by Oliver Lee
August 12, 2011
There's a whole lot
more than just GMO seeds. Let's take a quick look at
some of the biotech giant's most dubious contributions
to society over the past century.
Oh, Monsanto, you sly dog...
You keep trying to make us believe you are "committed to sustainable
agriculture" with your canny advertisements on American Public
Media, even as you force-feed farmers your lab-grown Frankenseeds
that expire every year (which are, let's be honest, opposite of
But we shouldn't be surprised by the mixed message, should we? After
all, you've been doing this for decades.
With long-running corporate
Disney's Tomorrowland, building reserves of
goodwill as you spray us with DDT, it's clear you're entitled to
send out products into the world with nary an environmental or
health concern - just as long as you spend a bit of that hard-earned
cash convincing us otherwise.
On that note, let's take a quick look at some of the biotech giant's
most dubious contributions to society over their past century in
Monsanto burst onto the scene in 1901 with the artificial sweetener
saccharin, which it sold to Coca-Cola and canned food companies as a
But as early as 1907, the health effects of the sweetener were being
questioned by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists.
"Everyone who ate that sweet
[canned] corn was deceived," said Harvey Wiley, the first
commissioner of the FDA.
"He thought he was eating sugar,
when in point of fact he was eating a coal tar product totally
devoid of food value and extremely injurious to health."
After enjoying decades of unfettered
consumption, the sweetener was slapped with a warning label in the
'70s when it was found to cause cancer in lab rats.
A subsequent three-decade effort by Monsanto to reverse the decision
finally won out in 2001.
After all, how could a product derived from
coal tar not be safe for consumption?
By the '40s, Monsanto had moved on to oil-based plastics, including
polystyrene foam (also known as styrofoam).
As most of us are aware by now, polystyrene foam is an environmental
Not only is there nothing out there that biodegrades it,
it breaks off into tiny pieces that choke animals, harm marine life,
and release cancer-causing benzene into the environment for a
thousand years or more.
"Polystyrene foam products rely on
nonrenewable sources for production, are nearly indestructible
and leave a legacy of pollution on our urban and natural
environments," said San Francisco Board of Supervisors President
Aaron Peskin in 2007.
"If McDonald's could see the light
and phase out polystyrene foam more than a decade ago, it's
about time San Francisco got with the program."
Despite the overwhelming evidence against
it, the noxious containers are still pervasive elsewhere around the
country. Amazingly, they were even voted to be reintroduced into
House cafeterias by Republicans earlier this year.
3. Agent Orange
First developed as an herbicide and defoliant,
Agent Orange was used
infamously as a military weapon by the U.S. Army during Vietnam to
remove the dense foliage of the jungle canopy.
In the process, they dumped over 12 million gallons of the potent
chemical cocktail - described by Yale biologist Arthur Galston as,
"perhaps the most toxic molecule
ever synthesized by man" - over towns, farms, and water supplies
during a nine-year period.
"When [military scientists] initiated the herbicide program in
the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to
dioxin contamination in the herbicide...," said Dr. James R.
Clary, a former government scientist with the Chemical Weapons
"However, because the material was
to be used on the ‘enemy,’ none of us were overly concerned."
According to the Vietnamese Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, that lack of concern led to 4.8 million exposures
to the herbicide, along with 400,000 deaths and disfigurements and
500,000 babies born with birth defects.
4. Bovine Growth
Did you know the United States is the only developed nation that
permits the sale of milk from cows given artificial growth hormones?
With the lone exception of Brazil, the rest of the developed world -
including all 27 countries of the European Union, Canada, New
Zealand, and Australia - has banned growth hormone use in milk
destined for human consumption.
Why all the lact-haters?
Milk derived from hormone-injected cows
shows higher levels of cancer-causing hormones and lower nutritional
value, leading even the most stubborn U.S. courts to rule in favor
of separate labels for hormone-free milk.
"The milk we drink today is quite
unlike the milk our ancestors were drinking without apparent
harm for 2,000 years," said Harvard scientist Ganmaa Davaasambuu.
"The milk we drink today may not be
nature's perfect food."
According to the Center for Food Safety
thanks to increased consumer demand (and certain movies),
approximately 60 percent of milk in the U.S. is
Not content to do mere incidental damage to the environment,
Monsanto decided to get to the root of the matter in the '80s:
But with much fuss being made over the company's aggressive scare
tactics and rampant mass-patenting, the biotech giant has, true to
form, fought back with a multimillion-dollar marketing and
advertising campaign featuring smiling children and making
outlandish claims that "biotech foods could help end world hunger."
"Unless I'm missing something,"
wrote Michael Pollan in The New York Times Magazine, "the aim of
this audacious new advertising campaign is to impale people like
me - well-off first-worlders dubious about genetically
engineered food - on the horns of a moral dilemma... If we don't
get over our queasiness about eating
genetically modified food,
kids in the Third World will go blind."
What's clear is that no matter what its
justification, Monsanto is,
never giving away all these seeds for
rendering them sterile, so that farmers need to re-up
...making it difficult to believe that the company could
possibly have the planet's best intentions at heart.
"By peddling suicide seeds, the
biotechnology multinationals will lock the world's poorest
farmers into a new form of genetic serfdom," says Emma Must of
the World Development Movement.
"Currently 80 percent of crops
in developing countries are grown using farm-saved seed."
"Being unable to save seeds from sterile crops could mean the
difference between surviving and going under."