Monsanto has a long and infamous history of manufacturing and bringing to market such chemicals as DDT, Agent Orange, aspartame, Roundup and dioxin1 — chemical compounds from which society continues to feel the effects.
In an effort to distance the current corporation from past deeds, Monsanto refers to the company prior to 2002 as “the former Monsanto” in their news releases.2 However, nothing has really changed aside from their PR machine.
While Monsanto has branched into genetic engineering (GE) of plants, the sale of patented GE seeds simply feeds the need for the company’s pesticides. Monsanto is STILL primarily a purveyor of toxins, not life.
Monsanto began forging a unique and financially advantageous relationship with the U.S. government starting with the company’s involvement in the Manhattan Project that produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II. During the Vietnam War they were the leading producer of Agent Orange.
The specialization in the production and distribution of toxic chemicals continues today.
Their influence over government runs so deep that despite the fact 64 other countries have been labeling genetically engineered (GE) foods for years, the U.S. now has the distinction of being the first country to un-label GE foods at the urging of a company producing mass amounts of GE seeds.
Monsanto and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
In the latter part of the 1920s, Monsanto was the largest producer of PCBs. This chemical was used in lubricant for electric motors, hydraulic fluids and to insulate electrical equipment.3 Old fluorescent light fixtures and electrical appliances with PCB capacitors may still contain the chemical.
During the years PCB was manufactured and used, there were no controls placed on disposal. Since PCBs don’t break down under many conditions, they are now widely distributed through the environment and have made the journey up the food chain.4
Between the inception and distribution of the product and its subsequent ban in the late 1970s, an estimated 1.5 billion pounds were distributed in products around the world.5
Monsanto was the primary manufacturer of PCBs in the U.S. under the trade name Aroclor. Health problems associated with exposure to the chemical were noted as early as 1933 when 23 of 24 workers at the production plant developed pustules, loss of energy and appetite, loss of libido and other skin disturbances.6
According to Monsanto’s public timeline, it was in 1966 that “Monsanto and others began to study PCB persistence in the environment.”7 However, seven years earlier, Monsanto’s assistant director of their Medical Department wrote:
“… [S]ufficient exposure, whether by inhalation of vapors or skin contact, can result in chloracne which I think we must assume could be an indication of a more systemic injury if the exposure were allowed to continue.”8
In 1967, Shell Oil called to inform Monsanto of press reports from Sweden, noting that PCBs were accumulating in mammals further up the food chain. Shell asked for PCB samples to perform their own analytical studies.9
With full knowledge of the devastation expected to the environment and humanity, it wasn’t until 11 years later, in 1977, that Monsanto reportedly pulled production on PCB.10
PCBs Are Probable Human Carcinogens
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Toxicology Program, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIEHS) have identified PCBs as either probable, potential or reasonably likely to cause cancer in humans.11
If it seems like these agencies are couching their words, they are. Human studies have noted increased rates of liver cancer, gall bladder cancer, melanomas, gastrointestinal cancer, biliary tract cancer, brain cancer and breast cancer when individuals had higher levels of PCB chemicals in their blood and tissue.12
However, the EPA limits the ability of researchers to link a chemical as a carcinogen unless there is conclusive proof. While this proof is evident in animal studies, you can’t feed these chemicals to humans and record the results. Thus PCBs are a “probable” carcinogen in humans. Other health effects from PCBs include:
Babies born with neurological and motor control delays including lower IQ, poor short-term memory and poor performance on standardized behavioral assessment tests
Disrupted sex hormones including shortened menstrual cycles, reduced sperm count and premature puberty
Imbalanced thyroid hormone affecting growth, intellectual and behavioral development
Immune effects, including children with more ear infections and chickenpox
Once PCBs are absorbed in the body they deposit in the fat tissue. They are not broken down or excreted. This means the number of PCBs build over time and move up the food chain. Smaller fish are eaten by larger ones and eventually land on your dinner table.
Chemical Poisoning Begins Before Birth
A recent study at the University of California demonstrated that PCBs are found in the blood of pregnant women.13 Before birth, the umbilical cord delivers approximately 300 quarts of blood to your baby every day.
Not long ago, researchers believed the placenta would shield your developing baby from most pollutants and chemicals. Now we know it does not.
The umbilical cord is a lifeline between mother and child, sustaining life and propelling growth. However, in recent research cord blood contained between 200 and 280 different chemicals; 180 were known carcinogens and 217 were toxic to the baby’s developing nervous system.14
The deposits of chemicals in your body or the body of your developing baby are called your “body burden” of chemicals and pollution.
A steady stream of chemicals from the environment during a critical time of organ and system development has a significant impact on the health of your child, both in infancy and as the child grows to adulthood.
Tracey Woodruff, Ph.D., director of the University of California San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, was quoted in a press release, saying:
“It was surprising and concerning to find so many chemicals in pregnant women without fully knowing the implications for pregnancy. Several of these chemicals in pregnant women were at the same concentrations that have been associated with negative effects in children from other studies.
In addition, exposure to multiple chemicals that can increase the risk of the same adverse health outcome can have a greater impact than exposure to just one chemical.”
Butyl Benzyl Phthalate — Another Monsanto Product
Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), also manufactured by Monsanto, was recently implicated in cell fat storage.15 This specific phthalate was found in human fluids and had an effect on the accumulation of fat inside cells.
BBP is used in the manufacture of vinyl tile, as a plasticizer in PVC pipe, carpets, conveyer belts and weather stripping in your home and office.
Like other phthalates used in the production of plastics, BBP is not bound to the product and can be released into your environment. It may be absorbed by crops and move up the food chain.16 The biggest source of exposure is food.
Drive-through hamburgers and take-out pizzas may be increasing your intake of phthalates. The danger is not in the food itself but in the products used to handle it. The study analyzed data from nearly 9,000 individuals, finding the one-third who had eaten at a fast food restaurant had higher levels of two different phthalates.17
Potentially, BBP may adversely affect your reproductive function. However, at lower doses it also has an effect on your kidneys, liver and pancreas.18 Increased risks of respiratory disorders and multiple myelomas have also been reported in people who have exposure to products manufactured with BBP.19 An increasing waistline from BBP exposure may also reduce your fertility.
Low Sperm Count and Infertility Affecting Animals and Humans
A 26-year study of fertility in dogs, published recently, has distinct similarities to infertility rates in humans. In this study, researchers evaluated the ejaculate of nearly 2,000 dogs. Over the 26 year period, they found a drop in sperm motility of 2.4 percent per year.20
Additionally, both the semen and the testicles of castrated dogs contained by PCBs and phthalates, implicated in other studies to reduction in fertility. Phthalates have been implicated in both decreased sperm motility and quality of your sperm,21 affecting both fertility and the health of your children.22
Researchers used dogs in this study as they live in the same environment as their owners, and often eat some of the same food. This correlation between sperm function and concentration, and environment and food in dogs and humans is significant.
In those 26 years there was also a rise in cryptorchidism in male pups (a condition where the testicles don’t descend into the scrotum) born to stud dogs who experienced a decline in sperm quality and motility.23 Cryptorchidism and undescended testicles, occurs at a rate of 1 in 20 term male human infants and 1 in 3 pre-term babies.24
Problems with infertility are also affecting marine animals at the top of the food chain. In the western waters of the Atlantic, the last pod of Orcas are doomed to extinction. High levels of PCB have been found in the fat of over 1,000 dolphins and Orcas in the past 20 years. Now taking a toll on the animal’s fertility, this pod of Orcas has not reproduced in the 19 years it has been under study.25
Orcas were living in the North Sea until the 1960s. At that time PCB pollution peaked in the area and the Orca whales disappeared. The same happened in the Mediterranean Sea, where the whales flourished until the 1980s. This pod off the coast of the U.K. is the last living pod in that area.
Monsanto’s Argument in PCB Lawsuits
Although Monsanto denies culpability and knowledge of the danger behind the chemical PCB, you’ll discover internal documentation in this video that they did, in fact, know of the danger while manufacturing and distributing the product. Monsanto is currently embroiled in several lawsuits across eight cities and the argument is over who owns the rain. The cities are suing Monsanto in Federal Court, saying PCBs manufactured by Monsanto have polluted the San Francisco Bay.26
Monsanto attorney Robert Howard argues that because the city does not own the water rights, the city does not have the right to sue. And, because the PCBs have not damaged city property, such as corroding pipes, Howard claims it is a state problem. Scott Fiske, attorney for three cities, countered with the city’s regulatory interests in management of storm water as a fundamental function of the city.27
While Fiske claims he can prove Monsanto knew the product was hazardous as early as 1969, Howard maintains the company should not be liable for the use of the chemicals it produced.
In 2001, Monsanto attorneys in the Owens v. Monsanto case, acknowledged only one health threat from exposure to PCBs: chloracne, and instead argued that since the entire planet has been contaminated, they are innocent of all liability.28 The attorney for Monsanto was quoted in the Chemical Industry Archives, saying:
“The truth is that PCBs are everywhere. They are in meat, they are in everyone in the courtroom, they are everywhere and they have been for a long time, along with a host of other substances.” 29
The cities currently engaged in lawsuits against Monsanto for damage to the environment and waterways include Berkley, Oakland, San Jose, Portland, Spokane, Seattle, Long Beach and San Diego. All eight cities attempted to combine their cases against the agrochemical giant but were unsuccessful when one judge found the issues were different enough to warrant separate cases.30
Monsanto’s Deep Pockets
Monsanto petitioned the Federal Court to dismiss Portland’s lawsuit, claiming it would countersue, adding years to the process. It is likely Monsanto would increase the scope of the case and include companies who used the product and released the PCBs.31 Meanwhile, three plaintiffs in St. Louis received better news in May 2016 when a jury awarded them a total of $46.5 million, finding Monsanto negligent in the production of PCBs.32
This suit claimed Monsanto sold PCBs even after it learned about the dangers, bringing to court internal documents dated 1955, which stated: “We know Aroclors [PCBs] are toxic but the actual limit has not been precisely defined.”33 To date this win over Monsanto has been rare. Williams Kherkher, attorney for the plaintiffs, explained in EcoWatch:34
“The only reason why this victory is rare is because no one has had the money to fight Monsanto.”
Kherkher and other firms pooled their resources in this case and expect wins in upcoming lawsuits. The firm has accumulated the names of approximately 1,000 plaintiffs with claims against Monsanto and PCBs.
Find Out the Glyphosate Levels in Your Body
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, and is the most widely used weed-killing chemical on farms, lawns, schoolyards and other public spaces. It’s also extensively applied to many crops before harvest. The World Health Organization (WHO) performed its own independent analysis in March 2015, and determined glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.
The Health Research Institute (HRI) in Iowa has developed a glyphosate test kit that will allow you to learn your personal glyphosate levels. I’ve recently gained access to a limited number of kits that I’m now able to offer on Mercola.com at cost, so no profit will be made on their sales. Ordering also allows you to participate in a worldwide study on environmental exposure to glyphosate.
A new ProPublica analysis has found that the odds of having a child born with birth defects were more than a third higher for veterans exposed to Agent Orange than for those who weren’t.
by Charles Ornstein and Hannah Fresques, ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh for The Virginian-PilotDecember 16, 2016
ARMY VETERAN WILLIAM PENNER used to jokingly call the thick yellow crust that crept across his young son Matthew’s scalp “Agent Orange” after the toxic defoliant sprayed on him in Vietnam before the boy was born. The joke turned sour a few years ago, when Matthew, now 43, was diagnosed with a host of serious illnesses, including heart disease, fibromyalgia and arthritis.
They, like thousands of others, are grappling with a chilling prospect: Could Agent Orange, the herbicide linked to health problems in Vietnam veterans, have also harmed their children?
For decades, the Department of Veterans Affairs has collected — and ignored — reams of information that could have helped answer that question, an investigation by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot has found.
Its medical staff has physically examined more than 668,000 Vietnam veterans possibly exposed to Agent Orange, documenting health conditions and noting when and where they served. For at least 34 years, the agency also has asked questions about their children’s birth defects, before and after the war.
But the birth defect data had never received scrutiny by the VA or anyone else until this year, when ProPublica, working with The Virginian-Pilot, obtained it after submitting a detailed plan describing how it would be used and agreeing to protect patients’ identities.
The analysis that followed was revealing: The odds of having a child born with birth defects during or after the war were more than a third higher for veterans who say they handled, sprayed or were directly sprayed with Agent Orange than for veterans who say they weren’t exposed or weren’t sure. The analysis controlled for such variables as age and health status.
The data has some caveats. The VA, for example, had no way of verifying the vets’ Agent Orange exposure and did not independently confirm information about their children’s birth defects. Even so, experts said the results should prompt the VA to take the issue seriously.
“It’s like a sign that says ‘Dig Here’ and they’re not digging,” said Dr. David Ozonoff, a professor of environmental health at Boston University and co-editor-in-chief of the online journal Environmental Health, after reviewing ProPublica’s findings. “It raises questions about whether they want to know the answer or are just hoping the problem will naturally go away as the veterans die off.”
Joel Michalek, co-author of a major Air Force study into Agent Orange exposure and birth defects, said ProPublica’s analysis suggests the issue should be revisited. In the 1980s, he and his team found a higher rate of post-war birth defects in the children of veterans who handled Agent Orange than in the children of those who didn’t, but they later concluded that herbicide exposure was not the cause.
“You see parallel patterns of what we saw back then,” said Michalek, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “That, to me, is a signal.”
In a written response on Thursday, the VA called ProPublica’s findings “interesting” and “a step in the right direction,” saying they raise additional questions.
But the agency also said it does not have the in-house expertise to study birth defects, deferring to academic researchers and other parts of the federal government. “VA believes that research to understand the relationship between exposure and intergenerational transmission of disease, if conducted, should be done where scientists with expertise in the relevant fields of inquiry can provide leadership.”
The VA said it should play “an ancillary role.”
Concerns that Agent Orange was not just sickening vets but also causing birth defects in their children surfaced after troops returned from war four decades ago. Veterans reported that some of their children had unusual defects — missing limbs, extra limbs and other diseases — that didn’t run in their families. Some government studies were done, including Michalek’s, but they generally dismissed an association.
Since then, those findings have guided the government position on disability benefits for children of Vietnam vets. The VA makes payments only to those who have spina bifida, in which the spinal cord doesn’t develop properly, and the children of a small number of female Vietnam vets with 18 other diseases. That leaves out the vast majority of vets’ ailing children.
Last week, after repeated recommendations by federal scientific advisory panels, Congress passed a bill that requires the VA to pay for an analysis of all research done thus far on the “descendents of veterans with toxic exposure.” It also requires the agency to determine the feasibility of future research and, if such studies are possible, to pursue them.
In its written response, the VA said it has already requested a related report from the National Academy of Medicine.
Recent advances in science, especially in the burgeoning field of epigenetics, have shown that chemical exposure can affect multiple generations. Changes in gene expression — whether a gene for a trait is turned on or off — can be passed from one generation to the next, research shows. A 2012 study, for example, showed that gestating female rats exposed to dioxin, a byproduct found in Agent Orange, passed mutations to future generations.
“I think there’s kind of a paradigm shift that’s been going on,” said Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. “While I used to be pretty skeptical about reports, especially related to Agent Orange exposures of predominantly male soldiers we had at the time, I’m not as skeptical as I was.”
If researchers conclude that troops’ wartime exposures can affect future generations, the implications go well beyond Vietnam veterans and their descendants. Vets from subsequent conflicts have similar concerns that their proximity to burn pits, depleted uranium and other toxins might be affecting their children.
Vietnam vets and their advocates believe a brutal calculation may lie at the heart of why their claims have gone unexamined. Caring for and compensating veterans themselves already costs tens of billions of dollars a year. If a link to their children is proven, it could add billions more.
Many Vietnam veterans, reaching the ends of their lives, are increasingly haunted by thoughts of the full cost of their service.
Blackledge, who fathered a healthy child before the war and two sick ones after, believes the government that exposed troops to Agent Orange should care for those it harmed — including their children.
“I probably wouldn’t have had kids,” he said, “had I known that there would be an impact on them.”
MIKE RYAN, AN ARMY VET, recalled seeing planes spraying Agent Orange overhead during his 13-month Vietnam tour but thought little of it until 1976, when his wife, Maureen, made the connection between the toxic herbicide and their daughter, Kerry.
From 1962 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of potent weed killers, including Agent Orange, over Vietnam to kill dense jungle foliage and eliminate places for the enemy to hide, exposing as many as 2.6 million service members in the process.
Many, like Ryan, returned home, eager to put Vietnam behind them, starting new families or adding to ones they had. Kerry was born in 1971 with a hole in her heart, no lower digestive system, dysfunctional kidneys, a deformed arm and fingers, spina bifida and more than a dozen other health problems.
Mike Ryan’s mother, the head obstetrician at a Long Island hospital, delivered baby Kerry and knew immediately something was terribly wrong.
“Can you imagine the trauma of it?” he said. “Seeing your new granddaughter come out like that?”
For years, the Ryans were baffled by their daughter’s problems. There had been no history of birth defects on either side of the family. Neither were smokers or drug users. A second child, born a few years later, was relatively healthy. It wasn’t until Maureen Ryan read a magazine article that suggested a link between dioxin and birth defects that it dawned on them that her husband’s tour in Vietnam might be connected to Kerry’s problems.
By that time, there had been reports suggesting that Vietnamese children born in areas heavily contaminated by Agent Orange had high rates of defects, though some U.S. researchers said rigorous scientific studies never established a link.
Mike Ryan also had an ugly rash, called chloracne, that’s considered a signature effect of Agent Orange exposure. He remembered drinking rainwater collected from the tops of tents in Vietnam, not realizing it may have been contaminated with chemicals sprayed from above.
The Ryans went public with their concerns at a press conference in 1978, drawing the nation’s attention to the children of Vietnam veterans.
A year later, the Ryans pushed Kerry into a congressional hearing in a wheelchair to testify about her struggles, prompting then Rep. Al Gore, D-Tennessee, to ask, “I wonder what the reaction of the VA would be if the enemy had used Agent Orange?” In the fall of 1980, President-elect Ronald Reagan arranged a meeting to learn about their struggle and concerns about the herbicide.
But after that, the momentum died.
Instead, in the years that followed, the Reagan administration worked to undermine the Ryans’ cause in court as the couple served as one of the lead plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the chemical companies that made Agent Orange.
Weinstein, who’d expressed doubt that veterans had been harmed, was even more skeptical about their children, writing, “however slight the suggestion of a causal connection between the veterans’ medical problems and Agent Orange exposure, even less evidence supports the existence of an association between birth defects … and exposure of the father to Agent Orange.”
Mike Ryan wasn’t surprised. “I knew we had no shot,” he said.
In 1997, when the VA finally began offering compensation for children with spina bifida, the Ryans didn’t bother applying. Mike Ryan said it was never about the money; it was about recognition of the debt he believes his country owes his daughter. “She has 22 birth defects, and they want to pay only for spina bifida? Come on, give me a break.”
Mike Ryan, now 71, said he hadn’t kept up with scientific advancements that potentially confirm what he’s spent years arguing — that a father’s exposure to toxins can cause health problems in offspring. In the end, it won’t matter what researchers discover, he insisted.
“They will never admit it,” he said, “because if they do, then America is admitting to drafting the unborn.”
The same year Weinstein cited a lack of evidence connecting Agent Orange and birth defects, an Air Force scientist believed he’d found some.
In 1979, a team of researchers had embarked on a $143 million, 20-year study of those Air Force vets who’d had the greatest exposure to Agent Orange: Those who’d sprayed it. The study was extremely detailed, verifying what veterans said with a host of medical exams and biological specimens, including blood, semen and urine samples. Five years in, Dr. Richard Albanese, a lead investigator, and his team made what they considered an intriguing finding — children born to exposed Air Force vets after the war had more defects than children of those who hadn’t handled Agent Orange.
The researchers wrote up the results in a report, but their superiors halted its release, saying more research was needed, including physically examining all the children to verify whether they had birth defects, Albanese recalled in a recent interview. After Albanese spoke up about the delay, he was taken off the project and reassigned.
Meanwhile, two major studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that there was little connection between exposure to herbicides and birth defects. One examined babies born in the metropolitan Atlanta region and found that Vietnam veterans fathered a similar percent of babies with birth defects as other men. A second study compared the rates of birth defects among babies fathered by Vietnam vets to those born to veterans who served elsewhere during the war. Vietnam veterans reported a higher rate of birth defects in their children but that finding was not validated in follow-up reviews of hospital records. The reports did suggest a possible association between herbicide exposure among vets and spina bifida in their kids.
Finally in 1988, under pressure from members of Congress, the study Albanese had worked on was released, but with only his name on it. His study found “a statistically significant increase in reported birth defects” among veterans who handled Agent Orange. Then, four years later, the Air Force published a follow-up paper that claimed no evidence had been found linking Agent Orange exposure to birth defects in the men’s children.
The 1992 report looked at the data in a different way. If there indeed was an association, the researchers wrote, they would have expected to find that veterans with more dioxin lingering in their blood would have higher rates of birth defects in their children, but that wasn’t the case. They concluded that the few links between dioxin and birth defects “were generally weak, inconsistent or biologically implausible” and the data “provided no support” for such a connection.
To this day, Albanese believes his findings were correct while those of his former colleagues were flawed.
“These people really bent over backwards to try to disprove a connection,” he said. “That’s my feeling.”
Albanese, who now runs a small defense consulting company in San Antonio, said he believes the episode was part of a broader government effort to suppress findings connecting Agent Orange to the health of veterans and their children.
“I’m so sad and so angry that science could be corrupted this way,” said Albanese, who served in the Air Force. “I’m a faithful military man, but this was not honorable behavior.”
Seven years later, some of Albanese’s concerns were investigated by the Government Accountability Office and at a congressional hearing in 2000. The GAO noted the unusual way in which the Air Force report was handled and said one veterans’ organization believed it may have delayed the VA’s decision to provide benefits to children with spina bifida.
Air Force researchers have denied that their findings were manipulated and said they needed the extra time to verify each birth defect against medical records to ensure it was correct.
Meanwhile, thousands of Vietnam vets have added information every year to the VA’s growing body of data, deepening a potentially rich pool for researchers. Yet, for decades, nobody looked.
By 1978, Agent Orange and its potential effects had become a national controversy. In response, the VA began offering veterans free examinations and regular notifications when new information about Agent Orange came to light. As part of the effort, information was gathered about each vet and entered into a newly established Agent Orange Registry.
The questionnaire collected detailed information about veterans’ service, health conditions and possible exposure to herbicides, asking vets whether they handled or sprayed Agent Orange, were directly sprayed with it, were in an area recently sprayed with it, ate or drank food that may have come in contact with it, or were exposed to other herbicides. The VA also collected information about children born before and after the vet’s service with spina bifida or other birth defects.
The questionnaire didn’t define what constitutes a birth defect, leaving it to each vet to do so. In an email last month, the VA said it “would expect” parents to accurately answer questions about whether their children have birth defects, since such defects affect about 3 percent of all births. Yet in its statement on Thursday, the agency said that it anticipated “significant variation in the accuracy” of the self-reported information.
ProPublica looked for differences in birth defect rates among children of veterans who said they were exposed to Agent Orange compared to those who said they weren’t or weren’t sure. The analysis focused on a group of 37,535 veterans who had children born before their service in the war as well as during or after, in part because many of the factors relevant to birth defects wouldn’t change, including the veterans’ genetic makeup.
A veteran was considered exposed if he answered “definitely yes” to the questions about handling or spraying Agent Orange or being directly sprayed with it. Fewer than 10 percent of veterans fit this criteria. If a veteran said he was unsure or definitely was not exposed, he was considered unexposed.
The analysis showed that both groups saw a substantial increase in birth defects among their children born after the war, but the rate was higher for those who were exposed. Slightly more than 13 percent of veterans who sprayed, handled or were sprayed with Agent Orange reported having a child with birth defects born during or after the war, compared to nearly 10 percent of veterans who were not exposed or were unsure. The two groups had similar rates of birth defects among children born before the war, but the odds of having a child born during or after the war with birth defects was 30 percent higher for exposed veterans.
ProPublica ran its methodology by experts in the field, including Michalek, who was involved in the Air Force birth defects study, and Birnbaum, the director of the federal environmental health research agency. The analysis has its limitations, including the self-selected nature of the veterans who took part in the registry and the self-reported information they provided. It also does not prove that Agent Orange caused the increased rate of birth defects, but it does raise important questions for future research, they said.
At one point in the mid-1980s, the VA also saw the research value of its registry, “namely to provide a means of detecting clues or suggestions that specific health problems or unexpected health trends are showing up in this group of veterans,” according to a fact sheet prepared at the time.
Indeed, when a preliminary analysis of the registry in 1983 showed no unusual health problems in Vietnam veterans, Alvin Young, the head of the VA’s Agent Orange Projects Office at the time, announced the results at a news conference, drawing newspaper headlines that suggested Agent Orange hadn’t harmed vets.
Since then, the VA has grown dismissive of the registry’s value. Today the registry is primarily used to keep track of vets’ contact information. In its statement Thursday, the VA said “observation of birth defects was not the primary purpose of the Agent Orange registry.”
“VA has taken a very cautious approach in the use of the registry data, but is currently exploring ways to better utilize this resource for research using administrative records or supporting research recruitment,” the agency said.
Over the past 18 months, more than 6,000 vets and their family members confronting Agent Orange-related issues have shared their stories with ProPublica and The Pilot. Some said it was inexplicable that VA had collected all their information, then simply stashed it away unexamined.
Royal Gee, a Marine Corps veteran from Georgia, completed a registry exam a few years ago. He has rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other health problems. His daughter born before the war is healthy but the one conceived afterward was born with cysts on her head. She’s had ongoing problems with cysts in her joints and now suffers from an immune system disorder.
“They say it has nothing to do with my service in Vietnam and it stops right there,” he said. “There’s got to be a reason.”
Experts, too, have seen their calls for more research die without explanation.
Federal scientific advisory panels have repeatedly urged the VA to research Agent Orange’s effect on offspring. In 2007, a panel of the prestigious Institute of Medicine said the VA “should review all the possible cognitive and developmental effects in offspring of veterans. Such a review should include the possibility of effects in grandchildren.”
In 2009, 2012 and 2014, other IOM panels reiterated that recommendation and expanded on it.
This year, yet another IOM panel weighed in, reporting no progress on the earlier recommendations and encouraging more research in animals. “To date there has been minimal investigation of whether paternal exposure poses a risk of adverse effects in their offspring,” it said.
Before joining the VA, Linda Schwartz, now the agency’s assistant secretary for policy and planning, looked into birth defects among the children of vets as an associate clinical professor of nursing at Yale University. She and a colleague, George Knafl, reassessed the findings of the Air Force study. They found that, contrary to the main published findings, “there is distinct evidence” that the children of those who handled Agent Orange had more birth defects and developmental disabilities. They presented the work at a 2003 international dioxin meeting, but their manuscript was not accepted for publication in a scientific journal.
Schwartz, in a recent interview, said if the U.S. conceded that Agent Orange caused birth defects, the Vietnamese government might seek compensation for children who’ve been harmed over there. “We ran into a wall,” she said. “People were deathly afraid that the Vietnamese would then lodge a horrendous lawsuit against the United States.”
For now, the VA pays to store the blood, semen and tissue specimens from the former Air Force spray crews in a freezer at a base in Ohio, leaving open the possibility for future studies.
Schwartz’s role at the VA doesn’t put her in charge of such studies. But she said new technology could be used to answer at least some questions. “Maybe it’s not the answer that people want, but at least it would be an answer.”
In the absence of new government research into Agent Orange and birth defects, advocates around the country have pursued their own strategies for drawing attention to the issue.
Heather Bowser was born in 1972, three years after her father, William Morris, returned from Vietnam. His base was less than 10 miles away from Bien Hoa Air Base, which served as the hub for the Air Force crew that sprayed Agent Orange across the country. The airplanes returning from short missions would often dump Agent Orange in the river alongside his base, he told her.
Bowser weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces at birth. She was born missing her right leg below the knee and several of her fingers. She had no big toe on her left foot, and the remaining toes were webbed. “The doctor said, ‘If they’re that messed up on the outside, they’re usually that messed up on the inside,’” she said. “My parents had no idea. There was no ultrasound and that kind of stuff, so I made quite a shocking entry into the world.”
Five years ago, Bowser co-founded Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance, which has since grown to nearly 4,000 members who swap stories or vent about doctors who dismiss their concerns about Agent Orange. “Our stories are very similar … very similar birth defects, very similar health issues later,” she said. “Neural tube defects, shortened limbs, webbed toes, missing limbs, extra vertebrae, missing vertebrae, autoimmune disorders. The list goes on.”
Bowser, who lives in Canfield, Ohio, said her group has been limited by a lack of funding, but they have reached out to scientists working on the issues in the United States and Vietnam. “I don’t think it’s too late. Quite honestly, it’s not the monetary payoff. It’s the acknowledgement that a parent suffered, we suffered, and something needs to be acknowledged. … This isn’t a figment of your imagination. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is something that happened to you and your family.”
Matthew Penner, whose dad is an Army veteran, found Bowser’s group and said reading others’ stories “just blew my mind. That really put it together for me.”
While Bowser has been working to help the children of veterans connect with one another, Mokie Porter has been working to get veterans to share their medical and exposure information with their children in case they don’t live long enough to see a connection made.
Porter is the director of communications for the Vietnam Veterans of America, based in Silver Spring, Maryland. The group has been a forceful advocate for compensating veterans for health problems linked to Agent Orange.
Porter, who has worked there since 1985, said she became particularly interested in vets’ children in 2009 when her own daughter was being treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins Health System. While there, Porter’s daughter befriended the grandson of a Vietnam veteran who also was sick.
After that, she helped launch the VVA project Faces of Agent Orange. They’ve held more than 250 town hall meetings across the U.S., urging veterans to share their families’ stories. At the first one, in Louisville, Kentucky, “the room was filled,” Porter said. “Everybody in the room was surprised that they weren’t alone.”
Porter and her colleagues also encourage the children of veterans to file claims with the VA for benefits related to Agent Orange even though the department currently doesn’t cover most defects. Their hope is that the VA will keep the claims on file, and, should it change its position, pay benefits retroactively.
Since 2001, the VA has received claims for benefits from more than 8,100 people citing spina bifida and other birth defects, an agency spokesman said. Of those, only 1,325 claimants have received benefits.
Porter also serves on the board of Birth Defect Research for Children, which has attempted to gather data on birth defects to be analyzed in a way the VA has not done. It is led by Betty Mekdeci, who first started gathering data on birth defects and environmental exposures in the 1980s after her son was born with health issues, then became fixated on helping the children of Vietnam vets.
She believes her data shows elevated numbers of birth defects — especially those affecting a child’s immune and nervous systems — in offspring of Vietnam veterans, though those findings have not been confirmed in a published study.
“I think if we send young people to war, to defend us, our way of life, whatever, that we have a contract with them,” said Mekdeci, who despite a lack of formal scientific training has presented her findings to Congress and the IOM. “We have a contract to take care of them if they’re injured, and if their children are injured because of their exposures, we have a contract to take care of them, too.”
With the passage of time, hope dims for answers to the questions about Agent Orange and birth defects.
In a report this year, an IOM panel said the military and the VA should set their sights on forward-looking projects, like tracking which chemicals soldiers are exposed to in real time.
“Revisiting what happened 50 years ago, 40 years ago, is essentially impossible,” said Dr. Kenneth Ramos, who chaired that IOM panel, while speaking at a forum this summer in Washington sponsored by ProPublica and The Pilot. “We’re not going to be able to scientifically go back and reconstruct what could have happened 50 years ago.”
In an interview, Michael Skinner, a Washington State University professor of biological sciences and one of the leaders of the study of epigenetics, said he, too, wonders whether it makes sense to delve too deep into the question of Agent Orange and birth defects. He was a co-author on the 2012 paper that found dioxin induces lingering effects in the offspring and future generations of female rats. But he said he hasn’t found additional funds to continue the work in male rats.
Besides, he said, the epidemiology is always going to be complicated. Just because someone’s child or grandchild manifests a health problem linked to dioxin exposure, that doesn’t mean Agent Orange caused it. People could have been exposed to dioxin in a variety of ways because the chemical was prevalent in urban areas in the U.S. until the late 1970s.
“There’s a point at which we have to say, ‘Look, a really bad thing happened, but you have to stop pointing fingers.’”
Such sentiments don’t sit well with veterans or their children. “A lot of people probably don’t think about it because a lot of people don’t want to think about it,” said Ralph Thornburgh, an Army vet whose two daughters born after Vietnam have had health problems, including one with leukemia. “They want to just go about their everyday life.”
The VA is working on a long-awaited study on whether Vietnam veterans, generally, have “different patterns of illness that are unlike their non-Vietnam deployed military counterparts, and members of the U.S. population.” It will also look at the health of their children. It is not specifically looking at effects of Agent Orange, but it has been praised by veterans groups as an important effort.
Schwartz said more needs to be done about Agent Orange and its impact on the children of veterans.
“These individuals deserve an answer,” Schwartz said at the forum hosted by ProPublica and The Pilot. “This is the right thing to do, and although we may not have all of the wonderful information, we have some. Let us at least take a stab at this.”
The subjects are often society’s most vulnerable, and the doctors have rarely had to answer for their crimes
10 of the most evil medical experiments in history
U.S. helicopter sprays Agent Orange in Vietnam
AlterNet Evil scares us. Arguably our best horror stories, the ones that give us nightmares, are about evil people doing evil things—especially evil experiments. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells is a classic that comes to mind. In modern cinema, movies like The Human Centipede continue that gruesome tradition. But these are fictional. The truth is that we need only look at recent human history to find real, live, utterly repugnant evil. Worse yet, it is evil perpetrated by doctors.
Here are 10 of the most evil experiments ever performed on human beings—black and other people of color, women, prisoners, children and gay people have been the predominant victims.
1. The Tuskegee Experiments
There’s a good reason many African Americans are wary of the good intentions of government and the medical estblishment. Even today, many believe the conspiracy theory that AIDS, which ravaged the African-American community, both gay and straight, was created by the government to wipe out African Americans. What happened in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1932 is one explanation for these fears.
At the time, treatments for syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that causes pain, insanity and ultimately, death, were mostly toxic and ineffective (things like mercury, which caused, kidney failure, mouth ulcers, tooth loss, insanity, and death). Government-funded doctors decided it would be interesting to see if no treatment at all was better than the treatments they were using. So began the Tuskegee experiments.
Over the course of the next 40 years, the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male denied treatment to 399 syphilitic patients, most of them poor, black, illiterate sharecroppers. Even after penicillin emerged as an effective treatment in 1947, these patients, who were not told they had syphilis, but were informed they suffered from “bad blood,” were denied treatment, or given fake placebo treatments. By the end of the study, in 1972, only 74 of the subjects were still alive. Twenty eight patients died directly from syphilis, 100 died from complications related to syphilis, 40 of the patients’ wives were infected with syphilis, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.
2. The Aversion Project
They didn’t like gay people in apartheid-era South Africa. Especially in the armed forces. How they got rid of them is shocking. Using army psychiatrists and military chaplains, who were, presumably privy to private, “confidential” confessions, the apartheid regime flushed out homosexuals in the armed forces. But it did not evict them from the military. The homosexual “undesirables” were sent to a military hospital near Pretoria, to a place called Ward 22 (which in itself sounds terrifying).
There, between 1971 and 1989, many victims were submitted to chemical castrations and electric shock treatment, meant to cure them of their homosexual “condition.” As many as 900 homosexuals, mostly 16-24 years old who had been drafted and had not voluntarily joined the military, were subjected to forced “sexual reassignment” surgeries. Men were surgically turned into women against their will, then cast out into the world, the gender reassignment often incomplete, and without the means to pay for expensive hormones to maintain their new sexual identities.
The head of this project, Dr. Aubrey Levin, went on to become a clinical professor at the University of Calgary. That is until 2010, when his license was suspended for making sexual advances towards a male student. He was sentenced to five years in prison for other sexual assaults (against males).
3. Guatemalan STD Study
Syphilis seemed to bring out the inherent racism in government-funded doctors in the 1940s. Tuskegee’s black people weren’t the only victims of morally reprehensible studies of this disease. Turns out Guatemalans were also deemed suitable unknowing guinea pigs by the U.S. government.
Penicillin having emerged as a cure for syphilis in 1947, the government decided to see just how effective it was. The way to do this, the government decided, was to turn syphilitic prostitutes loose on Guatemalan prison inmates, mental patients and soldiers, none of whom consented to be subjects of an experiment. If actual sex didn’t infect the subject, then surreptitious inoculation did the trick. Once infected, the victim was given penicillin to see if it worked. Or not given penicillin, just to see what happened, apparently. About a third of the approximately 1,500 victims fell into the latter group. More than 80 “participants” in the experiment died.
The Guatemalan study was led by John Charles Cutler, who subsequently participated in the later stages of Tuskegee. In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formally apologized to Guatemala for this dark chapter in American history.
4. Agent Orange Experiments
Prisoners, like people of color, have often been the unwilling objects of evil experiments. From 1965 to 1966, Dr. Albert Kligman, funded by Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, and the U.S. Army, conducted what was deemed “dermatological research” on approximately 75 prisoners. What was actually being studied was the effects of Agent Orange on humans.
Prisoners were injected with dioxin (a toxic byproduct of Agent Orange)—468 times the amount the study originally called for. The results were prisoners with volcanic eruptions of chloracne (severe acne combined with blackheads, cysts, pustules, and other really bad stuff) on the face, armpits and groin. Long after the experiments ended, prisoners continued to suffer from the effects of the exposure. Dr. Kligman, apparently very enthusiastic about the study, was quoted as saying, “All I saw before me were acres of skin… It was like a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time.” Kligman went on to become the doctor behind Retin-A, a major treatment for acne.
5. Irradiation of Black Cancer Patients
During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union spent much of their time trying to figure out if they could survive a nuclear catastrophe. How much radiation could a human body take? This would be important information for the Pentagon to know, in order to protect its soldiers in the event they were crazy enough to start an atomic holocaust. Enter the seeming go-to government choice for secret experimentation: unknowing African Americans.
From 1960 until 1971, Dr. Eugene Saenger, a radiologist at the University of Cincinnati, led an experiment exposing 88 cancer patients, poor and mostly black, to whole body radiation, even though this sort of treatment had already been pretty well discredited for the types of cancer these patients had. They were not asked to sign consent forms, nor were they told the Pentagon funded the study. They were simply told they would be getting a treatment that might help them. Patients were exposed, in the period of one hour, to the equivalent of about 20,000 x-rays worth of radiation. Nausea, vomiting, severe stomach pain, loss of appetite, and mental confusion were the results. A report in 1972 indicated that as many as a quarter of the patients died of radiation poisoning. Dr. Saenger recently received a gold medal for “career achievements” from the Radiological Society of North America.
6. Slave Experiments
It should be no surprise that experiments were often conducted on human chattel during America’s shameful slavery history. The man considered the father of modern gynecology, J. Marion Sims, conducted numerous experiments on female slaves between 1845 and 1849. The women, afflicted with vesico-vaginal fistulas, a tear between the vagina and the bladder, suffered greatly from the condition and were incontinent, resulting in societal ostracism.
Because Sims felt the surgery was, “not painful enough to justify the trouble,” as he said in an 1857 lecture, the operations were done without anesthesia. Being slaves, the women had no say as to whether they wanted the procedures or not, and some were subjected to as many as 30 operations. There are many advocates for Dr. Sims, pointing out that the women would have been anxious for any possibility of curing their condition, and that anesthetics were new and unproven at the time. Nevertheless, it is telling that black slaves and not white women, who presumably would have been just as anxious, were the subjects of the experiments.
7. “The Chamber”
Back to the Cold War. Prisoners were again the victims, as the Soviet Secret Police conducted poison experiments in Soviet gulags. The Soviets hoped to develop a deadly poison gas that was tasteless and odorless. At the laboratory, known as “The Chamber,” unknowing and unwilling prisoners were given preparations of mustard gas, ricin, digitoxin, and other concoctions, hidden in meals, beverages or given as “medication.” Presumably, many of these prisoners were not happy with their meals, although, being the gulag, records are spotty. The Secret Police apparently did finally come up with their dream poison, called C-2. According to witnesses, it caused actual physical changes (victims became shorter), and victims subsequently weakened and died within 15 minutes.
8. World War II: Heyday of Evil Experiments
While evil experiments may have been going on in the U.S. during World War II (Tuskegee, for example), it’s hard to argue that the Nazis and the Japanese are the indisputable kings of evil experimentation. The Germans, of course, conducted their well-known experiments on Jewish prisoners (and, to a much lesser extent, Romany people and homosexuals and Poles, among others) in their concentration/death camps. In 1942, the Luftwaffe submerged naked prisoners in ice water for up to three hours to study the effects of cold temperatures on human beings and to devise ways to rewarm them once subjected.
Other prisoners were subjected to streptococcus, tetanus and gas gangrene. Blood vessels were tied off to create artificial “battlefield” wounds. Wood shavings and glass particles were rubbed deep into the wounds to aggravate them. The goal was to test the effectiveness of sulfonamide, an antibacterial agent. Women were forcibly sterilized. More gruesomely, one woman had her breasts tied off with string to see how long it took for her breastfeeding child to die. She eventually killed her own child to stop the suffering. And there is the infamous Josef Mengele, whose experimental “expertise” was on twins. He injected various chemicals into twins, and even sewed two together to create conjoined twins. Mengele escaped to South America after the war and lived until his death in Brazil, never answering for his evil experiments.
Not to be outdone, the Japanese killed as many as 200,000 people during numerous experimental atrocities in both the Sino-Japanese War and WWII. Some of the experiments put the Nazis to shame. People were cut open and kept alive, without the assistance of anesthesia. Body limbs were amputated and sewn on other parts of the body. Limbs were frozen and then thawed, resulting in gangrene. Grenades and flame-throwers were tested on living humans. Various bacteria and diseases were purposely injected into prisoners to study the effects. Unit 731, led by Commander Shiro Ishii, conducted these experiments in the name of biological and chemical warfare research. Before Japan surrendered, in 1945, the Unit 731 lab was destroyed and the prisoners all executed. Ishii himself was never prosecuted for his evil experiments, and in fact was granted immunity by Douglas MacArthur in exchange for the information Ishii gained from the experiments.
9. The Monster Study
Add children to the list of vulnerable people subjected to evil experiments. In 1939, Wendell Johnson, University of Iowa speech pathologist, and his grad student Mary Tudor, conducted stuttering experiments on 22 non-stuttering orphan children. The children were split into two groups. One group was given positive speech therapy, praising them for their fluent speech. The unfortunate other group was given negative therapy, harshly criticizing them for any flaw in their speech abilities, labeling them stutterers.
The result of this cruel experiment was that children in the negative group, while not transforming into full-fledged stutterers, suffered negative psychological effects and several suffered from speech problems for the rest of their lives. Formerly normal children came out of the experiment, dubbed “The Monster Study,” anxious, withdrawn and silent. Several, as adults, eventually sued the University of Iowa, which settled the case in 2007.
10. Project 4.1
Project 4.1 was a medical study conducted on the natives of the Marshall Islands, who in 1952 were exposed to radiation fallout from the Castle Bravo nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, which inadvertently blew upwind to the nearby islands. Instead of informing the residents of the island of their exposure, and treating the victims while they studied them, the U.S. elected instead just to watch quietly and see what happened.
At first the effects were inconclusive. For the first 10 years, miscarriages and stillbirths increased but then returned to normal. Some children had developmental problems or stunted growth, but no conclusive pattern was detectable. After that first decade, though, a pattern did emerge, and it was ugly: Children with thyroid cancer significantly above what would be considered normal. By 1974, almost a third of exposed islanders developed tumors. A Department of Energy report stated that, “The dual purpose of what is now a DOE medical program has led to a view by the Marshallese that they were being used as ‘guinea pigs’ in a ‘radiation experiment.’”
Monsanto controls our food, poisons our land, and influences all three branches of government.
Forty percent of the crops grown in the United States contain their genes. They produce the world’s top selling herbicide. Several of their factories are now toxic Superfund sites. They spend millions lobbying the government each year. It’s time we take a closer look at who’s controlling our food, poisoning our land, and influencing all three branches of government. To do that, the watchdog group Food and Water Watch recently published acorporate profile of Monsanto.
Patty Lovera, Food and Water Watch assistant director, says they decided to focus on Monsanto because they felt a need to “put together a piece where people can see all of the aspects of this company.”
“It really strikes us when we talk about how clear it is that this is a chemical company that wanted to expand its reach,” she says. “A chemical company that started buying up seed companies.” She feels it’s important “for food activists to understand all of the ties between the seeds and the chemicals.”
Monsanto the Chemical Company
Monsanto was founded as a chemical company in 1901, named for the maiden name of its founder’s wife. Its first product was the artificial sweetener saccharin. The company’s own telling of its history emphasizes its agricultural products, skipping forward from its founding to 1945, when it began manufacturing agrochemicals like the herbicide 2,4-D.
Prior to its entry into the agricultural market, Monsanto produced some harmless – even beneficial! – products like aspirin. It also made plastics, synthetic rubber, caffeine, and vanillin, an artificial vanilla flavoring. On the not-so-harmless side, it began producing toxic PCBs in the 1930s.
According to the new report, a whopping 99 percent of all PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, used in the U.S. were produced at a single Monsanto plant in Sauget, IL. The plant churned out toxic PCBs from the 1930s until they were banned in 1976. Used as coolants and lubricants in electronics, PCBs are carcinogenic and harmful to the liver, endocrine system, immune system, reproductive system, developmental system, skin, eye, and brain.
Even after the initial 1982 cleanup of this plant, Sauget is still home to two Superfund sites. (A Superfund site is defined by the EPA as “an uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste is located, possibly affecting local ecosystems or people.”) This is just one of several Monsanto facilities that became Superfund sites.
Monsanto’s Shift to Agriculture
Despite its modern-day emphasis on agriculture, Monsanto did not even create an agricultural division within the company until 1960. It soon began churning out new pesticides, each colorfully named under a rugged Western theme: Lasso, Roundup, Warrant, Lariat, Bullet, Harness, etc.
Left out of Monsanto’s version of its historical highlights is an herbicide called Agent Orange. The defoliant, a mix of herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, was used extensively during the war in Vietnam. The nearly 19 million gallons sprayed in that country between 1962 and 1971 were contaminated with dioxin, a carcinogen so potent that it is measured and regulated at concentrations of parts per trillion. Dioxin was created as a byproduct of Agent Orange’s manufacturing process, and both American veterans and Vietnamese people suffered health problems from the herbicide’s use.
Monsanto’s fortunes changed forever in 1982, when it genetically engineered a plant cell. The team responsible, led by Ernest Jaworski, consisted of Robb Fraley, Stephen Rogers, and Robert Horsch. Today, Fraley is Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer. Horsch also rose to the level of vice president at Monsanto, but he left after 25 years to join the Gates Foundation. There, he works on increasing crop yields in Sub-Saharan Africa. Together, the team received the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1998.
The company did not shift its focus from chemicals to genetically engineered seeds overnight. In fact, it was another 12 years before it commercialized the first genetically engineered product, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH), a controversial hormone used to make dairy cows produce more milk. And it was not until 1996 that it first brought genetically engineered seeds, Roundup Ready soybeans, onto the market.
By 2000, the company had undergone such a sea change from its founding a century before that it claims it is almost a different company. In Monsanto’s telling of its own history, it emphasizes a split between the “original” Monsanto Company and the Monsanto Company of today. In 2000, the Monsanto Company entered a merger and changed its name to Pharmacia. The newly formed Pharmacia then spun off its agricultural division as an independent company named Monsanto Company.
Do the mergers and spinoffs excuse Monsanto for the sins of the past committed by the company bearing the same name? Lovera does not think so. “I’m sure there’s some liability issues they have to deal with – their various production plants that are now superfund sites,” she responds. “So I’m sure there was legal thinking about which balance sheet you put those liabilities on” when the company split. She adds that the notion that today’s Monsanto is not the same as the historical Monsanto that made PCBs is “a nice PR bullet for them.”
But, she adds, “even taking that at face value, that they are an agriculture company now, they are still producing seeds that are made to be used with chemicals they produce.” For example, Roundup herbicide alone made up more than a quarter of their sales in 2011. The proportion of their business devoted to chemicals is by no means insignificant.
Monsanto’s pesticide product line includes a number of chemicals named as Bad Actors by Pesticide Action Network. They include Alachlor (a carcinogen, water contaminant, developmental/reproductive toxin, and a suspected endocrine disruptor), Acetochlor (a carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor), Atrazine (a carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor), Clopyralid (high acute toxicity), Dicamba (developmental/reproductive toxin), and Thiodicarb (a carcinogen and cholinesterase inhibitor).
Roundup: The Benign Herbicide?
Defenders of Monsanto might reply to the charge that Roundup is no Agent Orange. In fact, the herbicide is viewed as so benign and yet effective that its inventor, John E. Franz, won the National Medal of Technology. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, kills everything green and growing, but according to Monsanto, it only affects a metabolic pathway in plants, so it does not harm animals. It’s also said to break down quickly in the soil, leaving few traces on the environment after its done its job.
Asked about the harmlessness of Roundup, Lovera replies, “That’s the PR behind Roundup – how benign it was and you can drink it and there’s nothing to worry about here. There are people who dispute that.” For example there is an accusation that Roundup causes birth defects. “We don’t buy the benign theory,” continues Lovera, “But what’s really interesting is that we aren’t going to be having this conversation pretty soon because Roundup isn’t working anymore.”
Lovera is referring to “ Roundup-resistant weeds,” weeds that have evolved in the past decade and a half to survive being sprayed by Roundup. Nearly all soybeans grown in the United States is Monsanto’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready variety, as are 80 percent of cotton and 73 percent of corn. Farmers spray entire fields with Roundup, killing only the weeds while the Roundup Ready crops survive. With such heavy use of Roundup on America’s farmfields, any weed – maybe one in a million – with an ability to survive in that environment would survive and pass on its genes in its seeds.
By 1998, just two years after the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans, scientists documented the first Roundup-resistant weed. A second was found in 2000, and three more popped up in 2004. To date, there are 24 different weeds that have evolved resistance to Roundup worldwide. And once they invade a farmer’s field, it doesn’t matter if his crops are Roundup-resistant, because Roundup won’t work anymore. Either the weeds get to stay, or the farmer needs to find a new chemical, pull the weeds by hand, or find some other way to deal with the problem.
“We’ve wasted Roundup by overusing it,” says Lovera. She and other food activists worry about the harsher chemicals that farmers are switching to, and the genetically engineered crops companies like Monsanto are developing to use with them.
Currently, there are genetically engineered crops waiting for government approval that are made to tolerate the herbicides 2,4-D, Dicamba and Isoxaflutole. (These are not all from Monsanto – some are from their competitors.) None of these chemicals are as “benign” as Roundup. Isoxaflutole is, in fact, a carcinogen. Let’s spray that on our food!
Corporate Control of Seeds
No discussion of Monsanto is complete without a mention of the immense amount of control it exerts on the seed industry.
“What it boils down to is between them buying seed companies outright, their incredible aggressive legal maneuvering, their patenting of everything, and their enforcement of those patents, they really have locked up a huge part of the seed supply,” notes Lovera. “So they just exercise an unprecedented control over the entire seed sector. Monsanto products constitute 40 percent of all crop acres in the country.”
Monsanto began buying seed companies as far back as 1982. (One can see an infographic of seed industry consolidation here.) Some of Monsanto’s most significant purchases were Asgrow (soybeans), Delta and Pine Land (cotton), DeKalb (corn), and Seminis (vegetables). One that deserves special mention is their purchase of Holden’s Foundation Seeds in 1997.
George Naylor, an Iowa farmer who grows corn and soybeans, calls Holden’s “The independent source of germplasm for corn.” Small seed companies could buy inbred lines from Holden’s to cross them and produce their own hybrids. Large seed companies like Pioneer did their own breeding, but small operations relied on Holden’s or Iowa State University. But Iowa State got out of the game and Monsanto bought Holden’s.
Monsanto’s tactics for squashing its competition are perhaps unrivaled. They use their power to get seed dealers to not to stock many of their competitors products, for example. When licensing their patented genetically engineered traits to seed companies, they restrict the seed companies’ ability to combine Monsanto’s traits with those of their competitors. And, famously, farmers who plant Monsanto’s patented seeds sign contracts prohibiting them from saving and replanting their seeds. Yet, to date, U.S. antitrust laws have not clamped down on these practices.
With the concentrated control of the seed industry, farmers already complain of lack of options. For example, Naylor says he’s had a hard time finding non-genetically engineered soybean seeds. Most corn seeds are now pre-treated with pesticides, so farmers wishing to find untreated seeds will have a tough time finding any. Once a company or a handful of companies control an entire market, then they can choose what to sell and at what price to sell it.
Furthermore, if our crops are too genetically homogenous, then they are vulnerable to a single disease or pest that can wipe them out. When farmers grow genetically diverse crops, then there is a greater chance that one variety or another will have resistance to new diseases. In that way, growing genetically diverse crops is like having insurance, or like diversifying your risk within your stock portfolio.
Food and Water Watch Recommendations
At the end of its report, Food and Water Watch lists several recommendations. “There are a lot of ways that government policy could address the Monsanto hold on the food supply,” explains Lovera. “The most important thing is that it’s time to stop approval of genetically engineered crops to stop this arms race of the next crop and the next chemical.”
A third recommendation Lovera hopes becomes a reality is mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. “If we had that label and we put that information in consumers’ hands, they could do more to avoid this company in their day-to-day lives,” she says.
In the meantime, all consumers can do to avoid genetically engineered foods is to buy organic for the handful of crops that are genetically engineered: corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, papaya, sugar beets, and alfalfa.
Fed up with health concerns, environmental threats and political corruption, a Utah mom organizes a global movement against the biotech giant.
Fed up with the fact that she has to spend “a small fortune” in order to feed her family things she says “aren’t poisonous,” Tami Canal of Utah has organized a global movement against the giant chemical and seed corporation Monsanto. Monsanto is the conglomerate mastermind behind many of the pesticides and genetically engineered seeds that pervade farm fields around the world. Monsanto produces the world’s top-selling herbicide; 40 percent of US crops contain its genes; it spends millions lobbying the government each .year; and several of its factories are now toxic Superfund sites
Canal, who has a 17-month-old baby and a six-year-old girl, cites concerns over public health, adverse affects on the environment, and political corruption as her motivation to organize against the biotech giant. And her concern has resonated. Protesters around the world have responded to Canal’s call to action, and will amplify their dissatisfaction with the corporation in a “March Against Monsanto” on May 25.
“Not only are they threatening our children and ourselves as well, but also the environment,” Canal says. “The declining bee population has been linked to the pesticides that they use, and that’s just the start. I’ve been reading studies recently that butterflies are starting to disappear, and birds. It’s only a matter of time, it’s pretty much a domino effect.”
What started as one mother’s call to action on a Facebook page has become a movement with more than 400 demonstrations scheduled in 50 countries and 250 cities around the globe. The events are organized online via an open Google Document, where people can find the protest nearest them. The March Against Monsanto Facebook page has received more than 105,000 “likes.” It has reached more than 10,000,000 people in the last week according to its website, which averages over 40,000 visitors per day.
One of the short-term goals of the march, Canal says, is to spread immediate awareness about the offenses Monsanto commits. Another is to inspire people to vote with their dollars by boycotting Monsanto-owned companies that put unsafe products—like genetically modified organisms (GMO) and pesticide-ridden foods—on the market. The effort also advocates for labeling of genetically modified products so consumers can make informed decisions, and demands further scientific research on the health effects of GMOs.
Canal is particularly interested in drawing attention to what she calls dangerous products that are marketed to children. “Like Kellogg’s,” she says. “For example, Froot Loops is 100-percent genetically engineered, and that’s a children’s cereal. That’s irresponsible and unacceptable on so many levels.”
The ultimate goal of the march is a complete ban on Monsanto within the US. At least 60 countries worldwide, including Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, South Australia, Russia, France, and Switzerland, have implemented outright bans of Monsanto and its genetic modification of food products.
“I don’t understand why the US isn’t on the forefront of that thinking,” says Canal. “[Monsanto] has a long history of crimes against humanity.”
Here are the five most disturbing reasons you should join the March Against Monsanto:
1. Profiteering poisonous chemical company posing as agribusiness.
Remember the horrors of Operation Ranch Hand during the Vietnam War, when the US military designed a chemical warfare program and used the herbicide and defoliant Agent Orange to kill and maim 400,000 people (estimated by the Vietnam government), and ultimately cause birth defects for 500,000 children? Monsanto made that possible.
Monsanto began as a chemical company in 1901 and was responsible for some of the most damaging toxins in US history, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), and dioxin. Consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch (FWW) released a report on APril 3 detailing Monsanto’s role in chemical disasters, Agent Orange, and the first genetically modified plant cell. The report shows that the “feed-the-world” agricultural and life sciences company Monsanto markets itself as today is only a recent development. The majority of Monsanto’s history is involved with heavy industrial chemical production, including the supply of Agent Orange to the US for Vietnam operations from 1962-’71.
Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers Association told Common Dreams, in response to the FWW report:
Despite its various marketing incarnations over the years, Monsanto is a chemical company that got its start selling saccharin to Coca-Cola, then Agent Orange to the U.S. military, and in recent years, seeds genetically engineered to contain and withstand massive amounts of Monsanto herbicides and pesticides. Monsanto has become synonymous with the corporatization and industrialization of our food supply.
Another example, according to the FWW corporate profile, is a Monsanto plant in Sauget, Illinois that produced 99 percent of PCBs until they were banned in 1976. PCBs are carcinogenic and harmful to multiple organs and systems, but they’re still illegally dumped into waterways. They accumulate in plants and food crops, as well as fish and other aquatic lifeforms, which enter the human food supply. The Sauget plant is now home to two Superfund sites.
Monsanto’s chemicals continue to impact the world, both inside and outside of the United States, and Monsanto has settled a number of chemical lawsuits in the last couple of years alone. Scientific studies have linked the chemicals in Monsanto’s Roundup pesticides to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers disease, autism and cancer.
Another example of Monsanto’s chemical folly came in February when a French court declared Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of French grain grower, Paul Francois. The farmer suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller in 2004, and blames the agri-business giant for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.
AlterNet published an article in April titled, “Exposed: Monsanto’s Chemical War Against Indigenous Hawaiians,” which details a series of protests on the five Hawaiian Islands Monsanto and other biotech companies have turned into the world’s “ground zero” for chemical testing and food engineering.
2. Building a monopoly, putting farmers out of work.
There is nothing more quintessentially American than the independent family farmer; and there is nothing more un-American than stomping out that farmer’s livelihood to bolster your corporate monopoly. Monsanto is attempting this as it sues small farmers out of their livelihoods time and again.
You might have heard about the 75-year-old soybean farmer from Indiana, Vernon Hugh Bowman, who was ordered in the beginning of May to pay Monsanto $85,000 in damages for using second-generation seeds genetically modified with Monsanto’s pesticide resistant “Roundup Ready,” treatment. He pulled the seeds from the local grain elevator, which is usually used for feed crop, and planted them. The court decided Monsanto’s patent extends even to the offspring of its seeds, and the farmer had violated the company’s patent.
Bowman is by no means the only US farmer to be sent into debt at Monsanto’s hands. Monsanto reported enormous profits from 2012 to shareholders in January, while American farmers filed into Washington, DC to challenge the corporation’s right to sue farmers whose fields have become contaminated with Monsanto’s seeds. Oral arguments began on January 10 before the U.S. Court of Appeals to decide whether to reverse the cases’ dismissal last February. The corporation’s total revenue reached $2.94 billion at the end of 2012, and its earnings nearly doubled analysts’ projections.
In the article, “Monsanto’s Earnings Nearly Double as They Create a Farming Monopoly”—originally published in Al Jazeera and reprinted on AlterNet on January 16—Charlotte Silver outlines how Monsanto has increased the price of the Roundup herbicide and exploiting its patent on transgenic corn, soybean and cotton, to gain control over those agricultural industries in the US, “…effectively squeezing out conventional farmers (those using non-transgenic seeds) and eliminating their capacity to viably participate and compete on the market.” The company also uses its power to coerce seed dealers out of stocking many of its competitor products.
Monsanto was under investigation by the Department of Justice for violating anti-trust laws by practicing anticompetitive activities towards other biotech companies until the end of 2012. The investigation was quietly closed before the end of last year.
Monsanto exerts vast control over the seed industry. It started buying out seed companies as early as 1982. Some of Monsanto’s most significant purchases were Asgrow (soybeans), Delta and Pine Land (cotton), DeKalb (corn), Seminis (vegetables) and Holden’s Foundation Seeds (in 1997). Monsanto is unmatched in its tactics for squashing its competition, but the US has not put its antitrust laws into practice to clamp down on the corporate monopoly it’s forming.
3. Controlling the food, privatizing the water.
Half of the Earth’s population will live in an area with significant water stress by 2030, according to estimates from the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. Corporations like Monsanto (along with Royal Dutch Shell and Nestle) are vying for a future in which free water supply is a thing of the past, and private companies control public water sources.
According to a government report titled ” Intelligence Community Assessment; Global Water Security,” by 2025, the world’s population will likely exceed 8 billion people, and the demand for water will be 40 percent higher than sustainable water supplies available, with water needs of around 6,900 billion cubic meters due to population growth.
Private corporations already own 5 percent of the world’s fresh water. Billionaires and companies, including Monsanto, are purchasing the rights to groundwater and aquifers. In an even more ominous twist, Monsanto is accused of dumping its plethora of toxic chemicals, including PCBs, dioxin and glyophosate (Roundup) into the water supply of various nations worldwide. Then, seeing a profitable market niche, it has begun privatizing those water sources it polluted, filtering the water, and selling it back to the public.
4. Running the FDA, writing its own protection laws.
Ex-Monsanto executives run the United States Food and Drug Administration, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the American public.
This obvious conflict of interest could explain the lack of government-led research on the long-term effects of GM products. Recently, the U.S. Congress and president together passed the law that has been dubbed “Monsanto Protection Act.” Among other things, the new law bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds.
The pro-Monsanto “Farmer Assurance Provision, Section 735,” rider was quietly slipped into Agricultural Appropriations provisions of the HR 933 Continuing Resolution spending bill, designed to avert a federal government shutdown. It states that the department of agriculture “shall, notwithstanding any other provisions of law, immediately grant temporary permits to continue using the [GE] seed at the request of a farmer or producer [Monsanto].”
Obama signed the law on March 29. It allows the agribusiness giant to promote and plant GMO and GE seeds free from any judicial litigation that might deem such crops unsafe. Even if a court review determines that a GMO crop harms humans, Section 735 allows the seeds to be planted once the USDA approves them.
Public health lawyer Michele Simon told the New York Daily News the Senate bill requires the USDA to “ignore any court ruling that would otherwise halt the planting of new genetically mengineered crops.”
5. Continuing environmental nightmares.
As Tami Canal points out, studies have linked Monsanto and other biotech conglomerates to the decline of bee colonies in the US and abroad.
Their environmental blunders don’t stop there. In 2002 the Washington Postpublished a piece titled “ Monsanto Hid Decades of Pollution,” outlining the corporation’s pollution of an Alabama town with toxic PCBs for decades without disclosure.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published an article debunking Monsanto’s claim that it is a “leader and innovator in sustainable agriculture.”
While Monsanto advertises its technology as important to achieving such goals as adequate global food production and “reducing agriculture’s negative impacts on the environment,” the UCS says in reality, the corporate giant stands in the way of sustainable agriculture.
For one, Monsanto’s policies promote pesticide resistance. “Their RoundupReady and Bt technologies lead to resistant weeds and insects that can make farming harder and reduce sustainability,” reads the UCS article.
The article also notes that Monsanto’s policies increase herbicide use, which can cause health effects, and perpetuates gene contamination, as engineered genes tend to show up in non-GE crops. Additionally, the UCS says Monsanto is a purveyor of monoculture because it focuses only on limited varieties of a few commodity crops, reducing biodiversity, and as a result, increasing pesticide and fertilizer pollution.
The union points out that Monsanto’s lobbying, advertising and stronghold over research on its products makes it difficult for farmers and policymakers to make informed decisions about more sustainable agriculture.
Finally, UCS says Monsanto contributes little to helping the world feed itself, and has failed to endorse science-backed solutions that don’t give its products a central role.
GMOs (genetically modified organisms) were brought into the world by a chemical company, not an agriculture or food group. Monsanto created DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange, marketed aspartame, and created bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to infect milking cows that put pus into commercial milk.
GMOs are created within the seeds of chosen parent crops in laboratories by “splicing” genes from completely unrelated species into those seeds. Normal plant hybrids are cultivated in soil over time by cross pollinating closely related plants.
So far, GMOs have invaded soy, corn, beets (for beet sugar), cotton, and alfalfa agriculture. Many GMO edibles are contained surreptitiously in a wide variety of processed foods, while GMO corn and soy are used by unnatural factory farm feed lots.
If you’ve been following NaturalNews for some time, you may recall several articles describing GMOs’ inherent human and animal health hazards as well as crop and environmental dangers. If not, you’ll find most of them here. (http://www.naturalnews.com/GMO.html)
GMOs damage crops, the environment, and the food chain
GMOs are often genetically created artificially to tolerate herbicides, made by Monsanto and others, that kill weeds. The herbicides contain glyphosates. Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer is meant for Roundup Ready GMO crop seeds. It’s an extremely toxic glyphosate agent.
Glyphosates greatly harm grazing animals and pollute the wells and groundwater of farm areas where they’re used. (http://naturalsociety.com)
They create sterility and birth defects among animals and humans. Most of the honey bee die-off, or colony collapse, is attributed to glyphosates. If enough pollinating bees disappear, our food chain is endangered further.
Glophosate’s chelating capabilities remove minerals from the soil where they’re sprayed. So crops get increasingly worse while increasingly abundant Roundup resistant weeds, or super weeds, force farmers to add more toxic materials to Roundup.
It’s a vicious cycle for farmers who, conned by greater production promises, unwittingly signed on to Monsanto Roundup Ready GMO binding seed contracts. Monsanto uses patent laws to litigate against farmers whose non-GMO fields are contaminated by GMO fields, forcing smaller farms out of business.
Most farmers fold because they cannot afford the litigation. American farmers are attempting to organize against mostly Monsanto’s GMOs. European farmers have managed to resist thus far.
Why you should be concerned
Maybe the reasons summarized above are too abstract. So let’s get personal. Contrary to mainstream media’s (MSM) outlook, the jury is not out on GMOs. GMOs do destroy human and animal health while endangering non-GMO crops with contamination. That’s been discovered by several scientists acting independently.
They jeopardize their careers and even their lives by communicating what they find while the MSM ignores them. Anti-GMO activist and author Jeffrey Smith lists the casualties and summarizes Monsanto’s harassment here: (http://www.sott.net)
Agro-ecologist Don Lotter, Ph.D. released an inside scoop when he stated:
The promoter gene used … [the] cauliflower mosaic virus, … [was assumed to be] denatured in our digestive system, but it’s not. It has been shown to promote the transfer of transgenes from GM foods to the bacteria within our digestive system, which are responsible for 80 percent of our immune system function.
This from Wessex Natural Law research papers: The cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV 35S) used for plant genetic engineering is cited as a source of viral recombination as well as a gene silencer and DNA disruptor.
Forget petitioning the government. It’s so corrupted that one of Monsanto’s most ruthless executives, Michael Taylor, now serves in the Obama administration as FDA chief adviser, or “Food Czar.”
That’s why our only chance is to help California succeed with Proposition 37. GMO labeling may spill over from California making it easier to boycott GMOs. (http://www.kcet.org)