Syngenta and Monsanto: Double Trouble for Jackson County

Rick North Facebook

The problems aren’t limited to Jackson County. Syngenta’s actions in Hawaii motivated thousands of people to join the movement to ban the growing of GMO crops there.

Out-of-state biotech corporations and their allies have contributed $600,000 out of a total of more than $800,000 to fight Jackson County’s May 20 initiative to ban the growing of genetically engineered (GE or GMO) crops, an eye-popping amount for a small county election. Monsanto has given over $183,000, DuPont Pioneer nearly $130,000 and Syngenta $75,000. The Oregon Farm Bureau has donated over $50,000, much of which could be pass-through money, since it receives thousands of dollars from biotech firms.

In almost any GMO political campaign, Monsanto is lead funder. Its legions of lobbyists roam the halls of Congress and state legislatures while numerous former employees rotate through Washington, DC’s revolving door to the FDA and USDA, neutering regulations. And, of course, they sue people, lots of them, especially farmers they accuse of infringing on their patents.

Syngenta is less well known, but more directly connected to Jackson County, where its GMO sugar beets have contaminated non-GMO beets and chard, costing farmers thousands of dollars in lost markets.

Syngenta’s Code of Conduct touts its concern about compliance with law, business integrity and communities. In February, 2012, the head of Syngenta’s corporate communications maintained it abided by the USDA requirement of a four-mile buffer zone with non-GE seed crops “to ensure purity of our seed and prevent cross-pollination with other crops.” In a May 2012 article , a Syngenta spokesman “said that his company is sensitive to growers of non-GMO seeds and maintains at least five miles between conventional and GMO plots.”

Jackson County farmers beg to differ. Chris Hardy, owner of Village Farm in Ashland, discovered that Syngenta’s sugar beets were planted only one quarter of a mile from his organic farm. There was also an organic garden at an Ashland school a half mile away. Syngenta removed their plot only after he had blown the whistle on them.

Farmers have mapped Syngenta’s checkerboard planting of 35 plots of GMO sugar beets super-imposed with local farms. There are dozens of instances where the distances are far less than four miles, the buffer zone established by the USDA before deregulation in July 2012. Another local farmer, who isn’t even opposed to GMO’s, emphasized to me that Syngenta had all kinds of places in the country to plant their sugar beets, but chose Jackson and Josephine Counties instead. “They have no regard of where any other farmers are. There is no excuse for their behavior.”

Indeed, the Oregonian reported Syngenta had been planting GMO crops for a decade that could contaminate beets and chard without informing neighboring farmers. Many residents believe Syngenta purposely tried to contaminate and kill the extensive organic seed industry through their planting patterns.

The problems aren’t limited to Jackson County. Syngenta’s actions in Hawaii motivated thousands of people to join the movement to ban the growing of GMO crops there. On the west side of Kauai, it planted a GMO test plot right next to a school and regularly sprayed it with toxic pesticides, including atrazine, which Syngenta manufactures. It’s been banned in the European Union for water contamination and even in Switzerland, Syngenta’s home country.

Watch this video and you’ll understand how devastating this spraying has been. The president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association testified that in 2008, teachers called him in desperation. Students and teachers were so sick that some had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. His testimony was followed by the vice president of the Hawaii Nurses Association, numerous physicians and scientists, all testifying to stop the GMO growing and pesticide spraying. Syngenta had ignored previous pleas to stop.

The most heart-wrenching testimony came from parents whose kids had been born with severe birth defects at a rate far above average. These included brain damage, seizures and instances of babies being born with their stomachs outside their bodies.

Compare their experiences with these statements on Syngenta’s website: “We have a responsibility to protect the environment, and to ensure the health and safety of our employees, customers and the communities in which we operate . . . Programs must be sensitive to local cultures.”

It would seem Syngenta’s sensitivity to local cultures is roughly equivalent to Chris Christie’s sensitivity to bridge commuters.

We’re at a defining moment. Thousands of David’s from Medford to Maui are fed up being victims of biotech recklessness in their back yards and school yards. They’re taking dead aim on the Goliath’s with their slings – and their votes.

As Victor Hugo observed, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” For Jackson County, the time to take back their farms and food has come.

To become part of this historic movement, go to Our Family Farms Coalition to make a generous donation. Our time has come too.

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