How Monsanto Went From Selling Aspirin to Controlling Our Food Supply.


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. Franzwon 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.”

She also calls Monsanto “the poster child for the need for antitrust enforcement” – something that the Justice Department has yet to successfully deliver up. In fact, last November the government ended a three-year antitrust investigation of Monsanto.

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.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It..

Source: http://www.alternet.org

 

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5 Most Horrifying Things About Monsanto — Why You Should Join the Global Movement and Protest.


 

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

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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.
Source: http://www.alternet.org