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A Monsanto history

Editor's note: To access the endnotes in their hyperlink form, click on the source of this commentary, found at the bottom of the page. -- RS

(Friday, July 30, 2004 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- Monsanto is a leading global provider of agricultural products and systems sold to farming concerns. Their leading products are the Roundup herbicide, DEKALB and Agrow seed products, and biotechnology traits. Products have also included Agent Orange (1), PCBs, DDT and Bovine Growth Hormone and Aspartame.

Table of contents [showhide]

  • Corporate Rogue
  • The Roundup Ready Mess
  • Genetic Pollution
  • Mexican Maize Mischief
  • Global Bully
  • Terminator Technology
  • Labeling Issues
  • The WTVT Scandal
  • Monsanto's High Level Connections to the Bush Administration
  • External Links

Corporate Rogue

In the Washington Post article (Jan 1, 2002) "Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution PCBs Drenched Ala. Town, But No One Was Ever Told" a grim story of Monsanto's treacherous behaviour in Anniston Alabama was revealed. It is summed up in this chilling paragraph: "They also know that for nearly 40 years, while producing the now-banned industrial coolants known as PCBs at a local factory, Monsanto Co. routinely discharged toxic waste into a west Anniston creek and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills. And thousands of pages of Monsanto documents -- many emblazoned with warnings such as "CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy" -- show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew." [1] [2]. Over twenty thousand Anniston residents were part of the suit which resulted in a $700 million fine [3].

Anniston wasn't the only place where toxics were dumped for years by Monsanto; Sauget, Illinois near the banks of the Mississippi river is another notable case (2) [4] [5]. In fact Greenpeace alleges that "Monsanto has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as being the 'potentially responsible party' for no fewer than 93 contaminated sites (Superfund Sites) in the U.S." [6].

The Roundup Ready Mess

Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" crops are genetically engineered to allow direct application of the Monsanto herbicide glyphosate allowing farmers to drench both their crops and crop land with the herbicide so as to be able to kill nearby weeds without killing the crops (3). "RR soybeans are heavily herbicide dependent" [7] [8]. This is because the "Roundup Ready System" is primarily a "no-till" system. Rather than the traditional tilling of the ground to control weeds the RR system relies on its herbicide to control them, "No-till cropping systems are the most demanding with regards to weed control. The crop is seeded directly into untilled soil with no follow-up cultivation. Weed control depends entirely on herbicides" [9]. The draw for farmers is the promised reduced cost and thus extra profit over traditional systems. Says this Monsanto blurb "no-till soybeans grown in narrow rows add $16 per acre more to a grower's bottom line than conventional soybeans.... On a 1,000 acre farm, no-till can save as much as 450 hours of time and 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel each year. That's 11, 40-hour weeks in time savings and $4,000 less for diesel at $1.15 per gallon" [10]. However the weed control advantage of the no-till vs. conventional system has been disputed [11].

Among the issues with GMOs, the manufacture of herbicide tolerant (HT) biotech crops, particularly Monsanto's RR crops, has resulted in the creation of hard-to-kill "superweeds" [12] [13]. Precisely because the RR System was specifically designed to allow a more liberal use of Monsanto's herbicide, Roundup, (primarily, some say, to increase profits for Monsanto), this overuse itself (similar to the escalating quandary of antibiotic overuse in humans) is prompting the evolution of resistance to and thus a loss of efficacy for the herbicide. Suggestions to control resistance include increasing the applications which, of course, only exacerbates the problem [14]. As their quandry escalates farmers in the RR system are now having to rely on other, more toxic herbicides in an attempt to control the weeds including "2,4D, 2,4DB, Atrazine, Paraquat, Metsulphuron Methyl, Imazethapyr". [15].

However engineered crop volunteers and weeds are even evolving resistance to multiple herbicides (gene-stacking) requiring ever stronger chemicals to kill [16]. Moreover studies indicate that genes engineered to instill resistance to herbicides can migrate to non-target crops and even related wild plants (horizontal gene transfer, transgene escape) via pollen. [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22]. See also [23]. This has alarmed many in the scientific community.

Says the article: Cross-Pollination Leads to Triple Herbicide Resistance [24]:

One of the risks frequently cited in association with transgenic crops is the escape of a foreign gene via sexual reproduction. The recipient plant in such cases may be a non-transgenic variety of the same crop or a sexually compatible relative. Depending on the gene and trait considered, adverse environmental or agricultural impacts may result from such transfers, ranging from issues of genetic purity of neighboring crops to the generation of "super weeds." While this issue is receiving increasing attention by researchers, a recent report by Hall et al. [4] describes a truly remarkable example of herbicide resistance transfer via pollen among Brassica napus varieties. What is unusual here is not so much that it happened at all, but that it occurred rapidly and multiple times, such that, through completely random crossing, certain plants were found to be resistant to three different herbicides.

Regarding the need for more study of this Paul E. Arriola, Associate Professor of Biology at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois said in a personal correspondence "Scientists expressing concern about negative consequences for wide scale GM release have recommended for years that GM producing companies make available probes that could be used for long-term monitoring, but the call has fallen on deaf ears in both industry and the federal government". Providing appropriate genetic probes would, he says "violate company policy" regarding Monsanto's "confidential business information" and thus "it is not likely to happen".

There is now an attempt to verify worldwide how bad the problem of herbicide resistance has become. WeedScience documents (so far) "287 Resistant Biotypes, 172 Species (102 dicots and 70 monocots) and over 270,000 fields" [25] [26] [27]. Most of the resistances here are due to herbicide overuse in general however because those weeds tolerant of Roundup are closely associated with our food supply and the because of the ubiquity of Roundup Ready crops they are a particular concern. According to this site the 2003 total for GM crops was 167.2 million acres and says Monsanto "The potential for expansion for Roundup Ready crops also is significant.... For example, Roundup Ready corn currently is used on 3 million acres, but the global potential is more than 200 million acres." [28] According to Carl Casale Vice President of Monsanto the land area in the United States used for cultivation of RR crops in 2002 "increased from 3 million U.S. acres in 1996 to more than 97 million U.S. acres" [29].

While glyphosate has been marketed for nearly 30 years, its use in placing significant selection pressure on major weeds has only been since the introduction of RR soybeans in 1996. In six short years, since the introduction of RR crops, the use of glyphosate has grown 2.5 times, and in the Midwest, its use has increased even more. Some 33 million pounds of glyphosate were sprayed on soybean crops alone in 2001, a five-fold increase from 1995, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Yet no matter how well glyphosate controls weeds today, take note: resistance is happening. Almost all weed scientists agree the increasing evolution of resistant biotypes is inevitable with the current use pattern of glyphosate. Their warning: increased adoption of a rotation relying solely on RR crops will contribute to the rate at which resistance evolves. [30]

The explosion in the adoption of glyphosate-resistant crops outpaces any other adoption of technology in modern history (including the tractor, fertilizer and hybrid corn). [31]

Indeed as predicted a recent report shows that, contrary to industry claims of reduced herbicide use, herbicides usage has actually increased in the United States on GM crops by about 50 million pounds [32]. "For years weed scientists have warned that heavy reliance on herbicide tolerant crops would trigger ecological changes in farm fields that would incrementally erode the technology’s effectiveness. It now appears that this process began in 2001 in the United States in the case of herbicide tolerant crops". This upward sprial in resistance/usage can be expected to continue. A related issue is the growing resistance of insects to GM Bt crops [33] [34].

If all this weren't enough, exposure to glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) increases the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. [35]. See also [36].

Genetic Pollution

Organic farms are increasingly finding that via cross-pollination their pure food has been contaminated with GM DNA thus ruining their businesses [37] [38]. Some have expressed suspicions that the contamination may be intentional "once genetic contamination reaches a ‘significant’ level, the world will be left with no other choice but to accept the sad reality. Genetically engineered crops will then be pushed with impunity. The great genetic scandal is only beginning to unfold." [39] [40]. Says the Scottish parliament's Mark Ruskell, "As far as the US and the biotechnology companies are concerned the GM debate doesn't exist -- you will eat it and you will grow it" [41] [42]. Comments from the Biotechnology Industry Association's Lisa Dry add fuel to suggestion, "Rather than pursue the unrealistic goal of trying to keep seeds completely free of genetic contaminants, she and other industry representatives said, the United States should work harder to get European and other nations -- many of which have balked at engineered crops and foods -- to be more accepting of the technology. 'It's important for countries around the world to adopt a uniform standard' of acceptable levels of contamination" [43]. See also [44]. In move to absolve itself from blame Monsanto here says that it is the responsibility of organic farmers to figure out a way to keep contamination from Monsanto's GM ingredients out of their crops. This despite the fact that it is the upstart biotech genes that are the trespassers here. One envisions a gloomy future wherein natural organic crops must now and evermore be sequestered from all environmental contact.

Brazil, which until recently was proud of its GM-free stance and despite the fact that its citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to GM food has thrown in the towel due to extensive illegal cultivation and contamination in the south of the country - not to mention the usual bullying from Monsanto [45] [46] [47]. An unfortunate consequence of contamination is that farmers trying to grow soy that is free from GM are being forced to move further and further north, even into the Amazonian rain forest to escape it. Rather than accept any culpability for the contamination driven deforestation though, Monsanto here attempts to pin the blame on those who are trying to keep their crops GM free even though the illegal seed was Monsanto's [48] [49] [50] See also [51] under "More Rio Grande do Sul Genetically Modified Crops".

Fears have also been raised that genes from "pharm" crops engineered for other purposes such as medicinal or industrial could find their way into food crops [52] [53]. For more see the excellent report Gone to Seed. Deliberate or not, one thing is becoming sadly apparent, the genetic genie now released may well be impossible to get back into the bottle.

Mexican Maize Mischief

Monsanto has employed the services of a firm called Bivings Group which used a phony e-mail campaign to persuade Nature to retract the Chapela and Quist paper finding that GM maize had escaped into Mexico [54] [55] see also Monsanto's World Wide Web of Deceit. Chapela and Quist have since been vindicated as it turns out that GM maize has indeed invaded Mexico. Says Science 3/1/2002 "Surprisingly, even Quist and Chapela's most strident critics agree with one of their central points: Illicit transgenic maize may well be growing in Mexico.... At a 23 January meeting in Mexico City, CINVESTAV official Elleli Huerta presented preliminary PCR findings indicating that transgenic promoters, mostly CaMV 35S, were present in about 12% of the plants. In some areas, up to 35.8% of the grain contained foreign sequences, INE scientific adviser Sol Ortiz Garcia told Science last week." "This is the world's worst case of contamination by genetically modified material because it happened in the place of origin of a major crop. It is confirmed. There is no doubt about it." Jorge Soberón, Secretary of Mexico's National Biodiversity Commission told the The London Daily Telegraph, April 19, 2002 [56]. See also [57].

Global Bully

Monsanto has sued farmers when their GM crops have turned up on the farmer's fields even though the farmers say they never planted them [58] [59] [60]. In the well known Percy Schmeiser case the Canadian Supreme Court in Monsanto v Schmeiser rejected Schmeiser's claim that the presence of RR crops had happened accidentally, however Schmeiser says that since he never used Roundup in his fields there would have been no reason for him to have RR crops. Schmeiser was not required to pay Monsanto any damages due to the fact that he had not profited from the "infringement".

Nevertheless what is disturbing to many is the fact that, though technically the court attempted to limit Monsanto's patent protection to its engineered gene, in effect the court allowed Monsanto to claim patent ownership of a plant, a form of life [61]. "Mr. Schmeiser saved the seed and reused it 'for production and advantage,' the majority noted. 'Whether or not patent protection for the gene and the cell extends to activities involving the plant is not relevant to the patent's validity'" "The team of dissenting judges in the latest decision, led by Justice Louise Arbour, said the ruling contradicts the Harvard mouse judgment. The majority is effectively allowing Monsanto 'to do indirectly what Canadian patent law has not allowed them to do directly: namely, to acquire patent protection over whole plants,' wrote Arbour" [62] #108 [63].

The judgment along with previous ones upon which it was built has been interpreted by many to mean that if any RR crop is found on agricultural land wherein it was not specifically purchased even if it found its way there through entirely natural means such as wind or insect pollination, the farmer is liable to Monsanto for "theft" of its property. That at least seems to be the goal of Monsanto. Says this 2000 ENS article regarding the Canadian federal court judgment, "Monsanto did not directly try to explain how the Roundup Ready seed got there. 'Whether Mr. Schmeiser knew of the matter or not matters not at all,' said Roger Hughes, a Monsanto attorney quoted by the Western Producer, a Canadian agriculture magazine.... 'It was a very frightening thing, because they said it doesn't matter how it gets into a farmer's field; it's their property," Schmeiser said, in an interview with Agweek. "If it gets in by wind or cross-pollination, that doesn't matter'" [64] See also [65].

"Monsanto's Jordan said the company isn't concerned that Schmeiser won't have to pay. "The important aspect of this particular case was intellectual property, not any sort of monetary gain," she said. "The ruling affirms the way that we do business" [66]. For a different assessment of the decision see here.

Terminator Technology

Monsanto also came under heavy public fire with their "Terminator Technology", a.k.a. "suicide seeds", in which they developed and planned to market seeds that, after one season's growth would not germinate again forcing farmers around the world to buy their seed from them every year rather than saving their best seed for the next years planting, a traditional and economical practice [67]. Seed saving has had the benefit of allowing farmers to continually improve the quality of their crops through careful artificial selection. Fears were also expressed that Monsanto's terminator genes could spread to wild plants. In 1999 Monsanto called the program off, however there are disturbing indications that they may be planning to resurrect it. [68] [69]

On June 29, 2004 The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture went into effect giving farmers in those countries which have ratified it the right to save seeds [70].

Labeling Issues

An issue of growing concern is the Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods [71]. Many have questioned why it is that while consumers in Europe have the right to know through labeling which foods contain GM ingredients and thus to make an informed choice consumers in the United States, purportedly the bastion of freedom, democracy and the "free market" in the world are denied this same right. Polls indicate that the great majority of Americans who are aware of the issue want labels [72]. Attempts to accomplish some kind of labeling have repeatedly been rebuffed due to tremendous opposition from biotech which fear loss of sales if people know [73] [74]. In 2002 Oregon tried and failed to pass just such a labeling initiative (Measure 27). The campaign cited big money and misinformation propagated by biotech as contributing to the defeat [75].

In a bit of good news for GM opponents Vermont's Governor James Douglas on April 26, 2004 signed into law H. 352, the Farmer Right to Know Seed Labeling Bill requiring biotech to label and register their GM seeds in the state [76].

Monsanto also demanded that Maine dairy Oakhurst "stop advertising that it doesn't use milk from hormone-treated cows" [77]. For three years a label on the dairy's milk containers stated "Our Farmers' Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones", however Monsanto sued and eventually the dairy gave in and agreed to an additional label stating that "no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from (hormone)-treated and non-(hormone)-treated cows." The recombinant BGH, an engineered product, is sold under the name Posilac. Injected every two weeks it increases a cows milk output 10 to 15 percent or about a gallon a day. Studies have indicated that there is a link between rBGH and various cancers [78] [79]. Concern has also been raised about the strain of this extra production on the cows themselves [80] [81] [82].

The WTVT Scandal

Yet another infamous Monsanto scandal involved Fox news reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson who were fired from the Florida station they worked at, WTVT - owned by Rupert Murdoch, for refusing to weaken their story regarding rBGH or Bovine Growth Hormone. The BGH Scandals--The Incredible Story of Jane Akre & Steve Wilson recounts how Akre and Wilson rewrote the story 83 times in an attempt to mollify a threatening Monsanto, the new Fox station manager Dave Boylan and Fox attorneys yet remain truthful at the same time. They won a "landmark whistleblower lawsuit" against the station and were awarded $425,000 in damages. However, Fox appealed and prevailed February 14, 2003 when the jury decision was reversed on a legal technicality: the appeals court agreed with Fox that it is technically not against any law, rule or regulation to deliberately distort the news on television. [83]

Monsanto's High Level Connections to the Bush Administration

While Monsanto has found its way into previous administrations, the current Bush administration is rife with Monsanto influence.

"The connections between Monsanto and the new Bush administration are also very solid. G.W.’s pop, Bush Sr. appointed Clarence Thomas, a Monsanto attorney, to the Supreme Court. Thomas played a key role in the selection of G.W. as president. John Ashcroft, the current attorney general, was the top recipient of Monsanto contributions when he recently tried to get re-elected to the U.S. Senate. Donald Rumsfeld, the current secretary of defense, was president of Searle Pharmaceuticals, now owned by Monsanto. Tommy Thompson, now the secretary of Health and Human Services, helped the biotech industry by getting the state of Wisconsin to set up a $37 million biotech zone there. He received $50,000 from the biotech industry for his reelection campaign. The current secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman, was on the board of directors of Calgene Pharmaceuticals, an affiliate of Monsanto. Recently, Linda J. Fisher, a former Monsanto official, was nominated by Bush to be second-in-command at the EPA. She was Monsanto’s representative in Washington from 1995 to 2000 and coordinated the company’s strategy to blunt resistance to genetically modified food" [84] See also GM lobby takes root in Bush's cabinet.

Monsanto recently made news when it decided to withdraw its GM wheat from the market due to worldwide opposition. [85] Environmental risks of GM wheat.

California's Mendocino County as of March 2, 2004 became the first county in the nation to ban the growing of genetically altered crops and animals [86] via ballot Measure H despite a massive campaign against it from the usual suspects.


(1) Monsanto was accused of fraud in assessing the risks of dioxin, a by-product of Agent Orange manufacture. Regarding this William Sanjour Policy Analyst at the EPA wrote "This kind of cold-blooded analysis is bad enough when the product is used by the general public, but it is insufferable when used on our own armed forces who were exposed in combat.... The issue wasn't false science, but allegedly using false science to cover-up a callous hard-hearted decision to continue poisoning our GIs and their children because it was cheaper to do so." [87]

(2) Scott McMurray, "Denying Paternity: Monsanto Case Shows How Hard It Is to Tie Pollution to a Source; PCBs Taint Site Where Firm Used to Produce Them, But it Doesn't See a Link," Wall Street Journal June 17, 1992, pg. A1.

(3) Glyphosate products such as "Rodeo" and "Accord" along with a long list of other herbicides, are also applied liberally by local governments to aquatic environments such as streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and reservoirs often simply because such plants are deemed 'aesthetically undesirable'. A shortened list.

(4) Hall L, Topinka K, Huffman J, Davis L, and Good A. 2000. Pollen flow between herbicide-resistant Brassica napus is the cause of multiple-resistant B. napus volunteers. Weed Science 48: 688-694


"Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.'s job" - Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications. "Playing God in the Garden" New York Times Magazine, October 25, 1998.

"What you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it’s really a consolidation of the entire food chain" - Robert Fraley, co-president of Monsanto's agricultural sector 1996, in the Farm Journal. Quoted in: Flint J. (1998) Agricultural industry giants moving towards genetic monopolism. Telepolis, Heise.

"I recognized my two selves: a crusading idealist and a cold, granitic believer in the law of the jungle" Edgar Monsanto Queeny, Monsanto chairman, 1943-63, "The Spirit of Enterprise", 1934.

Source: http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Monsanto