Chile: farmer wins Monsanto seed case

Chilean farmer José Pizarro Montoya received 37 million pesos (about US$66,582) in December from Agrícola Nacional S.A.C. (ANASAC), a Chilean distributor of agricultural products, to settle a suit he brought over the use of genetically modified (GM) corn seed from the Missouri-based Monsanto Company. Pizarro charged that ANASAC violated its contract with him by giving instructions for planting the Monsanto corn that resulted in business losses and eventually ruined him. The Santiago Chamber of Commerce found in Pizarro's favor, and the Santiago Court of Appeals confirmed the decision in September. Pizarro is thought to be the first farmer in Chile—possibly the first in Latin America–to win a suit over the use of Monsanto's GM seeds.

According to Pizarro, a vegetable farmer in Melipilla province in the Greater Santiago Region, ANASAC approached him in 2008 about growing GM corn. He signed a contract and leased 33 hectares for the planting. Everything was free the first year, Pizarro says, but later ANASAC began charging; the company also required him to use their own expensive machinery for planting. Later they gave him planting instructions which left him unable to sell his crop with a profit. Pizarro also charged that the government's Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG) sided with the company against him. Under the terms of ANASAC's contracts, farmers are barred from suing the company through regular courts, so Pizarro had to follow the expensive procedure of filing with the Chamber of Commerce. Despite winning the case, Pizarro says he ended up with a significant losses and still owes 90 million pesos (about US$161,955) to the Spanish-owned bank Banco Santander. In an interview in January Pizarro advised consumers: "Don't eat things with transgenics; look for organics." (Periodismo Sanador, Jan. 22, English translation at Sustainable Pulse, Jan. 23; Radio Cooperativa, Chile, Jan. 30)

Asked to comment by Chile's Radio Cooperativa, José Ignacio Salazar, general manager of Monsanto's Chilean subsidiary, answered in a brief note: "We wish to clarify that Monsanto was not a party in the suit concerning a farmer in the Melipilla and ANASAC, and so this decision has no relation with our operations in Chile." ANASAC is Monsanto's distributor in Chile and Peru; in January 2010 it announced the sale of its seed plant to Monsanto for $19 million. (Veoverde, Jan. 31) Monsanto has been the subject of repeated protests in Latin America and the Caribbean.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, February 2.

See our last post on the struggle against GMOs in Latin America.