Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Monsanto, Lawyers, Lies and Videotape: Seeds of Censorship Sown at the University of Manitoba

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Monsanto, Lawyers, Lies and Videotape: Seeds of Censorship Sown at the University of Manitoba

Article excerpt

Completed more than two years ago, Seeds of Change was my first feature documentary film. The documentary was supposed to facilitate communication among farmers and the residents of rural communities regarding the effects of the new technologies associated with Genetically Modified Crops (GMCs). Farmers and the public have yet to see the video because the original goal has been subverted.

GMCs In Western Canada

In the spring of 2002, Dr. Stephane McLachlan, a professor associated with the Environmental Conservation Lab at the University of Manitoba, approached me to assist him with a documentary video. Dr. McLachlan had just received a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to support research on the risks and benefits of genetically modified crops for farmers and rural communities in western Canada. The stated goal of the documentary was "to bring opinions, concerns and local knowledge of rural communities to the forefront of the GMC debate" and to "bridge the impasse amongst stakeholders, facilitating communication, and depolarizing of the GM crop debate." The video was to focus local knowledge of farmers as an alternative to the expert-based science that had been dominating the debate.

Working together with one of Dr. McLachlan's students, Ian Mauro, I was hired to make the video. The idea that those who have direct experience with crops must know the most about them made sense to me. I was also intrigued that a video highlighting local-based, non-expert knowledge could be created within the university.

The two of us set out on a four-month journey across the country, interviewing a wide variety of farmers, plus some experts and scientists. In Edmonton, we interviewed Vandana Shiva, an environmentalist visiting from India; the head of the Western Barley Growers Association; and Mauro's grandmother out on her farm. We headed to Toronto where we documented David Suzuki at the BIO justice protest picnic, and on the same day manoeuvered ourselves into the Biotechnology Industry Organization annual convention. There we saw Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace and a former student of Suzuki's, delivering a speech in favour of biotechnology.

In Manitoba, we traveled from farm to farm, interviewing conventional farmers, GMC farmers and organic farmers. We were interested in their opinions on the risks and the benefits of GM crops. We were also interested in their views on rural decline, for it soon became clear that the farmers were in trouble. Rural communities were disappearing. Farm debt was out of control, and the new GM technology had not produced the promised results. The payment of Technology Use Agreement (TUA) fees by the biotech companies ate into whatever little profits farmers could make, while the increased input costs and technology fed into a system based on economies of scale. This ensures that family farms become extinct, replaced by bigger corporate farms.


Corporate Contamination

The corporate takeover of agriculture in western Canada goes hand-in-hand with the rise of biotechnology and chemical companies. After the introduction of GM canola in western Canada in 1996, many farmers began to notice disturbing signs. Canola's susceptibility to cross-pollination, and the resulting contamination of other non-GM varieties, began taking its toll. By using Monsanto's Roundup Ready Herbicide (glyphosate) to burn off their weeds in the spring, instead of tilling, farmers had revolutionized soil conservation. However, they were also noticing an increasing number of GM contaminated, glyphosate-resistant "super weeds" in their fields. These were rendering their zero-till practice all but useless.

One study demonstrated that within five years, the herbicide-tolerant gene used by Monsanto had contaminated all the canola seed in western Canada. This also had dire consequences for organic Canola growers since, due to genetic contamination, they could no longer guarantee their product as being organic. …

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