Part 1: The Background to the March Against Monsanto
On Saturday, concerned humans in 436 cities across 52 countries united in a massive protest march against Missouri based multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto.
According to March against Monsanto founder Tami Canal, “If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success.”
The actual number of people who joined Canal’s March Against Monsanto, two million (2,000,000). Now that is serious grassroots organization. But what’s the story…
Why are people marching against Monsanto?
It starts with genetically modified organisms or GMOs, which result when a laboratory process takes genes from one species and inserts them into another in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic. This process may be called either Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM). Over the past few decades, scientists have engineered plants with genes taken from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals and humans.
The following are several different types of genetically modified combinations scientists have worked on:
• Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, theoretically the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bulletproof vests
• Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides
• Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark
• Artic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost
• Potatoes that glowed in the dark when they needed watering
• Human genes were inserted into corn to produce spermicide
Today, seventy five percent (75%) of all processed food in the USA contains GMO ingredients. A GMO food is generally anything that comes in a box, can or bag at the grocery store. This information also applies to anything made from corn, soybeans, alfalfa, canola, cottonseed oil or wheat. Genetically modifying organisms started after World War 2. but has taken off since the 70’s.
To return to Monsanto’s part in this story, I pulled excerpts directly from their website pages at www.monsanto.com. On the Monsanto Home page is the title, “Monsanto, A Sustainable Agriculture Company.”
Followed by “If there is one word to explain what Monsanto is about, it would have to be farmers.”
The following is copied from the Monsanto website Products page showing both the agricultural and vegetable seed products created by Monsanto. No words or descriptions have been altered.
“The only business Monsanto Company is involved in is agriculture. This is why Monsanto invests both time and money in research to help create the best seed possible for farmers. Whether it’s through breeding or biotechnology, Monsanto is committed to research in various agricultural crops. Here is a list of crops Monsanto invests in day after day.
• Alfalfa: Genuity® Roundup Ready® Alfalfa provides in-plant tolerance to Roundup® agricultural herbicide. Fewer weeds means it provides high-quality forage and hay.
• Canola: Genuity offers the Roundup Ready® trait in both spring and winter canola. This trait is a tool for farmers to help manage weeds and increase yield potential, creating a win-win on their farm.
• Corn: For farmers today, it’s all about getting the most yield out of every acre of corn, while using as few inputs as possible. Monsanto’s corn traits help farmers do this by providing cutting-edge technology that protects the plant’s yield.
• Cotton: Today, cotton growers are benefiting from second-generation and stacked trait technologies, which provide more levels of protection. Genuity® Bollgard II® with Roundup Ready® Flex represents Monsanto’s newest wave of innovation with two second-generation traits stacked into one seed.
• Sorghum: Sorghum is an efficient crop in the conversion of solar energy and more drought-tolerant than other crops such as corn and soybeans. Monsanto continues to research and develop new hybrids to fit growers’ needs.
• Soybeans: Whether it’s a higher yielding soybean that provides a broad spectrum of weed control with the Roundup Ready® system or a soybean plant that helps reduce trans-fatty acids, Monsanto has a lot to offer soybean farmers.
• Sugarbeets: Fewer herbicide applications, increased yields and more sugar content all make Genuity Roundup Ready® sugarbeets attractive to many farmers.
Wheat: Since acquiring the WestBred brand in 2009, Monsanto has initiated an intensive effort to incorporate breakthrough breeding technologies – developed and deployed with notable success in other row crops – in wheat.”
The following is excerpted from the Monsanto Vegetable Products page.
“Our Vegetable Seeds Division is focused on innovation to improve both the quality and productivity of vegetables grown from our seeds. We invest in research and development and use the latest technology not only to deliver the best products to the consumer, but also to provide yield potential and value to the customer, the grower, and to their customers, the chain partners. Ultimately, we hope that by developing products with excellent flavor and real nutritional benefits, people will enjoy eating more vegetables.”
“Our Vegetable Seeds Division is represented through two seed brands: Seminis® (open-field and unheated protected culture) and De RuiterTM (heated, protected-culture and rootstock).”
Seminis Seed Company
Monsanto’s Seminis is the largest developer, grower and marketer of vegetable seeds in the world. Monsanto founded Seminis in 1994 through the purchase of three of the world’s largest seed crop and plant breeding companies; Asgrow Seed Company, Bruinsma and Genecorp.
Year by year, country by country from 1994 through1998, Seminis (i.e. Monsanto) acquired the largest and oldest seed crop and plant breeding companies with a global reach. In 2001, Monsanto actually launched the Seminis Vegetable Seeds brand.
Globally Seminis has locations in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Central Asia, Chile, CIS Countries, Germany, Hungary, India, Indoneisa, Ireland, Israel, Italy Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Myranmar, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and United States.
De Ruiter Seeds and Rootstock
De Ruiter, acquired by Monsanto in 2008, specializes in breeding, producing and selling seed varieties for glasshouse cultivation of tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and melons. Founded in Holland in 1945, De Ruiter introduced rootstock to the vegetable seed industry. A rootstock is a plant that already has an established, healthy root system, onto which a cutting or a bud from another plant is grafted.
Monsanto wasn’t always” just an agricultural company.”
According to the International Business Times in a March 30, 2013 article.
“The company’s first product, introduced in 1901, was the artificial sweetene,r saccharine. By the middle of the 20th century, Monsanto had expanded into the manufacture of many other chemical products; plastics, herbicides and insecticides including DDT, now largely banned from agricultural use worldwide. From 1965 to 1969, Monsanto produced Agent Orange for U.S. military use in the Vietnam War — as did several other companies, including the Dow Chemical Co. (NYSE:DOW) — and has since been subject to numerous lawsuits related to the herbicide’s contamination with a toxic dioxin compound.”
Quick background fact: Agent Orange was one of the herbicides and defoliants manufactured by Dow Chemical and Monsanto for use by the U.S. military in Operation Ranch Hand, its chemical warfare program in the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed with another 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of its use. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems due to Agent Orange.
Finding information on Monsanto’s chemical products was a little harder. In 1997 Monsanto formed Solutia, as a divestiture of the Monsanto Company chemical business. Solutia’s businesses cover three segments: Advanced Interlayers, Performance Films, and Technical Specialties. These include products like rubber, nylon, automobile window and thin film photovoltaics.
Solutia’s Environmental Record
The following is publically available information on Solutia’s environmental record. This is included because Solutia as part of the Monsanto companies is thus representative of Monsanto’s corporate operations.
In 2003 Solutia and its parent company Monsanto agreed to pay $700 million to settle claims by 20,000 Anniston, Alabama residents over PCB contamination. Monsanto documents indicate that the company routinely dumped PCBs in the land and water supply of Anniston and covered up its behavior for more than 40 years. In 2008, PCBs were found outside Anniston High School.
In 2007, Solutia’s Springfield, Massachusetts plant ranks as #4 on the EPA’s top five facilities that reported the largest quantity of on- and off-site environmental releases in Massachusetts under TRI.
Solutia’s Delaware River Plant is responsible for contaminating the soil and the groundwater with three old hazardous-waste disposal areas, a phenol equalization lagoon, two sludge lagoons, a raw-waste lagoon, a process sewer system, a storm-water drainage ditch, and a closed Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulated hazardous waste landfill.
The Solutia AES Property Site near the Kanawha River in Nitro, West Virginia, was found by the EPA to have 18 buried, deteriorating drums containing dioxin. EPA determined that a threat to public health or welfare or the environment existed due to the release or threat of release of dioxin at the site.
The Solutia facility in Sauget, Illinois is responsible for emitting PCBs, benzene, chlorobenzene, lead, and mercury.
In 2004, Solutia completed an interim remedy to contain, intercept, and collect contaminated groundwater discharging and causing environmental impacts to the Mississippi River.
In 2006, the EPA filed suit against Solutia, Shell Oil, and Mallinckrodt over hazardous materials found at the Great Lakes Container Corp. in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1995, a fire alerted officials to the potential dangers of the 11-acre (45,000 m2) site, and environmental investigations turned up buried drums of hazardous materials, asbestos and high levels of lead and polychlorinated biphenyls. According to the consent decree, 61, 650 tons of soil contaminated with PCBs and lead was removed from the site as were more than 800 buried drums.
In 2009, Solutia’s Chocolate Bayou Alvin facility ranked #1 in the EPA’s top ten facilities in Texas for total on-site and off-site releases of all chemicals.
In May 2009, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved a penalty of $117,048 assessed against Solutia for 14 air violations that occurred over a year and a half period.
This information is included because Solutia is a Monsanto company, under Monsanto control. Monsanto set the business standard of operations and Solutia followed them almost to it’s own demise.
The subject of this two part article, the March Against Monsanto refers specifically to it’s genetically modified organisms (GMO). Worldwide, the USA is the only country that does not require labels for GMO foods. Thanks to a May 1992 announcement by Vice President Dan Quayle, of the FDA’s Anti-Consumer Right-to-Know policy which stated that GMO foods required no special labelling or safety-testing.
Groups including the Union for Concerned Scientists, the America Academy of Environmental Medicine, The American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association immediately contributed information and research insisting that GMO’s create long term, collateral side effects which we haven’t studied long enough to know. The European Union, Japan, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and many other nations now require mandatory GMO labeling.
The internet is full of information about GMO’s side effects ranging from childhood autism, cancer and autoimmune system disorders to the declining bee populations and mass farmer suicides as a result of failing GMO crops. This is very important to consider as well.
However as consumers, the fact remains that the research is not in on GMOs. Scientists do not know how every GMO is going to affect every person consuming them. Until the science is in, the consumers are human guinea pigs. That is why for the March Against Monsanto.
Tomorrow See Part 2: The March Against Monsanto