Monsanto made headlines again last week courtesy of an anonymously-added provision to a continuing resolution which funds the US government through the end of this fiscal year in September. The "Monsanto Protection Act" does what it sounds like – it protects the agribusiness giant from any legal liability arising from suits filed concerning any health risks arising after their genetically modified seeds are used. Oh, and now Congress can’t ban their sale. According to Food and Water Watch, in 2009, 93 percent of all soybeans and 80 percent of all corn grown in the US were grown from seeds genetically modified in some way by Monsanto, so the implications are enormous. As President Obama signed the agriculture rider into law, many from food activists to free market conservatives reacted angrily. Jon Stewart did, too.
But for longtime followers of Monsanto’s litigious nature and legislative influence, it was not really so surprising to learn that a Congressperson was happy to do the giant’s bidding and business on the Hill – by any means necessary. (According to his own statement to Politico, it was a senator from Monsanto’s home state, Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, who inserted the secret provision.) Even if you’re an old hand at Monsanto activism, the corporate profile offered by Food & Water Watch’s new report, "Monsanto: A Corporate Report" doesn’t take long to infuriate – on a few counts.
Monsanto Made Agent Orange: Monsanto began life as an industrial chemical company, and one of their defoliants, Agent Orange, was an infamous US weapon used in the Vietnam War. Almost 19 million gallons of defoliants (usually mixed with jet fuel) were sprayed around military bases to remove vegetation and eliminate hiding places for the Viet Cong. Of course, over one million people are now disabled or have health problems due to exposure, and US veterans' groups successfully won a $180 million class action settlement against Monsanto and other manufacturers. There has been no large-scale attempt to compensate Vietnamese citizens.
Monsanto is Litigious: As of 2010, Monsanto has filed more than 136 lawsuits against farmers (affecting over 400 farmers and 53 small businesses) for various patent/seed use infringements. If it’s any consolation (not that it is or should be) to Joe and Jane Farmer, they spend the rest of their considerable time in court battling corporate nemesis DuPont, for patent and copyright violations. Simply put, they want the whole playground to themselves and aren’t afraid to bully. (Watch Food and Water Watch’s Executive Director and Foodopoly author Wenonah Hauter explain how Monsanto has exerted such legal and legislative influence over the years.)
Monsanto Buys Research: Whether via a shiny new student center or research facility or endowed chairs, the company donates millions of dollars to cash-strapped agricultural research facilities at universities. Funds are given to specifically study Monsanto products, sign off on their safety and effectiveness and pretty well cement them as the biggest player in agribusiness.
Monsanto Preys Upon Potential Customers: After the 2010 earthquake leveled many farms in Haiti, Monsanto swooped in to donate seeds to those in need. Sounds virtuous, right? Except the seeds in question were hybrids requiring annual purchase and replacement, cost twice as much as farmers’ typical seeds and need more costly inputs and upkeep (more water and pesticides). In fact, Haitian farmers responded to the gift by burning the seeds – some 60,000 sacks – and protesting against Monsanto. Indian farmers were sold cotton seeds and by 2009, their farmer suicide rate was four times the norm. As Food & Water Watch puts it, "Once Monsanto’s products are introduced, it is virtually impossible to revert back to traditionally grown crops." These are but two examples in the report; there are more.
Bottom line? "Monsanto bullies its way onto farmers' fields, university research labs, government policies and consumers' dinner plates through it massive size and aggressive tactics." Even if you’ve followed their nefarious corporate practices for years, it's worth your time to check out this profile and share it with your friends. If they eat, breathe or drink water, they should be interested.