Selling Food . Health . Hope: the real story behind Monsanto Corporation Part 1
EXCERPT FROM THE INTRODUCTION: Monsanto's chemicals have caused cancers, birth defects and other forms of health problems. The people of Vietnam and Colombia have suffered hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic chemicals sprayed upon them from the sky. Monsanto has covered up its operations, and continued poisoning people and land in the more than 60 countries in which it operates. The corporation has been found guilty of 'behavior so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society' in U.S. Courts. It happily sells pesticides in the Philippines that have been banned in the U.S. due to their toxicity to humans.
This is the company that is now in danger of controlling our food system. This is the company whose reports the Philippine government is trusting to supposedly show the safety of GMOs.
Monsanto writes laws, bullies countries, and places its executives in the highest places of the most powerful government on earth. It is trying to control the whole food chain and create a system that will hold farmers, consumers and the environment to ransom.
Selling Food . Health . Hope: the real story behind Monsanto Corporation
Imagine a world where giant chemical corporations control the food we eat, the seeds we grow and the water we drink. Imagine a world where it is not even possble to save a seed without facing up to seven years in prison; a world where tomatoes contain the genes of fish, and the seeds of our plants are genetically altered to be sterile. Imagine a world where the water and air are poisoned. Welcome to Monsanto's world, the world that Monsanto is creating right now and that will be ours if we don’t stand up and stop it.
This report brings together information about Monsanto, a major agrochemical corporation selling itself as a clean and green, trustworthy company that holds the key to our future food supply. The report shows that Monsanto is not worthy of trust, that it has lied, misrepresented facts, poisoned people and the earth, and put profit before its workers, consumers, farmers, children and communities time and time again.
Monsanto's chemicals have caused cancers, birth defects and other forms of health problems. The people of Vietnam and Colombia have suffered hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic chemicals sprayed upon them from the sky. Monsanto has covered up its operations, and continued poisoning people and land in the more than 60 countries in which it operates. The corporation has been found guilty of 'behavior so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society' in U.S. Courts. It happily sells pesticides in the Philippines that have been banned in the U.S. due to their toxicity to humans.
This is the company that is now in danger of controlling our food system. This is the company whose reports the Philippine government is trusting to supposedly show the safety of GMOs.
Monsanto writes laws, bullies countries, and places its executives in the highest places of the most powerful government on earth. It is trying to control the whole food chain and create a system that will hold farmers, consumers and the environment to ransom.
Yet our whole world is not for sale.
Peoples' movements everywhere are standing up to Monsanto and are demanding that the needs of people, of communities and the environment are put before the needs of greedy corporations, which have become all too powerful. They promote their own needs and the needs of the richest people in the richest countries. The system has to change. Profit-driven corporations must not be allowed to own life itself.
Who is Monsanto?
Monsanto is one of the world's largest multinational agrochemical companies. It is best known for aggressively promoting genetically engineered seeds and biotechnology. Genetic engineering has been associated with major risks to the environment, to human health, and with the corporate control over farming systems and life itself. What is less known about Monsanto is its shameful history of polluting towns and rivers, and creating toxic chemicals including the notorious Agent Orange used in the Vietnam war.
Monsanto was formed in 1901 in St. Louis, Missouri in the U.S., making saccharin for the U.S. market. From this beginning Monsanto has grown to a massive company with over $4.5 billion in sales in 2002 alone. Of these sales, 40% came from Roundup and other glyphosate products and 34% from seed and genomics. Monsanto has operations in more than 60 countries. It has major chemical manufacturing facilities in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, and the U.S., and land parcels, manufacturing and agricultural facilities in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America[ ].
In 2002, Monsanto became a pure biotechnology and herbicide company staking its future on this dangerous technology. Monsanto merged with Pharmacia & Upjohn in 2000, to become Pharmacia corporation; and the group sold off NutraSweet, Equal, and Canderel sweeteners. The massive resistance against GMOs however, has put Monsanto in a very vulnerable position. In 2002, the company lost $1,693 million and two Monsanto chief executive officers have been replaced in the last few years. The company's stock fell nearly 50% in 2002[ ]. In April 2002, Monsanto announced 700 job cuts primarily in Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Australia and North America.
In 2003, continuing controversy over GMOs, especially on its new genetically engineered wheat, its failure to find a new CEO, and an antitrust lawsuit which alleges Monsanto was involved in price fixing over the basic ingredient of the company's top-selling Roundup weed killer, have made its shares drop even further[ ]. In fact, Innovest Strategic Value Advisors concluded not only that Monsanto should receive the lowest possible environmental and strategic management rating, but that investors should be greatly concerned about sustained market rejection, regulatory restrictions in key markets and likely contamination scandals[ ].
Over the past few years, Monsanto has spent billions of dollars purchasing parts of at least a dozen other biotech companies and gaining control of strategic research patents. It has also been involved in major efforts to buy up smaller seed companies from all around the world. This increases the worldÃs reliance on just a few companies that are in control of our basic sources of life.
In 1996, Monsanto bought the biotechnology assets of Agracetus, a subsidiary of W. R. Grace, for $150 million, and Calgene, a California-based plant biotechnology company for $340 million. In 1997, Monsanto acquired Holden seeds, the Brazilian seed company, Sementes Agrocerus and Asgrow. In 1998, it purchased Cargill's seed operations for $1.4 billion, the wheat-breeding business of Unilever (UK) and Dekalb for $2.3 billion. This puts farmers in a position where, if they want to buy seeds, they have little choice but to buy from Monsanto[ ].
In India, Monsanto has bought a substantial part of MAHYCO, Maharashtra Hybrid Company, EID Parry and Rallis. Mr. Jack Kennedy of Monsanto has said, 'we propose to penetrate the Indian agricultural sector in a big way. MAHYCO is a good vehicle.' According to Mr. Robert Farley of Monsanto, 'what you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it's really a consolidation of the entire food chain.'
The company now produces genetically engineered cotton, corn, soybean, and canola seeds. It also produces Asgrow, Hartz, and DEKALB seeds and the herbicides Roundup and Machete (banned in the U.S. but used but farmers in the Philippines and elsewhere in the Third World). Roundup ready seeds produce plants that are genetically engineered to resist larger applications of Roundup herbicide. Monsanto brand names include Advance, Avadex, Bollgard, Enviro-Chem, Harness, Holden's, Hybritech, Lasso, Latitude, MaisGard, Maverick, NewLeaf, and YieldGard[ ]. In the Philippines, these include the seed brands Cargill, Dekalb, and Asgrow; and agro-chemicals such as Roundup, Harness Xtra, Advance, Machete, Power, and Maverick.
Monsanto's patent on Roundup, by far its biggest selling product and the worldÃs most used herbicide, expired in late 2000. As a result, generic brands have become available and the company has lost sales to competing products. In response, Monsanto has lowered prices, further affecting its profitability.
By developing genetically engineered seeds tolerant to Roundup, Monsanto is ensuring an ongoing demand for its product. This allows Monsanto to sell more of its chemicals and increase its profits. Adapting plants to chemical poisons is a dangerous step. Not only is Monsanto dabbling in genetic engineering but they are manipulating plants to ensure that more herbicides and chemicals will be used in farming. They can manipulate one crop to make it more adaptable to poisons - but farmers, farming families, consumers and the environment will be more vulnerable than ever.
Monsanto's efforts to increase profits translate into an increase in the amount of money farmers need to outlay in order to sow and harvest their crops. Monsanto boasts that they have been able to dramatically increase their share of grower purchases in the U.S. from 8% of all grower input costs in soybean production to 52%, from 10 to 45% in cotton, and from 7 to 19% in corn in just a few years. Monsanto's contribution to farmer input costs include seeds, genetically engineered traits, herbicides and insecticides [ ].
This report will start with exposing some of the secrets that Monsanto is hiding from the public. It will uncover MonsantoÃs history of profiteering from poisons, the secrets of its misleading and dirty science, important political connections that it has made, and its new and dangerous forays into the world of genetic engineering.
Monsanto’s record shows that it is a company that cannot be trusted. It has poisoned communities and ecosystems, created poisons to be sprayed from the sky in times of war, and pumped millions of pounds of chemicals into rivers and streams. This is the corporation that is now trying to gain control over our food system.
Skeletons in the closet
Agent Orange is a lethal herbicide used as a defoliant in the Vietnam War. Monsanto was a major producer of Agent Orange herbicides in the 1950s and 1960s. From 1962 to 1970, the U.S. military sprayed 72 million liters of herbicides, mostly Agent Orange, in order to defoliate Vietnam during the U.S. war with the aim of killing vegetation so that there was no place for Vietnamese to hide in the forests. But in addition to killing vegetation, Agent Orange has poisoned hundreds of thousands of people [ ].
Agent Orange was shown to have very serious toxic effects. According to the 1994 "Seventh Annual Report on Carcinogens", Agent Orange causes "toxic effects in animals includ[ing]... vascular lesions, chloracne, teratogenicity, fetotoxicity, impaired reproductive performance, endometriosis and delayed death". Studies have linked exposure to this herbicide to a range of cancers. Over one million Vietnamese were exposed to the spraying, as well as over 100,000 Americans and allied troops. The application of Agent Orange and TCDD caused more than 50,000 birth defects and tens thousands of cancers in Vietnamese civilians and soldiers. U.S. veterans and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians are still suffering the effects of its use today, and their children have higher rates of birth defects such as spina bifida [ ].
After the end of the Vietnam war, it was shown that Monsanto knew about the toxicity of the chemical and had tried to cover it up. Monsanto workers had regularly complained about skin rashes, joint and limb pain, after being exposed. After the end of the war, U.S. veterans sued Monsanto and the company settled out of court, paying about $80 million in damages. Monsanto's Vietnamese victims received nothing.
Colombians bombed with MonsantoÃs chemicals [ ]
Unfortunately, there are still cases of MonsantoÃs poisons raining down from the sky to contaminate people and land. Colombia has been subject to major operations by the U.S. military in an attempt to wipe out its coca crop. Coca is sacred to indigenous people in the Andes but it is also used in making cocaine. In trying to eradicate this crop, the U.S. has sprayed tons of Roundup and Roundup Ultra from airplanes. Roundup is produced by Monsanto.
Colombian farmers and indigenous people have suffered major health complaints, including burning eyes, dizziness and respiratory problems. Their crops and livestock have been poisoned, and their environment has been polluted by the mass application of chemicals.
In the year 2000, approximately 145,750 gallons of Roundup were sprayed covering an area of 53,000 hectares (205 square miles). Elsa Nivia, a Colombian agronomist who works with the Pesticide Action Network, reports that local authorities counted 4,289 humans suffering skin or gastric disorders in the first two months of 2001. Some 178,377 animals (cattle, horses, pigs, dogs, ducks, hens and fish) were also reported killed by the spraying.
Colombian indigenous leaders have tried in vain to stop the fumigation. "The 12 indigenous peoples have been suffering under this plague as if it were a government decree to exterminate our culture and our very survival," said Jose Francisco Tenonoa, Colombian indigenous leader.
"Our only sustenance - manioc, banana, palms, sugar cane and corn - have been fumigated. Our sources of water - creeks, rivers, lakes, have been poisoned, killing our fish... Today, hunger is our daily bread. In the name of the Amazonian Indigenous people, I ask that the fumigations be immediately suspended."
Poison for profit
Monsanto is a company that has made its millions producing poisons. This is the very worst of companies, profiteering from death.
Monsanto developed and sold PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, for decades. From 1935, they were the sole producers of these chemicals in the U.S. These chemicals are highly toxic organochlorines linked to birth defects, infertility, impaired mental function in children, immune system weakness, and cancer. Although PCBs are now banned and are no longer produced, many dangers still exist and the chemicals can linger in the environment for centuries poisoning water, land and people [ ].
Monsanto found guilty
Monsanto was found guilty of Ã¬behavior so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized societyÃ® due to its history of releasing tons of poisonous PCBs into a city in the U.S. and covering it up. The jury held Monsanto and its corporate successors liable on all six counts it considered: negligence, wantonness, suppression of the truth, nuisance, trespass and outrage.
In a major environmental lawsuit, 3500 local residents of the city of Anniston in Alabama took Monsanto to court for poisoning and lying to their community. Monsanto had operated a chemical plant in the city making PCBs. Although the dangers of this chemical were not initially known, the court saw that Monsanto had known about the dangers and covered them up for decades.
For example, in 1966, Monsanto managers discovered that fish put into a local creek, ‘turned belly-up within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dropped into boiling water’. In 1969, they found a fish in another creek with 7,500 times the legal PCB level. But they never told their neighbors, and concluded that "there is little object in going to expensive extremes in limiting discharges." Anniston residents did not learn about the pollution until thirty years later in 1996.
At the trial, Monsanto attorneys argued that the company acted "promptly and responsibly" to limit its PCB releases once it learned that the chemicals were poisonous and would remain in nature for centuries. Documents shown at the trial - many of which were labeled “CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy" - showed these claims to be false. Monsanto was focused on making money and maintaining their monopoly of PCBs completely regardless of any social and environmental risks. "We can't afford to lose one dollar of business," one internal memo said.
Ã¬They also know that for nearly 40 years, while producing the now-banned industrial coolants known as PCBs at a local factory, Monsanto Co. routinely discharged toxic waste into a west Anniston creek and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills. And thousands of pages of Monsanto documents -- many emblazoned with warnings such as "CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy" -- show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed.Ã®[ ]
Monsanto produces the herbicide Machete (also called Butachlor). This herbicide poses both acute and chronic health risks and can contaminate water supplies. The chemical was banned in the U.S. Its application for registration was rejected by the U.S. EPA in 1984 due to "environmental, residue, fish and wildlife, and toxicological concerns." A ‘safe’ level of the herbicide as a residue in the food we eat has not been established. Despite these recognized dangers, Monsanto sells the herbicide in Latin America, Asia, and Africa where farmers use the product for rice production often even without minimal protective covering [ ].
Monsanto also made the pesticide methyl parathion, a poisonous chemical toxic to humans. Methyl parathion affects the central nervous system and is one of the leading causes of pesticide poisonings of all time [ ].
Dioxins are another type of poisonous chemicals associated with Monsanto. Dioxins are extremely toxic, but Monsanto has been involved in health studies to try to show that the chemical is not dangerous to human health. Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine from the University of Illinois, stated that, "There are numerous... flaws in the Monsanto health studies. Each of these misrepresentations and falsifications served to negate any conclusions of adverse health effects from dioxins."
Dr. Cate Jenkins, U.S. EPA Regulatory Development Branch, said, "There is a clear pattern of fraudulent misconduct in the dioxin science performed by the chemical industry and its indentured academics."[ ]
Yet a study by the National Institute of Occupation Health and Safety (NIOSH) of dioxin-exposed Monsanto workers found that they had a statistically significant increase in cancers. The U.S. EPA itself has documented the toxic qualities of dioxin and shown it to be a human carcinogen.
It is clear that Monsanto’s science cannot be trusted[ ].
Roundup (or glyphosate) is MonsantoÃs biggest seller. It is a herbicide that Monsanto peddles as being safe. The majority of MonsantoÃs genetically engineered products are altered so they can withstand greater doses of this herbicide. This will lead to even more glyphosate being sprayed the world over; but Roundup is actually toxic to animals including humans.
Symptoms include eye and skin irritation, headache, nausea, numbness, elevated blood pressure and heart palpitations. Studies of farmers who are exposed over the long time to glyphosate products (Roundup) have an increased risk of miscarriages, birth defects, premature birth and neurodevelopmental (attention deficit) disorders. [ ] A recent study by eminent oncologists Dr. Hardell and Dr. Eriksson of Sweden has also shown clear links between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. [ ]
The chemical is 'extremely persistent' - which means that it stays in the environment for a long time without being broken down. It has, for example, been found in streams and soils for months after its last application. An E.U. report recently found that glyphosate harms beneficial insects and spiders. It is toxic to some beneficial soil organisms and increases crops' susceptibility to diseases. In laboratory tests, glyphosate [de]creased plants' resistance to disease and reduced the growth of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. [ ]
These issues are particularly worrying - given Monsanto’s claim that glyphosate is benign and the major increase of Roundup use due to the Roundup Ready crops, as well as its aerial spraying of the poison in Colombia.
In 1998, Monsanto paid a fine of $225,000 for mislabeling containers of Roundup on 75 separate occasions. The penalty was the largest-ever paid for violation of the Worker Protection Standards of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). In 1997, following complaints by the New York State district attorney, Monsanto altered its ads to delete claims that the herbicide is ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘biodegradable.’[ ]
Pollution in the U.S.
Monsanto is based in the U.S.A. and has its longest history in that country. It is only relatively recently that Monsanto is spreading into other countries and the Third World. Looking at Monsanto’s record in the U.S. helps give a picture of how they may act in other countries. If they will pollute, deceive and poison in the U.S.A, it is likely that their behavior away from the stronger U.S. regulatory systems will be even worse.
Monsanto is one of the U.S.Ã major polluters. It has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as being the "potentially responsible party" for no fewer than 93 major uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites (known as "Superfund Sites") in the U.S. [ ].
The Mississippi River is one example that has suffered from MonsantoÃs pollution. A Monsanto chemical plant in Illinois discharges about 34 million pounds of toxins into the river yearly. The facility is a major producer of chloronitrobenzenes, bioaccumulative teratogens detected at levels as high as 1000 parts per billion in fish over 100 miles downstream. MonsantoÃs plant in Iowa which produces alachlor, butachlor (Machete) and other highly toxic compounds, and releases at least 265,000 pounds of chemicals per year directly into the Mississippi [ ].
Timeline of disaster[ ]
1996 - Monsanto agreed to pay $50,000 in legal costs and to alter advertising in New York after complaints from the stateÃs attorney general that advertisements for MonsantoÃs Roundup brand herbicide were misleading. In their advertisements, Monsanto had claimed that Roundup was safer than table salt and "practically non-toxic" to mammals, birds and fish. New York had been challenging the ads since 1991.
1995 - Monsanto ranked fifth among U.S. corporations on the EPA’s toxic release inventory having discharged 37 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, land, water and underground.
1992 - Monsanto agreed to pay $39 million of a $208 million Superfund settlement with 1700 Houston residents who claimed injuries as a result of living near a former toxic waste dump, labeled one of the worst such sites in Texas. Plaintiffs argued that Monsanto deposited 519 million pounds of hazardous compounds into unlined holes in the ground. Children in the area suffer health problems including immune deficiency disorders, cancer, and facial deformities allegedly due to exposure to toxins leaking from the site.
1991 - The Massachusetts Attorney GeneralÃs office fined Monsanto $1 million - the largest ever assessed in Massachusetts for violation of a state environmental law - for illegally discharging 200,000 gallons of acid-laden wastewater from a plant and failing to report the release immediately as well as understating the volume of the release. According to the stateÃs Department of Environmental Protection, Monsanto, which paid a $35,000 fine in 1988 for failing to report an acid spill at the same facility, had a history of violating spill-reporting laws.
1990 - Monsanto paid $648,000 to settle charges that it allegedly failed to report significant risk findings from health studies to the EPA as required under the Toxic Substance Control Act.
1988 - Monsanto agreed to a $1.5 million settlement in a chemical poisoning case filed by over 170 former employees of the companyÃs Nitro, West Virginia facility. Six workers said they had been exposed to chemicals which gave them a rare form of bladder cancer.
1986 - A U.S. District Court found Monsanto liable in the death of a Texas employee from leukemia caused by exposure to the carcinogen benzene. The plaintiffÃs family contended that Monsanto had neglected to monitor benzene emissions at the plant and had failed to instruct workers about the risks of handling benzene-tainted compounds. The court awarded the plaintiffÃs family $108 million.
1947 - More than 500 people, including 145 Monsanto employees, died in April 1947 when Monsanto's Texas City styrene plant burned after a ship containing ammonium nitrate exploded.
Times Beach - a legacy of contamination [ ]
The town of Times Beach, Missouri, was found to be so thoroughly contaminated with dioxin that the U.S. government ordered it evacuated in 1982. Apparently the town, as well as several private landowners, hired a contractor to spray its dirt roads with waste oil to keep dust down. The same contractor had been hired by local chemical companies to pump out their dioxin-contaminated sludge tanks. When 50 horses, other domestic animals, and hundreds of wild birds died in an indoor arena that had been sprayed with the oil, an investigation ensued that eventually traced the deaths to dioxin from the chemical sludge tanks. Two young girls who played in the arena became ill, one of whom was hospitalized for four weeks with severe kidney damage, and many more children born to mothers exposed to the dioxin-contaminated oil demonstrated evidence of immune system abnormalities and significant brain dysfunction.
While Monsanto has consistently denied any connection to the Times Beach incident, the St. Louis-based Times Beach Action Group (TBAG) uncovered laboratory reports documenting the presence of large concentrations of PCBs manufactured by Monsanto in contaminated soil samples from the town. 'From our point of view, Monsanto is at the heart of the problem here in Missouri,' explains TBAG's Steve Taylor. Taylor acknowledges that many questions about Times Beach and other contaminated sites in the region remain unanswered, but cites evidence that close investigations of the sludge sprayed in Times Beach were limited to those sources traceable to companies other than Monsanto.
The cover-up at Times Beach reached the highest levels of the Reagan administration in Washington. The nationÃs environmental agencies during the Reagan years became notorious for officialsÃ repeated backroom deals with industry officials, in which favored companies were promised lax enforcement and greatly reduced fines. Reagan's appointed administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was forced to resign after two years in office and her special assistant, Rita Lavelle, was jailed for six months for perjury and obstruction of justice. In one famous incident, the Reagan White House ordered Burford to withhold documents on Times Beach and other contaminated sites in the states of Missouri and Arkansas, citing 'executive privilege,' and Lavelle was subsequently cited for shredding important documents. An investigative reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper identified Monsanto as one of the chemical companies whose executives frequently hosted luncheon and dinner meetings with Lavelle. The evacuation sought by residents of Times Beach was delayed until 1982, 11 years after the contamination was first discovered, and 8 years after the cause was identified as dioxin.
Monsanto was also the developer of the highly controversial recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH, also known as BST). This is a hormone that is injected into cows and can increase milk production. This increase in milk comes with many, many problems. The Cancer Prevention Coalition has reported that milk from rBGH-treated cows contains higher levels of IGF-1, an insulin-like growth factor which may increase the risk of certain cancers. The General Accounting Office has also warned of the potential hazards to human health by consuming products derived from rBGH-treated cows. In January of this year a Harvard study of 15,000 white men published in SCIENCE reported that those with elevated --but still normal --levels of IGF-1 in their blood are 4 times as likely as average men to get prostate cancer [ ].
The hormone also harms the cows. A report by Canadian government scientists says, "Evidence from the animal safety reviews were [sic] not taken into consideration. These studies indicated numerous adverse effects in cows, including birth defects, reproductive disorders, higher incidence of mastitis [infection leading to inflammation of the udder], which may have had an impact on human health."[ ]
Rather than try to address some of these problems, Monsanto employed its bullying tactics to force farmers to use the hormone and have tried to stop suppliers letting consumers know that there is the genetically engineered hormone in their milk. Food companies which marked their products as rBGH-free have been threatened and sued by Monsanto. For example, Monsanto brought an action against the Pure Milk and Ice Cream Company in Texas to try to force them to withdraw their labels.
In a documentary produced by award-winning reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, Canadian government officials, speaking on camera, said they believed Monsanto tried to bribe them with offers of $1 to $2 million to gain approval for rBGH in Canada. Monsanto officials claimed that the Canadians misunderstood their offer of "research" funds.[ ]
In 1991, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the companyÃs materials on rBGH "go beyond the legitimate exchange of scientific information" and ordered Monsanto to stop making unsubstantiated claims about rBGH[ ]. In 1998, the FDA admitted that it had allowed the sale of the hormone without having seen any safety data. It had relied instead on a summary provided by Monsanto [ ].
Monsanto is one of the worldÃs most rabid promoters of genetically engineered foods. Genetically engineered organisms or GMOs have been widely dismissed as being unsafe, environmentally damaging and associated with increased corporate control over our food and farming. They use has been rejected or constrained in many countries including in the European Union, Japan and Brazil and markets are closing everywhere to genetically engineered crops. Despite these problems, Monsanto is doing all it can to bring new genetically engineered crops into the market. For them, it is a matter of profit, not of sustainability or life.
There has been wide condemnation by farmers, scientists and peoplesÃ movements throughout the world. More than 24 African agriculturists and environmental scientists representing their countries at the UN issued a statement condemning Monsanto for its tactics and its untrue and unproven claims regarding genetically engineered foods [ ]. The statement was signed by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) representative of every African country apart from South Africa.
"[We] strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us" ... "We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st century. On the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves," the statement said.
The African statement particularly condemns terminator technology which alters seeds so that they no longer reproduce. For four years none of these African nations accepted GM food or crops. The situation is no better for Monsanto in other parts of the Global South [ ].
Prof. Wangari Mathai from the Green Belt Movement in Kenya says, 'History has many records of crimes against humanity, which were also justified by dominant commercial interests and governments of the day. Despite protests from citizens, social justice for the common good was eroded in favor of private profits. Today, patenting of life forms and the genetic engineering which it stimulates, is being justified on the grounds that it will benefit society, especially the poor, by providing better and more food and medicine. But in fact, by monopolizing the 'raw' biological materials, the development of other options is deliberately blocked. Farmers therefore, become totally dependent on the corporations for seeds.'
Other scientists such as Dr. Vandana Shiva in India also condemn the technology and point out that it will be very detrimental to Third World Farmers. Dr. Shiva says, 'Monsanto's technologies are not environment friendly, or sustainable. They pose a threat to ecosystems and agriculture. Monsanto's technologies will push Bangladeshi peasants into debt as they have to spend more money on herbicides, seeds, royalties and technology fees. This rising indebtedness of farmers is intrinsic to industrial agriculture and is the reason why only 2 per cent farmers survive in the U.S. and thousands of farmers have committed suicide in India.'
It will not benefit the South to allow genetically engineered products to be grown. All over the world, markets are closing to genetically engineered products. The gates to Europe and Japan for GM commodities have all but closed and countries such as New Zealand and Australia are following suit. Canadian canola exports to the E.U. were worth $180 million in 1996 but dropped to zero in 1997 because of their inability to isolate genetically engineered varieties and since. U.S. corn exports to the E.U. have, similarly fallen from millions of metric tons to almost zero since GM Bt corn was introduced[ ]. Engineered soybeans, corn and canola are estimated to have cost the U.S. economy at least $12 billion since 1999. In these countries some of the losses are covered by the government. In the South the government could not afford to make such subsidies. It would be a disaster[ ].
Saudi Arabia has already banned 17 GMO-tainted Philippine products including popular children's snacks and meat products[ ].
The safety of GM food is unproven. On the contrary, there is sufficient scientific evidence to suggest it is unsafe. GM food can potentially give rise to a range of health problems, including: food allergies; chronic toxic effects; infections from bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics, rendering these infections untreatable; and possible ailments including cancers, some of which are yet difficult or impossible to predict because of the present state of risk assessment and food safety tests[ ].
The issue of safety is highlighted by results of UK government-funded research, recently released, showing that GM DNA in food can survive in the gut of human subjects and transfer to gut bacteria[ ].
The most immediate hazard from such horizontal transfer of GM DNA is the transfer of antibiotic resistance marker genes to pathogenic bacteria, making infections untreatable. Assumptions on alleged GM food safety are based on a limited range of experiments.
Because genetically engineered food remains unlabelled, consumers cannot discriminate between GE and non-GE food, and should serious health problems arise, it will be extremely difficult to trace them to their source. Lack of labeling also helps to shield the corporations that could be potentially responsible from liability.[ ]
The adoption of genetically engineered crops is likely to reduce genetic diversity, resulting in fewer and fewer types of food crops; the narrowing of the genetic base of food adds to the likelihood of pest and disease epidemics. Many of these problems stem from the fact that genetically-engineered crops will be grown in industrial monocultures. Other forms of agriculture offer far safer, proven and ecologically-benign means of protecting crops against pest damage.
Monsanto has produced two main lines of genetically engineered products: the roundup ready crops and the Bt crops. Both of these have generated a great deal of controversy in every country that they have been sold. Both are being tested for the Philippines. There is also the issue of corporate control, patents on life and social issues associated with all genetically engineered products.
Roundup Ready crops are crops that have been genetically engineered to resist greater applications of Roundup pesticide. This is the major kind of genetically engineered crops sold or developed so far including Roundup ready corn, cotton, canola and wheat. 71% of all genetically engineered crops planted in 1998 were designed to be resistant to herbicides such as glyphosate. Roundup is a poison that kills most plants and is toxic to animals (especially to fish) and to humans. By engineering the crops to be MORE resistant to pesticides, farmers can use greater amounts before killing the plants. This, of course, will mean greater pesticide use and higher incidences of pesticide poisoning wherever Roundup ready plants are used. The United States Department of Agriculture statistics from 1997 show that expanded plantings of Roundup Ready soybeans have resulted in a 72% increase in the use of glyphosate. This will also increase the amount of pesticide residue left in food. Monsanto has already received permits for a tripling of herbicide residues on genetically engineered soybeans in Europe and the United States [ ].
Another major issue with any genetically engineered crops is the issue of cross pollination. This means that, in the normal process of reproduction of plants, the genes of different plants are shared in the offspring. Unfortunately, where plants are genetically engineered this means the offspring of other plants will be polluted with the genes of the genetically engineered plants. In the case of Roundup ready crops, this could cause superweeds that get the Roundup resistant gene from the crop and then are themselves resistant to pesticides.
Superweeds, in the form of Roundup-tolerant marestails, are now plaguing GM soya and cotton fields in the U.S. U.S. scientists in three states have shown that sunflowers modified with an artificial gene designed to help ward off pests can spread that ability to wild sunflowers. Both established commercial seed stocks and indigenous varieties are now contaminated by GM, with serious consequences for agricultural biodiversity [ ].
It is also difficult to keep organic and non-GE crops free from contamination from nearby genetically engineered crops especially if they are open pollinated. In the Philippines, this means that native and traditional corn varieties planted near Bt-corn can easily be effected. Canadian organic farmers are suing Monsanto for polluting organic canola production in Canada. The farmers, Larry Hoffman and Dale Beaudoin, contend that the GE canola contaminates their organic canola through natural cross-pollination from neighboring fields. As a result, they cannot sell it as organic canola. In fact, so much GE canola is grown in the province that it has put the organic growers out of production, they say. The suit says that Monsanto and Aventis violated environmental laws by not conducting environmental impact assessments before releasing the seeds [ ].
The genetically-engineered crops now being cultivated do not have significantly increased yields compared to conventional crops. In some cases, yields are lower than those for conventional varieties of the same crop. In the first large-scale field trials in Puerto Rico in 1992 of Roundup Ready plants, Monsanto scientists found statistically significant reduced yields, averaging some 11.5 per cent, in three of seven trials.
There have been failures throughout the world - wherever genetically engineered crops have been tried. The criticism of GE products is so strong and the number of markets open to GE products so few that Monsanto is having real problems going forward with its latest Roundup Ready crop - Roundup ready wheat. The first genetically engineered crops were approved in the U.S. without much fuss as the public did not have a chance to learn about the problems with genetically engineered foods. This is now changing.
In early 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it may impose strict requirements on Monsanto to make sure it does not sell genetically engineered wheat if foreign markets do not accept it. Consumers throughout the world are so negative that both domestic and foreign buyers are likely to shun all U.S. wheat if it is sold [ ].
Even if the wheat is approved in the United States, Monsanto has promised not to sell it until at least Canada and Japan accept it. The St. Louis-based company said a secure segregation system must also be in place to ensure the separation of genetically modified and traditional wheat. This is a major recognition of the lack of demand for GE products as consumers refuse to buy and demand not to be force-fed genetically altered products.
Bt (pest resistant)
Bt products including Bt corn and Bt cotton are genetically engineered to produce a Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a natural insecticide commonly used in organic farming. By inserting this gene, Monsanto has created a plant that is supposed to exude its own pesticide all the time. But it doesnÃt always work like that.
Wherever the crop has been grown there have been problems. The first case was in the U.S.A. where farmers were promised that genetically engineered cotton would produce poison against caterpillar attack. But the new cotton did not work and in some fields up to 60 percent of the plants were destroyed by caterpillars. The damage for this harvest period was estimated at U.S. $1 billion[ ]. Farmers received millions of dollars in compensation. Unfortunately this level of compensation may not be available to farmers in the Third World. Like the case of Agent Orange where U.S. citizens were justly awarded millions of dollars in damages, the Vietnamese received nothing, Third World farmers will be hard pressed to be compensated for losses to their harvests, their health and their environments.
In India, farmers who planted genetically engineered cotton seed, are now trying to claim compensation from the government for a disastrous failure of this year's crops. The plants were shown to be unsuited to Indian climatic conditions and pests. The loss in the Vidarbha region is estimated to be over $100 million. The state government in Andhra admitted, 'Farmers have not experienced very positive and encouraging results.' The seeds cost 1600 rupees per bag (compared to 400 rupees for hybrids). This has led farmers deeper into debt and with only a poor harvest many are suffering.[ ] In April 2003, India's regulatory authority, the Genetic Engineering Approval Commitee (GEAC), unanimously rejected the proposal for cultivation in North India of a new kind of Bt-cotton developed by Mahyco Seed Company in collaboration with Monsanto[ ].
Instead of acknowledging this problem, Monsanto has cited its own field trials to claim that the cotton has an increase in yield. But these trials were done on test sites in perfect conditions. It contains no data from the farmers fields and clearly is misrepresentative of real-life experience. Such misleading reports can be very detrimental to farmers as they influence policy makers who make pro-GE decisions on unrealistic evidence.
Apart from the crop failures, there is a major concern that insects will become resistant to this common insecticide. Rather than being sprayed with a one-off application, insect larvae eat the plant and are exposed to the Bt toxin over a longer period of time. Some of the larvae are not killed and can become resistant. There have already been reports of pests becoming resistant to the toxin. The active toxin secreted by these plants may also harm beneficial insects like moths and butterflies [ ].
New research, by scientists from the Imperial College London and the Universidad Simon Rodrigues in Caracas, Venezuela, suggests that not only are pests not killed by the plants but they are actually able to eat the poison and use it to grow faster. The larvae eating the leaves grew much faster than those that ate normal plants - up to 56% faster! The finding showed that the presence of the poison Ã¬could have modified the nutritional balance in plants.Ã® This is not only alarming in that the pests are thriving but shows the unexpected harmful effects of GM crops including the ways that GE can change the nutritional balance of foods and their toxicity levels. The unexpected effects for human foods are terrifying [ ].
Even Monsanto admits that bt products can lead to pest resistance. In its patent application in the U.S., Monsanto admits that transgenic pest control ‘may not be desirable in the long term’ because it produces resistant strains and ‘numerous problems remain... Under actual field conditions.’[ ]
Pollen contamination is another potential problem especially with open pollinated varieties such as corn. Neil Hart, an Agricultural Economist at Iowa State University, has estimated that corn pollen can drift up to five miles. This means that if one farmer is growing GMOs the fields of farmers up to five miles away can be contaminated. In addition to the environmental problems this could have severe economic consequences. Farmers would not be able to claim their corn as GMO free which could ruin organic crops and make traditional hybrid corn worthless for export to countries where consumers are wary of the technology such as Europe and Japan [ ].
A letter from the President of the American Corn Growers Association to the EPA says, "We urge you to seriously reconsider this decision until a comprehensive evaluation is conducted on the negative impacts that Bt varieties are having on markets for U.S. corn. One glaring negative aspect is the extremely low prices that farmers are receiving for corn at the farm level. The major issue of pollen drift and cross-pollination contamination of conventional (non-genetically engineered or non-GMO) corn fields by genetically engineered/GMO corn varieties (Starlink and other varieties) has already caused major global market disruption for U.S. corn growers."[ ]
Patents on life
Monsanto has been a major player advocating for the ability to patent life-forms and also policing laws where they exist. The drive to patent life through the WTO (via TRIPs) can be traced back to Monsanto and the 12 other major corporations who formed the Intellectual Property Committee (IPC). The companies on this committee were successful in getting intellectual property rights - or the ërightÃ to patent life - onto the agenda of the WTO. As a result, countries throughout the world are forced to change their laws on patenting to bring them in line with the needs of rich countries and giant corporations[ ].
Monsanto is the holder of some extremely broad and disturbing patents including a patent for the infamous terminator technology (see below). They also hold a patent - European patent Number 301,749 - granting them a monopoly over the development of all forms of genetically engineered soybean varieties and seeds - regardless of the materials used, the kind of alteration undertaken and the process used. This "species patent" covering all soybeans is a major step to worldwide crop monopoly by one corporation[ ].
In addition to helping create the world-wide pressure to force Southern governments to adopt patent regimes, Monsanto has actively policed those regimes where they already exist. Monsanto, for example, has hired hundreds of private detectives in the U.S. and Canada to track down examples of ëillegalÃ seed-saving and to threaten farmers who may not even have been using MonsantoÃs seeds. Monsanto alone has filed 73 suits in court over the past five years. Most of these cases are settled out of court with the company claiming millions of dollars in compensation[ ]. The penalties for this seed saving have included massive fines and prison sentences. They have turned North American farms into police states. If the rest of the world adopts legislation that prohibits seed saving, Monsanto’s private detectives will become a global anti-farmer police force.
One well known example is the case of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer was sued by Monsanto for thousands of dollars because the company's genetically engineered canola plants were found growing on his field, apparently after pollen from modified plants had blown onto his property from nearby farms [ ].
This case is particularly worrying for farmers worldwide as it shows the extent that courts will trample over farmers rights to protect giant corporations. The Canadian Judge in the Schmeiser case said that it didn't matter how the plants got into his fields, whether it was by wind, from birds or other natural sources, or if it was intentional. However it got there, Monsanto now owned PercyÃs plants. Even if it the genes were blown there by the wind, all cross-pollinated plants become the property of Monsanto. So if a farmer has a conventional plant in his or her field, and pollen from a genetically engineered plant is blown into the field cross-pollinating with the conventional plant, then the seeds and the new plants will belong to Monsanto! It was also decided that it was irrelevant that Percy Schmeiser didnÃt even use the so-called benefits of the crops. They were Roundup ready seeds, designed to tolerate large amounts of Roundup herbicide but Percy didn't even spray the plants. Percy Schmeiser has appealed the decision which will be heard in Canada's highest court[ ].
The Schmeiser case is the most famous but not the only one. There are scores of examples of Monsanto hiring detectives to find farmers ëguiltyÃ of seed saving. Another example is the Nelson family of North Dakota. Monsanto claims that they saved soybean seed from their 1998 crop and replanted it in 1999. They were stunned when in late July 2000 they received a letter saying Monsanto was suing them. They received this letter too late to collect crop samples to disprove the allegation. This seems to be part of MonsantoÃs strategy - to wait until it is too late to gather proof[ ].
One farmer from Tennessee who pleaded 'guilty' to saving seed and planning to reuse it is facing five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. Another Tennessee farmer, Kem Ralph, has been sentenced to eight months in prison for lying about a truckload of cotton seed he hid for a friend[ ].
Laws in the Philippines allow for up to 7 years in jail for this 'offense.' In the U.S., it is not the government who goes around and discovers these farmers, it is Monsanto who hires private detectives. This is an approach they could also use in the Philippines rather than rely on the Philippine police force. Talking about their approach to enforcing patents in other countries, a Monsanto spokesman, Gary Barton, says 'We're in this for the long haul, and the best we can do is work with local governments to protect our technology.'[ ]
The whole concept of patents on life is an insult to farmers, and to life itself. Patents confer monopoly rights over life forms for commercial exploitation and imply that seeds and animals can be invented by corporations like Monsanto. Genetic resources and knowledge of their use are mainly located in developing countries and our food crops have been developed by farmers, farming communities and indigenous people throughout millennia. Monsanto has no right to claim that it invented and can own a type of maize, cotton or wheat including the seeds and their future reproduction. Neither do they have a right to stop farmers saving seeds, exchanging them, selling them or breeding them as they have done for centuries.
Monsanto has also tried to establish its control over another source of life: water. In both India and Mexico where water is at a premium, Monsanto has been looking into turning an ecological crisis into a profit-making venture. Monsanto had plans to earn revenues of $420 million and a net income of $63 million by 2008 from its water business in India and Mexico. By 2010, about 2.5 billion people in the world are projected to lack access to safe drinking water and Monsanto wants to make money off it. In their thinking, a world wide water crisis is a billion dollar market.[ ]