Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Monsanto Files (4 of 4)

The Ecologist September October 1998

Who are the real Terrorists? by Zac Goldsmith

Unable to rely on courts, politicians, or regulations, 'normal' people have decided to take things into their own hands. They are branded as terrorists, vandals and hooligans. But who are the real hooligans?

By all accounts the people of Europe are more than just skeptical about biotechnology. Indeed numerous studies have shown that the great majority of people are actively opposed to any further development in the field. One recent Mori poll found that 77 per cent of those questioned would like to see an end to experimentation with generically engineered crops in the UK, and a study of UK consumer attitudes to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Food. backed by Unilever, the Green Alliance and the University of Lancaster, has shown that consumers "harbor significant unease about the technology as a whole." More importantly it found that consumers have "mixed feelings about the integrity and adequacy of present patterns of government regulation, and in particular about official scientific assurances of safety

Such assurances are, of course. meaningless, since the knock-on effects of biotechnology are inherently unpredictable [see Mae Wan Ho, A. Kimbrell, P Kingsnorth J. Mendelson etc. in this issue]. According to the Soil Association, the organisation responsible for issuing the ‘organic’ label to UK farmers, "once released. the spread of genetically modified organisms in the environment cannot he balled. nor can the consequences be predicted . Genetic engineering is incompatible with sustainable agriculture." There have already been a number of potential disasters with accidentally released GMO’s. In mid-April for example Monsanto announced that it was recalling small quantities of genetically engineered canola seed which contained "an unapproved gene that had found its way into the product by mistake."

Significantly, there has been an 8 per cent increase in public rejection of the technology since 1996, during which time there has been a great deal more information on the subject. What’s more, a study published in Nature shows that the more people learn about biotechnology, the less faith they have in its safety or usefulness. "How much more evidence does the government need that the public does not want genetically engineered food, and that this opposition is increasing?" asks Sue Meyer, Director of Genewatch, the organization responsible for commissioning the Mori poll.

Widespread rejection of genetic engineering stretches far beyond the shores of Britain. In Austria, more than 20 per cent of the population signed a petition to ban genetically engineered food, and test crops have been uprooted in Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. A number of highly respected and usually uncontroversial organizations like, for example, Scottish Natural Heritage and the one million-member Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have clamored for a ban, or at least a moratorium, on genetic engineering. John Vidal of The Guardian newspaper tells us that over 200 whole food companies are calling for a similar moratorium, that Greenpeace has mobilized over 250.000 consumers in Germany, and that riots are expected among small farmers in India if biotechnology takes a grip on their country. Some UK retailers, including Iceland frozen foods and British Sugars, have already begun to exclude genetically engineered foods from their produce.

In March the Genetic Engineering Network, together with Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. launched a "protect your food" campaign, designed to name and shame influential food producers, in particular Unilever, that continue to use CMOs. Already, over half a million "disloyalty cards" as opposed to supermarket customer loyalty cards, have been distributed around the UK, in supermarkets and wholefood shops. Holland and Barrett, one of the UK’s leading health food shops. has delisted a number of products as a result of the above campaign, and some Japanese firms have agreed to stop the marketing of processed foods manufactured with genetically engineered tomatoes.

At the same time, as Mae Wan Ho points out in this issue, there has been a massive increase in the popularity of organic foods, which more and more people are coming to see as their only safe haven from biotechnology. And as an unprecedented 220,000 US consumers illustrated in letters to the United States Department of Agriculture earlier this year. in protest against the proposed inclusion of genetically modified foods under the "organic" label [see R. Cummins in this issue]. They are determined to ensure that the term "organic" is not usurped by the likes of Monsanto.

There can be little doubt that most ordinary, independent people reject the genetic manipulation of life, arid yet licenses for such experiments are being handed out by governments like confetti. By April of this year there were 332 test sites in the UK, 70 per cent of which are controlled by just four companies: Monsanto, Agrevo/BGS, Novartis/Hilleshog. and Sharp’s International Seeds Ltd. Indeed not one application so far presented to the British government’s committee of experts on genetic engineering has been turned down.

In effect, we have allowed a small number of very large corporations, which are by definition concerned almost exclusively with short-term profit, to gamble with our very existence on Earth. The rhetoric can be quite compelling. Monsanto. for instance, is apparently keen to ensure that we are "fully aware of the facts before making a purchase". They have ‘"often provided more information [on the subject] than necessary," they tell us. Yet the very same company is doing all in its power to prevent any form of labeling which might inform consumers of the genetically modified nature of their products [see Gore-lick in this issue. The company also tells us that they believe food should be grown with fewer pesticides and herbicides. Yet in their 1994 report to shareholders they point out that, "approximately 90 per cent of the world’s farm lands suitable for conservation tillage remain to be converted to this technique. For herbicide manufacturers this untouched potential means significant opportunities for sales growth.’

Robin Page, Director of the Countryside Restoration Trust is rightly skeptical "We have heard it all before," he points out. "DDT-based chemicals were going to help feed the world —instead they created an environmental catastrophe. BSE was another product of high-tech husbandry, involving a mixture of junk cattle food and organophosphates chemicals. Now again we are seeing a science described as ‘no risk’, when we have good reason to believe that there are major risks involved."

Other influential voices of opposition include f’lorianne Koechlin, who ironically comes from the Geigy Pharmaceuticals Empire. "Genetic engineering", she says, "is like a jumbo jet with bicycle brakes." Koechlin helped organize demands for a Swiss referendum on the issue. The campaign was a success until the tables were turned on them by the Swiss biotech company. Novartis, which among other things threatened to abandon the Swiss economy in favour of more sympathetic policies elsewhere.

The biotechnology industry is keen to suggest that public opposition to genetic engineering is essentially "emotional", and that science is on industry’s side. But given that the vast majority of resources funnelled into research on the subject come from industry itself, it would be naive to suppose that such research is entirely "objective". No institution can he expected to fund self-discrediting research. Numerous examples of misleading "findings" are listed in the pages of this magazine. Collectively they make it quite clear that we simply cannot believe the likes of Monsanto when they tell us that "we know.... that biotech’s seeds and plants are safe for human consumption, for farm animals and the environment?

But even in cases where science does raise serious doubts about the safety of individual experiments it is largely ignored, unless its findings are consistent with the interests of industry. For example, Swiss research into a genetically modified strain of maize, designed by Novartis as a poison to the larvae of the corn borer, has shown that it can kill beneficial insects as well as pests, and therefore disrupt the entire food chain. And yet still the European Union has declared that approval of the GM maize can be withdrawn only if new scientific evidence raises questions of safety. But, as Dr Ian Taylor of Greenpeace points out, that is exactly what the Swiss scientists have provided. Perhaps for the EU, research can only be classified as scientific if it serves to promote the interests of the biotechnology industry

If official assurances of safety are so unsatisfactory, where can consumers turn for honest information? As Peter Montague illustrates in his article on the sacking of two veteran news reporters from Fox TV Florida, for scrutinizing Monsanto’s involvement in BGH, the media seem unable to provide such a service. The likes of Monsanto are, after all, very major advertisers in television and the print media throughout the world, and therefore often exercise a determinant influence over what we, the public, get to see or read.

Even governments are to a worrying and increasing extent, controlled by these corporations. They too depend primarily on science generated by industry itself to form their views on biotechnology, and in any case tend to be obsessed by short-term economic indicators, frequently at the expense of more fundamental considerations of environmental health or human wellbeing. In the name of "inward investment" nations offer special trading terms and subsidies of every conceivable sort to woo the TNC’s to their shores. Keeping big business happy is now one of the basic governmental priorities — both left and right — in every country of the world. As a result corporate "irregularities" are routinely overlooked. For example, even though by 1994 Monsanto had been named by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a potentially responsible party at a great many Superfund sites (sites of unacceptable environmental damage), the company was able to assure its shareholders that "Monsanto’s liquidity, financial position and profitability are not expected to be materially affected."

On the issue of regulations at least, Monsanto has in the past been perfectly honest: ".... . in many cases we and others were writing the rules for this new science as we went along particularly regarding applications in foods and plants", it admitted. It is hardly surprising therefore that in response to Prince Charles’ attack on what he sees as an invasion into "realms that belong to God and to God alone", Monsanto advised the public that "while [he] is an intelligent man and perfectly capable of deciding whether he wants to eat these foods this should be the province of regulatory agencies ".

As Gorelick and others point out in this issue. The revolving door between big business and the regulators operates so smoothly that the two are becoming barely distinguishable.

It is clear that democracy is failing us. Despite unambiguous resistance from the public at large, genetic engineering is being allowed to storm ahead — virtually unhindered. As a result, increasing numbers of people are deciding to take things into their own hands. Angry at the prospect of giving in to corporate bullying, they are setting out to accomplish by "direct action" what their political representatives have so lamentably failed to do on their behalf.

Writing in The Guardian newspaper about Patrick White-field, a lecturer with no history of civil disobedience, John Vidal shows how this is not just a fringe movement, but one which involves a cross-section of "respectable", law-abiding citizens. The same is true in the UK with the anti-road movement which is partly at least responsible for having scaled down government investments in road building from an initial £23 billion, to the present £6 billion.

"After hearing that five women had... gone into a test field and pulled up some genetically modified plants being tested for Monsanto, Whitefield phoned a Manchester-based group called Genetix Snowball and offered to do the same. Should he do so he risks being sued, fined and given a criminal record. Within weeks of his offer, a Manchester community worker, a Welsh lawyer and at least 250 others including TV chef Antony Worrall-Thomson had phoned to support or to join others taking ‘non-violent direct action’ against the controversial crops."

From the Lincolnshire Loppers, who pulled up a demonstration crop of genetically engineered Spring wheat. to the Kenilworth Croppers, who destroyed a display of GM wheat at the Royal Agricultural show; from the decontamination of an experimental crop of oilseed rape near Coventry to) the destruction of a plot of AgrEvo’s basta-resistant rapeseed in Australia by "Mothers Against Genetic Engineering"’: from the decontamination of 30 tons of transgenic maize seeds in France by 120 members of the farmers’ Confederation Paysanne to mass gatherings outside Monsanto’s Headquarters in Missouri, the clear message is that "normal" people are not prepared to allow their leaders to license away the stability of the living world.

So determined are an increasing number of people that the world should remain free from the possibility of infection by "Frankenstein foods", that direct action organizations are appearing as if from nowhere. As one participant in a Norfolk occupation pointed out, "it now seems that direct actions of this kind are the only way left to put the genie back in the bottle."

"Biotechnology companies must realize that they will be taken to task for their actions," warned another group of Scottish campaigners.

Not surprisingly this demonstration of public resistance has generated a backlash from the mainstream. Congressman Bill McCollum, for instance, condemned direct action as "terrorism in the name of Mother Nature", while Congressman Riggs described activists as "terrorists engaged in a criminal conspiracy". Some newspapers in England have complained that a number of campaigners were on government-funded educational grants. But to what greater use could students possibly put their grants than towards ensuring the world remains viable for future generations?

These dedicated people, from the old to the young. From mothers to grandmothers, from students to scientists, are referred to as ‘hooligans’, ‘vandals’ and ‘terrorists’. But in the end we should stand back and ask ourselves honestly, "Who are the real terrorists?"


Copyright © The Ecologist 1998

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Monsanto Files (3 of 4)

The Ecologist September October 1998

Revolving Doors: Monsanto and the Regulators by Jennifer Ferrara

Traditionally, key figures at the FDA in particular have either held important positions at Monsanto, or are destined to do so in the future. Is it surprising therefore that Monsanto gets clearance for its often dangerous products?

Though the evolution of genetic engineering from a laboratory science to a method of creating commercial products happened very fast—within a decade—the US government saw the commercialization of biotechnology coming and deliberately chose a path that has amounted to nonregulation. Genetic engineering broke through natural barriers of reproduction and sped up plant and animal breeding processes, but agribusiness corporations were wary that burdensome regulations would hinder new discoveries and therefore the commercial development of the technology. The federal government took up industry’s cause. Instead of establishing strict, precautionary regulations that gave priority to public and environmental health, the government patched together an inadequate regulatory system that relied on risk assessment, industry science, and corporate volunteerism.

The US was in the heat of a high-tech economic race with Japan, and, as far as agriculture was concerned, lawmakers saw genetic engineering as the new technology that would allow the US to maintain its position as the world’s agricultural "leader". The federal government would erect no law that might reduce America’s competitiveness in the future world market for bioengineered products.

The first government body to establish guidelines for biotechnology research was the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1976. Since the NIH is an advisory and not a regulatory body, it could formulate guidelines, but it had no power to enforce them. From the beginning, the NIH guidelines relied on the scientific community’s and industry’s self-regulation, starting a trend that continues today. As corporations became more involved in genetic engineering, NIH guidelines made accommodations for field tests and mass production of genetically engineered organisms. In 1977 and 1978, 16 bills to regulate genetic research were introduced in the US Congress. None was passed, and the NIH guidelines — which dealt primarily with medical and pharmaceutical research and did not take a precautionary approach — remained the sole regulatory mechanism for biotechnology research.

In the early 1980s, agribusiness corporations were developing genetically engineered plants, animal drugs, and livestock, but no system was in place to regulate the development, sale, or use of these products. This was the era of the deregulatory Reagan/Bush administration, which developed the framework by which bioengineered products, including food, are "regulated" today. Industrial profit, not public safety, was the administration’s top priority. Government officials in the Office of Management and Budget, the Departments of State and Commerce, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy wanted to ensure that the administration did not do anything to "stifle" the development of biotechnology or to send the "wrong" message to Wall Street. The Bush-era President’s Council on Competitiveness, chaired by Vice-President Dan Quayle, joined the biotechnology industry in opposing strong regulations and close oversight by federal agencies.

The result was a 1986 "biotechnology regulatory framework". The policy was founded on the corporate-generated assertion that bioengineering was just an extension of traditional plant and animal breeding, and that bioengineered products did not differ fundamentally from non-engineered organisms.6 The administration determined that existing federal agencies could regulate bioengineered products sufficiently and gave them overlapping regulatory authority.7 For instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would regulate bio - engineered organisms in food and drugs. The United States Department of Agriculture would regulate genetically engineered crop plants and animals. The Environmental Protection Agency would regulate genetically engineered organisms released into the environment for pest control. And the NIH would look at organisms that could affect public health. In determining that existing agencies could do the job of regulating bioengineered products, the administration avoided passing new, more stringent federal laws or establishing a new regulatory agency devoted to the task.

The policy left gaping communication gaps between agencies, plenty of regulatory ground uncovered, and confusion over who would regulate what. But most importantly, the regulations were founded on the false premise that bioengineered organisms used for food and agricultural products are no different from non-engineered, conventional products. In fact, to produce genetically engineered foods, researchers take genes from food or non-food organisms and add them to another organism to alter its genetic makeup in ways not possible through sexual reproduction. The process deletes essential proteins or adds entirely new ones, and can modify genetic characteristics in entirely unexpected ways. As long as the new genes come from an approved food source, the government treats new or altered genes in bioengineered foods as natural, not novel, additives. So in most cases regulators are not required to take a precautionary approach when evaluating new genetically engineered food products; products are considered safe until proven otherwise.

As late as 1994, it appeared that the federal government was still playing catch-up in establishing working biotechnology safety regulations. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which monitors the biotechnology industry and the federal regulatory system, was pointing out big holes in the so-called framework. "Fundamentally, it does not contain sufficient statutory authority to oversee all of the products and activities entailed in genetic engineering," wrote UCS in February 1994. "Where authority does exist, there are problems with implementing regulations and policies." For example, a 1992 FDA policy exempted corporations from having to test bioengineered food for safety and get FDA approval before the foods are put on the market. Unless the corporation determined that "sufficient safety questions exist", corporations could undergo voluntary, private "consultations" with the agency before marketing their product.

It is not unusual for agribusiness corporations like Monsanto to manipulate the limited safety regulations that exist. To establish safety standards for new products, federal agencies rely on studies performed by the very corporations that are trying to get their products on the market. Studies to determine the long-term health consequences of new products are not always required. Over the years, many corporations have submitted fraudulent test results showing that their products are safe, or they have simply withheld information or studies indicating otherwise. Because the federal government protects corporate safety studies as trade secrets, they are not available for public scrutiny. By sheltering corporations in this way, federal agencies hold corporations’ pursuit of profits above the public’s right to good health and a safe environment.

The Regulatory Irony

Laws governing biotechnology continue to favor agribusiness and biotechnology corporations, but as the industry has developed, the corporate push for specific types of regulations has taken ironic twists. The initial lack of a cautious regulatory approach enabled small biotechnology companies to develop and market new bioengineered products at a rapid pace. In the meantime, larger agribusiness corporations like Monsanto and Ciba-Geigy were buying up these small companies while developing their own expansive in-house biotechnology research and marketing operations. During this time, Monsanto, Ciba-Geigy, and several other agribusiness corporations came virtually to dominate the world market for bioengineered food products, strengthening their hold over much of the world’s food supply.

From their position at the top, Monsanto and other corporations have actually favored some seemingly tight regulations, but, it turns out, only when the regulations serve corporate marketing purposes. Regulations that require corporations to submit a plethora of costly scientific data to regulatory agencies, for example, discourage competition from smaller biotechnology and seed companies while giving the public the illusion that new biotechnology products undergo rigorous safety evaluations and are therefore safe.

In 1995, for example, Monsanto lobbied against a provision in the EPA funding bill that would have prevented the EPA from regulating agricultural plants bioengineered to contain the toxic bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Genetically engineered foods had just hit the market, and Monsanto was fully aware that almost any EPA regulations for Bt plants would publicly sanction the genetically engineered products and defuse resistance from public interest environmental groups. Furthermore, corporations could only get their Bt products to market if they had extensive money and resources to jump through all the regulatory hoops. Big corporations alone can meet data requirements and, once in the system, manipulate and pass the EPA’s safety evaluation process. With the competition out of the way, the market is theirs.

FDA Scandals and Revolving Doors

To better understand how genetically engineered foods and the associated safety hazards were unleashed onto the American public, take a look at the story of the first mass-marketed bioengineered food product, the Monsanto corporation’s recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). rBGH has been linked to cancer in humans and serious health problems in cows, including udder infections and reproductive problems. rBGH’s development and approval was rife with scandal and protest. But the right combination of government backing, corporate science, and heavily-funded corporate public relations schemes paved the way for the first major release of a genetically engineered food into the nation’s food supply.

The roles played by the FDA and the Monsanto corporation in the development, safety evaluation, approval, and marketing of rBGH led to the exposure of the American public to the multiple hazards of bioengineered foods. These organizations hid important information about safety concerns, masked disturbing conflicts of interest, and stifled those who were asking the "wrong" questions and telling the truth about rBGH.

The FDA declared rBGH-milk safe for human consumption before important information about how rBGH-milk might affect human health was even available.’6 When critical information about how rBGH raised the levels of insulin-like growth factor, IGF-1, in milk’7 and the possible link between IGF-1 and human cancer began to emerge, [See Kingsnorth in this issue] the FDA was already apparently in too deep to change its mind or ask more questions about the drug’s effect on human health. Instead, the agency relied almost exclusively on data generated by the Monsanto Corporation and highly criticized by independent scientists to justify a decision it had made years Many independent scientists have called for more extensive, long-term studies, which have never been done.

In 1991, a researcher at the University of Vermont (UVM). where Monsanto was spending nearly half a million dollars to fund test trials of rBGH, leaked information about severe health problems affecting rBGH-treated cows, including mastitis and deformed births. The scientist heading the research had already made numerous public statements to state lawmakers and the press and released a preliminary report indicating that rBGH-treated cows suffered no abnormal rates of health problems compared with untreated cows. The US General Accounting Office (GAO) investigated. During the investigation, the FDA stalled in providing the GAO with original Monsanto test data, and the GAO was unable to obtain critical data from UVM and Monsanto. The GAO terminated its investigation, concerned that Monsanto had had time to manipulate the questionable data and that any further investigation would be Fruitless. In an effort to dissipate public concern, UVM scientists finally released information showing rBGH’s negative effect on cow health, years after the findings had been made."

Even FDA insiders have criticized the agency for its slack review of the drug, but the FDA has dismissed these concerns and fired at least one official who blew the whistle on the organisation’s corrupt drug approval process. Veterinarian Dr. Richard Burroughs reviewed animal drug applications at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Sciences from 1979 until he was fired in 1989. In 1985, Burroughs headed the FDA’s review of t rBGH and remained directly involved in the review process for almost five years. Burroughs wrote the original protocols for animal safety studies and reviewed the data that rBGH developers, including Monsanto, submitted as they carried out safety studies.

A 1991 article in Eating Well magazine quotes Burroughs describing a change in the FDA beginning in the mid-1980s. "There seemed to be a trend in the place toward approval at any price. It went from a university-like setting where there was independent scientific review to an atmosphere of approve, approve, approve."

This is the atmosphere in which the FDA carried out its review of rBGH.

According to Burroughs, the FDA was totally unprepared to review rBGH, the first bioengineered animal drug to go through the FDA’s approval process; rBGH was out of the scope of most FDA employees’ knowledge. But rather than admit incompetence, the FDA "decided to cover up inappropriate studies and decisions," and agency officials "suppressed and manipulated data to cover up their own ignorance and incompetence?

Burroughs himself was faced with corporate representatives who wanted the agency to ease strict safety testing protocols, and he saw corporations drop sick cows from rBGH test trials and manipulate data in other ways to make health and safety problems disappear. According to Burroughs, the raw, untouched data stashed away behind the agency’s doors and protected as trade secrets would show otherwise.

Burroughs challenged the agency’s lenience and its changing role from guardian of public health to protector of corporate profits. He criticized the FDA and its handling of rBGH in n statements to Congressional investigators, in testimony to state legislatures, and to the press. Inside the FDA, he rejected a number of corporate-sponsored safety studies as insufficient and was prevented by his superiors from investigating data submitted by industry revealing possible health problems caused by rBGH. Though Burroughs had a record at the FDA showing eight straight years of good performance, he began receiving poor performance reports, for which he claims he was set up. Finally, in November 1989, he was fired for "incompetence"

Not only did the FDA fail to act upon evidence that rBGH was not safe, the agency actually promoted the Monsanto corporation’s product before and after the drug’s approval. In doing so, the FDA took on the impossible double role of regulator and promoter of bioengineered foods. Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union notes that the FDA acted as an rBGH advocate by issuing news releases promoting rBGH, making public statements praising the drug, and writing promotional pieces about rBGH in the agency’s publication, FDA Consume;:

This dual role also manifested itself in other ways. In an apparent attempt to quell public controversy over rBGH, for example, two FDA researchers published industry and "independent" data in the journal Science in 1990 to show that rBGH was safe for consumers)’ Gerald Guest, the director for FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine told Science, "We’d like to get our side of the story out, to show why we’re comfortable with the safety. We’d like for people to know that ifs a thoughtful process. And we want it to be open and credible

Guest was apparently doing a lot of wishful thinking. Professor Samuel Epstein criticized the FDA for acting "as a booster or advocate for an animal drug that hasn’t yet been approved." Epstein and others faulted the FDA for including only pieces of unpublished studies about rBGH in the Science article. but not making the full studies available for independent review.

The FDA’s pro-rBGH activities make more sense in light of conflicts of interest between the FDA and the Monsanto Corporation." Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for policy, wrote the FDA’s rBGH labeling guidelines. The guidelines, announced in February 1994, virtually prohibited dairy corporations from making any real distinction between products produced with and without rBGH." To keep rBGH-milk from being "stigmatized" in the marketplace, the FDA announced that labels on non-rBGH products must state that there is no difference between rBGH and the naturally occurring hormone. In March 1994, Taylor was publicly exposed as a former lawyer for the Monsanto Corporation for seven years. While working for Monsanto, Taylor had prepared a memo for the company as to whether or not it would be constitutional for states to erect labeling laws concerning rBGH dairy products. In other words Taylor helped Monsanto figure out whether or not the corporation could sue states or companies that wanted to tell the public that their products were free of Monsanto’s drug.

Taylor wasn’t the only FDA official involved in rBGI-1 policy who had worked for Monsanto. Margaret Miller, deputy director of the FDA’s Office of New Animal Drugs was a former Monsanto research scientist who had worked on Monsanto’s rBGH safety studies up until 1989. Suzanne Sechen was a primary reviewer for rBGH in the Office of New Animal Drugs between 1988 and 1990. Before coming to the FDA. she had done research for several Monsanto-funded rBGH studies as a graduate student at Cornell University. Her professor was one of Monsanto’s university consultants and a known rBGH promoter. Remarkably. the GAO determined in a 1994 investigation that these officials’ former association with the Monsanto corporation did not pose a conflict of interest. But for those concerned about the health and environmental hazards of genetic engineering, the revolving door between the biotechnology industry and federal regulating agencies is a serious cause for concern.

In an ironic twist, Monsanto and other corporations have actually favored some seemingly tight regulations, but, it turns out, only when the regulations serve corporate marketing purposes.


Not only did the FDA fail to act upon evidence that rBGH was not safe, the agency actually promoted Monsanto product before and after the drug's approval. In so doing, the FDA took on the impossible double role of regulator and promoter of bioengineered foods.

Taylor wasn't the only FDA official involved in rBGH policy who had worked for Monsanto. Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for policy, wrote the FDA's rBGH labeling guidelines, which virtually prohibited dairy corporations from making any real distinction between products produced with and without rBGH. In March 1994, Taylor was publicly exposed as a former lawyer for the Monsanto Corporation for seven years.

Copyright © The Ecologist 1998

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Monsanto Files (2 of 4)

The Ecologist September October 1998

Monsanto: A Checkered History by Brian Tokar

Monsanto's high-profile advertisements in Britain and the US depict the corporation as a visionary, world-historical force, working to bring state-of-the-art science and an environmentally responsible outlook to the solution of humanity’s pressing problems. But just who is Monsanto? Where did they come from? How did they get to be the world's second largest manufacturer of agricultural chemicals, one of the largest producers of seeds, and soon — with the impending merger with American Home Products — the largest seller of prescription drugs in the United States? What do their workers, their customers, and others whose lives they have impacted, have to say? Is Monsanto the "clean and green" company its advertisements promote, or is this new image merely a product of clever public relations? A look at the historical record offers some revealing clues, and may help us better understand the company's present-day practices.

Headquartered just outside St. Louis, Missouri, the Monsanto Chemical Company was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny. Queeny, a self-educated chemist, brought technology to manufacture saccharin, the first artificial sweetener, from Germany to the United States. In the 1920s, Monsanto became a leading manufacturer of sulfuric acid and other basic industrial chemicals, and is one of only four companies to be listed among the top ten US chemical companies in every decade since the 1940s.

By the 1940s, plastics and synthetic fabrics had become a centerpiece of Monsanto’s business. In 1947, a French freighter carrying ammonium nitrate fertilizer blew up at a dock 270 feet from Monsanto’s plastics plant outside Galveston, Texas. More than 500 people died in what came to be seen as one of the chemical industry’s first major disasters.

The plant was manufacturing styrene and polystyrene plastics, which are still important constituents of food packaging and various consumer products. In the 1980s the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed polystyrene as fifth in its ranking of the chemicals whose production generates the most total hazardous waste.

PCBs

In 1929, the Swann Chemical Company, soon to be purchased by Monsanto, developed polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were widely praised for their nonflammability and extreme chemical stability. The most widespread uses were in the electrical equipment industry, which adopted PCBs as a nonflammable coolant for a new generation of transformers. By the 1960s, Monsanto’s growing family of PCBs was also widely used as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, cutting oils, waterproof coatings and liquid sealants. Evidence of the toxic effects of PCBs appeared as early as the 1930s, and Swedish scientists studying the biological effects of DDT began finding significant concentrations of PCBs in the blood, hair and fatty tissue of wildlife in the 1960s. Research in the 1960s and seventies revealed PCBs and other aromatic organochlorines to be potent carcinogens, and also traced them to a wide array of reproductive, developmental and immune system disorders [see J. Cummins in this issue]. Their high chemical affinity for fat tissue, is responsible for their dramatic rates of concentration and bioaccumulation, and their wide dispersal throughout the North’s aquatic food web: Arctic cod, for example, carry PCB concentrations 48 million times that of their surrounding waters, and predatory mammals such as polar bears can harbor tissue concentrations of PCBs more than fifty times greater than that. Though the manufacture of PCBs was banned in the United States in 1976, its toxic and endocrine-disruptive effects persist worldwide.

The world’s centre of PCB manufacturing was Monsanto’s plant on the outskirts of East St. Louis, Illinois. East St. Louis is a chronically economically depressed suburb, across the Mississippi River from St Louis, bordered by two large metal-processing plants in addition to the Monsanto facility. "East St. Louis", reports education writer Jonathan Kozol, "has some of the sickest children in America." Kozol reports that the city has the highest rate of fetal death and immature births in the state, the third highest rate of infant death, and one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the United States.7

Dioxin: A Legacy of Contamination

The people of East St. Louis continue to face the horrors of high level chemical exposure, poverty, a deteriorating urban infrastructure, and the collapse of even the most basic city services, but the nearby town of Times Beach, Missouri was found to be so thoroughly contaminated with dioxin that the US government ordered it evacuated in 1982. Apparently the town, as well as several private landowners, hired a contractor to spray its dirt roads with waste oil to keep dust down. The same contractor had been hired by local chemical companies to pump out their dioxin-contaminated sludge tanks. When 50 horses, other domestic animals, and hundreds of wild birds died in an indoor arena that had been sprayed with the oil, an investigation ensued that eventually traced the deaths to dioxin from the chemical sludge tanks. Two young girls who played in the arena became ill, one of whom was hospitalized for four weeks with severe kidney damage, and many more children born to mothers exposed to the dioxin-contaminated oil demonstrated evidence of immune system abnormalities and significant brain dysfunction.9

While Monsanto has consistently denied any connection to the Times Beach incident, the St. Louis-based Times Beach Action Group (TBAG) uncovered laboratory reports documenting the presence of large concentrations of PCBs manufactured by Monsanto in contaminated soil samples from the town. "From our point of view, Monsanto is at the heart of the problem here in Missouri," explains TBAG’s Steve Taylor.

Taylor acknowledges that many questions about Times Beach and other contaminated sites in the region remain unanswered, but cites evidence that close investigations of the sludge sprayed in Times Beach were limited to those sources traceable to companies other than Monsanto.

The cover-up at Times Beach reached the highest levels in the Reagan Administration in Washington. The nation’s environmental agencies during the Reagan years became notorious for officials’ repeated backroom deals with industry officials, in which favored companies were promised lax enforcement and greatly reduced fines. Reagan’s appointed administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was forced to resign after two years in office and her special assistant, Rita Lavelle, was jailed for six months for perjury and obstruction of justice. In one famous incident, the Reagan White House ordered Burford to withhold documents on Times Beach and other contaminated sites in the states of Missouri and Arkansas, citing "executive privilege", and Lavelle was subsequently cited for shredding important documents." An investigative reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper identified Monsanto as one of the chemical companies whose executives frequently hosted luncheon and dinner meetings with Lavelle. The evacuation sought by residents of Times Beach was delayed until 1982, eleven years after the contamination was first discovered, and eight years after the cause was identified as dioxin.

Monsanto’s association with dioxin can be traced back to its manufacture of the herbicide 2,4,5-T, beginning in the late 1940s. "Almost immediately, its workers started getting sick with skin rashes, inexplicable pains in the limbs, joints and other parts of the body, weakness, irritability, nervousness and loss of libido," explains Peter Sills, author of a forthcoming book on dioxin. "Internal memos show that the company knew these men were actually as sick as they claimed, but it kept all that evidence hidden." An explosion at Monsanto’s Nitro, West Virginia herbicide plant in 1949 drew further attention to these complaints. The contaminant responsible for these conditions was not identified as dioxin until 1957, but the US Army Chemical Corps apparently became interested in this substance as a possible chemical warfare agent. A request filed by the St. Louis Journalism Review under the US Freedom of Information Act revealed nearly 600 pages of reports and correspondence between Monsanto and the Army Chemical Corps on the subject of this herbicide byproduct, going as far back as 1952.

Agent Orange: The Poisoning of Vietnam

The herbicide "Agent Orange", which was used by US military forces to defoliate the rainforest ecosystems of Vietnam during the 1960s (see H. Warwick in this issue) was a mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D that was available from several sources, but Monsanto’s Agent Orange had concentrations of dioxin many times higher than that produced by Dow Chemical, the defoliant’s other leading manufacturer. This made Monsanto the key defendant in the lawsuit brought by Vietnam War veterans in the United States, who faced an array of debilitating symptoms attributable to Agent Orange exposure. When a $180 million settlement was reached in 1984 between seven chemical companies and the lawyers for the veterans, the judge ordered Monsanto to pay 45.5 per cent of the total.

In the 1980s, Monsanto undertook a series of studies designed to minimize its liability, not only in the Agent Orange suit, but in continuing instances of employee contamination at its West Virginia manufacturing plant. A three and a half year court case brought by railroad workers exposed to dioxin following a train derailment revealed a pattern of manipulated data and misleading experimental design in these studies.

An official of the US EPA concluded that the studies were manipulated to support Monsanto’s claim that dioxin’s effects were limited to the skin disease chloracne. Greenpeace researchers Jed Greer and Kenny Bruno describe the outcome:

"According to testimony from the trial, Monsanto misclassified exposed and non-exposed workers, arbitrarily deleted several key cancer cases, failed to verify classification of chloracne subjects by common industrial dermatitis criteria, did not provide assurance of untampered records delivered and used by consultants, and made false statements about dioxin contamination in Monsanto products."

The court case, in which the jury granted a $16 million punitive damage award against Monsanto, revealed that many of Monsanto’s products, from household herbicides to the Santophen germicide once used in Lysol brand disinfectant, were knowingly contaminated with dioxin. "The evidence of Monsanto executives at the trial portrayed a corporate culture where sales and profits were given a higher priority than the safety of products and its workers," reported the Toronto Globe and Mail after the close of the trial. "They just didn’t care about the health and safety of their workers," explains author Peter Sills. "Instead of trying to make things safer, they relied on intimidation and threatened layoffs to keep their employees working."

A subsequent review by Dr. Cate Jenkins of the EPA’s Regulatory Development Branch documented an even more systematic record of fraudulent science. "Monsanto has in fact submitted false information to EPA which directly resulted in weakened regulations under RCRA [Resources Conservation and Recovery Act] and FIFRA [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act] .. reported Dr. Jenkins in a 1990 memorandum urging the agency to undertake a criminal investigation of the company. Jenkins cited internal Monsanto documents revealing that the company "doctored" samples of herbicides that were submitted to the US Department of Agriculture, hid behind "process chemistry" arguments to deflect attempts to regulate 2,4-D and various chlorophenols, hid evidence regarding the contamination of Lysol, and excluded several hundred of its sickest former employees from its comparative health studies:

Monsanto covered up the dioxin contamination of a wide range of its products. Monsanto either failed to report contamination, substituted false information purporting to show no contamination or submitted samples to the government for analysis which had been specially prepared so that dioxin contamination did not exist.

Roundup: The World’s Biggest-Selling Herbicide

Today, glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup account for at least one sixth of Monsanto’s total annual sales and half of the company’s operating income, perhaps significantly more since the company spun off its industrial chemicals and synthetic fabrics divisions as a separate company, called Solutia, in September 1997. Monsanto aggressively promotes Roundup as a safe, general purpose herbicide for use on everything from lawns and orchards, to large coniferous forest holdings, where aerial spraying of the herbicide is used to suppress the growth of deciduous seedlings and shrubs and encourage the growth of profitable fir and spruce trees The Oregon-based Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) reviewed over forty scientific studies on the effects of glyphosate, and of the polyoxyethylene amines used as a surfactant in Roundup, and concluded that the herbicide is far less benign than Monsanto’s advertising suggests [For more on Roundup, see J. Mendelson in this issue]:

In 1997, Monsanto responded to five years of complaints by the New York State Attorney General that its advertisements for Roundup were misleading: the company altered its ads to delete claims that the herbicide is "biodegradable" and "environmentally friendly", and paid $50,000 toward the state’s legal expenses in the case.

In March 1998, Monsanto agreed to pay a fine of $225,000 for mislabeling containers of Roundup on 75 separate occasions. The penalty was the largest settlement ever paid for violation of the Worker Protection Standards of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). According to the Wall Street Journal,

Monsanto distributed containers of the herbicide with labels restricting entry into treated areas for only four hours instead of the required 12 hours.

This is only the latest in a series of major fines and rulings against Monsanto in the United States, including a $108 million liability finding in the case of the leukemia death of a Texas employee in 1986, a $648,000 settlement for allegedly failing to report required health data to the EPA in 1990, a $1 million fine by the state Attorney General of Massachusetts in 1991 in the case of a 200,000 gallon acid wastewater spill, a $39 million settlement in Houston, Texas in 1992 involving the deposition of hazardous chemicals into unlined pits, and numerous others.24 In 1995, Monsanto ranked fifth among US corporations in the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, having discharged 37 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, land, water and underground.

Monsanto’s pharmaceutical products also have a troubling track record. The flagship product of Monsanto’s GD Searle pharmaceuticals subsidiary is the artificial sweetener aspartame aspartame, sold under the brand names Nutrasweet and Equal. In 1981, four years before Monsanto purchased Searle, an FDA Board of Inquiry consisting of three independent scientists confirmed reports that had been circulating for eight years that "aspartame might induce brain tumours." The FDA revoked Searle’s licence to sell aspartame, only to have its decision reversed under a new commissioner appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

A 1996 study in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology has renewed this concern, linking aspartame to a sharp increase in brain cancers shortly after the substance was introduced. Dr.Erik Millstone of the University of Sussex Science Policy Research Unit cites a series of reports from the 1980s linking aspartame to a wide array of adverse reactions in sensitive consumers, including headaches, blurred vision, numbness, hearing loss, muscle spasms and induced epileptic-type seizures, among numerous others. In 1989, Searle again ran foul of the FDA, which accused the company of misleading advertising in the case of its anti-ulcer drug, Cytotec. The FDA said that the ads were designed to market the drug to a much broader and younger population than the agency had advised. Searle/Monsanto was required to take out an ad in a number of medical journals, which was headed "Published To Correct a Previous Advertisement Which The Food And Drug Administration Considered Misleading." Biotechnology’s Brave New World Monsanto’s aggressive promotion of its biotechnology products, from recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), to Roundup Ready soybeans and other crops, to its insect-resistant varieties of cotton, is seen by many observers as a continuation of its many decades of ethically questionable practices.

Originally, Monsanto was one of four chemical companies seeking to bring a synthetic Bovine Growth Hormone, produced in E. coli bacteria genetically engineered to manufacture the bovine protein, to market. Another was American Cyanamid, now owned by American Home Products, which is in the process of merging with Monsanto. As Jennifer Ferrara describes in this issue, Monsanto’s 14-year effort to gain approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring recombinant BGH to market was fraught with controversy, including allegations of a concerted effort to suppress information about the hormone’s ill effects. One FDA veterinarian, Richard Burroughs, was fired after he accused both the company and the agency of suppressing and manipulating data to hide the effects of rBGH injections on the health of dairy cows.30

In 1990, when FDA approval of rBGH appeared imminent, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Vermont’s agricultural research facility released previously suppressed data to two state legislators documenting significantly increased rates of udder infection in cows that had been injected with the then-experimental Monsanto hormone, as well as an unusual incidence of severely deforming birth defects in offspring of rBGH-treated cows. An independent review of the University data by a regional farm advocacy group documented additional cow health problems associated with rBGH, including high incidences of foot and leg injuries, metabolic and reproductive difficulties and uterine infections. The US Congress’s General Accounting Office (GAO) attempted an inquiry into the case, but was unable to obtain the necessary records from Monsanto and the University to carry out its investigation, particularly with respect to suspected teratogenic and embryotoxic effects. The GAO auditors concluded that cows injected with rBGH had mastitis (udder infection) rates one third higher than untreated cows, and recommended further research on the risk of elevated antibiotic levels in milk produced using rBGH.

Monsanto’s rBGH was approved by the FDA for commercial sale beginning in 1994. The following year, Mark Kastel of the Wisconsin Farmers Union released a study of Wisconsin farmers’ experiences with the drug. His findings exceeded the 21 potential health problems that Monsanto was required to list on the warning label for its Posilac brand of rBGH. Kastel found widespread reports of spontaneous deaths among rBGH-treated cows, high incidences of udder infections, severe metabolic difficulties and calving problems, and in some cases an inability to successfully wean treated cows off the drug. Many experienced dairy farmers who experimented with rBGH suddenly needed to replace large portions of their herd. Instead of addressing the causes of farmers’ complaints about rBGH, Monsanto went on the offensive, threatening to sue small dairy companies that advertised their products as free of the artificial hormone, and participating in a lawsuit by several dairy industry trade associations against the first and only mandatory labeling law for rBGH in the United States.

Still, evidence for the damaging effects of rBGH on the health of both cows and people continued to mount.

Roundup-Ready Soybeans (RRS)

Efforts to prevent labeling of genetically engineered soybean and maize exports from the United States suggest a continuation of the practicesthat were designed to squelch complaints against Monsanto’s dairy hormone. While Monsanto argues that its "Roundup Ready" soybeans will ultimately reduce herbicide use, the widespread acceptance of herbicide-tolerant crop varieties appears far more likely to increase farmers’ dependence on herbicides [see J. Mendelson in this issue]. Weeds that emerge after the original herbicide has dispersed or broken down are often treated with further applications of herbicides. "It will promote the overuse of the herbicide," Missouri soybean farmer Bill Christison told Kenny Bruno of Greenpeace International. "If there is a selling point for RRS, it’s the fact that you can till an area with a lot of weeds and use surplus chemicals to combat your problem, which is not what anyone should be doing." Christison refutes Monsanto’s claim that herbicide-resistant seeds are necessary to reduce soil erosion from excess tillage, and reports that Midwestern farmers have developed numerous methods of their own for reducing overall use of herbicides.

Monsanto, on the other hand, has stepped up its production of Roundup in recent years. With Monsanto’s US patent for Roundup scheduled to expire in the year 2000, and competition from generic glyphosate products already emerging worldwide, the packaging of Roundup herbicide with "Roundup Ready" seeds has become the centerpiece of Monsanto’s strategy for continued growth in herbicide sales. The possible health and environmental consequences of Roundup-tolerant crops have not been fully investigated, including allergenic effects, potential invasiveness or weediness, and the possibility of herbicide resistance being transferred via pollen to other soybeans or related plants.39

While any problems with herbicide-resistant soybeans may still be dismissed as long-range and somewhat speculative, the experience of US cotton growers with Monsanto’s genetically engineered weeds appears to tell a very different story. Monsanto has released two varieties of genetically engineered cotton, beginning in 1996. One is a Roundup-resistant variety and the other, named "Bollgard", secretes a bacterial toxin intended to control damage from three leading cotton pests. The toxin, derived from Bacillus thuringiensis, has been used by organic growers in the form of a natural bacterial spray since the early 1970s. But while B.t. bacteria are relatively short-lived, and secrete their toxin in a form that only becomes activated in the alkaline digestive systems of particular worms and caterpillars, genetically engineered B.t. crops secrete an active form of the toxin throughout the plant’s lifecycle.40 Much of the genetically engineered maize currently on the market, for example, is a B.t. secreting variety, designed to repel the corn rootworm and other common pests.

The first widely anticipated problem with these pesticide-secreting crops is that the presence of the toxin throughout the plant’s life cycle is likely to encourage the development of resistant strains of common crop pests. The US EPA has determined that widespread resistance to B.t. may render natural applications of B.t. bacteria ineffective in just three to five years and requires growers to plant refuges of up to 40 per cent non-B.t cotton in an attempt to forestall this effect. Second, the active toxin secreted by these plants may harm beneficial insects, moths and butterflies, in addition to those species that growers wish to eliminate.

But the damaging effects of B.t.-secreting "Bollgard" cotton have proved to be much more immediate, enough so that Monsanto and its partners have pulled five million pounds of genetically engineered cotton seed off the market and agreed to a multimillion dollar settlement with farmers in the southern United States. Three farmers who refused to settle with Monsanto were awarded nearly $2 million by the Mississippi Seed Arbitration Council. Not only were plants attacked by the cotton bollworm, which Monsanto claimed they would be resistant to, but germination was spotty, yields were low, and plants were misshapen, according to several published accounts. Some farmers reported crop losses of up to 50 per cent. Farmers who planted Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant cotton also reported severe crop failures, including deformed and misshapen bolls that suddenly fell off the plant three quarters of the way through the growing season.

Despite these problems, Monsanto is advancing the use of genetic engineering in agriculture by taking control of many of the largest, most established seed companies in the United States. Monsanto now owns Holdens Foundation Seeds, supplier of germplasm used on 25-35 percent of US maize acreage, and Asgrow Agronomics, which it describes as "the leading soybean breeder, developer and distributor in the United States".45 This past spring, Monsanto completed its acquisition of Dc Kaib Genetics, the second largest seed company in the United States and the ninth largest in the world, as well as Delta and Pine Land, the largest US cotton seed company.46 With its Delta and Pine acquisition, Monsanto now controls 85 per cent of the US cotton seed market.

The company has been aggressively pursuing corporate acquisitions and product sales in other countries as well. In 1997, Monsanto bought Sementes Agroceres S.A., described as "the leading seed corn company in Brazil", with a 30 per cent market share.48 Earlier this year, the Brazilian Federal Police investigated an alleged illegal importation of at least 200 bags of transgenic soybeans, some of which were traced to an Argentine subsidiary of Monsanto.49 According to Brazilian law, foreign transgenic products can only be introduced after a period of quarantine and testing to prevent possible damage to native flora. In Canada, Monsanto had to recall 60,000 bags of genetically engineered rape ("canola") seed in 1997. Apparently the shipment of Roundup-resistant seed contained an inserted gene different from the one that had been approved for consumption by people and livestock.

Shapiro, The Image-Maker

Given this long and troubling history, it is easy to understand why informed citizens throughout Europe and the US are reluctant to trust Monsanto with the future of our food and our health. But Monsanto is doing everything it can to appear unperturbed by this opposition. Through efforts such as their massive advertising campaign in Britain, their sponsorship of a new high-tech Biodiversity exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and many others, they are trying to appear greener, more righteous and more forward-looking than even their opponents.

In the US they are bolstering their image, and likely influencing policy, with the support of people at the highest levels of the Clinton administration. In May 1997, Mickey Kantor, an architect of Bill Clinton’s 1992 election campaign and United States Trade Representative during Clinton’s first term, was elected to a seat on Monsanto’s Board of Directors. Marcia Hale, formerly a personal assistant to the President, has served as Monsanto’s public affairs officer in Britain. Vice President Al Gore, who is well-known in the US for his writings and speeches on the environment, has been a vocal supporter of biotechnology at least since his days in the US Senate. Gore’s Chief Domestic Policy Advisor, David W. Beier, was formerly the Senior Director of Government Affairs at Genentech, Inc.

Under CEO Robert Shapiro, Monsanto has pulled out all the stops to transform its image from a purveyor of dangerous chemicals to an enlightened, forward-looking institution crusading to feed the world. Shapiro, who went to work for GD Searle in 1979 and became the president of its Nutrasweet Group in 1982, sits on the President’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations and served a term as a member of the White House Domestic Policy Review. He describes himself as a visionary and a Renaissance Man, with a mission to use the company’s resources to change the world:

"The only reason for working at a large company is that you have the capability of doing things on a large scale that really are important," he told an interviewer for Business Ethics, a flagship journal for the "socially responsible business" movement in the United States.

Shapiro harbors few illusions about Monsanto’s reputation in the United States, recounting with sympathy the dilemma of many a Monsanto employee whose neighbours’ children might wince when they find out where the employee works. He is anxious to demonstrate that he is in step with the widespread desire for systemic change, and is determined to redirect this desire toward his company’s ends, as he demonstrated in a recent interview with the Harvard Business Review: "It’s not a question of good guys and bad guys. There is no point in saying, ‘If only those bad guys would go out of business, then the world would be fine.’ The whole system has to change; there’s a huge opportunity for reinvention."

Of course, Shapiro’s reinvented system is one where huge corporations not only continue to exist, but exercise an ever-increasing control over our lives. But Monsanto has reformed, we are told. They have successfully cast off their industrial chemical divisions and are now committed to replacing chemicals with "information", in the guise of genetically engineered seeds and other products of biotechnology. This is an ironic stance for a company whose most profitable product is a herbicide. It is an unlikely role for a company that seeks to intimidate critics with lawsuits and suppress criticism in the media [see Peter Montague in this issue].

Monsanto’s latest Annual Report, however, clearly demonstrates that it has learned all the right buzzwords. Roundup is not a herbicide, it is a tool to minimize tillage and decrease soil erosion. Genetically engineered crops are not just about profits for Monsanto, they’re about solving the inexorable problem of population growth. Biotechnology is not reducing every-thing alive to the realm of commodities — item’s to be bought and sold, marketed and patented — but is in fact a harbinger of "decommoditization": the replacement of single mass-produced products with a vast array of specialized, made-to-order products.

This is Newspeak of the highest order.

Finally, we are to believe that Monsanto’s aggressive promotion of biotechnology is not a matter of mere corporate arrogance, but rather the realization of a simple fact of nature. Readers of the Monsanto Annual Report are presented with an analogy between today’s rapid growth in the number of identified DNA base pairs and the exponential trend of miniaturization in the electronics industry, a trend first identified in the 1960s. Monsanto has dubbed the apparent exponential growth of what it terms "biological knowledge" to be nothing less than "Monsanto’s Law". Like any other putative law of nature, one has little choice but to see its predictions realized and, here, the prediction is nothing less than the continued exponential growth of Monsanto’s global reach.

But the growth of any technology is not merely a "law of nature". Technologies are not social forces unto themselves, nor merely neutral "tools" that can be used to satisfy any social end we desire. Rather they are products of particular social institutions and economic interests. Once a particular course of technological development is set in motion, it can have much wider consequences than its creators could have predicted: the more powerful the technology, the more profound the consequences.

For example, the so-called Green Revolution in agriculture in the 1960s and seventies temporarily increased crop yields, and also made farmers throughout the world increasingly dependent on costly chemical inputs. This spurred widespread displacements of people from the land, and in many countries has undermined the soil, groundwater and social land base that sustained people for millennia. These large-scale dislocations have fueled population growth, urbanization and social disempowerment, which have in turn led to another cycle of impoverishment and hunger.

The "second Green Revolution" promised by Monsanto and other biotechnology companies threaten even greater disruptions in traditional land tenure and social relations. In rejecting Monsanto and its biotechnology, we are not necessarily rejecting technology per se, but seeking to replace a life-denying technology of manipulation, control and profit with a genuinely ecological technology, designed to respect the patterns of nature, improve personal and community health, sustain land-based communities and operate at a genuinely human scale. If we believe in democracy, it is imperative that we have the right to choose which technologies are best for our communities, rather than having unaccountable institutions like Monsanto decide for us. Rather than technologies designed for the continued enrichment of a few, we can ground our technology in the hope of a greater harmony between our human communities and the natural world. Our health, our food and the future of life on Earth truly lie in the balance.

Let us now examine the true nature of Monsanto’s flagship products, and their effects on our health and the world's s environment.

Brian Tokar is the author of Earth for Sale (South End Press, 1997) and The Green Alternative (Revised Edition: New Society Publishers, 1992). He teaches at the Institute for Social Ecology and Goddard College, both in Plainfield, vermont, USA.

"From our point of view, Monsanto is at the heart of the problem here in Missouri," explains TBAG's Steve Taylor.

Monsanto association with dioxin can be traced back to its manufacture of the herbicide 2,4,5-T beginning in the late 1940s. "Almost immediately, its workers started getting sick with skin rashes, inexplicable pains in the limbs, joints and other parts of the body, weakness, irritability, nervousness and loss of libido," explains Peter Sills.

Monsanto covered up the dioxin contamination of a wide range of its products. Monsanto either failed to report contamination, substituted false information purporting to show no contamination or submitted samples to the government for analysis which had been specially prepared so that dioxin contamination did not exist.

In 1995, Monsanto ranked fifth among US corporations in the EPA 's Toxic Release Inventory, having discharged 37 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, land, water and underground.

In Canada, Monsanto had to recall 60,000 bags of genetically engineered rape seed in 1997 Apparently the shipment of Roundup-resistant seed contained an inserted gene different from the one that had been approved for consumption by people and livestock

They have successfully cast off their industrial chemical divisions and are now committed to replacing chemicals with "information" - an ironic stance for a company whose most profitable product is a herbicide.

The "second Green Revolution" promised by Monsanto and other biotechnology companies threaten even greater disruptions in traditional land tenure and social relations.

Copyright © The Ecologist 1998

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Monsanto Files (1 of 4)

The Ecologist September October 1998

How Monsanto ‘Listens’ to Other Opinions by Peter Montague

"In advertisements in the national press, Monsanto promised to supply readers with the addresses of vocal green critics of the food industry. It was rare for a company to give free publicity to its opponents, Monsanto boasted, ‘but we believe that food is so important, everyone should know all they want to about it’. Rut the claim that this was an open, transparent company raised hollow laughs on the other side of the Atlantic"’.

In the autumn of 1996, award-winning reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre were hired by WTVT in Tampa to produce a series on Monsanto’s controversial milk hormone, rBGH, in Florida milk. After more than a year’s work on the rBGH series, and three days before the series was scheduled to go on air starting February 24, 1997, Fox TV executives received the first of two letters from lawyers representing Monsanto saying that Monsanto would suffer "enormous damage" if the series ran. Although WTVT had been advertising the series aggressively, they cancelled it at the last moment. Monsanto’s second letter warned of "dire consequences" for Fox if the series went on air as it stood. (how Monsanto knew what the series contained remains a mystery.) According to documents filed in Florida’s Circuit Court (13th Circuit) Fox lawyers then tried to water down the series, offering to pay the two reporters if they would leave the station and keep mum about what Fox had done to their work. The reporters refused Fox’s offer, and on April 2, 1998, filed their own lawsuit against WTVT.

Steve Wilson has 26 years’ experience as a working journalist and has won four Emmy awards for his investigative reporting. His wife, Jane Akre has been a reporter and news anchor for 20 years, and has won a prestigious Associated Press award for investigative reporting.

The Wilson/Akre lawsuit charges that WTVT violated its licence from the Federal Communications Commission (I CC) by demanding that the reporters include known faIsehoods in their rBGH series. The reporters also charge that WTVT violated Florida’s "whistle blower" law. Many of the legal documents in the lawsuit — including Monsanto’s threatening letters — have been posted on the world wide web at http://www.foxbghsuit.com for all to see.

No one will be surprised to learn that powerful corporations can intimidate TV stations into rewriting the news, but this case offers an unusually detailed glimpse of specific intimidation tactics and their effects inside a news organization. It is not pretty.

It has been well-documented by Monsanto and by others that rBGH-treated cows undergo several changes: their lives are shortened, they are more likely to develop mastitis, an infection of the udder (which then requires use of antibiotics. which end up in the milk along with increased pus), and they produce milk containing elevated levels of another hormone called IGF- 1. It is IGF - 1 that is associated with increased likelihood of human cancers.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved rBGH for use in cows in 1993, but the approval process was controversial because former Monsanto employees went to work for the FDA to oversee the approval process, and then returned to work for Monsanto. Monsanto is notorious for marketing dangerous products while falsely claiming safety. The entire planet is now contaminated with hormone-disrupting, cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) thanks to Monsanto’s poor judgement and refusal to be guided by early scientific evidence indicating harm [see J. Cummins in this issue]. The 2,4, 5-T in Agent Orange — the herbicide that has brought so much grief to tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans — is another example of Monsanto’s poor judgment and failure to heed scientific evidence to prevent harm [see H. Warwick in this issue]. Critics warn that rBGH is just one more example of Monsanto’s monumentally poor judgment. When Wilson and Akre asked Monsanto officials to respond to these allegations of past poor judgment Monsanto had no comment.

If the Wilson/Akre rBGH series was never shown by FOX TV, the script is nevertheless available to those interested on the website www.foxbghsuit.com. What follows are some of the more enlightening points it raises:

rBGH was never properly tested before the FDA allowed it on the market. A standard cancer test of a new human drug requires two years of testing with several hundred rats. But rBGH was tested for only 90 days on 30 rats. This short-term rat study was submitted to the FDA but was never published. The FDA has refused to allow anyone outside the FDA to review the raw data from this study, saying it would irreparably harm" Monsanto.

Therefore the linchpin study of cancer and rBGH has never been subjected to open scientific peer review.

Some Florida dairy herds grew sick shortly after starting rBGH treatment. One farmer, Charles Knight — who lost 75per cent of his herd — says on camera that Monsanto and Monsanto - funded researchers at University of Florida withheld from him the information that other dairy herds were suffering similar problems. He says Monsanto and the university researchers told him only that he must be doing something wrong.

The law required Monsanto to notify the FDA if they received complaints by dairy farmers such as Charles Knight. But four months after Knight complained to Monsanto the FDA had heard nothing from Monsanto. Monsanto’s explanation? Despite a series of visits to Knight’s farm, and many phone conversations, Monsanto officials say it took them four months to figure out that Knight was complaining about rBGH.

• Monsanto claims on camera that every truckload of milk is tested for excessive antibiotics — but Florida dairy officials and scientists on camera say this is simply not true.

• Monsanto says on camera that Canada’s ban on rBGH has nothing to do with human health concerns — but Canadian government officials speaking on camera say just the opposite.

• Canadian government officials, speaking on camera, say they believe Monsanto tried to bribe them with offers of $1 to $2 million to gain approval for rBGH in Canada. Monsanto officials say the Canadians misunderstood their offer of ‘research’ funds.

• Monsanto officials claim on camera that "the milk has not changed" because of rBGH treatment of cows. As noted earlier, there is abundant evidence — some of it from Monsanto’s own studies — that this is definitely not true.

• On camera, a Monsanto official claims that Monsanto has not opposed dairy co-ops labeling their milk as "rBGH-free". But this is definitely not true. Monsanto brought two lawsuits against dairies that labeled their milk "rBGH-free". Faced with the Monsanto legal juggernaut, the dairies folded and Monsanto then sent letters around to other dairy organizations announcing the outcome of the two lawsuits — in all likelihood, for purposes of intimidation. (Conveniently, the FDA regulations that discourage labeling of milk as "rBGH-free" were written by Michael Taylor. an attorney who worked for Monsanto both before and after his tenure as an FDA official.)

At the website www.foxbghsuit.com, you will find the version of the Wilson/Akre rBGH series as it was re-written by Fox’s attorneys. It has been laundered and perfumed. Most importantly, nearly all the references to cancer have been removed from the script. Instead of cancer we now have "human health effects" — whatever those may be.

The Wilson/Akre story is one of talented, hard-working journalists trying to tell an important public health story. exposing lies and corruption by Monsanto, by the FDA, and now by Fox, too. If nothing else, perhaps the courage of Steve Wilson and Jane Akre will awaken many more of us to the potential dangers of Monsanto’s latest experiment on America’s children.

Peter Montague is the Editor of The Environment Research Foundation’s weekly publication Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly. P0 Box 5036. Annapolis. MD 21403-70336, USA.

No one will be surprised to learn that powerful corporations can intimidate TV stations into rewriting the news, but this case offers an unusually detailed glimpse of specific intimidation tactics and their effects inside a news organization.

At the website, you will find the version of the Wilson/Akre rBGH series as it was re-written by Fox's attorneys. It has been laundered and perfumed. Most importantly nearly all the references to cancer have been removed from the script. .


Copyright © The Ecologist 1998

The destroyers (IIb)


During the next few days I’m going to present The Monsanto Files on this blog. They are a series of articles first printed in The Ecologist in September and October 1998, touching upon many crucial aspects of modern society and the direction it is going. It doesn’t really matter that they are eleven years’ old. They are more relevant than ever. During those eleven years the situation, as is often the case in these horrible times gone from bad to worse, in particular concerning genetic modification (GM). Monsanto’s dream of world hegemony is close, very close, and we’ve seen their lies exposed further. Remember all those assurances that their field crops wouldn’t spread? It has proven just as much deceit as everything else they’ve told us. The resistance to GM-food, also called Frankenfood is faltering. One reason is that GM-food has spread almost everywhere and people have to eat. It still isn’t too late to stop it, it never is, but the only way to do that is to eradicate Monsanto and companies like them, destroyers like them from the face of the Earth.

Reading through it again, I once more feel almost incredulous. I knew it is bad, but this story almost feel like a dark, beyond dark «fairytale». The truth it exposes is so completely irrational and insane that it is hard to believe. Even for a consummate critic of society like myself it’s hard to believe that the government and elected officials in general is to such a degree in the pockets of big industry.

The Monsanto Files has been on the Internet for eleven years and been read by many, but not many enough, and too many have chosen to ignore them. They say a lot about Monsanto, about the politicians allowing them to operate, about greed in general, about FDA, the US Food and Drug Administration, and about modern society in general, how power and wealth can completely undermine public safety and health, how that can become a minor, insignificant concern in the insanity the world has become. People need to read The Monsanto Files, read it thoroughly, study the subject and realize what it means, both to them and to humanity as a whole and all life on this planet. Every single webpage in existence should post this beyond crucial information.

«Soylent Green is people».


Other crucial information:

Chemical cocktail

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The destroyers (IIa)

Presented here, for the enjoyment for all truth-seeking readers is presented groups of destroyers, of industrial, poison-spreading corporations.

Tonight is presented the first part about Monsanto, a name giving me elephant goose bumps and trickles down the spine. I had planned on taking on Exxon Mobile before them, but a number of beyond stupid statements I’ve heard lately that their product Aspartame is safe has made them an even stronger priority.

This will be an incomplete presentation, as it almost has to be, since the list of Monsanto’s «sins» is one of the most extensive I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot). The popular Monsanto Files have become a classic on the Internet and one of the most illustrative when it comes to explaining the industrial destructive power on nature and life on Earth in general. The story about Monsanto is the story about the twentieth century’s industrial «venture», a huge, sick bite of it.

Monsanto - Aspartame

Aspartame, an artificial sweetener was headed for rejection in FDA (Food and Drug Administration) when President Ronald Reagan stepped in and appointed Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes jr. as new commissioner there. Hayes wasted no time and quickly overran his own employees and advisers, and in spite of alarming test results approved Aspartame for commercial use. Aspartame is presently in widespread use, among countless products in all cola light drinks. Hayes was forced to resign in November 1983 because of massive accusations of corruption. His reward was a very profitable job as consultant for Searle, the company that joined with Monsanto. Go here to read a thorough description of what happened when Aspartame was approved.

The approval did raise a lot of flags and Searle/Monsanto had to convince the elected officials. They did that by falsifying research papers and test results. The false results were accepted as truth, and the storm laid to rest. A researcher and committee member told people many years later: «I will never again believe a word of what these people are saying».

As many as 92 major and minor harmful effects have been reported after ingesting Aspartame-products. They are cancer, headaches, blindness, hearing problems, epileptic seizures, shaking, breathing trouble, allergies and Multiple Sclerosis, to mention a few. You find the list here.

Any test result or person or group of persons claiming that Aspartame isn’t dangerous is sponsored by Monsanto. This includes, sadly and astonishingly and shockingly the American Multiple Sclerosis society. They get giant contributions from Monsanto to support them.

Monsanto lies, threatens and bribes people and groups to keep their dangerous products on the market.

Other resources:

Dorway

Rsearch

Artificial sweeteners

Thursday, July 16, 2009

True artistic freedom


I published my novel «ShadowWalk» in March 2003 on my own label, my own publishing company after a desert walk lasting two decades between various established publishers. That was my second. The first was the Norwegian edition of «Dreams belong to the Night».

No established publisher would or will ever want to touch my work, at least not without major rearranging, censorship, so I decided to do it myself. I took the advantage of current technology, and did everything, except the actual printing myself. In hindsight I feel almost grateful towards all those greedy and stuck-up publishers…

There are basically two major faults with them. They publish either only work they, personally deem to be of artistic merit, or they just want lots and lots of cash. Either approach equally despicable in my eyes.

I remember sitting there, with the book in my hands, with both of them, for hours, feeling something very close to awe. I sat there with a real book in my hands, a novel, 300 000 words I had written.

Many people frown at self-publishing novels. Many bookstores won’t touch them and they even brag about it. They even call them «Vanity projects», «suggesting» that there are basically people with an overblown ego and a lot of money that’s doing it. To me that is clearly yet another tactic put out there by the establishment, including the established publishers.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to both self-publishing and doing so through established publishers. One major disadvantage of doing it yourself is that you lack the advantages of a big operation. You need to «waste» a lot of time doing everything the big bucks publishers pay others to do, for one thing. And then there is the obvious thing about distribution, which is or was crucial. If you didn’t get your book into the stores you wouldn’t sell much. But to me, what everything comes down to is this:

When you do it yourself, on your own, you do everything, and can do everything, exactly like you want. You don’t need to do things you don’t want to do. You accept aid, of course, and advise from people you trust, but ultimately you are making the decisions. I have (briefly) experienced the process the authors go through suffering the meat grinder the established publishers demand you go through. They wanted me, like they want everyone to change three fourths (or rather everything) of the book. And we’re not talking about grammar here, or even wording. We’re talking about the story. They wanted the book, want all books to become their story, their neutered child, not the authors free-spirited wild creature. They are part of the worldwide censorship process, and many self-publishers aren’t. I get very angry when I see the smirk on the big guns’ faces when they state how proud they are to give voice to previously censored work. They do, and they don’t, if you get my drift…

So I will dare this outrageous claim: Generally speaking (there are exceptions to any rule) self-published books and art in general beat those being published by a major operation by a vast majority.

So I published them on my own, using my own hard-won money, and I just about got even, money wise, but I would have done it again in an instant. I sold several thousand books worldwide, mostly on the Internet and in the city of London, and as an added bonus of having fairly low sales I was contacted and could respond personally to my readers, and I learned a lot in the bargain. Big time writers can never have such a personal rapport with their readers.

And now, now it’s finally the time to take the next step. The poor artist’s publishing method is finally here in earnest.

The Print-On-Demand, the dream of the self-publisher is here, and I’m here, and I’m ready.

The time, the dominion (at least) of the major publishers, books, music, movies and art in general is done. Good riddance!

  True artistic freedom (II)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More sickening support for militarism

I don’t use the word «obscene» often because I feel it’s often misused, mostly in connection with one unusual sexual situation or another, but the reception the eight soldiers killed in Afghanistan received when they returned to Great Britain in coffins is as obscene as they get.

Militarism alone and in general, and its support in the general population is one of the many bad aspects of nationalism, is bad enough in itself, but soldiers fighting in Afghanistan? C’mon?

Britain is a part of the aggressive attack alliance NATO, one that has fought three wars and invaded two countries without provocation and cause the last ten years, and caused massive suffering.

Many reasons have been put forward to justify this, all hogwash. «We» invaded these countries to defend «ourselves». We did it to help the population in the countries we invaded. We bombed them back to the Stone Age to help them. As usual all logic collapses totally faced with militaristic propaganda.

They say we should support our soldiers because they are fighting for us. The leaders, the war mongers in all countries say that. Such a convenient «argument»!

Why should we support them? Why should we support these eager tools of militarism and tyranny?

It’s natural that the relatives of the soldiers are grieving, I guess, even though there is no reason for this pride they are talking about on British television tonight.

But this very public spectacle we see unfold is indeed sickening, is certainly obscene, and so very common.

As usual the modern world is turned downside up and outside in, twisted beyond anything resembling human and humane.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Christians strike again

Christian Protestants in Northern Ireland strike again. In a series of letters and death threats to Polish, Indian and Muslim societies in Belfast they threaten to blow up the buildings Polish, Indian and Muslim societies own unless they vacate them. The protestants want the neighborhoods for themselves, and want all others out, and are willing to do anything to make that sick wish a reality.

Christians at their best… again.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Israel’s inhumanity in Palestine exposed yet again


The recent report from Amnesty International about the «war» in Gaza at the start of the year supports earlier reports of war crimes and genocide. It leaves no doubt about israel’s beyond brutal acts against the Palestinian people.

More than 3000 homes were completely destroyed, and more than 11 000 damaged.

215 factories and private businesses were partly or totally destroyed.

15 hospitals and 43 health stations were damaged or destroyed.

28 public buildings and 60 police stations were damaged or destroyed.

30 mosques were destroyed and 10 damaged.

10 schools were destroyed and 168 damaged. 3 universities were destroyed while 14 were damaged.

53 UN-buildings were damaged.

The numbers speak for themselves, both in intent and fact. People have claimed that israel wasn’t only waging war against Hamas, but wanted to destroy, to kill of an entire generation of Palestinian mothers. 1400 Palestinians died as a result of attacks. At least 850 were civilians. 300 were children, some of them, not more than three months old. Most of the killed children were girls. This seems like a more than correct statement of fact.

The report states categorically that these weren’t accidental by-products of warfare, but deliberate escalation of an ongoing campaign.

Israel and its crimes are exposed yet again. A few individuals speak about a total international boycott of israel, but western state leaders are still yellow beyond words in their approach to this criminal nation.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

It's already dead

The people behind The Pirate Bay have sold out to business interests. There is no other way to put it, and that is being polite, really. They have been put under tremendous pressure, to state the obvious, and it isn't strange and is even understandable, to a point that they have buckled under it, but that doesn't change the fact.

Reactions have already been strong in the community. People are pulling out in droves.

It's evident already. The site is dying on the vine, to paraphrase Jim Morrison. Marginal torrents without many seeders or peers are becoming impossible to download or even upload, and that's just after a few hours.

Money talks, again. This was the only way the big bucks could win in this case, really, by exercising their powers the way they know best, by buying people's souls.

It's dead. Let it rest in pieces. Let's hope others pick up the torch, a lot of others. There are still countries, like Russia and China that aren't acknowledging the powers of western corporations and legislation. There should be more than enough programmers there for such tasks. The Pirate Bay grew so dominant that nobody bothered to challenge or even copying them. Let's hope they start now, in earnest.

Essential other reading:

Piracy saves music