Environment & Health
According to an anonymous 2001 document obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, Monsanto has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as being a “potentially responsible party” for 56 contaminated sites (Superfund sites) in the United States. Monsanto has been sued, and has settled, multiple times for damaging the health of its employees or residents near its Superfund sites through pollution and poisoning. In 2004 The Wildlife Habitat Council and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Performance Track presented a special certificate of recognition to Monsanto Company during WHC’s 16th Annual Symposium.
Monsanto is the largest producer of glyphosate herbicides through its popular brand, Roundup. A report released in June 2011 linked glyphosate to birth defects in frog and chicken embryos at dilutions much lower than those used in agricultural and garden spraying. http://www.scribd.com/doc/57277946/RoundupandBirthDefectsv5
Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications (referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) explained the company’s regulatory philosophy to Michael Pollan in 1998: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA’s job.”
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Many of Monsanto’s seed products are specifically genetically modified to make them resistant to Monsanto produced agricultural chemicals, such as “Round Up” herbicide. In a study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences, researchers applied a different statistical analysis on raw data obtained from Monsanto and concluded that these GM corn (maize) varieties induced a state of hepatorenal toxicity. They suggested that the presence of the new pesticides associated with the inserted genes were responsible, although the possibility that this could be due to a mutation during the transformation process was not excluded.
Monsanto was drawn into the Genetically modified food controversies over the Pusztai affair. Dr. Arpad Pusztai’s experiments suggested that it was the process of genetic engineering, not the presence of the inserted lectin gene that altered the thickness of the gut epithelium in rats when fed genetically modified potatoes. In other words it was the process of genetic engineering itself, not the presence of pesticides caused by the engineering which caused the damage to rats. The publication of this study has resulted in much controversy.
In June 2007, Monsanto acquired Delta & Pine Land Company, a company that had patented a seed technology nicknamed Terminators. This technology, which was never known to have been used commercially, produces plants that have sterile seeds so they do not flower or grow fruit after the initial planting. This prevents the spread of those seeds into the wild, however it also requires customers to repurchase seed for every planting in which they use Terminator seed varieties. In recent years, widespread opposition from environmental organizations and farmer associations has grown, mainly out of the concerns that hypothetical seeds using this technology could increase farmers’ dependency on seed suppliers.
Despite the fact that in 1999, Monsanto pledged not to commercialize Terminator technology, Delta Vice President, Harry Collins, declared at the time in a press interview in the Agra/Industrial Biotechnology Legal Letter, ‘We’ve continued right on with work on the Technology Protection System (TPS or Terminator). We never really slowed down. We’re on target, moving ahead to commercialize it. We never really backed off.’
rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone)
Monsanto sparked controversy nationwide with the introduction of Bovine somatotropin, abbreviated as rBST and commonly known as rBGH. It is a synthetic hormone that is injected into cows to increase milk production. IGF-1 is a hormone stimulated by rBGH in the cow’s blood stream, which is directly responsible for the increase in milk production. IGF-1 is a natural hormone found in the milk of both humans and cows causing the quick growth of infants.
Though this IGF-1 occurs naturally in mothers’ milk to be fed to their infants it produces adverse effects in non-infants, behaving as a cancer accelerator in adults and non-infants; this biologically active hormone is associated with breast cancer (correlation shown in premenopausal women), prostate cancer, lung cancer and colon cancers.
A Monsanto-sponsored survey of milk showed no significant difference in rBST levels in milk labeled as “rBST-Free” or “organic milk” vs milk not labeled as such.
According to The New York Times Monsanto’s brand of rBST, Posilac, has recently (March 2008) been the focus for a pro-rBST advocacy group called AFACT, made up of large dairy business conglomerates and closely affiliated with Monsanto itself. This group has engaged in large-scale lobbying efforts at the state level to prevent milk which is rBST-free from being labeled as such. As milk labeled as hormone-free has proved enormously popular with consumers, the primary justification by AFACT for their efforts has been that rBST is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and that the popularity of milk sold without it is damaging what they claim to be the right of dairy producers to use a technology that maximizes their profits.
Thus far, a large-scale negative consumer response to AFACT’s legislative and regulatory efforts has kept state regulators from pushing through restrictions that would ban hormone-free milk labels, though several politicians have tried, including Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary Dennis Wolff, who tried to ban rBST-free milk labeling on the grounds that “consumers are confused”. The statement by Agriculture Secretary Wolff was reported by pro-biotech site Earth Friendly-Farm Friendly which elaborated on the issues of rBGH/rBST labelling:
“Consumers are getting confused with the extra labels,” said Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Dennis Wolff. “They deserve a choice, and so do producers. But from the standpoint of safety, all milk is healthy milk. Our milk is a safe product. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is not in a position to say use rBST or not. The key word is: choice. I used rBST from day one of its approval to the last day that I milked cows. It was an important management tool on my dairy farm. What we oppose is the negative advertising or the selling of fear. If producers are asked to give up a production efficiency, and if that efficiency nets them $3000 or $10,000 a year for their dairy farm… That’s a lot of money.
Proposed labeling changes have been floated by AFACT lobbyists in New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Utah, Missouri and Vermont thus far.
In October 2008, Monsanto sold this business, in full, to Eli Lilly for a price of $300 million plus additional considerations.
Pollution in Anniston, Alabama
In 2002, The Washington Post carried a front page report on Monsanto’s legacy of environmental damage in Anniston, Alabama related to its legal production of polychlorinated biphenyls(PCBs), a chemical once used as a common electrical insulator, 40 years ago. Plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit provided documentation showing that the local Monsanto factory knowingly discharged both mercury and PCB-laden waste into local creeks for over 40 years. In a story on 27 January, The New York Times reported that during 1969 alone Monsanto had dumped 45 tons of PCBs into Snow Creek, a feeder for Choccolocco Creek which supplies much of the area’s drinking water. The company also buried millions of pounds of PCB in open-pit landfills located on hillsides above the plant and surrounding neighborhoods. In August 2003, Solutia and Monsanto agreed to pay plaintiffs $700 million to settle claims by over 20,000 Anniston residents related to PCB contamination.