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Monsanto Faces Opposition in Puerto Rico

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

Agricultural biotech corporate giant Monsanto pretty much has had its way in Puerto Rico since it first set up seed breeding operations in the island in 1983. But the last few months have seen a hailstorm of bad publicity and protests against the corporation's local activities.

On June 11, Monsanto Caribe, the company's local affiliate, refused to testify at a Puerto Rico Senate hearing on proposed seed legislation, bill PS 624.

"Monsanto does not produce, sell [or] offer...basic or certified seed with the purpose of planting in Puerto Rico," argued company representative Eric Torres-Collazo in a letter to the Senate agriculture committee explaining the decision not to testify. Technically true, since all the seed this and other biotech companies produce in Puerto Rico is for export. But committee chair Ramón Ruiz-Nieves has not accepted Monsanto's argument, pointing out that the company receives substantial subsidies from the local agriculture department and it is registered with the PR government as a bona fide farmer. Ruiz-Nieves informed the press that he intends to summon Monsanto again.

This particular story has received international coverage following a Corpwatch piece I wrote, which is actually a general story on Monsanto's woes in the island, not just the seed hearing blow-off. Both Russia's RT and TruthOut followed up on it, stating that the Senate hearing was about legislation to regulate and rein in the planting of genetically modified (GM) seeds in the island. TruthOut even portrayed the Senate as a formidable adversary, with the headline "Puerto Rico Senate Fights Back Against Monsanto."

To set the record straight, PS 624 has nothing to say about GM seed. The Puerto Rico Senate has never attempted to regulate or constrain the local activities of biotech corporations in any way, shape or form, much less ever stood up to the likes of Monsanto. Furthermore, the text of PS 624 reads like something that could have been written by a Monsanto attorney.

Not only that, but the biotech seed industry faces a potentially more important and contentious battle in the PR Senate health committee, as we'll see later.

The bill's exposition of motives states that Puerto Rico has a real quality control problem with locally produced seeds and proposes to remedy this with legislation to regulate their production and sale. The bill does not address two main concerns of organic farmers and progressive organizations: contamination of seed stocks with GM varieties, and the patenting of traditional and heirloom varieties of seed by transnational corporations.