Gates, Monsanto, and Monopoly: Foundation Keeps Wealth in the Club

A private foundation is a nonprofit organization that engages in activities for the general good…technically, that is. The catch is that the Foundation gets to define what general good means.

by Heidi Stevenson
9 January 2011

A private foundation is a nonprofit organization that engages in activities for the general good…technically, that is. The catch is that the Foundation gets to define what general good means. Foundations are also a terrific way for the wealthy to shelter their assets from taxation and keep them in the family, all the while giving the appearance of acting for the benefit of the people…and letting the creator of the Foundation bask in the glory of the title Philanthropist.

A foundation can buy almost any sort of asset it wants, including pieces of corporations in the form of stocks or bonds. A foundation is, effectively, a nearly tax-free corporation, with few limitations other than being unable to show profits. Of course, profits can be disguised in the form of salaries, grants, and virtually anything it does.

Bill Gates became the wealthiest person in the world. The corporation he started, Microsoft, controls more than 90 percent of the world’s software market, not including the freeware portion. (It’s almost a shame he didn’t try to patent freeware. He might have managed to strangle that software arena, too.) He used his personal wealth to set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

One would hope that the basic purpose of his foundation would be to make the world a better place. But, if it were, wouldn’t he use his Foundation to…well, make the world better? Wouldn’t he try to assure that more people could get a piece of the pie? And wouldn’t the Foundation’s business associates be ones that benefit the world?

It doesn’t look like it. Gates’ Foundation has partnered with some of the most rapacious corporations in the world. Monsanto, which controls about 90 percent of the world’s genetically modified seed and the vast majority of the rest of the commercial seed, is now partially owned by the Gates Foundation.

According to the Wall Street Journal(1), among others, the Gates Foundation has holdings in:

Walmart (9.2 million shares)
McDonald’s (9.4 million shares)
ExxonMobil (6.3 million shares)
Berkshire Hathaway (76.4 million Class B shares)
Monsanto (500,000 shares)
Despite protestations to the opposite, it’s hard to to believe that the Gates Foundation is genuinely concerned with people’s health. Ownership in Walmart and McDonald’s makes that abundantly clear. ExxonMobil is one of the world’s most rapacious corporations. You do recall the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, don’t you? Berkshire Hathaway is Warren Buffett’s baby. He’s also a trustee of the Gates Foundation. Is that incestuous enough?

Top Level Gates Foundation Staff

The resumés of most of the highest-level personnel of the Gates Foundation is revealing:

Warren Buffett, Trustee: Like Bill Gates, he is one of the richest people in the world. He recently “donated” massive amounts of his wealth to the foundation. His fund, Berkshire Hathaway, has massive holdings in the Bank of America, American Express, the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation, Coca Cola, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and major medical supplier Becton Dickinson & Co, among others.(3) Is his involvement as a trustee philanthropic, or a means of assuring that he can keep an eye on his money long after his death?
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President, Global Development Program: She is also on the Board of Directors for MetLife and on the Board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which seems to serve as a front for GMO seeds and receives the Gates Foundation’s biggest grants(2). As if this weren’t enough, she is also a member of the Aspen Strategy Group, the Trilateral Commission, and the Nike Foundation Advisory Group
Tachi Yamada, MD, President, Global Health Program: He is a former Board Member of GlaxoSmithKline.
Martha Choe, Chief Administrative Officer, Foundation Operations: Before her “public service” roles, she was in banking, a Vice President at the Bank of California Credit Administration, Commercial and Private Banking.
Richard Henriques, Chief Financial Officer, Foundation Operations: He was the was Senior Vice President of Finance and Corporate Controller at Merck.
Kate James, Chief Communications Officer, Foundation Operations: Before involvement with the Gates Foundation, she was in both banking and Big Pharma. She was Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Communications for Citibank, and “senior leadership roles at Standard Chartered Bank and GlaxoSmithKline in the areas of communications, international government relations, strategy and sustainability”, according to her Gates Foundation bio.
Geoff Lamb, Managing Director, Public Policy Foundation Operations: He was Vice President of Concessional Finance and Global Partnerships at the World Bank.
Franci Phelan, Chief Human Resources Officer, Foundation Operations: She was Vice President of Human Resources at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a DuPont company. She was the Human Resources Platform Lead for DuPont Agriculture and Nutrition and was a member of the DuPont Corporate Human Resources Leadership Team
Most of the senior officials of the Gates Foundation have strong ties to some of the most brazen corporations and pseudo-charities in the world. GlaxoSmithKline. Merck. The World Bank. DuPont. Nike. Trilateral Commission. AGRA. CitiBank.

The Deranged Agriculture System and Its Connection to Oil

Directly or indirectly, the primary source of wealth in the modern world is oil. We’ve become a mobile society because of it. Products are transported all over the world because oil provides the means to moves goods cheaply. Our agricultural methods have been transformed through the use of it. Petroleum contains the primary ingredients that support the chemical, pesticide, and pharmaceutical industries.

Monsanto started as a chemicals company. It was a child of the oil industry. When their past environmental and health destruction was finally reaching the courts, the company remade itself. The parts responsible for its transgressions were spun off. These parts became the sitting ducks for the lawsuits. To mix metaphors, they were the sacrificial lambs. That left the “new” Monsanto free to engage in a new direction. They remade themselves into the kings of genetic modification, especially in seeds, and they became a paradigm for corporate depravity in their methods of forcing and sneaking their defective products on farmers all over the world.

Monsanto and its products are dependent on a deranged agricultural system. Modern agriculture has left the natural world entirely in favor of a system that utilizes oil products to replace husbandry of the earth. Instead of focusing on the synergy of the sun, soil, and water to produce food plants, oil-based products are used. Oil-based fertilizers provide the gross requirements of plants without consideration for the ultimate nutritional needs of people, thus providing pretty fruits and vegetables that are short in nutrition. These weakened plants cannot survive under assaults of the natural world, so they’re defended with pesticide poisons based on oil.

Now, this deranged agricultural system is ripe for even further predations in the form of genetically modified plants designed to survive in a contaminated agribusiness system. This is the niche that Monsanto has carved for itself. Wherever Monsanto finds that farmers refuse their products, they take aggressive approaches. In poor places, their first method seems generous: they donate their destructive seeds. Ultimately, though, those farmers often find that the crop yields are not as promised, often poorer than what they’d achieved without GMOs. They then find their land damaged, even destroyed, and their poorer output makes it impossible to afford seed the following season. In wealthier areas, Monsanto sues farmers whose crops have been adulterated by cross pollination with GMO plants. Those farmers are then forced to pay Monsanto for growing crops that Monsanto has adulterated. It makes no difference whether those crops are inferior or that they destroyed the farmers’ business, they’re forced to pay because Monsanto’s wealth allows them to purchase what now passes for justice in the legal system.

These GMO seeds allow massive doses of Monsanto’s glyphosate weed killer. That becomes a vicious cycle of more and more glyphosate required, at greater and greater costs. It wrecks the environment by destroying soil and with crossbreeding that results in wild plants that are more pesticide resistant than natural ones.

Ultimately, this process can only lead to the death of the environment that supports all life. Indeed, huge areas have already suffered mightily. Huge dead areas in rivers and the oceans exist because of agricultural runoff. Soils have become unproductive. Pollution has caused untold health problems and early deaths. Massive suffering on a massive scale is the result. But, until the entire system collapses, there is money to be made.

The Gates Foundation’s Association with Deranged Agriculture

So, does the Gates Foundation try to end oil-based agriculture and pharmaceuticals and industrial food? No, of course not. Its goal has nothing to do with the betterment of humanity and the earth.

Take a look at the sources of talent Gates’ Foundation pulls from, and then compare that with where its greatest financial support goes. The financial interests of the people associated with the Foundation and the interests of the agencies and corporations it supports, whether directly or indirectly, coincide. The Foundation has placed huge investments in the places that will return profits to the people and corporations with which it’s associated.

Rather than trying to stop land-destroying agricultural practices, like McDonald’s destruction of productive agricultural and rainforest land for cattle and Monsanto’s health and soil destroying GMOs, they are either ignored or supported. The ability of small-scale farmers to continue to produce crops is being destroyed by these practices, so the welfare and way of life of masses of people is being destroyed. The Foundation’s response is to push the products that cause it. Vaccinations are being pushed on the world’s poorest children in Africa, rather than trying to promote genuine health through access to good food, water, and shelter—but this helps bring profits to Big Pharma, with whom the Gates Foundation has strong associations. All of these practices are profitable for the petroleum industry, and the Gates Foundation is a big holder in ExxonMobil.

The Gates Foundation supports some of the most destructive practices in the world and associates with some of the worst corporations. The future of the world—the environment, wildlife, and humans—is at risk from all of the Gates Foundation’s major financial associations. The Gates Foundation supports them, and ultimately stands to profit from them.

The Gates Foundation is intimately tied to the oil industry and the industries most intimately tied to it: pharmaceuticals, agribusiness, and the prepared food industry. To the detriment of the entire world, the Foundation promotes those industries in its so-called philanthropic activities. In the end, the primary beneficiaries of the Gates Foundation appear to be members of the Wealthiest People in the World Club

Monsanto To Push Price Amid Food Crisis

By Zacks Investment Research on September 13, 2011 | More Posts By Zacks Investment Research |

World’s largest seed company, Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON), announced to raise prices for its DeKalb brand of corn seeds in 2012 by an average of 5% to 10% amid the present worldwide food crisis.

The price rise reflects higher cost of production for the high-yielding corn genes. These insecticide- producing biotechnology seeds have been depicting improved performance and higher sales of crops for the growers over time. The company anticipates that more and more farmers will shift to the new, higher-yielding seeds rapidly.

Higher prices of corn seeds are anticipated to help Monsanto achieve its target of boosting earnings by 13% to 17% a year. In 2011, Monsanto lowered corn seed prices, especially Smartax, after the farmers increased purchases from DuPont Co.’s lower-priced Pioneer Brand. Added to the peril was the bad weather condition, which came as a backlash for Monsanto’s earnings after the customer loyalty shift.

Hence, the company now needs to recoup losses through contracts with the growers in a wide geographic area by raising corn seed prices, after overcoming drought and other weather issues. The company also plans to raise seeds in Latin America.

Price increase, however, seems risky, given the intensifying competition and global food crisis. However, Monsanto is confident about its product line and expect the price increase to show continued momentum with customers while facilitating the company to meet its growth projections

Of late, Monsanto’s genetically altered corn seeds were reported of getting infected with some sort of seed resistant bugs. These seeds are produced by combining seed and pesticides, developed by Monsanto. Reports suspected, as the resistant insects breed with other unaffected plants nearby, there is a chance of contamination with non-resistant offsprings with widespread effect. The company, however, pointed out that the seeds are giving good results and at the same time, affirmed that they are ready with potential safeguards in place, for any such adverse situation.

NGO alleges ‘bio-piracy’ by Monsanto’s Indian subsidiary & its collaborators: True or false?

 Environmental Support Group (ESG), a NGO headquartered at Bangalore has levelled serious charges of violation of India’s Biological Diversity Act (BD Act), against Mahyco, (26% of which is owned by Monsanto) and its collaborators – the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (UAS) & Sathguru Management Consultants (P) Ltd., which was acting as a co-ordinator on behalf of USAID and Cornell University. The ESG website accessible over here has done an admirable job of making sure that all the necessary documents used as the basis of their complaint are freely accessible to everybody.

Image from here.
The target of criticism is a tripartite research and collaboration agreement, dated 23rd April, 2005 between Mahyco, UAS and Sathguru Pvt. Ltd (available over here and here) aimed at the development of pro-poor varieties of eggplant that are insect tolerant, a.k.a. genetically modified Bt. Brinjal which in itself has been the subject of considerable controversy over safety fears. Protests against the genetically modified Bt Brinjal were so vociferous that the then Minister for Environment Mr. Jairam Ramesh announced a moratorium on any further testing of Bt. Brinjal until there was public consensus on the safety issues. While the safety and regulatory aspect is dealt with by committees constituted under the Ministry of Environment and the Department of Biotechnology, the aspect of accessing biological resources are dealt with under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 which is also administered by the Ministry of Environment and a statutory body which is the National Biological Authority.

As per S. 3 of the BD Act, foreign companies or citizens seeking to access biological resources in India are required to take the prior approval of the National Biological Authority while Indian citizens and companies are only required to intimate, not seek approval, of the State Biological Authorities’ for carrying out similar functions. As per Section 5(1) no approvals are required in the case of collaborative research between Indian and foreign parties provided that such collaborative research projects are approved by the Central Government and conform to guidelines issued by the Central Government. In the present case the guidelines were published by the Ministry of Environment in the Official Gazette only on the 8th of November, 2006. (These guidelines are available over here.)

In its complaint to the Karnataka Biodiversity Board, ESG has alleged the following violations by the three parties:

(i) That when the Central Government formulated and issued guidelines on the 8th of November, 2006 the three parties failed to approach the NBA, under S. 18, for approval and clarification on the guidelines. ESG also states that the three parties should have intimated the Karnataka Biodiversity Board, under S. 7 of the Act, of their intent to access biological resources within its jurisdiction. Under the BD Act, 2002 accessing biological resources in the country in violation of the Act can attract penal sanctions.

(ii) The second allegation pertains to the alleged violation of S. 41(2) of the BD Act, 2002. ESG states in its complaint that S. 41(2) requires the permission of not only the NBA and the State Board but also local biodiversity authorities and since such permission was not taken, the local communities who developed the biological resources were deprived of their right to benefit from the commercial gains that would be made by the three parties.

On the basis of the above allegations, ESG ‘demanded’ that the Karnataka State Board conduct a full-fledged inquiry and initiate criminal proceedings against all the above parties. ESG also provides a link to the Minutes of the NBA meeting on the 20th of June, 2011 which states that the NBA is going to initiate legal action against Mahyco and it collaborators for using local brinjal strains to develop the Bt Brinjal without prior approval of the NBA.

A. The counterpoint from Mahyco & its collaborators: ESG has also provided on its website scanned copies of the replies received by the Karnataka State Board from Mahyco and its collaborators on the issues raised by ESG. These replies are available over here.

The replies by these three parties are rather vague and don’t really rebut strongly any of the issues raised by ESG. At the most they provide a detailed factual background to the tripartite agreement and the Government of India’s involvement in the project. Both UAS and Sathguru have clarified that the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project – II, managed by the Cornell University to transfer technical know-how to India, has the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India as one of its partners. The implication therefore being that the Government of India had complete knowledge of the program from the beginning. This is further confirmed by the website of Cornell University over here.

B. The possible legal roadblocks to ESG’s allegations: The weakness of both the allegations is explained below:

(i) The first allegation pertaining to the violation of the Central Govt.’s guidelines published under S. 5(3)(a) appears to be rather weak since the collaboration agreement under dispute was entered into with blessings of the Department of Biotechnology therefore implying that the Central Government approved of the project thus fulfilling the conditions of S. 5(3)(b). Since the conditions of S. 5(3)(b) are fulfilled, the conditions of the BD Act, 2002 are fulfilled and there is no violation of the law. Further, projects such as this are now officially a part of the Central Government’s agricultural policy especially in the context of the Indo-U.S. Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture which kicked off in 2006.

(ii) The second part of the first allegation pertaining to violation of S. 7 i.e. non-intimation to the Karnataka Biodiversity Board also may not stand in a Court of law since S. 7 clearance is required only in cases pertaining to ‘commercial utilization’ and the present tripartite agreement under dispute does not state that it has commercial goals. The focus of the agreement seems to be centred on technology transfer to the Indian partner. However I will concede that more information is required to decide this point.

(iii) The third allegation on the violation of S. 41(2) of the BD Act, 2002 is quite weak, since that provision requires the NBA and the State Boards, and not the applicant, to consult with local biodiversity management committees while taking any decision relating to the use of biological resources and knowledge associated with such resources. Therefore only the NBA can violate S. 41(2) and not UAS, Mahyco and Sathguru.

Should we encourage biopirates to expand their business in India?

An appeal for your URGENT support
Should we encourage biopirates to expand their business in India?
06 August 2011
Dear Friends,
As you are aware, the environmental release of the first ever Genetically Modified Food (Bt Brinjal – eggplant) in India, promoted by M/s Mahyco (an Indian subsidiary of US TNC Monsanto), was stayed by a February 2011 decision by then Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who ordered a moratorium on the product’s environmental and commercial release. This decision was the outcome of public opinion gathered in a series of nation-wide public consultations that he held and based also on a variety of scientific evidence and legal analysis. Fundamentally, Mr. Ramesh held that per the Precautionary Principle not enough was known of the environmental, public health, economic and social consequences of GMO foods. Therefore it was prudent to postpone the decision until there was absolute certainty that GMOs subserved the common good.
Moratorium decision on Bt Brinjal sidestepped biopiracy issue:
In addition to concerns over the public health and environmental implications of GMOs, Environment Support Group raised a serious concern that in promoting Bt Brinjal, Mahyco/Monsanto, along with it collaborators (University of Agricultural Sciences -Dharwad, Sathguru Consultants, Cornell University and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University; collaborators under the ABSP-II project funded by USAID) had fundamentally flouted laws protecting biodiversity in India. The specific charge made was that these agencies had accessed at least 9 local varieties of brinjal in developing the Bt Brinjal product and all this was done without any prior permission from the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), State Biodiversity Board, Local Biodiversity Management Committees, as required per the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992 and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. Therefore, the action of bringing the Bt Brinjal product to a final decision of commercial release constituted an act of biopiracy: a very serious crime that is cognisable, non-bailable and additionally involves large fines. It was also submitted to the Minister that such actions seriously compromised and denied economic and social benefits to local communities under the Access and Benefit Sharing Regime.
Mr. Ramesh chose to sidestep this critical issue while ordergin moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal.
ESG complaint against biopiracy:
Environment Support Group, however, pursued the case, and filed a complaint before the statutory Karnataka Biodiversity Board on 15 February 2011 (copy attached). The Board took cognisance of this complaint, proceeded to investigate it thoroughly, issued notices on all agencies involved in promoting Bt Brinjal and also held hearings. In their defence, Bt Brinjal promoters Mahyco/Monsanto have absolutely denied violation of biodiversity protection laws while others, such as University of Agricultural Sciences – Dharwar have claimed that these laws do not at all apply to them. Based on this evidence, the Board has repeatedly requested the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) to take appropriate action in accordance with law. NBA, however, has dithered on taking a decision on this critical complaint – for over a year now.
Monsanto now wants India’s onions:
Perhaps encouraged by weak regulation by NBA, Monsanto Holdings has now applied for accessing a variety of onions grown in India for potential hybridisation, commodification and commercial release. A copy of the application made by Monsanto is enclosed. As we understand, NBA has forwarded Monsanto’s application to relevant State regulatory authorities and applicable Biodiversity Management Committees (at Panchayat/Nagarpalika levels) with the demand that the application be cleared no later than 27 August 2011.
It is a matter of very serious worry that NBA which has failed to demonstrate urgency in dealing with complaint of biopiracy against Mahyco/Monsanto, has wasted no time at all in processing Monsanto’s application to access onions.
It is imperative for NBA to enforce India’s biodiversity protection laws and also act in conformance with the Public Trust Doctrine, Precautionary Principle, Principle of Intergenerational Equity and the Polluter Pays Principle and other applicable laws. We fear that such lax behaviour on the part of a key regulatory agency encourages businesses to continue their business-as-usual approach, untrammelled by any fear of punitive action for violating India’s biodiversity protection laws and for compromising India’s sovereign control over its biological resources.
Demand decisions in NBA meeting on 9th August 2011:
With this in view, we wish to demand that NBA in its meeting scheduled on 9th August 2011 must take a categorical decision on the charge of biopiracy against those promoting Bt Brinjal product based on comprehensive investigation and reporting by the Karnataka Biodiversity BoardPending adjudication of this matter, no fresh application for accessing India’s biological resources must be entertained from any agency being investigated for biopiracy. Such a norm is critical to safeguard ongoing investigations and protecting biological wealth of India, and is an approach that is in consonance with various Supreme Court decisions, most recently evidenced by banning mining by all in light of widespread illegal mining in Bellary.
If you wish to support this demand, kindly sign on the petition (enclosed) by providing your name, full address, and organisational affiliation (if any), no later than 11 pm on 8th August 2011. Kindly leave the subject as is to help us to process your endorsement.
To further assist you in endorsing this petition we have also made it accessible online at:
We seek this support from you so that India’s biological resources are protected and conserved to ensure ecological, food, economic and social security of present and future generations.
Thank you for your cooperation and support.
Yours sincerely,
Leo F. Saldanha
Bhargavi S. Rao

Environment Support Group

[Environment, Social Justice and Governance Initiatives]
1572, 36th Cross,
Banashankari II Stage,
Bangalore 560070. INDIA
Tel: 91-80-26713559-61
Voice/Fax: 91-80-26713316
Petition to National Biodiversity Authority:
Shri M.F.Farooqui, IAS.,
National Biodiversity Authority,
(Full Addl. Charge)
Additional Secretary,
Ministry of Environment and Forests,
Government of India,
5th Floor, TICEL Bio Park,
Taramani, Chennai – 600 113
Tel: 91-044-2254 1805
Fax: 91-044-2254 1073
8th August 2011
Dear Shri. Farooqui,
As you are aware, Environment Support Group has filed a complaint against M/s Mahyco/Monsanto and their collaborators in promoting Bt Brinjal in violation of India’s Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992. This complaint has been pending adjudication by the National Biodiversity Authority for over a year now, notwithstanding comprehensive investigations that have been undertaken by Karnataka State Biodiversity Board.
The Authority which has not found the necessary time and resource to adjudicate the matter with due dispatch, has now proceeded to process an application from Monsanto Holdings to access onions in India for hybridisation and possible commercial release. Such double standards is not an healthy indicator that the Authority is independently and rigorously implementing Biological Diversity Act in order to protect our biological resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
When the Authority meets on 9th August 2011, it is imperative that it takes a decision on the pending complaint of biopiracy against M/s Mahyco/Monsanto and its collaborators. Such action is imperative on the part of the regulatory Authority and will build public confidence that it is not dithering in taking a correct decision due to extraneous pressures.
We also demand that pending adjudication of this matter, no application must be processed for accessing biological resources of India from any of the agencies being investigated on grounds of biopiracy. Such a policy is consistent with best practices employed by the Government of India and also with various Supreme Court decisions – most recently in banning mining by all as a measure of taking action against widespread illegal mining in Bellary district of Karnataka.
We hope that the Authority will take appropriate decisions with due dispatch to safeguard India’s biodiversity and the wider public interest.

Games the Centre plays

States used Essential Commodities Act to lower the price of Bt cotton And states fight back

For the past five years, the Centre and the states have been fighting a battle over seed pricing with Delhi frequently changing the rules to outsmart state governments that had decided to clamp down on predatory pricing.

Although agriculture is a state subject, the power to fix prices had remained with the Centre—until the states decided to take matters into their own hands. They passed enabling legislation that allowed them to regulate prices as and when required. Andhra Pradesh has been most tenacious in safeguarding its farmers from what it terms the exploitative and monopolistic pricing by seed companies.

In 2006, it used the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) to slash the price of the genetically engineered Bt cotton seeds by more than half, after first going to the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, followed Andhra Pradesh’s example and used the ECA to slash the royalty rates which accounted for as much as twothirds of the seed cost, to bring prices down sharply. As a result, farmers in these states could buy the Bt cotton (marketed as Bollgard and Bollgard II) at `750 for a 450 gramme packet compared with `1,800 in 2002-03.

However, in December 2006, the Union government quietly amended the ECA to exclude cotton seeds from the list of essential commodities. This, according to some analysts, enabled Mahyco and the All India Crop Biotech Association (AICBA), the association of multinational seed companies, to challenge the states on their jurisdiction in fixing cotton seed prices. Most state governments got around the legal hump by passing special laws that gave them the power to do so. In 2007, Andhra Pradesh passed Act 29 to regulate the sale and prices of cotton seeds because cotton seed was not covered either by the Seeds Act, the Seeds Control Order, the ECA or the Environmental Protection Act.

This has resulted in a cat and mouse game between the states and the Union government. For instance, when AICBA challenged Gujarat’s ordinance which was on the same lines as that of Andhra Pradesh’s, the Ministry of Agriculture came to the rescue of the multinationals. It sent an affidavit to the Gujarat High Court in January 2009 that cotton seeds were out of the “purview of any regulatory and quality control mechanism”. As such, “no administered control system should be introduced in the sale of seeds”. Even more curious was that in November 2009 the Union Cabinet decided to re-include cotton seeds in the list of essential commodities for six months. It said that once the Seeds Bill, 2004, was passed cotton seeds would cease to be under ECA.

The stakes are high in the seeds business. A 2009 study estimates the market at `6,000 crore, with massive potential for growth since farmers are switching over increasingly to hybrids (seeds which cannot be reused). Traditionally farmers in India have reused their seeds and as much as 70 percent of the seed requirement of Indian agriculture is met from seeds bred and sold, or exchanged, by farmers among themselves. Growth rate is buoyant at an annual 12-13 per cent, making the prospects for private seeds companies extremely lucrative since most of the state sector seed companies have almost withered away.

The Andhra Pradesh government is insisting on a standard formula for royalty rate in the bill: not more than 20 per cent of the cost of the bare seed for the first three years and 5 per cent for the subsequent period.

Prices under the scanner in US


Did Monsanto abuse its market power?

Seeds have turned into a hotbed of political conflict worldwide. As multinational companies increase their grip on the seed market, governments in developed countries are beginning to take a closer look at how the lack of competition is hurting farmers at home and abroad.

The most significant development is the investigation by the US administration into the steep rise in prices of major food crop seeds at a time when the recession had brought down the prices of most goods. Last year, corn seed prices were reported to have shot up 32 per cent and that of soybean seeds by 24 per cent. While the Justice Department has launched an antitrust investigation of the seed industry, at least seven US states are investigating whether Monsanto has abused its market power to lock out competitors and raise prices.

Monsanto controls the biggest chunk of the market for GM seeds (see table) that are designed to make crops resistant to pests and herbicides. In the US, its Roundup Ready gene was in 93 per cent of the soybean crop and in 82 per cent of the corn produced last year.

Christine Varney, who heads the antitrust division in President Barack Obama’s administration, announced in March this year that the Justice Department is investigating whether biotech-seed patents are being abused to extend or maintain companies’ dominance in the industry. A more recent report says that the investigators in the West Virginia attorney general’s office have reviewed several studies by agriculture experts showing that Monsanto’s advertised claims of higher yields for its high-priced new soybean seed, Roundup Ready 2 Yield, have not been realised.

Industry analysts say the sharp escalation in seed prices began a little over a decade ago with emergence of GM crops and the swift consolidation of the seed industry that accompanied it.

Of more significance to India, perhaps, is a heated debate in the Canadian Parliament over a bill that seeks to amend the Seeds Regulations “to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new GM seed is permitted”.