident by not only the statement of the US Ambassador to Malawi, but also a highly positive report given by Charles Corey, Washington File Staff Writer. The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, US Department of State (Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov).3

Therefore, Monsanto’s “donation” of seeds to Malawi farmers through its partners like the World Vision was to get a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. What are its interests?

Monsanto pledges “Growth for a Better World”: “We want to make the world a better place for future generations.” Increased yields are the core of this agenda. To achieve this Monsanto provides “the products and systems” to farmers. Its main product is Roundup herbicide. Monsanto also produces GM seeds. The GM crop is resistant to the herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. These are known as Roundup Ready Crops. The genes contained in the GM seeds are patented.

Patenting means that farmers who buy GM seeds enter into a licensing agreement with Monsanto for the use of that particular gene. They are forbidden from saving seeds for the next season. They must buy new seed from the company each season. This denies farmers’ right to save seed. The implications of this are huge for poor farmers. Saved seed is the one resource that the poor farmers depend upon to carry them through the year. Denial of this right will greatly impact them economically. For they have to pay more each season to buy new seed. Although Monsanto purports to help farmers “improve their lives” through the supply of GM seed, the reality is that it places unbearable economic burden on the poor farmers. Teresa Anderson says, “Social and economic risks from GM crops are equally weighty. They will increase dependence on outside technologies, marginalize farmers from R&D, and consequently exacerbate the social and economic difficulties….”4

The implications of patenting of the gene in the GM seed go further than forbidding seed saving. If a GM crop cross-pollinates with a neighboring crop through the movement of wind, insects, birds, or accidental seed mixing, the neighboring harvest would be likely to carry the patented gene also. Monsanto could then claim that the neighboring farm has infringed their patent. The farmer, who was unintentionally contaminated by somebody else’s GM crop, would be breaking the law if he saved his seed and planted it. Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers or anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. Ever since commercial introduction of its GM seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers.

All this boils down to the dreadful result, that is, Monsanto controlling much of the world’s food supply. Control of food supply leads to control of people.

Genesis of Monsanto

Hugh Grant says, “As an agricultural and technology company committed to human rights, we have a unique opportunity to protect and advance human rights. We have a responsibility to consider not only how our business can benefit consumers, farmers, and food processors, but how it can protect the human rights of both Monsanto’s employees and our business partners’ employees.” However, this statement needs to be verified with the “gene” of Monsanto.

Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny as a saccharin producing company. Giving his wife’s maiden name Monsanto to the company, he called it the Monsanto Chemical Works. His steady customer was a new company in Georgia named Coca-Cola.
Later Monsanto extended its list of products to vanillin, caffeine, drugs used as sedatives and laxatives, plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. From 1929 to 1971, Monsanto produced PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment.

In the 1960s, Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange, a poisonous chemical toxin. Agent Orange is the code name for a powerful herbicide and defoliant. This is “a chemical that strips trees and plants of their leaves and is sometimes used in warfare to deny cover to enemy forces.” The US military used this toxin in Vietnam War. It sprayed an estimated 21,136,000 gallons of Agent Orange across South Vietnam to defoliate jungles.5 This chemical has been reported to cause serious skin diseases as well as a vast variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate. Children in the areas where Agent Orange was used have been affected and have multiple health problems including cleft palate, mental retardation, hernias, and extra fingers and toes. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.6

In February 2004, the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) filed a class action law suit against Monsanto in a New York court. On March 10, 2005, Judge Jack B. Weinstein, who defended the U.S. veterans affected by Agent Orange, dismissed the suit, ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs’ claims.
During the 1970s, Monsanto shifted more resources into biotechnology. In the 1980s it decided to become one of the key players in the worldwide agricultural biotechnology market. In 1981 the company created a molecular-biology group for research in plant genetics. The next year, Monsanto became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. Over the next few years, it developed genetically modified seeds of cotton, soybeans, corn and canola.

In the late 1990s after restructuring the company, Monsanto was rebranded as a “life sciences” company. A new company Solutia was named for the chemical and fibers operations. Then after additional reorganization in 2002 Monsanto officially declared itself an “agricultural company”, dedicated to making the world “a better place for future generations”.

Reality Check

GTM (Gaming The Market) gives a short list of grievances against Monsanto5 :

1. 1917 US government suit against Monsanto over the safety of saccharin;
2. 1965-1972 UK landfill illegal toxic waste dumping;
3. Agent Orange chemical warfare;
4. 1979 dioxin chemical spill Kemner v. Monsanto longest civil jury trial in U.S. history;
5. Responsible for 56 contaminated Superfund sites;
6. Anniston, Alabama mercury and PCB-laden waste discharged into local creeks over 40 years;
7. Terminator seeds that lead to world food shortages, poverty, and death;
8. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone Posilac (rBST) (rBGH);
9. Using coercive tactics to monopolize world markets;
10. Pursuing 500 cases annually against customers for “seed fraud”;
11. Andhra Pradesh Government vs. Monsanto on India seed price fixing;
12. US Department of Justice and US Securities and Exchange Commission criminal and civil charges for international bribing;
13. False advertising for “biodegradable” Roundup weed killer;
14. India child labor abuse in the manufacture of cotton-seeds;
15. Farmers suicides in India;7
16. Corporate tax evasion at Sauget, Illinois facility;
17. Campaign against dairies which do not inject bovine growth hormone from advertising.

On March 11, 2008 a documentary was aired on French television (ARTE – French-German Cultural TV channel) by French journalist and film maker Marie-Monique Robin, entitled The World According to Monsanto (Le Monde selon Monsanto). Over a period of three years Robin has collected material for her documentary, through numerous interviews with people of different backgrounds. She traveled widely, from Latin America, to Asia, through Europe and the United States, to personally interview farmers and people in influential positions. This documentary dealt a severe blow to the credibility of Monsanto.

The destructive effects of genetically engineered crops are worldwide, but the extensive damage done in India has been widely documented by Vandana Shiva, a physicist and environmentalist. She is an activist and author of many books concerning the nefarious consequences of GM farming as opposed to the wisdom of traditional family and biological farming. Commenting on the consequences on farms and human life in India due to the use of hybrid seeds, she said,

Recently I was visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land have become waterlogged desert. And, as an old farmer pointed out, even the trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators — the bees and butterflies…And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, where farmers have also been committing suicide. Farmers who traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy have been lured by seed companies to buy hybrid cotton seeds referred to as “white gold”, which were supposed to make them millionaires. Instead they became paupers.

In India and China it has been proved that the promises of Monsanto that BT cotton (genetically engineered cotton) would produce a far higher yield and prove less costly in terms of herbicide and fertilizer required has been proved devious.

Monsanto (and its partners like World Vision) is not held back by any considerations of ethics. Monsanto does its business exclusively with the intent of increasing its own profit at the cost of farmers worldwide. If left to its own devices it will most certainly destroy not only the livelihood of millions of farmers, but also their very life.

Conclusion

Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. The company has produced GM seeds for soybeans, corn, canola and cotton. More products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output.

On April 25, 2009 Monsanto announced in India a special fellowship program for research on rice and wheat plant breeding. Under the program, the company will allocate $10 million to encourage young Ph.D. scholars to pursue their research in rice and wheat breeding. Edward Runge, Director of Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, told that the company was looking at attracting students from India and China, two of the fastest growing economies and the largest populated countries. Also rice and wheat are staple food in these countries.

1. Hugh Grant, “Sabina Xhosa and the New Shoes: Introducing Technologies into Developing Countries,” 2006 IBM Lecture at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on November 1, 2006. [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩]
2. Charles W. Corey, “U.S. Company Donates Maize Seed to Farmers in Malawi: Monsanto’s Contribution Expected to Feed More Than 1 Million People.” [↩] [↩]
3. In order to understand the nexus among the US government, Corporations and NGOs one may read about US Global Leadership Campaign (USGLC). USGLC is an influential network of over 400 organizations and thousands of individuals. Corporations and NGOs such as Monsanto, Lockheed Martin, Mercy Corps, CARE, World Vision, Caterpiller, AIPAC, Motorola “joined together in a coalition with a common message and a common mission.” [↩]
4. Teresa Anderson, “Patented GM Crops: Making Seed Saving Illegal?” [↩]
5. “Monsanto: Profiting without Conscience.” [↩] [↩]
6. Watch the documentary on the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. [↩]
7. “Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India and More,” http://www.democracynow.org, 13.12.2006.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data record, there have been 166,304 farmers’ suicides in a decade since 1997 in India. Of these, 78,737 occurred in five years between 1997 and 2001. The next five years – from 2002 to 2006 – proved worse, seeing 87,567 take their lives. This means that on an average, there has been one farmer’s suicide every 30 minutes since 2002. http://www.hindu.com, 31.1.2008. [↩]

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Monsanto, a Contemporary East India Company, and Corporate Knowledge in India

August 24, 2015

Economic growth, large technical workforce and lower research costs in India are attracting Research and Development (R&D) investment from multinational corporations (MNCs), particularly in agri-business. In the OECD economies, agri-business is the second most profitable industry, after pharmaceuticals. Contributing to its profitability is rapid development in biotechnology.

The Indian Biotechnology sector is gaining global visibility and is being picked for emerging investment opportunities. India has 40 state agriculture universities, five deemed universities, one central agricultural university and more than 200 agricultural colleges. These institutions produce about 14,000 graduates and 7,800 postgraduate and Ph.D. scholars every year.

With Monsanto’s progress in European markets frozen, growing economies like India and their markets took on greater significance. The company urgently needed to expand the market for its GM crops internationally. Monsanto’s agriculture division had already begun to focus on Asian, African and Latin American markets in the early 1990s, towards the goal of “transforming agriculture” in a number of countries, a target that became known as the “developing country goal”. Monsanto’s commercial vision has been projected as a benevolent vision for the world. When Robert Shapiro was appointed as Monsanto’s new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in 1995, he engaged in a program to reorient the company’s business around “sustainability”. He linked the urgent need to grow enough food to feed a growing population with “inadequate” existing technologies and agricultural practices. So Monsanto’s “sustainability” vision, it is claimed, could be realized through GM technology.

Monsanto India (MI), which began its operations in 1949 as a trader of industrial chemicals and later an agrochemical company in 1975 with the launch of the herbicide, Machete (butachlor), has evolved into an agribusiness giant of GM seeds. The Monsanto research centre established at Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore in 1998 is the only R&D centre established outside the US.

The foundation for Monsanto to tap into the research potential of students as well as the research facilities available in Indian universities was laid by a trade agreement between India and the United States, known as the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA) or Agricultural Knowledge Initiative (AKI). This trade deal was influenced by Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland Company and Wal-Mart.

Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA)

The India-US Agreement on Agriculture and Science and Technology emerged from a joint statement by Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, and George W. Bush, then US President, on July 18, 2005. This far-reaching bilateral pronouncement was the genesis of the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA). Later, in March 2006 Singh and Bush signed a joint declaration on enhanced cooperation in agricultural education and research. This cooperation is based on the KIA.

The KIA is implemented through KIA Board, which consists of US and Indian members from government, universities, and the private sector. Dr. Norman Borlaug and Dr. M.S. Swaminathan are honorary advisors for the KIA. The US private sector members are: Monsanto, the largest seller of GM seeds in the world; Archer Daniels Midland, a US grain purchaser and trader and is, with Cargill, one of the companies that maintains “oligopolistic control of the American food-manufacturing and food-processing markets”; and Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.

The Board has decided to focus initially on four core areas: agricultural education, food processing and marketing, biotechnology and water management.[1] “The KIA is part of the US comprehensive strategy on revitalizing the bilateral relationship in agriculture with India,” said Susan Owens, director of the FAS Research and Scientific Exchanges Division. A key feature of KIA is university-business partnership. Owen stated: “We want to broaden the scope of the AKI beyond just research…We want to use the AKI to increase agricultural production in India….”[2] That means, industry helps in not only reshaping the universities’ curricula, but also identifying research areas that have the potential for rapid commercialization.[3] This new Knowledge Initiative required development of “effective policy, regulatory, and institutional frameworks.”[4] As Owen said, “The AKI aims to promote science and technology to create a sound regulatory environment that promotes investment and trade.”[5]

The KIA Board discussed rights (Intellectual Property Rights) to products that the research in public-funded universities will develop. US land-grant universities and industry representatives are asked to help reshape the curricula of Agricultural education. Some of suggested new courses were in entrepreneurship development, agribusiness, biotechnology, international trade, patent regimes and environmental science in various disciplines. Under KIA endowment of industry-sponsored chairs in Indian universities are allowed.

However, there is fear that India’s Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act could face threats under US pressure. Along with multinationals such as Monsanto, the US has been lobbying for a change in India’s intellectual property laws, to introduce patents on seeds and genes and dilute the provisions protecting farmers’ rights. Vandana Shiva, a physicist and environmentalist, said,

“The Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement between the US and India establishes intellectual property protocols of research, bypassing consultation with Indian scientists and the Indian public which has been resisting IPR regimes that force countries to patent life, and create monopolies on seeds, medicine and software…For us, these agreements are instruments of corporate dictatorship; they are not instruments of democracy. And as dictatorship, they will fuel more anger, more discontent, more frustration.”[6]

The Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill 2008

Yielding to the pressures of both the US government and the MNCs such as Monsanto, Indian government introduced in the Parliament a controversial legislation titled “The Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill 2008”. The Bill is modeled on the US’ 1980 Bayh-Dole Act. It provides for the protection and utilization of intellectual property originating from public-funded research. It would alter the existing IP rules to allow government funded universities and autonomous research institutions, rather than the government, to patent their innovations and research outcomes, and to reward institutions and inventors with a share of the royalties and licensing fees generated from the commercial products that result.[7] It also recommends universities to have a committee, called an intellectual property management committee, to “identify, assess, document and protect public funded intellectual property having commercial potential.” The objective of the IP Bill, it is claimed, is to create an environment in which wealth can be generated from the university system, stimulate national competitiveness, and forge closer academia-industry partnerships.

The IP Bill has attracted considerable debate due to its perceived and potential adverse impact on the R&D, innovation and public interest.[8] Pushpa Bhargava, who resigned in 2007 as vice-chairman of National Knowledge Commission, an Indian government advisory body that recommended the Bill, says that there was no major open discussion at the commission and he was “taken aback” by the recommendation. The IP Bill also goes against the National Knowledge Commission’s policy objectives of promoting, sharing and using new knowledge to maximize public good.

Supporters of the Bill, mostly government officials and some section of industry argued that “protection of IP creates incentive for more knowledge and technology generation as innovators are recognized and rewarded.”[9] Officials from India’s Department of Biotechnology, which helped draft the Bill, say that the Bill will promote innovation in Indian universities and research institutes by generating funds through patents. According to Somenath Ghosh, managing director of India’s National Research Development Corporation, it has brought “much-needed change,” as “there was no mechanism or incentive to protect knowledge and their research networks have limited interaction with industry.”

IP Legislation and Corporate Knowledge

Since “The Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill 2008” is modeled on the 1980 US’ Bayh-Dole Act, the latter’s impact on US universities imparts some important lessons to Indian academia.
Jim Patrico gives three reasons for bringing US public universities and private companies closer[10]:

1. Stagnant levels of public research funding by the Federal Government for agriculture research since 1980s. In 2008 National Budget under George Bush, surprisingly there was nearly one third cut in the public funding for agriculture research at the land grant institutions. This seems to be the government’s strategy to gradually eliminate regular public research funding. Giving the rationale for the massive reduction in grants, a USDA deputy secretary said, “We feel like our agricultural research should not be earmarked; it should be competitively awarded, and that’s how you’re going to get the most bang for the buck.”[11]

Due to increase in cost of research, universities had to find their own ways to raise the extra amount of money from outside sources such as big companies. Because of its partnership with Monsanto, University of Missouri was nicknamed “University of Monsanto”.

1. The 1980’s US Bayh-Dole Act gave US universities, for the first time, ownership of patents arising from government funded research.

2. The 1980 US Supreme Court verdict that life forms could be patented. This made agriculture a prime target for patents. Private industry and universities mainly focused on the promising field of biotechnology. Patrico notes, “Within months of that Supreme Court decision, faculty members of UC-Davis created Calgene, a private company and one of the first biotech companies of the chute.”

Although the university-corporate relationship existed even before 1980, Boyh-Dole Act gave public institutions a kick towards the market by encouraging them to patent their public funded research. A shift in universities’ research focus towards creation of marketable products has dawned. The habit of patenting their research has developed a taste for private business deals. This put the public funded institutions in a conundrum, because they no longer existed as “public” institutions. Paul Gepts, professor of agronomy and plant genetics at UC Davis, says, “Public universities are a contradiction.”[12]

Patenting of research and university-industry alliance raise troublesome questions about academic freedom, the purity of research and research agendas. Patenting of research necessitates confidentiality. Agricultural universities and research centers become no longer places of open academic sharing and collaboration. William Folk, a plant geneticist at the University of Missouri says, “When I started in the 70s, meetings were filled with people criticizing each other and sharing ideas…(But today) if you have an idea that has any potential commercial value, you are reluctant to share.”[13] Thus, colleagues are seen as potential competitors.

Moreover, scientists who perform industry-sponsored research routinely sign agreements requiring them to keep both the methods and the results of their work confidential for a certain period of time. As biotech and pharmaceutical companies involve more in funding research, confidentiality becomes very important for the funding company. From a company’s point of view, confidentiality may be necessary to prevent potential competitors from pilfering ideas. However, one of the basic tenets of science is open sharing of ideas and information. That is why Steven Rosenberg, cancer researcher of the National Cancer Institute, says, “The ethics of business and the ethics of science do not mix well.”

There is also genuine fear that university-corporate relationship might lead to tampering the research manuscripts to serve corporate commercial interests. In 1996 four researchers working on a study of calcium channel blockers accused their sponsor Sandoz that passages highlighting the drug’s potential dangers were removed from a draft manuscript. They wrote in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association: “We believed that the sponsor…was attempting to wield undue influence on the nature of the final paper. This effort was so oppressive that we felt it inhibited academic freedom.”[14]

As the research in the public institutions is market-driven, there is a potential danger that the research focus or agenda of universities converge with corporate agendas and interests. The one possibly negative impact of research collaboration with industry is the impact on public sector research priorities. Major victim will be the “minor crops”, which are commercially not profitable for the companies. Market-driven research also suppresses ideas that may not have immediate commercial value. Organic farming will get affected for lack of not only public funds, but also enthusiasm among agricultural researchers. Students, who wish to pursue their research in organic farming, will face a bleak future.

University-Corporation relationship gives legitimacy to the company and its products. The company can use this legitimacy to promote its products. In 2007 Monsanto gave royalty-free license of its GM papaya seeds to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India. License will be valid for ten years and royalty will be decided thereafter. “This is the first product delivery from Monsanto to the university, and Monsanto has been working on this for the past year,” said Bhagirath Choudhary, National Coordinator, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications that assists universities acquire technology from private companies.[15] The reason for the collaboration between the university and Monsanto was that famers buy papaya seeds from the university.

Therefore, IP law makes public funded universities and research centers excessively focus on income generation and sharing of royalties. This may derail public funded academic institutions from their mission of unqualified pursuit and public dissemination of truth and knowledge. The university serves the broad public interest, to the extent that it treasures informed analysis, critical inquiry and uncompromising standards of intellectual integrity. However, university-industry alliance converts these public centers of knowledge into centers to serve the greed of private companies. However, Rob Hersch, Monsanto’s vice president of product and technology cooperation, disagrees. He says, “The No.1 issue for us with universities and with science is to get good information…unbiased, believable, reproducible information.”[16] Ignacio Chapela, a UC-Berkeley professor of microbial ecology, admits that a deal between university and company “institutionalizes the university’s relationship with one company, whose interest is profit. Our role should be to serve the public good.”[17] Therefore, there is a real danger of “business of the universities” becoming business. Consequentially, the knowledge of universities will help widen the gap between the rich and the poor by providing knowledge that helps rich to become richer, rather than bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. So, research will be geared towards making profit for the big corporations.

Thus, university education system is converted to essentially profit making commercial enterprise. It is structured like any other commercial enterprise that looks primarily at its bottom line. A deeper analysis of nature, which has no immediate commercial market, is now being downgraded in favor of what the industry considers as “lucrative” research. It shifts research priorities away from what society needs as a whole to the greed of the corporations. Science is no longer for advancing knowledge and the wellbeing of society but almost entirely for generating profits for the educational enterprise, and consequently to the funding corporations. Professor Steve Rose of UK’s Open University, succinctly puts it,

“Well I think there is a very real problem from the point of view of university research in the way that private companies have entered the university, both with direct companies in the universities and with contracts to university researchers. So that in fact the whole climate of what might be open and independent scientific research has disappeared, the old idea that universities were a place of independence has gone. Instead of which one’s got secrecy, one’s got patents, one’s got contracts and one’s got shareholders.”[18]

Stifling downstream R&D, hindering free scientific exchange of scientific information, data and materials and increasing opportunities for conflict of interest and other unethical practices not consistent with the best interests of science is not the way to go.

In India Monsanto has started country-wide campaign to attract research talent into the development of hybrid rice and wheat. For this, it has linked with some of the country’s premier universities and research institutes. In 2009 Monsanto announced $10 million grant to establish Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program (MBBISP) to improve research on breeding techniques for rice and wheat. The program will be administered by Texas AgriLife Research, and agency of the Texas A&M University system, for the next five years. What is alarming is not that agribusiness giant Monsanto is seeking answers from the Indian public funded universities and research institutions. It is that Monsanto is the one asking the questions at Indian public funded institutions. As Andrew Neighbour, former administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, who managed the university’s multiyear and multimillion dollar relationship with Monsanto, admits, “There’s no question that industry money comes with strings. It limits what you can do, when you can do it, who it has to be approved by.”[19] This raises the question: if Agribusiness giant Monsanto is funding the research, will Indian agricultural researchers pursue such lines of scientific inquiry as “How will this new rice or wheat variety impact the Indian farmer, or health of Indian public?” The reality is, Monsanto is funding the research not for the benefit of either Indian farmer or public, but for its profit. It is paying researchers to ask questions that it is most interested in having answered.

Now, the basic role of the public funded agricultural institutions and research centers in a democratic society is at risk. The new developments in India are vehicles to empower food giants such as Monsanto, destroy small farmers, and harm the public health. In 1970 Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, said: “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control people.”[20] What we are witnessing in India today are developments towards that end, under the disguise of “food security”. Concentrating control in the hands of the US Agribusiness company Monsanto (and few others) places Indian public at risk, and leads to its control of India, as the British East India Company did.

[1] Dinesh C. Sharma, “Preparing for New Challenges,” in Span (March/April 2007).
[2] Julia Debes, “U.S.-India Agricultural Cooperation: A New Beginning,” FAS Worldwide (September 2006).
[3] Sharma, “Preparing for New Challenges.”
[4] Sharma, “Preparing for New Challenges.”
[5] Debes, “U.S.-India Agricultural Cooperation: A New Beginning.”
[6] Rahul Goswami, “A Bargain-Basement Knowledge “Mandi”,” InfoChange News &Features (August 2006).
http://infochangeindia.org/20060807316/Livelihoods/Analysis/A-bargain-basement-knowledge-mandi.html
[7] Rahul Vartak and Manish Saurashtri, “The Indian Version of Bayh-Dole Act,” in Intellectual Asset Management (March/April 2009).
[8] “The Indian Public Funded IP Bill: Are We Ready?” in Indian J Med Res 128 (December 2008), pp. 682-685.
[9] Sharad Pawar, India’s Union Minister for Agriculture, at Conference of Vice-Chancellors of Agricultural Universities, New Delhi, February 16-17, 2009.
[10] Jim Patrico, “Universities for Sale?” in Progressive Farmer (November 2001).
http://www/progressivefarmer.com/issue/1101/research/default.asp.
[11] http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&contentid=2008/02/0031.xml
[12] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”
[13] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”
[14] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”
[15] Padmaparna Ghosh, “Monsanto’s Gift to Tamil Nadu University: GM Papaya Licence,” livemint.com,india (October 24, 2007).
http://www.livemint.com/2007/10/24001328/Monsanto8217s-gift-to-Tamil.html.
[16] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”
[17] Eyal Press and Jennifer Washburn, “The Kept University,” in The Atlantic Monthly, 285/3 (March 2000), pp. 39-54.
http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/03/press.htm.
[18] http://www.bbc.co.ukworldservicesci_techhighlights000914_whistleblowers.shtml.
[19] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”
[20] Stephen Lendman, “Destroying America’s Family Farm: HR 2749. A Stealth Agribusiness Empowering Act,” in Global Research (June 12, 2009).
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14328

Are wealthy philanthropists modern Janus?

April 11, 2011

In March 2011 American billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet visited India to persuade Indian billionaires to join “The Giving Pledge”, a campaign launched by the two in June 2010 to seek to get fellow billionaires to commit atleast half of their wealth for philanthropy. Not surprisingly, there was a cold response from the Indians for the American tutorials on the “culture of giving”. The special visit of Gates and Buffet carries a condescending message. It implies somehow that Indian billionaires require the guidance of American billionaires to act responsibly and in the best interest of their society. What is deliberately ignored by the Americans is that philanthropy is neither a typical American concept nor an alien culture in India, although western media promote it otherwise. There is a rich tradition of giving in India that goes back centuries and still lives on. As Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Group, says, “India has a very old culture of giving, since the time of Buddha. The concept of philanthropy is not new to us.”

It is true that wealthy people throughout the world are in some way involved in philanthropic activities. Gates foundation, the richest charity in the world with an annual income equal to that of a small country, has undoubtedly been helping a lot of people around the world. However, philanthropy on the scale we see now can only exist in a fundamentally unequal society where a small minority of businessmen owns or controls large parts of the productive forces entitling them to staggering profits. According to the 2011 annual report of the business magazine Forbes there are 1210 individuals with a net value of $1 billion dollars (or more). Their total net worth is $4.5 trillion dollars, greater than the combined worth of 4 billion people in the world. The three richest people in the world control more wealth than the combined wealth of the poorest 48 countries. The wealthiest 1% of the global population own 43% of global assets. The richest 10% of the world own 83% of global assets. The current concentration of wealth in a few hands exceeds any previous period in history.

The US has the most billionaires in the world (413). The net worth of Bill Gates is $56 billion and that of Warren Buffet $50 billion. In 1976 the top 1% of Americans held 20% of the total wealth of the US, whereas in 2011 they control 40% of total wealth. 80% of Americans own only 15% of the wealth. That means, 20% of Americans control 85% of total wealth.  

India’s high economic growth over the past decade and the upsurge in billionaires upward to 55 by 2011 are linked to the neo-liberal policies of deregulation, privatisation and globalisation, which have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few, undermined small scale producers and dispossessed tens of millions of tribals, poor and small scale farmers. According to the Arjun Sengupta Committee, about 77% of Indians live on less than Rs. 20 a day.

The huge inequality reflects the stark differences in wealth between a handful of rich and the vast struggling masses. Does it mean that the accumulation of unimaginable amounts of wealth is intertwined with the appalling poverty of billions of people? Atleast this is what the annual budgets of many countries convey. Take, for example, the US budget proposal for 2012 that cuts more than $5.8 trillion in government spending over the next decade, meaning cuts on social spending which affects the poor and the old. The budget also calls for REDUCING the top corporate and individual tax rates to 25%. In his article of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning American economist, deplores, “…one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride. Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power—from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws…has been a godsend to the top 1 percent. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself…The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favourable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflict of interests.”

What is striking about the fortune of billionaires in the US (and elsewhere) is how dependent their accumulation of wealth is based on pillage of state resources, on neo-liberal policies which led to the take over at bargain prices of privatised public enterprises, deregulation that allows for plunder of the environment to extract natural resources at the highest rate of return, tax-cuts, and elimination of social programmes and labour rights.

It is absolutely clear that the state plays an essential role in facilitating the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, whether in facilitating the plundering of the state treasury (i.e. public money) and the environment or in heightening the direct or indirect exploitation of labour. It also promotes the interests of the wealthy in other countries. It facilitates the entry of the big corporations into their markets, at times through arm-twisting or wars. WikiLeaks cable revealed that the US sought to retaliate against Europe on Genetically Modified Crops (GM Crops). In the 2007 leaked cable, then US ambassador to France Craig Stapleton wrote, “Europe is moving backwards not forwards on this issue with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the (European) Commission…Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voice.” Stapleton recommended retaliations that would cause “some pain” across EU. It is evident that the US policy on genetically modified organisms is being influenced by the multinational corporations that profit from genetic engineering and the export-oriented agribusiness. The government has virtually become an agency for promoting the private interests of the Monsanto Corporation.

Monsanto and other biotech corporations have been pushing to find new market footholds in collaboration with USAID, the US State Department and the Gates Foundation Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). According to Netline: “The collusion of the Gates Foundation with Monsanto Corporation is no accident, as high level officials leading AGRA are former Monsanto executives. The recent purchase by AGRA of $500,000 worth in Monsanto stocks was vivid proof of that close relationship. Despite many words by Gates officials since the inception of the AGRA agenda denying that GMO seeds would be used as part of AGRA, their close relationship with Monsanto has now been revealed to be a key element in their agronomic ‘new green revolution’ strategy.”

Speaking at the Commission in World Farming annual lecture, Samuel Jutzi, director of the animal production and health division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) bemoaned that powerful, large agri-business and food producing companies are blocking reforms which would improve human health and environment.

US has been waging wars, covertly or overtly, to open countries to US corporate and banking interests. The US economic neoliberalism and the shock doctrine of deconstruction and chaos can be seen around the world. For example, the capacity to control natural resources in Africa is enhanced by spreading terror, uprooting people, destroying families, and sowing distrust and hatred. Armed conflicts are sustained, and at times instigated, through supply of weapons. The armed conflicts in countries cause political chaos, destroy infrastructure and make a huge dent on their economies, which make them vulnerable. This provides an easy access for the transnational companies to their markets and natural resources.

The neighbouring countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and transnational companies with the active support of their respective governments, have been deeply involved in the plundering of coltan, a critical raw material in high-tech manufacturing, in the Congo. As a consequence of the pillaging of the natural resources in this country, more than 60 lakh Congolese died since 1996. The United Nations characterised the “resource war” in the Congo as the worst humanitarian crisis since the World War II.

The interconnectedness between wars and control of natural resources and markets is expressed by the former US Marine Smedley Butler, who participated in many wars in the Central and the South America. He said, “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, rightly said, “Capitalism has twins, the market and war. The market converts life into commodities, it converts land into a commodity. And when capitalists cannot sustain this economic model based on looting, on exploitation, on marginalisation, on exclusion and, above all, on the accumulation of capital, they rely on war, the arms race.” Wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the country goes to war. Common citizen bears the cost by paying higher taxes. So the state, as a representative of the wealthy, can undertake any number of military adventures to further the reach of corporations. Corporations and contractors stand only to gain.

The collusion between political and business classes in furthering their self interests at the cost of majority of people has been exposed by the recent scandals in India. The leaked telephone conversations of Niira Radia, a prominent business lobbyist, reveal some of the country’s most powerful tycoons scheming to manipulate government appointments and influence regulatory decisions. On 5 April 2010 writing in the Indian newspaper DNA, activist-artist Mallika Sarabhai lambasted the government for failing to crack down on corruption and collusion, asking the pointed question: “Who will fight the robber barons pillaging India?”

One of the main reasons for the poverty, disease, death and destruction in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the “resource war”. The Congo is a storehouse of important minerals for the functioning of modern society, particularly as it relates to the mining and technology sectors. The key natural resources are: diamonds, gold, coltan, copper, uranium, tin, silver, cobalt, timber, manganese and petroleum. The Congo has a history of being pillaged and the people being used as fodder in a rush for natural resources. During the rule of the Belgian king, Leopold II, from 1885-1908, more than one crore Congolese died as a result of plundering of natural resources. The resources at the root of suffering of the Congolese were ivory and rubber. Today it is coltan, diamonds, gold, copper and tin, to name a few. Bill Gates’ Microsoft Office needs some of these “conflict minerals” such as coltan.

On 7 January 2007 LA Times (Los Angeles Times) published an investigation report on the activities of Gates Foundation in Niger Delta in Africa. Its staff Charles Piller, Edmund Sanders and Robyn Dixon wrote: “The Gates Foundation has poured $218 million into polio and measles immunization and research worldwide, including in the Niger Delta. At the same time that it is paying for inoculations to protect health, it has invested $423 million in Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total France—the companies responsible for most of the flares blanketing the delta with pollution, beyond anything permitted in the United States or Europe. A sampling of the Gates Foundation’s largest investments between $100 million and $1 billion: Abbott Laboratories, Archer Daniels Midland, British Petroleum, Canadian national Railway, Exxon Mobil, Freddie Mac, French Government, Japanese Government, Merck, Schering Plough, Tyco International, Waste Management…Indeed, local leaders blame oil developments for fostering some of the very afflictions that the foundation combats.”

The report in the LA Times points out, “Oil bore holes fill with stagnant water, which is ideal for mosquitoes that spread malaria, one of the diseases the foundation is fighting. Investigators for Dr. Nonyenim Solomon Enyidah, heath commissioner for Rivers State…cite an oil spill cogging rivers as a cause of cholera, another scourge the foundation is battling. The bright, sooty gas flares—which contain toxic byproducts such as benzene, mercury and chromium—lower immunity, Enyidah said, and make children more susceptible to polio and measles—the diseases that the Gates Foundation has helped to inoculate against.”

The Gates Foundation endowment had major holdings in:

  • Companies ranked among the worst US and Canadian polluters, including ConocoPhilips, Dow Chemicals Co., and Tyco International;
  • Many of the other major polluters, including companies that own oil refinery that cause sickness in children while the foundation tries to save their parents from AIDS;
  • Pharmaceutical companies that price drugs beyond the reach of AIDS patients the foundation is trying to treat;
  •   This is “the dirty secret” of many large philanthropists, said Paul Hawken, an expert on socially beneficial investing who directs the Natural Capital Institute, an investment research group. “Foundations donate to groups trying to heal the future,” Hawken said in an interview, “but with their investments, they steal from the future.”

This report on Gates Foundation reminds me of Janus, a two-face Roman god. Janus was characterised by the blending of maleficent and beneficent. His one face represents war and the other peace.

It is time to see the OTHER FACE of the headline grabbing initiatives of billionaire philanthropists.

If the wealthy really want to create a better world through philanthropic activities, first they should meet other commitments such as paying more taxes, not pressing on laws and regulations, giving better benefits, job protection and work conditions to their employees, and manufacturing goods using environmentally friendly products and processes.

The billionaire philanthropists should also acknowledge the ineffectiveness of charity. We know that majority of charities, while well-intentioned, have not radically impacted world’s greatest challenges. The problems of the deprived masses can not be solved by charity and patronage.  Their misery can not be dealt with an economic system that is responsible for the unequal world which makes a small percentage of the people staggeringly rich and throws an overwhelming majority into poverty and despair. Ironically, the wealthy modern day philanthropists are precisely the ones who define the laws of the present system pushing majority into poverty, disease and death.

Monsanto, a Contemporary East India Company, and Corporate Knowledge in India

July 26, 2009

                                                  Monsanto, a Contemporary East India Company, and Corporate Knowledge in India

Economic growth, large technical workforce and lower research costs in India are attracting Research and Development (R&D) investment from multinational corporations (MNCs), particularly in agri-business. In the OECD economies, agri-business is the second most profitable industry, after pharmaceuticals. Contributing to its profitability is rapid development in biotechnology.  

The Indian Biotechnology sector is gaining global visibility and is being picked for emerging investment opportunities. India has 40 state agriculture universities, five deemed universities, one central agricultural university and more than 200 agricultural colleges. These institutions produce about 14,000 graduates and 7,800 postgraduate and Ph.D. scholars every year.

With Monsanto’s progress in European markets frozen, growing economies like India and their markets took on greater significance. The company urgently needed to expand the market for its GM crops internationally. Monsanto’s agriculture division had already begun to focus on Asian, African and Latin American markets in the early 1990s, towards the goal of “transforming agriculture” in a number of countries, a target that became known as the “developing country goal”. Monsanto’s commercial vision has been projected as a benevolent vision for the world. When Robert Shapiro was appointed as Monsanto’s new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in 1995, he engaged in a program to reorient the company’s business around “sustainability”. He linked the urgent need to grow enough food to feed a growing population with “inadequate” existing technologies and agricultural practices. So Monsanto’s “sustainability” vision, it is claimed, could be realized through GM technology.

Monsanto India (MI), which began its operations in 1949 as a trader of industrial chemicals and later an agrochemical company in 1975 with the launch of the herbicide, Machete (butachlor), has evolved into an agribusiness giant of GM seeds. The Monsanto research centre established at Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore in 1998 is the only R&D centre established outside the US.

The foundation for Monsanto to tap into the research potential of students as well as the research facilities available in Indian universities was laid by a trade agreement between India and the United States, known as the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA) or Agricultural Knowledge Initiative (AKI). This trade deal was influenced by Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland Company and Wal-Mart.

Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA)

The India-US Agreement on Agriculture and Science and Technology emerged from a joint statement by Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, and George W. Bush, then US President, on July 18, 2005. This far-reaching bilateral pronouncement was the genesis of the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA). Later, in March 2006 Singh and Bush signed a joint declaration on enhanced cooperation in agricultural education and research. This cooperation is based on the KIA.    

The KIA is implemented through KIA Board, which consists of US and Indian members from government, universities, and the private sector. Dr. Norman Borlaug and Dr. M.S. Swaminathan are honorary advisors for the KIA. The US private sector members are: Monsanto, the largest seller of GM seeds in the world; Archer Daniels Midland, a US grain purchaser and trader and is, with Cargill, one of the companies that maintains “oligopolistic control of the American food-manufacturing and food-processing markets”; and Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.

The Board has decided to focus initially on four core areas: agricultural education, food processing and marketing, biotechnology and water management.[1] “The KIA is part of the US comprehensive strategy on revitalizing the bilateral relationship in agriculture with India,” said Susan Owens, director of the FAS Research and Scientific Exchanges Division. A key feature of KIA is university-business partnership. Owen stated: “We want to broaden the scope of the AKI beyond just research…We want to use the AKI to increase agricultural production in India….”[2] That means, industry helps in not only reshaping the universities’ curricula, but also identifying research areas that have the potential for rapid commercialization.[3] This new Knowledge Initiative required development of “effective policy, regulatory, and institutional frameworks.”[4] As Owen said, “The AKI aims to promote science and technology to create a sound regulatory environment that promotes investment and trade.”[5]

 The KIA Board discussed rights (Intellectual Property Rights) to products that the research in public-funded universities will develop. US land-grant universities and industry representatives are asked to help reshape the curricula of Agricultural education. Some of suggested new courses were in entrepreneurship development, agribusiness, biotechnology, international trade, patent regimes and environmental science in various disciplines. Under KIA endowment of industry-sponsored chairs in Indian universities are allowed.

However, there is fear that India’s Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act could face threats under US pressure. Along with multinationals such as Monsanto, the US has been lobbying for a change in India’s intellectual property laws, to introduce patents on seeds and genes and dilute the provisions protecting farmers’ rights. Vandana Shiva, a physicist and environmentalist, said,

The Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement between the US and India establishes intellectual property protocols of research, bypassing consultation with Indian scientists and the Indian public which has been resisting IPR regimes that force countries to patent life, and create monopolies on seeds, medicine and software…For us, these agreements are instruments of corporate dictatorship; they are not instruments of democracy. And as dictatorship, they will fuel more anger, more discontent, more frustration.[6]

The Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill 2008 

Yielding to the pressures of both the US government and the MNCs such as Monsanto, Indian government introduced in the Parliament a controversial legislation titled “The Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill 2008”. The Bill is modeled on the US’ 1980 Bayh-Dole Act. It provides for the protection and utilization of intellectual property originating from public-funded research. It would alter the existing IP rules to allow government funded universities and autonomous research institutions, rather than the government, to patent their innovations and research outcomes, and to reward institutions and inventors with a share of the royalties and licensing fees generated from the commercial products that result.[7] It also recommends universities to have a committee, called an intellectual property management committee, to “identify, assess, document and protect public funded intellectual property having commercial potential.” The objective of the IP Bill, it is claimed, is to create an environment in which wealth can be generated from the university system, stimulate national competitiveness, and forge closer academia-industry partnerships.

The IP Bill has attracted considerable debate due to its perceived and potential adverse impact on the R&D, innovation and public interest.[8] Pushpa Bhargava, who resigned in 2007 as vice-chairman of National Knowledge Commission, an Indian government advisory body that recommended the Bill, says that there was no major open discussion at the commission and he was “taken aback” by the recommendation. The IP Bill also goes against the National Knowledge Commission’s policy objectives of promoting, sharing and using new knowledge to maximize public good.

Supporters of the Bill, mostly government officials and some section of industry argued that “protection of IP creates incentive for more knowledge and technology generation as innovators are recognized and rewarded.”[9] Officials from India’s Department of Biotechnology, which helped draft the Bill, say that the Bill will promote innovation in Indian universities and research institutes by generating funds through patents. According to Somenath Ghosh, managing director of India’s National Research Development Corporation, it has brought “much-needed change,” as “there was no mechanism or incentive to protect knowledge and their research networks have limited interaction with industry.”

IP Legislation and Corporate Knowledge

Since “The Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill 2008” is modeled on the 1980 US’ Bayh-Dole Act, the latter’s impact on US universities imparts some important lessons to Indian academia.

Jim Patrico gives three reasons for bringing US public universities and private companies closer[10]:

  1. Stagnant levels of public research funding by the Federal Government for agriculture research since 1980s. In 2008 National Budget under George Bush, surprisingly there was nearly one third cut in the public funding for agriculture research at the land grant institutions. This seems to be the government’s strategy to gradually eliminate regular public research funding. Giving the rationale for the massive reduction in grants, a USDA deputy secretary said, “We feel like our agricultural research should not be earmarked; it should be competitively awarded, and that’s how you’re going to get the most bang for the buck.”[11]

Due to increase in cost of research, universities had to find their own ways to raise the extra amount of money from outside sources such as big companies. Because of its partnership with Monsanto, University of Missouri was nicknamed “University of Monsanto”. 

  1. The 1980’s US Bayh-Dole Act, which gave US universities, for the first time, ownership of patents arising from government funded research.
  2. The 1980 US Supreme Court verdict that life forms could be patented. This made agriculture a prime target for patents. Private industry and universities mainly focused on the promising field of biotechnology. Patrico notes, “Within months of that Supreme Court decision, faculty members of UC-Davis created Calgene, a private company and one of the first biotech companies of the chute.”

Although the university-corporate relationship existed even before 1980, Boyh-Dole Act gave public institutions a kick towards the market by encouraging them to patent their public funded research. A shift in universities’ research focus towards creation of marketable products has dawned. The habit of patenting their research has developed a taste for private business deals. This put the public funded institutions in a conundrum, because they no longer existed as “public” institutions. Paul Gepts, professor of agronomy and plant genetics at UC Davis, says, “Public universities are a contradiction.”[12]

Patenting of research and university-industry alliance raise troublesome questions about academic freedom, the purity of research, and research agendas. Patenting of research necessitates confidentiality. Agricultural universities and research centers become no longer places of open academic sharing and collaboration. William Folk, a plant geneticist at the University of Missouri says, “When I started in the 70s, meetings were filled with people criticizing each other and sharing ideas…(But today) if you have an idea that has any potential commercial value, you are reluctant to share.”[13] Thus, colleagues are seen as potential competitors.

Moreover, scientists who perform industry-sponsored research routinely sign agreements requiring them to keep both the methods and the results of their work confidential for a certain period of time. As biotech and pharmaceutical companies involve more in funding research, confidentiality becomes very important for the funding company. From a company’s point of view, confidentiality may be necessary to prevent potential competitors from pilfering ideas. However, one of the basic tenets of science is open sharing of ideas and information. That is why Steven Rosenberg, cancer researcher of the National Cancer Institute, says, “The ethics of business and the ethics of science do not mix well.”

There is also genuine fear that university-corporate relationship might lead to tampering the research manuscripts to serve corporate commercial interests. In 1996 four researchers working on a study of calcium channel blockers accused their sponsor Sandoz that passages highlighting the drug’s potential dangers were removed from a draft manuscript. They wrote in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association: “We believed that the sponsor…was attempting to wield undue influence on the nature of the final paper. This effort was so oppressive that we felt it inhibited academic freedom.”[14]

As the research in the public institutions is market-driven, there is a potential danger that the research focus or agenda of universities converge with corporate agendas and interests. The one possibly negative impact of research collaboration with industry is the impact on public sector research priorities. Major victim will be the “minor crops”, which are commercially not profitable for the companies. Market-driven research also suppresses ideas that may not have immediate commercial value. Organic farming will get affected for lack of not only public funds, but also enthusiasm among agricultural researchers. Students, who wish to pursue their research in organic farming, will face a bleak future.

University-Corporation relationship gives legitimacy to the company and its products. The company can use this legitimacy to promote its products. In 2007 Monsanto gave royalty-free license of its GM papaya seeds to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India. License will be valid for ten years and royalty will be decided thereafter. “This is the first product delivery from Monsanto to the university, and Monsanto has been working on this for the past year,” said Bhagirath Choudhary, National Coordinator, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications that assists universities acquire technology from private companies.[15] The reason for the collaboration between the university and Monsanto was that famers buy papaya seeds from the university.

Therefore, IP law makes public funded universities and research centers excessively focus on income generation and sharing of royalties. This may derail public funded academic institutions from their mission of unqualified pursuit and public dissemination of truth and knowledge. The university serves the broad public interest, to the extent that it treasures informed analysis, critical inquiry and uncompromising standards of intellectual integrity. However, university-industry alliance converts these public centers of knowledge into centers to serve the greed of private companies. However, Rob Hersch, Monsanto’s vice president of product and technology cooperation, disagrees. He says, “The No.1 issue for us with universities and with science is to get good information…unbiased, believable, reproducible information.”[16] Ignacio Chapela, a UC-Berkeley professor of microbial ecology, admits that a deal between university and company “institutionalizes the university’s relationship with one company, whose interest is profit. Our role should be to serve the public good.”[17] Therefore, there is a real danger of “business of the universities” becoming business. Consequentially, the knowledge of universities will help widen the gap between the rich and the poor by providing knowledge that helps rich to become richer, rather than bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. So, research will be geared towards making profit for the big corporations.

Thus, university education system is converted to essentially profit making commercial enterprise. It is structured like any other commercial enterprise that looks primarily at its bottom line. A deeper analysis of nature, which has no immediate commercial market, is now being downgraded in favor of what the industry considers as “lucrative” research. It shifts research priorities away from what society needs as a whole to the greed of the corporations. Science is no longer for advancing knowledge and the well-being of society but almost entirely for generating profits for the educational enterprise, and consequently to the funding corporations. Professor Steve Rose of UK’s Open University, succinctly puts it,

Well I think there is a very real problem from the point of view of university research in the way that private companies have entered the university, both with direct companies in the universities and with contracts to university researchers. So that in fact the whole climate of what might be open and independent scientific research has disappeared, the old idea that universities were a place of independence has gone. Instead of which one’s got secrecy, one’s got patents, one’s got contracts and one’s got shareholders.[18]

Stifling downstream R&D, hindering free scientific exchange of scientific information, data and materials and increasing opportunities for conflict of interest and other unethical practices not consistent with the best interests of science is not the way to go.

In India Monsanto has started country-wide campaign to attract research talent into the development of hybrid rice and wheat. For this, it has linked with some of the country’s premier universities and research institutes. In 2009 Monsanto announced $10 million grant to establish Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program (MBBISP) to improve research on breeding techniques for rice and wheat. The program will be administered by Texas AgriLife Research, and agency of the Texas A&M University system, for the next five years. What is alarming is not that agribusiness giant Monsanto is seeking answers from the Indian public funded universities and research institutions. It is that Monsanto is the one asking the questions at Indian public funded institutions. As Andrew Neighbour, former administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, who managed the university’s multiyear and multimillion dollar relationship with Monsanto, admits, “There’s no question that industry money comes with strings. It limits what you can do, when you can do it, who it has to be approved by.”[19] This raises the question: if Agribusiness giant Monsanto is funding the research, will Indian agricultural researchers pursue such lines of scientific inquiry as “How will this new rice or wheat variety impact the Indian farmer, or health of Indian public?” The reality is, Monsanto is funding the research not for the benefit of either Indian farmer or public, but for its profit. It is paying researchers to ask questions that it is most interested in having answered.

Now, the basic role of the public funded agricultural institutions and research centers in a democratic society is at risk. The new developments in India are vehicles to empower food giants such as Monsanto, destroy small farmers, and harm the public health. In 1970 Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, said: “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control people.”[20] What we are witnessing in India today are developments towards that end, under the disguise of “food security”. Concentrating control in the hands of the US Agbusiness company Monsanto (and few others) places Indian public at risk, and leads to its control of India, as the British East India Company did.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Dinesh C. Sharma, “Preparing for New Challenges,” in Span (March/April 2007).

[2] Julia Debes, “U.S.-India Agricultural Cooperation: A New Beginning,” FAS Worldwide (September 2006).

[3] Sharma, “Preparing for New Challenges.”

[4] Sharma, “Preparing for New Challenges.”

[5] Debes, “U.S.-India Agricultural Cooperation: A New Beginning.”

[6] Rahul Goswami, “A Bargain-Basement Knowledge “Mandi”,” InfoChange News &Features (August 2006).

 http://infochangeindia.org/20060807316/Livelihoods/Analysis/A-bargain-basement-knowledge-mandi.html

[7] Rahul Vartak and Manish Saurashtri, “The Indian Version of Bayh-Dole Act,” in Intellectual Asset Management (March/April 2009).

[8] “The Indian Public Funded IP Bill: Are We Ready?” in Indian J Med Res 128 (December 2008), pp. 682-685.

[9] Sharad Pawar, India’s Union Minister for Agriculture, at Conference of Vice-Chancellors of Agricultural Universities, New Delhi, February 16-17, 2009.

[10] Jim Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”  in Progressive Farmer (November 2001).

http://www/progressivefarmer.com/issue/1101/research/default.asp.

[11] http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&contentid=2008/02/0031.xml

[12] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?” 

[13] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?” 

[14] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?” 

[15] Padmaparna Ghosh, “Monsanto’s Gift to Tamil Nadu University: GM Papaya Licence,” livemint.com,india (October 24, 2007).

http://www.livemint.com/2007/10/24001328/Monsanto8217s-gift-to-Tamil.html.

[16] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”  

[17] Eyal Press and Jennifer Washburn, “The Kept University,” in The Atlantic Monthly, 285/3 (March 2000), pp. 39-54.

http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/03/press.htm.

[18] http://www.bbc.co.ukworldservicesci_techhighlights000914_whistleblowers.shtml.

[19] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”

[20] Stephen Lendman, “Destroying America’s Family Farm: HR 2749. A Stealth Agribusiness Empowering Act,” in Global Research (June 12, 2009).

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14328

Monsanto and Its Philanthropy

April 28, 2009

 

Monsanto and Its Philanthropy

 

Over a period of several years Monsanto, a multi-billion dollar transnational corporation (TNC), has worked very hard to build its image as a champion of the poor. To legitimize this image it is engaged in a high profile effort through giving grants to some established NGOs such as the World Vision.

Monsanto established “Monsanto Fund” in 1964 as the charitable arm of the company. It states that “our philanthropic goal has been to bridge the gap between people’s needs and their available resources. We want to help people realize their dreams, and hopefully inspire them to enroll others in their vision.”

Monsanto has also Monsanto Fund Matching Gifts Program. This program “gives permanent Monsanto employees and active members of the Monsanto Board of Directors an opportunity to join Monsanto Fund’s support of not-for-profit institutions.” Monsanto makes it candid that the request for support of an NGO is honored “if the recipient organization adheres to the guidelines of the Matching Gifts Program.”Eligible organizations include, but are not limited to:  Colleges and universities, private and public elementary and secondary schools, organizations that serve youth, museums, libraries, health and human service agencies, environmental, community and cultural organizations.” World Vision is one of the recipients of the “matching gifts”.

Monsanto’s philanthropic activities are meant to not only improve its image, but also provide key relationships. It understands better than anyone that relationships, partnerships and network are the key for success of the company.

On November 1, 2006, in his 2006 IBM lecture at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on “Sabina Xhosa and the New Shoes: Introducing Technologies into Developing Countries”, Hugh Grant, Chairman, President, and CEO of Monsanto, focused on agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. He took Malawi as a model. Agriculture is the primary industry in Malawi. According to him, “seventy-two percent of the people’s caloric intake depends on maize, or corn.” Maize or corn is the staple food in most Sub-Sahara African countries. 

Monsanto was seeking a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. Grant said:

We haven’t broken through in Africa in any of the Sub-Sahara African countries. So what do we need? We need one African country to say yes. One African country to start field trials. We need to start the field trials and start testing this in African soil, and at Monsanto we’re ready to work with an array of partners to make happen.

The opportune time for Monsanto arrived with the arrival of severe drought in Malawi in 2004. Any predator looks for a vulnerable prey. Malawi, after the drought, was just the kind of prey predator companies like Monsanto look for. According to Grant, Monsanto held “a discussion with relief organizations, non-government organizations, the Malawi government, and some of the relief agencies, particularly an agency called World Vision. We got together and said this is going to keep on happening unless we take a different approach. And that’s what we did.” On December 20, 2005 Monsanto announced its intention to donate 700 metric tons of “quality hybrid maize seeds” to farmers in Malawi. This “high quality seed” was “donated” to the farmers through “some of the NGOs and government and relief agencies working on delivery and distribution systems.”

U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Alan Eastham praised Monsanto for its donation. He said, “The donation of hybrid seed to local farmers will potentially have a significant impact on the quality of next year’s harvest and represents the best tradition of socially responsible giving by the U.S. private sector.” A representative of World Vision Malawi, one of seven members of the NGO consortium, said, “This donation is addressing both the short-term and the long-term needs of the people in Malawi, and fits very well with our programs in this country.” The nexus between the US government and Monsanto is evident by not only the statement of the US Ambassador to Malawi, but also a highly positive report given by Charles Corey, Washington File Staff Writer. The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State (Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov).

Therefore, Monsanto’s “donation” of seeds to Malawi farmers through its partners like the World Vision was to get a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. What are its interests? 

Monsanto pledges “Growth for a Better World”: “We want to make the world a better place for future generations.” Increased yields are the core of this agenda. To achieve this Monsanto provides “the products and systems” to farmers. Its main product is Roundup herbicide. Monsanto also produces GM seeds. The GM crop is resistant to the herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. These are known as Roundup Ready Crops. The genes contained in the GM seeds are patented.

Patenting means that farmers who buy GM seeds enter into a licensing agreement with Monsanto for the use of that particular gene. They are forbidden from saving seeds for the next season.  They must buy new seed from the company each season. This denies farmers’ right to save seed. The implications of this are huge for poor farmers. Saved seed is the one resource that the poor farmers depend upon to carry them through the year. Denial of this right will greatly impact them economically. For they have to pay more each season to buy new seed. Although Monsanto purports to help farmers “improve their lives” through the supply of GM seed, the reality is that it places unbearable economic burden on the poor farmers. Teresa Anderson says, “Social and economic risks from GM crops are equally weighty. They will increase dependence on outside technologies, marginalize farmers from R&D, and consequently exacerbate the social and economic difficulties….”

The implications of patenting of the gene in the GM seed go further than forbidding seed saving.  If a GM crop cross-pollinates with a neighboring crop through the movement of wind, insects, birds, or accidental seed mixing, the neighboring harvest would be likely to carry the patented gene also. Monsanto could then claim that the neighboring farm has infringed their patent. The farmer, who was unintentionally contaminated by somebody else’s GM crop, would be breaking the law if he saved his seed and planted it. Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers or anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. Ever since commercial introduction of its GM seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers.

All this boils down to the dreadful result, that is, Monsanto controlling much of the world’s food supply. Control of food supply leads to control of people.

Genesis of Monsanto

Hugh Grant says, “As an agricultural and technology company committed to human rights, we have a unique opportunity to protect and advance human rights. We have a responsibility to consider not only how our business can benefit consumers, farmers, and food processors, but how it can protect the human rights of both Monsanto’s employees and our business partners’ employees.” However, this statement needs to be verified with the “gene” of Monsanto.

Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny as a saccharin producing company. Giving his wife’s maiden name Monsanto to the company, he called it the Monsanto Chemical Works. His steady customer was a new company in Georgia named Coca-Cola.

Later Monsanto extended its list of products to vanillin, caffeine, drugs used as sedatives and laxatives, plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. From 1929 to 1971, Monsanto produced PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment.

In the 1960s, Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange, a poisonous chemical toxin. Agent Orange is the code name for a powerful herbicide and defoliant. This is “a chemical that strips trees and plants of their leaves and is sometimes used in warfare to deny cover to enemy forces.” The US military used this toxin in Vietnam War. It sprayed an estimated 21,136,000 gallons of Agent Orange across South Vietnam to defoliate jungles. This chemical has been reported to cause serious skin diseases as well as a vast variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate. Children in the areas where Agent Orange was used have been affected and have multiple health problems including cleft palate, mental retardation, hernias, and extra fingers and toes. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.

In February 2004, the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) filed a class action law suit against Monsanto in a New York court. On March 10, 2005, Judge Jack B. Weinstein, who defended the U.S. veterans affected by Agent Orange, dismissed the suit, ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs’ claims.

During the 1970s, Monsanto shifted more resources into biotechnology. In the 1980s it decided to become one of the key players in the worldwide agricultural biotechnology market. In 1981 the company created a molecular-biology group for research in plant genetics. The next year, Monsanto became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. Over the next few years, it developed genetically modified seeds of cotton, soybeans, corn and canola.

In the late 1990s after reorganization of the company, Monsanto was rebranded as a “life sciences” company. A new company Solutia was named for the chemical and fibers operations. Then after additional reorganization in 2002 Monsanto officially declared itself an “agricultural company”, dedicated to making the world “a better place for future generations”.

Reality Check

GTM (“Monsanto: Profiting without Conscience”) gives a short list of grievances against Monsanto:

  1. 1917 US government suit against Monsanto over the safety of saccharin;
  2. 1965-1972 UK landfill illegal toxic waste dumping;
  3. Agent Orange chemical warfare; 
  4. 1979 dioxin chemical spill Kemner v. Monsanto longest civil jury trial in U.S. history;
  5. Responsible for 56 contaminated Superfund sites;
  6. Anniston, Alabama mercury and PCB-laden waste discharged into local creeks over 40 years;
  7. Terminator seeds that lead to world food shortages, poverty, and death;
  8. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone Posilac (rBST) (rBGH);
  9. Using coercive tactics to monopolize world markets;
  10. Pursuing 500 cases annually against customers for “seed fraud”;
  11. Andhra Pradesh Government vs. Monsanto on India seed price fixing;
  12. US Department of Justice and US Securities and Exchange Commission criminal and civil charges for international bribing;
  13. False advertising for “biodegradable” Roundup weed killer;
  14. India child labor abuse in the manufacture of cotton-seeds;
  15. Farmers suicides in India;
  16. Corporate tax evasion at Sauget, Illinois facility;
  17. Campaign against dairies which do not inject bovine growth hormone from advertising.

On March 11, 2008 a documentary was aired on French television (ARTE – French-German Cultural TV channel) by French journalist and film maker Marie-Monique Robin, entitled “The World According to Monsanto” (Le Monde selon Monsanto). Over a period of three years Robin has collected material for her documentary, through numerous interviews with people of different backgrounds. She traveled widely, from Latin America, to Asia, through Europe and the United States, to personally interview farmers and people in influential positions. This documentary dealt a severe blow to the credibility of Monsanto.

The destructive effects of genetically engineered crops are worldwide, but the extensive damage done in India has been widely documented by Vandana Shiva, a physicist and environmentalist. She is an activist and author of many books concerning the nefarious consequences of GM farming as opposed to the wisdom of traditional family and biological farming. Commenting on the consequences on farms and human life in India due to the use of hybrid seeds, she said,

Recently I was visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land have become waterlogged desert. And, as an old farmer pointed out, even the trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators — the bees and butterflies…And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, where farmers have also been committing suicide. Farmers who traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy have been lured by seed companies to buy hybrid cotton seeds referred to as “white gold”, which were supposed to make them millionaires. Instead they became paupers.

In India as well as in China it has been proved that the promises of Monsanto that Bt cotton (genetically engineered cotton) would produce a far higher yield and prove less costly in terms of herbicide and fertilizer required has been proved devious.

Monsanto (and its partners like World Vision) is not held back by any considerations of ethics. Monsanto does its business exclusively with the intent of increasing its own profit at the cost of farmers worldwide. If left to its own devices it will most certainly destroy not only the livelihood of millions of farmers, but also their very life.

Conclusion

Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. The company has produced GM seeds for soybeans, corn, canola and cotton. More products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output.

On April 25, 2009 Monsanto announced in India a special fellowship program for research on rice and wheat plant breeding. Under the program, the company will allocate $10 million to encourage young Ph.D. scholars to pursue their research in rice and wheat breeding. Edward Runge, Director of Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, told that the company was looking at attracting students from India and China, two of the fastest growing economies and the largest populated countries. Also rice and wheat are staple food in these countries.