KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
An international trial will take place at The Hague in the Netherlands against the agrochemical corporation Monsanto. The tribunal will run from October 14th through the 16th and the trial, largely symbolic in nature because it holds no legal standings. But the organizers say they will use international legal standards in the proceedings. However, Monsanto has declined to participate, saying that the trial is “a staged event”, a mock trial where the outcome is already predetermined. Monsanto was one of the world’s largest agrochemical corporations and is facing a takeover from the pharmaceutical giant, Bayer.
Today we’re join with Ronnie Cummins to discuss this tribunal. He is the founder and the international director of the Organic Consumers Association. He’s also a steering committee member for Regeneration International. Ronnie thank you so much for speaking with us.
RONNIE CUMMINS: Good to be with you.
BROWN: Ronnie First of all, why Monsanto? We know that the company has a fairly bad reputation but what is it specifically that the organizers of the trial want to accuse Monsanto of doing?
CUMMINS: Well, Monsanto was incorporated I believe in 1901 and for the last 115 years they have put out a series of products that they knew were dangerous that have done severe damage to not only human health but the environment. So in the last 20 years they’ve become infamous for forcing this new technology of genetically engineered food on the public and they’ve become because of their dirty tricks and their strong armed towards farmers and consumers, they’ve become what some maybe have said, the most hated corporation in the world. So that’s one of the reasons they’re going to merge with Bayer because they want to drop the name Monsanto and they hope people will forget about what they’ve done.
But I think that’s very unlikely. Today was a perfect demonstration with activists from all over Europe and North and South American converging here to start this 3-day people’s indictment of Monsanto and to rally global support for a boycott of genetically engineered foods and also to try to get the World Court which is located here in The Hague to pick up on this case. They’ve been previous incident where these citizen tribunals like the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal around Vietnam in the late 60’s and people’s assemblies around the Serbian genocide and Rwanda have resulted in the World Court picking up on these cases.
But certainly we are addressing today, the court of world public opinion and we certainly have an audience who are listening and who want this company to be brought to heel.
BROWN: So Ronnie, today October 14th, was the first day of this tribunal in The Hague and you said this was already a sold out event. What were some of the stories that people were telling about how they were effected supposedly by Monsanto products?
CUMMINS: Yes, well today we had some testimony by people, scientists, who had done studies of Monsanto’s genetically engineered products who recounted how they’d been harassed mercilessly for exposing the truth. We also had farmers talking about their harassment and their intimidation when they stood up to Monsanto. We also had discussions about how the whole global political system and judiciary system has been infiltrated and corrupted by this corporation. So tomorrow we’re going to actually have a panel of 5 legal experts who are going to hear testimony starting tomorrow from people from 30 different countries around the world who’ve been harmed by Monsanto’s products or who live in countries where there’s environmental destruction. Recently the International World Court said they’re going to start taking up cases of what they call ecocide, that is what they call severe and irreparable damage to the environment.
So we had a lot of media here today. We have a lot of excitement. Activists have already agreed to do a global campaign where we’re going to try to get literally a billion people over the next 5 years to take a pledge that they will not buy these poison foods derived from Monsanto and Bayer’s products and farms who will agree not to grow the genetically engineered crops and use the toxic pesticides that always accompany them.
BROWN: Ronnie, Monsanto says that they refuse to participate because this is a mock trial where the outcome is already predetermined. How do you respond to that charge?
CUMMINS: Well, I think they know as well as we do that they’re the most unpopular corporation in the world and that’s the reason why they’re anxious to be bought out and drop their name by Bayer. But we did try to invite them. We sent delivery services to St. Louis several times to their headquarters to invite them to appear and bring their lawyers. At first they wouldn’t even let the people deliver the registered letters. Finally, about 10 days ago we used a process server in St. Louis and they were able to deliver the invitation. But Monsanto doesn’t want to show up because they know they don’t have an answer to most of the accusations that are coming at them from around the country.
BROWN: So Ronnie, also organizers of the trials say that they will use international legal standards for prosecuting Monsanto. However, Monsanto has said that it will not participate. So how can you have a trial that complies with legal standards if the defendant is not defending themselves.
CUMMINS: What’s going to be issued after the conclusion of the Monsanto tribunal is a judgmental legal advisory on the part of the volunteer judges here. We will see if the World Court is willing to take this up. But certainly in the court of public opinion, we’re not going to hold our breath for the World Court to stop the rampaging of this corporation we feel like the only thing that Monsanto really takes notice of or damage to their bottom line and their profits. And their profits and their stock have fallen considerably over the last couple years.
They had to lay off people and they are anxious to be bought out. So they hope that people will forget what they’ve done when they start to be called Bayer instead of Monsanto. But that’s not the case. They have to cease and desist from their behavior which is a real pattern of lawlessness and damage over the last century really. But these products they produce like PCB’s and they sold DDT and Agent Orange in the Vietnam era, aspartame, the artificial sweetener that’s now come under such attack and now genetically engineered foods and crops.
Here in Europe there are no genetically engineered crops really being grown in any significant acreage and there are no products on the grocery store shelves. Why is that? Well because in the European Union they passed a law in the late 90s basically saying that genetically engineered foods had to be labeled and once farmers knew that genetically engineered crops and the foods coming out of them would have to be labeled, once grocery stories knew this, once brand name companies new this, well they won’t have anything to do with this because they know the public is genuinely suspicious or alarmed by this technology that’s really nothing more than a pesticide delivery system.
So you don’t really have genetically engineered food as an issue in the union. In the US, it’s been a completely different story. I personally as an activist who worked for 22 years, I’m trying to get mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in the US. Polls have always shown 80-90% of the public, they want to know what they’re eating, they want to know if it’s genetically engineered or not, if it’s been heavily sprayed with these pesticides like roundup which always accompany the seeds. But the government has been unwilling to do so and in July, the US congress basically passed a law popularly known as the D.A.R.K. Act which is Deny Americans the Right to Know, that reversed laws in Vermont and a number of other states requiring labeling.
So all the big food companies earlier this summer started labeling their products because the Vermont law went into effect July 1st. But then the House of Representatives and the Senate cranked up into overdrive and they reversed the law in late July, basically saying that states don’t have the right that they’ve enjoyed for the last over 100 years to require certain labels on food and President Obama dutifully signed the bill. So now we’re in the dark. Corporate America said, do you know we’ll put these QR codes, these little square cube codes on food sometime in the next few years and if consumers have a smartphone and if their grocery stores has wireless connection and if they have the time they can click on these QR codes and it will take them to the website of the food corporation and maybe in the fine print on page 24, they can find out why their coca cola is actually using genetically engineered high fructose corn syrup in their drinks, which of course they are.
So they basically have slapped us in the face. They have disrupted the tradition of federalism where they have some power in the hands of the states that the federal government has not usurped for themselves and we have no right to know, we have no right to choose who’s really in the US. If you want something that’s not genetically engineered, you have to buy something that’s labeled organic or if it’s meat and animal products, something that’s grass fed.
BROWN: Well Ronnie, holding multinational corporations accountable is a notoriously difficult task, especially since they try to escape jurisdiction by moving around from place to place so easily. This is why some such as the government of Ecuador have recently proposed to include the possibility of prosecuting multinational corporations at the international criminal court. This would create a legally binding process for cases such as the one against Monsanto. So what do you make of such a proposal.
CUMMINS: Well I think it’s a great idea. But like I say, the people gathered here in The Hague today, we understand this process is going to take a number of years and in the meantime there’s one thing we can all do. If you’re a consumer don’t buy the products. If you’re a farmer, don’t grow the products. This will send a real message if we can extend our cooperation of what we call the global grassroots to most of the 200 countries around the world.
So we’re actively working with consumer groups in China, in India, throughout Latin America and North America and Europe to share the information we have and to exercise our clout where we can. We all eat a couple times a day and we can vote wit hour knives and forks and our wallets. If we want a different food and farming system which is extremely important if we’re going to solve the climate crisis or the deteriorating public health crisis or address the issues of rural poverty, we need to pay attention to how we’re spending our money and if we use our clout as the global grassroots, we really can force corporations to change. What we’re seeing in the United States is these very large corporations right now or they’re taking artificial coloring, synthetic chemicals out of their products. Some of them are taking out the genetically engineered ingredients. They are truly alarmed. These fast food corporations like McDonalds are seeing their sales fall. They’re seeing that millennials especially are not as gullible as some of the previous generations.
So we believe that to have fundamental change in the world, we have to change a number of things. We have to change the market place, we have to change investment policies and we also eventually have to change public policy. Now if we were facing Bernie Sanders vs. Trump now in this election, we would know that once Bernie got into the White House, he would crack down on some of these practices with Monsanto. He was a support of mandatory labeling. His state, Vermont was the first state to pass it.
But of course, come November 8th, we’re going to get either Clinton or Trump and both of them have been very vocal in their support for genetically engineered foods and have not hidden the fact from the big food corporations that they’re on their side rather than the side of consumers. So they leave us no choice but to organize our resistance if you will, our consumer resistance on a global scale. On a global scale, we’re in a much better situation because the people of the world, whether they’re in China or they’re in India or in Europe, are the United States. We all share certain things. We want healthy food. We want to know what we’re eating. We want out children to be able to grow up as healthy as possible and we look around us and we see the devastation that they our current out of control food and farming has and we’re determined to change it. So that’s part of the story here in The Hague.
BROWN: Alright. We have been speaking with Ronnie Cummins. He is the founder and the international director of the Organic Consumers Associate and he’s also a steering committee member of Regeneration International. The civil tribunal against Monsanto is being held in The Hague in the Netherlands October 14th through the 16th. Ronnie we appreciate your time today. Thank you so much for joining us.
CUMMINS: Thank you. Keep up the good work.
BROWN: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.
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