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The Hungary Games: The Latent Effects of Exiling Monsanto

To say we've got our own problems with Monsanto here in America is an understatement. The multinational seed and chemical corporation responsible for most of the genetically modified food in our country has done a tremendous job in the last two decades in coming to dominate our food system. From the myriad of ingredients derived from GMO corn and soy found in 80 percent of processed food, to the GMO grains fed to our nation's livestock—and the pesticides used on all of it—Monsanto truly is an American Institution. The company is the epitome of capitalism—generating new revenue models by reinventing its offerings (or at least on the surface—the company is still selling chemicals like always), expanding market share and buying up as many other companies as possible.

But this story isn't about us—at least, not directly. While we struggle here to educate each other about the dangers of GMOs, Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry are finding ways to get their patented seeds and pesticides into other countries.

Much of the European Union already has restrictions on GMOs, but regulations are beginning to cut the industry some slack—GMO feed for livestock can be imported; limited GMO seed stocks are approved for cultivation; and labeling allows the sale of foods containing GMOs. Spain has deregulated more GMOs than any other EU country.

In Hungary, where efforts have been the opposite— to completely rid the country of GMOs—new regulations were recently enacted that require checking all the seeds coming into the country for GMOs. Some undetected GMO seeds made it into the country last year and resulted in nearly 1,000 acres of GMO corn destroyed—as in slash and burn—as ordered by the deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development.

Before that even happened, though, Wikileaks (remember them?) released documents that showed high ranking U.S. officials were threatening suggesting EU nations who had previously opposed Monsanto and their ilk rethink their position on biotech, or risk certain penalties and trade restrictions. Despite the increasing pressure from the U.S. government and Monsanto, Hungary has stood firm in its position to keep GMOs out of the country. Righteous.

According to a recent article in The Automatic Earth, Hungary didn't stop there. Pressures from the International Monetary Fund led Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban to "unfriend" the agency on Facebook earlier this year and publically reject loan conditions brought about by the IMF. In a video on Facebook, Orban refused the loan conditions that would require the nation to enact harsh pension cuts, eliminate bank taxes, and cut government jobs, in exchange for nearly $19 billion to help the country with a bankruptcy recovery process that began in 2008 when Hungary became the first EU country bailed out by the IMF.

Was the IMF demanding unrealistically harsh sacrifices in exchange for the loan because of Hungary's firm stance against Monsanto and GMO crops? According to the Wikileaks documents, the U.S. threats to nations rejecting biotech companies could eventually lead to all-out military style trade wars. U.S. corporate influence on the IMF is undeniable; MIT's paper, The Thistle, calls the IMF a neoliberal entity (Robert McChesney describes neoliberalism as “policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit.”). "The major beneficiaries of neoliberalism are large trans-national corporations and wealthy investors." Before granting loans, the IMF always imposes conditions that require economic restructuring, says The Thistle. "One industry that has benefited significantly from neoliberal policies is the biotech industry."

So with Orban essentially giving the boot to both Monsanto and the IMF, to say it’s a country worth keeping an eye on is an understatement, especially after seeing how Monsanto attempted to stop public interest in California's Proposition 37 which would require labeling GMOs. Can true sovereignty exist on this planet? If one country can successfully fend off a corporate takeover, perhaps the rest can, too. Maybe even us.

Learn more about Jill Ettinger"

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