Monsanto is the archetypal corporate criminal. The company is the world’s leading producer of genetically engineered seed and controls almost a quarter of the global market share. Since its incorporation in 1901, Monsanto has profited from some of the darkest episodes of the 20th century.
During the Second World War, the company contributed research on uranium to the Manhattan Project and the creation of the first atomic bomb. After it profited from mass slaughter, Monsanto moved into chemical pesticides.
One of its most successful products was the herbicide Agent Orange, infamous for its use as a defoliant by the US government in its war against the Vietnamese people. Agent Orange causes birth defects, cancer and a whole series of other illnesses – of which, according to internal memos, the company was fully aware when it sold the chemical to the US government.
The military also knew of the toxic effects of Agent Orange: “[We] were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. We were even aware that the ‘military’ formulation had a higher dioxin concentration than the ‘civilian’ version, due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the ‘enemy’, none of us were overly concerned”, wrote James Clary, a US Air Force scientist in Vietnam.
The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that Agent Orange has affected 3 million people over three generations, including at least 150,000 children born with severe birth defects since the end of the war. Monsanto should be prosecuted for war crimes, but instead it has gotten off virtually scot-free. No compensation has ever been paid to the Vietnamese people, and only a handful of returned US servicemen have received payments.
This is not even close to an exhaustive list of the company’s crimes against humanity. It is also infamous for manufacturing noxious chemicals such as DDT, PCBs and recombinant bovine growth hormone. Many of the chemicals it produces have been linked to cancer.
The company has set aside US$256 million to fight court battles against its victims and spends a large amount of its obscene profits on propaganda. It has even set up a foundation to “contribute to food security”. But the genetically modified seeds it trades have nothing to do with helping the poor feed themselves. Quite the reverse, the promotion of these seeds by giant corporate farms is part and parcel of their takeover of agricultural land.
After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Monsanto rushed to donate food and seed. The genetically modified seed spread. Many Haitians have opposed this, so far with no success. Now, Monsanto threatens to dominate Haitian agriculture. This is simply imperialism dressed up as humanitarian aid. Monsanto continues to carry out its activities with the blessing of the US government. Under the Clinton administration in the 1990s, Monsanto executive Michael Taylor became a top official at both the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture. Obama later appointed Taylor as a “food safety adviser” at the FDA.
It is not surprising that corporations such as Monsanto can dictate government policy. Since 1999, the biotech industry has spent $572 million on campaign contributions and lobbying.
In May this year, the US Senate blocked an attempt to repeal what has been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act”, which allows the secretary of Agriculture to overrule any injunction against planting seeds that are found to be unsafe.
Around the same time, the company announced a 22 percent increase in its net income.
It is easy to see why the company inspires such hatred.
March against Monsanto, Saturday 12 October:
Sydney: 11am, Town Hall
Brisbane: 1pm, Reddacliff Place (Queen Street)
Perth: 1:30pm, Parliament House
Melbourne: 2pm, State Library