A Little Monsanto History

Formed as a chemical company in 1901 ,in 1935 they bought the right to manufacture all PCB’s in the U.S. From then until they were banned in 1976 they produced them at two American plants. One in Illinois, the other at Anniston, Alabama. The 30,000 residents of Anniston had no idea that the millions of tons of toxic waste dumped in their creek or buried in landfills was killing them. Monsanto knew, but kept their mouths shut. Long story short – they settled with the town of Anniston  for 700 million dollars. This settlement is on top of block after block of homes Monsanto purchased in Anniston because they were too toxic to live in. They still sit empty. Monsanto is responsible for Agent Orange, a favourite of the Vietnam War. In the ’70’s they came up with Roundup. They marketed it as bio-degradable, several law suits later, they were forced to remove this claim from their packaging. Now they focus on Agribusiness. Genetically Modified is the moneymaker.  Monsanto’s push into the third world has had devastating results. Farmers can’t collect seeds to sow the following season, Monsanto seed is a one shot deal. Once they’re hooked, there only option is to buy new, expensive seeds each year. Suicide rates have sky rocketed.

Monsanto revenue is around 12 billion a year. They spend millions a year on lobbyists, and make generous contributions to both Democrat and Republican candidates.

Ponder this – At Monsanto headquarters, employees refuse any food made from GMO’s to be served in their cafeteria, due to health concerns. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas was a lawyer for Monsanto before becoming a judge. One of his first judgements – a ruling in favour of genetically modified foods produced by the Agribusiness. Donald Rumsfeld was the CEO of a company Monsanto bought in 1985. Rumsfeld personally profited 12 million dollars. A former Monsanto lobbyist is now a special advisor to the FDA. When blame started to be placed on Monsanto for the declining bee population, they bought the only FDA approved company doing research on the bee problem.

An anti-Monsanto crop circle in the Philippines

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805

13 thoughts on “A Little Monsanto History

  1. Hey Notes,

    Nice write-up but I object to a few things. Notwithstanding their history (which we shouldnt’ use to judge them now (different people, different employees, different moral standards), we don’t judge kids by their stupidness at 5 – 18 so why companies from another era? I consider human society to still be in its infancy, even now, last century we were 5 yr olds – we were so morally unevolved that we didn’t even allow girls to play in the playground. History is important so we don’t repeat our mistakes, but we must be careful to not use it to judge companies in the past by todays standards. It is a slippery road that derails the debate. Monsanto is a different company today. (I’m not saying their fairies, but they aren’t making any more agent orange either.)

    Be that as it may, let me address a few things. Monsanto doesn’t rope anyone into using their seeds. It’s stated clearly in their agreement. The farmer doesn’t have to sign anything if he doesn’t want to. Brian Scott (The Farmer’s Life) has a writeup of what the Monsanto agreement implies (and the verbatim agreement online), and it is nowhere near as binding as activists would have you believe, such as the use of Roundup is recommended, not mandated, along with many other examples. Farmers can continue practicing their own methods, yet they don’t? Why? Well, they see value in using GMO seeds that they have to buy year after year. There are actually expenses in reusing seeds; cleaning, storage et al., that farmers are only to happy to get rid of and buy seeds anew every year saving them who knows how much time and quality of life. It is simply a continuation of the division of labor that has so made the human species prosperous.

    As for the third world, they have not been so disadvantaged as the claim of many an activist. GM crops create about $80 billion of wealth a year, half of which flows directly into the developing world, local seed banks, and the farmers themselves. GM crops have resulted in 438,000,000 kgs of less pesticide use around the world in the last decade. That is huge. 355,000 people die every year from pesticide exposure, majority in the 3rd world where they don’t have GM crops. GM crops really do require less pesticides, though the most beneficial pesticide uses comes from using GM crops alongside organic crops as it blunts natural selection for evolved insecticide-resistant pests. (The ideal ratio is 10-30% organic to 70-90% GM – the former is known as the refuge zone.) And the seeds aren’t that expensive, it brings the farmers more money, as well as lowing their insurance cost, it may cost a bit more, but they are more than rewarded for their use in reduced expenses elsewhere (including round-up which is cheaper than other pesticides, as well as requiring less dosage, and the aforementioned costs of not needing to clean and storage seeds for the next season.)

    The future of food we face if our practices are unchanged is bleak. We have to double food production, double water production, using far less land than we do today and significantly less emissions. We can’t do that without GMOs, and that is – unfortunately for some – the truth.

    All in all, nice post, just be wary of many claims about Monsanto. I’m not particularly a fan, and dont think their business practice will last for much longer (students in schools nowadays are genetically modifying organisms, the means of production are becoming cheaper every year) so in the long run, big companies like Monsanto will gradually lose their business. In the meantime, we do actually need their products. Something that farmers know. Ag Biotech has been the fastest adopted technology in agricultural history, with growth rates of 10% per year, and the farmers do know what they signing up for and do so.

    • It was John Zande who recommended I take a look at your blog – I believe he thought you could unruffle my Monsanto feathers.

      I’m currently digesting your response – truly appreciate the time and energy. 🙂 I tend to come out with both guns blazing (an expression that just dawned on me as hysterical considering my views on American gun violence) Monsanto makes it so damn easy …

      http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/1999/12/22/gmfood991222.html

      http://naturalsociety.com/monsanto-bee-collapse-buys-bee-research-firm/

      I’ll ponder your response and get back to you. 🙂

    • A few thoughts off the top of my hot little head –

      I agree the Monsanto of today is not the Monsanto of yesterday, that said money is still the bottom line.

      I was raised on an orchard in the Okanagan valley of B.C. Just thinking about it I can smell the pesticide my father sprayed on the trees.If so much as an ant dared enter our house; out came the dusting of DDT. I assure you my home was bug free, and not a single dandelion was brave enough to grow on our lawn. Not really relevant to Monsanto but perhaps an explanation of my wrath. My grandfather died of bone cancer attributed to chemicals, and my father is now going through similar trouble.

      I hear what you’re saying about costs involved in collecting, cleaning and storing seed. I’m sorry – I need more convincing. I object to companies who monopolize or create a situation of dependency to fuel their bottom line. Third world farmers who can’t afford seed would certainly welcome the bother of cleaning and storing seed over the prospect of nothing to plant. Monsanto creates an addict. You say the contract isn’t binding – a lot of good that does a farmer once snagged by Monsanto’s lure.

      I’m trying so very hard to be objective and welcome any input that could put my suspicious mind at ease. 🙂

      • It’s interesting you mentioned you object to monopolizing. Monsanto has been given their monopoly because the furor against GMOs has increased the regulatory burden on startups in that area that they simple can’t compete, leaving Monsanto almost alone in navigating those regulations. In other industries, it is usual – so I’ve read – that big companies lobby the government to increase regulations on their own sectors. Why do they that, seems counterintuitive, no? Well, they do it beacuse they can afford the reams of lawyers needed to navigate the bureaucracy but startups can’t, so when they inevitably make a mistake, they get shut down. In Monsanto cases, they never needed to do that, the public did it for them.

        As for not buying the division of labor, well, you’re going to have to talk to a farmer about this. Brian (from my QA with a family farmer) mentions this explicitly. He doesn’t want to save seed, it saves him time and money to buy the seeds anew. And in his contract, nothing compels him to buy seeds anew from Monsanto. He can stop farming their seeds whenever he wants, he can use pesticides other than Roundup. Their contracts are not binding. Those poor farmers around the world really want to buy monsanto’s seeds, and they really want to buy them anew every year. Go actually read from farmers and you’ll see 🙂 Farmers can perfectly go back to non-GM seeds whenever they want, but GM seeds are increasing 10% year on year in the (mostly) free market; no one is holding a gun to their heads.

        We need to do all in our power to reduce chemical exposure, though the best way to do that is use GM seeds. Organic pastures use more pesticide (except their pesticides are organic, though still poisonous), and anything that nudges us towards less pesticide use is a plus. As we move towards new generations of GM crops, pesticide use will drop more than it already has, hopefully Monsanto has more competition from new entrants in that time. Hope this has helped 🙂

      • Oh man! I want to feel better about Monsanto – I really do! Your responses do help. I can only imagine how tired you are of explaining your points to hot heads like me. 🙂

        I can’t promise I’ll completely turn around, but can promise to temper my opinions until I learn more. We’ll talk again soon.

      • hehe, it’s no problem. It takes time, there a gauntlet of cognitive biases information must go through. We just have to remember to keep things in perspective. Monsanto aren’t fairies, but neither are they evil. Our brains strive for this simplicity though it exists nowhere. Take your time, and even talk to a farmer or two. Brian Scott solicits questions all the time, he’d be more than happy to answer any you have of his relationship with Monsanto. Ciao ciao. 🙂

  2. There is an obvious fallacy in comparing a corporation’s behavior to that of developing person. First, corporations are groups of mature people who make business decisions not out of a lack of experience or from hormonally induced emotions but out of contemplation to meet shared goals. Second, the legal person-hood of a corporation stems from its continuity. A corporation may swap people but its culture, mission, practices and memory, if these change at all, change glacially. Too slow not to condemn the corporation for its transgressions for at least as long as you would a person, which they claim to be legally. There is nothing about the practices of Monsanto that point to remorse for their past crimes nor institutional changes that give reason to believe they won’t lie, cheat or screw us all at the drop of a hat. My anti-GMO fervor is not against the science or the results, it is strictly against the company GMOs keep.

    • Monsanto, Halliburton, “big oil”, you name it – they serve no master other than the bottom line. FYI – Monsanto employees refuse any food made from GMO’s be served in their cafeterias. 🙂

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