Monsanto has been under fire lately, and things aren’t much different in Puerto Rico. The biotech giant is being criticized for refusing to testify at a government hearing regarding the sale on the island of their own genetically-modified seeds.
The website Corpwatch cites a recent article from the commonwealth’s Spanish-language El Nuevo Dia newspaper in which Monsanto is reported to have shut-down requests to send a representative to an upcoming GMO hearing.
The hearing, a meeting of the Puerto Rican Senate Agriculture Committee, involved the potential creation of a “Seed Board” and certification and licensing system that would regulate the development and sale of seeds on the island.
According to Corpwatch, Monsanto spokesperson Eric Torres-Collazo told the committee that “Monsanto does not produce, sell (or) offer… basic or certified seed with the purpose of planting in Puerto Rico.” That hasn’t satisfied the committee members, though, since Monsanto does indeed engage in some sort of GMO operations on the island.
“Among Monsanto’s arguments for refusing to offer testimony to the Puerto Rican senate committee is that it doesn’t grow GMO agricultural products for consumption on the island,” wrote Mark Karlin for Truth-Out, “it just creates the Frankenstein seeds there through research.”
Corpwatch, a blog specializing in corporate accountability, added that Monsanto’s operations in Puerto Rico, while not involving the planting of GMO seeds, are indeed extensive and not without controversy.
“Monsanto has also been embroiled in a legal controversy over the fact it plants crops on 1,500 acres, despite the fact that Puerto Rico’s 1952 constitution prohibits agricultural landholdings larger than 500 acres,” Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero wrote for Corpwatch this week. Meanwhile, he continued, “[l]ocal media reports have pointed out the irony that despite the fact that Monsanto is in apparent violation of the Puerto Rico constitution, it has received $4.9 million in subsidies from the local Agriculture Department to help it cover payroll expenses from 2006 to 2013.”
Senator Ramón Ruiz-Nieves, a member of the Popular Democratic Party and the chair of the Agricultural Committee, told reporters that he will ask Monsanto again to weigh in on an upcoming seed hearing. The full Senate Health Committee is slated to go over the creation of the potential Seed Board later this year.
According to the investigative journalism site Counterpunch, no state in the US aside from Hawaii has had as many GM crop experiments-per-mile than Puerto Rico as of 2005. “Puerto Rico attracts agricultural biotechnology companies because of the tropical climate that permits up to four harvests yearly and the willingness of the government to fast-track permits,” Counterpunch quoted Margarita Irizarry and José Rodríguez Orengo of the University of Puerto Rico’s Medical Sciences Campus. “Furthermore, the opposition to GM foods is almost non-existent on the island and no particular environmental group is protesting the presence of Dow, Syngenta Seeds, Pioneer HiBred, Mycogen Seeds, Rice Tech, AgReliant Genetics, Bayer Croposcience and Monsanto.”
Monsanto has come under increased scrutiny as of late for its questionable farming and litigation practices that have been condemned by organic farmers across the globe. International protests against the GMO giant occurred last month in six continents across the globe, including one in San Juan, Puerto Rico.