Monsanto, I have decided will be my personal swear word from now on. If I think you are a psycho, a monster, a villain (female protagonists from the Tamil Film Industry, somehow tend to like you – should I rather term you as an anti-hero?!?), a vampire ( agreed I hate exaggerated romance in general, but Twilight just makes me want to throw up) — I will call you a monsanto. No, don’t google for the actual meaning of the word, you will be surprised why I would call you “sacred mountain”. Try googling just “Monsanto” and take a brief look at the wiki page. Since we all live in an information bubble these days, and I know it is time consuming to hunt for the information about the word I used, to offend you big time. I will give you a brief introduction, right here in this post.
To show you the extent of my “This is really, really creepy!” attitude about this whole Monsanto business, I will have to tell you how I came to know about it. I was googling about the Bt Cotton issue in India, I knew just the basics of it. So, I was just hoping for the regular corrupt business, scam, cheap politicians, poor ignorant people in the right mix. Similar to a commercial movie like ‘Vettai’, it’s just going to be different players in the same game. When I actually started reading about it on the Internet I could only react like this:
Because, it turned out to be like the movie ‘Three’ where the hero goes into Psycho mode all of a sudden, and you just sit there blankly staring, not understanding why exactly all of this is happening nor why you spent 11$ for a movie that seems never to end. So, you sincerely try to entertain yourself by laughing at the really wrong places. Unlike the movie’s lead though, Monsanto has been a psycho all the while. And you just cannot enjoy anything that it has been doing since its inception in 1901.
I became obsessed with it. I started reading about the company not restricting myself with the issues in India, I watched a lot of documentaries too. And this is what I realized: Monsanto, is a huge psycho monster. I am pretty sure that someone mentioned to me about this company some years back, because when I was reading certain articles it was Deja vu for me (Since my retaining capacity is practically nil, it must have just evaporated from my brain. I blame Chennai’s heat for that!). Let me start out by giving a brief introduction about ‘Monsantoland’. I will start having individual chapters for each of its success stories!
The company was started by a Mr.Queeny in 1901, in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, he named it after his wife’e maiden name (with this you would think he was a rather sweet guy!). Their first product was Saccharin (artificial sweetener), it was sold to Coca-Cola. It seems like he had some friends from India, always serve the sweet first and then go ahead with the rest of the food, and keep serving till the guy bursts! Then, during World War I, Monsanto was forced to create its own chemicals, since European Import was cut off. Sales crossed 1 million for the first time during this phase and it established itself as a leading chemical industry in US. It also started adding more products like caffeine, vanillin, sedatives and laxatives, one major drug that it produced was aspirin. It also diversified to manufacture phenol, an anti septic during WWI.
In late 1920′s the son took over the company. This was when it produced PCBs-polychlorinated biphenyls , translate it to poison, if you are a chemistry hater like me! This product had a lot of issues associated with it, it is a potent carcinogen (a complete chapter will be dedicated for this) and was finally banned in 1970′s. As you all know it, sons would be expected to extend and strengthen their father’s assets and he did it so beautifully, by diversifying into plastics, vinyl, rubber, pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides and other basic industrial chemicals.
During the World War II, Monsanto played a significant role in the research on Uranium in the Manhattan Project to develop an atom bomb, the chairman of the board was even present at the first test explosion. The 1940′s was also mainly plastics & synthetic fibres, one such product was Polystyrene (still widely used in food packaging) it ranks 5th in the list of chemicals that produces most hazardous waste as byproducts. It started manufacturing DDT, an insecticide in 1944, which was much welcomed (due to malaria transmitting mosquitoes), but was eventually banned in 1972. Following this, it also started manufacturing herbicides 2,4,5-T which contains dioxins (again, in general terms – poison). In late 1950′s it had many attractions, that mainly revolved around the virtues of chemicals and plastics, created in Disney’s tomorrowland (and that’s the way to attract the kids!)
Agent Orange, 2009, by J. Henry Fair
The next major villainy product was Agent Orange, this was produced by around 36 companies during the Vietnam War, but the major producers were Monsanto and Dow chemicals (another psycho corporate). But, Monsanto’s Agent Orange had the highest level of dioxins. The US military sprayed nearly 20 million gallons, during 1962 to 1971. More than 20% of South Vietnam’s forest was sprayed at least once, the main goal was to defoliate the forests and rural land depriving guerrillas the cover and to make the independent rural people move to US dominated cities, thus weakening the guerillas’ position even more. This contaminated more than 3 million people and 400,000 people were killed or maimed.
In 1968, the son (Edgar Queeny) dies, the crazy part is he left no heirs. So much for a company that quoted “We cannot afford to lose even a dollar of our business” in one of its confidential reports, regarding the PCB issue. It also starts to mass-produce LEDs, from 1968 to 1970 the sales doubled, and their products became the standards of the industry. It became a pioneer in the optoelectronics industry. it makes one wonder if there is anything that this company left untouched. That’s when the BioTech era comes in, for Monsanto. By far, the most freaky one!
In early 1970s, Monsanto started marketing and selling Roundup, it’s most famous product. It has been the number one selling herbicide till date. This is an “unselective” herbicide, which means it basically kills anything that is green. The label for this product was changed often, due to false information given like “bio-degradable”. Monsanto was also accused of advertising this product as safe , when in reality it wasn’t and after the lawsuit it was required to change it as “toxic for aquatic life” and “dangerous to environment”. There have been cases resulting in death of the person, after deliberate ingestion of Roundup from 85-200 ml.
The patent, that it acquired for Roundup was valid only till 2000, since Roundup was already accounting to 10% of its revenue, Monsanto was desperate for a new strategy to keep it that way. This is when it started selling Roundup ready seeds — Roundup Ready Soy beans and Round up Ready Canola. It had been concentrating on Genetic Engineering for some years now. This would let the farmers, to plant the seeds and spray the Roundup herbicide to the whole field. The weeds die, and the crops live. So, in short, they modified the seeds genetically to be resistant to roundup. Now this is a new invention, and for a psychopath like Monsanto, which claimed numerous patents on already existing grains (once patenting on crops was legalized in 1930′s), patenting its creation is only logical. So, it has patent rights for those seeds. Which would mean, a farmer cannot save the seeds for his next harvest. Monsanto, also filed many lawsuits on farmers, claiming that they have been saving seeds.
Now, the main issue with genetically modified food crops is that they cross pollinate. Introducing them in an uncontrolled environment, and letting other crops be contaminated is really not good for the future of our food. Industrializing agriculture already made 97% of food crops grown in early 20th century extinct. And, all of a sudden, Botany, the subject that made me sleep almost immediately, every time I start studying … danced in my mind, I could see my 12th grade book mouthing ” Ha Ha … In your face”. There was also another version of genetically modified crops that Monsanto manufactured, BT crops like BT corn and BT cotton. Yes, the reason why I started looking into Monsanto’s ugly life, in the first place. Every cell in this crop is engineered to have Bt, which is in essence an insecticide. So if a caterpillar so much as dares to do it’s slow, gravity-defying crawl on a corn plant, it’s dead! Monsanto, also wanted to monopolise the GM seeds game, so it started buying a lot of seed companies. It also owns 11,000 patents! (I will mention about the patent fiasco, in the later chapters in detail!). So controlling food, is what it all boils down to! Which freaked me the most, and that’s why I staring at my laptop like this: (yes, the picture is gender specific, this time!)
The company also branched out to ‘genetic manipulation’ of animals, rBGH (Bovine Growth Hormone), which increases milk production in dairy cattle. The hormone simulates IGF-1 (Insulin like Growth Factor) is a carcinogen that is associated with various forms of cancer like prostate, lung, colon and breast cancer. It has been banned in many countries, not in US though. The reason is,”Monsanto’s Revolving Doors”. This typically means that many of Monsanto’s higher executives/lawyers etc have joined the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and taken up many powerful Government positions, infiltrating the system.
I am pretty sure by now, you got tired of all the facts, and say “Alright, I get the point. The company was a psychopath, and you are offending me by mentioning that I am one too”. But what I really want is to create a swear word, that has a strong basis for a meaning, I am just sick of random words being invented with a zillion meanings attached to it over the period of time, by people who really don’t know what the word actually means. So I give the right to you, to scream the word “Monsanto” at person whom you think is a psychopathic devil! This way, we get the word spread and let off some steam without thinking twice if there is a child nearby.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0uls507hvM — world according to Monsanto – a documentary
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnD-DiDRIJA – The Future of Food – a documentary