How one of the top 10 US chemical companies used the world’s biggest selling pesticide to turn itself into a GM giant in order to try and escape its past
A guide through the smokescreen Patenting also inhibits public sector research and further undermines the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds. Monsanto devotes an annual budget of 10 million dollars to harassing, intimidating, suing – and in some cases bankrupting – American farmers over alleged improper use of its patented seeds. Monsanto produced PCBs for over 50 years and they are now virtually omnipresent in the blood and tissues of humans and wildlife around the globe. These days PCBs are banned from production and some experts say there should be no acceptable level of PCBs allowed in the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says, “PCB has been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system.” But the evidence of widespread contamination from PCBs and related chemicals has been accumulating from 1965 onwards and internal company papers show that Monsanto knew about the PCB dangers from early on. For instance, toxicity tests on the effects of two PCBs in 1953 showed that more than 50% of the rats subjected to them died, and all of them showed damage.
GM Myth Makers This concentration of corporate power drives up costs for farmers and consumers. Retail prices for Roundup have increased from just $32 per gallon in December 2006 to $45 per gallon a year later, to $75 per gallon by June 2008 – a 134% price hike in less than two years. Because gene technologies can be patented, they also concentrate corporate power – by 2000 five pesticide companies, including Monsanto, controlled over 70% of all patents on agricultural biotechnology. And this concentration again drives up costs. According to Keith Mudd of the U.S.-based Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), “The lack of competition and innovation in the marketplace has reduced farmers’ choices and enabled Monsanto to raise prices unencumbered.” GM Reports
In 2008 the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations condemned corporate profiteering: “The essential purpose of food, which is to nourish people, has been subordinated to the economic aims of a handful of multinational corporations that monopolize all aspects of food production, from seeds to major distribution chains, and they have been the prime beneficiaries of the world crisis. A look at the figures for 2007, when the world food crisis began, shows that corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill, which control the cereals market, saw their profits increase by 45 and 60 per cent, respectively.” The success of Roundup coincided with the recognition by Monsanto executives that they needed to radically transform a company increasingly under threat. According to a recent paper by Dominic Glover, “Monsanto had acquired a particularly unenviable reputation in this regard, as a major producer of both dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – both persistent environmental pollutants posing serious risks to the environment and human health. Law suits and environmental clean-up costs began to cut into Monsanto’s bottom line, but more seriously there was a real fear that a serious lapse could potentially bankrupt the company.” Monsanto’s biotech seeds and traits (including those licensed to other companies) accounted for almost 90% of the total world area devoted to GM seeds by 2007. Today, over 80% of the worldwide area devoted to GM crops carries at least one genetic trait for herbicide tolerance. Herbicides account for about one-third of the global pesticide market. Monsanto’s glyphosate-resistant (Roundup Ready) seeds have reigned supreme on the biotech scene for over a decade – creating a near-monopoly for the company’s Roundup herbicide – which is now off patent. Roundup is the world’s biggest selling pesticide and it has helped make Monsanto the world’s fifth largest agrochemical company.