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GMOs and Monsanto

The United States is undergoing a possible gene cataclysm and we can blame it on Monsanto and the U.S. Government

Earlier this year, I kept hearing an ad on my local news radio station (WTOP in the DC Metro Area) which made me angry. It was an ad run by Monsanto touting how they are a part of the sustainable movement.  Now, sustainable to those of us who are proponents of healthy food, is defined as ” a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities.”  I was confused as to how Monsanto, a gigantic bio-technology firm, who is responsible for most of the GMO plants currently being raised (as well as DDT and Agent Orange), could tout themselves as sustainable. And in the end, they can’t.  What they are doing is trying to glom onto a concept that is accepted as being healthy and changing what it means.

This article turned out to be much longer than I anticipated, with over 50 links to the research I used.  I hope you aren’t intimidated by the length.  It was necessary to get everything in.

Who is Monsanto?

Monsanto was founded in 1901 as a chemical company. It’s very first product was saccharine; an artificial sweetener derived from coal tar, that has been associated with hives, eczema, nausea, headaches and diarrhea. While there have been some studies that indicate an association with bladder cancer when the saccharine is combined with cyclamates (another artificial sweetener), the studies are not definitive and saccharine is still sold in the United States today as “Sweet and Low”.

Monsanto went on to produce DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a synthetic insecticide, which was eventually banned by the U.S. government after results showed that the product was poisoning wildlife and the environment and also endangering human health.  In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Monsanto also produced Agent Orange (a herbicide and defoliant) for U.S. military operations in Vietnam. Agent Orange was responsible for approximately 400,000 people being killed or maimed, and 500,000 children being born with birth defects. Women in areas sprayed with Agent Orange had higher rates of miscarriage and stillbirths as well.

Between 1997 and 2002, Monsanto sold or spun off all of its chemical companies (except agricultural chemicals such as Roundup), and concentrated on bio-technology instead. The Monsanto that worked with chemicals and the Monsanto that promotes bio-technology are two distinct legal corporations, although they share the same name and corporate headquarters. This gives Monsanto the opportunity to blame all the problems they have had in the past on “Old Monsanto”, and giving “New Monsanto” a clean bill of health. But really, if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig right?  And the new Monsanto has plenty to distinguish itself in the areas of hurting people and the environment in its own right.

Monsanto has embarked on a buying spree of seed companies which includes Seminis, a company that provides seeds for a large number of other seed companies. Many seed companies actually are owned, or purchase seeds from a Monsanto subsidiary. For the record, Burpee a large seed seller for home gardens, is not owned by Monsanto but does purchase some seeds from Seminis. It does not sell GMO seeds.

Monsanto began working with GMO plant cells in 1982 and conducted its first field tests of GMO plants in 1987.  Since then they have marketed their GMO seeds and now control approximately 90% of the GMO seeds sold commercially.

It also began marketing rBGH (Bovine Growth Hormone also known as BST) after FDA approval in 1994.

A History of Monsanto Putting Profits over People

Monsanto doesn’t really have ever seemed to worry about the health risks to the people (or animals) that consume or come in contact with their products.  Monsanto has been identified by the EPA as being a potentially responsible party for 56 contaminated (Superfund) sites in the United States and has settled multiple lawsuits over damaging the health of its employees or residents near these Superfund sites through pollution and poisoning.

Monsanto began producing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the United States in 1929.  At first PCB’s were considered a wonder chemical, an unburnable oil which was non-degradable with almost limitless applications such as coolants, flame retardants, pvc coatings, paints, and insulating fluids. As time went on, PCB’s were implicated in a number of health risks including: cancer, immune system issues, reproductive issues, neurological problems, and a decrease in thyroid production.  Based on, now public, Monsanto documents (which were originally marked as “CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy”), the company knew about the problems with PCBs from the beginning. One Monsanto memo said, “We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business”.  PCBs eventually destroyed the town of Anniston, Alabama

Studies have been done that highly suggest consumption of rBGH milk poses risks of both breast and colon cancer.  Monsanto also knowingly promoted rBGH after its own studies showed that cows in test rBGH test herds, developed sores and lesions on their udders which were called mastitis. Milk from these cows contained increased levels of pus, blood and bacteria. At that time, Monsanto’s top dairy scientist left the firm and joined the FDA. Once at the FDA, she (Margaret Miller, now deputy director of the FDA’s Office of New Animal Drugs) increased the allowable levels of antibiotics by 100 times. No wonder the FDA considers raw milk to be such an issue, I wouldn’t drink raw milk coming from a cow injected with rBGH either. It also turns out that the FDA approved rBGH before information was even available regarding how rBGH milk might affect human health. Even after information became available about IGF-1 (Insuline Like Growth Factor 1, a natural hormone whose production is stimulated by rBGH) and its links to human cancer, the FDA was content to rely almost entirely on data generated and provided by Monsanto itself which of course indicated nothing of the kind.

Because it’s pretty obvious that many people would choose to purchase milk not containing rBGH if  milk products were labeled, Monsanto has filed lawsuits against dairies that have labeled their products as having “No Artificial Growth Hormones”.  The FDA at the same time, issued a statement about “misleading” hormone free labels which took away our right to know. Monsanto also managed to pull an uncomplimentary investigative report on a Fox news station in Florida.

In the late 1980’s, a FDA scientist was fired after expressing concerns about possible health problems related to rBGH milk.  Six Canadian government scientists testified they were being pressured by superiors to approve rBGH. One of the Canadian scientists testified that documents criticizing Monsanto’s provided scientific data was stolen from a locked filing cabinet in her office and Monsanto officials offered the Health Canada scientists $1-$2 million dollars. An offer, she told the Canadian Senate, could only have been interpreted as a bribe. Monsanto said later that the offer was for research money (again lipstick on a pig).  Three of these scientists were fired from Health Canada in 2004.

In 2005, Monsanto was fined $1.5 million by the US Department of Justice for offering bribes to more than 140 officials in Indonesia to gain approval of GMO cotton in that country.

In Kemmer vs. Monsanto, a lawsuit filed in 1991 over dioxin toxicity, it was revealed that scientific studies for Monsanto by a Dr. Suskind between 1980 and 1984 had been falsified.  Dioxin is a by-product of PCB manufacturing which has been proven to be responsible for congenital birth defects, reproductive and developmental disorders, and promote an increase in cancer, heart disease and diabetes in laboratory rats.  “It was found that Monsanto covered up the dioxin contamination of a wide range of its products, Monsanto either failed to prevent contamination, substituted false information purporting to show no contamination or submitted samples to the government for analysis which had been specially prepared so that dioxin contamination did not exist.” Dioxins are responsible for destroying the health of residents of Nitro, West Virginia.

In 1983, the EPA announced that a 1976 audit (note the 7 years after the fact) of toxicology studies conducted by Industrial BioTest Laboratories for pesticide registrations contained “serious deficiencies and improprieties”. These issues included: “countless deaths of rats and mice that were not reported.”, “fabricated data tables”, and “routine falsifications of data”.  The tests that were falsified were performed on glyphosate and glyphosate containing products (Roundup).

In 1991, Craven Laboratories and three employees were indicted on 20 felony counts. The EPA charged the laboratory, which performed contract studies for a large number of pesticide companies including Monsanto, with falsifying test results on “48 Roundup residue studies on  potatoes, grapes and sugarbeets”.

Monsanto and its connection to the U.S. Government

Amazingly (or maybe not), there has been a number of Monsanto executive and scientists who have joined the FDA and worked on items and policies that directly had bearing on the same products they worked on when they employed by Monsanto. As well, some highly placed government officials have gone over to work with Monsanto and its subsidiaries. Amazingly enough in 1994 the GAO (Government Accountability Office) determined that these people’s former association with Monsanto didn’t pose a conflict of interest!

Michael Taylor – appointed by President Obama as America’s Food Safety Czar is also the senior advisor to the commissioner of the FDA.  In the early 90’s he oversaw the policy regarding the rBGH that Monsanto created. He had previously been a lawyer for Monsanto for seven years. He helped Monsanto determine if the Corporation could sue states or companies that wanted to label their products as free from Monsanto products. He also wrote the disclaimer issued by the FDA in 1994 stating that “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST treated cows.”

Margaret Miller, a former Monsanto research scientist working on the rBGH safety studies until 1989, joined the FDA in the area of New Animal Drug Evaluation. She ended up reviewing her own research and increasing the level of allowable antibodies in animals by 100 times while at the FDA.

Michael A. Friedman, M.D., former acting commissioner of the FDA department of Health and Human Services left the FDA and is now senior vice-president for clinical affairs at G.D. Searle & Co., a pharmaceutical division of Monsanto.

And while not part of the FDA:

Mickey Kantor (former Secretary at the Department of Commerce and a former Trade Representative of the United States) is on Monsanto’s Board of Directors.

Donald Rumsfeld (former President of G.D. Searle & Co., a Monsanto subsidiary) – Former Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush.

Linda Fischer (Executive Vice President, Monsanto) EPA Deputy Administrator under George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton

Islam Siddiqui (Former Monsanto Lobbyist), appointed Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative by Barack Obama.

Supreme Court

Justice Clarence Thomas was part of the law firm King and Spaulding and was a Monsanto Lawyer from 1976-1979.  In April of 2010, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monsanto vs. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475.  While, Justice Thomas’s tenure at King and Spaulding was prior to any GMO action on Monsanto’s part, there was still a connection to the company.  Justice Thomas chose not to recuse himself

In December, 20o9, Elena Kagan, President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, was Solicitor General. At that time, she chose to intervene in (Monsanto vs. Geertson Seed Farms) defending Monsanto’s right to spread its GM alfalfa. Kagan wrote, “The district court failed to find either that respondents had suffered or were likely to suffer irreparable harm…” This was in direct competition with the lower court’s ruling of “contamination of organic and conventional alfalfa crops with the genetically engineered gene has occurred and defendants acknowledge as much. Such contamination is irreparable environmental harm.”

US Department of Agriculture

Tom Vilsack, appointed Secretary by President Obama was previously the Governor of Iowa.  As Governor, he was a leading advocate for Monsanto, genetic engineering and factory farming. He has advocated the most dangerous forms of agriculture, including GMO’s and pharma crops (which are plants genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals).  These crops can and do easily contaminate existing conventional and organic crops. Governor Vilsack didn’t want any restrictions placed on these fields, arguing that “we should not overreact and hamstring this industry”.

Ann Veneman, former Secretary of Agriculture 2001 – 2005, is a member of Calgene’s Board of Director’s (purchased by Monsanto).

Monsanto’s and GMO’s

In 1982 Monsanto was the first firm to genetically modify a plant. Monsanto began field testing genetically engineered crops in 1987.  Most of Monsanto’s business now revolves around GMO crops and its Roundup Ready herbicide. Monsanto concentrated on developing GMO seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup.  Basically, a farmer can spray Roundup on a field planted with Monsanto’s GMO plants to kill any weeds without killing their crops.  Of course this put a lot of Roundup onto a field, adding in all the issues we’ve already covered with health risks and glyphosate (see previous article).

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, extended patent law to cover “a live human-made microorganism”. While the original ruling was about a bacterium, Monsanto began taking advantage of the ruling and began patenting its GMO seeds. In 2008, Monsanto successfully patented 675 biotechnology items.  While the actual number is not known, Monsanto controls over 90% of the GMO seed genetics.

Roundup Ready seeds are considered a no-till system. Rather than rely on plowing or other labor-intensive weed control methods (such as tilling, or *gasp* weeding or mulching), farmers using this system use the Roundup Ready herbicide to control the weeds. Also, only the Roundup Ready herbicide will work on these fields, since the application of any other herbicide will kill the crop. Because of this, in the United States alone, the “widespread adoption of Roundup Ready crops combined with the emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds has driven more than a 15-fold increase in the use of glyphosate on major field crops from 1994-2005.”  Say hi to the superweed.

Nature is a curious thing. As Charles Darwin noted, “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” So in an environment designed to kill weeds using an herbicide, weeds which manage to survive will propagate and will continue to survive regardless of the applications of that particular herbicide.  Because plants cross-pollinate, the resistance to the herbicide continues to cross-contaminate weeds and allows for more weeds to become herbicide resistant.

So what do farmers do in this case?  They spray more herbicides on their field hoping to kill these super-weeds and the cycle continues. Monsanto basically denies it can happen and also says that the possibilities of it happening are low.  ‘Not so, countered Thomas Nickson, an ecological technology coordinator for Monsanto Co., the St. Louis-based plant biotechnology giant. “The risk of creating a superweed,” Nickson said, “is truly an insignificant one.

Unfortunately, Monsanto was wrong. In 2009, 10 resistant weed species in at least 22 states have taken over millions of acres of crops, primarily corn, soybeans and cotton. Recently, Monsanto is poised to release a new set of GMO seeds, these which are designed to resist not only Roundup, but another pesticide as well.  Get ready for seeds which resist both Roundup and Dow AgroScience’s pesticide, 2,4-D.

2,4-D is not a new pesticide; in fact it’s been around since World War II. It was actually one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange.  Studies suggest that 2,4-D is linked to cancer, and reproductive issues including infant mortality.

Monsanto and Farmers

When Monsanto began marketing Roundup Ready GMO seeds to farmers, they did so with a promise of increased yields and lower costs. In 1994, they began marketing rBGH (brand name Posilac) to farmers as a way of increasing milk yields. (Note Eli Lilly bought Posilac from Monsanto in 2008 through their subsidiary Elanco).

Dairy farmers began seeing issues in their dairy herds, shortly after injecting their herds with Posilac. A farmer in Florida began seeing both udder and hoof problems in his herd. He ended up calling both Monsanto and the dairy experts at the University of Florida who basically told him he was the only one who was having these problems.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t true.  Hundreds of farms were having these problems and when notified, Monsanto was supposed to report those issues to the FDA, which it delayed for a long time.

In order to deal with mastitis, which is an udder infection that can eventually end up in the milk if not treated and the hoof infections, farmers ended up having to treat their cows with antibiotics. Although Monsanto insisted that there are safeguards to detect antibiotics in the milk, it’s not true. Most tests only look at 4 out of a possible 82 commercially used antibiotics. Animals on Posilac also required more feed, thus increasing costs.  Antibiotics in milk that are not tested for might be passed into humans, increasing the number of antibiotic resistant diseases.

When Monsanto began selling rBGH milk, many dairies not buying it chose to label their milk as rBGH (or BST) free since consumers indicated a preference for milk that was free of it.  Monsanto filed lawsuits against some of these dairy farmers and at least one co-op forcing them to change their labels. The FDA stepped in and any label that states that the milk comes from cows not treated with the hormone must also state, “Government studies have shown no significant difference between milk derived from rBGH-treated and non-rBGH-treated cows.” However, many dairies are afraid to label their hormone-free milk or milk products as such because Monsanto has pushed back on “Deceptive Advertising”, first by filing claims with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and after the FTC rejected it, at the state level.

With Monsanto’s success at dominating the seed market, it has become difficult, if not impossible for farmers of commodity crops to find high quality, conventional varieties of commodity crops such as corn, soy, or cotton. Additionally, university research has started focusing towards biotech applications and away from producing new, conventional seed crops. This has forced many commercial growers to purchase GM seeds. And when they do they are in for a big surprise.

Because Monsanto has patented these seeds, the farmers are forced to sign a technology agreement when they purchase the seed, which grants Monsanto the right to control that seed even after the farmer has planted the crop and brought it to harvest. This agreement requires that farmers give up saving their seeds (a practice going back to antiquity which allows farmers to develop a broad genetic field based on cross-breeding). In many cases, the farmer doesn’t even know about the technology agreement since seed dealers commonly sign the farmers’ name to these contracts. This forces a farmer to buy new seed every year, rather than saving and replanting their saved seed. These agreements allow Monsanto, broad access to a farmer’s documentation as well as their fields.

Because the pollen of plants is normally carried out of a particular farmer’s field and will pollinate other fields which were planted with conventional crops. Monsanto’s “patented” technology is then found on farms which never planted the crops (and never signed a technology agreement). Monsanto has successfully used patent law to sue these farmers for patent infringement.

Because many countries have banned imports of GM crops, the markets outside of the United States for these crops are limited. Monsanto places the burdens for finding these markets directly on the farmer.

The most egregious portion of these technology agreements in my opinion is that they provide that growers using genetically engineered seeds are under no obligation to prevent the spread of patented genetic traits to other neighboring farms. The Technology Use Guide states that growers of non-genetically engineered crops that certify their crops for specific markets “…assume the responsibility and receive the benefit for ensuring that their crop meets…specifications for purity.”  Basically, placing the blame for not protecting their crops from GM contamination on the conventional or organic farmers’ themselves.

And woe to the farmer who decides to get away from Monsanto, the company regularly goes onto the fields of farmers’ who choose to not renew their agreement looking for plants that have the Monsanto genetic patent. It doesn’t matter if the plant is a volunteer that sprouted from before, or has been contaminated from another farm. Monsanto then initiates (or threatens) a lawsuit. Monsanto has a department of 75 employees with a budget of $10 million dollars to investigate and prosecute farmers for patent infringement.  Successful lawsuits routinely involve punitive damages which bankrupt farmers.

Recently the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that organic farmers can sue GMO and conventional farmers for ‘trespass’ of pesticides and GMOs.  Note that the organic farmer can sue another farmer, not Monsanto. Monsanto puts the entire burden of outside lawsuits against the farmer who signs their technology agreement. It’s unclear whether this court ruling can be used for a farmer to sue Monsanto.

Remember that Monsanto markets its seeds as producing increased yields with less need for intensive weed management.  Just spray your farm with Roundup, plant the Roundup Ready seeds, spray again and wait for the money to roll in.  Unfortunately, the promise doesn’t pan out. Crop yields in GM crops do not improve and because of the super-weed issue, GM crops require more pesticides and herbicides to grow to market.  Monsanto also raises the fees farmers have to pay for their seeds each year, and remember, once a farmer signs with Monsanto, they are effectively locked into that agreement.

Because of the lawsuits Monsanto files as well as the decrease in yields and increase in costs, many farmers are now facing bankruptcy.  This isn’t just in the United States either. In India, an estimated 200,000 farmers, having drunk from the cup of Monsanto’s promises of increased yields and high income, then drank insecticide , committing suicide after having their GM crops fail time after time, leaving them in debt with no income.


If you have read through this entire article, I thank you.  It was a hard article to write, especially as I delved deeper into the research. Simply put, Monsanto is after their own gain and does not seem to care what they do to profit. From contaminating fields to falsifying research and putting their own people into high levels of government where they oversee their own research, this company has done more to damage America than any other corporation. And we are complicit.  We naively believe that the government promotes food safety without looking into the truth. We believe our government is looking after our best interests.  They aren’t and unless we start doing something about it, I have real concerns for humanity and its ability to rise up over the poisoning of our food supply that Monsanto has helped propagate.  I am not saying Monsanto is the only bio-technology firm that is doing this, but they are the largest and as I have demonstrated in this article, they put their profits over people.

But hey, according to the Supreme Court, corporations are now people, so I guess homo-sapiens will just give way to homo -corporations.



rBGH and Milk Testing

Monsanto and Dioxon

Monsanto and PCBs

Monsanto and Roundup


Monsanto and Farmers


Monsanto and The U.S. Government


This is the third in a series of articles that I am releasing over the few months on the subject of Genetically Modified Foods.  As I started the research, the subject became too large to be written in one post. The series consists of:

  1. Whats’s all the Fuss about GMOs
  2. GMO Health Risks
  3. GMOs and Monsanto
  4. Identifying Sources of GMOs in your Food.

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2 Responses to “GMOs and Monsanto”

  1. NB says:

    Thank you for this thorough and well-written article. I will share with all my friends.

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