By Albert Vetere Lannon, Avra Valley Coalition
The Pima County Board of Supervisors will take up a deal giving large tax breaks to Monsanto Corporation secretly negotiated over the past eight months by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry at its November 22 meeting. The deal would cut Monsanto’s property taxes by two-thirds at its new giant greenhouse to be built near Twin Peaks and Sanders Roads in the Avra Valley. The deal is structured as support for Monsanto’s application to the U.S. Commerce Department to expand a “foreign trade zone” with Mexico into Pima County.
The proposed Pima County tax break for Monsanto is of particular interest to neighboring residents because of aerial spraying of Monsanto’s signature product, glyphosate, by Saguaro National Park and Tucson Water. That spraying has made neighbors and their pets sick and killed ranchers’ cattle forage. It has killed native plants in the national park, and there is no monitoring of the effect on wildlife.
Glyphosate has been ruled a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization and additives like POEA are also known to also damage human cells. Many countries have banned or heavily restricted use of the herbicide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has put off a relicensing decision until next year and the European Union granted only an 18-month license instead of the usual 15 years, adding severe restrictions on its use.
Glyphosate is being found in many things used by hundreds of millions of people, from breakfast cereal to tampons, and there is a world-wide uproar over Monsanto’s genetically modified crops (GMOs). Weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, and GMO crops have been found to be no more productive than normal farming. Glyphosate kills milkweed, the food of the monarch caterpillar, which has caused a sharp decline in the monarch butterfly population, possibly affecting other pollinators, including bees, as well. Monsanto regularly sues independent farmers when GMO seeds are carried onto neighboring land by wind and rain. The Avra Valley greenhouse is to manufacture GMO corn seeds.
Monsanto is receiving $66 billion, with a B, from Bayer in a corporate takeover. With that kind of cash, critics observe, they don’t need a tax break at Pima County taxpayers expense. Members of the Avra Valley Coalition are also asking if Pima County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bronson plans to recuse herself during the discussion and vote on the Monsanto incentives?
As a member of the Chairman’s Circle of Sun Corridor Inc., which – according to the Arizona Daily Star – initiated the Monsanto-Pima County negotiations for a tax break and provided an analysis claiming a multi-million dollar economic impact, Supervisor Bronson would seem to have a conflict of interest in that she is, on the one hand, a leader of a private organization supporting the incentives, while also a supposedly unbiased Supervisor with an open mind.
Bronson also received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the Kai family who sold 155 acres to Monsanto for their Avra Valley operation. Marana Councilmember Herb Kai had previously sold land for a garbage dump next to the rural community of Silverbell West. The Marana Unified School District accepted a one-time $500,000 payment from Monsanto in lieu of the $3.4 million in taxes they would have received over the next few years. Pima Community College’s Governing Board rejected a motion of support for Monsanto on a 3-2 vote.
A lot of opposition to the secret deal is expected at the Tuesday Board of Supervisors’ meeting, with local food activists and small farmers leading public rallies. Edible Baja magazine, the Pima County Food Alliance, Heirloom Farmers’ Market, and local farmers have organized and spoken out against giving special deals to Monsanto’s “industrial agriculture.” There are also concerns about Monsanto’s history of being fined tens of millions of dollars for accounting violations, failure to report release of toxic chemicals, and mislabeling GMO seeds. It is not known what other ramifications a “foreign trade zone” designation might bring to Pima County.