Tucsonans Uneasy at Monsanto’s GM Corn Project

TUCSON (CN) — Facing fierce opposition, Monsanto dropped a proposal to seek tax breaks for a 7-acre greenhouse outside Tucson, but its detractors continue to fight plans to grow genetically modified seed corn in Southern Arizona.

“We don’t want them here in Pima County or anywhere near our communities,” Gabriel Mendoza said of Monsanto at a Tuesday rally where dozens of protesters echoed his sentiments before a Board of Supervisors meeting got underway in downtown Tucson.

Monsanto withdrew its proposal before the Tuesday morning session of the county board, which was to vote on whether to endorse the company’s application for foreign trade status before the U.S. Department of Commerce makes a final decision.

The designation would have reduced taxes on the 155 acres where Monsanto wants to build a greenhouse near the town of Marana, just west of Tucson. In return for county support, Monsanto vowed to spend up to $100 million on the project and employ some 50 workers.

Even without the foreign trade zone designation, Monsanto said it remains committed to the project and to being a good neighbor while producing seed corn for farmers worldwide.

“As discussions with Pima County have advanced, it is clear that further investments in workforce development are necessary for Monsanto and other businesses to grow successfully in the community,” the company said in a statement.

Monsanto said it will contribute up to $500,000 to the Marana Unified School District Foundation in lieu of taxes, support creation of a community advisory panel and voluntarily report its use of restricted-use pesticides at the greenhouse.

While opponents say they’re glad the company is no longer seeking tax breaks, they have no intention of retreating.

After the rally, where anti-Monsanto signs such as “Monsanto go home” and “Pure food doesn’t have a patent” abounded, demonstrators filed into the meeting and urged the board during the call to the audience to keep Monsanto out.

County officials maintain there is little they can do to stop the project. Still, Monsanto critics have repeatedly protested Monsanto’s entry into the area, before the board and in community forums, since the company announced its plans in August last year.

At the rally, protesters talked about the health risks they believe come with genetically modified foods, and said they are determined to keep Monsanto out of the area.

Fiore Iannacone, a board member of a Tucson food cooperative, objected to Monsanto’s products and ethics.

Rachel Linden of the nonprofit GMO Free Arizona, said the company’s plans for unincorporated Pima County would hurt residents’ way of life. “We must protect our food; we have to protect our farmers,” she said. “We need to protect our heritage seeds.”

Mendoza, who works on the San Xavier Co-op Farm on the Tohono O’odham Nation, said he and other farmers on the reservation fear potential cross-pollination of organic crops if Monsanto forges ahead.

“It’s too close for comfort,” he said.