[News] Planting the People's Seed Law in Venezuela

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 16 14:28:43 EDT 2014

  Planting the People's Seed Law in Venezuela

By Cory Fischer-Hoffman, October 15th 2014

The battle against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is central in 
the ongoing fight between transnational corporations and the health and 
sovereignty of the people of Venezuela. Despite Hugo Chavez's ad hoc ban 
on transgenic crops in 2004, large multinational corporations, like 
Monsanto, are trying to use the current economic climate to negotiate 
for the arrival of GM seed in Venezuela. A seed law proposed by a 
pro-government legislator in 2013 was met with harsh criticism from 
environmental and campesino movements, who claimed that it would create 
a backdoor for transgenic seeds to enter Venezuela. After a year of 
deliberating, and a complete re-write of the seed law through assemblies 
and gatherings of popular power, a new seed law was approved for 
discussion by the National Assembly. This revised law completely bans 
the use of GM seeds in Venezuela.

*A Decade in the Making*

Since 2004, when President Hugo Chavez halted the planting of 500,000 
acres of Monsanto's GMO corn, Venezuelan farmers have been firmly united 
against the growing of transgenic crops and the importation of 
transgenic seeds. When Chavez announced this decision to the world, in 
April of 2004, he stated, "the people of the United States, of Latin 
America and the world, should follow the example of Venezuela and be 
free of transgenics." And, while Article 127 of the 1999 Bolivarian 
Constitution prohibits the creation of patents on the genome of any 
living being, it does not explicitly ban the planting, use, or 
consumption of GMOs.

In June of 2013 <http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/9647>, United 
Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) legislator José Ureña introduced a 
new Seed Law to the national assembly which would replace the 2002 
version, and adjust the 2004 virtual ban on transgenics. This proposed 
legislation was full of fiery rhetoric promising ecosocialism. In 
Chapter One of the proposed law it "prohibits, for reasons of public 
order, the production, importation, commercialization, consumption and 
use of transgenic seeds." However, Article 34 of the proposed law 
ambiguously stated that no transgenic seeds (imported or obtained 
nationally) could be used "without the corresponding certification of 
biological harmlessness issued by the National Seed Institute."

Many collectives, environmental, agricultural and socialists 
organizations came out in opposition to the legislation, claiming that 
it created a backdoor for transgenic seeds and demanding more input into 
the drafting of seed policy. In one statement 
<http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10670>released on May 2, 2014, a 
collection of groups declared that "from within the collectives we are 
provoking a grassroots constituent debate for a new revolutionary seed 
law, built from the bottom by the legislating people, in defense of a 
free, criolla, indigenous, peasant, Afro-descendant and sovereign seed, 
which is under threat by the advances of transnational authorities who 
would like to control political stability in the country."

*The People Plant a New Seed Law*

The signatories of the statement participated with various other 
agricultural producers, indigenous organizations, and other stakeholders 
in the drafting of legislation. This action reclaimed seed policy from 
the National Assembly and brought it directly into the hands of 
producers and those most impacted by seed policy. Ureña listened to the 
criticism brought on by a diverse coalition of "ecosocialists" and he 
participated in a gathering organized by the national network of the 
seed guardians in Monte Carmelo, Venezuela in October of 2013. After a 
series of gatherings and ongoing protests against transgenic seeds in 
Venezuela, José Ureña (PSUV) introduced the new seed law---built through 
popular participation---to the National Assembly, yesterday. The 
proposed law was approved for discussion in the National Assembly, and 
the debate on seeds will continue, as will the mobilization of social 
movements in the streets.

The new Seed Law, if passed, would establish a National Seed Institute 
that would regulate the quality of imported seeds but, as a result of 
the demands made by producers, would not create undue burdens on 
producers with which to exchange seeds freely or establish other 
community-based institutions for the preservation and sharing of seeds. 
These adjustments were birthed through the democratic process of debate 
and were formed in response to criticisms of the past version of the 
law, which small-producers noted as centralizing too much power in the 
hands of the national government and failing to recognize community 
based institutions, like the commune or the communal councils as 
legitimate bodies in the care and guardianship of seeds.

José Ureña stated, "the seed is a right of the people, it is the 
patrimony of humanity, and consequently, it cannot be privatized." 
Hundreds of Venezuelans gathered outside of the National Assembly to 
show their support for the new Seed Law, and to continue to demand a ban 
on transgenic seeds and crops in Venezuela.

Eisamar Ochoa of Venezuela Free of Transgenics stated, "This is a law 
that, more than prohibit the use of transgenics and the use of 
agrotoxins -- which are highly polluting -- it purports to strengthen, 
make visible, claim, and make our campesina (heirloom) seeds as the base 
of our food sovereignty."

*GMOs rejected in the face of Venezuela's Economic War*

While Venezuela has been marching under the banner of food sovereignty 
as a guiding principle to resist neoliberalism and the rule of 
multinational corporations, the oil producing nation has only recently 
confronted the harsh consequences of its food dependence; the food 
shortages and distribution issues within the country are the core of the 
economic war. As Venezuelans are being pushed to be ever more 
resourceful, to go without, or to pay exorbitant prices for basic goods 
in the informal market, the conversation on food sovereignty has now 
transformed from a theoretical concept to a concrete demand shared by 
Venezuelans across the political spectrum.

In a time of widespread scarcity within the country, multinational 
corporations, and the opposition politicians who represent their 
interests have attempted to take advantage of fear around access to 
food, to push for the use of GMOs. In October of 2012, Rafael Aramendis, 
Monsanto representative for government affairs for South America, the 
Caribbean and the Andean region, addressed the National Assembly, 
promising that GM crops were a means to increase food production in 
Venezuela. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Aramendis' 
visit to Caracas was accompanied by a lobbying efforts to dismantle 
Venezuela's current ani-transgenics policies.

Today, as the new Seed Law is headed towards debate powerful interests, 
like Venezuela's Chamber of Commerce (Fedecamaras) oppose the bill, and 
they are using the arguments presented by Aramendis that transgenics 
could be an answer to Venezuela's supposedly low levels 
of agricultural production. Opposition legislator and former president 
of Fedecamaras 2007-2009) stated that officially banning transgenics 
would be "a step backwards" in agricultural matters.

Despite widespread knowledge of the devastating environmental and health 
impact of GMOs <http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/>, large 
multinational corporations, the most-well-known being, US-based Monsanto 
corporation, continue to lobby for the use of GM crops. Monsanto -- like 
several other corporations in the chemical industry -- developed GM 
crops primarily as a means to create a larger market for their chemical 
herbicides. As GM crops proliferate, Monsanto's profits increase. Their 
herbicide Roundup has been applied in increasing dosages along with the 
widespread use of their patented "Roundup ready'' GM crops which are 
engineered to be resistant to the chemical. Monsanto has exclusive 
ownership of the seeds of all of their GM crops. They have also managed 
to engineer a "terminator seed" which grow into plants that cannot 
produce fertile seeds, forcing farmers to buy seeds from the 
multinational corporation annually instead of freely saving their own 
seeds, as they have done for generations. This creates a dangerous 
dependence in which poor farmers must rely on this agri-chemical giant 
and it also obviously violates the natural process of reproduction of 

Venezuela's rejection of transgenics closes off Venezuela's agricultural 
market to transnational agri-chemical companies like Monsanto, DuPont, 
Syngenta, Pioneer, Cargill, Dow, BASF and Bayer but it also sets an 
example to the rest of the world, one that is threatening to the profits 
and image of these powerful corporations.

Even in the midst of food shortages, and the type of fear and panic that 
accompanies scarcity, Venezuelans are not being fooled by promises of a 
quick fix to increase food production through opening the flood gates to 
transgenic seeds; on the contrary, social movements are adamantly 
establishing the seed as the fundamental starting point for constructing 
food sovereignty and rejecting further dependence on multinationals, and 
the environmental devastation that accompanies the planting of 
transgenic crops and the increased use of agrochemicals that accompany them.

*Beyond the Fight Against Labeling: Learning from Venezuela's Strategy*

There are growing anti-GMO movements all around the world but, 
Venezuela's resistance to GMOs is unique and provides extremely 
important lessons for those who are organizing against genetically 
modified foods and for food sovereignty. Undoubtedly, the principled 
rejection of transgenics at the highest level of government in Venezuela 
under President Chavez, created a powerful umbrella for a broad movement 
to define its opposition to transgenics and offered legitimacy to the 
rejection of transgenic crops in Venezuela. But more so, Venezuela's 
battle against transgenics has been rooted in protecting Venezuela's 
food supply, its land, and its farmers from the dependence and 
contamination brought on by planting GM crops, simply, it is not a 
consumer movement.

In 1997 
the European Union established the first laws on the labeling of GMOs 
(including animal feed) and since then, consumer rights groups have 
fought against he proliferation of GM crops by instigating a consumer 
movement that demands the right to know what is in their food, and 
therefore the right not to consume transgenic food. This strategy has 
resulted in campaigns demanding that any product that is comprised of 
GMO ingredients, be labeled.

According to the Non-GMO project, crops at the highest risk 
<http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/what-is-gmo/> of being GMO 
are, alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papya, soy, sugar beets, 
and zuchinni and they also note possible contamination in crops such 
as beets, brassicas (bok choy, rutabega, kale, etc) flax, rice 
and wheat. Additionally, there are numerous ingredients that are derived 
from these GM crops such as aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, xantham 
gum and other hard to pronounce additives. And despite early trials of 
genetically modified tomatoes, potatoes, salmon and pig, they failed on 
the market and are no longer being produced.

The Non-GMO project lists foods that are certified as non-GMO so that 
consumers (largely, in the United States) can make educated consumer 
choices and individually opt out of ingesting transgenic foods, if they 
have the information, access to these foods, and money to purchase them. 
This has been the largest force of the anti-GMO movement in the United 
states, which is the largest producer of GM crops in the world.

The paradigm of a consumer movement is largely rooted in a desire to 
protect individuals from the damaging health problems associated with 
ingesting transgenic foods. This platform often falls short of 
challenging other issues such as the power of multinational 
corporations, the dependency of farmers, the environmental consequences 
of increased chemical herbicide and pesticide use associated with the 
proliferation of chemical resistant GM crops, and the fight for 
biodiversity and food sovereignty. In Europe and the US, anti-GMO 
campaigns are largely couched within a consumer-driven movement that 
attempts to create these changes through individual choices in the 
market place.

Conversely, Venezuelans have placed the fight against transgenic seeds 
as the cornerstone to food sovereignty and 
defending campesino, indigneous and Afro-Descendant culture from the 
tyranny of multinational companies. This platform, has also been broadly 
adopted as a part of the strategy to construct eco-socialism and most 
importantly, has been generated by small scale producers, seed savers, 
agricultural workers, and campesino communities. Far from being a 
consumer movement, this has been a grassroots movement of producers and 
stakeholders who are working to influence change in the political and 
social sphere; they are not trying to effect change through legitimating 
the marketplace as the venue of decision-making, they are challenging an 
economic model that claims ownership over life.  This is consistent with 
how indigenous peoples around the world and the peasant movement in 
India <http://www.navdanya.org/>, have also defined their struggle.

Ironically, this collective producer-based strategy, which examines the 
larger consequences of GMOs and rejects the neoliberal market as the 
venue for decision-making, has made huge advances in protecting farmers 
and crops from contamination of transgenic seeds but they have failed to 
keep products made with GMO ingredients out of the country.

Venezuela imports most of its food from abroad, rather than producing it 
domestically. As Venezuela reorients its trading partnerships away from 
the United States and towards its MERCOSUR (Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, 
ad Chile) and other South American neighbors, as well as towards the 
BRICS countries (Brazil, Russian, India, China and South Africa), 
Venezuela is importing food from some of the larger producers of GMO 
products. Of the 10 countries with the highest area of GM crops planted 
many of Venezuela's main trading partners make the list, such as 
Argentina, Brazil, China, Paraguay, India, South Africa and Uruguay.

Undoubtedly, basic and widely used consumer goods such as precooked 
cornflour (the main ingredient in the Venezuelan arepa and empañada), 
soy bean oil, canola oil, and other consumer items such as diapers, 
tampons, and menstrual pads made with cotton, are likely made of 
genetically modified ingredients and therefore contain much higher 
concentration of harmful chemical herbicides and pesticides. These 
products are not labeled, and while health concerns associated with 
exposure to GM products are a part of the overall rejection of 
transgenics in Venezuela, the movement has largely fought GMOs from the 
stance of farmers and producers, considering long-term effects on land, 
production, workers, the environment, sovereignty and independence from 
multinational corporations.

This strategy creates a broader and more powerful movement, one that 
bring in food producers and growers, indigenous and Afro-Descendent 
peoples, environmentalists, grassroots social movements in rural and 
urban areas of the country and those concerned about health. This 
diverse movement frames the issue of transgenics as tied into corporate 
control of the global economy, the preservation of cultural patrimony 
and forms of knowledge, the right to self-determination, and an issue of 
worker's rights. The coalition-building potential of this approach 
creates fertile ground for bringing power to control vital resources and 
decisions about food production to grassroots communities and it extends 
beyond the fight against transgenic seeds.

Nonetheless, in the globalized world in which Venezuela belongs, the 
country continues to import food which is made of transgenic products, 
offering few options for consumers to opt out of ingesting transgenics.

Despite a push in US states such as Washington and California to pass 
referendums to label GMO products, the heavily resourced counter 
campaign by large agri-business have so far defeated these labeling 
initiatives.  But, even where the labeling of GMOs exists or where there 
are large concentrations of people concerned with GMOs, those who have 
access to information about the potential harm can choose to buy the 
pricier certified organic (which means that it must not be GMO) and 
"non-GMO certified" goods. For those who cannot afford those products, 
or don't have access to a natural food store or grocer that stocks such 
goods, there are few options other than foods produced with GMO crops 
and so, the poor, the working classes (in rural and urban areas), 
including farming families, indigenous peoples, and those in 
institutions such as hospitals, schools and prisons will continue to 
largely eat GMO foods despite the labeling of products or the knowledge 
of the health risks.

Another weakness in the consumer-based model is that agri-chemical 
companies and labeling efforts may adjust their practices to meet 
consumer demands without addressing any of the fundamental problems that 
Venezuelans are raising in their effort to ban transgenics.


Venezuela's opposition to transgenics outlines a strategy that is not 
rooted in consumer choice, and therefore fully rejects the neoliberal 
logic inherent in consumer-based movements. While Venezuela has a long 
way to go in building food sovereignty, increasing food production and 
ensuring that Venezuelans are protected from the damaging health 
consequences of GM foods, they are addressing the problem at its root, 
beginning with the seed.

The new Seed Law will be debated in the National Assembly and despite 
support across many sectors of Venezuelan society, it will still face a 
well-funded opposition from pro-corporate legislators that are in the 
pockets of big business. While passage of the bill would mark an 
historic step forward in Venezuela, the process which has birthed the 
proposed legislation is a victory in of itself. The legislation came 
from thousands of people, debating and discussing seeds, corporate 
power, culture, land, food production, and sovereignty all around the 
country and social movements are continuing to put pressure of the 
government to pass the legislation. There are street protests called 
for^tomorrow and for later this month.

It is clear that the movement is growing strength and numbers, as food 
sovereignty becomes defined through a participatory process from the 
grassroots up. This movement is starting with the seed, but now that it 
has been planted, we must watch to see how the movement will grow and 
what we can all learn in the process.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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