A landless Chilean farmer has won a landmark lawsuit against Monsanto and thus exposed the dangers posed by the transnational corporation to the whole country.
José Pizarro Montoya, a 38-year-old landless farmer from Melipilla (Santiago, Chile), and exJosé Pizarro Montoya producer (season 2009-2010) is the first and perhaps the only Latin American who has won a lawsuit against Monsanto/ANASAC for breach of contract.
Chilean farmer wins lawsuit against Monsanto and exposes the company at Chilean Government’s GMO seminar
He tried and failed to break the news at a GMO Seminar which took place on January 22 and was organized by Chilean Agriculture Secretary, Luis Mayol. There, international and national speakers preached about the goodness of GMO crops. Pizarro only wanted to speak out to the audience and share that he did not recommend any farmer to work for Monsanto growing GMO seeds for export, because they could end up ruined as he did, besides damaging the soil.
In Chile there are approximately 30,000 hectares of GMO maize, soy and canola grown for export, marketed by transnational biotech corporations such as Monsanto, Pioneer and its Chilean partners, gathered under ANPROS, Asociación Nacional de Productores de Semillas (National Association of Seed Producers).
The Yo No Quiero Transgénicos en Chile campaign (I Do Not Want GMOs in Chile) stands for a moratorium against the possible expansion of these crops into domestic markets and also demands a strict supervision of GMO seedbeds.
On September 2013, María Elena Rozas, coordinator for Red de Acción en Plaguicidas(Pesticide Action Network) RAP-Chile, and Lucía Sepúlveda learned about Pizarro´s experience and were able to observe from first hand the results of environmental and commercial malpractices by Monsanto/ANASAC in Chile.
[Rozas said:] “This farmer did not know exactly what he was planting, he had no idea what a GMO seed was; the contract stated a fantasy name, Mon49 maize. He was compelled to an intensive use of more than 10 hazardous pesticides, harmful for health and the environment. The contract he signed forced him to turn only to the Chamber of Commerce in case of disagreement, he could not file lawsuits in local courts. He explained to us that many producers also have had problems with Monsanto, but they don´t turn to the Chamber because it is too expensive.”
The sentence against Monsanto
The trial sentence favorable to Pizarro can be found under roll number 1385-11 and is filed under “Agrícola Pizarro Ltda. con Agrícola Nacional S.A.C”. It was dictated by the Chamber of Commerce´s arbitration judge Francisco Gazmuri Schleyer. The Santiago Court of Appeals confirmed it in September 2013, rejecting the appeal and complaint presented by the corporation (Monsanto).
But during the four following months, the defendant refused to comply with the ruling. This is why the farmer didn´t let his case be known sooner. Only at the end of December 2013 did Pizarro receive the CLP$37 million that the Chamber ordered Monsanto to pay. According to Pizarro, this amount is not enough to cover the damages suffered. SAG’s (Servicio Agrícola y Gandero, Chilean Agency for Farming and Cattle Service) Form of GMO Seedbeds attached to the lawsuit, identifies the certification application form under ANASAC Chile (Monsanto). These forms are put under questioning by Pizarro, who accuses SAG´s complicity with the corporation.
During the process, expert testimony by INIA (Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria, National Institute for Agrarian and Food Technology) was decisive. Agrarian Engineer Gabriel Saavedra del Real presented INIA´s expert opinion regarding what had occured. Levi Manzur’s appearance [in court] was a key piece of the Pizarro case. Manzur is professor at Valparaiso Catholic University and a prominent geneticist from Los Ande. Manzur´s conclusions went in the same direction as the claims made by the plaintiff.
Millions in losses
Pizarro lost his house, his crop spraying machine, a tractor, and his pick-up truck. His wife left him and he had nothing to restart with. He was in debt to Banco Santander, a local bank, to the tune of CLP$90 million after growing Monsanto´s GMO maize in Melipilla for ANASAC.
María Elena Rozas comments: “What happened to this farmer may be an example for hundreds of small farmers, seduced by big earnings and fair treatment promises by corporations which export GMO seeds. But the profit is real only at the beginning. The great majority of the defrauded do not report and make themselves dependent on what the corporation offers, which becomes less every day. And there are not many alternatives for farmers, due to the lack of rural public policies or incentives that effectively favor agroecologic production. We must change this.”
Pizarro comes from a family of farmers from Los Andes (Valparaiso Region), and he worked alongside his brother as a horticulturist. In order to breed GMOs for ANASAC (Monsanto), he leased 33,07 hectares in Melipilla, which are part of the Rumay estate, belonging to a well known entrepeneur, Manuel Ariztía (from the chicken industry, Pollos Ariztía). The GMO “great agribusiness” has been practically the end of Pizarro´s life as a farmer.
He explains: “I am now a scholar of GMOs, I am learning through the internet, and I have found out about Monsanto and its criminal background.” When he realized what had happened to him, he went to the Agrupación Ecologista de Aconcagua (Aconcagua´s Environmental Goup), organization which is part of our Yo No Quiero Transgénicos en Chile campaign, thus establishing contact with RAP-AL Chile in order to make his case public and report Monsanto.
Today, José Pizarro is on the transnational’s blacklist, and at the same time, he believes that Monsanto has entered the category of a corrupt, abusive and predatory corporation. “I was shocked the first time I saw there were dead mice on the roadside, after they ate the maize´s grains”, he reports.
Wrong sowing indications
Over two previous seasons, Pizarro had obtained great profit with the GMO maize and the corporation considered him an exellent producer. Never before did he ask himself what environmental or commercial risks could result from dealing with Monsanto. “In 2009, they wanted to make an experiment with me I guess. We were 12 farmers who were sowing that particular kind of maize in Chile and only two of us were told to sow rows of females (of GMO maize seed) and males (of hybrid seeds) on a proportion of 4:1; the other producers sowed in proportion 4:2.
“SAG was in charge of monitoring, and in my opinion, is an accomplice of the corporation, because on their reports they stated that I had sowed 4:2, which anyone could see that was not the case. According to their reports, it seemed that I had sowed under the same instructions as the other producers. But no, I sowed “blindly”, I did what the corporation ordered me to do, I didn´t even notice what the SAG certificator was writing down because the contract forced me to strictly follow the company´s instructions.”
Burn down your neighbor´s corn
SAG instructions include making sure that there is no native maize around, because the non-GM maize could contaminate the GMO nursery crop and affect its multiplication. SAG watches over and makes sure the GMO crop is unharmed, but, on the contrary, the conventional producer does not get any protection from anyone.
Following Monsanto´s recommendations, Pizarro asked a neighbour who had planted maize to take it out. But the man was elderly, and did not comply because he wanted to have his own corn for cooking homemade humitas (a typical Chilean dish) that summer. The producer informed the company and the agronomist Francisco Araya Vargas ordered him to just “Spray some Roundup!” (the herbicide that kills any plant that is not GMO). Pizarro chose to cut off his neighbor´s maize spikes at night in order to avoid pollen production and therefore, multiplication. He looked embarassed when telling this story.
Rodrigo Malagüeño, ANASAC Chile/Monsanto CEO assured in the trial that none of their maize seed multiplier producers had ever sued the company before. In general, only big corporations can go under arbitration through the Chamber of Commerce. Pizarro, who was not willing to go bankrupt in silence, took a chance. “First I had to pay CLP$700.000 to be able to get served and then CLP$4.400.000 to fund the judge. I placed a lawsuit for CLP$218.000.000 and the judge finally ruled in my favour, but I only got CLP$37.000.000, which is far less than what I have lost.”
Pizarro explains: “I did not get proper instructions for sowing and therefore production was low and so was the sale price. The price is calculated on the basis of production of the maize itself by other seed multipliers of the Maule region, but their instructions were different from the instructions given to me and that is why their production was way higher than mine. I produced 106.780 kg of maize, but only 38.509 kg amounted to the real production, selected according to Monsanto´s required standards in the Lo Espejo processsing plant.”
The recruitment of rural producers
Monsanto searched for Pizarro in 2008. Company employees arrived on the land where he grew vegetables in Melipilla and told him they had found him through satellite because the place was ideal for GMO maize cultivation since there was no other conventional maize nearby. The first year (2008) they gave him the GMO seed and the Roundup for free. Pizarro only had to purchase fertilizer and insecticides. They even paid for the land´s lease. He only had to take care of the crop. They offered to pay him CLP$3 million per hectare. In 2009 they also gave him the seed “but I purchased the poison. I spent two days sowing and although I had machines, the company forced me to sow using theirs, which were brand new, and that was an enormous expense,” the rural producer explains.
That same year, Monsanto bought the soy and maize division of ANASAC. All producers received a note telling them that from now on, they had to follow ANASAC Chile’s instructions, meaning Monsanto´s, the new owner. But oddly, for commercial and legal purposes, Pizarro had to deal with ANASAC SA, of which the CEO is Rodrigo Malagüeño, a strategy in order not to appear publicly in the complaint.
Breach of contract
The arbitration of the Chamber of Commerce established that ANASAC/Monsanto failed to comply with its obligation “which consists in providing services of technical supervision of the sowing in a dilligent manner and giving strict compliance to the manufacturer´s instructions for Monsanto´s seed”, incurring negligent breach of contract. The Santiago Court of Appeals confirmed this ruling and there are no more instances of this type of arbitration. The Court of Appeal´s sentence, signed by Pilar Aguayo, Carlos Carrillo and the member lawyer Claudia Schmat, also sentenced ANASAC to pay the appeal fees.
José Pizarro concludes: “I just don´t want other farmers to go through what I did. I will never again sow GMOs.”
By Lucía Sepúlveda Ruiz
Lucía Sepúlveda Ruiz: periodismo sanador, January 22 2014
Translation: Ignacia Guzmán Zuloaga
Slightly edited by GMWatch