Photo: A skit during a protest in Paraguay condemns Monsanto’s greed. GMOs and agrotoxins have degraded fertile lands and caused loss of biodiversity across the country. Photo: Orin Langelle, Asunción, Paraguay (2016) GFC/PhotoLangelle.org
On December 8th 2016, the State of Washington’s Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against Monsanto for contaminating rivers, land, air, people and wildlife. 120 bodies of water in Washington were named as suffering from PCB contamination. This recklessness by Monsanto comes as no surprise and is a glimpse as what to expect if the Bayer Monsanto merger is completed.
From Bayer’s systematic killing of and forced-testing on people in Nazi Germany, to their preventable spread of HIV to thousands, and Monsanto’s deadly development of Agent Orange, PCBs and dioxin, this merger would mark a dangerous new precedent for the biotechnology/biochemical industry if approved.
Together, these two corporations have been responsible for the suffering, torture and deaths of millions. Communities, organizations, small farmers and social movements are working to resist these corporations, and have made a resounding rejection of their merger.
Bayer, Monsanto, Heroin and PCBs–the early years
Bayer, based in Germany, became famous for producing the headache-relieving drug Aspirin in 1899. In 1897, heroin also gained traction with the public, as Bayer was the first to commercially manufacture it. Bayer coined it “Heroin” for the “Heroic” effects upon its first volunteers – Bayer’s very own factory workers. Bayer marketed Heroin as a drinkable health tonic and a remedy for coughing fits. Today, heroin is a key player in the drug abuse epidemic (1).
The first well-documented incident of Monsanto’s disregard for human health originated with the manufacturing of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). In 1935, Monsanto purchased the Swann company to sell PCBs used to make coolant fluids and as components for electrical transformers and motors. Monsanto contracted licenses to manufacture PCBs in the US and internationally, including to Bayer in Germany. In 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the manufacture of PCBs, ruling that they caused cancer in humans and animals.
“In 1957, Monsanto considered the chemicals toxic enough to give workers protective gear and clothing, and encourage them to hose off after each shift. Monsanto researchers and executives began writing confidential memos describing their fears about the chemicals’ toxic effects, but drafted plans for continuing to sell them despite these suspicions.”
Monsanto and other companies exchanged information about the impacts PCBs had on workers, but decided profit was more important.
Orin Langelle, photojournalist and co-founder of Global Justice Ecology Project explains what Monsanto’s actions meant to workers and their families: “My father worked at Wagner Electric in Wellston, Missouri as a journeyman machinist. He worked around transformers that used PCBs as insulating oil. In 1980 he died of malignant melanoma, which PCBs cause. Other workers in his section of the factory died as well and Wagner quickly closed its doors. It wasn’t until years later that the families of the dead workers put it together that all of these deaths were connected to Wagner’s use of PCBs, but Wagner was long gone by then. This was devastating to the families.”
The Wagner Electric plant closed in 1983, receiving a $3 million tax credit in exchange for donating its 55-acre site to St. Louis County. The Wellston Loop newspaper wrote: “But it also left behind a legacy of toxic waste. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were discovered on the site, and although Wagner ultimately paid St. Louis County $2 million, the site remained contaminated.”
Langelle stated, “I will always hold Monsanto responsible for my father’s death as those bastards at Monsanto knew the risks posed to workers for many years, but corporate profits were more important than workers, so they just let the workers go on dying.”
Monsanto’s Other Toxic Legacies
Wagner Electric is one of many sites Monsanto contaminated. In the US, there are nine designated Superfund sites that Monsanto has owned in seven different states. Monsanto contaminated these sites with PCBs, arsenic laden waste, 2,4,5-T (used in Agent Orange), dioxins, cadmium, radium or a combination of these toxins.
In 1983 the entire town of Times Beach, Missouri, population 2,800, had to evacuate due to contamination by dioxin-laced oil that was sprayed on the town’s roads, horse race fields, and lawns. The oil was linked to a Monsanto plant. Monsanto refused to take responsibility for the contamination and subsequently, another company paid for the cleanup. This was the largest civilian exposure to dioxin in US history. And today Monsanto is being sued by the state of Washington for widespread PCB contamination.
Bayer’s Role in the Holocaust and After
In 1925, Bayer merged with BASF and Hoechst (now Sanofi-Aventis), as well as AGFA to form IG Farben Trust. During World War II, the notorious Nazi German concentration camp Auschwitz was a subsidiary of IG Farben. Bayer ran the pharmaceutical section of IG Farben known as IG Bayer.
“IG Bayer haggled directly with Auschwitz commandant Hoss over the costs of buying 150 women prisoners for use in Vetter’s experiments with sedatives and anesthetics. The SS wanted RM 200 [Reichsmark] per woman, but the IG was prepared to pay on RM 170. Evidently the cartel got its way, as Bayer wrote again to Hoss, ‘The experiments were performed. All test persons died. We will contact you shortly about a new shipment at the same price.’” (1).
Tribunals were held for the heads of IG Farben, including Bayer executives, in 1946. Thirteen of the 24 men on trial were convicted of war crimes and served time due to their involvement in fueling Hitler’s war machine. IG Farben was forced to split up, and Bayer became its own corporation again.
After WWII, Bayer continued its reckless practices. According to a New York Times article, Bayer was one of four companies selling human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) contaminated plasma to hemophiliacs in the mid-1980s. An estimated 6,000 to 10,000 people were infected by the plasma, resulting in mass litigation against the companies.
In 1982, Bayer’s subsidiary Cutter was informed of the potential for HIV contamination, yet knowingly sold more than 100,000 vials of unheated product overseas to Latin American and Asian countries until July of 1985. It’s unknown how many deaths and HIV infections Bayer is responsible for, but infected patients were dying at a rate of one per day during the period of the US lawsuit.
Monsanto’s DDT, Agent Orange and Genetically Modified Organisms
While World War II was nearing its end in 1944, Monsanto began manufacturing the insecticide DDT for the purpose of combating malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. By 1972, DDT was banned in the US. Recent studies show even low levels of DDT exposure can cause cancer, male infertility, miscarriage, developmental delay, as well as nervous system and liver damage.
Agent Orange was another war development from Monsanto in the 1960s. A toxic and carcinogenic chemical compound, Agent Orange was utilized during the Vietnam War to defoliate dense jungles. The effects of Agent Orange exposure linger today with US Vietnam veterans, and Vietnamese people continue suffering severe health problems and birth defects (2).
In the 1990s, Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer surged in popularity alongside the company’s GMO seed business. Many of Monsanto’s GMO seeds are engineered to resist Roundup’s active ingredient, the Monsanto-invented herbicide glyphosate, which researcher Charles Benbrook found resulted in a 3 fold increase in the use of this herbicide, linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma, multiple Myloma and other cancers.
Monsanto’s ruthless business practices have led to a global monopoly on the company’s patented seeds. Farmers are forced repeatedly to buy patented GMO seeds and their associated chemicals from Monsanto and its subsidiaries. Crop failures linked to Monsanto’s GMO cotton seeds are associated with a rising trend in farmer suicides in India.
Between 1996 and 2011, herbicide use increased in the US by 527 million pounds impacting ecosystem health heavily. Additionally, GMOs are planted in large-scale monocultures “[contributing] to the decline in biodiversity and increase vulnerability of crops to climate change, pests and diseases,” stated Deniza Gertsberg in GMO Journal.
While Monsanto has damaged the environment through Roundup, Bayer has its own dangerous pesticides called neonicotinoids (neonics) that have been directly linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in bees. In January of this year, the EPA stated that Bayer’s most widely used neonic, imidacloprid, causes bee death even though Bayer initially denied this. The Center for Food Safety is recommending the EPA adopt a moratorium on the use of neonics as crop seed coatings. The EU already bans the use of neonicotinoids. The EPA will begin to restrict and limit the use of neonics by December 2016.
Bees, vitally important to the earth’s ecosystems, are facing a dual crisis from growing chemical usage and the threat of the Varroa mite, which is also fatal to bees.
“Of the 100 crop species which provide 90 percent of global food, 71 are pollinated by bees.” according to a CNN article written by Marla Spivak.
Heroin, PCBs, Agent Orange and DDT were produced and used regularly until proven deadly for human health. Now even that is not enough. When glyphosate was deemed probably carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization in 2015, Monsanto fought back. Vigilantly working to silence opposition, Monsanto systematically denounces studies challenging the merit of GE crops and suppresses third party testing, declaring the tests to be patent violations.
After the heavy use of Monsanto’s Roundup led to Roundup-resistant weeds, Monsanto developed a new version of their weed killer Dicamba for application on new GMO Dicamba resistant seeds. Farmers are concerned, however, that these new GMO seeds are encouraging the illegal use of an earlier formulation of Dicamba, which recently damaged 41,000 acres of crops in the US due to pesticide drift. Monsanto’s new version of Dicamba recently received EPA approval.
The Present and Future
What would be the impact of a Monsanto-Bayer merger?
Brian Tokar explains, “Since the historic shutdown of the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle in 1999, activists have been aware that genetic engineering is a central means by which global capitalism is consolidating its control over our food and our healthcare” (2).
The merger of Bayer and Monsanto will further this consolidation and lead to a dangerous monopoly that could dramatically increase the price of seeds and/or restrict their availability. GMO crops like corn, soy and cotton have been pushed onto the public, with unfulfilled promises of higher yields and solutions to hunger. In the age of an increasingly unstable climate, Monsanto is promising climate-ready GMO seeds that would likely push out naturally resilient varieties leading to dangerous reliance on unproven seeds. If Bayer has its way, there will also be trees genetically engineered specifically as so-called “solutions” to climate change.
Bayer currently funds the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology, which conducts field trials of genetically engineered (GE) poplars in Belgium. The poplars are designed to be processed into liquid biofuels as part of efforts to replace fossil fuels. This push to use trees for second generation biofuels has been denounced as a false solution to climate change and there has never been a successful commercial production even with millions of dollars in subsidies.
Furthermore, the development of GE trees threatens native forests through the risk of cross contamination with wild relatives and through the potential conversion of native forest lands to vast GE tree plantations.
Monsanto is also linked to the world of GE trees. In April 1999, Monsanto co-founded the “Forestry Biotechnology Joint Venture” that would later become GE tree company ArborGen. Although Monsanto would later back out, former Monsanto employees have been part of ArborGen’s core staff since the beginning. The Monsanto Foundation has also funded GE American chestnut tree research. The merger with Bayer could lead to more research on biofuel projects involving GE trees.
With a Donald Trump presidency looming, Investopedia speculates that the Bayer-Monsanto merger has a much higher chance of approval in the US. GMO and pesticide regulations are expected to reach an all-time low. If successful, the majority of the world’s food could wind up grown from seeds produced by two companies with very dubious histories.
Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project, explains her sentiment: “This merger is extremely dangerous for the security of our food, not to mention the health of our communities and the well-being of ecosystems and their biodiversity. Since the government will obviously be useless, we need focused grassroots actions at the headquarters, offices, and conferences of Monsanto, Bayer and their investors in the US and globally. This disastrous merger must be stopped.”
Ruddy Turnstone is a campaigner for Global Justice Ecology Project working to ban genetically engineered trees. A half-indian from the southeastern so-called U.S., she also trains in climbing for protest. Full bio see here: http://globaljusticeecology.org/about/who-we-are/
Theresa Ipolito: Theresa has a masters degree in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management. Her areas of research include primate behavior, natural resource management, and environmental health.
Carolyn Lansom – With a BFA in Theater Performance and BA in English this outdoor enthusiast is happy that her experiences brought her to work with the Global Justice Ecology Project in early 2016. Having traveled extensively in Asia post-college she is motivated to help in any way she can to bring forward environmental issues to the public eye.
Jeffreys, D. (2008). Hell’s Cartel: IG Farben and the making of Hitler’s War Machine, pg. 37, 328.
2.Tokar, B. (2002, September). Agribusiness, Biotechnology and War. Z Magazine.