Please enjoy “Monsanto’s Hunger Games” from Issue 1 of The Hard Truth Magazine.
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What if nations could be conquered without weapons?
What if they could be conquered with seeds?
Although biotech giant Monsanto still has a distance to go if they wish to own the growing fields of the world, it is a hypothesis that is worth considering – especially in light of how fast its genetically-engineered seed is spreading across the planet.
Genetic engineering is a process where genes, either synthetic or taken from a different species, are forced into the DNA of another species1 – much like taking selective genes from a rhinoceros and fusing them into the genetic code of a chimpanzee. These “transgenes”are completely foreign to the organism’s DNA – unlike the natural “cisgenes” that are taken from the same organism and used in conventional and natural cross-breeding.2
A horse with a horse creates another horse, but a horse with a lion creates a creature that cannot be reproduced in nature. This is the unnatural process of genetically modifying living organisms, such as corn, soybeans, and cotton.
Eighty to ninety percent of the world’s genetically modified crops were developed and patented by Monsanto.3 Their flagship seed was the “Roundup Ready” soybean, first introduced in 1996. For the next decade, sales languished until the U.S. government, in a bid to reduce dependence on foreign oil, announced subsidies for “biofuels” – crops grown for fuel instead of food.
The “green gold rush” was on. Huge swaths of farmland were repurposed for Monsanto’s soybean and corn in a race to supply the world with these inedible plants. As of 2012, 17.3 million farmers now grow genetically modified (GM) crops worldwide and 420 million acres have been planted with GM crops across 28 countries–about the same acreage as Spain, Germany, France and the UK combined. This represents a 100-fold increase since GMOs were introduced 16 years before.4
Despite the green rush that biofuels created, that boom has proven to have some serious side effects, chief among them is the world’s current food crisis. Since 2008, world hunger has spiked leaving roughly 850 million without enough to eat. The number one cause of that crisis is biofuels.5, 6
“…the diversion of corn from food to fuel has been cited as a major culprit in rising global food prices, increasing death and disease in the developing world.”
Senior Vice President for Policy, Institute for Energy Research; U.S. News & World Report, Jan 5, 2011.7
Monsanto was relentless in lobbying for biofuels and profited hugely from it.8 Now they had another a means to profit from a side effect that they manufactured.
“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.”
The Independent (UK).
Monsanto: The World’s “White Knight”
Exploiting the food crisis they helped to create, Monsanto is has been on a PR tear, promoting their GM seeds as a solution to world hunger.9 Their most recent PR coup is the “World Food Prize,” awarded to Monsanto’s chief bioengineer, Robert Fraley, and two other biotech scientists, Mary-Dell Chilton of Syngenta and Marc Van Montagu of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology Outreach (IPBO), Belgium. The prize “recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.”10
Founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug, the prize sounds impressive. It was clearly sought to give cover to Monsanto at a time when the safety of its foods is under intense scrutiny in America, where activist groups are demanding a long-ignored need for labeling. But scratch the surface and we find that the World Food Prize is supported by biotech companies.11 Couple that with the illuminating fact that in 2008 (coincident with the spike in world hunger caused by the biofuels boom), Monsanto donated $5 million to the Borlaug foundation “to ensure the continuation of the annual World Food Prize International Symposium.”12
With this in mind, can one be faulted for suspecting a quid-pro-quo at work? Particularly when one considers that, from its inception, transparency has not been Monsanto’s strong suit.
From Chemical Company to Food Supplier?
Founded in 1901, the St. Louis-based company was America’s leading chemical manufacturer for most of the last century. For most of its history, the company manufactured a long list of environmentally hazardous products that were later found to adversely affect human health for decades. It was only in 1997, when the company decided its future was in food, that the decision was made to spin off Monsanto’s chemical operations under a separate company named Solutia, Inc.
“According to a recent paper by Dominic Glover, ‘Monsanto had acquired a particularly unenviable reputation in this regard, as a major producer of both dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – both persistent environmental pollutants posing serious risks to the environment and human health. Law suits and environmental clean-up costs began to cut into Monsanto’s bottom line, but more seriously there was a real fear that a serious lapse could potentially bankrupt the company.”
-Monsanto, A History; GMWatch.org.13
But there is much more.
During the 1940s, Monsanto became a leading manufacturer of polystyrene foam food packaging. Styrene, a component of polystyrene, is now a known hazardous substance that medical evidence and the US Food and Drug Administration suggests leaches from polystyrene containers into food and drink. Styrene is a suspected carcinogen and neurotoxin. It was detected in the fat tissue of every man, woman and child tested by the EPA in a 1986 study. Styrene has been found in 100 percent of the samples tested from human tissue and human nursing milk.14
During the Vietnam War, Monsanto was one of nine contractors who supplied the herbicide, Agent Orange, to the U.S. government. Twenty thousand gallons were used to strip jungles of the plants that provided cover for enemy forces during the Vietnam Conflict. Agent Orange was later shown to be highly carcinogenic, and Monsanto’s formula was proven to be the most toxic. Due to this, Monsanto was the key defendant in a suit brought by U.S. Vietnam veterans suffering from debilitating symptoms they attributed to Agent Orange exposure. Internal Monsanto memos show that Monsanto knew of the problems of dioxin contamination of Agent Orange when the company sold it to the U.S. government for use in Vietnam. Since then, beyond the damage done to American soldiers, approximately 500,000 Vietnamese children have been born with deformities attributable to Agent Orange.15
Monsanto produced the industrial compound PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) from 1935 to 1977. Used as a coolant and lubricant in transformers and other electrical equipment, it was once considered a miracle chemical because it was unusually nonflammable and was able to conduct heat without conducting electricity. It was so successful that many safety codes once mandated the use of PCB. During those four decades, PCB was also used in the manufacture of many everyday household items – paints, newsprint, carbon paper, deep-fat fryers, adhesives, even bread wrappers.16
According to a 1935 company memo, Monsanto knew shortly after it opened its factory in west Anniston, Alabama, that PCB was a health risk. A 1937 Harvard study was the first to find that prolonged exposure could cause liver damage and a rash called chloracne. Monsanto ignored these warnings. Over the next forty years, the Anniston factory routinely discharged millions of pounds of PCB into open-pit landfills, poisoning the groundwater and contaminating nearby
creeks. It wasn’t until class action lawsuits were pressed in the 1990s that the extent of Monsanto’s negligence was revealed.
Railroad signal power supply transformer dating from the 1930’s with a PCBwarning label. Photo by Sturmovik.
“…thousands of pages of Monsanto documents — many emblazoned with warnings such as ‘CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy’ — show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew.
“In 1966, Monsanto managers discovered that fish submerged in that creek turned belly-up within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dunked into boiling water. They told no one. In 1969, they found fish in another creek with 7,500 times the legal PCB levels. They decided ‘there is little object in going to expensive extremes in limiting discharges.’ In 1975, a company study found that PCBs caused tumors in rats. They ordered its conclusion changed from ‘slightly tumorigenic’ to ‘does not appear to be carcinogenic.’
“Monsanto enjoyed a lucrative four-decade monopoly on PCB production in the United States, and battled to protect that monopoly long after PCBs were confirmed as a global pollutant. ‘We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business,’ one internal memo concluded.”
-Michael Grunwald, Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution, Jan. 1, 2002, Washington Post
By 1977, Monsanto’s own in-house testing on the toxic effects of PCB was so damning that the company closed the factory two years in advance of the government ban on PCB. But it was too late for the residents of Anniston. Many suffered illnesses from cancer to infertility and mental incapacity. Generations were affected. In the 1980s, public pressure forced Monsanto to initiate a relatively minor cleanup of a creek directly affected by the contamination, so that runoff would no longer pollute the connecting creek’s tributaries that were used for swimming and fishing. Although PCBs are considered “probable” human carcinogens by the EPA and the World Health Organization, due to the lack of a direct link between PCB and cancer or other illnesses, State and EPA regulators were reluctant, even after the ban, to press Monsanto to do more.
In 2003, the company settled with 20,000 residents of west Anniston for a sum of $700 million.17
The ban on PCBs did not require its removal from products already in use, and by then it was ubiquitous. PCB is now so prevalent in our environment that today it can be found in the tissues of humans and wildlife, worldwide.18
In 1944, Monsanto became one of the first manufacturers of the insecticide DDT to combat malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. Here again, after wide usage, the chemical was found to likely be carcinogenic. In 1972, DDT was banned throughout the U.S., but is still in use in parts of South America, Africa, and Asia as an insecticide.19
Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), first sold to dairy farmers in 1974, was Monsanto’s “bright idea” to increase milk production in cows. Unfortunately for cows and consumers, rGBH proved to do more harm than good. The cows had reproductive problems. They suffered high incidents of the infection Mastitis, so a wide range of antibiotics were added into the hormone to fight the infection.
Those antibiotics remained in the milk and were ingested by consumers. rBGH was later found to produce “very substantial increased levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1,” linked to breast and prostate cancers.
According to FDA whistleblower Richard Burroughs, agency officials “suppressed and manipulated data” to help Monsanto gain approvals for rBGH. When Burroughs noticed the manipulations and sent Monsanto back to the drawing board, the product was gradually taken out of his hands and he was eventually fired. The FDA was later forced to reinstate Burroughs, but by that point the hormone had been approved.20
Health Canada usually models its approvals on the FDA’s. But after a scandal during which three Health Canada scientists accused Monsanto of attempting to bribe the agency in order to gain approval of rBGH, the hormone was banned in Canada. Europe, taking its cue from Canada, also banned rBGH. Products containing the hormone are now labeled in the U.S., although Monsanto continues to defend it.20
Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” Seed a.k.a. “Seeds of Death”
Monsanto’s flagship product for the last forty years is Roundup – their brand name for glyphosate, a total herbicide that destroys all plants. Monsanto marketed Roundup as “biodegradable” and labeled it so, until courts in New York, in 1996, and in France, in 2009, found the company guilty of false advertising. Independent studies found that Monsanto’s claim that the herbicide leaves the soil clean and respects the environment were false. According to Monsanto’s own tests, only 2% of the product had broken down after 28 days. Monsanto was forced to remove “biodegradable” from its containers.21, 22
Despite the many studies that have found Roundup highly toxic, today Monsanto produces genetically altered seeds that can tolerate it. The seeds are reengineered on a cellular level with roundup resistant genes, so that when Roundup is sprayed on the plants, everything in the field is killed except for the crops. Once again, the benefits of this product did not live up to Monsanto’s promotion.
“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you none of this is true.”
– Bill Christison,
President of the US National Family
“In the United States, GM crop production actually increased pesticide use by more than 4 percent between 1996 and 2004, despite early signs that GM use might be tied to an overall decline. Reports of glyphosate-resistant weeds, or “super weeds,” have been on the rise since GM crops started gaining momentum, and these weeds now total 15 species—up from 2 in the 1990s—that cover hundreds of thousands of hectares in the United States alone. In response, farmers have been encouraged to diversify herbicide applications or increase glyphosate applications.” – Worldwatch.org report 2007
Most worrying are the life-threatening illnesses attributed to the consumption of genetically modified organisms.
In the documentary, “Seeds of Death,” Dr. Amy L. Dean of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine states:
“Every single independent study conducted on the impact of genetically modified food shows that it damages organs, it causes infertility, it causes immune system failure, it causes holes in the GI tract, it causes multiple organs system failure.”
The conclusion drawn is that the relationship between GM food and adverse health effects is no longer questionable, there is real causation. “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.”
In a 1998 New York Times article, Monsanto’s Director of Corporate Communications, responded to food safety concerns by stating:
“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” 24
A disingenuous defense at best. In truth, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) never assured the safety of GMOs.25 They allowed Monsanto to put their genetically engineered foods on the market based on the results of Monsanto’s in-house testing only; without independent testing and without requiring a label.
James Maryanski headed the biotech department of the FDA when Monsanto sought approval of its GM seeds. Maryanski admitted in a 2006 on-camera interview with Marie Monique Robins for her documentary “The World According to Monsanto,” that “It was a political decision; a very broad decision that didn’t apply to just food, it applied to all products of biotechnology.”26
On October 22nd, 2013, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by biotech scientist Marc Van Montagu, co-recipient of the World Food Prize. In his article, entitled The Irrational Fear of GM Food, Montagu hauls out the same empty defense, claiming…
“Opponents of GM crops have been extremely effective at spreading misinformation. GM crops don’t, as one discredited study claimed recently, cause cancer or other diseases. GM cotton isn’t responsible for suicides among Indian farmers—a 2008 study by an alliance of 64 governments and nongovernmental organizations debunked that myth completely. And GM crops don’t harm bees or monarch butterflies. In fact, people have consumed billions of meals containing GM foods in the 17 years since they were first commercialized, and not one problem has been documented.
Of course, that would depend on who is doing the documenting. As can be seen in the cases of PCB, Agent Orange, and rBGH, Monsanto does not have a history of sharing its negative test results. In fact, the lack of thorough testing of Monsanto’s GM seeds, backed by the FDA’s nebulous “approval,” has allowed Monsanto to make all kinds of claims about the value of its products without having to prove them.
The World Food Prize, and Van Montagu’s self-congratulatory WSJ opinion piece, were both clearly timed to aid in the defeat of a Washington State GMO labeling initiative on the November 6, 2013, ballot. If passed, that initiative would have mandated labeling of all foods containing GMOs for the first time in the United States, where currently 80 percent of the foods on store shelves contain GMOs.27 Like a similar initiative in California in 2012, the Washington initiative failed when, in the last days, Monsanto and major food manufacturers poured millions into advertising to defeat it.
“If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.”
Norman Braksick, President of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsato 29
A Patent Excuse
Monsanto is highly protective of its patented seeds. Farmers are forbidden to save any seed, which is customary among farmers the world over. Instead they must pay Monsanto to replant their fields every year, an enormously expensive requirement. They must also pay the company for the fertilizer and the herbicide they must use, which Monsanto claims will help keep the crops weed and disease free. Of course, using their patents to force small farmers to either buy their seed or go out of business, as has been done in the U.S., is one
Small farmers traditionally grow 70 percent of the world’s food. But now, surrounded by massive farms owned by Agri-corporations and sown with GM seed, small farmers are being pushed out. In Paraguay, independent farmers complain of toxins that pollute the creeks and rivers thanks to the exorbitant amount of herbicide sprayed on neighboring GM crops which have proven to be not so weed resistant after all. As their independent numbers shrink, the result is less food on the market, driving prices higher and creating shortages. Families who leave their farms relocate to urban centers where unemployment is often already at crisis levels.31
Who gets their fields? The Agri-corps. In this way, Monsanto continues to create and profit from the hunger it claims it is curing.
Remaining GMO-free is not an easy prospect for developing countries. GMO seeds were illegal in Paraguay until Monsanto seed smuggled in from Argentina contaminated Paraguay’s fields to such a degree that the government could no longer certify its soybeans as GMO-Free. Paraguay’s inability to detect and control the GMO contamination put their European soybean export at risk. Europe requires that all GMO ingredients bear that label, so the Paraguayan government was forced to legalize GMO. As soon as the contraband GMO crops were legalized in Paraguay, Monsanto obtained the right to charge royalties on each ton of soybeans produced.31
In Mexico, the birthplace of corn and keeper of the only pure varieties, GM stalks are mysteriously appearing in organic cornfields at an alarming rate. The fear that cross-contamination will destroy the purity of their harvest caused the Mexican government to outlaw GM seed.31
Monsanto’s toxic Frankenstein has been slowly conquering the world’s agricultural system by recklessly contaminating the soil, the water, and the crosswinds. With very little government oversight, or human conscience, Monsanto stands to inherit the leavings of this silent world war.
From a bird’s eye view, it is not hard to see that if only GMO seed exists, then eventually Monsanto will own the patents on most of the world’s food supply.
Control the food, conquer the world.
Without firing a shot.
Jenny Good Widmaier is a novelist and screenwriter. Kathy Slevin is an award-winning writer-producer for television.
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1. Seeds of Death; documentary by Gary Null. Quote from Jeffrey Smith, Exec Dir, Institute for Responsible Technology; Author Genetic Roulette
2. Cisgenesis.com; Definitions of Trangenes, Cisgenes http://www.cisgenesis.com/content/view/2/25/lang,english/
3. Monsanto Has Created the World’s
Largest GMO Monopoly By Ethan A. Huff, Natural News, 12 April 13
4. Europa Bio; http://www.europabio.org/how-many-farmers-plant-gm-worldwide
5. Advantages and Disadvantages of Biofuels By Jared Skye; http://greenliving.lovetoknow.
6. Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis; Internal World Bank study delivers blow to plant energy drive by Aditya Chakrabortty; London Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/jul/03/biofuels.renewableenergy
7. Ethanol subsidies are gone but not forgotten, by Daniel Kish, US News & World Report http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/on-energy/2012/01/05/ethanol-subsidies-are-gone-but-not-forgotten
8. Ten Reasons Why We Don’t Need GM Foods. By GMwatch.org http://gmoinside.org/10-reasons-why-we-dont-need-gm-foods/
9. Building a world without hunger; http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/World-Without-Hunger.aspx
10. 2013 Laureates – The World Food Prize – Improving the Quality, Quantity and Availability of Food in the World; http://www.worldfoodprize.org/en/laureates/2013_laureates/
11. GMO Maker Monsanto Wins Prestigious World Food Prize, By Gina-Marie Cheeseman on October 21, 2013; http://naturallysavvy.com/eat/gmo-maker-monsanto-wins-prestigious-world-food-prize?page=2
12. World Food Prize Receives $5 Million Pledge From Monsanto to Honor… — re> DES MOINES, Iowa, Feb. 15 /PRNewswire/ — http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/world-food-prize-receives-5-million-pledge-from-monsanto-to-honor-norman-borlaug-56950227.html
13. Monsanto, A History; The Birth of RoundUp. http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-firms/10595-monsanto-a-history; http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-firms/10595-monsanto-a-history
14. Polystyrene Fact Sheet. http:/isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic967858.files/PolystyreneFactSheets.pdf
15. Monsanto, A History; Agent Orange and dioxins; http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-firms/10595-monsanto-a-history; http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-firms/10595-monsanto-a-history
16. Michael Grunwald, Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution, January 1, 2002, Washington Post http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0101-02.htm
17. $700 Million Settlement in Alabama PCB Lawsuit – New York Times; http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/21/business/700-million-settlement-in-alabama-pcb-lawsuit.html
18. PBS : Trade Secrets : PCBs; http://www.pbs.org/tradesecrets/problem/popup_group_02.html
19. DDT – A Brief History and Status; EPA. http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/chemicals/ddt-brief-history-status.htm
20. The World According to Monsanto; Documentary by Marie Monique Robin
21. Monsanto’s Roundup Is the Most Used Herbicide in NYC; Mother Jones; http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/09/monsantos-roundup-most-used-herbicide-nyc?page=2
22. Monsanto guilty in ‘false ad’ row; BBC; http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8308903.stm
23. Ten Reasons Why We Don’t Need GM Foods. By GMwatch.org http://gmoinside.org/10-reasons-why-we-dont-need-gm-foods/
24. Seeds of Death; documentary by Gary Null.
25. GM Myths and Truths; Section 2, Pg. 23, Science and Regulation; http://www.nongmoproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/GMO_Myths_and_Truths_1.31.pdf
26. The World According to Monsanto; Documentary by Marie Monique Robin; Interview with John Moryanis, former FDA
27. GMOs and your family; http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/gmos-and-your-family/
28. Washington State’s GMO Labeling Initiative Appears Headed for Defeat | Food Safety News http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/11/early-returns-on-gmo-labeling-bill-in-washington-state/#.UnrVZhDHiPU
29. Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto, quoted in the Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994
30. Monsanto drags over 400 U.S. farmers to court over GM seed patents: When will Big Ag’s corrupt reign end? – Natural News, http://www.naturalnews.com/039227_monsanto_seed_patents_agricultural_monopoly.html
31. The World According to Monsanto; Documentary by Marie Monique Robin