Costa Rica: "We Don't Want Monsanto!"

Over the past weekend, in the sleepy rural village of Atenas, Costa Rica, there was a weekend-long celebration in the town square.

But instead of the normal summer festivals, or an observance of the Lenten season for this predominantly Catholic nation, citizens were gathering for a different reason: Their canton (akin to a county in the United States) had just voted against the use of genetically modified seeds.

Source: Author's photograph. These displays were made by local school children to highlight the diversity of native seeds available to farmers in the region.

 A little background
The recent backlash against GMOs and the company that predominantly sells them, Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) , began in late 2012, when a subsidiary of the company requested permission to plant about 5 acres of corn with genetically modified seeds produced by Monsanto.

The request led to a rash of demonstrations across the country, but on Jan. 22, the Costa Rican Ministry of Science and Technology granted the request.

This isn't the first time such a request has been granted, as the country has already allowed about 1,100 acres of genetically modified cotton, soybeans, bananas, and pineapples to grow within its borders. 

It's important to note two things: 1,100 acres represents an infinitesimal percentage of total land available for farming in Costa Rica; and none of the genetically modified products are allowed to be consumed or marketed within the country -- they are for producing seeds to export or for research purposes only.

A brewing storm
As soon as word got out that Monsanto had been granted this exception, several groups began weighing in against the company. Besides environmental groups, the agricultural and biology departments at the University of Costa Rica, as well as the Costa Rican Agronomy Engineers' Association, wrote letters warning of the inherent dangers of using seeds provided not by nature, but by scientists working in labs.

Many concerned parties began to mobilize to squash any attempt to bring genetically modified seeds into the country before a steady movement in that direction materialized.

Local cantons began voting in earnest to let their voice -- and, if obeyed, their laws -- be known. In fact, on the very same day Monsanto was granted its permission, the municipalities of Aserri, San Jose, and San Rafael de Heredia announced that GMOs would not be allowed in their soil. 

Since then, the response has been clear and direct. Of the country's 81 cantons, 60% -- or 49 in total -- have voted to make it illegal to plant GMOs within the Canton lines. Keep in mind that most of this has transpired in just the past three months!

Source: Bloqueverde.blogspot.com

What it means for Fools
Obviously, not every country is going to have as direct a reaction to Monsanto -- or any other company pushing GMOs -- as Costa Rica has. And also keep in mind that Costa Rica's market potential pales in comparison with that of the United States and other nations around the world.

At the same time, investors need to take note that campaigns against the company -- and mounting evidence that its products devastate local ecosystems -- don't seem to be going anywhere.

The movement to eliminate food produced in laboratories, rather than springing up from the earth, has been gaining steady steam for a while now. That helps explain why companies that focus on providing food with responsible sourcing and practices that are environmentally healthy -- particularly organic grocer Whole Foods (NASDAQ: WFM  ) , and organic distributors Hain Celestial (NASDAQ: HAIN  ) and United Natural Foods (NASDAQ: UNFI  ) -- have been increasing rapidly since 2009.

WFM Revenue TTM Chart

WFM Revenue TTM data by YCharts.

And these businesses are mostly concentrated in North America. Like Costa Rica, others outside our borders are taking stands.

  • Bhutan, a country that measures Gross National Happiness instead of the usual gross domestic product, recently announced that it will be aiming for 100% of its food to be produced organically.
  • In Hungary, officials destroyed 2,500 acres of corn grown with Monsanto's GMO seeds, after they were banned from use in the country.
  • Peru has banned GMO seeds for the coming decade.

Of course, like Costa Rica, these countries represent the tiniest of drops in the bucket. Only time will tell if these movements make their way back to the States.

In the meantime, investors and consumers of food alike (i.e., all of us) would be well served to stay up to date on the consequences -- if any -- of planting or consuming genetically modified food.


Read/Post Comments (21) | Recommend This Article (15)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 12, 2013, at 9:03 PM, THErealtribucks wrote:

    Hey, I'm sure no genetically modified seed spores will be spread anywhere by wind, thereby cross-contaminating some normal strain of anything. I mean, what are the odds?

  • Report this Comment On March 12, 2013, at 9:42 PM, Maximus555 wrote:

    They are 100% correct nobody wants or needs Monsanto's poison.

  • Report this Comment On March 12, 2013, at 10:26 PM, fredyfoolish wrote:

    "Hey, I'm sure no genetically modified seed spores will be spread anywhere by wind, thereby cross-contaminating some normal strain of anything. I mean, what are the odds?"

    Then they will sue and take away there island. Worst company in the world!!!!

  • Report this Comment On March 12, 2013, at 11:13 PM, immoveable wrote:

    The campaign to reveal the truth about the toxic nature of GMOs and how Monsanto and company have influenced governments to allow these toxic substances is getting stronger and stronger. While Monsanto has an army of lawyers and lots of money to combat this exposure...like the tobacco industry, they will succumb in the face of persistent opposition from a very determined group that refuses to allow the proliferation of GMOs. I will never buy "foods" that have GMOs in them, even though i pay a lot more for my food. I suggest you do your homework...look for "Seeds of Deception" on the internet...an eye opener.

  • Report this Comment On March 13, 2013, at 7:57 AM, farmermike21 wrote:

    I am always amazed at how spout off about things that they obviousely don't know anything about. Everything we eat, including organic food, is genetically modified. It may not have had a gene inserted in it, but everything has been artificially bred to be better yielding, more nutrisous, better tasting, etc. I crack up when they talk about GMO's being Frankenfood, but Frankenstein wasn't genetically modified. He was put together from the parts of different individuals, just like breeding several different plants together to get a plant that has the best characteristics of the parents. Virtually all organic food is Frankenfood. I have yet for anyone to tell me what the advantage is of organic food, other than making your pocket book lighter, and I don't consider that an advantage. People think that organic means no pesticides were used, but that is not true. They use a naturally occuring pesticide, BT, to control insects (because believe me, if they didn't, you wouldn't eat it. Nobody wants to eat food with worm and bug holes eaten all through it). Guess what? The GMO's you hate, produce the same pesticide, but within the plant at much lower levels than the amounts that the organic farmers are applying to the crop in the air we breath. If all food were produced organically, we would not be better off nutritionally, and starvation would be rampant, because the reason you pay more for organic is because the yields are considerably less off of each acre of land.

  • Report this Comment On March 13, 2013, at 1:11 PM, Podyquacker wrote:

    I believe the reason people are upset is not the use of pesticides, most know all farmers use one kind or another or a 1,000 others. No, no one wants worm holes in their foods. But here is the kicker, pesticides do damage biological beings, they mutate and kill them. Humans are biological by nature and are effected by having pesticides be part of our diet. At least the organics are in smaller quantities to perhaps to lessen the possibilities of less damage? No one has proof that pesticides to NOT cause damage. It is all sheer speculation on the part of the very industry that makes the products! Tell ya what, if every farmer was held responsible for every little disease pesticides caused, and they could face litigation for the damage it causes, do you suppose they would keep on doing what they are doing? Of course not! They do what they do because they get away with it thanks to companies like Monsanto who lobby and litigate for the farmers who buy their products! People are angered over this because of the deception of lack of disclosure of the true ingredients in the foods we consume and foods we give perfectly healthy children. Monsanto has gotten away with it's form of Nazi- like practices for far too long, people are beginning to wake up and pay attention. And Monsanto pays out the nose for lobbying and litigation, if they were so innocently clean, it would not cost them so much to have their stock at over $100 bucks a share. But hey, you do get known by the company you keep and who you invest in.

  • Report this Comment On March 13, 2013, at 2:29 PM, brewersfan81 wrote:

    farmermike-

    Those problems have more to do with monospeciation than anything else, which is a different subject entirely.

    As for everyone going hungry, I consider that pure fear-mongering. I don't think more people have started going hungry as organic products have taken off.

    Brian Stoffel

  • Report this Comment On March 13, 2013, at 2:33 PM, TMFCheesehead wrote:

    Apologies, the previous comment should have been made from my official TMF profile, instead of my old username which I was signed into.

    Brian Stoffel

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2013, at 12:09 AM, czs wrote:

    Monsanto is the same country that made Agent Orange. Do we really trust it with out food?

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2013, at 6:06 AM, farmermike21 wrote:

    czs,

    Actually, it is not the same company. The original Monsanto, that made Agent Orange, was bought by Pharmacia, which in turn was bought by Pfizer, but the Ag divisions were IPO'ed back out as Monsanto in the early 2,000's, don't remember when. They also spun the old liabilities for PCB production out to the new Monsanto so that they did not have to deal with them.

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2013, at 6:25 AM, farmermike21 wrote:

    Brian Stoffel,

    I don't know if you have trouble reading, or you just like to stretch the facts like all other activists, but I did not say anything about everybody going hungry. I assume that you are aware that there are people in this world today that are going hungry already, and not really because there isn't enough food being produced, but more because they can not afford it. All I am saying is that if everyone were to want organic, there would be an greatly increasing amount of people that would not be able to afford the food they eat. Organic production does not yield as well as conventional production, because if it did, you wouldn't have to pay more for it at the market.

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2013, at 6:48 AM, farmermike21 wrote:

    Podyquacker,

    I don't understand why people consider GMO's unsafe, but will take an antibiotic, drug, or vacine with no more safety or research than has already been done on GMO's. Monsanto does spend a lot money on litigation defending their technology, but so does every other company that spends money on R & D. Including the Organic food industry, although their spend is on lobbying and advertising (rather than litigation) trying to make you believe that their food product is more nutritional and healthier when there is absolutely not difference in the food except that they have more bug damage and it costs you more.

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2013, at 12:20 PM, julia123321 wrote:

    I live in Costa Rica and I moved here because I we were being chem-sprayed daily in california and oregon for the last 10 years which is ruining the soil and waters… Shasta lake for example in california in 2010 tested 60,000 time the safe level of aluminum in the snow there! 1 month ago they have started spraying the air here in the name of seeding the clouds so it rains here!! All lie’s! They did this same thing in Hawaii and made the soil so acidic that most islands can now only grow GMO seeds that are aluminum & barium resistant! Imagine that right! Well they are spraying the skies here now with an assault that I have never witnessed before! I have never seen so much spraying anywhere in the World! Monsanto will FORCE there way into countries by killing the soil and water! Monsanto is linked to the cell towers here in Costa Rica, Panama, Nicragua, Guetamala, Columbian Etc. which is being used to push the clouds away to create droughts! True Story! Haarp technology… Do your own research and realize that Monsanto will force there way into any country by design!! Period End of Story!!

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2013, at 12:22 PM, TMFCheesehead wrote:

    farmermike21,

    I think there are a lot of things we actually do agree upon. I agree about antibiotics, drugs or vaccines being similar to GMO's, and equally worthy of investigation. However, I usually have a very clear choice as to whether I'm going to use a drug/antibody, whereas with Monsanto's GMO's floating through the air, that choice becomes less and less viable.

    I also agree that for some farmers, producing "organically" is just a way of raising prices, and thereby they have no problem using "organic products" to accomplish the same thing (killing off forms of life that aren't helpful to the crop). We're in agreement there--but that's why I talked about monospeciation: if a farm just plants one crop, and has no diversity, there's almost no way to stop the pests from over-running the farm.

    Where we probably disagree: I don't think assembling food like Frankenstein is the way I want my food to be made. Following your analogy, you said he was "put together from the parts of many individuals, just like breeding several different plants together".

    I guess the difference is, I have no problem with life forms NATURALLY reproducing--that's how life evolves. A man and a women get together and have a baby. What I do have a problem with is when ALL forms of certain foods (like GMO corn, soybeans, etc) are taken out of the hands of nature, and put into the hands of companies with laboratories and profit motives. If there's only one thing I believe, its that Mother Nature knows what's best for all living things, and to mess with that is to invite a backlash.

    I would also argue that the reason people go hungry are far more nuanced and complex than the fact that they simply can't afford it. There are logistical issues, education issues, and political issues as well. We spend far less on our food now than we ever have, and I don't necessarily think its resulted in healthier, happier people. I don't see any problem with the prices of food going up.

    Those are just my two cents. I'm sure, given your username, that you have experience in the field, and I respect your opinion. Although I'm not a farmer by trade, my wife and I try to grow most of our own food, and we spend time every year on an organic, sustainable coffee farm that doesn't use any products other than compost in its fields. Nothing else. Their income has gone down, but its important to them.

    Should you want to read more about the farm, see here:

    http://www.dailyfinance.com/2012/04/07/saving-the-family-cof...

    Best,

    Brian Stoffel

    As for the Frankenstein reference, I guess we'd just have to have a huge difference of opinion

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2013, at 3:53 PM, ajkmsteph2 wrote:

    This is no harmfull effect after a billion acres planted what is it with you fools. Do you actually believe what you read on the internet

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2013, at 4:46 PM, Biloxi8 wrote:

    People did not drop dead from asbestos or tobacco the first day! It took 30 years to develop lung cancer. Monsanto maize (GM NK603) test rats were OK for 90 days, than they started developing tumors and by the 13th month started dying. If there is no long term study, you cannot vouch for it to be safe. Why take chances?

    The results were pretty shocking. GMO must be banned until long term studies prove that safety:

    Males presented 4 times more large palpable tumors than controls which occurred up to 600 days earlier. Biochemistry data confirmed very significant kidney chronic deficiencies; for all treatments and both sexes, 76% of the altered parameters were kidney related. These results can be explained by the non linear endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup, but also by the overexpression of the transgene in the GMO and its metabolic consequences.

    Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Nov;50(11):4221-31. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.005. Epub 2012 Sep 19.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2013, at 5:07 PM, Biloxi8 wrote:

    " Organic production does not yield as well as conventional production"

    Total misconception. Excessive use of pesticides, permanent monocultures actually reduce the yield over a period of time. You will get a huge yield in year one, then less and less as the soil practically becomes sterile. Slash and burn mentality, again based on "maximising profits" and let others deal with the destruction caused. This is not farming, it is total exploitation.

    As far as Whole Food organic prices are concerned, these guys are not the good guys either: they charge what they can get away with.

    That is why local food production is the only sensible solution: eliminate the middle man, so that prices can return to normal.

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2013, at 8:44 AM, dockofthebay wrote:

    Let's not forget that the seeds of GMO plants are ofen treated with neonicotinoids. This group of insecticides has been associated with the collapse of bee colonies and the general disappearance of bees where it has been used. Bees are an important part of the ecological system, so why are we not paying attention to that basic fact?

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2013, at 8:57 AM, Intidesi wrote:

    It's greedy capitalism...

  • Report this Comment On May 04, 2013, at 1:22 PM, nanibush wrote:

    We grow crops in the mountains of Guanacaste, corn being one. I feel certain that our corn is pure (non GMO) but would like to have it tested here in Costa Rica. Does anyone know who does this?

  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2013, at 3:49 PM, Bromandude wrote:

    TMF Cheesehead,

    You don't like the Frankenstein analogy because his parts were put together unnaturally with human intervention, instead of occurring naturally as nature intended. Well, I've got news for you, almost everything we eat has been modified so unnaturally by humans that it would not last more than a single generation in the wild. Do you think a corn stalk occurs naturally? What about a Pluot?

    The small difference in cost may not mean a whole lot to people like us, but to the many people living in developing countries across the world it certainly makes a difference. There are people that live on literally only a couple dollars a day, if the price of food goes up even a few cents, it could very well cause starvation.

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