Monsanto: profits through deceit

September 6, 2000


The chemical company Monsanto has existed for just short of 100 years. Fraud and deceit have been associated with it for much of that time. This is a short history.

The production of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) began in the 1930s. They were used in a large number of applications, including transformers, hydraulic fluids and lubricants.

Monsanto produced PCBs in a number of plants in the United States. Internal memos show that it knew of the toxic effects of not only the PCBs 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T but also of the contaminants from the production process, such as dioxins. Monsanto suppressed information, intimidated claimants and falsified collection and processing of scientific data so that it could continue marketing these chemicals.

Monsanto was found to have covered up dioxin contamination of household herbicides and disinfectants. It did this through failure to report the contamination, substituting false information that showed no contamination, and submitting samples for government analysis that had been specially prepared so that there was no dioxin contamination.

In a study, Monsanto covered up the effects on its workers who had been exposed to dioxin through omitting a number workers who died from the exposed group and reclassifying exposed workers as unexposed. Once this fraud was revealed and corrected, the study showed that exposed workers' death rate from cancer was 65 % higher than normal.

Misinformation of this sort was used by Monsanto and other chemical companies to defend a court case brought by US Vietnam veterans over illnesses they suffered as a result of being sprayed with Agent Orange. The case was settled out of court for $180 million but allowed the companies to keep denying the effects were caused by Agent Orange.

After the release of Rachael Carson's book Silent Spring in the early '60s, Monsanto released a parody called The Desolate Year and hired a public relations company to distribute thousands of reviews that damned Carson's book.

Monsanto has been implicated as the source of PCBs in contaminated wastes that were dumped in more than 100 sites in the United States in the early 1970s. One of these sites was Times Beach, Missouri. The citizens of this town were evacuated in 1983 because the contamination was so bad.

Over the last decade, Monsanto has advertised itself as a life science company and moved into biotechnology, although it still manufactures chemicals. One of Monsanto's biotechnology products is recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), used to increase the milk output of cows; it has been accused of using fraudulent methods to get approval for the sale of this hormone on the US market (the US is the only place where it has been approved for use).

A US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) veterinarian alleged that both the company and the FDA suppressed and manipulated information about the adverse health effects of rBGH on dairy cows. The veterinarian, Richard Burroughs, was subsequently fired.

The FDA even published a paper in Science, a highly respected, peer-reviewed journal, showing that rBGH was safe. However, this paper was based on a summary of research done by Monsanto. The original data, which the FDA authors did not have, showed that there was an adverse response to the ingestion of rBGH.

It has also been revealed that Monsanto hired PR firms to spy on activists who were campaigning against the release of rBGH.

Monsanto produces for sale in the US a genetically modified potato. This is approved for release using the condition of "substantial equivalence" to non-genetically modified food, the same condition that is used in Australia. This so-called "New Leaf" potato is modified to produce the Bt protein, which is toxic to certain potato pests; the potato is required to be registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency as a pesticide.

Monsanto's history as a chemical company serves as an indication of what we can expect if it is allowed to bring genetically modified food onto the world market. It has already notified the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority that its GM soybeans contains additional DNA, a fact not in the original application. Monsanto had to recall canola in Canada in 1997 due to it also containing an unapproved gene.

This puts into question the testing that Monsanto does and the reviewing of this data by the ANZFA (it does no independent testing). The drive for profit will always take precedence over the environment or even the respect for scientific practice and regulation.

By Daniel Jardine

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.