Biotech giant Monsanto refused to send a representative to testify at a Puerto Rico Senate hearing on the subject of developing and selling seeds. The Puerto Rico Senate Agriculture Committee met last week to create a Seed Board which will determine the policies governing these important matters.
Monsanto explained that they do not sell seeds in Puerto Rico, and therefore would not be subject to the rulings of the Seed Board.
It is true that Monsanto does not sell seeds in Puerto Rico. However, they have been using the island as a testing ground for genetically modified plants since 1987. Trails have been conducted in the open air, raising concerns that new strains might go native on the island.
Monsanto has also run afoul of Puerto Rican law because it has 1,500 acres in production. Puerto Rico’s constitution forbids agricultural landholdings greater than 500 acres. Since Monsanto is registered as a biotech company rather than an agricultural company, they have been able to take advantage of a loophole to get around the maximum acreage law. This circumstance led to protests against the company in San Juan last month, along with the fact that Monsanto also tested Agent Orange in Puerto Rico
Monsanto has faced some reputation management issues on the mainland, as well. GMO wheat was found growing wild in Oregon, and studies questioning the safety of GMO foods have recently been published.
Not everyone is opposed to Monsanto’s work. Dr. Robert Fraley of Monsanto recently received this year’s World Food Prize.
Still, Monsanto’s refusal to accept Puerto Rico’s authority is significant. Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, Monsanto insists (according to activist site Truthout) that Puerto Rico cannot make laws about GMOs that are stricter than U.S. federal laws. Monsanto also claims that any regulations created by the Seed Board will not affect Monsanto.