SESE Community Statement Despite property lines and federal law, we humans share the atmosphere and the waters of a living planet. The wind and the flight of bees freely cross lines of survey, meaning the plants that share “our” land are free to share genetic material with plants that grow on land belonging to someone else.
The practices and products of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange reflect that truth. We sell seeds to gardeners. Our literature and outreach encourage people to become seed savers themselves. The varieties we have available, and the information we share, hold no threat for a customer’s neighbors.
The existence of genetically engineered seed, and its legal status as intellectual property, do not reflect the truth of bees and wind. To purchase genetically modified seed from Monsanto, a farmer must be licensed to use the patented information: the genetic sequence of the plants. Pollen from these plants, carried by wind or insect, sometimes lands on the flowers of a seed-saver who has no license from Monsanto. Under current legal standards, that farmer could be sued by Monsanto and forced to pay “compensation.”
This situation holds no possible benefit for the contaminated farmer. The resulting seeds, if saved, would not result in a profitable Roundup Ready® crop. They would grow out to be an unpredictable mess. Nonetheless, Monsanto has taken ruthless legal action against farmers, resulting in financial ruin, for a “crime” with no perpetrator and no victim.
If a grower for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange had a crop contaminated in this way, the grower and the business would sustain a loss of crop and inventory. Legal protection from such contamination would be just, as it threatens the livelihood of everyone this company supports. Instead, Monsanto is able to follow a small loss with financial ruin through legal pursuit, though no loss of sales could possibly result to them.
This is a perversion of justice and a sad abuse. We choose to stand as plaintiffs in this suit because our livelihood is directly threatened by the precedent set by the courts. Moreover, Monsanto fights tooth and nail, dollar and law office, to make farmers over the whole Earth dependent on their seeds and their chemicals; this is the opposite of our mission. We are working to create independence, interdependence, and cooperation in food production. Not only our economic needs, but our philosophy of freedom and community compels us to call out these unjust practices, and stand with fellow farmers to see them change.
Personal statement by Irena Hollowell I want to be able to grow, prepare, and eat real food, and for others like me to be able to do the same. I want the children I see in the world to always be able to grow, prepare, and eat real food. This includes growing real corn and real soybeans. It includes making and eating real tofu, real cornbread, and real grits. These days, real food is disturbingly uncommon.
Monsanto and its affiliates say they are feeding the world. They are filling the world with an abundance of processed food products, most of which I’d call fake food. They are making it astoundingly easy for people to consume loads of calories, ever-increasing residues of an ever-changing pesticide stew, ever-increasing amounts of synthetic additives, and very few micronutrients. They are using hexane to squeeze the last oil from the corn kernels and the soybeans, and they’re hiding countless other processing techniques from us. And perhaps worst of all, they’re making these “foods” from plants that have had bacterial, viral, and other DNA inserted into their genetic material.
Not only are Monsanto and its affiliates filling the world with fake food, they are making it harder and harder for small farmers to feed their communities. When small farmers grow corn, we often take care to time our plantings so that our corn won’t flower when our neighbors’ GMO corn does. But some of us don’t have long enough growing seasons to do that, or the weather causes us or the neighbors to change planting times. So we worry that maybe our crop has been contaminated. Even if everything has gone as planned, we might worry about how undiscovered aspects of corn pollination affect our situation. Sometimes we pay to have our corn tested for transgenic trespass; sometimes we find the cost prohibitive.
The fear of contamination is compounded by the culture of silence around the legal actions Monsanto has taken against farmers. So many settlements are made out of court, so many out-of-court settlements are confidential, and Monsanto’s statements of who it won’t sue are vague and not legally binding. This leaves me with virtually no way of knowing what it takes to become the object of Monsanto’s wrath. I can only guess how similar those farmers are to me, and just how much money Monsanto has squeezed out of them, and how many have had to sell their farms as a result. And, let’s face it, I can only make guesses as to whether Monsanto uses legal action to silence farmers who would otherwise speak out against the corporation.
Personal Statement by Kenneth Bezilla We seek to conserve heirloom varieties of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and grains. We may own the seed we produce, but the varieties we carry are our cultural heritage, owned by no one in particular and by everyone on Earth. Losing any variety would represent a loss both to our business and to the world.
Corn has a particularly rich assortment of heirloom varieties thousands of varieties from all over the world, each variety adapted to the conditions it has been bred and grown in, sometimes for many generations. These varieties represent the work and loving care of countless people. They are much tastier and more nutritious than modern hybrid/GMO corn, which has been bred for high yields, uniform ripening, ease of pesticide applications, and ease of processing. Heirloom varieties may well contain disease-resistance genes that have been bred out of modern corns, as was shown by the Southern Corn Blight. And they are disappearing at alarming rates.
Corn also has a particularly high rate of out-crossing. The general practice is to isolate seed crops from any other corn tasseling around the same time by a distance of at least half a mile. Therefore, we generally can only grow one seed crop of corn per farm per year—and sometimes not even that, depending on what the neighbors are doing. This severely limits the number of heirloom corn varieties a company like us can have grown for seed. When we choose corn varieties to carry, we not only look for ones that are vigorous, tasty, and interesting, but also ones than no other company carries. In many cases, our grower may be growing the only seed crop of a particular variety of corn.
Even with the isolation distances listed above, many heirloom corn crops when tested for GMO genes have been found to be contaminated. If the last known seed stock of a variety is found to be contaminated with GMO genes, this is a huge loss. The world may never have pure seed of that variety again. Even if a non-contaminated lot of this variety still exists, it may not be large enough to grow out a crop of a healthy size for producing good seed—or it may only be large enough for one attempt. When saving corn seed, it’s important to grow at least 250 plants to prevent inbreeding and maintain the genetic diversity that keeps the variety vigorous.
If the only seed stock of a variety is found to be contaminated with transgenes, we could ask ourselves whether it is more important to preserve the variety or to try to reduce the future spread of transgenes. But Monsanto puts the nail in the coffin. Knowingly selling corn seed that contains Monsanto’s transgenes would mean doing business in fear of being sued. Thus we would have to let the variety disappear and die.
Personal Statement by Jane Vileta It seems that Monsanto’s goal is to patent (and thereby control) the world’s food supply. Some claim that genetically modified foods are the answer to all of our problems because they supposedly increase crop yield and reduce pesticide use. Both of these claims have been challenged and found to be untrue. The truth is that we have no idea what we’re dealing with and the scientists who are responsible for these foods don’t really know what they’re doing either. The public is largely ignorant of the dangers of genetically modified foods, and the fact that GMOs are present in nearly all processed foods in our grocery stores. This is because there has been a massive campaign of misinformation on the part of GMO proponents, namely Monsanto.
In the United States, substances are assumed to be safe unless they are proven to be harmful, while in other countries around the world, the opposite is true. Public health and safety are pushed aside when it comes to protecting big business. Politicians with conflicts of interest tell us that regulation is bad for business and the economy. While this may or may not be true, I know that I don’t want the same company that manufactured Agent Orange to manufacture our crops.
Thanks to Monsanto, synthetic genetic sequences that have never existed in billions of years of evolution, are being introduced into our bodies. This relatively new science allows DNA from one species to be combined with that from another species, creating combinations of plant, bacteria, and viral genes. It ends up damaging the natural genetic material of the organism with many unpredictable, unintended effects, including abnormalities that you can see, and toxic metabolic changes that you can't see. These genes are designed to cross species barriers and can jump into human intestinal bacteria cells. This may trigger cancer and various other diseases.
The scariest part of all this is that once the mutant genes are out of the bag, there is no going back. Genetically modified organisms contaminate existing seeds with their altered material, passing on modified traits to non-target species. This creates a new strain of plant that was never intended by humans. Monsanto’s ruthless tactics are putting small farmers out of business and endangering organic farming practices. This is not the kind of world that I want to leave for future generations. By the time my children are well into adulthood, there may be no land left to farm and no clean water to drink. Then we will have to explain to them why we didn’t do what we should have done to prevent this from happening.