The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Despite the Chinese government's assurances that genetically modified (GMO) foods are safe, Chinese consumers are growing increasingly wary of the products, fueling a looming crisis for the country's lucrative soybean crushing industry as non-GMO alternatives become more popular, Reuters reported.
After evidence of pesticides killing off pollinators surfaced in 2016, scientists went on a quest to see if pesticides were seeping into anything else. Now, in an unprecedented study, the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Iowa reported findings of neonicotinoids—a class of pesticide used to kill off insects—in treated drinking water, marking the first time these chemicals have ever been identified.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Starting tomorrow, 30 witnesses and legal experts from five different continents will testify before five international judges at the three-day Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Their testimonies will attempt to hold the agrochemical giant accountable for their alleged "crimes against humanity" and destruction of the environment, or "ecocide."
This symbolic trial, which will be live streamed from Oct. 15, 8:30 a.m. GMT+2 on the tribunal website, will follow guidelines of the United Nations's international court of justice and will have no legal standing. Rather, its purpose is to gather legal counsel from the judges as well as legal grounds for future litigation.
"The aim of the tribunal is to give a legal opinion on the environmental and health damage caused by the multinational Monsanto," the tribunal organizers state on their website. "This will add to the international debate to include the crime of Ecocide into international criminal law. It will also give people all over the world a well documented legal file to be used in lawsuits against Monsanto and similar chemical companies."
Monsanto, which is inching closer to a $66 billion takeover from German pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, has faced a never-ending slew of health and environmental controversies over its products since, well, the beginning of the twentieth century.
Monsanto's historical line-up of products includes banned and highly toxic chemicals such as 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (a dioxin-containing component of the defoliant Agent Orange); PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl); and Lasso, a herbicide banned in Europe. Glyphosate, the controversial main ingredient in Monsanto's best-selling weedkiller RoundUp, is the most widely used pesticide in the world. Monsanto is also the world's largest genetically modified (GMO) seed maker, giving them a major hand over the world food supply.
The trial, which will proceed on the same weekend as World Food Day, is organized by Organic Consumers Association, International Foundation for Organic Agriculture (IFOAM) Organics International, Navdanya, Regeneration International, Millions Against Monsanto as well as dozens of global food, farming and environmental justice groups.
Tribunal organizer Vandana Shiva is an outspoken critic of Monsanto. "Monsanto has come to be seen as one of the most dangerous corporations on the planet," the physicist, author, activist and founder of Navdanya said in a statement.
"It has earned this reputation through a history of producing products toxic to humans and the environment, as well as well-documented manipulation of scientific evidence, disingenuous PR efforts and applying relentless political pressure worldwide to promote its products. Life, society and democracy are under threat. We refuse to allow this future to unfold."
Andre Leu, president of IFOAM, said, "Monsanto is able to ignore the human and environmental damage caused by its products, and maintain its devastating activities through a strategy of systemic concealment: by lobbying regulatory agencies and governments, by resorting to lying and corruption, by financing fraudulent scientific studies, by pressuring independent scientists, and by manipulating the press and media. Monsanto's history reads like a text-book case of impunity, benefiting transnational corporations and their executives, whose activities contribute to climate and biosphere crises and threaten the safety of the planet."
Monsanto will not be present at the trial, calling it a "staged" event organized by the organic food industry "where the outcome is pre-determined."
"As this is a stunt staged and supported by the International Foundation for Organic Agriculture (IFOAM)—an umbrella organization of organic agriculture organizations, and their associates such as Navdanya and others who are fundamentally opposed to modern agriculture—we will not participate," states an open letter signed by the company's Human Rights Steering Committee.
"To address these ever increasing challenges collaboratively and advance our commitment to human rights, we welcome a genuine constructive conversation with diverse ideas and perspectives about food and agriculture production," the letter also states. "These conversations are much needed to help find sustainable solutions to those challenges."
Tribunal organizers have responded to Monsanto's allegations of a mock court. "Other similar tribunals have found both for and against corporations," Damien Short, director of the Human Rights Consortium at London University, told The Guardian. "This is a test of international law. It has moral force and the tribunal's decision will be evidence-based. Peoples' tribunals are testing the law."
"Under existing [international] law, it is impossible to bring criminal charges against a company like Monsanto or its management, for possible crimes against human health and the integrity of the environment," Lucy Rees, speaking on behalf of End Ecocide on Earth, also told the publication.
Greenpeace has been a vocal supporter of the tribunal. "The industrial scale of agriculture today has broken our food system," the environmental group said. "Giant agri-businesses fail to take into account the health of the environment and the communities who depend on it. Monoculture and dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides are taking its toll on the planet, animals and us."
According to a tribunal newsletter, witnesses and experts who will be present at the trial includes health experts, "victims" and representatives from communities affected by the spraying of pesticides in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, France, India, Sri Lanka and Paraguay; farmers and seed savers from Australia, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Canada, France; beekeepers from Yucatan, Mexico; and scientists from Brazil, Germany, France, the UK and the U.S. Former UN special rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter will also testify.
Young—whose tour is promoting his anti-corporate album The Monsanto Years—along with other celebrities and organizations signed the Letter from America, an open letter to the citizens, politicians and regulators in the UK and EU. Based on American experience, the signees testify the potential harmful effects of the UK and EU adopting genetically modified crops.
The letter reads:
We are writing as concerned American citizens to share with you our experience of genetically modified (GM) crops and the resulting damage to our agricultural system and adulteration of our food supply.
In our country, GM crops account for about half of harvested cropland. Around 94% of the soy, 93% of corn (maize) and 96% of cotton grown is GM.
The UK and the rest of the EU have yet to adopt GM crops in the way that we have, but you are currently under tremendous pressure from governments, biotech lobbyists, and large corporations to adopt what we now regard as a failing agricultural technology.
Polls consistently show that 72% of Americans do not want to eat GM foods and over 90% of Americans believe GM foods should be labeled. In spite of this massive public mandate, efforts to get our federal and state governments to better regulate, or simply label, GMOs are being undermined by large biotech and food corporations with unlimited budgets and undue influence.
As you consider your options, we'd like to share with you what nearly two decades of GM crops in the United States has brought us. We believe our experience serves as a warning for what will happen in your countries should you follow us down this road.
"I support the Letter from America because it speaks truth to power, showing the harm GMOs have caused American farms and farmers, our environment, our health and even science and democracy," Young said. "Please take this seriously on behalf of all living things."
The letter is a product of Beyond GM, which aims "to raise the level of the debate on genetically modified organisms in the UK and elsewhere," according to the organization's website.
Glyphosate—the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup—and the continuation of its use in the EU is a hotly debated subject. The European Commission approved an 18-month extension the day before its license was scheduled to end.
Extension was approved even without majority approval from the EU's member states, as reported by EcoWatch.
"This decision by the commission to extend the approval of glyphosate in spite of last week's vote shows a disdain for the opposition by the public and EU governments to this controversial toxic herbicide," Green Party MEP Bart Staes said.
Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis noted that the 18-month extension will allow the European Chemicals Agency to further assess the product's safety.
"As the reckless decision by the EU Commission to overrule all objections and relicense the hazardous chemical glyphosate shows, they and the UK government put corporate profits before the health of citizens and the environment," Lawrence Woodward, Beyond GM's co-director, said. "Only citizens taking action will redress this balance and we are proud to have Neil Young standing with on this."
Glyphosate is the "most widely applied pesticide worldwide," according to a February 2016 report published in Environmental Science Europe. To date, 18.9 billion pounds of glyphosate have been used globally, according to the report. The chemical's use has risen almost 15-fold since "Roundup Ready" genetically engineered crops were introduced in 1996.
Because of its wide use, glyphosate has been a subject of many studies into whether it causes cancer or not. Two major studies, in March 2015 and May 2016, have found contradictory results.
The first study, conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO)'s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), concluded that glyphosate "probably" causes cancer in humans. But the second study, conducted by WHO's Meeting on Pesticide Residues and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, concluded the chemical was "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet."
Greenpeace EU has questioned whether the second report was influenced by industry ties. The organization alleges that Alan Boobis and Angelo Moretto, experts involved in the second study, have ties to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) in Europe, which receiving a majority of its funding from private companies, including Monsanto.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: