Activists and Health Organizations Keep an Eye on Monsanto



Back in May, Davis’ Monsanto facilities were once again targeted by environmental, Occupy and social justice activists with a blockade and shutdown as part of worldwide protests against the chemical giant.

According to organizers of the action, “Monsanto, the producer of Agent Orange and DDT, is gradually taking over the global food supply, poisoning U.S. politics and putting the planet’s food future in serious danger.” Demonstrators focused on the Monsanto Protection Act and the federal Genetically Engineered Food-Right-to-Know Act introduced to mandate the U.S. Department of Agriculture to label genetically-engineered food.

As part of that worldwide action, a white paper was put out and was signed by, among others, Ronnie Cummins, Administrator of the Food and Drug Administration, and Mark Dunlea, Director of the White House Office of Climate and Agriculture.  The report warned, “The Monsanto corporation is a top ‘corporate climate criminal’ whose drive for profit and control of the global food system threatens food safety, biodiversity, and food sovereignty. Monsanto is the world’s leading producer and proponent of genetically modified agriculture. Through aggressive purchases of seed companies, Monsanto is rapidly taking control of the world’s seed supply.”

“In addition, Monsanto produces dangerous chemicals that poison communities, add toxics to the food supply and create ‘super weeds’ that require increased application of even more toxic herbicides. Monsanto also promotes farming practices that severely exacerbate climate change by requiring excessive water and energy, and promoting massive deforestation to provide land for genetically modified agriculture.”

“Monsanto uses its political connections and market power to intimidate farmers and create a near monopoly on seeds creating a fragile, homogenous food supply as well as to protect themselves from liability for their actions. As more information becomes available, it is clear that Monsanto’s practices threaten the future of our ability to grow food and live healthy lives,” they concluded.

Last week’s Village Voice struck an ominous pose in their article, “The Monsanto Menace,” which argues, “The feds see no evil as a belligerent strongman seeks control of America’s food supply.”

“In the early years, the St. Louis biotech giant helped pioneer such leading chemicals as DDT, PCBs, and Agent Orange. Unfortunately, these breakthroughs had a tendency to kill stuff. And the torrent of lawsuits that comes from random killing put a crimp on long-term profitability,” the Voice wrote.  “So Monsanto hatched a less lethal, more lucrative plan. The company would attempt to take control of the world’s food supply.”

The article lays out the GMO revolution, which Monsanto developed with crops such as soybeans, alfalfa, sugar beets and wheat.

“These Franken-crops were immune to its leading weed killer, Roundup,” the Voice argues. “That meant that farmers no longer had to till the land to kill weeds, as they’d done for hundreds of years. They could simply blast their entire fields with chemicals, leaving GM crops the only thing standing. Problem solved.”

The article continues, “Monsanto knew that it needed more than genetically modified crops to squeeze out competitors, so it also began buying the biggest seed businesses, spending $12 billion by the time its splurge concluded. The company was cornering agriculture by buying up the best shelf space and distribution channels. All its boasting about global benevolence began to look much more like a naked power grab.”

“Seed prices soared. Between 1995 and 2011, the cost of soybeans increased 325 percent. The price of corn rose 259 percent. And the cost of genetically modified cotton jumped a stunning 516 percent,” they report.

The Voice argues, “Instead of feeding the world, Monsanto simply drove prices through the roof, taking the biggest share for itself.”

“They’re a pesticide company that’s bought up seed firms,” Bill Freese, a scientist at the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit public-interest and environmental-advocacy group, told the Voice. “Business-wise, it’s a beautiful, really smart strategy. It’s just awful for agriculture and the environment.”

The political system has also become infected with Monsanto’s influence.  When Barack Obama became President in 2009, he appointed former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as USDA Secretary.  According to one analysis, “The change he implemented included a series of agency adjustments designed to speed up the approval process for GMOs. Under Vilsack’s watch, the agency has never denied the approval of one GMO crop.”

Mr. Vilsack would tell the Farm Bureau in January, “I know of no health reason connected to GMOs that would require labeling under our current labeling philosophy.”

Monsanto, of course, was one of the leaders in the heavily-financed, and what critics have called a heavily-misleading and deceptive advertising campaign, to defeat the California initiative that would have required food labeling.

At the same time, Monsanto apparently recognized it would be inefficient to have to fight GMO labeling state-by-state.

One version of the Farm Bill, which has failed to pass the US House, contained language that would strip the rights of states to enact labeling laws.

Monsanto would win on a 71-27 vote that defeated an amendment in the Senate by Senator Bernie Sanders who wanted to clarify that states have the authority to require labeling of foods containing GMOs.

The Voice reports of the obscure measure pushed through by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, who “granted the company an unheard-of get-out-of-jail-free card widely known as the Monsanto Protection Act.”

Writes the Voice, “Despite indications that GM foods could have adverse health effects, the feds have never bothered to extensively study them. Instead, they’ve basically taken Monsanto’s word that all is kosher. So organic farmers and their allies sued the company in 2009, claiming that Monsanto’s GM sugar beets had not been studied enough. A year later, a judge agreed, ordering all recently planted GM sugar-beet crops destroyed until their environmental impact was studied.”

The Monsanto Protection Act would basically end such rulings, barring judges from intervening during lawsuits.

While it would seem highly unconstitutional, “Monsanto has spent more than $10 million on campaign contributions in the past decade – and another $70 million on lobbying since 1998. The money speaks so loudly that Congress has become tone-deaf.”

The Voice writes that “the real coup came when President Obama appointed former Monsanto vice president Michael Taylor as the FDA’s new deputy commissioner for foods.”

In fact, according to the white paper put out on Monsanto, “Seven Monsanto executives have held top positions in government since the 1980s. At present Michael Taylor is the Deputy Commissioner of Foods for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Taylor led the push to prevent labeling of GE foods and to consider GE foods as “substantially equivalent” to traditional foods in the 1990s. These actions have had the effect of keeping the public in the dark about GE foods and their health and environmental effects.”

“Rather than protecting the public, which should be the role of a public food commissioner, Taylor has placed the public at risk to benefit Monsanto,” they charge.

The activists and critics ask for “long-overdue, thorough, science-based examination of GMO and pesticide safety, by scientists not tainted by the revolving door or financial ties to agribusiness industry giants and all research, past and present, must be available to the public.”

They want a moratorium on new development and certification of pesticides and genetically engineered crops, an “urgent phase out of existing GMOs and pesticides not demonstrated to be safe for people and the environment” and a “clear labeling of all foods containing genetically modified organisms.”

However, the breadth and influence of Monsanto make even these modest goals difficult to achieve.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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5 thoughts on “Activists and Health Organizations Keep an Eye on Monsanto”

  1. Davis Progressive

    another policy area where the left clearly differs from the approach of the obama administration. the labeling of GMOs was demonized last year, few pointed out that it was mainly industry sources that threw a monkey wrench into a modest plan.

  2. SouthofDavis

    Davis Progressive wrote:

    > another policy area where the left clearly differs
    > from the approach of the obama administration.

    The Obama administration will always differ from “the left” when they want to protect the profits of wealthy campaign donors (just like every Republican administration will always differ from “the right” when they want to protect the profits of wealthy campaign donors).

    P.S. If you didn’t hear about Obama’s recent veto of an International Trade Commission patent ruling click the link below and guess which company he helped. vs Samsung.jpg

    P.P.S. The day the lady in the yellow raincoat and her activist friends give more money to politicians (of any party) than Monsanto is they day we will see real restrictions on GMOs (and many of the other bad stuff Monsanto is doing)…

  3. ebowler

    The revolving door between the FDA and industry (biotech & pharmaceutical) is deeply disturbing. Also disturbing is the expanding influence of industry in public education. We need look no further than UC Davis to find such things as the Monsanto Fellowship Program in the College of Biological Sciences. Even so, I am hopeful that, in light of the recent GMO labeling victory in Connecticut and with legislation making its way through the legislature in New York, we will be able to overcome industry’s Big Money the next time around.

  4. Mr.Toad

    There are only a few plants that are GMO but they are major food crops; soya, corn, cotton, canola and papaya from Hawaii. Although Monsanto owns Seminis that subsidiary produces mostly vegetable crops. As of today research continues but GMOs for sugar beets, potatoes, wheat and tomatoes have not yet been commercialized. As for Monsanto controlling the worlds seed supply its not even close. Syngenta and Pioneer are huge and if you google seed companies you will find that the world is full of them. Not only that but there are seed banks throughout the world tasked with preserving crop genetic diversity. In my mind the big issue is herbicide resistance in weeds and the use of more toxic herbicides as weeds become resistant to herbicides. i find many of the other issues to be more heat than light. If these crops are so bad for us why are we not seeing the problems? People have been eating lots of this stuff for years.
    Company – 2007Seed sales (US$ millions)% of global proprietary seed market
    Monsanto (US)$4,964m23%
    DuPont (US)$3,300m15%
    Syngenta (Switzerland)$2,018m9%
    Groupe Limagrain (France)$1,226m6%
    Land O’ Lakes (US)$917m4%
    KWS AG (Germany)$702m3%
    Bayer Crop Science (Germany)$524m2%
    Sakata (Japan)$396m

  5. ebowler

    It seems that we are seeing the health problems associated with GMO crops.

    Glyphosate (RoundUp, as in Monsanto’s RoundUp-Ready GMOs) is a suspect in everything from colony collapse disorder to the skyrocketing rates of autism and various cancers. Glyphosate is the “bonus” that comes along with the GMOs. Until we have GMO labeling, the only way to avoid both GMOs and glyphosate is to consume only USDA certified organic.

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