A History of Profit from Suffering
2.Monsanto: A History of Contamination and Cover-up
1.Bayer: A History of Profit from Suffering
By Drew Roberts
Deutsch Marks, Death and Denial
On the 15th May 2008, after a long battle, Bayer was finally forced to withdraw its Trasylol drug from the market. If they had done so when they first knew it was dangerous, thousands of lives could have been saved. This is the latest instalment in the history of a company steeped in controversy; one in which profit has always been made at the expense of people.
Bayer AG was founded in Germany in 1863. In 1898 they were responsible for introducing heroin to America as The Sedative for Coughs and continued to market it after being aware of its damaging effects. As we shall see, this is a recurrent theme of Bayer’s practises.
In World War I, Bayer manufactured poisonous gasses used in the trenches such as chlorine gas and mustard gas. During World War II it became part of IG Farben, a conglomerate of German chemical industries which formed the financial core of the Nazi regime and used slave labour from the Birkenau concentration camp to produce its products. One of Farben’s developments was Zyklon-B, used by the Nazis to gas victims in those same camps.
Bayer executive Fritz ter Meer was sentenced to seven years in prison by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal for experimenting on prisoners. During his trial, in reference to the experiments he said, “concentration camp prisoners were not subjected to exceptional suffering, because they would have been killed anyway.” He was made head of the supervisory board of Bayer in 1956, after his release.
Bayer continued to grow, becoming the third largest pharmaceutical company in the world. In the mid-1980’s they sold a product called Factor VIII concentrate, which can stop or prevent bleeding in people with haemophilia. Several companies, including Bayer, were involved in selling Factor VIII which had been discovered to have been infected with HIV. In the United States, AIDS was passed on to thousands of haemophiliacs, many of whom died, in one of the worst drug-related medical disasters in history.
However it wasn’t until 2003 that the New York Times revealed that Bayer had continued producing and selling this infected product to Asia and Latin America after February 1984 when a safe product was available, in order to save money.
‘‘These are the most incriminating internal pharmaceutical industry documents I have ever seen,” reported Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe in the Times, who as director of the Public Citizen Health Research Group had been investigating the industry’s practices for three decades.
In 2001 Bayer had to recall its anti-cholesterol drug Baycol/Lipobay due to it causing rhabdomyolysis, which results in severe pain and potential kidney failure. Germany’s health minister, on 25 August 2001, accused Bayer of sitting on research documenting Baycol’s lethal side-effects for nearly two months before the government in Berlin was informed. Baycol has now been linked to over 100 deaths and 1,600 injuries.
Partly in response to its problems with Baycol, and the resultant plummeting of its profits, Bayer bought the rival crop sciences unit of French company Aventis in October 2001. This was at the height of the push for GM crop research in Europe. Bayer CropScience, the new subsidiary, was the focus of a concerted direct action campaign in the U.K. from 2003 2005. On 9th November 2004 Bayer CropScience removed the last 2 GM crop varieties still in the approval process for the UK national seed list. This was the final nail in the coffin for the commercial growing of the first generation of GM crops in the UK.
Unfortunately the achievements of anti-GM activists in U.K. were not able to be replicated abroad. Currently, three lawsuits have been filed against Bayer CropScience in the U.S., alleging that Bayer knew non-GE rice could become contaminated with its Liberty Rice Link by a variety of means including cross-pollination, storage, transportation, etc. and that Bayer failed to prevent their unapproved rice from entering the food chain.
Bayer pushed Trasylol on to the market in 1993. Five years earlier Dr. Juergen Fischer, director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine at the University of Cologne, had already found severe kidney damage in animals given Trasylol. Dr. Fischer informed Bayer, and was surprised to note the manufacturer’s dis-interest in his findings. Fischer said, “I felt that Bayer wasn’t interested to examine these side effects.”
Over the next 15 years Bayer aggressively marketed Trasylol until it was used in one third of all cardiac operations in America and reportedly given to over 4 million patients worldwide.
The Trasylol treatment retails for ten times the $150 cost of the other two safe alternative drugs available. Trasylol sales in 2006 were in excess of $600 million. This was a large contributing factor in Bayer’s $7 billion earnings in 2007. For the whole of 2007, Bayer’s net profit nearly tripled on 2006 ”” fuelled by increased sales of pharmaceuticals.
Dr. Mangano published a large study of over five thousand patients in the New England Journal of Medicine in January 2006 highlighting Trasylol’s risks.
This prompted the FDA to arrange a meeting, eight months later, with Bayer. In response Bayer commissioned a study by Harvard professor Dr. Alexander Walker to counter Mangano’s. However when Walker looked at the records of nearly 70,000 patients he concluded, in agreement with Mangano, that Trasylol had an elevated risk of death and acute renal (kidney) failure. The New York Times reported that during testimony during the subsequent meeting in September 2006 Bayer failed to reveal their studies findings.
Bayer and the FDA continued to allow the drug to be used for another two years. Dr. Mangano comments : “Between my study and November 5, when it was taken off the market, there were approximately 431,000 patients who received the drug. As I calculated, 22,000 lives could have been saved. It’s about a 1,000 lives saved per month delay in taking that drug off the market.”
It is only the recent BART study published on the 15th May 2008 by the New England Journal of Medicine that has finally forced Bayer to withdraw it from the market. This study had to be halted in late October 2007 due to deaths from acute renal failure brought on by Trasylol.
Yet still Bayer are hedging their bets and hope to reintroduce its use. Staci Gouveia, a Bayer spokeswoman stated that Bayer, “will work with health authorities to determine what impact, if any, the BART data and any other new data will have on the benefit-risk profile of Trasylol.” 78 lawsuits have been filed in the United States against Bayer concerning Trasylol which they have said they will vigorously defend against. It looks like Bayer has no intention of changing their tactics, after over a centenary of profiteering, malpractice and denial.
* '60 Minutes' episode entitled One Thousand Lives a Month from CBS News
* Corporate Watch an exhaustive list of Bayers harmful actions
* Coalition Against Bayer Dangers - German based campaign group
* Bayer Homepage
* Joseph Borkin The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben (1978) Free Press New York
2.Monsanto: History of Contamination and Cover-up
by: Barbara L. Minton
The new Monsanto has clearly come to dominate the American food chain with its genetically modified (GM) seeds. It's a master at enforcing its 674 biotechnology patents, using tyrannical and ruthless tactics against small farmers. This new Monsanto has also moved into the production of milk with it artificial growth hormones, seeking to dominate the dairy industry as effectively as it has the seed business. Has this new corporate image made us forget about the old Monsanto's decades long history of scorched earth and toxic contamination?
An article in the May, 2008 edition of Vanity Fair chronicles the history of Monsanto from its beginnings to its efforts to shed itself of the image of toxic environmental and human threat.
A short history
Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny who had an idea to make money manufacturing saccharin, an artificial sweetener then imported from Germany. He called his company Monsanto Chemical Works. The German cartel then controlling the market for saccharin tried to force Queeny out of business, but his persistence and the loyalty of one steady customer, Coca-Cola, kept the company going. Vanillin, caffeine, sedative drugs, laxatives and aspirin had been added to the arsenal of products when supplies were cut off from Europe during World War I, forcing Monsanto to manufacture its own, and positioning it as a leading force in the American chemical industry.
In the 1920's, Queeny's son took over and built Monsanto into a global powerhouse, extending into the production of an astounding array of plastic, rubber and vinyl goods, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
In the 1970's Monsanto moved into biotechnology. By 1982 it had become the first to genetically modify a plant cell, making it possible to introduce virtually any gene into plant cells to improve crop productivity. According to Vanity Fair writers Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, Monsanto sought to portray GM seeds as a panacea for alleviating poverty and feeding the hungry.
During the late 1990's, Monsanto spun off its chemical and fibers businesses into a new company called Solutia. It then reincorporated itself and emerged as an agricultural company.
Company literature refers to Monsanto as a "relatively new company" with the primary goal of helping "farmers around the world in their mission to feed, clothe and fuel" the planet. The listed corporate milestones are from the recent era. There is no mention of the old Monsanto's potential responsibility for more than 50 Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites. And it does not mention that the reason for the formation of Solutia was to channel the bulk of the mounting chemical lawsuits and liabilities into the spun off company, keeping the new Monsanto name tarnish-free.
But keeping the new corporate image polished may be a tough task. For many years Monsanto produced two of the most toxic substances ever known - polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs, and dioxin. Several court proceedings regarding these substances remain unresolved.
In the town of Nitro, West Virginia, Monsanto operated a chemical plant from 1929 to 1995, making an herbicide that had dioxin as a by-product. The name dioxin refers to a group of highly toxic chemicals that have been linked to heart and liver disease, human reproductive disorders, and developmental problems. Dioxin persists in the environment and accumulates in the body, even in small amounts. In 2001, the U.S. government listed dioxin as a "known human carcinogen".
In 1949, at the Nitro plant, a pressure valve blew on a container of this herbicide, producing a plume of vapor and white smoke that drifted out over the town. Residue coated the interior of buildings and those inside them with a fine black powder. Within days, workers experienced skin eruptions, and many were diagnosed with chloracne, a long lasting and disfiguring condition. Others felt intense pains in their chest, legs and trunk. A medical report from the time said the explosion "caused a systemic intoxication in the workers involving most major organ systems." Doctors detected a strong odor coming from the patients they described as men "excreting a foreign chemical through their skins".
Monsanto downplayed the incident, saying that the contaminant was "fairly slow acting" and only an irritant to the skin.
Meanwhile, the Nitro plant continued to produce herbicides, In the 1960's it manufactured Agent Orange, the powerful herbicide used by the U.S. military to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War, and which became the focus of lawsuits by veterans contending they had been harmed by exposure to the chemical. Agent Orange also created dioxin as a by-product.
At the Nitro plant, dioxin waste went into landfills, storm drains, streams, sewers, into bags with the herbicide, and then the waste was burned out into the air. Dioxin from the plant can still be found in nearby streams, rivers, and fish. Residents have sued Monsanto and Solutia for damages, but Monsanto claims "the allegations are without merit" and promises to vigorously defend itself. The suit may drag on for years. Monsanto has the resources to wait; plaintiffs usually don't.
From 1929 to 1971, the Anniston, Alabama plant produced PCBs as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment. PCBs became central to American industries as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, and sealants. PCBs are highly toxic members of a family of chemicals that mimic hormones, and have been linked to damage in the liver and nervous system, as well as immune, endocrine and reproductive disorders. The Environmental Protective Agency (EPA), and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of Health and Human Services, classify PCBs as "probably carcinogens".
Today, after tons of contaminated soil have been removed in an effort to reclaim the Anniston site, the area around the old Monsanto plant continues to be one of the most polluted spots in the U.S. While the plant was in production, excess PCBs were dumped in a nearby open-pit landfill or allowed to flow off the property with storm water. Some were poured directly into a creek running alongside the plant and emptying into a larger stream. PCBs are contained in private lawns fertilized with soil from the plant.
The people of Anniston have breathed air, planted gardens, drunk from wells, fished in rivers, and swum in creeks contaminated with PCBs without knowing the danger. As public awareness grew in the 1990's, health authorities found elevated levels of PCBs in houses, yards, streams, fields, fish - and people. The cleanup is now underway, and will take years, but once PCB is absorbed into human tissue, it is there forever.
Monsanto closed its PBC plant in Wales in 1977. In recent years, residents of Groesfaen, in southern Wales, have noticed vile odors emanating from an old quarry outside their village. As it turns out, Monsanto dumped thousands of tons of waste from its nearby PCB plant into the quarry. British authorities have identified the site as one of the most contaminated places in Britain.
What did Monsanto know about the potential dangers of the chemicals it manufactured? Information from court records indicates Monsanto knew quite a lot. The evidence that Monsanto refused to face questions about the toxicity of PBCs is clear.
In 1956, the company tried to sell its PCB containing hydraulic fluid, Pydraul 150, to the navy. Monsanto supplied the navy with test results from the product, but the navy decided to do its own testing. As a result, navy officials informed Monsanto that they would not buy the product, saying that "application of Pydraul 150 caused death in all of the rabbits tested" and indicated "definite liver damage". According to an internal Monsanto memo divulged during a court proceeding, "no matter how we discussed the situation, it was impossible to change their thinking that Pydraul 150 is just too toxic for use in submarines", stated Monsanto's medical director.
In 1966, a biologist conducting studies for Monsanto in streams near the Anniston plant submerged test fish. He reported to Monsanto that, "All 25 fish lost equilibrium and turned on their sides in 10 seconds and all were dead in 3 ½ minutes."
The company swung into action to limit the PR damage when the Food and Drug Administration found high levels of PCBs in fish near the Anniston plant in 1970. An internal memo entitled "Confidential - F.Y.I. and Destroy" from a Monsanto official, reviewed steps to limit disclosure of the information. One aspect of the strategy was to get public officials to fight Monsanto's battle: "Joe Crockett, Secretary of the Alabama Water Improvement Commission will try to handle the problem quietly without release of the information to the public at this time," according to the memo.
The plant manager of Monsanto's Anniston site "convinced" a reporter for The Anniston Star that there was nothing to worry about. An internal memo from Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis, summarized the story that subsequently appeared in the newspaper: "Quoting both plant management and the Alabama Water Improvement Commissions, the feature emphasized the PCB problem was relatively new, was being solved by Monsanto and, at this point, was no cause for public alarm."
The real truth is that there was huge cause for public alarm for the harm done to the public by Monsanto. But that was the old Monsanto, not today's shiny new Monsanto. Today's Monsanto says it can be trusted - that its biotech crops are "as wholesome, nutritious and safe as conventional crop", and that the milk produced from cows injected with its artificial growth hormones is identical to the milk from untreated cows.