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Monsanto's AZ GMO Greenhouse
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Multinational Corporation Drops Request For A Tax Break From Pima County, But As The Permitting Process Progresses, Activists Begin To Push Back

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By Karen Weil
Modern Times Magazine

Feb. 19, 2017 — A group opposed to Monsanto’s plan to build a 7-acre, glass-enclosed greenhouse to grow corn in Marana will hold a protest Tuesday morning in front of the Pima County Administration Building.

The director of GMO Free Arizona, Rachel Linden, says those plans are not about saving the planet or feeding more people, but instead comes down to selling chemicals.

“Nobody wants to live near it – nobody does,” Linden said.

Linden said about 75 to 200 people will attend on the 21st, and other prominent anti-Monsanto activists are slated to attend. “We’re not letting Monsanto open shop,” she added “We’re only just getting started.”

Marana, she added, “is a microcosm of what’s going in the country, in terms of pushback against such projects.”

A Monsanto spokesperson said her company is “committed to being a good neighbor in the community.”

Further, Charla Lord of Monsanto said the greenhouse combines, “Arizona’s climate with our sustainable practices to help produce corn seeds that will help farmers around the world.”

Previously, Monsanto had asked the county for a tax break, which the county Board of Supervisors were to vote on during their meeting next week.

However, as of Thursday, Monsanto pulled a request from the agenda, said Mark Evans, public communication manager with Pima County. Monsanto still needs the county to grant several lighting-related and flood control permits, Evans said.

On his Facebook page, county Supervisor Richard Elias called Monsanto’s decision “a big win for taxpayers,” but added the work to hold the company accountable will continue.  

Located northwest of Tucson, Marana has a population of nearly 35,000, and is noted for its farming and ranching.

It’s also home to numerous hiking trails and is in the vicinity of Saguaro National Park.

Monsanto has a website devoted to the plans for the Marana facility, proposing a greenhouse on 7 acres, 2 acres for a warehouse and processing, a composting site and one office building. A timeline for project construction was not available.

Monsanto describes the site as “key hub for seed production and innovation,” featuring automating technology, water recycling, state-of-the-art climate systems and minimal environmental impact. An October report in the Western Farm Press said the facility will, “house GMO corn breeding and ‘trait integration’ that combines genetic and biotech traits.” The publication also said the greenhouse location formerly was a segment of farmland held by the Kai family, which is well known in southern Arizona agriculture circles.

Lord said Monsanto’s commitments include a contribution up to $500,000 to the Marana Unified School District Foundation (in lieu of taxes), creating a community advisory panel made up of area members and a plan to voluntary report restricted use pesticide usage at the greenhouse.

In recent years, Monsanto has engaged with the University of Arizona for a handful of research projects and Gene Giacomelli, director of the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center told the Western Farm Press in October the center was the “advanced guard” for the new facility.

A publicly traded, multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotech company, the St. Louis-based Monsanto produces genetically engineered seeds and Roundup, the widely used weed killer.

The century-old company is no stranger to controversy: Its crop projects in South America over the years have angered environmentalists and workers’ groups. Monsanto was held liable for dumping PCBs into the city of Anniston, Alabama in 2002, and has come under fire in other countries for crop-, seed- or pesticide-related issues.

Monsanto has a cotton breeding site in Casa Grande, a cottonseed production facility in Eloy and two locations in Yuma.

Linden said she believes Monsanto’s presence will turn “a beautiful and fragile desert sour,” and that people should be extremely skeptical.

“Is it just going to be Monsanto?” asked Linden, a Phoenix-area native and businesswoman who now lives out of state. “This could be a corridor of pollution. I don’t think we want to be known for that. I love Arizona. These companies coming in? They don’t.”

Lord said Monsanto sought considerable public input before proceeding with the greenhouse project.

She added that engagement over the past three and a half months included “five public sessions in each of Pima County’s districts, presentations before several chambers of commerce, business groups and an Agricultural Science Advisory Commission convened by Pima County.”

To learn more about GMO Free Arizona or the planned protest, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/1832766163647863/?active_tab=discussion
Information on Monsanto’s plans can be found at http://webcms.pima.gov/cms/One.aspx?portalId=169&pageId=314745
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