Food

6 Terrifying Things Monsanto Does: Why You Should Join the Second Global Protest on Saturday

Millions of activists from around the world will once again March Against Monsanto.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com / Africa Studio

Frustrated that she couldn’t feed her family pesticide-free foods that hadn’t been genetically altered without spending a small fortune, a Utah mom named Tami Canal organized the first March Against Monsanto effort last year. What began as the young mother’s Facebook call to action has evolved into an ongoing global movement against harmful pesticides and rampant genetic engineering (GE) of the food supply (which still lacks independent, peer-reviewed studies to back up its safety).

At least 60 countries worldwide have implemented outright bans of Monsanto and genetically modified (GMO) food, including Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, South Australia, Russia, France, and Switzerland.

This Saturday, May 24, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are taking a stand against the mega corporation once again, in the second annual March Against Monsanto.

Last year AlterNet ran an article outlining some of the most horrifying Monsanto facts. Over the last year, thanks in part to the spotlight March Against Monsanto has pointed at the company, even more atrocities have come to light.  

Here is an updated list of the most distressing Monsanto crimes against humanity.

1. Spurring thousands of farmer suicides.

In India, more than 250,000 farmers have taken their own lives after Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds didn’t perform as promised. Monsanto has established a seed monopoly when it comes to Indian cotton. Seeds used to be the property of the farmer, but Monsanto patents the seeds it has genetically modified—even second-, third- and fourth-generation seeds are considered to be “Monsanto-owned.” Monsanto has created a monopoly in the country and its GMO seeds the only ones available, so farmers are forced to purchase the seeds from Monsanto, often on credit. When those seeds don’t perform as promised, or sometimes even if they do, the farmers are left trapped in severe poverty and debt. Some farmers have turned to drinking Monsanto’s poisonous pesticides in an attempt to free their families from that debt.

In a 2013 Al Jazeeraarticle titled “Seeds of Suicide and Slavery Versus Seeds of Life and Freedom,” Vandana Shiva wrote that Monsanto’s PR is in stark contrast to reality. Of Monsanto India’s website, she wrote, “All the pictures are of smiling prosperous farmers from the state of Maharashtra. However, we see that the reality on the ground is completely different. Farmers are in debt and in deep distress, and have become dependent on Monsanto's seed monopoly.”

She wrote that what was once the cotton belt in India is now the suicide belt: “The highest suicides are in Maharashtra. Monsanto's talk of 'technology' tries to hide its real objectives of ownership, where genetic engineering is just a means to control seeds and the food system through patents and intellectual property rights.”

2. Releasing rogue GMOs without testing or government approval.

GMO seeds are approved for three of the four major US crops: soybeans, corn and alfalfa. But not wheat. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you're not eating genetically engineered wheat. 

In summer of 2013 a farmer in Oregon discovered that unapproved GE wheat was growing in his field. After testing, scientists confirmed the wheat was of a strain tested by Monsanto that was not approved due to concern other countries would not import the GE wheat.

The Washington Post reported:

Japan, the largest market for U.S. wheat exports, suspended imports from the United States and canceled a major purchase of white wheat on Thursday after the recent discovery of unapproved genetically modified wheat in an 80-acre field in Oregon.

Investors drove down the price of Monsanto shares by 4 percent on May 31 as South Korea joined Japan in suspending imports of U.S. wheat after an unapproved strain of genetically modified wheat was discovered in a field in eastern Oregon.

As Jill Richardson noted on AlterNet last year, "the discovery of genetically engineered wheat in Oregon poses an important question: Can humans control and contain genetically engineered crops?"

No, it appears we cannot. 

Richardson spoke with biologist Jack Heinemann, who listed several famous incidents of GE crops popping up where they shouldn't.

"[T]he incident with Liberty Link Rice, a GE rice variety that showed up in rice exported to France in 2006 even though it was never commercialized," Richardson wrote. "Or there’s the StarLink Corn fiasco, when a type of GE corn unapproved for human consumption was found in Taco Bell taco shells. And genes from rogue GE corn have even reached the birthplace of corn: Mexico."

Richardson pointed out that unless we update the rules to better regulate GMOs, "we’ll continue finding—or not finding—unapproved GE crops in our food supply."

3. Running the FDA, writing its own protection laws.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely the rules surrounding GMOs will improve anytime soon. Ex-Monsanto executives run the United States Food and Drug Administration, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the American public, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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 the 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 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 engineered crops.”

4. Profiteering poisonous chemical company posing as agribusiness.

During the Vietnam War, 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), ultimately causing birth defects in half a million children.

Monsanto made that possible.  

Agent Orange didn’t disappear when the war ended. It continues to wreak havoc via generational exposure, and has killed and caused birth defects in tens of thousands. Kelly L. Derricks, president and co-founder of the nonprofit Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance (COVVHA), started the March Against Monsanto Agent Orange Awareness Program last year to educate people about the company’s role in making the deadly chemical weapon.

Monsanto began as a chemical company in 1901 and was responsible for some of the most damaging toxins in US history, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxin. Consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch (FWW) released a report 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.

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 in 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, 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 agribusiness 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 Hawaiian Islands Monsanto and other biotech companies have turned into the world’s “ground zero” for chemical testing and food engineering.

5. 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 a corporate monopoly. Monsanto is attempting this as it sues small farmers out of their livelihoods time and again.

Vernon Hugh Bowman, 75, a soybean farmer from Indiana, 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 that Bowman had violated the company’s patent.

Bowman is by no means the only US farmer to be put into debt by Monsanto. Monsanto reported enormous profits from 2012 to shareholders last 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 Jan. 10, 2013 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 January 16) Charlotte Silver outlines how Monsanto has increased the price of the Roundup herbicide and exploited 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 toward other biotech companies until the end of 2012. The investigation was quietly closed before the end of the 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.

6. Controlling the food, privatizing the water.

Half of the planet’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," 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 like 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.

7. Continuing environmental nightmares.

As Tami Canal pointed out, studies have linked Monsanto and other biotech conglomerates to the decline of bee colonies in the US and abroad.

Its environmental crimes don’t stop there. In 2002 the Washington Post published 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 harm humans and wildlife, 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.