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A Deep Green Look at Monsanto

by Don Fitz

The “People’s Hearing on Monsanto: Crimes and Reparations” will both examine the contamination of food by GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and go beyond it.  The November 8 hearing in Monsanto’s home city of St. Louis will ask how the company can be held accountable for the range of damage it has done. 

Since the majority of those affected by the company are people of color, it is fitting to open the hearing with an explanation of the need for reparations for slave descendants in the US.  Reparations must begin with the US’ acknowledging the horrible crime of slavery and apologizing for it.  The apology will establish the framework for discussing financial and other compensations.  Learning from this, the People’s Hearing will ask how Monsanto can make reparations to its victims.

Multiple Police Departments guard entrance to Monsanto. Photo by Jeff Schaefer.

The St. Louis hearing will compile a record of Monsanto’s crimes in preparation for an indictment of the company.  The Gateway Green Alliance, which is hosting the hearing, invites everyone providing testimony to describe (a) what they are accusing the company of doing, (b) the apology they are seeking for those crimes, and (c) what form they propose that compensation should take. 

These are some of the company’s actions which could be the basis for testimony…

Monsanto poisoned the entire city of East St. Louis IL with its production of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) at its Krummrich Plant from about 1940 through the time of their ban in 1971.  Sauget IL (the town formerly bearing the name “Monsanto”) had been a part of East St. Louis.  It suffered the same fate from the company’s disposing of toxic PCB waste through the sewer system.  Similarly, Monsanto produced PCBs in Anniston, AL from 1929–1971 and contaminated the area by putting them into the air by burning or dumping them into streams and lakes.

In St. Louis MO, Carter Carburetor closed in 1980 after Monsanto’s PCBs left the plant, its workers, and the surrounding community thoroughly contaminated.  After Monsanto did nothing for over 30 years, the PCBs have sunk to the bedrock level, making them much harder to clean up. What E. St. Louis, Sauget, Anniston and Carter Carburetor all have in common is that their victims are largely black, suggesting that Monsanto may have the worst legacy of environmental racism of any US corporation.

During the war in Vietnam, tens of thousands of US military personnel and millions of Vietnamese were exposed to dioxin, the most toxic manmade substance to ever exist.  Dioxin is a byproduct of the manufacture of both PCBs and Agent Orange, which Monsanto manufactured.

For decades, Monsanto produced pesticides and herbicides which failed to increase crop yield but encouraged monocultures that helped to transform farming into a big business and destroyed family farms.  Pesticides soak into the ground, destroying microorganisms essential for soil fertility and are washed into streams, rivers and lakes where they poison aquatic life.  As more herbicides are used, superweeds evolve resistance, meaning that still more chemicals must be used.  The cycle of contamination spirals out of control.

By the second decade of the 21st century, Monsanto had become best known for the production of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or seeds which have had their genes altered.  Though Monsanto falsely claimed that GMOs were used to increase crop yield to “feed the world’” the vast majority of GMOs are used to make plants immune to effects of pesticides and herbicides so that more chemicals could be used.

Since health effects of eating food with GMOs are largely unknown, Monsanto has been more responsible than any other company for contaminating the world’s food supply.  When scientists such as Ignacio Chapela or Arpad Pusztai try to research the flow of transgenes or the effects of GMOs on food, allies of Monsanto quickly act to suppress independent scientific inquiry.

In order to control the world’s food supply, Monsanto has aggressively moved to corner the market on seeds.  As Monsanto pushes to promote GMOs, farmers who do not want to use them find it difficult or impossible to purchase non-GMO seeds.  If they do succeed in finding some to plant, Monsanto agents trespass on their land (with no arrests from local law enforcement) to collect plant samples and sue the farmers for committing the “crime” of being the victim of GMO pollen blowing onto their crops.

To set the stage for grinding farmers into submission, Monsanto has worked with politicians and government agencies to permit extensive “Patenting of Life.”  This allows the company to treat living organisms as machines.  Changing national law does not seem to satisfy Monsanto, as its industrial allies push toward the adoption of the “free trade” agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  In addition to undermining labor and environmental law, the TPP would allow Monsanto to nullify laws that other countries have written to protect themselves from GMOs.

Monsanto is moving to dominate agriculture throughout Latin America where small farmers are being pushed off their land.  This makes it easy for agricultural conglomerates to create mega-farms to produce vast quantities of corn and soy.  These crops are not being grown to feed people, but rather to feed animals to produce meat.  Monsanto is helping the rapid growth of meat production, which means the horrific suffering of animals in “factory farms,” or CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). 

Farm animals are not the only species to suffer.  Bees and monarch butterflies are just some of the many insects to be threatened by pesticides and GMOs.

In India, thousands of farmers have committed suicide as their lives are ruined by crop failures from Monsanto’s genetically modified cotton.  After using their savings to purchase expensive GMO seeds, many farmers kill themselves by drinking the pesticide that Monsanto sells to use with the seeds.

Monsanto is fomenting “land grabs” in Africa, where many European companies purchase land from the government and throw out native inhabitants so they can grow corn, soy and cotton for the global market.  Those removed from land that their families have farmed for generations either starve or join the swelling ranks of unemployed in the cities.  Military tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia could soon increase as Ethiopia plans to build a dam on the Nile to provide irrigation for GMO crops.  This would deprive Egypt of its traditional share of water.

Monsanto has directly and indirectly attacked so many people throughout the world that it is no surprise that it employs a small army of lawyers, spies and goons to subdue those who challenge it.  Is it now looking to acquire its own group of mercenaries to help it work more closely with the CIA and other secret police agencies around the world?

For all of these concerns, the issue is not just what Monsanto did, but how it can make reparations — ethically, financially and socially.  Would it be just for the company to continue in its present form once it has admitted and apologized for its actions?  How can we protect future generations from it?  Who should make decisions concerning its future behavior?  How should it be organized?  Should financial reparations be paid only by company assets, or, are its crimes so horrendous that personal assets of all those who have sat on its decision-making bodies should be available for compensation?

Everyone who would like to provide or listen to testimony in any of these areas should come to St. Louis, Missouri, USA on November 8, 2013.  But the tentacles of Monsanto have groped so far and its history is so sordid that it is very possible that other stories have not been touched on here.  Do you have knowledge of additional actions by Monsanto?  Whatever the reason, if you would like to participate in the People’s Hearing, register at gmofreemidwest.org

There is a group which St. Louis safe food activists are having trouble locating.  On the opening day of the 2003 Biodevastation Gathering in St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had an actual discussion of genetic engineering and its effects on agriculture.  Half of its front page was devoted to Monsanto defenders and the other half was devoted to critics who came to speak at Biodevastation.

That was the last time that corporate media in St. Louis presented both sides of the issue.  The same day that the article appeared, St. Louis police began arresting conference speakers and attendees for crimes like “possession of a controlled substance” (which turned out to be Vitamin C) and “riding a bicycle without a license” (St. Louis has no such law). 

The corporate press ceased all discussion of GMOs and blared police warnings that the city could soon be invaded by 50,000 anarchists.  The St. Louis Chief of Police appeared on TV displaying “eco-terrorist weapons” seized during raids on people’s homes: a nail gun (then being used for roofing repairs), torches (the miniature ones twirled through the air during bicycle shows), and a Molotov cocktail (a beer bottle with a piece of toilet paper in the end).  The US Post Office nailed plywood over all of its windows and police urged downtown shop owners to take similar measures to protect themselves from impending anarchist hordes.  A couple of years later, Freedom of Information communications obtained by the ACLU revealed that St. Louis police had worked closely with Homeland Security and Monsanto to develop their strategies.

Not to imply that Monsanto was a bit untruthful concerning the stories that were concocted in 2003, but where exactly are those 50,000 anarchists that St. Louis safe food activist have been waiting for 10 years to meet?  People have looked behind trees for them.  They’ve searched their basements.  Every night before I go to sleep, I peek under my bed to see if 50,000 anarchists are snoozing there.  But nobody in St. Louis can find them.  If anyone reading this know where the 50,000 anarchists are that Monsanto promised us, please tell them to come testify at the November 8 People’s Hearing.

Don Fitz is Editor of Green Social Thought: A Magazine of Synthesis and Regeneration and is on the National Committee of the Green Party USA.  He can be reached at fitzdon@aol.com