Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Monsanto Mess Part 1: The Company

We've been hearing a ton about Monsanto over the past several months. While I've kept up with the most recent developments due to the importance I place on what I eat and where it comes from, I'm definitely lacking in historical information regarding Monsanto and the bigger picture in general. Today I find myself with some time and decided to do some research because we should ALL be informed about who is doing what to our food and what kind of background they have. If you're not angry yet (and I do know a lot of you are) then you ought to be when you finish reading this little multi-part-stay-tuned-for-more set of blog posts on who these jerks are and what they're doing. My hope with this blog is to ignite some passion in everyone about healthy eating and, as always, to inform people about why what they're putting in their body matters...a lot. Monsanto is doing things that will most likely effect many people's health in the long term and I don't mean in a good way.


Who is Monsanto?

A quick read on Wikipedia reveals a long list of awesomely terrible stuff that Monsanto has had their hands in over the years. I mean, seriously, it's like an Onion article-I can't even believe this list is real. They are pretty much the devil, as far as I'm concerned, in that nearly every single thing they have been involved with has been deemed really bad for either a) people b) the environment or c) both.

1901-1960s

The company began in 1901 producing and providing artificial sweetener (saccharin) to Coca-Cola. OK, I mean, I think artificial sweetener is terrible shit that totally screws with our bodies when consumed and eats our teeth enamel, but not the end of the world, I suppose, compared to this other stuff:

-Sulfuric Acid: OK, plenty of useful stuff needs sulfuric acid
-Polystyrene aka Styrofoam: No known microorganism has yet been shown to biodegrade polystyrene, and it is often abundant as a form of pollution in the outdoor environment
-2,4,5-T: used to defoliate broad-leafed plants & was phased out in the 1970s due to toxicity concerns
-DDT
-Agent Orange
(Pretty sure we all know how those went)
-Aspartame: another bullshit artificial sweetener that has been deemed "safe" despite some medical studies showing otherwise
-Bovine Somatotropin: an artificial growth hormone used in milk production that has been banned in the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan
-PCBs: I'm sure you recall that these were present in things like old ACs. They have been banned in the US since the late 70s. PCBs have a half life of 8 to 10 years so they hang around in the environment for a long long time.
-Operated Mound Laboratories during the Manhattan Project aka the development of the first nuclear weapon

Now, in all fairness, this was prior to a lot of awareness regarding the potential for the long lasting damage these things could do. I'm sure there are other companies out there whose laundry list of products they once manufactured in the first half of the 20th century would look, to modern eyes, like they were trying to destroy the planet and everyone/thing on it. Right? Maybe? However, my concern is this: here we have a company with a history of manufacturing things without fully understanding or caring to understand the long term repercussions. That's what I take away from this era of Monsanto and that's what freaks me out when thinking about the fact that this company is now focused on "improving agriculture" (their words).


1970s
In the 1970s Monsanto turned their focus to optoelectrics (LEDs and digital faces for clocks,watches etc).

1980s
Monsanto genetically modifies a plant cell and by the late 80s is starting to field test genetically modified crops.


1990s-early 2000s
Monsanto gradually switches its focus from chemical based manufacturing to biotechnology. Their main products are currently genetically modified seeds for corn, alfalfa, soy, cotton, canola, sugarbeats & wheat and herbicides. Additionally the also offer a variety of genetically modified vegetable seeds.

Which brings us to more current times:

Interestingly enough, the current biotech focused incarnation of Monsanto specifically tries to separate itself from its prior identity as a chemical manufacturer. From the Monsanto website, the first few sentences of the Company History page are the following:

"Monsanto is a relatively new company. While we share the name and history of a company that was founded in 1901, the Monsanto of today is focused on agriculture and supporting farmers around the world in their mission to produce more while conserving more." (More on the irony of "supporting farmers" later.)

While technically the Monsanto of today IS legally a separate entity, they still share the same name, the same corporate offices and many of the same executives and employees. Huh. Yeah, sounds totally separate to me! While I'm sure this is somehow beneficial to them in all kinds of scandalous tax and court case loopholing ways, that's not my focus at the moment, but it does give you an idea of what kind of a company we're dealing with.

Let's just get down to it for real though. I'm pretty sure the priorities of this entire corporate entity can be summed up nicely by this quote from Phil Angell the Director of Corporate Communications at Monsanto 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."


Well fair enough, but to just wash your hands of any and all responsibility to the repercussions of what you're putting out into the market makes you a giant asshole in my book. While I'm sure Monsanto's feelings are not hurt by my opinion, as they are far too busy rolling around in their money pits filled with dollars at the expense of OUR health, I'm pretty sure everyone out there in the world who doesn't work for Monsanto should be pissed. Really pissed. And the only way to show you're really pissed in a meaningful way to a company who only gives a shit about money is to stop buying from brands that use GMO ingredients and tell them why. Scroll down here for a list. I know there's been one going around facebook as well, though I believe the header is "Companies owned by Monsanto", that's misleading in that they aren't owned by them, but use ingredients that are bought from growers of Monsanto GMO crops. By the way, according to that linked site, 91% of soy, 88% of cotton and 75% or corn grown in the US is genetically modified.

Next entry I'll talk about some studies showing the health issues associated with GMO foods, what GMO means exactly and why it's being allowed here yet being fought tooth and nail over in Europe. Here's a big hint (click to enlarge):


Now let's end this with kittens shall we?