Saturday, April 6, 2013

Monsanto: Six Truths and a Lie

President Obama just signed a budget bill the other day, into which Monsanto had cleverly snuck a rider. The so-called Monsanto Protection Act, allows Monsanto to continue planting, growing and selling their GMO crops while they are under court review. But to make sure we needn't worry about this last minute addition and what it might mean – after all, it looks an awful lot like corporate immunity from here – they named it the "Farmer's Assurance Act," which sounds kind of pleasant.

It's a dick move, to be sure, on the part of the biotech behemoth. But there’s no surprise there - Monsanto plays the part of Evil Corporate Overlord so perfectly that if you search for “Monsanto”, Google helpfully suggests “evil”.

But where did this reputation come from? What evil things has Monsanto actually done?

Well, Grasshopper, the better question is what evil has Monsantonot done. See if you can guess which one from this list Monsanto didn’t do.

1. Still Insisting Agent Orange is A-OK

Agent Orange was a dangerous herbicide sprayed by the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War (12 million gallons). Children and veterans who had Agent Orange dumped upon them have suffered a huge list of health problems including severe deformation, extra fingers and toes, mental retardation, leukemia, and Hodgkin's Disease. Here are some pictures that will make you cry.

But Monsanto’s not convinced. Company spokesperson Jill Montgomery said the company should not be liable for injuries or deaths caused by Agent Orange. Even today Monsanto accepts no responsibility and refers only obliquely to “alleged consequences.” Those who think their liver cancer or extra fingers are Agent Orange-related may want to try readjusting their “beliefs.” Perhaps “walking it off” might do the trick. If you have any legs.

2. Monsanto Worker/Government Worker Mix 'N Match

Many former Monsanto employers see nothing untoward in taking jobs in the EPA or FDA, the very agencies that regulate Monsanto. Linda J. Fisher jumped freely between high-level jobs at the EPA, then Monsanto, then back to the EPA. William D. Ruckelshaus, former EPA administrator, and Mickey Kantor, former U.S. trade representative, each served on Monsanto’s board after leaving government.  And Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and former Monsanto attorney, wrote the majority opinion in a 2001 Supreme Court decision that gave the ok to patenting newly developed plant breeds. In subsequent biotech cases, Thomas saw no need to recuse himself, even those involving his former boss. Conflict of interest is for pussies.

3. Being A—holes about Seeds

Behold Monsanto's genius idea of patenting seeds, then forbidding farmers from saving or replanting the seeds for the next year. So what if it undoes millennia of time-tested agricultural practices and creates monocultures of dubiously safe plants? It's all good because this way farmers have to buy their weed-killer Roundup and a new batch of GMO Roundup-resistant seeds every year. And if seeds go rogue and contaminate other crops via genetic mutations and/or an errant wind, that's good too. Just sue the farmer - or you know, whoever - for patent violations. Right now, Monsanto is tying up the Supreme Court (including Justice Thomas who—surprise! - did not recuse himself) with a suit against a 75 year old farmer for the heinous crime of seed replanting.

4. Fighting the Consumers' Right to Know What We're Eating

Monsanto spent $8.1 million to fight Proposition 37 in California, a proposition that merely required GMO-containing products to be labeled. Not a judgey label with skulls all over it--just a neutral informative label stating that the product contained GMOs. Monsanto felt so strongly that consumers should be shielded from this knowledge that they fought like a wet cat against it, hiring a PR firm to create a misleading study predicting outrageous price increases, illegally using the FDA logo on mailings, making up an FDA quote, and ominously claiming that consumers' “broad food choices” could be “denied.” How that last one works, Monsanto never said, but it sure sounds bad.

5. False advertising

New York's Attorney General ordered Monsanto to stop running ads that claimed weed killer Roundup was “safer than table salt” and “practically nontoxic” to wildlife.  But, despite those reassurances, if you do have a choice in condiments, go for the table salt, unless the zesty spice of Roundup is worth side effects like birth defects and hormone disruption. And lest you were planning feeding your cat a big bowl of Roundup, please note that “practically” nontoxic doesn't necessary mean the same thing as actually nontoxic. (That’s why no one ever puts that they are “practically non-murderous” in online dating profiles.)

6. Various and Sundry Evil Deeds

These include—yawn -Monsanto's day-to-day evil such as violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, involvement with 41 active or archived US Superfund sites, producing now-banned toxic chemicals PCBs and DDT, developing terminator seeds that create sterile plants, using child labor and whatnot.

7. Monsanto, though the glories of GMOs, makes good on pledge to end world hunger

Which one do you think we made up? Go on, have a guess…


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