RSN: How Agro-Chemical Giant Monsanto Has Been Destroying Environment, Human Lives for Decades
By teleSUR | 24 April 18
In 1995, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, listed Monsanto among the top 5 lethal corporations dumping toxic waste, as it was recorded dumping nearly 37 million tons of toxic waste, through air, water, and land.
On April 10, the terrifying news of the U.S. court allowing a merger of the German chemical firm, Bayer, with U.S’ Monsanto alarmed environmentalists, heralding it as “Bad News for the Planet.” The Bayer-Monsanto merger would create a company which controls over a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticide market.
The two firms have individually caused immense harm to the environment, and a merger, which environmentalists have been protesting for months, would make them eminently stronger and harder to fight.
And tragically enough, Monsanto, despite bearing the weight of hundreds of lawsuits, continues on its path of dominating the world’s agro-industry thanks to the enablers in governments and lobby groups.
From India to Brazil, Monsanto’s toxicity has impacted millions of lives.
In South America, countries like Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia are known to produce most of the world’s soybeans.
An intensive research done on the history of soybean production in Latin America few years ago by Miguel A. Altieri, of University of California, Berkeley, and Walter A. Pengue, of University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, revealed some disturbing findings within the industry.
“Since 1961 soybean increased 57 times and production volume increased 138 times. In Paraguay, soybeans are planted on more than 25% of all agricultural land in the country and in Argentina soybean acreage reached, in 2000, almost 15 million hectares, producing 38,3 million metric tons. All this expansion is occurring dramatically at the expense of forests and other habitats. In Paraguay, much of the Atlantic forest is being cut (Jason 2004),” Altieri and Walter reported in their 2006 study “GM soybean: Latin America’s new colonizer”.
“In Argentina 118,000 hectares of forests have been cleared to grow soybean, in Salta about 160,000 hectares and in Santiago del Estero a record of 223,000 hectares. In Brazil, the Cerrado and the savannas are falling victim to the plow at a rapid pace.”
The two researchers concluded, “Soybean expansion in Latin America represents a recent and powerful threat to biodiversity in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia. Transgenic soybeans are much more environmentally damaging than other crops because in addition to the effects derived from the production methods, mainly heavy herbicide use and genetic pollution.”
A March report, “The Avoidable Crisis” tied meat and soybean production to widespread deforestation, fires, and human rights violations in Argentina and Paraguay’s Gran Chaco border area. On average, around 19 percent of the deaths in Argentina have been attributed to cancer, but in the soy-growing parts of the country, over 30 percent of the deaths are caused by cancer, which has raised concerns over the rampant and widespread pesticide and chemical use in the Chaco.
But, instead of holding the pesticide giant accountable, several U.S. government agencies and companies around the world have rather continued to award Monsanto with subsidies and contracts.
A Long Odious History of Monsanto’s Chemicals
Monsanto opened for business in 1901 when it opened its first pharmaceutical laboratory in Missouri. John F. Queeny, the founder of the company, named it after his wife, Olga Monsanto Queeny, the daughter of Emmanuel Mendes Monsanto, who also financed the corporation at the beginning. The company first produced saccharine at one-sixth the cost of sugar.
In 1907, the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA launched an investigation to inquire if replacing sugar with saccharin violates the Pure Food and Drug Act, a consumer protection law but the then U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, a saccharin consumer, objected to the investigation.
In 1911, USDA banned saccharin except for medical purposes, for people who can’t use sugar.
During World War I, Monsanto ventured into war profiteering for the first time, as it tried to fill the void created by sugar shortages with its artificial sweetener. The government, compelled, waived some of the restrictions it had earlier placed on saccharin and allowed it to flourish in processed foods. Later, in 1950’s the artificial sweetener made a major comeback in low-calorie foods.
After nearly two decades, Monsanto expanded into industrial chemicals, drugs, becoming the world’s largest producer of aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, among others, along with PCBs or the Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs).
“PCBs were considered an industrial wonder chemical, an oil that wouldn’t burn, impervious to degradation and had almost limitless applications. Today PCBs are considered one of the gravest chemical threats on the planet. Widely used as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, cutting oils, waterproof coatings and liquid sealants, are potent carcinogens and have been implicated in reproductive, developmental and immune system disorders. The world’s center of PCB manufacturing was Monsanto’s plant on the outskirts of East St. Louis, Illinois, which has the highest rate of fetal death and immature births in the state,” Center for Research on Globalization noted in a 2014 article.
PCBs were banned after 50 years, and court documents later revealed that Monsanto was fully aware of the deadly effects of the chemicals but chose to hide it from the public, like many other times.
Perhaps, one of Monsanto’s most visibly damaging effects could be traced in its keen interest in wars, through which it also became an important component of the U.S. war machine, starting a long winding affair with the U.S. government.
U.S. Government’s Use of Monsanto’s Chemical Warfare Strategies
Through the Dayton Project in 1943, Monsanto’s Charles Allen Thomas was recruited to co-direct the U.S.-led ‘Manhattan Project,’ where the first Atomic bomb was manufactured to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese and Korean people and troops as well as U.S. military servicemen, while poisoning millions more.
Later, Monsanto’s war profiteering continued with the Vietnam war, where the Monsanto-manufactured deadly chemical, herbicide, or “Agent Orange” is used to “peel the jungle” using a variety of defoliants.
From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. sprayed over 73 million liters of chemical agents on Vietnam to strip it from vegetation which provided cover for Vietcong troops. The U.S. military also targeted cultivated lands, destroying crops and disrupting rice production and distribution by the largely communist National Liberation Front, a party devoted to reunification of North and South Vietnam.
The bi-product of the “Agent Orange,” Dioxine, is known to have directly impacted the Vietnamese populations as it entered into the food chains, causing birth defects and cancers in an estimated 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese people over the course of more than 10 years in Vietnam, and the harmful effects can be traced even decades later.
Since 1980s several lawsuits have been filed against the companies who produced Agent Orange, among them Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and Diamond Shamrock, are the most notable.
A 2002 Washington Post report detailed the horrific effects of the chemical production in the United States.
“In 1966, Monsanto managers discovered that fish submerged in that creek turned belly-up within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dunked into boiling water. They told no one. They decided “there is little object in going to expensive extremes in limiting discharges.” In 1975, a company study found that PCBs caused tumors in rats.
Instead of acknowledging the report’s findings about the harmful effects of PCBs, Monsanto, on the contrary, “ordered its conclusion changed from “slightly tumorigenic” to “does not appear to be carcinogenic.”
In 1979, EPA banned the manufacture of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and phased out most PCB uses.
The same year, Mitt Romney, former Republican presidential candidate and then vice president of consulting firm Bain & Company, helped give Monsanto a facelift, as the corporation started liquidating a significant portion of its chemical industries while it transitioned into agriculture to manufacture agri-based products.
Monsanto bankrolled in the growing diet products industry by significantly channeling and using, Aspartame, the controversial artificial sugar sweetener, commonly used in diet sodas, other diet products and products like ‘Equal’ which studies have concluded causes tumors, holes in the brain.
In 1995, Monsanto bought the firm, Searle, which patented Aspartame. The U.S. Attorney at the time. who stalled the investigation into Searle for covering up the dangers found in Aspartame, was later asked to partner with Searle’s law firm.
Donald Rumsfeld, Searle’s new CEO, who, in 1981, joined Reagan’s administration, hand-picked the new FDA commissioner, Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes. Hayes served in the position from 1981 to 1983, lifting the red tape off of Searle, and the market was once again flooded with aspartame. Aspartame continues to be used widely as thousands of products in the grocery stores have it.
Monsanto made its foray into Africa under the Obama administration, which essentially gave billions in contracts to Monsanto to spread across the African continent.
Michael Taylor, the current Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the United States Food and Drug Administration, USFDA, has been in and out of Monsanto, serving in several high ranking positions in the corporation.
Pharma or Farma, Monsanto Harvests Fear
Another heinous discovery was made in the 1940s, when under the guise of a “nutrition study” funded by Monsanto, Vanderbilt University, a private university, gave 819 pregnant women radioactive iron. Much later, those women sued the university and received US$10.3 million as part of a legal settlement.
Soon enough Monsanto expanded into the market of toxic agro-chemical products in the years between 1944 and 1957, as it manufactured Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane, DDT, a toxic insecticide, which was sprayed across fields and farms throughout the United States, and as a preventative against Malaria during the World War I.
The harmful insecticide continued to be used in the country as Monsanto carried on a skillful propaganda campaign labeling it as a “Wonder Chemical.”
DDT’s use significantly impacted the bird populations by making their eggs paper thin. The endangered status of bird species, like the Falcons, Pelicans, Ospreys, including U.S. national bird, the Bald Eagle, at the time, had been attributed to Monsanto.
Although, owing to public outrage, DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972, many countries in the Global South have continued to use it against mosquitoes and to prevent diseases like Malaria.
For example the use of DDT, which is also linked to a four-fold increase in the risk of breast cancer, is still prevalent in places like India where the known organochlorine insecticide and a persistent organic pollutant continues to be used in many parts of the country to this day.
When it comes to the magnanimity of the destruction caused, Monsanto, which forayed into Big Agra in 1972, has surpassed the likes of ADM, Cargill, Bunge, and BASF, which had been in the business for over a century.
In India, experts have linked Monsanto’s entry into agro-industry to a wave of farmers’ suicides, as they couldn’t afford the expensive, out of reach genetically modified seeds, fertilizers, and insecticides.
These genetically modified seeds are priced nearly four times higher than the ordinarily available seeds.
One of the most popular of these is Bollgard and developed by Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech. Bollgard is genetically engineered with the Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) gene and a protein that is toxic to the bollworm, a pest known to be harmful to the cotton plant.
Many of the commonly used pesticides in India contain chemicals that are banned in the West, yet to buy these expensive products, the poor peasants approach loan sharks, who lend them money on high-interest rates.
Traditionally, farmers have saved seeds to be used in the next season. So for instance, if they planted a crop in the spring and harvested in the fall, they would reclaim it and clean up in the winter to be used in the next spring.
But the insidious agro-chemical giant, Monsanto, developed genetically modified seeds which are equipped to resist its only herbicide, Roundup, with Glyphosate, a carcinogen, recently linked directly to cancer by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer agency.
Monsanto which patented these genetically modified seeds has made the lives of independent, low-income farmers, around the world, a living hell.
“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,” a 2008 Vanity Fair investigation on Monsanto noted.
But in 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court paved way for Monsanto to use a decision turning the seeds into widgets also 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.”
Roundup, one of Monsanto’s most recent destructive agro-chemical, was introduced in the markets in the 1990s, which contains a deadly chemical, Glyphosate. To deal with the harmful chemical dosage of Monsanto’s Roundup, Monsanto engineered Roundup-resistant plants.
According to In These Times, in 2014, ‘Moms Across America’ took samples of breast milk to test glyphosate in them and concluded the samples contained the chemical, a weed-killer, manufactured by Monsanto.
Glyphosate, a commonly-used weed killer which is a primary ingredient of Roundup, is commonly found in household gardens, parks, and sports facilities, and farms in many parts of the world, and has thus made its way to humans.
Another survey in 2016 revealed that 93 percent of U.S. citizens tested had glyphosate in their urine, which the World Health Organization’s Cancer Agency, in 2017 labeled “carcinogenic.”