Between Ebola, Isis and crop-killing drought, there’s enough bad news piled up to last a few lifetimes. So now, a cheery story.
In a victory for small farmers and a blow to Big Ag, the Guatemalan judiciary suspended the Plant Variety Protection Law, otherwise known as the “Monsanto law.” Had the act kicked in as scheduled, transgenic seeds would now be privatized in Guatemala, so peasant farmers would need permission of companies like Monsanto, DuPont or Bayer to use them – or else face up to four years in prison.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the U.S. was pushing for this law. But the legislation would have robbed the Guatemalan people of control over their own agriculture industry – and also led the way for GMOs take over traditional crops.
It would have been “an attack on a traditional Mayan cultivation system which is based on the corn plant but which also includes black beans and herbs,” said Antonio Gonzalez of the National Network in Defense of Food Sovereignty in Guatemala. “These foods are a substantial part of the staple diet of rural people.”
It doesn’t happen often these days, but in this case, grassroots won out over corporate greed. An estimated 40,000 to 100,000 people attended a massive protest against the Monsanto Law in early September, blocking part of the Inter-American Highway. Shortly after, hundreds of teachers gathered in front of the Guatemalan capital in protest. And soon the Guatemalan court rejected the law, even though their Parliament had already passed it (during the World Cup, when the people were conveniently distracted).
So for now, GM crops will stay out of Guatemala, and farmers may continue their traditional farming methods undisturbed.
The not-as-cheery news? The law may be suspended, but it’s not completely put to rest. And Monsanto will probably fight back. Plus, the ruling could affect Guatemala’s status in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a deal the United States made with a number of developing countries. For now, we can only hold our collective breath and hope Guatemala’s small farmers beat the Big Ag monsters for good.