GMOs, human rights and the environment

June 2017

The advisory opinion of the International Monsanto Tribunal, referred to in GM-Free Scotland articles earlier this year [1,2], has been published.

Six questions were addressed by the Tribunal, and its opinions were based exclusively on legal considerations, grounded in international human rights and humanitarian laws (see below).

Question 1 asked if Monsanto, by its activities, infringed the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This question related to crop protection products such as insecticides and glyphosate-based herbicides (Monsanto's 'Roundup') whose presence has escalated in the environment due to GM crops [3,4].

Question 2 asked if Monsanto, by its activities, infringed the right to food, including both physical and economic access. This question relates to aggressive marketing of GMOs forcing farmers to buy expensive new seeds every year, royalties payable due to gene contamination, interference with community-level food production, the enabling of invasive species [5], and harm to soil and water.

Question 3 asked if Monsanto, by its activities, infringed the right to the highest attainable standard of health, encompassing physical, mental and social health. This question relates to acute reactions to GM crops and the pesticides associated with them, and to chronic disease, congenital disease and cancers.

Question 4 asked if Monsanto infringed the freedom indispensable for scientific research. This question closely relates to freedom of thought and expression as well as the right to information, and is therefore key to safeguarding the rights examined in the first three questions. The question presented to the Tribunal includes Monsanto's habit of suppressing inconvenient information with expensive court actions and rushed counter-science, and of launching massive campaigns to discredit independent science.

On Questions 1-4, the Tribunal's opinion was that Monsanto had infringed all these rights.

Question 5 concerned the Company's complicity in war crimes (by providing Agent Orange defoliant), while Question 6 asked if Monsanto's activities could constitute a crime of 'ecocide' (serious damage to, or destruction of, the environment so as to alter the environment upon which certain human groups rely). Because of the current state of international law, the Tribunal was unable to give a definitive answer to these two questions.

Importantly, the Tribunal highlighted the fact that, while a whole set of legal rules are in place to protect investors rights and trade, these same provisions are undermining national capacity to protect human and environmental rights. With regard to this widening gap between corporate accountability and human rights, the Tribunal called for two urgent actions:
  1. The need to assert the primacy of human and environmental rights law.
  2. The need to hold non-state actors responsible within international human rights law.

The International Monsanto Tribunal

To reach their Advisory Opinion, five eminent judges spent six-months reviewing the testimony of 28 witnesses.

The witnesses consisted of seven victims, six farmers, six scientists (including a toxicologist), and three public health experts, besides lawyers, vets, beekeepers and regulatory agents.

Monsanto was "strongly encouraged" to participate.

"Most opinion tribunals have had a considerable impact, and it is now accepted that they contribute to the progressive development of international law - International Monsanto Tribunal Advisory Opinion, The Hague, April 18 2017."

(Organic Consumers Association 23.04.17


As we prepare for Brexit, these international human rights will become even more important to the health and well-being of the UK people and the environment.


[1] THE GLYPHOSATE DODGE - February 2017

  • Monsanto Tribunal Judges slam Monsanto over violation of Human Rights, Sustainable Pulse, 13.04.17
  • Summary of the advisory opinion of the International Monsanto Tribunal, 18.04.17,

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