by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele
Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics–ruthless legal battles against small farmers–is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.
No thanks: An anti-Monsanto crop circle made by farmers and volunteers in the Philippines. By Melvyn Calderon/Greenpeace HO/A.P. Images.
Vanity Fair May 2008
Gary Rinehart clearly remembers the summer day in 2002 when the stranger walked in and issued his threat. Rinehart was behind the counter of the Square Deal, his “old-time country store,” as he calls it, on the fading town square of Eagleville, Missouri, a tiny farm community 100 miles north of Kansas City.
The Square Deal is a fixture in Eagleville, a place where farmers and townspeople can go for lightbulbs, greeting cards, hunting gear, ice cream, aspirin, and dozens of other small items without having to drive to a big-box store in Bethany, the county seat, 15 miles down Interstate 35.
Everyone knows Rinehart, who was born and raised in the area and runs one of Eagleville’s few surviving businesses. The stranger came up to the counter and asked for him by name.
“Well, that’s me,” said Rinehart.
As Rinehart would recall, the man began verbally attacking him, saying he had proof that Rinehart had planted Monsanto’s genetically modified (G.M.) soybeans in violation of the company’s patent. Better come clean and settle with Monsanto, Rinehart says the man told him—or face the consequences.
Rinehart was incredulous, listening to the words as puzzled customers and employees looked on. Like many others in rural America, Rinehart knew of Monsanto’s fierce reputation for enforcing its patents and suing anyone who allegedly violated them. But Rinehart wasn’t a farmer. He wasn’t a seed dealer. He hadn’t planted any seeds or sold any seeds. He owned a small—a really small—country store in a town of 350 people. He was angry that somebody could just barge into the store and embarrass him in front of everyone. “It made me and my business look bad,” he says. Rinehart says he told the intruder, “You got the wrong guy.”
When the stranger persisted, Rinehart showed him the door. On the way out the man kept making threats. Rinehart says he can’t remember the exact words, but they were to the effect of: “Monsanto is big. You can’t win. We will get you. You will pay.”
Scenes like this are playing out in many parts of rural America these days as Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers—anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the “seed police” and use words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe their tactics.
When asked about these practices, Monsanto declined to comment specifically, other than to say that the company is simply protecting its patents. “Monsanto spends more than $2 million a day in research to identify, test, develop and bring to market innovative new seeds and technologies that benefit farmers,” Monsanto spokesman Darren Wallis wrote in an e-mailed letter to Vanity Fair. “One tool in protecting this investment is patenting our discoveries and, if necessary, legally defending those patents against those who might choose to infringe upon them.” Wallis said that, while the vast majority of farmers and seed dealers follow the licensing agreements, “a tiny fraction” do not, and that Monsanto is obligated to those who do abide by its rules to enforce its patent rights on those who “reap the benefits of the technology without paying for its use.” He said only a small number of cases ever go to trial.
Some compare Monsanto’s hard-line approach to Microsoft’s zealous efforts to protect its software from pirates. At least with Microsoft the buyer of a program can use it over and over again. But farmers who buy Monsanto’s seeds can’t even do that.
The Control of Nature
For centuries—millennia—farmers have saved seeds from season to season: they planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, then reclaimed and cleaned the seeds over the winter for re-planting the next spring. Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head.
Monsanto developed G.M. seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. Monsanto then patented the seeds. For nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented. “It’s not like describing a widget,” says Joseph Mendelson III, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety, which has tracked Monsanto’s activities in rural America for years.
Indeed not. But in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover “a live human-made microorganism.” In this case, the organism wasn’t even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto.
This radical departure from age-old practice has created turmoil in farm country. Some farmers don’t fully understand that they aren’t supposed to save Monsanto’s seeds for next year’s planting. Others do, but ignore the stipulation rather than throw away a perfectly usable product. Still others say that they don’t use Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds, but seeds have been blown into their fields by wind or deposited by birds. It’s certainly easy for G.M. seeds to get mixed in with traditional varieties when seeds are cleaned by commercial dealers for re-planting. The seeds look identical; only a laboratory analysis can show the difference. Even if a farmer doesn’t buy G.M. seeds and doesn’t want them on his land, it’s a safe bet he’ll get a visit from Monsanto’s seed police if crops grown from G.M. seeds are discovered in his fields.
Most Americans know Monsanto because of what it sells to put on our lawns— the ubiquitous weed killer Roundup. What they may not know is that the company now profoundly influences—and one day may virtually control—what we put on our tables. For most of its history Monsanto was a chemical giant, producing some of the most toxic substances ever created, residues from which have left us with some of the most polluted sites on earth. Yet in a little more than a decade, the company has sought to shed its polluted past and morph into something much different and more far-reaching—an “agricultural company” dedicated to making the world “a better place for future generations.” Still, more than one Web log claims to see similarities between Monsanto and the fictional company “U-North” in the movie Michael Clayton, an agribusiness giant accused in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit of selling an herbicide that causes cancer.
Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. So far, the company has produced G.M. seeds for soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. Many more products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output, and it is taking aggressive steps to put those who don’t want to use growth hormone at a commercial disadvantage.
Even as the company is pushing its G.M. agenda, Monsanto is buying up conventional-seed companies. In 2005, Monsanto paid $1.4 billion for Seminis, which controlled 40 percent of the U.S. market for lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetable and fruit seeds. Two weeks later it announced the acquisition of the country’s third-largest cottonseed company, Emergent Genetics, for $300 million. It’s estimated that Monsanto seeds now account for 90 percent of the U.S. production of soybeans, which are used in food products beyond counting. Monsanto’s acquisitions have fueled explosive growth, transforming the St. Louis–based corporation into the largest seed company in the world.
In Iraq, the groundwork has been laid to protect the patents of Monsanto and other G.M.-seed companies. One of L. Paul Bremer’s last acts as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority was an order stipulating that “farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties.” Monsanto has said that it has no interest in doing business in Iraq, but should the company change its mind, the American-style law is in place.
To be sure, more and more agricultural corporations and individual farmers are using Monsanto’s G.M. seeds. As recently as 1980, no genetically modified crops were grown in the U.S. In 2007, the total was 142 million acres planted. Worldwide, the figure was 282 million acres. Many farmers believe that G.M. seeds increase crop yields and save money. Another reason for their attraction is convenience. By using Roundup Ready soybean seeds, a farmer can spend less time tending to his fields. With Monsanto seeds, a farmer plants his crop, then treats it later with Roundup to kill weeds. That takes the place of labor-intensive weed control and plowing.
Monsanto portrays its move into G.M. seeds as a giant leap for mankind. But out in the American countryside, Monsanto’s no-holds-barred tactics have made it feared and loathed. Like it or not, farmers say, they have fewer and fewer choices in buying seeds.
And controlling the seeds is not some abstraction. Whoever provides the world’s seeds controls the world’s food supply.
After Monsanto’s investigator confronted Gary Rinehart, Monsanto filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Rinehart “knowingly, intentionally, and willfully” planted seeds “in violation of Monsanto’s patent rights.” The company’s complaint made it sound as if Monsanto had Rinehart dead to rights:
During the 2002 growing season, Investigator Jeffery Moore, through surveillance of Mr. Rinehart’s farm facility and farming operations, observed Defendant planting brown bag soybean seed. Mr. Moore observed the Defendant take the brown bag soybeans to a field, which was subsequently loaded into a grain drill and planted. Mr. Moore located two empty bags in the ditch in the public road right-of-way beside one of the fields planted by Rinehart, which contained some soybeans. Mr. Moore collected a small amount of soybeans left in the bags which Defendant had tossed into the public right-of way. These samples tested positive for Monsanto’s Roundup Ready technology.
Faced with a federal lawsuit, Rinehart had to hire a lawyer. Monsanto eventually realized that “Investigator Jeffery Moore” had targeted the wrong man, and dropped the suit. Rinehart later learned that the company had been secretly investigating farmers in his area. Rinehart never heard from Monsanto again: no letter of apology, no public concession that the company had made a terrible mistake, no offer to pay his attorney’s fees. “I don’t know how they get away with it,” he says. “If I tried to do something like that it would be bad news. I felt like I was in another country.”
Gary Rinehart is actually one of Monsanto’s luckier targets. Ever since commercial introduction of its G.M. seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers. In a 2007 report, the Center for Food Safety, in Washington, D.C., documented 112 such lawsuits, in 27 states.
Even more significant, in the Center’s opinion, are the numbers of farmers who settle because they don’t have the money or the time to fight Monsanto. “The number of cases filed is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Bill Freese, the Center’s science-policy analyst. Freese says he has been told of many cases in which Monsanto investigators showed up at a farmer’s house or confronted him in his fields, claiming he had violated the technology agreement and demanding to see his records. According to Freese, investigators will say, “Monsanto knows that you are saving Roundup Ready seeds, and if you don’t sign these information-release forms, Monsanto is going to come after you and take your farm or take you for all you’re worth.” Investigators will sometimes show a farmer a photo of himself coming out of a store, to let him know he is being followed.
Lawyers who have represented farmers sued by Monsanto say that intimidating actions like these are commonplace. Most give in and pay Monsanto some amount in damages; those who resist face the full force of Monsanto’s legal wrath.
Pilot Grove, Missouri, population 750, sits in rolling farmland 150 miles west of St. Louis. The town has a grocery store, a bank, a bar, a nursing home, a funeral parlor, and a few other small businesses. There are no stoplights, but the town doesn’t need any. The little traffic it has comes from trucks on their way to and from the grain elevator on the edge of town. The elevator is owned by a local co-op, the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator, which buys soybeans and corn from farmers in the fall, then ships out the grain over the winter. The co-op has seven full-time employees and four computers.
In the fall of 2006, Monsanto trained its legal guns on Pilot Grove; ever since, its farmers have been drawn into a costly, disruptive legal battle against an opponent with limitless resources. Neither Pilot Grove nor Monsanto will discuss the case, but it is possible to piece together much of the story from documents filed as part of the litigation.
Monsanto began investigating soybean farmers in and around Pilot Grove several years ago. There is no indication as to what sparked the probe, but Monsanto periodically investigates farmers in soybean-growing regions such as this one in central Missouri. The company has a staff devoted to enforcing patents and litigating against farmers. To gather leads, the company maintains an 800 number and encourages farmers to inform on other farmers they think may be engaging in “seed piracy.”
Once Pilot Grove had been targeted, Monsanto sent private investigators into the area. Over a period of months, Monsanto’s investigators surreptitiously followed the co-op’s employees and customers and videotaped them in fields and going about other activities. At least 17 such surveillance videos were made, according to court records. The investigative work was outsourced to a St. Louis agency, McDowell & Associates. It was a McDowell investigator who erroneously fingered Gary Rinehart. In Pilot Grove, at least 11 McDowell investigators have worked the case, and Monsanto makes no bones about the extent of this effort: “Surveillance was conducted throughout the year by various investigators in the field,” according to court records. McDowell, like Monsanto, will not comment on the case.
Not long after investigators showed up in Pilot Grove, Monsanto subpoenaed the co-op’s records concerning seed and herbicide purchases and seed-cleaning operations. The co-op provided more than 800 pages of documents pertaining to dozens of farmers. Monsanto sued two farmers and negotiated settlements with more than 25 others it accused of seed piracy. But Monsanto’s legal assault had only begun. Although the co-op had provided voluminous records, Monsanto then sued it in federal court for patent infringement. Monsanto contended that by cleaning seeds—a service which it had provided for decades—the co-op was inducing farmers to violate Monsanto’s patents. In effect, Monsanto wanted the co-op to police its own customers.
In the majority of cases where Monsanto sues, or threatens to sue, farmers settle before going to trial. The cost and stress of litigating against a global corporation are just too great. But Pilot Grove wouldn’t cave—and ever since, Monsanto has been turning up the heat. The more the co-op has resisted, the more legal firepower Monsanto has aimed at it. Pilot Grove’s lawyer, Steven H. Schwartz, described Monsanto in a court filing as pursuing a “scorched earth tactic,” intent on “trying to drive the co-op into the ground.”
Even after Pilot Grove turned over thousands more pages of sales records going back five years, and covering virtually every one of its farmer customers, Monsanto wanted more—the right to inspect the co-op’s hard drives. When the co-op offered to provide an electronic version of any record, Monsanto demanded hands-on access to Pilot Grove’s in-house computers.
Monsanto next petitioned to make potential damages punitive—tripling the amount that Pilot Grove might have to pay if found guilty. After a judge denied that request, Monsanto expanded the scope of the pre-trial investigation by seeking to quadruple the number of depositions. “Monsanto is doing its best to make this case so expensive to defend that the Co-op will have no choice but to relent,” Pilot Grove’s lawyer said in a court filing.
With Pilot Grove still holding out for a trial, Monsanto now subpoenaed the records of more than 100 of the co-op’s customers. In a “You are Commanded … ” notice, the farmers were ordered to gather up five years of invoices, receipts, and all other papers relating to their soybean and herbicide purchases, and to have the documents delivered to a law office in St. Louis. Monsanto gave them two weeks to comply.
Whether Pilot Grove can continue to wage its legal battle remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, the case shows why Monsanto is so detested in farm country, even by those who buy its products. “I don’t know of a company that chooses to sue its own customer base,” says Joseph Mendelson, of the Center for Food Safety. “It’s a very bizarre business strategy.” But it’s one that Monsanto manages to get away with, because increasingly it’s the dominant vendor in town.
Chemicals? What Chemicals?
The Monsanto Company has never been one of America’s friendliest corporate citizens. Given Monsanto’s current dominance in the field of bioengineering, it’s worth looking at the company’s own DNA. The future of the company may lie in seeds, but the seeds of the company lie in chemicals. Communities around the world are still reaping the environmental consequences of Monsanto’s origins.
Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, a tough, cigar-smoking Irishman with a sixth-grade education. A buyer for a wholesale drug company, Queeny had an idea. But like a lot of employees with ideas, he found that his boss wouldn’t listen to him. So he went into business for himself on the side. Queeny was convinced there was money to be made manufacturing a substance called saccharin, an artificial sweetener then imported from Germany. He took $1,500 of his savings, borrowed another $3,500, and set up shop in a dingy warehouse near the St. Louis waterfront. With borrowed equipment and secondhand machines, he began producing saccharin for the U.S. market. He called the company the Monsanto Chemical Works, Monsanto being his wife’s maiden name.
The German cartel that controlled the market for saccharin wasn’t pleased, and cut the price from $4.50 to $1 a pound to try to force Queeny out of business. The young company faced other challenges. Questions arose about the safety of saccharin, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture even tried to ban it. Fortunately for Queeny, he wasn’t up against opponents as aggressive and litigious as the Monsanto of today. His persistence and the loyalty of one steady customer kept the company afloat. That steady customer was a new company in Georgia named Coca-Cola.
Monsanto added more and more products—vanillin, caffeine, and drugs used as sedatives and laxatives. In 1917, Monsanto began making aspirin, and soon became the largest maker worldwide. During World War I, cut off from imported European chemicals, Monsanto was forced to manufacture its own, and its position as a leading force in the chemical industry was assured.
After Queeny was diagnosed with cancer, in the late 1920s, his only son, Edgar, became president. Where the father had been a classic entrepreneur, Edgar Monsanto Queeny was an empire builder with a grand vision. It was Edgar—shrewd, daring, and intuitive (“He can see around the next corner,” his secretary once said)—who built Monsanto into a global powerhouse. Under Edgar Queeny and his successors, Monsanto extended its reach into a phenomenal number of products: plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides. Its safety glass protects the U.S. Constitution and the Mona Lisa. Its synthetic fibers are the basis of Astroturf.
During the 1970s, the company shifted more and more resources into biotechnology. In 1981 it created a molecular-biology group for research in plant genetics. The next year, Monsanto scientists hit gold: they became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. “It will now be possible to introduce virtually any gene into plant cells with the ultimate goal of improving crop productivity,” said Ernest Jaworski, director of Monsanto’s Biological Sciences Program.
Over the next few years, scientists working mainly in the company’s vast new Life Sciences Research Center, 25 miles west of St. Louis, developed one genetically modified product after another—cotton, soybeans, corn, canola. From the start, G.M. seeds were controversial with the public as well as with some farmers and European consumers. Monsanto has sought to portray G.M. seeds as a panacea, a way to alleviate poverty and feed the hungry. Robert Shapiro, Monsanto’s president during the 1990s, once called G.M. seeds “the single most successful introduction of technology in the history of agriculture, including the plow.”
By the late 1990s, Monsanto, having rebranded itself into a “life sciences” company, had spun off its chemical and fibers operations into a new company called Solutia. After an additional reorganization, Monsanto re-incorporated in 2002 and officially declared itself an “agricultural company.”
In its company literature, Monsanto now refers to itself disingenuously as a “relatively new company” whose primary goal is helping “farmers around the world in their mission to feed, clothe, and fuel” a growing planet. In its list of corporate milestones, all but a handful are from the recent era. As for the company’s early history, the decades when it grew into an industrial powerhouse now held potentially responsible for more than 50 Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites—none of that is mentioned. It’s as though the original Monsanto, the company that long had the word “chemical” as part of its name, never existed. One of the benefits of doing this, as the company does not point out, was to channel the bulk of the growing backlog of chemical lawsuits and liabilities onto Solutia, keeping the Monsanto brand pure.
But Monsanto’s past, especially its environmental legacy, is very much with us. For many years Monsanto produced two of the most toxic substances ever known— polychlorinated biphenyls, better known as PCBs, and dioxin. Monsanto no longer produces either, but the places where it did are still struggling with the aftermath, and probably always will be.
Twelve miles downriver from Charleston, West Virginia, is the town of Nitro, where Monsanto operated a chemical plant from 1929 to 1995. In 1948 the plant began to make a powerful herbicide known as 2,4,5-T, called “weed bug” by the workers. A by-product of the process was the creation of a chemical that would later be known as dioxin.
The name dioxin refers to a group of highly toxic chemicals that have been linked to heart disease, liver disease, human reproductive disorders, and developmental problems. Even in small amounts, dioxin persists in the environment and accumulates in the body. In 1997 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, classified the most powerful form of dioxin as a substance that causes cancer in humans. In 2001 the U.S. government listed the chemical as a “known human carcinogen.”
On March 8, 1949, a massive explosion rocked Monsanto’s Nitro plant when a pressure valve blew on a container cooking up a batch of herbicide. The noise from the release was a scream so loud that it drowned out the emergency steam whistle for five minutes. A plume of vapor and white smoke drifted across the plant and out over town.Residue from the explosion coated the interior of the building and those inside with what workers described as “a fine black powder.” Many felt their skin prickle and were told to scrub down.
Within days, workers experienced skin eruptions. Many were soon diagnosed with chloracne, a condition similar to common acne but more severe, longer lasting, and potentially disfiguring. Others felt intense pains in their legs, chest, and trunk. A confidential medical report at the time said the explosion “caused a systemic intoxication in the workers involving most major organ systems.” Doctors who examined four of the most seriously injured men detected a strong odor coming from them when they were all together in a closed room. “We believe these men are excreting a foreign chemical through their skins,” the confidential report to Monsanto noted. Court records indicate that 226 plant workers became ill.
According to court documents that have surfaced in a West Virginia court case, Monsanto downplayed the impact, stating that the contaminant affecting workers was “fairly slow acting” and caused “only an irritation of the skin.”
In the meantime, the Nitro plant continued to produce herbicides, rubber products, and other chemicals. In the 1960s, the factory manufactured Agent Orange, the powerful herbicide which the U.S. military used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War, and which later was the focus of lawsuits by veterans contending that they had been harmed by exposure. As with Monsanto’s older herbicides, the manufacturing of Agent Orange created dioxin as a by-product.
As for the Nitro plant’s waste, some was burned in incinerators, some dumped in landfills or storm drains, some allowed to run into streams. As Stuart Calwell, a lawyer who has represented both workers and residents in Nitro, put it, “Dioxin went wherever the product went, down the sewer, shipped in bags, and when the waste was burned, out in the air.”
In 1981 several former Nitro employees filed lawsuits in federal court, charging that Monsanto had knowingly exposed them to chemicals that caused long-term health problems, including cancer and heart disease. They alleged that Monsanto knew that many chemicals used at Nitro were potentially harmful, but had kept that information from them. On the eve of a trial, in 1988, Monsanto agreed to settle most of the cases by making a single lump payment of $1.5 million. Monsanto also agreed to drop its claim to collect $305,000 in court costs from six retired Monsanto workers who had unsuccessfully charged in another lawsuit that Monsanto had recklessly exposed them to dioxin. Monsanto had attached liens to the retirees’ homes to guarantee collection of the debt.
Monsanto stopped producing dioxin in Nitro in 1969, but the toxic chemical can still be found well beyond the Nitro plant site. Repeated studies have found elevated levels of dioxin in nearby rivers, streams, and fish. Residents have sued to seek damages from Monsanto and Solutia. Earlier this year, a West Virginia judge merged those lawsuits into a class-action suit. A Monsanto spokesman said, “We believe the allegations are without merit and we’ll defend ourselves vigorously.” The suit will no doubt take years to play out. Time is one thing that Monsanto always has, and that the plaintiffs usually don’t.
Five hundred miles to the south, the people of Anniston, Alabama, know all about what the people of Nitro are going through. They’ve been there. In fact, you could say, they’re still there.
From 1929 to 1971, Monsanto’s Anniston works produced PCBs as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment. One of the wonder chemicals of the 20th century, PCBs were exceptionally versatile and fire-resistant, and became central to many American industries as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, and sealants. But PCBs are toxic. A member of a family of chemicals that mimic hormones, PCBs have been linked to damage in the liver and in the neurological, immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, now classify PCBs as “probable carcinogens.”
Today, 37 years after PCB production ceased in Anniston, and after tons of contaminated soil have been removed to try to reclaim the site, the area around the old Monsanto plant remains one of the most polluted spots in the U.S.
People in Anniston find themselves in this fix today largely because of the way Monsanto disposed of PCB waste for decades. Excess PCBs were dumped in a nearby open-pit landfill or allowed to flow off the property with storm water. Some waste was poured directly into Snow Creek, which runs alongside the plant and empties into a larger stream, Choccolocco Creek. PCBs also turned up in private lawns after the company invited Anniston residents to use soil from the plant for their lawns, according to The Anniston Star.
So for decades the people of Anniston breathed air, planted gardens, drank from wells, fished in rivers, and swam in creeks contaminated with PCBs—without knowing anything about the danger. It wasn’t until the 1990s—20 years after Monsanto stopped making PCBs in Anniston—that widespread public awareness of the problem there took hold.
Studies by health authorities consistently found elevated levels of PCBs in houses, yards, streams, fields, fish, and other wildlife—and in people. In 2003, Monsanto and Solutia entered into a consent decree with the E.P.A. to clean up Anniston. Scores of houses and small businesses were to be razed, tons of contaminated soil dug up and carted off, and streambeds scooped of toxic residue. The cleanup is under way, and it will take years, but some doubt it will ever be completed—the job is massive. To settle residents’ claims, Monsanto has also paid $550 million to 21,000 Anniston residents exposed to PCBs, but many of them continue to live with PCBs in their bodies. Once PCB is absorbed into human tissue, there it forever remains.
Monsanto shut down PCB production in Anniston in 1971, and the company ended all its American PCB operations in 1977. Also in 1977, Monsanto closed a PCB plant in Wales. In recent years, residents near the village of Groesfaen, in southern Wales, have noticed vile odors emanating from an old quarry outside the village. As it turns out, Monsanto had dumped thousands of tons of waste from its nearby PCB plant into the quarry. British authorities are struggling to decide what to do with what they have now identified as among the most contaminated places in Britain.
“No Cause for Public Alarm”
What had Monsanto known—or what should it have known—about the potential dangers of the chemicals it was manufacturing? There’s considerable documentation lurking in court records from many lawsuits indicating that Monsanto knew quite a lot. Let’s look just at the example of PCBs.
The evidence that Monsanto refused to face questions about their toxicity is quite clear. In 1956 the company tried to sell the navy a hydraulic fluid for its submarines called Pydraul 150, which contained PCBs. Monsanto supplied the navy with test results for the product. But the navy decided to run its own tests. Afterward, navy officials informed Monsanto that they wouldn’t be buying the product. “Applications of Pydraul 150 caused death in all of the rabbits tested” and indicated “definite liver damage,” navy officials told Monsanto, according to an internal Monsanto memo divulged in the course of a court proceeding. “No matter how we discussed the situation,” complained Monsanto’s medical director, R. Emmet Kelly, “it was impossible to change their thinking that Pydraul 150 is just too toxic for use in submarines.”
Ten years later, a biologist conducting studies for Monsanto in streams near the Anniston plant got quick results when he submerged his test fish. As he reported to Monsanto, according to The Washington Post, “All 25 fish lost equilibrium and turned on their sides in 10 seconds and all were dead in 3½ minutes.”
When the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) turned up high levels of PCBs in fish near the Anniston plant in 1970, the company swung into action to limit the P.R. damage. An internal memo entitled “confidential—f.y.i. and destroy” from Monsanto official Paul B. Hodges reviewed steps under way to limit disclosure of the information. One element 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.
Despite Monsanto’s efforts, the information did get out, but the company was able to blunt its impact. Monsanto’s Anniston plant manager “convinced” a reporter for The Anniston Star that there was really nothing to worry about, and 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 Commission, the feature emphasized the PCB problem was relatively new, was being solved by Monsanto and, at this point, was no cause for public alarm.”
In truth, there was enormous cause for public alarm. But that harm was done by the “Original Monsanto Company,” not “Today’s Monsanto Company” (the words and the distinction are Monsanto’s). The Monsanto of today says that it can be trusted—that its biotech crops are “as wholesome, nutritious and safe as conventional crops,” and that milk from cows injected with its artificial growth hormone is the same as, and as safe as, milk from any other cow.
The Milk Wars
Jeff Kleinpeter takes very good care of his dairy cows. In the winter he turns on heaters to warm their barns. In the summer, fans blow gentle breezes to cool them, and on especially hot days, a fine mist floats down to take the edge off Louisiana’s heat. The dairy has gone “to the ultimate end of the earth for cow comfort,” says Kleinpeter, a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Baton Rouge. He says visitors marvel at what he does: “I’ve had many of them say, ‘When I die, I want to come back as a Kleinpeter cow.’ ”
Monsanto would like to change the way Jeff Kleinpeter and his family do business. Specifically, Monsanto doesn’t like the label on Kleinpeter Dairy’s milk cartons: “From Cows Not Treated with rBGH.” To consumers, that means the milk comes from cows that were not given artificial bovine growth hormone, a supplement developed by Monsanto that can be injected into dairy cows to increase their milk output.
No one knows what effect, if any, the hormone has on milk or the people who drink it. Studies have not detected any difference in the quality of milk produced by cows that receive rBGH, or rBST, a term by which it is also known. But Jeff Kleinpeter—like millions of consumers—wants no part of rBGH. Whatever its effect on humans, if any, Kleinpeter feels certain it’s harmful to cows because it speeds up their metabolism and increases the chances that they’ll contract a painful illness that can shorten their lives. “It’s like putting a Volkswagen car in with the Indianapolis 500 racers,” he says. “You gotta keep the pedal to the metal the whole way through, and pretty soon that poor little Volkswagen engine’s going to burn up.”
Kleinpeter Dairy has never used Monsanto’s artificial hormone, and the dairy requires other dairy farmers from whom it buys milk to attest that they don’t use it, either. At the suggestion of a marketing consultant, the dairy began advertising its milk as coming from rBGH-free cows in 2005, and the label began appearing on Kleinpeter milk cartons and in company literature, including a new Web site of Kleinpeter products that proclaims, “We treat our cows with love … not rBGH.”
The dairy’s sales soared. For Kleinpeter, it was simply a matter of giving consumers more information about their product.
But giving consumers that information has stirred the ire of Monsanto. The company contends that advertising by Kleinpeter and other dairies touting their “no rBGH” milk reflects adversely on Monsanto’s product. In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in February 2007, Monsanto said that, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that there is no difference in the milk from cows treated with its product, “milk processors persist in claiming on their labels and in advertisements that the use of rBST is somehow harmful, either to cows or to the people who consume milk from rBST-supplemented cows.”
Monsanto called on the commission to investigate what it called the “deceptive advertising and labeling practices” of milk processors such as Kleinpeter, accusing them of misleading consumers “by falsely claiming that there are health and safety risks associated with milk from rBST-supplemented cows.” As noted, Kleinpeter does not make any such claims—he simply states that his milk comes from cows not injected with rBGH.
Monsanto’s attempt to get the F.T.C. to force dairies to change their advertising was just one more step in the corporation’s efforts to extend its reach into agriculture. After years of scientific debate and public controversy, the F.D.A. in 1993 approved commercial use of rBST, basing its decision in part on studies submitted by Monsanto. That decision allowed the company to market the artificial hormone. The effect of the hormone is to increase milk production, not exactly something the nation needed then—or needs now. The U.S. was actually awash in milk, with the government buying up the surplus to prevent a collapse in prices.
Monsanto began selling the supplement in 1994 under the name Posilac. Monsanto acknowledges that the possible side effects of rBST for cows include lameness, disorders of the uterus, increased body temperature, digestive problems, and birthing difficulties. Veterinary drug reports note that “cows injected with Posilac are at an increased risk for mastitis,” an udder infection in which bacteria and pus may be pumped out with the milk. What’s the effect on humans? The F.D.A. has consistently said that the milk produced by cows that receive rBGH is the same as milk from cows that aren’t injected: “The public can be confident that milk and meat from BST-treated cows is safe to consume.” Nevertheless, some scientists are concerned by the lack of long-term studies to test the additive’s impact, especially on children. A Wisconsin geneticist, William von Meyer, observed that when rBGH was approved the longest study on which the F.D.A.’s approval was based covered only a 90-day laboratory test with small animals. “But people drink milk for a lifetime,” he noted. Canada and the European Union have never approved the commercial sale of the artificial hormone. Today, nearly 15 years after the F.D.A. approved rBGH, there have still been no long-term studies “to determine the safety of milk from cows that receive artificial growth hormone,” says Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist for Consumers Union. Not only have there been no studies, he adds, but the data that does exist all comes from Monsanto. “There is no scientific consensus about the safety,” he says.
However F.D.A. approval came about, Monsanto has long been wired into Washington. Michael R. Taylor was a staff attorney and executive assistant to the F.D.A. commissioner before joining a law firm in Washington in 1981, where he worked to secure F.D.A. approval of Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone before returning to the F.D.A. as deputy commissioner in 1991. Dr. Michael A. Friedman, formerly the F.D.A.’s deputy commissioner for operations, joined Monsanto in 1999 as a senior vice president. Linda J. Fisher was an assistant administrator at the E.P.A. when she left the agency in 1993. She became a vice president of Monsanto, from 1995 to 2000, only to return to the E.P.A. as deputy administrator the next year. William D. Ruckelshaus, former E.P.A. administrator, and Mickey Kantor, former U.S. trade representative, each served on Monsanto’s board after leaving government. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas was an attorney in Monsanto’s corporate-law department in the 1970s. He wrote the Supreme Court opinion in a crucial G.M.-seed patent-rights case in 2001 that benefited Monsanto and all G.M.-seed companies. Donald Rumsfeld never served on the board or held any office at Monsanto, but Monsanto must occupy a soft spot in the heart of the former defense secretary. Rumsfeld was chairman and C.E.O. of the pharmaceutical maker G. D. Searle & Co. when Monsanto acquired Searle in 1985, after Searle had experienced difficulty in finding a buyer. Rumsfeld’s stock and options in Searle were valued at $12 million at the time of the sale.
From the beginning some consumers have consistently been hesitant to drink milk from cows treated with artificial hormones. This is one reason Monsanto has waged so many battles with dairies and regulators over the wording of labels on milk cartons. It has sued at least two dairies and one co-op over labeling.
Critics of the artificial hormone have pushed for mandatory labeling on all milk products, but the F.D.A. has resisted and even taken action against some dairies that labeled their milk “BST-free.” Since BST is a natural hormone found in all cows, including those not injected with Monsanto’s artificial version, the F.D.A. argued that no dairy could claim that its milk is BST-free. The F.D.A. later issued guidelines allowing dairies to use labels saying their milk comes from “non-supplemented cows,” as long as the carton has a disclaimer saying that the artificial supplement does not in any way change the milk. So the milk cartons from Kleinpeter Dairy, for example, carry a label on the front stating that the milk is from cows not treated with rBGH, and the rear panel says, “Government studies have shown no significant difference between milk derived from rBGH-treated and non-rBGH-treated cows.” That’s not good enough for Monsanto.
The Next Battleground
As more and more dairies have chosen to advertise their milk as “No rBGH,” Monsanto has gone on the offensive. Its attempt to force the F.T.C. to look into what Monsanto called “deceptive practices” by dairies trying to distance themselves from the company’s artificial hormone was the most recent national salvo. But after reviewing Monsanto’s claims, the F.T.C.’s Division of Advertising Practices decided in August 2007 that a “formal investigation and enforcement action is not warranted at this time.” The agency found some instances where dairies had made “unfounded health and safety claims,” but these were mostly on Web sites, not on milk cartons. And the F.T.C. determined that the dairies Monsanto had singled out all carried disclaimers that the F.D.A. had found no significant differences in milk from cows treated with the artificial hormone.
Blocked at the federal level, Monsanto is pushing for action by the states. In the fall of 2007, Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary, Dennis Wolff, issued an edict prohibiting dairies from stamping milk containers with labels stating their products were made without the use of the artificial hormone. Wolff said such a label implies that competitors’ milk is not safe, and noted that non-supplemented milk comes at an unjustified higher price, arguments that Monsanto has frequently made. The ban was to take effect February 1, 2008.
Wolff’s action created a firestorm in Pennsylvania (and beyond) from angry consumers. So intense was the outpouring of e-mails, letters, and calls that Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell stepped in and reversed his agriculture secretary, saying, “The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced.”
On this issue, the tide may be shifting against Monsanto. Organic dairy products, which don’t involve rBGH, are soaring in popularity. Supermarket chains such as Kroger, Publix, and Safeway are embracing them. Some other companies have turned away from rBGH products, including Starbucks, which has banned all milk products from cows treated with rBGH. Although Monsanto once claimed that an estimated 30 percent of the nation’s dairy cows were injected with rBST, it’s widely believed that today the number is much lower.
But don’t count Monsanto out. Efforts similar to the one in Pennsylvania have been launched in other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Utah, and Missouri. A Monsanto-backed group called afact—American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology—has been spearheading efforts in many of these states. afact describes itself as a “producer organization” that decries “questionable labeling tactics and activism” by marketers who have convinced some consumers to “shy away from foods using new technology.” afact reportedly uses the same St. Louis public-relations firm, Osborn & Barr, employed by Monsanto. An Osborn & Barr spokesman told The Kansas City Star that the company was doing work for afact on a pro bono basis.
Even if Monsanto’s efforts to secure across-the-board labeling changes should fall short, there’s nothing to stop state agriculture departments from restricting labeling on a dairy-by-dairy basis. Beyond that, Monsanto also has allies whose foot soldiers will almost certainly keep up the pressure on dairies that don’t use Monsanto’s artificial hormone. Jeff Kleinpeter knows about them, too.
He got a call one day from the man who prints the labels for his milk cartons, asking if he had seen the attack on Kleinpeter Dairy that had been posted on the Internet. Kleinpeter went online to a site called StopLabelingLies, which claims to “help consumers by publicizing examples of false and misleading food and other product labels.” There, sure enough, Kleinpeter and other dairies that didn’t use Monsanto’s product were being accused of making misleading claims to sell their milk. There was no address or phone number on the Web site, only a list of groups that apparently contribute to the site and whose issues range from disparaging organic farming to downplaying the impact of global warming. “They were criticizing people like me for doing what we had a right to do, had gone through a government agency to do,” says Kleinpeter. “We never could get to the bottom of that Web site to get that corrected.”
As it turns out, the Web site counts among its contributors Steven Milloy, the “junk science” commentator for FoxNews.com and operator of junkscience.com, which claims to debunk “faulty scientific data and analysis.” It may come as no surprise that earlier in his career, Milloy, who calls himself the “junkman,” was a registered lobbyist for Monsanto.
Monsanto–How they do their dirty work
The Monsanto Cabinet Zoh Hieronimus Jan. 22, 2001
We can all agree that the Bush administration will
be significantly different than, say, a Clinton one, but when it comes to
those making policy, it is still a handoff from one multinational community
to another. In fact, one could accurately call this the Monsanto Cabinet.
In a recent summary given to me by Robert Cohen,
author of “Milk, The Deadly Poison,” the Bush/Monsanto Cabinet is headed up
by the nominee for attorney general, John Ashcroft. As Missouri’s hometown
power broker, Monsanto did well by Ashcroft and he by it. He received five
times as much money from Monsanto, $10,000, as the next congressman in the
big bucks parade, and was instrumental, along with George Bush Sr.’s
Supreme Court pick Clarence Thomas in seeing Monsanto’s Aspartame dumped
into the food chain, a drug that’s hardly an innocent sweetener.
Aspartame is in fact a killer, accounting for 70
percent of all complaints to the FDA. Monsanto’s Aspartame, or Equal, can
be credited with mimicking or instigating Alzheimer’s disease, juvenile
diabetes, depression, epileptic seizures, blindness, memory loss,
excitability, weight gain, multiple sclerosis and lupus, to name but some
of the symptomology associated with this food additive. When heated it
turns to formaldehyde, making virtual Swiss cheess of the brain of the
consumer. I hope the president doesn’t drink diet Coke. He may forget where
his brain is.
Ashcroft’s nomination hearings seemed to have
breezed right over this most ominous connection, for Monsanto is also the
master seed designer of the super genetically modified foods. The
genetically engineered soy, corn and other crops designed to contain their
own internal poison and sterilization process are the equivalent of land
mining our native seed supply. These crops have already contaminated the
human food supply, food that has been proven dangerous and in field trials
failed to thrive as well as natural grain.
Ashcroft is joined by the new secretary of defense
nominee, Donald Rumsfeld, who on off years from federal government work was
president of Searle Pharmaceuticals, a company bought by Monsanto. That’s
Ann Veneman, the nominated secretary of agriculture
was on the board of directors of Calgene Pharmaceutical, another
Monsanto-owned company today. No doubt subsidized foreign drug testing will
be a shoo-in during this administration, and as for Europe rejecting
Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone, a little arm twisting via the World Trade
Organization will certainly be more likely with Monsanto’s Cabinet in place.
Tommy Thompson, as the fourth Monsanto runner in
the list, is the chosen secretary of health. He knows all about Monsanto’s
healthy bank account as well. He created an entire biotech zone for
Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone in Wisconsin, even though farmers by a 9
to 1 ratio were opposed to it being dumped into the marketplace. He
received $50,000 from biotech companies in his campaign. In exchange,
biotech companies got $317 million in subsidies. So, on top of genetically
engineered crop dumpings, we are getting bioengineered hormones adding to
childhood sexual abnormalities and cancers in humans and cattle.
Mitch Daniels, the selected director of the Office
of Management and Budget, was, according to Robert Cohen, the vice
president of corporate strategy at Eli Lily, with which Monsanto engineered
the disease-causing Bovine Growth Hormone, now outlawed in many countries.
And as Cohen points out, another player in the
Monsanto-studded Cabinet is Rep. Richard Pombo, who will head the
Agriculture Subcommittee on Dairy, Livestock and Poultry. Pombo is also a
Monsanto boy, having taken campaign money from it while stalling a 1994
bill to make labeling mandatory for milk or milk products containing Bovine
Growth Hormones. Pombo helped kill the bill in committee. I wonder what
role he played in the FDA’s new decision that no genetically engineered
food need be labeled in America. If it’s so safe, why aren’t consumers
being told what’s in their foods. Isn’t choice the hallmark of a free
market and free people?
Some would say it doesn’t matter that so many
members, at this count six of the Bush Cabinet, are so deeply engaged in
multinational corporate adventurism at the expense of human, animal and
environmental wellbeing. I say it is devastating once the picture of the
corporate state is put clearly against the backdrop of nonrepresentative
Oh, of course it is business as usual, it’s just
dirty business; that’s the tragedy. When multinational corporations are
able to craft domestic and foreign trade policy in exchange for making
campaign contributions, no one can tell me that both parties aren’t for
sale and that the corporation, not the citizen of the state, isn’t
represented in lawmaking today
Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle
“It was an outcome that would be repeated, again and again, through three
administrations. What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto – and,
by extension, the biotechnology industry – got. If the company’s strategy
demanded regulations, rules favored by the industry were adopted. And when
the company abruptly decided that it needed to throw off the regulations
and speed its foods to market, the White House quickly ushered through an
unusually generous policy of self-policing.
Even longtime Washington hands said that the control this nascent
industry exerted over its own regulatory destiny – through the
Environmental Protection Agency, the Agriculture Department and ultimately
the Food and Drug Administration – was astonishing.
“In this area, the U.S. government agencies have done exactly
what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do,” said Dr.
Henry Miller, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution, who was
responsible for biotechnology issues at the Food and Drug Administration
from 1979 to 1994.
The outcome, at least according to some fans of the technology?
“Food biotech is dead,” Dr. Miller said. “The potential now is an
infinitesimal fraction of what most observers had hoped it would be.””
January 25, 2001
Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle
By KURT EICHENWALD, GINA KOLATA and MELODY PETERSEN
The following article was reported by Kurt Eichenwald, Gina Kolata and
Melody Petersen and was written by Mr. Eichenwald.
In late 1986, four executives of the Monsanto Company, the leader in
agricultural biotechnology, paid a visit to Vice President George Bush at
the White House to make an unusual pitch.
Although the Reagan administration had been championing deregulation
across multiple industries, Monsanto had a different idea: the company
wanted its new technology, genetically modified food, to be governed by
rules issued in Washington – and wanted the White House to champion the idea.
“There were no products at the time,” Leonard Guarraia, a former Monsanto
executive who attended the Bush meeting, recalled in a recent interview.
“But we bugged him for regulation. We told him that we have to be regulated.”
Government guidelines, the executives reasoned, would reassure a public
that was growing skittish about the safety of this radical new science.
Without such controls, they feared, consumers might become so wary they
could doom the multibillion-dollar gamble that the industry was taking in
its efforts to redesign plants using genes from other organisms – including
In the weeks and months that followed, the White House complied, working
behind the scenes to help Monsanto – long a political power with deep
connections in Washington – get the regulations that it wanted.
It was an outcome that would be repeated, again and again, through three
administrations. What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto – and,
by extension, the biotechnology industry – got. If the company’s strategy
demanded regulations, rules favored by the industry were adopted. And when
the company abruptly decided that it needed to throw off the regulations
and speed its foods to market, the White House quickly ushered through an
unusually generous policy of self-policing.
Even longtime Washington hands said that the control this nascent industry
exerted over its own regulatory destiny – through the Environmental
Protection Agency, the Agriculture Department and ultimately the Food and
Drug Administration – was astonishing.
“In this area, the U.S. government agencies have done exactly what big
agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do,” said Dr. Henry
Miller, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution, who was
responsible for biotechnology issues at the Food and Drug Administration
from 1979 to 1994.
The outcome, at least according to some fans of the technology? “Food
biotech is dead,” Dr. Miller said. “The potential now is an infinitesimal
fraction of what most observers had hoped it would be.”
While the verdict is surely premature, the industry is in crisis.
Genetically modified ingredients may be in more than half of America’s
grocery products. But worldwide protest has been galvanized. The European
markets have banned the products and some American food producers are
backing away. A recent discovery that certain taco shells manufactured by
Kraft contained Starlink, a modified corn classified as unfit for human
consumption, prompted a sweeping recall and did grave harm to the idea that
self-regulation was sufficient. The mighty Monsanto has merged with a
How could an industry so successful in controlling its own regulations end
up in such disarray?
The answer – pieced together from confidential industry records, court
documents and government filings, as well as interviews with current and
former officials of industry, government and organizations opposing the use
of bioengineering in food – provides a stunning example of how management,
with a few miscalculations, can steer an industry headlong into disaster.
For many years, senior executives at Monsanto, the industry’s undisputed
leader, believed that they faced enormous obstacles from environmental and
consumer groups opposed to the new technology. Rather than fight them, the
original Monsanto strategy was to bring in opponents as consultants, hoping
their participation would ease the foods’ passage from the laboratory to
the shopping cart.
“We thought it was at least a decade-long job, to take our efforts and
present them to environmental groups and the general public, and gradually
win support for this,” said Earle Harbison Jr., the president and chief
operating officer at Monsanto during the late 1980’s.
But come the early 1990’s, the strategy changed. A new management team
took over at Monsanto, one confident that worries about the new technology
had been thoroughly disproved by science. The go- slow approach was shelved
in favor of a strategy to erase regulatory barriers and shove past the
naysayers. The switch invigorated the opponents of biotechnology and
ultimately dismayed the industry’s allies – the farmers, agricultural
universities and food companies.
“Somewhere along the line, Monsanto specifically and the industry in
general lost the recipe of how we presented our story,” said Will
Carpenter, the head of the company’s biotechnology strategy group until
1991. “When you put together arrogance and incompetence, you’ve got an
unbeatable combination. You can get blown up in any direction. And they
Biology Debate New Microbes Bring New Fears
In the summer of 1970, Janet E. Mertz was working at Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory, picking up tips on animal viruses from Dr. Robert Pollack, a
professor at the private research center on Long Island and a master in the
field. One day she began to explain to Dr. Pollack the experiment she was
planning when she returned to her graduate studies in the fall at Stanford
University with her adviser, Dr. Paul Berg. They were preparing to take
genes from a monkey virus and put them into a commonly used strain of
bacteria, E. coli, as part of an effort to figure out the purposes of
different parts of a gene.
Dr. Pollack was horrified. The virus she planned to use contained genes
that could cause cancer in rodents, he reminded her. Strains of E. coli
live in human intestines. What if the viral genes created a cancer- causing
microbe that could be spread from person to person – the way unmodified E.
coli can. Dr. Pollack wanted Ms. Mertz’s project halted immediately. .
“I said to Janet, `There’s a human experiment I don’t want to be part of,’
” Dr. Pollack said in a recent interview.
The resulting transcontinental shouting match between Dr. Pollack and Dr.
Berg set off a debate among biologists around the world as they
contemplated questions that seemed lifted from science fiction. Were
genetically modified bacteria superbugs? Would they be more powerful than
naturally occurring bacteria? Would scientists who wanted to study them
have to move their research to the sort of secure labs used to study
diseases like the black plague?
“The notion of being able to move genes between species was an alarming
thought,” said Alexander Capron, a professor of law and medicine at the
University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “People talked about
there being species barriers – you’re reorganizing nature in some way.”
As researchers joined in the debate, they came to the conclusion that
strict controls were needed on such experiments until scientists understood
the implications. In 1975, the elite of the field gathered at the Asilomar
conference center in Pacific Grove, Calif. There, they recommended that all
molecular biologists refrain from doing certain research and abide by
stringent regulations for other experiments. To monitor themselves, they
set up a committee at the National Institutes of Health to review and
approve all research projects.
It took just a few years – and hundreds of experiments – before the most
urgent questions had their answers. Over and over again, scientists created
bacteria with all manner of added or deleted genes and then mixed them with
naturally occurring bacteria.
But rather than creating superbugs, the scientists found themselves
struggling to keep the engineered bacteria from dying as the more robust
naturally occurring bacteria crowded them out.
It turned out that adding almost any gene to bacteria cells only weakened
them. They needed coddling in the laboratory to survive. And the E. coli
that Ms. Mertz had wanted to use were among the feeblest of all.
By the mid-1980’s, the Institutes of Health lifted its restrictions. Even
scientists like Dr. Pollack, who sounded the initial alarm, were satisfied
that the experiments were safe.
“The answer came out very clearly,” he said. “Putting new genes into
bacteria did not have the unintended consequence of making the bacteria
That decision echoed through industry like the sound of a starter’s
pistol. First out of the gate were the pharmaceutical companies, with a
rapid series of experiments on how the new science could be used in
medicines. Hundreds of drugs went into development, including human insulin
for diabetes, Activase for the treatment of heart attacks, Epogen for renal
disease and the hepatitis B vaccine.
“It’s been huge,” said Dr. David Golde, physician in chief at Memorial
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “It has changed human health.”
The success that modifying living organisms would bring the pharmaceutical
industry quickly attracted attention from some of the nation’s largest
agricultural companies, eager to extend their staid businesses into an
arena that Wall Street had endowed with such glamour.
Reaching Out Monsanto Takes a Soft Approach
In June 1986, Mr. Harbison took control of Monsanto’s push into
biotechnology, a project snared in mystery and infighting. A 19-year
veteran of Monsanto who had recently become its president and chief
operating officer, he formed a committee to lead the charge.
“There is little more important than this task in our corporation at this
time,” Mr. Harbison wrote to the 13 executives selected for the assignment.
“We recognized early on,” Mr. Harbison said in a recent interview, “that
while developing lifesaving drugs might be greeted with fanfare, monkeying
around with plants and food would be greeted with skepticism.” And so Mr.
Harbison drafted a plan to reach out to affected groups – from
environmentalists to farmers – to win their support.
That same month, the company’s lobbying effort for regulation began to
show its first signs of success. The Environmental Protection Agency, the
Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration were given
authority over different aspects of the business, from field testing of new
ideas to the review of new foods.
In an administration committed to deregulation, the heads of some agencies
had been opposed to new rules. At an early meeting, William Ruckelshaus,
then the head of the E.P.A., expressed skepticism that his agency should
play any role in regulating field testing, according to people who
attended. That was overcome only when Monsanto executives raised the
specter of Congressional hearings about the use of biotechnology to create
crops that contain their own pesticides, these people said.
By fall, Monsanto’s strategy committee was developing a plan for
introducing biotechnology to the public. A copy of a working draft, dated
Oct. 13, 1986, listed what the committee considered the major challenges:
organized opposition among environmental groups, political opportunism by
elected officials and lack of knowledge among reporters about biotechnology.
It also highlighted more complex issues, including ethical questions about
“tinkering with the human gene pool” and the lack of economic incentives to
transfer the technology to the third world, where it would probably do the
To solve political problems, the document suggested engaging elected
officials and regulators around the world, “creating support for
biotechnology at the highest U.S. policy levels,” and working to gain
endorsements for the technology in the presidential platforms of both the
Republican and Democratic Parties in the 1988 election.
To deal with opponents, the document said, “Active outreach will encourage
public interest, consumer and environmental groups to develop supportive
positions on biotechnology, and serve as regular advisers to Monsanto.”
Former Monsanto executives said that while they felt confident of the new
food’s overall safety, they also recognized that bioengineering raised
concerns about possible allergens, unknown toxins or environmental effects.
Beyond that, there was a reasonable philosophical anxiety about human
manipulation of nature.
“If this business was going to work, one of the things we had to do was
engage in a dialogue with all of the stakeholders, including the consumer
groups and the more rational environmental organizations,” said Mr.
Carpenter, who headed the biotechnology strategy group. “It wasn’t Nobel
A Blunder Decision on Milk Causes a Furor
Even as Monsanto was assembling its outreach strategy, other documents
show that it was making strides toward what former executives now
acknowledge was a major strategic blunder. The company was preparing to
introduce to farmers the first product from its biotechnology program: a
growth hormone produced in genetically altered bacteria. Some on the
strategy committee pushed for marketing a porcine hormone that would
produce leaner and bigger hogs.
But, simply because the product was further along in development, the
company decided to go forward with a bovine growth hormone, which improves
milk production in cows – despite vociferous objections of executives who
feared that tinkering with a product consumed by children would ignite a
“It was not a wise choice to go out with that product first,” Mr. Harbison
acknowledged. “It was a mistake.”
Scientists who watched the events remain stunned by Monsanto’s decisions.
“I don’t think they really thought through the whole darn thing,” Dr.
Virginia Walbot, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford University,
said of Monsanto’s decision to market products that benefited farmers
rather than general consumers. “The way Thomas Edison demonstrated how
great electricity was was by providing lights for the first nighttime
baseball game. People were in awe. What if he had decided to demonstrate
the electric chair instead? And what if his second product had been the
electric cattle prod? Would we have electricity today?”
The decision touched off a furor. Jeremy Rifkin, director of the
Foundation on Economic Trends, an opponent of biotechnology, joined with
family-farm groups worried about price declines and other organizations in
a national campaign to keep the Monsanto hormone out of the marketplace.
Some supermarket chains shunned the idea; several dairy states moved to ban
it. The first step toward the shopping cart brought only bad news.
One year later, in 1987, the E.P.A. agreed to allow another company,
Advanced Genetic Sciences, to test bioengineered bacteria meant to make
plants resistant to frost. But under the agency’s guidelines, it had to
declare the so-called ice-minus bacteria a new pesticide – classifying
frost as the pest.
On April 28 and May 28, strawberry and potato plants were sprayed in two
California cities. Photographs of scientists in regulation protective gear
– spacesuits with respirators – were broadcast around the world, generating
“It was surreal,” said Dr. Steven Lindow, a professor at the University of
California at Berkeley, who helped develop the bacteria.
For the executives at Monsanto, these troubling experiences reinforced
their commitment to the strategy of inclusion and persuasion.
The most complex challenge came in Europe, where there was deep distrust
of the new foods, particularly among politically powerful farmers. Faced
with such resistance, Mr. Harbison said Monsanto began subtly shifting its
attention from the lucrative European market to Asia and Africa. The hope
was that the economic realities of a global agricultural marketplace would
eventually push Europe toward a more conciliatory attitude.
But by the early 1990’s, company executives said, everything would change.
Mr. Harbison retired. Soon, Monsanto’s strategy for biotechnology was being
overseen by Robert Shapiro, the former head of Monsanto’s Nutrasweet unit,
who in 1990 had been named head of the agricultural division.
In no time, former executives said, the strategy inside the company began
to change. Mr. Shapiro demonstrated a devout sense of mission about his new
responsibilities, these executives said. He repeatedly expressed his belief
that Monsanto could help change the world by championing bioengineered
agriculture, while simultaneously turning in stellar financial results.
Eager to get going, he shelved the go-slow strategy of consultation and
review. Monsanto would now use its influence in Washington to push through
a new approach.
Mr. Carpenter, the former head of the company’s biotechnology strategy
group, recalled going to a meeting with Mr. Shapiro, and cautioning that it
seemed risky to tamper with a strategic approach that had worked well for
the company in the past. But, he said, Mr. Shapiro dismissed his concerns.
“Shapiro ignored the stakeholders and almost insulted them and proceeded
to spend all of his political coin trying to deal directly with the
government on a political basis rather than an open basis,” Mr. Carpenter
Mr. Shapiro, now the nonexecutive chairman of the Pharmacia Corporation,
which Monsanto merged with last year, declined to comment. But in an essay
published earlier this year by Washington University in St. Louis, he
acknowledged that Monsanto had suffered from some of the very faults cited
now by critics. ‘We’ve learned that there is often a very fine line between
scientific confidence on the one hand and corporate arrogance on the
other,” he wrote. “It was natural for us to see this as a scientific issue.
We didn’t listen very well to people who insisted that there were relevant
ethical, religious, cultural, social and economic issues as well.”
Turning Point Objections by Scientists
On May 26, 1992, the vice president, Dan Quayle, proclaimed the Bush
administration’s new policy on bioengineered food.
“The reforms we announce today will speed up and simplify the process of
bringing better agricultural products, developed through biotech, to
consumers, food processors and farmers,” Mr. Quayle told a crowd of
executives and reporters in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive
Office Building. “We will ensure that biotech products will receive the
same oversight as other products, instead of being hampered by unnecessary
With dozens of new grocery products waiting in the wings, the new policy
strictly limited the regulatory reach of the F.D.A, which had oversight
responsibility for foods headed to market.
The announcement – a salvo in the Bush administration’s “regulatory
relief” program – was in lock step with the new position of industry that
science had proved safety concerns to be baseless.
“We will not compromise safety one bit,” Mr. Quayle told his audience.
In the F.D.A.’s nearby offices, not everyone was so sure.
Among them was Dr. Louis J. Pribyl, one of 17 government scientists
working on a policy for genetically engineered food. Dr. Pribyl knew from
studies that toxins could be unintentionally created when new genes were
introduced into a plant’s cells. But under the new edict, the government
was dismissing that risk and any other possible risk as no different from
those of conventionally derived food. That meant biotechnology companies
would not need government approval to sell the foods they were developing.
“This is the industry’s pet idea, namely that there are no unintended
effects that will raise the F.D.A.’s level of concern,” Dr. Pribyl wrote in
a fiery memo to the F.D.A. scientist overseeing the policy’s development.
“But time and time again, there is no data to back up their contention.”
Dr. Pribyl, a microbiologist, was not alone at the agency. Dr. Gerald
Guest, director of the center of veterinary medicine, wrote that he and
other scientists at the center had concluded there was “ample scientific
justification” to require tests and a government review of each genetically
engineered food before it was sold.
Three toxicologists wrote, “The possibility of unexpected, accidental
changes in genetically engineered plants justifies a limited traditional
The scientists were displaying precisely the concerns that Monsanto
executives from the 1980’s had anticipated – and indeed had considered
reasonable. But now, rather than trying to address those concerns,
Monsanto, the industry and official Washington were dismissing them as the
insignificant worries of the uninformed. Under the final F.D.A. policy that
the White House helped usher in, the new foods would be tested only if
companies did it. Labeling was ruled out as potentially misleading to the
consumer, since it might suggest that there was reason for concern.
“Monsanto forgot who their client was,” said Thomas N. Urban, retired
chairman and chief executive of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a seed
company. “If they had realized their client was the final consumer they
should have embraced labeling. They should have said, `We’re for it.’ They
should have said, `We insist that food be labeled.’ They should have said,
`I’m the consumer’s friend here.’ There was some risk. But the risk was a
hell of a lot less.”
Even some who presumably benefited directly from the new policy remain
surprised that it was adopted. “How could you argue against labeling?” said
Roger Salquist, the former chief executive of Calgene, whose Flavr Savr
tomato, engineered for slower spoilage, was the first fruit of
biotechnology to reach the grocery store. “The public trust has not been
nurtured,” he added.
In fact, the F.D.A. policy was just what the small band of activists
opposed to biotechnology needed to rally powerful global support to their
“That was the turning point,” said Jeremy Rifkin, the author and activist
who in 1992 had already spent more than a decade trying to stop
biotechnology experiments. Immediately after Vice President Quayle
announced the F.D.A.’s new policy, Mr. Rifkin began calling for a global
moratorium on biotechnology as part of an effort that he and others named
the “pure food campaign.”
He quickly began spreading the word to small activist groups around the
world that the United States had decided to let the biotechnology industry
put the foods on store shelves without tests or labels. Mr. Rifkin said
that he got support from dozens of small farming, consumer and animal
rights groups in more than 30 countries. In Europe, these small groups
helped turn the public against genetically altered foods, tearing up farm
fields and holding protests before television cameras.
If the F.D.A. had required tests and labels, Mr. Rifkin said, “it would
have been more difficult for us to mobilize the opposition.”
Today, the handful of nonprofit groups that joined Mr. Rifkin’s in
lobbying the F.D.A. for stronger regulation in 1992 have multiplied to 54.
Those groups, including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the Natural
Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen and the Humane Society of the
United States, signed a petition this spring demanding that the government
take genetically engineered foods off the market until they are tested and
“There is absolutely no question that the voluntary nature of the policy
was unacceptable to many,” said Andrew Kimbrell, one of the early activists
to oppose biotechnology and now the executive director of the Center for
Food Safety, which filed the petition.
The F.D.A. policy has also helped organizations like Mr. Kimbrell’s raise
money. In late 1998 groups opposed to biotechnology approached the hundreds
of foundations that give regularly to environmental causes and told them
about the government’s decision to let the companies regulate themselves.
Since then, the foundations have given the groups several million dollars
out of concern over the policy, said Christina Desser, a lawyer in San
Francisco involved in the fund-raising effort.
There was also an about-face in the approach to dealing with overseas
markets. As the Clinton administration came to Washington, Monsanto
maintained its close ties to policy makers – particularly to trade
negotiators. For example, Mr. Shapiro was friends with Mickey Kantor, the
United States trade negotiator who would eventually be named a Monsanto
Confrontation in trade negotiations became the order of the day. Senior
administration officials publicly disparaged the concerns of European
consumers as the products of conservative minds unfamiliar with the science.
“You can’t put a gun to their head,” Mr. Harbison said of the toughened
trade strategy with Europe. “It just won’t sell.”
And it didn’t. Protests erupted in Europe, and genetically modified foods
became the rallying point of a vast political opposition. Exports of the
foods slowed to a stop. With a vocal and powerful opposition growing in
both Europe and America, the perceived promise of biotechnology foods began
to slip away.
By the end of the decade, the magnitude of Monsanto’s error in abandoning
its slow, velvet-glove strategy of the 1980’s was apparent. Mr. Shapiro
himself acknowledged as much. In the fall of 1999, he appeared at a
conference sponsored by Greenpeace, the environmental group and major
There, while declaring his faith in biotechnology, Mr. Shapiro
acknowledged that his company was guilty of “condescension or indeed
arrogance” in its efforts to promote the new foods. But it was too late for
a recovery. Soon after that speech, with the company’s stock price in the
doldrums because of its struggles with agricultural biotechnology, Monsanto
itself ended its existence as an independent company. It was taken over by
Pharmacia, a New Jersey drug company.
In recent months, biotechnology has been struggling with the consequences
of its blunders. Leading food companies like Frito-Lay and Gerber have said
they will avoid certain bioengineered food. And grain companies like Archer
Daniels Midland and Cargill have asked farmers to separate their
genetically modified foods from their traditional ones. That, in turn,
creates complex, costly and – as the Starlink fiasco shows – at times
flawed logistical requirements for farmers.
Efforts have been made by industry and government to assuage public
concerns – although critics of the technology maintain that the attempts do
not go far enough. Last week, the F.D.A. announced proposed rule changes
requiring the submission of certain information that used to be provided
voluntarily. But even supporters of the rule change say that it will make
little practical difference in the way the business works, since companies
have universally submitted all such information in the past, even under the
And the industry itself has started down a new path, with a
multimillion-dollar advertising campaign promoting genetically engineered
foods as safe products that provide enormous benefits to populations around
the world – an effort that some food industry officials say has come 10
years too late.
“For the price of what it would have cost to market a new breakfast
cereal, the biotech industry probably could have saved itself a lot of the
struggle that it is going through today,” said Gene Grabowski, a spokesman
with the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade group.
And in recent weeks, Monsanto itself has announced plans to chart a new
course – one with striking similarity to the course abandoned in 1992 –
reviving its outside consultations with environmental, consumer and other
groups with concerns or interest in the technology.
For the corporate veterans who set the original strategy, this is scant
solace. A dream they had worked so hard to achieve had, at the very least,
been set back by years.
“You can’t imagine how I have bled over this,” said Mr. Carpenter, the
former head of biotechnology strategy for Monsanto. “They lost the battle
for the public trust.”
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
The gigantic biotech corporation Monsanto is threatening to destroy the agricultural biodiversity which has served mankind for thousands of years. The endless list of genetically modified seeds sold and controlled by Monsanto are putting at enormous risk age-old agricultural patterns under the presumptuous slogan of aiming at solving the huge problem of hunger in the world.
On March 11 a new documentary was aired on French television (ARTE – French-German cultural tv channel) by French journalist and film maker Marie-Monique Robin, entitled ‘The World According to Monsanto’ (Le Monde selon Monsanto). Starting from the Internet over a period of three years Robin has collected material for her documentary, going on to numerous interviews with people of very different backgrounds. She traveled widely, from Latin America, to Asia, through Europe and the United States, to personally interview farmers and people in influential positions.
As an example of pro-Monsanto interviews, she talked at length with Michael Taylor who has worked as a lawyer for Monsanto and also for the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), where he had great influence on the legalization of the genetically modified bovine growth hormone (BGH). It also became FDA policy during Taylor’s tenure that GM seeds are declared to be “substantially equivalent to non-GM seeds, hence proclaiming proof of the harmlessness of GMs to be unnecessary. Michael Taylor is a typical example of technocrats employed via ‘the revolving door policy’. He is now head of the Washington, D.C. office of Monsanto Corporation.
The gospel according to Monsanto is that their patented GM seeds and their bovine growth hormone (BGH) will increase worldwide production of agricultural, dairy and meat products and Bt cotton to the extent that worldwide hunger and poverty will be eradicated.
The actual truth is rather the opposite. GMOs are creating serious damage all over the world and artificial BGH injection in cows cause numerous health problems, and even death.
Monsanto is not held back by any considerations of ethics and it hides the reality of its sordid machinations behind a wall of secrecy. Everything Monsanto does is exclusively with the intent of increasing its own profit – everything else be damned. If left to its own devices it will most certainly destroy the livelihood of millions of farmers – a process begun a decade ago in India and certainly in many other countries as well. The planet’s ecosystems will be seriously threatened by unnatural ways of changing agricultural patterns. The dangers of GMO cultivation to the environment come in many forms:
- Switching from age-old biodiverse crops that can tolerate low-level amounts of water to industrial monocultures of crops such as GM soya, cotton, sugarcane, etc. that require large amounts of irrigation.
- Inundating cultivated lands with toxic herbicides, in particular the dangerous Monsanto product Roundup, to which the GMO seeds have been made biotechnically resistant. Any other growth should succumb to Roundup, were it not for the fact that weeds to a very large extent become Roundup resistant.
- Putting an end to biological farming and poisoning non GM cultures through pollenization from GM crops and accidental exposure to Roundup herbicide.
- Deforestation to make more land available for the culture of the GM seeds Monsanto sells at high prices to poor farmers.
On top of all these dangers to biodiversity and biological farming comes the fact that Monsanto has patented its products and farmers are legally bound not to save seeds for replanting for the following year. They must buy new seeds from Monsanto every year and the company has a sizeable staff that just deals with prosecuting farmers suspected of illegally using one year’s seeds for the planting of the next year’s crop.
Globalization and Poverty
Biological farming is adapted to existing ecosystems. But age-old biological farming has had to give room to industrial monocultures that enrich the few and cause poverty and despair for millions of small farmers. Now there is soil erosion, destruction of biodiversity and social/economic disasters in tow. Contrary to Monsanto promises that GM seeds and Roundup would reduce production cost, farmers now have to pay skyrocketing prices for herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer.
The destructive effects of genetically engineered crops are worldwide, but the extensive damage done in India has been widely documented by Dr Vandana Shiva. She is a physicist and environmentalist as well as a tireless activist and author of many books concerning the nefarious consequences of GM farming as opposed to the wisdom of traditional family and biological farming. She is currently based in New Delhi.
Quote from Dr. Vandana Shiva:
“I am writing this statement from beautiful Doon Valley in the Himalaya where the monsoons have arrived, and our Navdanya (Nine Seeds—Our National Movement on Conservation of Biodiversity) team is busy with transplanting of over 300 rice varieties which we are conserving along with the rich diversity of other agricultural crops. Our farm does not use any chemicals or external inputs. It is a self-regenerative system which preserves biodiversity while meeting human needs and needs of farm animals. Our 2 bullocks are the alternative to chemical fertilisers which pollute soil and water as well as to tractors and fossil fuels which pollute the atmosphere and destabilise the climate.“
“Economic globalization has become a war against nature and the poor” says Dr. Vandana Shiva.
“Recently I was visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land have become waterlogged desert. And, as an old farmer pointed out, even the trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators — the bees and butterflies.
“And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, where farmers have also been committing suicide. Farmers who traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy have been lured by seed companies to buy hybrid cotton seeds referred to as “white gold”, which were supposed to make them millionaires. Instead they became paupers.”
In India as well as in China it has been proven that the unscrupulous promises of Monsanto that Bt cotton (genetically engineered cotton) would produce a far higher yield and prove less costly in terms of herbicide and fertilizer required has been the exact opposite of what was promised. Bt cotton increases irrigation and water requirements where biological cotton would thrive without added irrigation. Thus the yield of Bt cotton has been far inferior to that of biological cotton and the costs of production significantly higher.
Disastrous health problems caused by GMO products
In spite of the reassurances from Monsanto and its own lawyers and scientists that GMO cultures and Roundup herbicide are not health hazardous, it has been proven in their own research that rats have developed different forms of tumors and other health problems. However, instead of pushing the research further, they put a complete stop to it.
“As farmers know there is a cancer epidemic in America’s heartland – partly resulting from exposure to chemicals like Roundup, and partly from ingesting contaminated food and drinking water.” (Economic, health & environmental impacts of Roundup-type chemical and Roundup Ready soybeans)
Particularly when Roundup is applied by aerial spraying the risk of drift of the herbicide to close-by crops and trees is considerable. Both trees and nutritious and medicinal herbs have been proven to be killed or producing severely damaged fruit and leaves from the effect of Roundup being sprayed on nearby cultures, by air as well as by ground spraying.
Quote from “New research on the impact of GMOs on health”
“Although some GMOs have been approved and marketed for several years, there was no body of scientific research on their impact on the biology of living organisms. This is partly because animal feeding trials are not required in the current safety approval process for GMOs in the EU or USA. Only now is a body of evidence starting to emerge from a small number of animal feeding trials into the health effects and progress in the new science of epigenetics. This indicates that genetic engineering is much more unpredictable and risky than traditional breeding.”
Various health problems from GMO products have been identified, from serious skin problems in humans in Argentina at soya plantations (documented by Marie-Monique Robin in her film – The World According to Monsanto), to allergies in humans as well as tumors, damage to internal organs and internal bleeding in rats fed with genetically engineered potatoes.
From a lack of sufficient research and the fact that many health hazards develop over a long period of time, there is still no complete list of real health hazards to humans caused by GMO products. Monsanto who provides 90% of the world’s long list of genetically engineered products (having bought up 50 smaller companies during the last decade) does their business with such complete secrecy that there are still sold-out individuals out there who praise the complete revolution of agriculture achieved by the culture of GMO crops. These corrupt people seem to be totally unaware of the health hazards and the drive to despair and ruin of small farmers caused by GMO products. They seem to still believe that genetically engineered seeds can save the world’s food problems. Or worse yet, they don’t care.
A high representative for Monsanto has openly admitted that “We want to control the world’s food supply.” It is also very clear that they have no concern for health hazards or human disasters caused by the callous decisions of world leaders to give up on biological farming and opt for genetically engineered food production and monoculture industrial farming.
The proofs that GM huge industrial monocultures and Roundup herbicide are destroying the earth’s environment and human health are completely censured and ignored, due to intense lobbying and pressure from sold-out individuals at the United States Department of Agriculture and the Federal Drug Administration.
Once again, only corporate profit counts and people as well as the environment are of no importance. And the neocon puppets are playing the game with great gusto.
 Also entitled ‘Monsanto, une enterprise qui vous veut du bien’ (Monsanto, a company that wants the very best for you.) Monsanto is the multinational producer of Agent Orange, dioxin, bovine growth hormone, Round Up and 90% of the world production of GMOs. New movie damns Monsanto’s deadly sins See also: Le Monde selon Monsanto
 [Michael Taylor] Attorney for Monsanto who rewrote the “regulations” for Genetically Modified foods. His brilliant addition is the “substantial equivalence” measure which says if the nutrition measures are the same for the GMO as the natural food it is nobody’s business what the chemical companies add.
Reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson Blow Whistle On News Station – Florida Milk Supply Riddled with Artificial Hormone Linked to Cancer. They Were Ordered to Lie About it on Fox-TV.
The shift from farm-saved seed to corporate monopolies of the seed supply is also a shift from biodiversity to monocultures in agriculture. The District of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh (India) used to grow diverse legumes, millets, and oilseeds. Seed monopolies created crop monocultures of cotton, leading to disappearance of millions of products of nature’s evolution and farmer’s breeding. Monocultures and uniformity increase the risks of crop failure as diverse seeds adapted to diverse ecosystems are replaced by rushed introduction of unadapted and often untested seeds into the market. When Monsanto first introduced Bt Cotton in India in 2002, the farmers lost Rs. 1 billion due to crop failure. Instead of 1,500 Kg / acre as promised by the company, the harvest was as low as 200 kg. Instead of increased incomes of Rs. 10,000 / acre, farmers ran into losses of Rs. 6400 / acre. (Vandana Shiva)
 Monocultures, monopolies, myths and the masculinisation of agriculture – Statement by Dr. Vandana Shiva
 Greenpeace researcher
uncovers chilling patent plans. One way or another, Monsanto wants to make sure no food is grown that they don’t own — and the record shows they don’t care if it’s safe for the environment or not. (Direct quote in Marie-Marianne Robin’s documentary)
Siv O’Neall is an Axis of Logic columnist, based in France. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the Biography and Additional Articles by Axis Columnist, Siv O’Neall.
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By Vandana Shiva
05 April, 2004
The Indian peasantry, the largest body of surviving small farmers in the world, today faces a crisis of extinction.
Two thirds of India makes its living from the land. The earth is the most generous employer in this country of a billion, that has farmed this land for more than 5000 years.
However, as farming is delinked from the earth, the soil, the biodiversity, and the climate, and linked to global corporations and global markets, and the generosity of the earth is replaced by the greed of corporations, the viability of small farmers and small farms is destroyed. Farmers suicides are the most tragic and dramatic symptom of the crisis of survival faced by Indian peasants.
1997 witnessed the first emergence of farm suicides in India. A rapid increase in indebtedness, was at the root of farmers taking their lives. Debt is a reflection of a negative economy, a loosing economy. Two factors have transformed the positive economy of agriculture into a negative economy for peasants – the rising costs of production and the falling prices of farm commodities. Both these factors are rooted in the policies of trade liberalization and corporate globalisation.
In 1998, the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Syngenta. The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds which needed fertilizers and pesticides and could not be saved.
As seed saving is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable traits, seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year. This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness.
As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell kidneys or even commit suicide. More than 25,000 peasants in India have taken their lives since 1997 when the practice of seed saving was transformed under globalisation pressures and multinational seed corporations started to take control of the seed supply. Seed saving gives farmers life. Seed monopolies rob farmers of life.
The shift from farm saved seed to corporate monopolies of the seed supply is also a shift from biodiversity to monocultures in agriculture. The District of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh used to grow diverse legumes, millets, and oilseeds. Seed monopolies created crop monocultures of cotton, leading to disappearance of millions of products of nature’s evolution and farmer’s breeding.
Monocultures and uniformity increase the risks of crop failure as diverse seeds adapted to diverse ecosystems are replaced by rushed introduction of unadapted and often untested seeds into the market. When Monsanto first introduced Bt Cotton in India in 2002, the farmers lost Rs. 1 billion due to crop failure. Instead of 1,500 Kg / acre as promised by the company, the harvest was as low as 200 kg. Instead of increased incomes of Rs. 10,000 / acre, farmers ran into losses of Rs. 6400 / acre.
In the state of Bihar, when farm saved corn seed was displaced by Monsanto’s hybrid corn, the entire crop failed creating Rs. 4 billion losses and increased poverty for already desperately poor farmers. Poor peasants of the South cannot survive seed monopolies.
And the crisis of suicides shows how the survival of small farmers is incompatible with the seed monopolies of global corporations.
The second pressure Indian farmers are facing is the dramatic fall in prices of farm produce as a result of free trade policies of the W.T.O. The WTO rules for trade in agriculture are essentially rules for dumping. They have allowed an increase in agribusiness subsidies while preventing countries from protecting their farmers from the dumping of artificially cheap produce.
High subsidies of $ 400 billion combined with forced removal of import restrictions is a ready-made recipe for farmer suicides. Global prices have dropped from $ 216 / ton in 1995 to $ 133 / ton in 2001 for wheat, $ 98.2 / ton in 1995 to $ 49.1 / ton in 2001 for cotton, $ 273 / ton in 1995 to $ 178 / ton for soyabean. This reduction to half the price is not due to a doubling in productivity but due to an increase in subsidies and an increase in market monopolies controlled by a handful of agribusiness corporations.
Thus the U.S government pays $ 193 per ton to US Soya farmers, which artificially lowers the rice of soya. Due to removal of Quantitative Restrictions and lowering of tariffs, cheap soya has destroyed the livelihoods of coconut growers, mustard farmers, producers of sesame, groundnut and soya.
Similarly, 25000 cotton producers in the U.S are given a subsidy of $ 4 billion annually. This has brought cotton prices down artificially, allowing the U.S to capture world markets which were earlier accessible to poor African countries such as Burkina, Faso, Benin, Mali. The subsidy of $ 230 per acre in the U.S is genocidal for the African farmers. African cotton farmers are loosing $ 250 million every year. That is why small African countries walked out of the Cancun negotiations, leading to the collapse of the W.T.O ministerial.
The rigged prices of globally traded agriculture commodities are stealing incomes from poor peasants of the south. Analysis carried out by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology shows that due to falling farm prices, Indian peasants are loosing $ 26 billion or Rs. 1.2 trillion annually. This is a burden their poverty does not allow them to bear. Hence the epidemic of farmer suicides.
India was among the countries that questioned the unfair rules of W.T.O in agriculture and led the G-22 alliance along with with Brazil and China. India with other southern countries addressed the need to safeguard the livelihoods of small farmers from the injustice of free trade based on high subsidies and dumping. Yet at the domestic level, official agencies in India are in deep denial of any links between free trade and farmers survival.
An example of this denial is a Government of Karnataka report on “Farmers suicide in Karnataka – A scientific analysis”. The report while claiming to be “scientific”, makes unscientific reductionist claims that the farm suicides have only psychological causes, not economic ones, and identifies alcoholism as the root cause of suicides. Therefore, instead of proposing changes in agricultural policy, the report recommends that farmers be required to boost up their self respect (swabhiman) and self-reliance (swavalambam).
And ironically, its recommendations for farmer self-reliance are changes in the Karnataka Land Reforms Act to allow larger land holdings and leasing. These are steps towards the further decimation of small farmers who have been protected by land “ceilings” (an upper limit on land ownership) and policies that only allow peasants and agriculturalists to own agricultural land (part of the land to the tiller policies of the Devraj Urs government).
While the “expert committee” report identified “alcoholism” as the main cause for suicides, the figures of this “scientific” claim are inconsistent and do not reflect the survey. On page 10, the report states in one place that 68 percent of the suicide victims were alcoholics. Five lines later it states that 17 percent were “alcohol and illicit drinkers”.
It also states that the majority of suicide victims were small and marginal farmers and the majority had high levels of indebtedness. Yet debt is not identified as a factor leading to suicide. On page 32 of the report it is stated that of the 105 cases studied among the 3544 suicides which had occurred in five districts during 2000 – 2001, 93 had debts, 54 percent had borrowed from private sources and money lenders.
More than 90% of suicide victims were in debt. Yet a table on page 63 has mysteriously reduced debt as a reason for suicide to 2.6%, and equally mysteriously, “suicide victims having a bad habit” has emerged as the primary cause of farmers suicides.
The government is desperate to delink farm suicides from economic processes linked to globalisation such as rise in indebtedness and increased frequency of crop failure due to higher ecologic vulnerability arising from climate change and drought and higher economic risks due to introduction of untested, unadopted seeds.
This is evident in recommendation no. 22.214.171.124 “The government should launch prosecution on the responsible persons involved in misleading the public and government by providing false information about farmers suicide as crop failure or indebtedness” (page 113 of expert committee report).
However, farmers suicides cannot be delinked from indebtedness and the economic distress small farmers are facing. Indebtedness is not new. Farmers have always organised for freedom from debt.
In the nineteenth century the so call “Deccan Riots” were farmers protests against the debt trap into which they had been pushed to supply cheap cotton to the textile mills in Britain. In the eighties they formed peasant organisations to fight for debt relief from public debt linked to Green Revolution inputs.
However, under globalisation, the farmer is loosing her / his social, cultural, economic identity as a producer. A farmer is now a “consumer” of costly seeds and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations through powerful landlords and money lenders locally.
This combination is leading to corporate feudalism, the most inhumane, brutal and exploitative convergence of global corporate capitalism and local feudalism, in the face of which the farmer as an individual victim feels helpless. The bureaucratic and technocratic systems of the state are coming to the rescue of the dominant economic interests by blaming the victim.
It is necessary to stop this war against small farmers. It is necessary to re-write the rules of trade in agriculture. It is necessary to change our paradigms of food production. Feeding humanity should not depend on the extinction of farmers and extinction of species. Another agriculture is possible and necessary – an agriculture that protects farmers livelihoods, the earth and its biodiversity and public health.
Statesman News Service
NEW DELHI, March 29: In a report vindicating the government’s move to waive farmers’ debt as announced in the Union Budget, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-Escap) has pointed to the 86,922 farmer suicides in the country between 2001 and 2005.
Indicating the link between farm debt and agriculture crisis, the Escap report said this was evident from the large number of farmer suicides in some regions. “During 2001-05, 86,922 farmers committed suicides ~ 54 per cent from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra,” said the survey released here today. “Driving the distress were declining profitability, growing production and marketing risks, an institutional vacuum and lack of alternative livelihood opportunities.”
Lauding the government’s move to address the farm debt issue in the Union Budget, UN Under-Secretary General and ESCAP executive secretary, Ms Noeleen Heyzer, said “Agriculture needs another revolution for a further decline in the poverty levels, especially rural poverty.” Pointing out that Indian agriculture faced a crisis from debt, especially since the mid-1990s, the survey said “Of the estimated 89.3 million farmer households in 1993, 43.42 million (48.6 per cent) were indebted.” Quoting Indian government reports, it said, the average outstanding debt was Rs 12,585 per farmer household and Rs 25,902 per indebted farmer household.
Interest rates for home and car loans were lower than those for farm loans, the survey said, noting that even banks and micro-finance institutions charged 18-24 per cent on farm loans. Institutional debt could reduce the debt burden of farmers, it suggested.
The Escap report also said farmers indeb-tedness was low in less developed states and high in agriculturally developed states. More than half the indebted farmers took loans for capital or current business expenditure, accounting for 58.4 per cent of outstanding loans, it added.
Stating that the sources of the debt made a big difference, the report said at one end of the spectrum was Maharashtra, where institutional credit ac-co-unted for most of the indebtedness. On the other hand, in Andhra Pradesh, local moneylenders dominated the scene. Across India, more than two-fifths of debt was owed to non-institutional agencies, the report noted. Of this, 37.5 per cent carried an interest rate above 30 per cent
Survey report: http://www.unescap.org/survey2008/
Indian Country Background http://www.unescap.org/survey2008/notes/india.asp
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