GENTECH archive


anti-Monsanto picket

Smart farmers burn Monsanto's e-cotton
by Roberto Verzola
Philippine Journal
December 8, 1999

"Indian farmers are smart chaps," said Dr. Sivramiah Shantharam when
he talked before the DOST [the Philippines' Department of Science and
Technology] last November 25 on the controversial topic of genetic
engineering. Shantharam related that in his younger days, he worked in
India for a firm selling agricultural chemicals, and that he learned
from experience to appreciate the wisdom of Indian farmers. "Indian
farmers know exactly what they need. You may fool them once, but if
you do it again, they will chase you out of the village," said
Shantharam, who is today a branch chief of the U.S. Department of

On the same week as Shantharam's DOST talk, the farmers of Karnataka,
India were showing exactly how smart they were.

                      Minister was unaware

On November 16: The Indian public was informed by local newspapers
that Monsanto "has been conducting 40 field trials with genetically
manipulated cotton across five Indian states for the last three
months." Monsanto was testing an engineered mutant corn that
automatically produced its own insect-killing poison (the Bt toxin).
Monsanto had earlier bought into a local company to carry out the
mutant e-cotton field trials. Karnataka Agriculture Minister C. Byre
Gowda admitted that he had been informed of the on-going trials but
was unaware of where they were being undertaken.

On November 20: Indian newspapers reported that the Karnataka State
Farmers Association (KRRS) had issued a deadline to the State
Government and Monsanto to disclose the places where the trials were
being conducted and the exact description of the e-cotton seeds that
were being tested. '"Monsanto should reveal immediately where the
trials are being conducted" failing which "direct action would follow
on the company's office in Malleswaram," their president Prof.
Nanjundaswamy said. "Monsanto will have to leave the country within a
week. Otherwise we will be forced to throw them out," Prof.
Nanjundaswamy angrily said.

On November 24: The Minister of Agriculture of Karnataka held a press
conference, where he was forced by journalists to reveal the three
sites where field trials with Monsanto's e-cotton were being

                         Civil disobedience

On November 26, Prof. Nanjundaswamy circulated the following letter:
"Monsanto's field trials in Karnataka will be reduced to ashes,
starting on Saturday. ...KRRS activists have already contacted the
owners of these fields, to explain them which action will be taken,
and for what reasons, and to let them know that the KRRS will cover
any losses they will suffer. On Saturday the 28th of November, at
midday, thousands of farmers will occupy and burn down the three
fields in front of the cameras, in an open, announced action of civil

On November 28, the Karnataka farmers released a statement: " Today
the farmers of Karnataka will reduce to ashes one of the illegal field
trials that the criminal organisation Monsanto is carrying out in the
country. This action will mark the beginning of a campaign of civil
disobedience called Operation 'Cremation Monsanto', which will soon be
continued in Karnataka and other Indian states.

"The field that will be burned today belongs to Basanna, who came to
know what kind of plants were growing in his field only last
Wednesday, when Byre Gowda (Minister of Agriculture of Karnataka)
mentioned his name as he disclosed the three sites where Monsanto's
trials are being conducted in Karnataka.

               Experiment without farmer's knowledge

"According to Basanna's testimony, officials of Mahyco Monsanto went
to his farm in July and proposed him to grow, free of cost, a new
variety of cotton seeds, which they claimed would give very good
results. He could not suspect that their intention was to carry out an
experiment on genetic engineering without his knowledge and consent,
risking the future viability not only of his farm, but of his complete

"The officials of Mahyco Monsanto, who have signed a written
declaration admitting their illegal behaviour, went regularly to apply
manure and pesticides to the Bt cotton, including heavy doses of
insecticides. However, the plants are infested with bollworm (the pest
that Bt cotton is supposed to control) and other pests like white
fly and red-rot. Despite the heavy use of chemical fertiliser,
traces of which still can be observed in the field, the Bt plants grew
miserably, less than half the size of the traditional cotton plants in
the adjecent fields.

"No single biosafety measure (e.g. buffer zone around the genetically
engineered cotton to reduce biopollution, construction of a fence
around the field, etc) was undertaken by the Mahyco Monsanto. They did
not even demarcate the field as biohazard area."

                      Uprooted, then burned

Later in the afternoon of November 28, they released another
statement: "The direct action campaign of Indian farmers Operation
'Cremate Monsanto' started today at 13:30 in the village of
Maladagudda, about 400 North of Bangalore. Mr. Basanna, owner of the
field where an illegal genetic experiment was being conducted without
his knowledge, and Prof. Nanjundaswamy, president of KRRS (a Gandhian
movement of 10 million farmers in the Southern Indian state of
Karnataka), uprooted together the first plant of genetically modified
cotton, inviting the rest of the local peasants to do the same. Within
a few minutes, all the plants in the field were piled up and ready to
be set on fire."

Taking their fight to the global arena, the Karnataka farmers also
announced: "...we are making an international call for direct action
against Monsanto and the rest of the biotech gang. This call for
action will hopefully inspire all the people who are already doing a
brilliant work against biotech, and many others who so far have not
been very active on the issue, to join hands in a quick, effective
worldwide effort." The farmers emphasized, "we are calling ONLY for
non-violent direct actions".

                Philippine picket against Monsanto

On December 8, Tuesday, Filipino groups opposed to
genetically-engineered crops will be holding their own protest in
front of Monsanto's Makati office. They are protesting Monsanto's
intention to field-test a variety of mutant e-corn in Bai, Laguna and
in General Santos in Mindanao. They will be raising four demands:

* ban the field-testing of genetically-altered crops
* ban the importation of genetically-altered food and food ingredients
* kick out biotech seed firms for trying to control our food supplies
* stop the patenting of biological materials and processes.

The picketeers include the Citizens' Alliance for Consumer Protection,
the environmental group Haribon Foundation, Pesticide Action Network,
Greenpeace, the Philippine Greens, SEARICE, and a number of religious

If it is serious about its food security program, the government
should heed their demands.

(Roberto Verzola is the secretary-general of the Philippine Greens.)