Monsanto is a world leader in industrial agriculture, providing the seeds for 90 percent of the world’s genetically modified crops. Once a chemical company based in the US, Monsanto has transformed into an international life sciences company, aiming to solve world hunger and protect the environment. Filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin, however, exposes the company’s troubling past, in her recent film, The World According to Monsanto. In an interview with The Real News Network, she discusses Monsanto’s controversial practices from a producer of PCBs and Agent Orange to genetically modified seeds and related herbicides.
Marie-Monique Robin is an award winning French journalist and filmmaker who specializes in social and political issues. She is also the author of several books including Le monde selon Monsanto, De la dioxine aux OGM ,which coincides with the launch of her documentary by the same name.
ZAA NKWETA (VOICEOVER): Providing the seeds for 90 percent of the world’s genetically modified crops, Monsanto is a world leader in industrial agriculture. Filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin exposes the company’s troubling past in her recent film, The World According to Monsanto.
MARIE-MONIQUE ROBIN, FILMMAKER: I’ve been working as a journalist for 25 years, and I have a lot of pharmacy friends. I mean, I have a big interest for agriculture. I made a lot of documentaries all over the world about this issue and about human rights. I mean, Monsanto is a question of agriculture right now and human rights.
DR. VANDANA SHIVA, PHYSICIST AND ECOLOGIST: There’s nothing they’re leaving untouched-the mustard, the okra, the brinjal, the rice. Once they have established the norm that seed can be owned as their property, royalties can be collected. We will depend on them for every seed we grow of every crop we grow. If they control seed, they control food. They know it. That’s more powerful than bombs. It’s more powerful than guns. This is the best way to control the populations of the world.
ROBIN: Monsanto is now the big-it’s the first seed company in the world. They bought up, in the last ten years, about 50 seed companies, and they are the first leader in GMOs. I decided to make this documentary because, you know, Monsanto is saying that GMOs are safe for consumers, safe for the environment. And I thought, my God, can we trust a company when it is saying that? And I proposed to Arte, which is a Franco-German channel, a very good one, a public one, I said, "I would like to make a documentary about this company. Who is this company?" I began with the beginning, because Monsanto has been created, you know, at the beginning of the 20th century exactly, in 1901, in Missouri, in St. Louis. It used to be a very big chemical company, and they made very nice products like PCBs, for instance. They could reveal that Monsanto knew from the very beginning that these PCBs were very toxic, and they’re so toxic that they’re forbidden, you know? But Monsanto concealed the data. There was a very interesting internal file, which is declassified now, which says, "We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business." I think this sentence is a very good summary, you know, of their practices.
DAVID BAKER, PRESIDENT OF COMMUNITY AGAINST POLLUTION: Terry was my bigger brother. He died in 1971 from a cancer of the brains, a tumor of the brains, cancer of the lungs, [inaudible] of the heart. He was 16. In the last three years, I have lost more friends, and they died from illnesses-cancer, [inaudible] diabetes, hepatitis, all these different illness that comes with PCBs and that have been related to PCB.
ROBIN: They did the same with Agent Orange. Ancient Orange is a defoliant, an herbicide used by the US Army during the Vietnam War. They used to spray the herbicide, you know, in South Vietnam. Monsanto knew that it was very dangerous, very toxic, because it contains dioxin. They not only concealed the data they had about this product; they manipulated a scientific study to hide, you know, the link between Agent Orange exposure and cancer.
VOICEOVER: The story began in Nitro, in a Monsanto factory that produced a powerful herbicide called 2,4,5-T. In 1949, an explosion in the factory provoked unexpected side effects. Two hundred twenty-eight workers developed an extremely disfiguring illness caused by dioxin, which is a highly toxic biproduct of 2,4,5-T.
ROBIN: And one example more, maybe, because it’s really the link between GMOs: Roundup. It’s an herbicide sold everywhere in the world. And Monsanto always said its biodegradable, it’s good, good for environment. One lie more. It’s not true.
VOICEOVER: Today, Roundup is sprayed all over Paraguay by plane or mechanical spreaders driven by unprotected farm workers.
JORGE GALEANO, FARM ACTIVIST (VOICEOVER TRANSLATION): It destroys the biodiversity of the countryside. It brings death, poverty, and illness, as well as destruction of the natural resources that help us live.
ROBIN: The company has been convicted, first in New York ten years ago and last year in France, for false advertising. It’s not biodegradable; it’s not good for the environment. And I have an interview of scientists in France, who made a study which showed that Roundup leads to the first steps of cancer. It’s important to understand that, because 90 percent of GMOs grown in the fields belong to Monsanto, and 70 percent of the GMOs grown in the world have been manipulated to resist Roundup. The goal of my investigation is what is called principle of substantial equivalence. What does it mean? It means it’s a principle that a GMO is supposed to be similar to its conventional counterpart. This principle of substantial equivalence was not based on any scientific data. And the person who tells it in front of my camera is not everyone; I mean, it’s James Maryanskyi, who used to be the chief of biotechnology in the FDA. And he recognized that this principle wasn’t based on any scientific data; it was based on a political decision taken by the White House to push biotechnology in the world.
MAN: And I would say, quite frankly, we have no complaint about the way USDA is handling it. They’re going through an orderly process; they’re making sure as they deal with these new things they do them properly. And now, if we’re waiting until September and we don’t have our authorization we may say something different.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: Call me. We’re in the de-reg business. Maybe we can help.
TEXT ON SCREEN: Scenes from The World According to Monsanto
National Film Board of Canada
Image & Compagnie
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.