By Mike Snow
Mike Snow has worked as a journalist in Asia, Africa, South America and Washington, D.C., reporting about international and domestic politics, health, travel and agriculture.
Since its founding in 1965, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has doggedly hunted for the causes of one of humanity’s most pernicious and persistent diseases. After IARC’s independent researchers concluded in 2015 that glyphosate, the premier ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant Roundup is “probably carcinogenic,” the hunter became the hunted.
Glyphosate, which has become integral to genetically engineered, industrialized agriculture, is found in products produced by 100 companies in more than 130 countries. Since its 1974 rollout, sales have skyrocketed from 3,200 to 825,000 tons per year, contributing mightily to the to the agro-chem giant’s roughly $16 billion annual revenue stream.
Neither glyphosate nor Monsanto (now Bayer) have been without controversy. The chemical is just the latest in a long line of products that have kept the 117-year-old-company lurching from one crisis to another, deflecting discomforting inquiries to marketers and lobbyists and, when real muscle was required, attorneys and politicians. But because of its star status in Monsanto’s product hierarchy, IARC’s designation of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” hit a raw nerve, triggering a cry for all hands on deck. Within hours of its announcement, the agency’s independent scientists found themselves caught in the crosshairs of a sustained, choreographed campaign aimed not only at discrediting them, but at taking them down.
Monsanto, originally a chemical company, plowed into genetic modification after redaction of the Delaney Clause, a 1958 amendment to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which prohibited the FDA from approving the use of any food additive found to cause cancer in animals or humans. The seeds for its migration into biotech were planted in 1991 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suddenly re-categorized glyphosate from “likely carcinogenic” to non carcinogenic, and in 1993 when Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) replaced the long-established precautionary principle with one of “substantial equivalence.” This held that the safety of a new food, particularly one that has been genetically modified, may be assessed by comparing it with a similar traditional food that has proven safe in normal use over time.
Dr. Belinda Martineau, a genetic engineering pioneer involved in the commercialization of Calgene’s Flavr Savr tomatoes, knew that mutations could arise in plants injected with foreign genes and suggested ways to identify and minimize the unintended effects of this to the FDA.
Despite advice from her and other scientists to proceed with caution, the agency in May 1992 decided without examining all the available data that — with rare exceptions — there was no need for it to regulate GE food and implemented a voluntary consultation process instead. Calgene nonetheless decided to label its tomatoes, and Martineau believes the company’s transparency won public confidence and caused the Flavr Savr to fly off the shelves.
Not so with Monsanto, which pulled the veil over GE products after buying out Calgene in 1997, flooding the market with GMO corn, soy and other fledgling GE crops despite concerns by scientists at the FDA, EPA and other government agencies that revolving door regulators brushed aside, insisting that GMOs were safe and needed to “feed the world.”
Even State Department diplomats touted the technology, effectively serving as overseas cheerleaders for Monsanto and its products. Republicans and Democrats who accepted campaign contributions from the company reciprocated by pushing through legislation favorable to it — sometimes ghostwritten by lobbyists.
Before long, criticizing Monsanto and its lead role in genetic modification of our food seemed tantamount to career suicide. According to Dan Glickman, the Clinton Administration’s Secretary of Agriculture from 1995 to 2001, “The attitude was that the technology was … going to solve the problems of the human race and feed the hungry and clothe the naked. And there was a lot of money that had been invested in this, and if you’re against it, you’re Luddites, you’re stupid … disloyal, by trying to present an open-minded view on some of the issues being raised. So I pretty much spouted the rhetoric that everybody else around here spouted; it was written into my speeches.”
To quash lingering concerns about glyphosate and the GMO foods it was essential to producing, Monsanto marketers and scientists persistently touted the supposed benefits of the technology while refusing to acknowledge that there could be problems with it.
“I believe that the lack of transparency, and the lack of abject honesty about the imperfections inherent in the technology, played a big role in the polarization of this issue over the last two decades,” said Martineau.
Despite some bumps along the way, Monsanto’s strategy worked. That is, until March 21, 2015, the day that the 17 authors of IARC’s “Monograph 112,” headed by retired National Cancer Institute epidemiologist Dr. Aaron Blair, unanimously agreed on the re-classification of glyphosate as “carcinogenic to animals and probably carcinogenic” to humans. Over the years, other independent researchers who came to the same conclusion got little traction. But as the cancer arm of the United Nations’ World Health Organization, IARC had special gravitas and could not be bought or bullied into silence the way that politicians and industry and government scientists could.
The agency’s decision to label glyphosate “probably carcinogenic” put a scarlet letter, not only on the chemical, but Monsanto itself. News of glyphosate’s reclassification got wide play in Europe but largely escaped scrutiny by the U.S. corporate media. Monsanto’s lawyers, however, viewed the revelation as a grave threat to the company that required more than routine damage control.
Not only could it torpedo any chance of GMOs gaining a foothold in the European market, it potentially might even implode Monsanto’s sales, its share price and — because Roundup is the company’s flagship product and primary revenue driver — its very existence. The gloves had to come off. According to millions of documents now known as “the Monsanto Papers,” IARC had to be stopped at all costs.
Memos and other correspondence obtained from the court ordered release of internal company records show that Monsanto anticipated IARC’s findings on glyphosate and prior to their public release manufactured a campaign of self-righteous indignation to be launched on the day of the agency’s official glyphosate announcement. This effort included dispatching a task force of lawyers, lobbyists, corporate sleuths, spinmeisters and internet trolls to discredit the once low-profile European agency, as well as members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, who pushed to defund IARC, even though, according to the American Cancer Society, nearly 40 percent of U.S. citizens will get cancer in their lifetimes and about 20 percent of them will die from the disease.
The withering, non-stop attacks by these corporate mercenaries in some ways resembled the trashing of Dr. Arpad Pusztai two decades before, only on a much larger scale. After Monsanto completed its U.S. rollout of GMOs in the 1990s, it handpicked Pusztai, author of 12 books and 300 scientific articles, to lay the groundwork for introducing GE foods in Europe.
At the time, the Continent was reeling from mad cow disease and high-profile anti-GMO campaigns launched by environmental groups such as Greenpeace that had the backing of Prince Charles, a staunch advocate of organic farming who openly denounced the new technology and predicted that reliance on giant corporations for food would result in “absolute disaster.”
The unflattering results from various studies Pusztai conducted with his $3 million Monsanto grant prompted him to comment that GMOs were unfit for human consumption and that Europeans should not be serving as guinea pigs. In 1998, Pusztai’s outspokenness got him fired from the prestigious post at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, where he had worked 35 years, though not before his remarks found their way into the European press, unleashing a grassroots firestorm that set back Monsanto’s plans to market GMOs on the Continent for years.
The purge of Pusztai was replicated in 2012 when agrochem attack dogs tore into Gilles-Eric Seralini and his fellow researchers at the University of Caen after their two-year study found that rats weaned on genetically modified BT corn disproportionately developed kidney and liver disease, grotesque tumors and died young.
Seralini’s inconvenient truths subjected him and his team to relentless attacks from industry scientists, internet trolls and corporate journalists, many of whom got their information from the Science Media Centre (SMC), the recipient of substantial industry funding. Seralini’s redacted study was eventually republished, though not before his reputation had been dragged for years through the mud.
Monsanto has always had an easier time on its home turf, thanks to its generous contributions to St. Louis-area civic organizations and the campaign war chests of politicians willing to do its bidding. But its marketing efforts also got a boost from the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which enabled just six U.S. corporations to assume control of about 90 percent of all American media outlets.
From Watchdogs to Lapdogs
As newspapers struggled to make money, the media’s traditional watchdog role in our system of checks and balances became secondary to the bottom line calculations of corporate executives who measured the worth of unflattering reports about GMOs by their struggling news subsidiaries alongside the potentially hefty infusions of agrochem advertising dollars. Their choice became clear.
Fox News Station WTVT in Clearwater, Florida was a case in point. After a Monsanto attorney warned the station that there would be “dire consequences” if it ran a story detailing serious problems with Monsanto’s rBGH bovine growth hormone (pervasive in the U.S. milk supply), station management fired the piece’s award-winning news producers, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson.
The muzzle on GMOs and other company products also extended north of the border. After rBGH was rubber-stamped for use in the United States, Monsanto pushed to win its approval in Canada, but Shiv Chopra, a leading researcher tasked with green-lighting the substance there, conducted tests that detected serious inflammation issues and instead warned about its dangers, costing him his job of 35 years at Health Canada. Because Chopra spoke out, however, rBGH never found its way into Canada or any other market, and the United States remains the only country in the world where it’s use is legal.
Although GE technology and the glyphosate that drives it have become entrenched in the United States, Canada and the monoculture crop countries of South America (primarily Argentina and Brazil), they met elsewhere with resistance, especially in Europe.
Of the 64 countries that have banned or highly regulate GMOs, at least 10 are European. Even so, the U.S. State Department, various government agencies and charitable entities such as the Gates Foundation have persistently pushed for their acceptance abroad.
In 2008, WikiLeaks further set back industry aspirations on the continent when it outed a cable from then U.S. ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton, a friend and business partner of former U.S. president George Bush, who pressed Washington to penalize countries that refused to support the use of GM crops. “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits,” Stapleton wrote.
Despite that embarrassment, Big Ag has continued to chip away at resistance in Europe, while WikiLeads founder Julian Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, where he has been for the past six years, fearful if he steps out of being extradited to the United States to face trumped up criminal charges.
Europe’s reluctance to embrace GMOs and the glyphosate that is integral to their production stems in part from Monsanto’s campaign to discredit Arpad Pusztai and other independent scientists, but also because of the company’s long line of controversial products — which, in addition to Roundup and rGBH, includes DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange and Dioxin — that have generated countless costly lawsuits.
In December 1986, for example, a Federal jury in Galveston, Texas, ordered Monsanto to pay $108 million to the family of an employee who died of leukemia after working with the chemical benzene for five years at the company’s plant near Chocolate Bayou, Texas.
In 2014, the West Virginia State Supreme Court finalized a $93 million settlement with tiny Nitro, West Virginia, for damages caused by its manufacture of dioxin, a by-product of Agent Orange, another suspected carcinogen. And in 1993, it coughed up another $700 million to compensate residents of Anniston, Alabama, for dumping millions of pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the town’s landfill and red-tinted creeks since the 1920s, despite being aware of their toxicity on human life and health.
In 2013, IARC classified dioxin-like PCBs as carcinogenic. The agency’s decision to declare glyphosate “probably carcinogenic” came just two years later. When Monsanto anticipated what was coming, it primed its hired hands to get ready to swing into action. The company’s “Let Nothing Go” policy managed to stifle a whistleblowing complaint filed by 10 USDA scientists who accused GMO promoters of exploiting vaguely worded policy guidelines to stage manage their own objective scientific test results. Scientists, whose work could cause industry regulatory headaches, wrote longtime Reuters reporter Carey Gillam, faced lengthy, intimidating investigations and disciplinary action.
Gillam and relatively few other reporters have been critical of the technology, unlike in Europe, where the precautionary principle remains largely intact and where IARC’s designation of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” was virtually certain to garner more media attention.
The announcement triggered letters from Monsanto attorneys that accused the Lyon, France-based agency of “cherry picking” data and basing their “hastily rendered conclusions” on “junk science.” An IARC spokesman responded by pointing out that its team of international scientists, including all six Americans, had arrived at their unanimous decision on glyphosate only after a yearlong analysis. Some of the IARC researchers were incensed by Monsanto’s attempt to bully them.
A letter from pathologist Consulate Maria Sergi was emblematic. “I found your letter noxious,” wrote the University of Alberta professor, who accused Monsanto of “maliciously seeking to instill some anxiety and apprehension in an independent group of experts … Please do not contact me again.”
While keeping up pressure on the European front, Monsanto’s agents also turned to the United States where they hit IARC researchers tied to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with five separate Freedom of Information Act document demands, then slammed others associated with the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), Texas A&M University and Mississippi State University with similar notices.
Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Government Reform Committee, weighed in with a letter to NIH Director Francis Collins complaining that IARC’s decision had “generated much controversy.” Chaffetz wrote: “Despite the agency’s ‘record of controversy, retractions, and inconsistencies,’ it receives ‘substantial taxpayer funding’ (about 3 percent) from the NIH.” Why, he wanted to know, was the IARC granted funding, and on what basis should this funding continue?
The American Chemistry Council (ACC), lobbying arm of the powerful chemical industry (of which Monsanto is a member) piled on next, proclaiming its intention to shed light on the “close and somewhat opaque relationship” between the IARC and American scientific institutions, and the agency’s “lack of transparency” and “clear conflict-of-interest protections that have long been a source of concern to many observers.”
Just months after publication of “Monograph 112,” the campaign to sever IARC’s financial lifeline was in full swing. CropLife International (originally the International Group of National Associations of Manufacturers of Agrochemical Products) a lobbyist for seed and pesticide companies, warned the “participating states” of the agency’s governing council about “the quality” of the agency’s work, while reminding them that they contribute about 70 percent to its total budget.
Meanwhile, the French daily, Le Monde, reported that at least five individuals identifying themselves as a journalists, independent researchers or law firm associates began snooping for information about the agency’s procedures and funding, including the New York-based economic intelligence company Ergo and the Energy and Environmental Legal Institute (E&E Legal), a self-described nonprofit determined to “hold accountable those who seek excessive and destructive government regulation … based on agenda-driven policy making, junk science, and hysteria.”
The Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, a self-styled “counter-weight to the litigious environmental movement that fosters an economically destructive regulatory regime in the United States,” initiated at least 17 FOIA requests to the NIH and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Le Monde reported, demanding correspondence from American officials that contain terms such as ‘IARC,’ ‘glyphosate,’ or ‘Guyton’” (Kathryn Guyton, “Responsible Officer” of “Monograph 112”) and any relationships between these American agencies and IARC.”
David Zaruk, a contributor to the Genetic Literacy Project, a Monsanto front, described Monograph 112 Committee head Dr. Blair as an activist who serves as an expert witness for lawsuits claiming chemicals cause cancer and accused Blair of positioning himself to “directly profit from the IARC’s skewed and misleading hazard-based cancer rankings.” Zaruk claimed that Blair deliberately withheld information showing no link between glyphosate and cancer.
Because of the U.S. media’s willingness to give GE agriculture a pass, Americans are largely unaware that Big Ag companies themselves determine the safety of its products (based on in-house 90-day animal feeding studies from which evidence of harm is hard to detect rather than long-term studies of 200 days) rather than the FDA.
The media has also kept us in the dark about warnings from the government’s own scientists, including Dr. Ramon Seidler, Team Leader of the EPA’s Genetically Engineered Organism Biosafety program from 1984 to 2001. “Chemical companies have inserted themselves squarely into the seed crop production component of the world’s food supplies,” he said. “These corporations have a clear conflict of interest when it comes to reducing the numbers and concentrations of chemicals on crops, because any such reduction has an immediate impact on their financial bottom line.” Seidler, now retired from the EPA, advocates banning or restricting glyphosate.
The industry generally has gotten by thanks to the media’s failure to raise questions and by parroting false narratives and portraying critics as “anti-science” zealots — sometimes even when the critics are themselves scientists. But never in memory has kneecapping of a respected regulatory body operating under the auspices of the United Nations been part of the industry’s game plan.
The ACC intensified the assault on IARC by launching a “Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research” that included a website for reforming the agency’s Monograph program. Rather than back down, IARC doubled down, this time going after processed meats and, as with glyphosate, ultimately finding that these products, too, are “probably carcinogenic.” As if to stop the industry’s bleeding, the Trump Administration appointed ACC lobbyist Nancy Beck to head the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention at the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the re-examination of glyphosate.
Next up was Lamar Smith, House Committee Chair on Science, Space and Technology, who triggered a Congressional investigation into IARC’s dealings with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to make sure that “grant recipients adhere to the highest standards of scientific integrity.” Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., observed that regulation has become a dirty word that invites “constant pounding.” A lot of people like Lamar don’t even look at evidence anymore, they just respond to trigger words,” said Freese. “If they see signs of any sort of regulation, that’s enough to get them going.” Money, of course, typically plays into this. Calls and emails to Smith’s office seeking information about whether he received campaign contributions from Monsanto and other industry interests went unreturned.
The Center for Food Safety and a handful of like-minded nonprofits such as Food and Water Watch, Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resource Defense Fund have to a certain extent filled a void in the United States that should be addressed by the media. In the past two decades or so, the mainstream press has morphed from a public interest watchdog into an industry lapdog. Rather than launching investigations of glyphosate in the wake of IARC’s findings, U.S. reporters for the most part have been AWOL. Some even appear to take their cues from industry.
A National Review hit piece on NIEHS director Linda Birnbaum soon followed Lamar Smith’s call to defund IARC. The Review excoriated Birnbaum for promoting a “Chemophobic agenda” while describing her former Associate Director, Christopher Portier, IARC’s director, as a “well-known anti-glyphosate activist” whose participation in IARC’s work was invalid, even though Portier personally had no input into the agency’s conclusion about glyphosate. Regardless, the Review portrayed Birnbaum and Portier as examples of “how science has been politicized.”
Because of Europe’s stronger regulations, and more attentive media, chemicals allowed into food there number only about a third of those permitted in the United States. The precautionary principle that is still in place across the pond makes European scientists less inclined to knuckle under to industry pressure. Agrochem’s efforts to undermine IARC got a boost when the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU outfit charged with determining pesticide risks, decided that glyphosate was neither carcinogenic or genotoxic. But Portier and scores of supportive independent scientists objected, describing EFSA’s decision as seriously flawed.
“So far, EFSA has failed to deal with this problem in any detail,” said Christoph, then, a biologist for 20 years. “If EFSA is now acting in league with industry, who can be asked to assess these risks independently?” In response, Monsanto’s troll army ramped up its attacks even more, dubbing Portier, “architect of the Great IARC Scientific Swindle” as, essentially, a lightweight, something of a stretch except to those who believe that his authorship of 200 scientific publications; service as past Director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); director of the U.S. Agency on Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; and associate director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) National Toxicology Program are inconsequential.
An April 18, 2016 Reuters article further fueled this narrative, referring to IARC’s potential conflicts of interests and IARC itself as a “semi-autonomous” WHO agency under the influence of an “anti-science, anti-pesticide” zealot tied to the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund (namely, Christopher Portier) who misled consumers. The Reuters piece failed to mention that Portier had no say in the final decision about glyphosate. That made no difference to David Zaruk, a former chemical industry lobbyist who tweet ranted that Portier was an “activist,” a “rat” a “demon,” a “mercenary,” a “weed” and even saying he “wormed his way into the fruit that is IARC.” Zaruk also likened the agency to a “scab.”
Instead of ignoring or discrediting the Reuter’s attack, The Times of London and The Australian quoted it, while U.S.’s National Review and The Hill referenced it, according to U.S. Right to Know. While most of the U.S. mainstream media stuck to the accepted narrative, the names of some scientists critical of IARC showed up on the website of the industry aligned Literacy Project, which advocates abolishing IARC for public “chemophobia” and “relegating it to the regulatory museum where it belongs, along with other historical artifacts, such as the Model T Ford, the biplane, and the rotary dial telephone.”
Monsanto had other arrows in its quiver, including the findings of the U.N.’s Joint Meeting on Pesticides Residues (JPMR), a food safety watchdog comprised of the WHO and FAO which found no harm in glyphosate. But this finding, too, came into question after various NGOs warned about conflicts of interests at JPMR, including three of its members linked to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), an industry front group financed by chemical, biotechnology and agribusiness interests, including Monsanto.
While Le Monde and other leading European publications kept their readers informed about problems associated with glyphosate, news outlets in the United States fed Americans a steady diet of anti-Russian reports, celebrity gossip and other endless distractions that kept them in the dark. Consequently, few in the United States even know that many FDA scientists had raised safety concerns about GMO technology; that “substantial equivalence” had replaced the U.S.’s long entrenched “precautionary principle,” and that the Delaney Clause had been scrapped, paving the way for commercialization of GE foods in 1992 without vetting.
Gillam is one of relatively few U.S. journalists who have drilled down on the consequences of these paradigm shifts in agriculture and what they mean to farmers and the public. In October 2017 she testified before European Parliament about how the agrochem industry has pushed glyphosate “in carefully choreographed ways that manipulate the press and policymakers.” This prompted a new wave of ad hominem attacks from Zaruk, who called Gillam a “relentlessly obsessed” American carpetbagger and wannabe Rachel Carson “driven by compulsive rage” who leads an anti-Monsanto witch-hunt surrounded by zealots, “one of many environmental activists and lobbyists coming to the EU to capitalize on the softer hazard-based, precaution-primed policy process to get quick regulatory wins in Brussels they can then export to Washington.”
When Gillam visited Monsanto in 1998 as a reporter for Reuters, she was impressed with the company’s new technology, but as she began looking into it became increasingly critical. Her recent exposé, Whitewash, a 2018 Independent Book Publisher’s award winner, documents how Monsanto and other agrochemical companies lied to the public, covered up damaging data and corrupted government officials in order to sell their toxic products worldwide. Her concerns have been echoed by public interest attorney Steven Druker, whose Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public,” refers to this as “the greatest fraud in U.S. history.”
After the Monsanto papers exposed the company’s campaign of orchestrated outrage, attacks by the secret mercenary army started to wane. A minority report published Feb. 8, 2018, by the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the U.S. House of Representatives entitled “In Defense of Scientific Integrity,” turned the tables on Smith and fellow committee members by alleging that their efforts “appear aimed at corrupting and disrupting any honest, thorough and complete scientific evaluation of glyphosate and its potential adverse impact on the public’s health.” The report singled out Lamar Smith, who it accused of incorporating industry talking points into his letter-writing campaign against IARC, culminating “in a kangaroo court-style hearing before the Committee that heard ‘evidence’ against the agency.”
As the truth about glyphosate continues to come to light, legal complaints that could cost billions of dollars have been piling up by those claiming that glyphosate caused them or their loved ones to develop non0-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In the run up to the hearings, Monsanto scrambled to finalize a $66 billion plan to merge with Bayer AG, another key player in the development, commercialization and sale of GMOs.
CEO Werner Baumann told shareholders at Bayer’s annual general meeting that once the takeover is completed he expects an uphill battle to improve Monsanto’s reputation. But because of its past production of heroin, ciproxin and baycol, in addition to its World War II operations as I.G. Farben when it produced chlorine gas, Zyklon B and VX for Nazi death camps, Bayer has an image problem of its own. In December 2001, Multinational Monitor rated Bayer one of the world’s top ten worst companies. In recent years, however, that dishonor has gone to Monsanto, which consistently ranks near the top of most lists of the world’s most hated corporations.
In our age of infinite possibility, where food safety has become secondary to corporate profits and U.S. citizens seethe while tone-deaf members of Congress take lavish campaign contributions and then look the other way, the scarlet letter of Monsanto is one more ember on our simmering indignation.
Monsanto’s orchestrated attempt to discredit the IARC is not the first controversy for St. Louis-based Agro chemical titan, although because of the firm’s merger with Bayer it could be the last.
The company has been embroiled in battles since its founding in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, a 30-year pharmaceutical veteran who dubbed the company Monsanto Chemical Works after his wife, Olga Monsanto. The company’s debut product, saccharin, an artificial sweetener used in Coca-Cola, came under fire for being toxic, but managed to survive a government lawsuit.
In the 1920s, the company introduced polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), billing the product as oil that wouldn’t burn. However, PCBs were later found to cause reproductive, developmental and immune system disorders before being banned after 50 year on the market.
During the 1930s, Monsanto expanded into detergents, soaps, industrial cleaning products, synthetic rubbers and plastics fashioned from hybrid corn seeds. However, these items, too, turned out to be toxic.
In 1967, Monsanto entered into a joint venture with IG Farben, the German chemical firm at the financial core of the Hitler regime, and the main supplier of Zyklon B, which gained widespread use during the Holocaust.
Monsanto also had a hand in the Manhattan Project’s first atomic bomb, later dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in developing agricultural pesticides containing deadly dioxin used in a wide range of their products.
Even a non-biodegradable “House of the Future” that Monsanto built for The Walt Disney Company during the 1950s out of plastics and chemicals turned out to be toxic, as well as impervious to wrecking balls, torches, jackhammers, chain saws and shovels that proved unable to dismantle it.
During the Vietnam era, the company began producing dioxin-laced Agent Orange, responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Vietnamese civilians, another half-million birth defects and lasting impacts on the health of thousands of U.S. military veterans.
In the ’70s it cashed in political chips to pave the way for the highly addictive sweetener aspartame, the toxic effects of which are said to include mania, rage, violence, blindness, joint-pain, fatigue, weight-gain, chest-pain, coma, insomnia, numbness, depression, tinnitus, weakness, spasms, irritability, nausea, deafness, memory-loss, rashes, dizziness, headaches, seizures, anxiety, palpitations, fainting, cramps, diarrhea, panic, burning in the mouth, diabetes, MS, lupus, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, tumors, miscarriage, infertility, fibromyalgia, infant death and Alzheimer’s.
Aspartame is found in diet and non-diet sodas and sports drinks, mints, chewing gum, frozen desserts, cookies, cakes, vitamins, pharmaceuticals, milk drinks, instant teas, coffees, yogurt, baby food and thousands of other products.
In the ’90s, Monsanto defeated state and federal legislation preventing it from dumping dioxins, pesticides and other cancer-causing poisons into drinking water systems and defended against countless lawsuits filed by diseased plant workers and the families of babies born with birth defects. It also introduced Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), which drew outrage from independent scientists, limiting the product’s use to the U.S. milk supply. Monsanto sued firms that opted to label their products “rBGH-free,” claiming that this gave them unfair advantage.
In 1995, Monsanto began producing GMO crops (those tolerant to glyphosate, including Roundup-ready canola oil (rapeseed), soybeans, corn and BT cotton. Though banned in 64 countries, Monsanto billed GMOs as safer, healthier alternatives to organic non-GMO rivals and an answer to “feeding the world.” It also sued farmers. In a further effort to tighten its grip not he market, the company began buying up seed operations and transforming them into terminator seed companies.
By the turn of the century, after Monsanto gained global dominance in the GMO market, the company poured millions of dollars into defeating efforts to label genetically engineered products.