Over a period of several years Monsanto, a multi-billion dollar transnational corporation (TNC), has worked very hard to build its image as a champion of the poor. To legitimize this image it is engaged in a high profile effort through giving grants to some established NGOs such as the World Vision.
Monsanto established “Monsanto Fund” in 1964 as the charitable arm of the company. It states that “our philanthropic goal has been to bridge the gap between people’s needs and their available resources. We want to help people realize their dreams, and hopefully inspire them to enroll others in their vision.”
Monsanto has also Monsanto Fund Matching Gifts Program. This program “gives permanent Monsanto employees and active members of the Monsanto Board of Directors an opportunity to join Monsanto Fund’s support of not-for-profit institutions.” Monsanto makes it candid that the request for support of an NGO is honored “if the recipient organization adheres to the guidelines of the Matching Gifts Program.” “Eligible organizations include, but are not limited to: Colleges and universities, private and public elementary and secondary schools, organizations that serve youth, museums, libraries, health and human service agencies, environmental, community and cultural organizations.” World Vision is one of the recipients of the “matching gifts”.
Monsanto’s philanthropic activities are meant to not only improve its image, but also provide key relationships. It understands better than anyone that relationships, partnerships and network are the key for success of the company.
On November 1, 2006, in his 2006 IBM lecture at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on “Sabina Xhosa and the New Shoes: Introducing Technologies into Developing Countries”, Hugh Grant, Chairman, President, and CEO of Monsanto, focused on agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. He took Malawi as a model. Agriculture is the primary industry in Malawi. According to him, “seventy-two percent of the people’s caloric intake depends on maize, or corn.”1 Maize or corn is the staple food in most Sub-Sahara African countries.
Monsanto was seeking a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. Grant said:
We haven’t broken through in Africa in any of the Sub-Sahara African countries. So what do we need? We need one African country to say yes. One African country to start field trials. We need to start the field trials and start testing this in African soil, and at Monsanto we’re ready to work with an array of partners to make happen.1
The opportune time for Monsanto arrived with the arrival of severe drought in Malawi in 2004. Any predator looks for a vulnerable prey. Malawi, after the drought, was just the kind of prey predator companies like Monsanto look for. According to Grant, Monsanto held “a discussion with relief organizations, non-government organizations, the Malawi government, and some of the relief agencies, particularly an agency called World Vision. We got together and said this is going to keep on happening unless we take a different approach. And that’s what we did.”1 On December 20, 2005 Monsanto announced its intention to donate 700 metric tons of “quality hybrid maize seeds” to farmers in Malawi. This “high quality seed” was “donated” to the farmers through “some of the NGOs and government and relief agencies working on delivery and distribution systems.”1
U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Alan Eastham praised Monsanto for its donation. He said, “The donation of hybrid seed to local farmers will potentially have a significant impact on the quality of next year’s harvest and represents the best tradition of socially responsible giving by the U.S. private sector.”2 A representative of World Vision Malawi, one of seven members of the NGO consortium, said, “This donation is addressing both the short-term and the long-term needs of the people in Malawi, and fits very well with our programs in this country.”2 The nexus between the US government and Monsanto is evident by not only the statement of the US Ambassador to Malawi, but also a highly positive report given by Charles Corey, Washington File Staff Writer. The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, US Department of State (Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov).3
Therefore, Monsanto’s “donation” of seeds to Malawi farmers through its partners like the World Vision was to get a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. What are its interests?
Monsanto pledges “Growth for a Better World”: “We want to make the world a better place for future generations.” Increased yields are the core of this agenda. To achieve this Monsanto provides “the products and systems” to farmers. Its main product is Roundup herbicide. Monsanto also produces GM seeds. The GM crop is resistant to the herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. These are known as Roundup Ready Crops. The genes contained in the GM seeds are patented.
Patenting means that farmers who buy GM seeds enter into a licensing agreement with Monsanto for the use of that particular gene. They are forbidden from saving seeds for the next season. They must buy new seed from the company each season. This denies farmers’ right to save seed. The implications of this are huge for poor farmers. Saved seed is the one resource that the poor farmers depend upon to carry them through the year. Denial of this right will greatly impact them economically. For they have to pay more each season to buy new seed. Although Monsanto purports to help farmers “improve their lives” through the supply of GM seed, the reality is that it places unbearable economic burden on the poor farmers. Teresa Anderson says, “Social and economic risks from GM crops are equally weighty. They will increase dependence on outside technologies, marginalize farmers from R&D, and consequently exacerbate the social and economic difficulties….”4
The implications of patenting of the gene in the GM seed go further than forbidding seed saving. If a GM crop cross-pollinates with a neighboring crop through the movement of wind, insects, birds, or accidental seed mixing, the neighboring harvest would be likely to carry the patented gene also. Monsanto could then claim that the neighboring farm has infringed their patent. The farmer, who was unintentionally contaminated by somebody else’s GM crop, would be breaking the law if he saved his seed and planted it. Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers or anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. Ever since commercial introduction of its GM seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers.
All this boils down to the dreadful result, that is, Monsanto controlling much of the world’s food supply. Control of food supply leads to control of people.
Genesis of Monsanto
Hugh Grant says, “As an agricultural and technology company committed to human rights, we have a unique opportunity to protect and advance human rights. We have a responsibility to consider not only how our business can benefit consumers, farmers, and food processors, but how it can protect the human rights of both Monsanto’s employees and our business partners’ employees.” However, this statement needs to be verified with the “gene” of Monsanto.
Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny as a saccharin producing company. Giving his wife’s maiden name Monsanto to the company, he called it the Monsanto Chemical Works. His steady customer was a new company in Georgia named Coca-Cola.
Later Monsanto extended its list of products to vanillin, caffeine, drugs used as sedatives and laxatives, plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. From 1929 to 1971, Monsanto produced PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment.
In the 1960s, Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange, a poisonous chemical toxin. Agent Orange is the code name for a powerful herbicide and defoliant. This is “a chemical that strips trees and plants of their leaves and is sometimes used in warfare to deny cover to enemy forces.” The US military used this toxin in Vietnam War. It sprayed an estimated 21,136,000 gallons of Agent Orange across South Vietnam to defoliate jungles.5 This chemical has been reported to cause serious skin diseases as well as a vast variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate. Children in the areas where Agent Orange was used have been affected and have multiple health problems including cleft palate, mental retardation, hernias, and extra fingers and toes. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.6
In February 2004, the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) filed a class action law suit against Monsanto in a New York court. On March 10, 2005, Judge Jack B. Weinstein, who defended the U.S. veterans affected by Agent Orange, dismissed the suit, ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs’ claims.
During the 1970s, Monsanto shifted more resources into biotechnology. In the 1980s it decided to become one of the key players in the worldwide agricultural biotechnology market. In 1981 the company created a molecular-biology group for research in plant genetics. The next year, Monsanto became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. Over the next few years, it developed genetically modified seeds of cotton, soybeans, corn and canola.
In the late 1990s after restructuring the company, Monsanto was rebranded as a “life sciences” company. A new company Solutia was named for the chemical and fibers operations. Then after additional reorganization in 2002 Monsanto officially declared itself an “agricultural company”, dedicated to making the world “a better place for future generations”.
GTM (Gaming The Market) gives a short list of grievances against Monsanto5 :
1. 1917 US government suit against Monsanto over the safety of saccharin;
2. 1965-1972 UK landfill illegal toxic waste dumping;
3. Agent Orange chemical warfare;
4. 1979 dioxin chemical spill Kemner v. Monsanto longest civil jury trial in U.S. history;
5. Responsible for 56 contaminated Superfund sites;
6. Anniston, Alabama mercury and PCB-laden waste discharged into local creeks over 40 years;
7. Terminator seeds that lead to world food shortages, poverty, and death;
8. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone Posilac (rBST) (rBGH);
9. Using coercive tactics to monopolize world markets;
10. Pursuing 500 cases annually against customers for “seed fraud”;
11. Andhra Pradesh Government vs. Monsanto on India seed price fixing;
12. US Department of Justice and US Securities and Exchange Commission criminal and civil charges for international bribing;
13. False advertising for “biodegradable” Roundup weed killer;
14. India child labor abuse in the manufacture of cotton-seeds;
15. Farmers suicides in India;7
16. Corporate tax evasion at Sauget, Illinois facility;
17. Campaign against dairies which do not inject bovine growth hormone from advertising.
On March 11, 2008 a documentary was aired on French television (ARTE – French-German Cultural TV channel) by French journalist and film maker Marie-Monique Robin, entitled The World According to Monsanto (Le Monde selon Monsanto). Over a period of three years Robin has collected material for her documentary, through numerous interviews with people of different backgrounds. She traveled widely, from Latin America, to Asia, through Europe and the United States, to personally interview farmers and people in influential positions. This documentary dealt a severe blow to the credibility of Monsanto.
The destructive effects of genetically engineered crops are worldwide, but the extensive damage done in India has been widely documented by Vandana Shiva, a physicist and environmentalist. She is an activist and author of many books concerning the nefarious consequences of GM farming as opposed to the wisdom of traditional family and biological farming. Commenting on the consequences on farms and human life in India due to the use of hybrid seeds, she said,
Recently I was visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land have become waterlogged desert. And, as an old farmer pointed out, even the trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators — the bees and butterflies…And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, where farmers have also been committing suicide. Farmers who traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy have been lured by seed companies to buy hybrid cotton seeds referred to as “white gold”, which were supposed to make them millionaires. Instead they became paupers.
In India and China it has been proved that the promises of Monsanto that BT cotton (genetically engineered cotton) would produce a far higher yield and prove less costly in terms of herbicide and fertilizer required has been proved devious.
Monsanto (and its partners like World Vision) is not held back by any considerations of ethics. Monsanto does its business exclusively with the intent of increasing its own profit at the cost of farmers worldwide. If left to its own devices it will most certainly destroy not only the livelihood of millions of farmers, but also their very life.
Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. The company has produced GM seeds for soybeans, corn, canola and cotton. More products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output.
On April 25, 2009 Monsanto announced in India a special fellowship program for research on rice and wheat plant breeding. Under the program, the company will allocate $10 million to encourage young Ph.D. scholars to pursue their research in rice and wheat breeding. Edward Runge, Director of Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, told that the company was looking at attracting students from India and China, two of the fastest growing economies and the largest populated countries. Also rice and wheat are staple food in these countries.
- Hugh Grant, “Sabina Xhosa and the New Shoes: Introducing Technologies into Developing Countries,” 2006 IBM Lecture at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on November 1, 2006. [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩]
- Charles W. Corey, “U.S. Company Donates Maize Seed to Farmers in Malawi: Monsanto’s Contribution Expected to Feed More Than 1 Million People.” [↩] [↩]
- In order to understand the nexus among the US government, Corporations and NGOs one may read about US Global Leadership Campaign (USGLC). USGLC is an influential network of over 400 organizations and thousands of individuals. Corporations and NGOs such as Monsanto, Lockheed Martin, Mercy Corps, CARE, World Vision, Caterpiller, AIPAC, Motorola “joined together in a coalition with a common message and a common mission.” [↩]
- Teresa Anderson, “Patented GM Crops: Making Seed Saving Illegal?” [↩]
- “Monsanto: Profiting without Conscience.” [↩] [↩]
- Watch the documentary on the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. [↩]
- “Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India and More,” www.democracynow.org, 13.12.2006.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data record, there have been 166,304 farmers’ suicides in a decade since 1997 in India. Of these, 78,737 occurred in five years between 1997 and 2001. The next five years – from 2002 to 2006 – proved worse, seeing 87,567 take their lives. This means that on an average, there has been one farmer’s suicide every 30 minutes since 2002. www.hindu.com, 31.1.2008. [↩]