“We operate under a genuine value system – our pledge – that demonstrates integrity, respect, ethical behaviour, perspective and honesty as a foundation for everything we do.”This quote taken off Monsanto’s ‘Our Commitments’ page1 is accompanied with a photo of a small African child in what presumably looks to be a classroom, with the child pointing a learning stick towards a mathematical equation on a used and abused chalk board.
After reading the material that is presented on their page, you may feel as if Monsanto is a corporation that is working for the greater good: improving lives, enhancing and lessening our impacts upon the environment and being a champion of human rights. This all seems contradictory against the cloud of negativity that surrounds this corporation from across the globe.
I remember one of the most imposing questions that presented itself to me seven years ago when I first became aware of Monsanto, “Who should I believe and why?” Why am I writing an article about a corporation that depicts itself as nothing but a philanthropic entity? I will take you on a journey through Monsanto’s history and current activities where you will be able to make your own choice about the corporation.
A History Lesson on Monsanto – PCB’s and the Case Study of Anniston, Alabama
Founded in 1901, Monsanto was the brainchild of a long-standing member of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, John Francis Queeny. The name Monsanto derived from his wife’s maiden name, Olga Mendez Monsanto. The company’s beginnings were set up with a personal loan of $5000 and begun production on their first product Saccharin, which was an artificial sweeter that was sold exclusively to another corporate giant still in its infancy by the name of Coca-Cola. Monsanto supplied Coca-Cola with other substances like caffeine soon after the creation of Saccharin. However, this pioneering feat was not what put Monsanto on the map until 1935, when Monsanto acquired the Swann Chemical Company.
Swann Chemical Company was the first major enterprise that produced Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), which for over 50 years were used as coolants for electric transformers, capacitors and electric motors, and a range of other products like plastics2. Monsanto had begun its evolution from a basic industrial company into a chemical producing giant and thus the controversy begins to unravel. Monsanto secured vital patents on many PCB variants, which gave the company a near worldwide monopoly on the production of PCB’s where the chemical was sold under various aliases across the globe such as Aroclor in the U.K. They were viewed as a perfect industrial chemical and of course were pushed by Monsanto, which was making a fortune off the sales. Monsanto somehow forgot to mention a few very important details about the chemical and its effects on human life and the environment.
Dating as far back as the early 1930’s, PCB’s have been known to affect humans in adverse ways via direct and indirect contact3. There is and was strong evidence to show that the chemical has links to skin conditions such as rashes and lesions, disrupted menstrual cycles, lowered immune system responses, disrupted neurological development in infants, and disruptions in reproductive glands such as lowered sperm counts4. Even harsher health effects stem from PCB’s links to cancer such as non-Hodgkin Lymphoma5, liver, lung and brain cancers. Unofficial reports of people dying from cancer in areas affected by PCB’s developed by Monsanto have also risen. Could this potentially be a lag effect that past research has missed? 6.
Contrary to these findings, research and warnings that were available to Monsanto throughout this period, the company decided to turn a blind eye. Anniston, Alabama, felt the harshness of the irresponsible and ignorant decisions made by Monsanto. For over 40 years Monsanto poured the waste and PCB’s from the production factory located in Anniston into Snow Creek, which directly ran through the town and into other river systems. Most of the drinking water for the town was directly sourced from these rivers, which were polluted and contaminated. People were indirectly being effected by PCB exposure from reckless behaviour by the corporation. Health effects on the local ecosystems deteriorated and the health of people, tumbled to an all-time low7. Levels of contamination in the rivers are still extremely high to this day8.
In a report originally published by the Washington Post in 2002, which has now disappeared off their official site but can be found elsewhere, stated that during the late 1960’s, Monsanto found dead fish in local river systems with un-natural tumour characteristics. They soon found that the fish contained 7,500 times the legal PCB levels. Company studies that were produced after these findings were ordered by managers to have the conclusion changed, with such as“slightly tumorigenic” becoming “does not appear to be carcinogenic”9 (cancer causing).
Further questions arise when the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted field tests in 1977 on fish caught in Anniston’s Snow Creek. Results concluded that the fish in the area were contaminated with PCB levels of 277 parts per million (ppm), the legal limit was 5ppm. The FDA did and said nothing up until 1993, when warnings were issued. This helped Monsanto continue business as usual until 1977, when production ceased. Could this be attributed to corruption in high levels of government?
A document that was secretly put together by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was declassified and made available in 2005, which explained just how many PCB’s were produced in Anniston and how much was released into the atmosphere and waterways. Over 815 thousand kilograms of PCB’s were pumped into the waterways. Strangely, this document has been taken off the EPA’s official website, but can be found elsewhere on the internet10.
The damage that Monsanto left behind in Anniston was severe, yet they were not phased in an ethical sense. In the early 2000’s over 20 thousand members in the town of Anniston filed lawsuits against Monsanto for environmental and health damage. The final result was Monsanto’s settlement to pay $390 million U.S dollars in fines with the rest covered by insurance totalling over $700 million. This was to cover clean up and medical costs for residents that were affected11. However, a ‘clean up’ may not be possible as PCB’s are stored in fatty tissue within both human and animals and also in local soils. The breakdown of PCB’s cannot occur biologically so the chemical will eventually bio-accumulate and be passed on from generation to generation12.
Death from above: Monsanto, Agent Orange and War
War is a tragic tale that is a major part of human history. It has led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people and has left lands and societies in nothing but rubble. In a more contemporary age, war has been waged for a multitude of reasons and the practices of warfare have changed. New weapons are developing constantly and resources are pooled into an industry that only succeeds at doing one thing, killing. Chemical warfare involves the usage of chemical weapons and can take many forms. Using contemporary examples we can see that Mustard Gas was used in the trenches during WWI, the Vietnam War saw the usage of Dioxins and more recently Saddam Hussein employed Mustard Gas and nerve agents, such as Sarin Gas, in a genocide-like scale attack on the Kurdish people of Iraq.
Monsanto’s involvement with Agent Orange and the Vietnam War is central to the modern history of chemical warfare. Currently on Monsanto’s official website there is a page dedicated to ‘explaining’ this period of history within the company13. It is written in simple fashion with no more than half a page dedicated to this paramount issue. I’d like to simply dub this page as a bunch of half-hearted excuses on behalf of the corporation and will briefly dissect this so-called argument. It is important to take note of the basic chemical facts about Agent Orange, its origins, and what it was primarily used for.
During World War II, researchers from multiple laboratories began to isolate plant growth hormones and were able to produce them synthetically. Injecting this hormone in small doses would increase plant growth and at higher levels would kill the plant. These herbicides that were created go by the names of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T . As multiple labs discovered this phenomenon at the same time a loop hole was created in the legal system and patents were never secured by one company for the potential monopolization of production. Demand and supply skyrocketed, as this was an extremely useful herbicide during the transitional time when traditional agricultures turned into what we now label as industrial agriculture. Dioxin by-products were produced during the synthesisation process, such as 2,3,7,8-TCDD more commonly known as TCDD, and is one of the most harmful industrial chemicals known to man.
In 1948, Monsanto built a factory to produce 2,4,5-T in the town of Nitro, West Virginia. One short year after production began, an explosion occurred within the factory. The substance that was released has never been identified, but most likely took the form of a Dioxin. The chemical engulfed the factories interior and covered the town. There are differing view points on how the explosions occurred but most likely had something to do with the pressure valves14,15.
After the town’s contamination, site clean up staff and residents developed abnormal symptoms. These included vomiting, headaches, nausea and a skin condition known as Chloracne, which is an eruption of cysts, pustules and blackheads. Workers years after the incident still suffered adverse health effects that included respiratory, central nervous system and liver conditions16. In 1953, studies showed that employees were still suffering from skin lesions, insomnia and depression. These studies were conducted privately and overseen by Monsanto, which they chose to ignore and continued production. This report was not made public until the 1980’s during a legal court case against Monsanto. In 2012, Monsanto had decided to settle class-action law suits and agreed to pay $93 million in damages and medical monitoring for the residents of Nitro17.
Agent Orange was a nickname given to the chemical used during the Vietnam War, since it was derived from the orange stripe that ran across the barrels it was shipped in. The chemical was used primarily for the US military’s Operation Ranch Hand. Agent Orange is a 50/50 mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. During the production process of any type of pesticide or herbicide, by-products are created, more specifically dioxins, which were known to have contaminated Agent Orange in Vietnam18.
Over the course of 10 years (1961-1971), over 44 million litres were sprayed over Vietnam19. Vietnamese authorities estimate that over 400 thousand people were killed or injured by Operation Ranch Hand. This doesn’t include over 500 thousand children that have been born with birth defects and the two million people who have suffered from cancer and other related adverse health effects20. The US government have stated, “…[the] Vietnamese are too quick to blame Agent Orange for birth defects that can be caused by malnutrition or other environmental factors.”21. Monsanto was given a contract by the US military to be one of the primary producers of Agent Orange, along side Dow Chemical. Now, it is time to put their pledge to the test.
“The use of Agent Orange as a military herbicide in Vietnam continues to be an emotional subject for many people. Asian Affairs Specialist Michael Martin notes, “at the time the herbicides were used, there was little consideration within the U.S. military about the potential long-term environmental and health effects of the widespread use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.” – Monsanto Pledge
Monsanto pledges itself to be a responsible corporate entity that strives for progress towards the greater good and to enhance the lives of people and the planet. I take interest in the clever usage of words in the paragraph above, which diverts the attention away from Monsanto and its lack of consideration. Even with the evidence from the catastrophic accident at Nitro, that Dioxins are extremely potent and dangerous chemicals that are a by-product of the manufacturing of 2,4,5-T. In a way, Monsanto most-likely refused, or forgot, to inform the US military of the dangers of its usage in warfare, as they might have lost one of the largest contracts given to them by the Department of Defence. At the end of the day, according to Monsanto, it is the U.S government’s fault, entirely and not partially. If one is striving towards being a responsible corporate entity, then shouldn’t one take into account exactly what one is producing? Rather, in the pursuit of meaningless and reckless profits, ignorance is bliss and the source of the weapons of mass destruction originating from Monsanto washed over Southeast Asia.
Another interesting aspect to make note of is the use of a quote written by Michael Martin who happens to be a member of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), which is made up of scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project. Today, the organisation’s mission statement is “…to reduce the spread and number of nuclear weapons, prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism, promote high standards for nuclear energy’s safety and security, illuminate government secrecy practices, as well as track and eliminate the global illicit trade of conventional, nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.”22. However, the use of a member from this organisation is no random act of choosing.
Monsanto has held very close ties to the US military since the beginning of the Manhattan Project in 1945. Monsanto’s top research director, Charles Thomas, was invited by U.S generals to participate in the project. Monsanto’s chemists were given the job of isolating and purifying plutonium and polonium that were used to trigger the atomic bomb23. This seems a little ironic, no?
“As a result, the governments that were involved most often take responsibility for resolving any consequences of the Vietnam War, including any relating to the use of Agent Orange, U.S. courts have determined that wartime contractors (such as the former Monsanto) who produced Agent Orange for the government are not responsible for damage claims associated with the chemistry.” – Monsanto Pledge
As we move on from the old familiar Monsanto rhetoric of blaming the government, which is also still evident in this paragraph, something new emerges that takes ones interest. Unfortunately, Monsanto’s stance on its innocence, which has been ‘justified’ by the US courts, has been built on nothing but a pile of lies, deception and biased data. Which to me, is extremely discomforting.
The year of 1978 saw the first lawsuit filed by an American Vietnam War veteran in regards to Agent Orange, Paul Reutershan. Paul was a helicopter pilot during the war and flew through clouds of Agent Orange on a daily basis and was told by commanding officers that Agent Orange was non-toxic to both humans and animals and only affected plants24. He suffered from many symptoms such as Chloracne and abdominal cancer. The original claim against the Veterans Administration was rejected and thus he went one-step further in launching a personal injury lawsuit against the companies that manufactured Agent Orange, principally Monsanto. Thousands of veterans joined in the fight against injustice and deception. Paul tragically died later in that same year, however things carried on through Agent Orange Victims International, founded by Paul Reutershan.
Dioxins have been spread through our environment on such a prolific scale that it is extremely hard to come to a conclusion where the side effects were first contracted. Like PCB’s, Dioxins in Agent Orange are stored in fatty tissue of living organisms and spread biologically through food chains, which can be inherited through birth. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to find ‘unexposed’ groups, so studies have to be conducted by comparing less contaminated peoples with more contaminated peoples25,26.
Monsanto knew and exploited this fact. Monsanto was the only source in the world for medical data on workers contaminated in Nitro, West Virginia 1948. This was the sole source of information and research on whether Agent Orange was linked to cancer and adverse health effects that, Monsanto conducted studies through 1980-1984. It used this biased research against the veterans and along with that the U.S EPA moulded policies around this ‘research’. Monsanto of course found no links between Dioxins and cancer.
The veterans were forced into accepting a settlement and all manufacturers of Agent Orange paid $180 million, of this Monsanto was ordered to fork out 45.5% of this amount27. The veterans that put their lives on the line and succumbed to the wounds of their own countries chemical warfare received the bad end of the stick. If they were able to somehow prove 100% disability, they would receive $12,800 over a 10-year period. Average payments hovered in the $3,800 region.28.
Another case opened up between 1984-1987. It was the longest in U.S civil jury trial history, which had implications on the results of the case for the war veterans. Kemner vs. Monsanto not only showed that research and results were conducted with bias and deception, but were also falsified in favour of Monsanto to protect them from potentially having to part with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damages to all veterans and populations in Vietnam. This would have led to the entire company going bankrupt.
A Greenpeace research report indicated that, ‘Greenpeace analysis of several of the studies shows that dozens of workers with cancer and heart disease, who were known to be exposed to dioxin, were inappropriately shifted into unexposed “control” groups or excluded from the studies altogether. In some cases, those classifications were contrary to the studies’ stated criteria; in others, the criteria were designed specifically to allow exposed workers to be misclassified.’ It went on further to state that ‘…studies have been the basis for claims that not one human death can be attributed to dioxin, and for suggestions that humans are not affected by dioxin in the same manner as laboratory animals. They have also been the basis for arguments against compensation for veterans exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.’29. Sadly, regardless of this information and more the verdict went in favour of Monsanto.
“Research on Agent Orange has been conducted for decades and continues today. While a causal connection linking Agent Orange to chronic disease in humans has not been established, some governments have made the decision to provide certain medical benefits to veterans and their families even though there had not been a determination that an individual’s health problem was caused by Agent Orange. In addition, governments and non-governmental humanitarian organisations have increased funding of environmental and healthcare services to help address potential problems that may exist in Vietnam from the use of Agent Orange.” – Monsanto Pledge.
I imagine this paragraph has been used countless times during conferences and interviews. There is however, some major holes within this argument that Monsanto puts forth. With ‘connections not being established’makes you ask the question “established, by whom?” Is Monsanto using data based off their own fraudulent research? Or are they basing their assumptions on the U.S EPA’s research, which has proven to be incompetent and untrustworthy. As we saw during the cases against Monsanto, the falsified research shaped much of the EPA’s policies in regards to Dioxins. Scientists have been aware of Dioxins adverse chronic health effects since the early 19th century30. In 1997, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is an intergovernmental panel that forms part of the World Health Organisation (WHO), has classified Dioxins such as 2,3,7,8-TCDD, which was found in Agent Orange as ‘carcinogenic [cancer causing] to humans’31. 2001 saw theNational Toxicology Program, a US governmental agency part of the Department of Health and Human Services classify Dioxins as ‘known to be a human carcinogen’32, in an updated report published in 2011, this has not been changed. One does not have to look further than the American War Museum located in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), and lay your eyes on the deformed and preserved still birth babies.
The U.S EPA is still currently reviewing whether or not Dioxins are possible human carcinogens33. Over the past 15 years there have been five reviews conducted for the U.S EPA by the Science Advisory Board and National Academy of Sciences review, yet they have still not made a decision. One can only assume the lobbyists of the chemical industry i.e. Monsanto are hindering and using delaying tactics. Of course, none of this is mentioned in Monsanto’s company timeline found on their official website. One may assume they want to project a good image for investors. At the end of the day, Monsanto’s Agent Orange decimated millions of civilians in Vietnam, and with the U.S military’s aid, assisted in the patriotic act of protecting freedom and democracy from socialism by contaminating and discreetly killing their own soldiers. Which brings us into relatively current issues, Round-Up, genetically modified organisms (GMO), seed control and the patenting of life.
As a part of a larger picture, Monsanto (and its industry analogues) proliferate the use of known toxins and suspected xenohormoes (endocrine disruptors) in conjunction with monoculture crops. Their business model flies in the face of numerous findings and even a U.N report, which clearly states that small organic farmering and non-monoculture crops are the key to ending world hunger, while also helping improve/preserve ecological stability and diversity at a time when that is drastically needed.
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Adapted from an article originally written by Ashley Crowther, submitted to Exposing The Truth for reprinting.
Read more: http://www.exposingtruth.com/dinner-with-monsanto/#ixzz31ZB1SgIU
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