We discuss and comment on the role agriculture will play in the containment of the CO2 problem and address protocols for terraforming the planet Earth.
A model farm template is imagined as the central methodology. A broad range of timely science news and other topics of interest are commented on.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Monsanto: Corporate Rap Sheet
needed this as the global confrontation with Monsanto steadily comes to a
head. This is a history of willful disregard
and planned manipulation to push whatever their product portfolio comprises of.
To say their decision
threshold is significantly lower than anyone naturally presumes is the only way
this company can be characterized. They really
think that they know best even in the face of clear opposing evidence which
just shows how much they have manipulated their own evidence. It really becomes clear that it is a case of
we will cook our data and you will cook yours.
It is fair to
say that the company is skillfully playing monopoly with the farming industry
every way it can and this is turning out to be a damaging idea. Pushback was inevitable and is now gaining
global momentum simply because the company has demolished trust.
Just what were
they thinking when they sued a farmer who was stuck with their seeds? I could not find a better way to declare war
on the independent farmer if I tried.
Once a controversial chemical company, Monsanto
remade itself into an even more controversial agricultural biotechnology
corporation that holds a dominant position in both herbicides and genetically
engineered seeds. Identified more closely than any other company with the
effort to introduce genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the food supply,
Monsanto has been the target of ongoing campaigns for more than 20 years.
Despite been labeled "Mutanto" and a
purveyor of Frankenfoods, Monsanto has not backed down. It has made aggressive
use not only of marketing and public relations, but also the courts, where it
has frequently brought suits against farmers it claimed were not following the
company's strict rules on how its products can and cannot be used. Some of
those cases have gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2013
strongly affirmed Monsanto's patent rights. The company also has friends in
Congress, which passed what critics call a Monsanto Protection Act limiting the
ability of federal courts to halt the sale of genetically engineered seeds
deemed to pose a health risk.
Starting with Saccharin
The original company named Monsanto was created in
St. Louis in 1901 by John Queeny to produce the artificial sweetener saccharin,
which was otherwise available only from Germany. The operation took off and
soon expanded to other products such as caffeine, vanillin, aspirin, synthetic
rubber and synthetic fibers (the latter would later include AstroTurf). After
the Second World War, it moved into herbicides, using Western-themed brand
names such as Ramrod, Lasso and later Roundup.
In 1985 the company purchased drug house G.D.
Searle, which brought with it the artificial sweetener aspartame (sold under
the name NutraSweet) as well as a spate of lawsuits charging that it ignored
evidence of the harmful effects caused by its Copper-7 intrauterine
contraceptive device. (In 1988 a federal jury found the
company negligent and awarded $8.75 million in damages.) Despite being approved
by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, aspartame wasbelieved by
many to have harmful health effects.
During the 1980s Monsanto sold off many of its
long-standing industrial chemical businesses and decided to focus on
agricultural biotechnology. It initially focused on developing crops
that would not be damaged when the company's herbicide Roundup was applied to
Monsanto's first genetically engineered product was
a growth hormone, bovine somatotropin (BST, sold under the name Posilac), used
to stimulate higher rates of milk production in dairy cows. It was approved by
the FDA in 1993 and went on sale the following year. The move sparked widespread
protests, prompting some large grocery chains to seek to
avoid milk from farms using the hormone.
Undeterred, Monsanto increased its bet on
biotechnology, acquiring a 49.9 percent stake in Calgene, which was at the
center of controversy over its introduction of a genetically modified tomato
called Flavr Savr (Monsanto later bought the rest of the company). Also in 1995,
Monsanto received approval for a bioengineered potato. The company then
introduced genetically modified cotton seed and Roundup Ready soybeans. In the
late 1990s Monsanto solidified its position in the seed business with the
acquisition of DeKalb Genetics as well as the foreign seed operations of
During this period Monsanto negotiated a merger with
drugmaker American Home Products, but the deal collapsed in a dispute over
control. Monsanto did, however, proceed with a complicated corporate reorganization.
It announced plans to spin off the remainder of its old chemical business into
a company called Solutia (which later filed for bankruptcy as a result of legal
settlements relating to PCBs); the sweetener business was also sold off. The
agriculture and pharmaceuticals businesses merged with Pharmacia & Upjohn
in 2000, with the combined company taking the name Pharmacia.
Pharmacia then spun off the agricultural business as
the new Monsanto (the rest of the company was acquired by Pfizer). During the
following years Monsanto focused on the seed business, purchasing regional
firms as well as the large fruit and vegetable seed company Seminis; it later
bought the large cotton seed company Delta and Pine Land as well.
The restructuring did not change the fact that there
was growing opposition to GMOs, especially in Europe. In the U.S. there
were calls for
at least labeling genetically modified foods, though they were long resisted by
the Food and Drug Administration. In 2000 the Wall Street Journal reported that
McDonald's was quietly telling its french-fry suppliers to stop using
Monsanto's GMO potatoes because of concern about a backlash from customers,
while big food processors such as Kraft shunned bioengineered
corn after some inadvertently ended up in some of its taco shells. More
than 1,000 poor farmers stormed and
occupied a Monsanto plant in Brazil. A 2001 article in
the New York Times described the state of the GMO industry as a
"debacle." That same year, Monsanto quietly discontinued its
genetically modified potato in the face of price resistance from farmers.
Monsanto, nonetheless, pushed ahead with new
products such as GMO wheat despite strong farmer resistance in
places such as North Dakota. It also continued to prosper from the sale of its
Roundup herbicide, which had become the all-time
best-selling agricultural chemical product (though the product's
reputation took a hit with reports that
its use was contributing to the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds).
In 2002 Monsanto and Aventis CropScience revealed that
some of their GMO canola seeds that had not yet been approved for use in the
United States might have found their way to farmers' fields. The following year
Monsanto received federal
approval for GMO corn that was resistant to corn rootworm, a leading
agricultural pest (though there were later reports questioning
The Bush Administration sought to assist Monsanto
and the rest of the GMO industry with the 2003 filing of
a World Trade Organization action against the European moratorium against their
products. Bush himself charged that
the ban had discouraged third world governments from approving the technology
and thereby exacerbated world hunger. (The ban was later lifted for some
Also in 2003, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture announced that
Monsanto and its research partners had in 2001 paid $63,000 in fines for
previously undisclosed violations relating to the testing of genetically
In 2004 Monsanto bowed to worldwide protests and
finally abandoned its
GMO wheat project. The company also ran into problems with its
genetically engineered alfalfa. In 2007 a federal judge in San Francisco ordered the
company to suspend sales of the crop because the USDA had approved it without
conducting an environmental impact assessment. This was the first time a court
had ever taken such an action. Monsanto appealed the case all the way to the
U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2010 ruled in
the company's favor.
In the meantime, Monsanto was able to dampen the
impact of the anti-GMO movement by focusing on seeds used for crops that would
serve as agricultural or industrial inputs rather than those for produce that
would end up directly on people's plates. In 2008 it sold its
controversial Posilac dairy growth hormone.
In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency announced that
Monsanto would pay a $2.5 million penalty for selling mislabeled bags of
genetically engineered cotton seed.
In 2011, amid accusations that
GMO crops, together with their pesticides and herbicides, were playing a role
in the decline of honeybee populations, Monsanto acquired a company
called Beeologics, which was doing cutting-edge research on the problem. There
have been reportslinking
Monsanto's Roundup to a decrease in the population of Monarch butterflies.
The company has also had to contend with repeated
efforts to require labeling of GMO foods. It was buoyed by the defeat of a 2012
California ballot measurement on the issue which Monsanto and other
agribusiness and food corporations spent some
$46 million to oppose. But in 2013 Whole Foods became the first major grocery
chain to require the
labeling of all GMO foods sold in its stores.
The anti-GMO movement has been gathering new steam
with actions such as the March Against Monsanto protests that
were held in 52 countries and more than 400 cities in May 2013. Monsanto has
been under heightened scrutiny because of the revelation that
the company's unapproved GMO wheat was found growing on a farm in Oregon.
Monsanto denied responsibility and claimed that
sabotage was probably involved. The company is now beingsued over
Disputes with Farmers and Processors
When Monsanto introduced its first genetically
modified seeds in the 1990s, it forced farmers to sign contracts prohibiting
them from continuing the traditional practice of saving some of the seeds from
a harvest for planting the following season. To make sure farmers were
compelled to purchase a new supply of the GMO seeds for every season, the company
made sure it had the right to inspect and monitor the fields of its customers.
It also brought lawsuits against farmers it claimed violated the company's
Monsanto then reinforced its control by developing
seeds that would beget sterile progeny. Dubbed the Terminator by critics,
this patent was designed to make it impossible for farmers to save seeds and
thus make them totally dependent on proprietary seeds. In the face of strong
opposition, the company discontinued the product in 1999.
Later that year, however, a group of famers in the
U.S. and France filed a
class action lawsuit against Monsanto, alleging that the company had failed to
test its GMO seeds adequately and thus had defrauded farmers when it told them
that the seeds were safe. They also accused the company of antitrust violations
because of its dominant position in the GMO seed market and because of its
requirement that farmers "license" its seeds rather than buying them
outright. (In 2003 a federal judge denied class-action
status to the suit.)
Monsanto kept up its own legal offensive against
farmers accused of using its patented seeds without permission. In 2001 a
Canadian court awarded damages
to Monsanto from a Saskatchewan farmer because some of the company's GMO canola
plants were found growing in his fields, apparently as a result of pollen that
had been blown onto his land from nearby farms. The Canadian Supreme Court later upheld the
ruling against the farmer, Percy Schmeiser.
In 2003 Monsanto sued a
small milk producer in Maine for supposedly disparaging its Posilac artificial
growth hormone by labeling its products as being free of the substance. The
case wassettled out
In 2007 Monsanto sued Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman,
who had supplemented the patented seeds he purchased from the company with
additional seeds purchased from a local grain elevator that turned out to
include some produced with Monsanto technology. The company won a judgment
against Bowman, who appealed the case. The matter eventually made its way to
the U.S. Supreme Court, which in May 2013 ruled that
Bowman had violated Monsanto's patent and that farmers needed to pay the
company every time they used its genetically modified soybeans.
In 2012 a French court found Monsanto
guilty of chemical poisoning of a farmer who reported suffering neurological
problems after using one of the company's herbicides.
Lobbying, Public Relations and the Revolving
When faced with opposition to its products and
policies, Monsanto has not hesitated to enlisthigh-powered
assistance from the federal government. In the late 1990s it got members of the
Clinton Administration to lobby against possible European restrictions on GMOs.
In Washington it made use of former U.S. Senators Dennis DeConcini and John
Chaffee to promote its interests on issues ranging from patents to taxes. And
it made frequent use of the revolving door by hiring former federal bureaucrats
to joint its army of lobbyists and flacks. Among those were Carol Tucker
Foreman, who had served both as assistant secretary of agriculture during the
Carter Administration and as executive director of the Consumer Federation of
America. Foreman, however, later returned to the CFA and became more critical
of Monsanto and other GMO companies.
As criticism of "Frankenfoods" grew in the
late 1990s, Monsanto and other biotech companiesdevoted tens of
millions of dollars to make their case, forming front groups such as the
Alliance for Better Foods.
A 2001 New York Times investigation found
that Monsanto had exerted a great deal of control over the federal regulation
of its biotech activities, first pushing for greater oversight in the 1980s as
a way to reassure the public of the safety of GMOs and later insisting on
weaker rules so that it could get its products to market more quickly.
Monsanto’s influence has been strong in both
Republic and Democratic Administrations, including the Obama Administration.
For example, in 2010 Michael R. Taylor, a former Monsanto executive and a
corporate lawyer who once represented the company, became the
FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, making him the country’s food safety czar.
In 2013 Congress passed an agricultural
appropriations bill that contained a
provision, which critics dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act, restricting the
ability of federal courts to stop the sale of GMO seeds deemed to pose a health
Controversies in India
Monsanto’s introduction of genetically engineered Bt
cotton in India has been linked to the serious deterioration of conditions for
small farmers in the country. Critics such as Dr. Vandana Shiva have charged that
the company is responsible for a growth in the number of suicides among such farmers.
A 2012 report by the Fair Labor
Association and the India Committee of the Netherlands linked Monsanto and
other Western seed companies to the payment of subminimum wages to agricultural
laborers, especially women, and to the use of child labor.
Monsanto was one of the manufacturers of the
devastating defoliant Agent Orange used by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.
Along with the vast number of deaths and suffering it caused, Agent
Orange was linked to environmental issues. The deforestation upset the ecological balance of
many areas, and the lingering dioxin in soil and water caused ongoing contamination of
the food chain.
The use of the defoliant also had repercussions back
in the United States. The manufacturers found themselves targeted by thousands
of lawsuits filed by Vietnam veterans who charged that the dioxin in Agent
Orange had caused liver damage, nervous disorders, birth defects, and other
health problems. The litigation was settled out
of court in 1984 with the creation of a $180 million fund.
In 2004 the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent
Orange (VAVA) filed a lawsuit in federal court against the manufacturers on
behalf of Vietnamese victims. The case was dismissed the following year and the
dismissal was upheld in
Other Environmental and Workplace Safety Issues
In 1929 Monsanto introduced polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), chemicals that were adopted for a wide range of consumer and
industrial products. Although there was evidence as
early as the 1930s that PCBs had harmful health effects, Monsanto kept
producing them until the late 1970s, by which time they were recognized to be
carcinogenic and were being banned by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1986 a federal jury in Galveston, Texas found Monsanto
guilty of negligence and ordered the company to pay $108 million to the family
of a worker who died from leukemia after being exposed to benzene while working
at a Monsanto chemical plant. Monsanto had refused to pay workers compensation
to the family, insisting that the disease was not work-related. The award was
later overturned and the family settled with
Monsanto for $6 million.
In 1987 a state court jury found Monsanto
liable for failing to warn the residents of Sturgeon, Missouri about the risks
of a 1979 train accident that spilled chemicals including a small quantity of
dioxin. The residents were granted more than $16 million in damages, but the
award was later overturned.
In 1988 Monsanto agreed to
pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit that had been brought by a group of
workers who charged that their exposure to a rubber additive at the company's
plant in Nitro, West Virginia caused them to contract a rare form of bladder
In 2003 Monsanto (which retained liability for some
liability matters relating to its old chemical businesses), along with Solutia
and Pfizer (which had acquired Pharmacia), agreed to
pay some $700 million to settle a lawsuit over the dumping of PCBs in Anniston,
In 2007 The Guardian reported that
it had obtained evidence that dozens of dangerous chemicals related to dioxins,
Agent Orange and PCBs were leaking from an unlined quarry in Britain that was
among various landfills in the country believed to have been used as dump sites
for contractors working for Monsanto decades earlier.
In 2005 the U.S. Justice Department announced that
Monsanto had agreed to pay penalties totaling $1.5 million to resolve criminal
and civil charges that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act through
illegal payments to government officials in Indonesia.
In 1984 Monsanto lost an antitrust dispute with its
distributor Spray-Rite, which Monsanto had sought to prevent from selling its
herbicides at less than its suggested price. It appealed the case all the way
to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the
award and thus in effect found Monsanto guilty of price fixing.
A 2004 investigation by
the New York Times found that during the 1990s Monsanto executives
met repeatedly with their counterparts from competitor Pioneer Hi-Bred
International and agreed to charge higher prices for genetically modified seeds
in what seemed to be a case of price-fixing. The companies acknowledged that
the meetings took place but claims they were legitimate negotiations about
In 2010 Monsanto disclosed that
the U.S. Justice Department had formally demanded information on its
herbicide-resistant soybean seed business as part of an investigation into
anti-competitive practices. To make itself less of a target, Monsanto decided to
let patents on its bioengineered farm seeds expire without a fight. This would
make it easier for rivals to produce cheap knockoffs, yet Monsanto expected to
maintain its market dominance by introducing new patented versions of the
seeds. The Justice Department notified Monsanto
in 2012 that it was ending the investigation.
In 1996 Monsanto and Chevron Chemical agreed to
pay a total of $18.25 million to settle an age, race and disability
discrimination suit that had been brought by a group of workers who were
terminated after Chevron sold its Ortho Consumer Products business to Monsanto.