Meet David Runyon...and understand Monsanto
Meet David Runyon”¦and understand Monsanto some more!
IndiaGMinfo, February 29 2012
Meet David Runyon, an "average-sized" farmer with 900 acres from Indiana, USA. He was in India recently and I had a chance to meet and discuss with him various issues related to American farming. He seemed nervous in the alien setting when I met him in Bangalore "I had never traveled this far away from home, you know?", he said.
Why do Indian farmers need to know about stories like that of David Runyon's? Because it would give us a good glimpse of what lies in store for our farmers here in India, given the way things are being shaped in Indian agriculture at present, and the way Monsanto has already begun monopolizing the markets here, insidiously but very rapidly.
He is an American farmer who had only had a brief encounter with Monsanto while others have been sued and jailed by this corporation!
David Runyon's brush with Monsanto
In July 2004, two investigators came knocking on Runyon’s doors. They did not reveal that they were affiliated with Monsanto in any way. They wanted to know what Runyon used as seeds, herbicides, who he had his food grain contracts with etc. David Runyon did not give the information they were seeking.
Four months later, he received a letter from Monsanto's attorney in St. Louis ("they send these kinds of communication by FedEx, you see you can't say you didn't receive it") asking him to turn over all his business records in a week's time.
What are these business records, I wanted to know, since one comes across so many Indian farmers who do not keep any records of what they are spending or getting. "Oh, in our country all farmers are supposed to maintain full details of their operations, what you purchased, what you sold etc., for paying income taxes", David explained.
The week's time that was given by Monsanto's attorney covered some holidays too there are no local farm organizations to help out farmers in such cases, David explained. He contacted Centre for Food Safety and was advised to get an attorney for himself. He put together all the records, including photographs of the extra containers of herbicides he had with him, since he was trying to save money by purchasing bigger containers. He added his seed and herbicide receipts and sent all of the material requested. Note that David Runyon was not planting Monsanto’s seed as all of this was unfolding!
However, the story did not end there. There was one more letter from Monsanto in February 2005. They wanted to inspect his farm. And the letter claimed that this was as per the Agreement between Indiana Department of Agriculture and Monsanto. However, Monsanto’s resorting to deceit is apparent from the fact that there was no Department of Agriculture that existed in Indiana at that point of time!! With the help of his attorney, David wrote back, requesting for a copy of the said Agreement. Predictably, there was no response after that. While that is the brief brush that David Runyon had with this corporation, today he says that he has been 'blacklisted', sort of. Getting inputs for his farming is not very easy for him.
"You know, there is much mistrust in the countryside today. You never know who might report on you. It is a sad state of affairs in that part of the world", he said, bemoaning the fact that farmers don’t trust each other anymore. "You could actually willfully leave or plant unauthorized seed in somebody's land if you want to destroy them. There is much fear and distrust", he said again.
WHAT ARE THESE TECHNOLOGY USE AGREEMENTS LIKE?
While David Runyon had not signed onto the Technology Use Agreements that Monsanto puts its farmer-buyers through, a glimpse of Monsanto’s Technology Stewardship Agreement should present a better picture to our farmers here.
For one thing, the liability is not on the seed seller but the grower, with clauses like "In no event shall Monsanto or any seller be liable for any incidental, consequential, special or punitive damages". It is also noticed that the grower may terminate the contract but ‘grower’s responsibilities and the other terms herein shall survive’! (www.gentechvrijvoedsel.nl/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/WurgContract.pdf retrieved on February 13, 2012 is a 2009 agreement template. Anyone interested in looking at a 2012 contract may visit www.indiagminfo.org)
The Agreement also has the Grower accepting and continuing the obligations under a given Agreement for any new land purchased or sold. It says, “Grower agrees to accept and continue the obligations of this Monsanto Technology Stewardship Agreement on any new land purchased or leased by grower that has seed planted on it by a previous owner or possessor of land and to notify in writing purchasers or lessees of land owned by the grower that has seed planted on it that the Monsanto Technology is subject to this Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement and they must have or obtain their own Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement’.
These Agreements sometimes come with clauses that say the grower agrees ‘to cooperate fully with any inspections’ and to provide invoices requested in case of reasonable belief by Monsanto (of the grower having planted non-licensed seed) etc.
If the Grower violates the terms, s/he, amongst other things, forfeits the right to obtain a ‘license’ in the future.
The Agreement also says that any law suit is to be filed in St. Louis, for all claims and disputes arising out of the Agreement (except for cotton-related claims). One can imagine what this means in a large country, with the cultivator far away from this location.
AND HERE IN INDIA”¦..
While the growers in other countries sign on agreements like the above-described ones for being “licensed” to use Monsanto’s technology/products for a given growing season, the various rights of farmers in India are being curtailed in Agreements being signed by state governments and Monsanto under Public Private Partnerships or PPPs (we already have a situation where agri-input retailers on their receipts, in small font, absolve themselves of any responsibility related to the product being sold).
In the PPP agreements, it is found that Monsanto is being made liable only for replacing seed with seed (in the case of Odisha). In the MoU with Rajasthan government, it is stated that Monsanto’s liability “with respect to quality of seeds supplied will be limited to germination and physical & genetic purity standards as outlined above (Germination: Minimum 90% and Physical and Genetic Purity: Minimum of 98% and 95%).
The PPP in Odisha had the following clauses: “In case of failure of germination of seeds, a District Level Monitoring Committee (including a representative of the company) shall verify such cases and take a final decision. If it is established that the failure to germinate is due to poor quality of seeds, Monsanto will replace the seed to the extent decided by the DLMC”; “if samples of the seed lots do not meet the germination standards, Monsanto India will replace the entire lot of sub-standard seed”; “All the parties understand and explicitly agree that the legal course of action will not be adopted or resorted to for settlement of any disputes arising out of this MoU”.
These clauses obviously reduce the liability of the corporation involved to levels lower than what is prescribed in already-weak seed-related regulatory statutes in India! These are not in the interests of farmers but only in the interest of Monsanto.
Let us also remember that there is tremendous lobbying and influencing happening in India, to “harmonise” our agricultural regulation to that of countries like the USA and to take our IPRs regime also into a rigid system that curtails or excludes farmers’ rights.
Let us not forget that in India, Monsanto is a corporation that is supposed to be under investigation by the National Biodiversity Authority for bio-piracy and is reported to have violated many rules and biosafety norms with impunity when it comes to GM crops and so on. When it came to a Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission inquiry into unjustifiable royalty rates charged on its Bollgard technology (related to GM cotton), it slithered away from the case by arguing that it is another associated-entity that is involved and not Monsanto per se.
Monsanto’s associates and industry association bodies in which it is a key member, have challenged even state governments in India in the past, even on issues like compensation being paid up to farmers for losses that they have incurred. Please recall that this is a company that chased its royalties till the ports of import, when farmers defied laws and re-used/exchanged seed elsewhere! For protecting markets and profits, it appears that anything is acceptable, including paying bribes to officials for regulatory clearances.
It is time that the Indian farmers woke up to the danger looming large with predatory corporations like Monsanto and collectively work towards seed self-reliance that takes care of productivity as well as diversity.