It’s huge – asymmetrical, shaped like two fat boomerangs meeting in midair at their mouths. The benefactors call it a campus. NBBJ architects had to design a colossal office complex of 900,000 square feet to accommodated 1,200 employees. It cost around $500 million to build.
It’s a prime piece of property in downtown Seattle, West Lake. The non-profit got the 12 acres for a song – $53 million after the land was appraised at $72 million.
Then the city of Seattle “gave” another $28 off the price, so this land ended up costing Bill and Melinda Gates – their foundation – $25 million.
More than 40 people, as part of a global day of action against Monsanto, recently marched to and around the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “campus” in West Lake to deliver a letter asking the Foundation to divest from Monsanto (the Foundation has more than $23 million in Monsanto stock as part of a very odd mix of companies in their portfolio).
Trying to eradicate developing countries’ diseases, forcing genetically modified farming into Africa, and weighing in on and lobbying for privatizing public education are just a few of the Gates Foundation’s larger goals, largely financed by $11.9 billion, with the following five top stock holdings:
- Berkshire Hathaway Inc. – 73,997,400 shares, 49.75% of the total portfolio.
- McDonald’s Corp. – 9,372,500 shares, 5.21% of the total portfolio.
- Caterpillar Inc. – 9,590,400 shares, 4.86% of the total portfolio.
- The CocaCola Company – 10,182,000 shares, 4.31% of the total portfolio.
- Waste Management Inc. – 15,716,367 shares, 4.15% of the total portfolio.
They’ve got 500,000 shares of Goldman Sachs, 7.1 million shares of Exxon Mobile and those half a million shares of Monsanto.
Monsanto’s Chemical War on the World
What’s all the protesting about? According to Dena Hoff, a diversified family farmer in Glendive, Montana, and North American coordinator of La Via Campesina, “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust’s purchase of Monsanto shares indicates that the Gates Foundation’s interest in promoting the company’s seed is less about philanthropy than about profit-making. The Foundation is helping to open new markets for Monsanto, which is already the largest seed company in the world.”
These aren’t sour grapes about one of the richest people on earth capitalizing on stock trading. Monsanto, who created the dioxin-leeching defoliant Agents Orange and Blue, is one of the main drivers of genetically modified foods.
Heather English Day, director of Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice, and one of the organizers in Seattle to bring attention to the slash and burn mentality of Monsanto, the Gates Foundation’s AGRA, sums up the recent news on GE crops and foods: “Reports are coming out weekly about impending crop failures of GE corn in Africa, pesticide resistance for GE corn grown for ethanol in the US, and about indications that Bt toxins, the primary GE pesticides, especially when in the presence with Roundup, have potential impacts on human kidney cells and mammalian testis.”
Another protestor-letter signatory is Les Berensen, a medical doctor who is also with GMO Free Washington. His concern is tied to Monsanto’s Roundup, which has the main ingredient of 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Berensen mentions how salmon and other fish species are being affected by the huge runoffs from fields of corn, beets, soy, cotton, and potatoes that are genetically modified to take up to four or five dousings of Roundup.
He likens this day and age of Monsanto as a Frankenstein era for both species in the wild and the human species. These anti-Monsanto events are carried out regularly in many parts of the world, and they are attended by a diverse group of people. In Seattle recently, several speakers rallied us before we marched to the FOundation: Dan Trocolli, Seattle Educators Association and Social Equality Educators; Kristen Beifus, Washington Fair Trade Coalition; and William Aal, Washington Biotechnology Action Council.
One fellow holding a corn sign and getting signatures is Travis Young, UW graduate student in planning and with CAGJ and AGRA Watch. He is seeing more and more destruction of departments at UW through consolidation and outright disbanding. He’s working on food policies for several cities as part of his graduate work.
Localized Food Security, Global Food Fights
“There are already many movements around healthy local food economies. There are proven projects and farms in Africa that are both sustainable and organic. Getting people hooked on Monsanto’s seeds and pesticides with micro-loaning that they can’t pay back will result in more farms being lost and more people moving to the cities. This is not a successful formula, and the Gates Foundation should really lead by getting rid of its Monsanto stocks, as a first step.”
Many protesters wear Haz-mat suits, and many carry signs belying the fear of this giant genetically modified experiment taking place in mankind. I met Ellie Rose at one of these events; she’s working on Transition Seattle and buttressing “a culture of engagement through a group called We the People Power.”
Karen Studders came from Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park, where for two months she lived in a tent. Studders, in her mid-sixties, once worked in big business, for government organizations, and with United Nations agencies, plying her legal and science degrees from the University of Minnesota. “We have to act quickly. The abuse of these corporations, which is so blatant now, has got to stop. I have a lot of hope after being part of the Occupy movement, especially after we were illegally evicted.”
She not only went from tent to tent to listen to the ideas and rebellion of the youth, but she went into a self-made retreat after the police crack down, traveling to various cities to see the Transition Town movement up close and personal.
The security at the Foundation does not accept any signed letters. We tried delivering one asking the Gates Foundation to divest from Monsanto. I talked with several Foundation employees – researchers with higher education graduate degrees and doctorates. They said that Foundation’s policy for employees is to “not let us engage in any dialogue on any issues of controversy.” Which means, nothing but the weather can be discussed? (Whoops, climate change seems to affect disease and crops). Additionally, any nice, well-crafted and footnoted handouts on Monsanto and Roundup pesticides they might be handed “will have to be handed over to security once we enter the building.”
Those three monkeys – see, hear, and speak no evil – seem anachronistic in the 21st century for a think tank outfit like the Gates Foundation. Fortunately, less than a week after Seattle’s event, dozens of protesters monkey-wrenched Monsanto’s California office in Davis, an area close to the Capitol, through vocal activism. Unlike Seattle’s event, the California activists made demands to shut down the biotech giant which has its talons in the United States government, including the Supreme Court.
“If a small group can take down their office for a day from some mild protests, a few hundred thousand can take down the entire company — permanently,” wrote journalist Anthony Gucciardi from Natural Society.
Frankenstein’s Agronomists and Etymologists
Pretty strange news these days on the Franken-crop front, also known as the genetically engineered/ genetically modified food battlefield.
A top-secret visit by Bill and Melinda Gates to Australia in December to check up on their $10 million test crop of genetically modified bananas “capable of resisting disease.” Field trials at South Johnstone, Queensland, Australia, are pointing to a GE banana with more pro-vitamin A than regular bananas.
The stuff of movies like Soylent Green or some 21st Century James Bond plot. Poor African nations are in the sights of big agri-business and biotechnology outfits like Monsanto, Bayer, Chimera, BASF, Syngenta. The Gates Foundation’s AGRA – Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa – is all about top down mandates, hyper-technology, corporate-driven solutions, and sometimes bizarre genetically modified organism in a hocus pocus that puts profits ahead of precautionary principle.
Seven Billion Guinea Pigs and counting …
Full steam ahead for outside-the-local-region solutions, and damn the local knowledge, those land races of food and crop varieties that have stood the test of time — and culture.
George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic farming cooperative, which had more than $600 million in sales last year, puts it plainly: “There is a growing awareness that our [food supply] system makes us all guinea pigs of sorts.”
Story after story, incident after incident prove to more than just the organic foodies that genetic engineering isn’t the answer to famine, climate change and strengthening food security for poor and rich countries. The seed company Pioneer (owned by Dow Chemical) was developing a GE corn strain, Herculex, that had wrapped up in its DNA a toxin that would help it resist corn rootworm. The problem was, as a group of scientists working at Pioneer’s request found out, that GE corn killed ladybugs.
Here’s where the GE-Biotech story gets ugly – according to the journal Nature Biotechnology, Dow prohibited the scientists from publicizing the research and kept it from the EPA. That corn bio-tech “creation” was approved in 2003.
Now the narrative really gets close to the HG Wells story of The Island of Dr. Moreau: Nature News reported that a research team discovered two varieties of transgenic canola in the wild, plus a third variety that is a cross of the two GM breeds. One of the transgenic varieties found was Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola, – engineered to be resistant to glyphosate. The other one, from Bayer Crop Science’s Liberty Link canola, is resistant to gluphosinate.
That third cross contaminated variety contained transgenes from each of these, and, through it’s own evolutionary track, is resistant to both types of herbicide.
It doesn’t take graduate degrees in agronomy, chemistry and botany to figure out that companies like Monsanto and Syngenta have set loose into nature unnatural and untested plants that proliferate, cross-breed, and create new plants.
We have no idea what these GMOs are doing to us as biological entities eating so many foods containing GE canola, soy, corn and beet sugar used in a so many processed food products consumed by tens of millions of people.
Climate Change and Seeds
For more than two decades, and especially this past year, the alarms have been going off concerning climate change making an already difficult situation of global food security, and in Africa in particular, worse.
The climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, had all sorts of panels on food insecurity complicated by the effects of climate change. Which countries have the least capacity to adapt? Developing countries – i.e. the majority of countries.
The fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – that body disregarded by Republicans and lambasted and vilified by the Tea Party and blokes like presidential aspirant, Ron Paul – recently made it clear with a convergence of dozens of scientific studies and organizations that there will be deleterious impacts of climate change on agriculture, livestock and fishing.
The Last Fish
Here’s how screwed up the GE-GMO purveyors are – genetically altered salmon, pen raised, of course, have been DNA-bombarded with the genes of a fresh water bass species so they get five times the size of “normal” farmed salmon in the same 18-month period. Feeding those Franken-salmon corn meal, soy by-products and chicken and beef renderings adds to the gross experiment.
Here’s an even more strange fact that is pushing GE technology into husbandry and fisheries sciences – a single bluefin tuna will make international headlines when it sells for more than $100,000 at Tokyo’s Tsukiji market. They are so rare now – overfished to near extinction – we have to marvel at the rapidity of the globe’s drive for wild food. Fish are probably the last wild food Americans eat. Sushi joints from Seattle to Missoula and Las Vegas are as popular as Carl’s Jr.
When I talk with sushi-eating friends about their habits, they shrug it off, saying they might as well eat the last of the wild marine protein before the world contaminated everything and shifts to GE-Everything.
Famine, Hunger, Solutions
Floods and inconsistent weather patterns affecting rainfall have impacted most parts of the world, situations worsened by the prices of fuel. Oxfam correlates this impact into hardship –climate change will help double food prices by the year 2030.
These factors, seen before and after Durban’s “Climate Conference Debacle,” are churning up the debate on genetically modified food. The Gates, Monsanto and some agricultural experts are convinced that GMOs will provide part of the answer to the long-standing hunger and food insecurity challenges that have plagued the African continent for half a century.
But civil society, social justice advocates and others from non-governmental organizations urged world leaders to focus on the importance of food security, particularly in Africa. Wilfred Miga of PELUM sees food in Africa tied directly to individual countries’ identity and sovereignty – food culture and the right to grow they’re called. PELUM is an association in Zambia giving political and technical voice to small-scale farmers in rural areas. It’s simple for people like Miga – improving livelihoods and increasing the sustainability of farming communities by empowering ecological best practices.
Miga said PELUM understands that despite the challenges the African continent faces, GMOs are not a universal answer to food insecurity. In fact, he like thousands of others in the food sovereignty movement know GMOs gut food sovereignty because those crops are patented, they are bio-manipulated to have killer or assassin genes that prevent germination without the pesticides and other artificial inputs created and marketed by the same seed companies or subsidiaries, and the crops in mass plantings will contaminate all other wild or non-GMO crops, in a worse case scenario.
Hawaii had widespread contamination of papaya crops from GM varieties, even in the seed stocks that were sold as conventional.
Jimmy Buffet and the Mosquitoes that Ate Key West
Worse yet, back to HG Wells, is the GE mosquito, in Jimmy Buffet land (maybe he’ll score a song about the Franken-squito and Margarita-ville).
UK-based Oxitec is going to release genetically-engineered mosquitoes in the Florida Keys this month, the first-ever U.S. release of these engineered bugs.
Aedes aegypti are produced by this private biotechnology company in hopes that their offspring will die at a young age in an effort to lower mosquito populations and limit the spread of dengue fever. Genetically-engineered mosquitoes were released by Oxitec in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Brazil. Eradicating dengue fever is laudable (I had a case of it in Guatemala, and I never deviate from calling it Break Bone Fever to this day), but the company’s claims that their GE mosquitoes are sterile and they have eradicated the fever are wrong: their mosquitoes are fertile, and no one has successfully eradicated dengue fever from any population.
So, this corporation from overseas gets to use 36-square acres near the Key West Cemetery as a testing plot (undisclosed location) for up to 10,000 genetically engineered mosquitoes.
Many questions about genetically-engineered mosquitoes remain unanswered, and since Friends of the Earth exposed this GE mosquito release story, here’s what that group has to say about the real questions behind the release:
Who’s regulating this release and who more importantly, who will be legally and financially liable if something goes wrong?
Shoot, what about the unintended consequences of decreasing in Aedes aegypti population have on the local food chain and ecosystem? Could other more dangerous bugs take its place, such as the Asian Tiger mosquito which is one of the most invasive species on the planet?
Informed consent? Will Oxitec be required to obtain the free and informed consent of Key West residents (unlike in the Cayman Islands where “no public consultation was undertaken on potential risks and informed consent was not sought from local people”)?
The super-mosquito next generation? What happens when Oxitec’s mosquitoes survive into adulthood (since 3–4 percent have been found to do just that despite the flaw engineered into their genome)?
It’s not just a male thing! Although Oxitec plans to only release male genetically engineered mosquitoes, what are the risks if female genetically engineered mosquitoes are released (since the company sorts them by hand and up to 0.5 percent of the released insects are in fact female)? Since females bite humans, how could this impact human health? Will it hamper efforts to limit the spread of dengue fever?
Do we need more corporate marketing of things like mosquitoes? Since Oxitec cannot completely eliminate a mosquito population will countries and communities become dependent on Oxitec for the indefinite future? What economic impacts will such dependence have on communities?
Two Carrots a Day … and Corporations are NOT People
This entire GMO debate has to be framed by community power over corporate power. The Occupy movement speaks to some of that, and the Move to Amend (reversing or nullifying a Jan. 2010 Supreme Court case, Citizens United) also touches upon some of this corporate malfeasance and misdeeds. But it takes a real in-the-trenches person like Richard Grossman, who died November at age 70, to cut through the bedrock of why these corporations or foundations like Gates have way too much control and power.
He started off 40 years ago talking about how corporations had taken control of our environment. He has since looked at the systemic failure of the United States federal government which has since day one been in cahoots with the oligarchy and land-holding elite:
“One simple way of comparing then and now is that I don’t talk much about corporations anymore. We live under minority rule. And the class of people who do the governing generally could be called a corporate class.
“But 180 years ago, they were the slave master class. One hundred years before that they were the propertied nobility in England. In the USA, a minority designed our structure of governance, has been making the laws, using the power and violence of the nation to deny the many, to accumulate property and wealth, to replicate their designs across generations, to groom leaders of the next generation to continue their supremacy, to create the educational systems, mythologies and celebrations to camouflage and deceive, to channel people who would be activists into realms where even if they stop or slow down a particular corporate state assault, they don’t lay a hand on systemic reality, don’t touch the structure of governance and law, don’t question the country’s great myths. For the past century or so, one such realm has been regulatory and administrative law and agencies, those vast energy sinks and diversions that eat activists for breakfast.”
So what’s for breakfast? Cassava? Friends of the Earth Nigeria is showing why even non-GMO messed-with hybrids pose problems with biodiversity. Using hybridization and selective breeding, three new yellow varieties of cassava with loads of vitamin A will supposedly help with malnutrition, blindness and death.
Can anyone in the Gates’ Foundations AGRA project understand why this supposed research breakthrough gets dismissed by groups like Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FoEN). The argument is around why the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) research team in Ibadan would be messing around with one of Nigeria’s key food crops.
It’s about biodiversity, something corporations scoff at when it comes to finding ways to “beat or speed up mother nature.” Here’s the irony with all of this agronomic meddling: two carrots can easily provide the daily vitamin A requirement.
Plain old carrots for breakfast. Easy to plant, easy to eat, and not one iota of that process is tied up in Dow, Monsanto, General Mills, or Bill Gates, or any stockholders’ greedy interests.