“A new earthquake” is what peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called the news that Monsanto will be donating 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides. The MPP has committed to burning Monsanto’s seeds, and has called for a march to protest the corporation’s presence in Haiti on June 4, for World Environment Day.
In an open letter sent May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the executive director of MPP and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP), called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds … and on what is left our environment in Haiti.”(1) Haitian social movements have been vocal in their opposition to agribusiness imports of seeds and food, which undermines local production with local seed stocks. They have expressed special concern about the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
For now, without a law regulating the use of GMOs in Haiti, the Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto’s offer of Roundup Ready GMOs seeds. In an email exchange, a Monsanto representative assured the Ministry of Agriculture that the seeds being donated are not GMOs.
Elizabeth Vancil, Monsanto’s director of development initiatives, called the news that the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture approved the donation “a fabulous Easter gift” in an April email.(2) Monsanto is known for aggressively pushing seeds, especially GMOs seeds, in both the global North and South, including through highly restrictive technology agreements with farmers who are not always made fully aware of what they are signing. According to interviews by this writer with representatives of Mexican small farmer organizations, they then find themselves forced to buy Monsanto seeds each year, under conditions they find onerous and at costs they sometimes cannot afford.
The hybrid corn seeds Monsanto has donated to Haiti are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram.(3) Thiram belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). Results of tests of EBDCs on mice and rats caused concern to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which then ordered a special review. The EPA determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they must wear special protective clothing when handling them. Pesticides containing thiram must contain a special warning label, the EPA ruled. The EPA also barred marketing of the chemicals for many home garden products, because it assumes that most gardeners do not have adequately protective clothing.(4) Monsanto’s passing mention of thiram to Ministry of Agriculture officials in an email contained no explanation of the dangers, nor any offer of special clothing or training for those who will be farming with the toxic seeds.
Haitian social movements’ concern is not just about the dangers of the chemicals and the possibility of future GMOs imports. They claim that the future of Haiti depends on local production with local food for local consumption, in what is called food sovereignty. Monsanto’s arrival in Haiti, they say, is a further threat to this. Read more…