In June 2020, agricultural and pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG was ordered to pay more than $10 billion in punitive and compensatory damages to U.S. plaintiffs over claims that the company’s glyphosate-containing herbicide known as Roundup caused cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.1
The World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” in 20152 and many individuals, groups, and governments question the safety of its use. Now, The Guardian reports that internal government emails reveal Bayer, owner of the patented glyphosate, and the industry lobbying group CropLife America “have been working closely with U.S. officials to pressure Mexico into abandoning its intended ban on glyphosate.”3
Mexico’s ban was announced on Dec. 31, 2020. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a decree calling for the discontinuance of glyphosate, giving farmers until 2024 to stop using it on their crops in order to “safeguard human health, the country’s biocultural diversity, and the environment.”4
Similar political pressure to reverse plans of banning glyphosate were placed on Thailand by the United States and Bayer when that country revealed it was going to phase out use of glyphosate in 2019. Thailand suddenly dropped its ban four days prior to the scheduled implementation date, citing “concerns over foreign trade impact.”5
Mexico Places National Health and Human Rights Over Corporate Interests
Mexico has no plans to concede to the pressure from the U.S. government. The country’s Undersecretary of Agriculture for Food and Competitiveness Victor Suarez asserted the Obrador administration’s allegiance to the people of Mexico over private interests. Suarez said:
We are a sovereign nation with a democratic government… which came to power with the support of the majority of citizens, one that places compliance with our constitution and respect for human rights above all private interests.6
Nathan Donley, PhD, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity Conservation Group in Tucson, Arizona observed:
We’re seeing more and more how the pesticide industry uses the U.S. government to aggressively push its agenda on the international stage and quash any attempt by people in other countries to take control of their food supply.7
History of Monsanto Shows Repeat Offenses from Pollution of PCB to Birth Defects from Vietnam War’s Agent Orange
Utilizing tactics to coerce people into using their products, downplaying risks, and million-dollar payouts for injury or death are not new to Monsanto, which owned the patented RoundUp prior to 2018 when it was acquired by Bayer. These strategies date back to the early beginnings of the company. Examples of this include payouts to residents of Anniston, Alabama and the state of Washington for the lingering effects of the chemical polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), which was manufactured and used for decades but has since been banned.8
In the case of Annison, Alabama, Monsanto was found guilty of improperly disposing of PCB in water sources.9 The website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that PCBs “ have been shown to cause cancer in animals as well as a number of serious non-cancer health effects in animals, including: effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects. Studies in humans support evidence for potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects of PCBs.10
Millions of gallons of Agent Orange, another chemical manufactured by Monsanto, were sprayed over crops and forests during the Vietnam War. This chemical has since been linked to cancer and major birth defects including spina bifida in Vietnamese citizens and American soldiers and their children.11 12
Commonly Known and Problematic Insecticide DDT Was Also a Product of Monsanto
Another chronicle from the early decades of Monsanto’s history is the use of the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). Early uses of DDT in the U.S. began during World War II to combat tropical diseases infecting soldiers overseas. Its widespread use swept the country with an “almost reverential following” as it became symbolic with waging the war on the American front and with military and scientific progress.13
DDT later became widely used on the general population in an attempt to combat malaria despite preliminary safety tests being “somewhat alarming” and rising concerns over its effects on the environment. Popular images show DDT being sprayed out of hoses onto crowds of people and television ads claimed DDT was so safe you could eat it.14 15
In an official Department of the Interior report from Aug. 22, 1945, Director of Wildlife Research Dr. Clarence Cottam stated caution in the use of DDT, saying it is…
… essential because of our incomplete knowledge of its action on many living things, both harmful and beneficial. Its use by the armed forces in Europe and the Pacific in killing disease-carrying insects was so effective and the need so urgent that its effects on other organisms had to be overlooked. Present information is based largely on single applications of DDT spray. The effects of repeated applications are little known.16
Following decades of use and exposure, DDT was finally banned by the EPA in 1972 due to concerns over environmental and human effects. The EPA currently states that studies have continued since then and have found DDT to be problematic in many ways, including affecting human reproduction. It is currently classified as a probable human carcinogen.17
Writing for the Stanford Journal of Public Health, Jake Sonnenberg stated:
The history of DDT in the United States reveals many of the ways in which science has been manipulated and controlled throughout history; calls into question many conventional assumptions about the relationships between science, society, and nature; and raises important questions about modern public health programs around the world.18
Sonnenberg continues later in the article to say…
At its core, the dominant DDT narrative was based on the promise of control. To the scourge of diseases and plagues of insects, DDT offered an elegant solution. Natural killers that had ravaged humanity throughout history could now be technologically managed with various types of “control” strategies: vector, disease, and population, all mediated through the use of DDT.19
Monsanto’s Negative Reputation Continues as Lawsuits and Conflicts of Interest Abound
The reputation of Monsanto products continues even today. In 2016, evidence of collusion between Monsanto and the EPA included the drafting of a risk assessment that favored glyphosate use and downplayed its risks that was at the forefront of news stories and lawsuits. The Environmental Working Group claims that, “when drafting its risk assessment, the EPA largely depended on studies paid for and conducted by Monsanto, while completely ignoring a wide body of independent research that shows connections between cancer and exposure to glyphosate and Roundup.”20
Internal e-mails released during the Monsanto trials in 2015 demonstrated communication from EPA official Jess Rowland to Monsanto stating Rowland would be willing to “kill” a toxicological report on glyphosate from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Rowland retired in 2016.”21
In a highly publicized news story in 2018, California school district groundskeeper DeWayne Lee Johnson was awarded $289 million as the jury found that Monsanto’s products likely caused his terminal cancer. Internal documents found that Monsanto knew about the potential cancer risk as early as 1983 when researchers found a statistically significant increase in cancer risk in mice who were treated by glyphosate. The EPA found the results alarming and called for further investigation, but Monsanto refused.”22
Funding of EPA by Monsanto Raises Concerns of Conflicts of Interest
According to Dr. Donley, Monsanto has the ability to turn down or otherwise alter the EPAs requests for further studies because “pesticide companies quite literally bankroll the EPA’s pesticide office. Under the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, pesticide manufacturers are required to pay registration fees, and those fees amount to about a third of the office’s operating budget.”23
Mathiew Asselin, photographer and author of the book For Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation24 observed:
In America, the company (Monsanto) funds both the Democrats and the Republicans. They don’t have a political standpoint, they just need to make sure everything is OK to make more money. This is the bigger point I am making—global business just cannot go on like this. It has to change.25
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Click here to view References:
1 Chappell B. Bayer To Pay More Than $10 Billion To Resolve Cancer Lawsuits Over Weedkiller Roundup. NPR June 24, 2020.
2 Kogevenas M.Probable carcinogenicity of glyphosate. BMJ 2019; 365: l1613.
3 Gillam C. Revealed: Monsanto owner and US officials pressured Mexico to drop glyphosate ban. The Guardian Feb. 16, 2021.
4 Press release. Mexico Issues a Decree to Phase out Glyphosate and Genetically Modified Corn. International Indian Treaty Council Jan. 7, 2021.
5 Tanakasempipa P. Exclusive: In the weeds – How Bayer, U.S. government teamed up against Thailand’s glyphosate ban. Reuters Sept. 16, 2020.
6 Wise TA. Mexico to Ban Glyphosate, GM Corn Presidential Decree Comes Despite Intense Pressure from Industry, U.S. Authorities. Inter Press Service News Agency Feb. 24, 2021.
7 Gillam C. Revealed: Monsanto owner and US officials pressured Mexico to drop glyphosate ban. The Guardian Feb. 16, 2021.
8 Bush E. Monsanto will pay $95 million in PCB settlement with Washington state. The Seattle Times June 24, 2020.
9 Crean E. Toxic Secret. 60 Minutes Nov. 7, 2002.
10 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Health Effects of PCBs
11 O’Hagan S. Toxic neighbour: Monsanto and the poisoned town. The Guardian Apr. 20, 2018.
12 King J, Chou C. Agent Orange Birth Defects. The Embryo Project Encyclopedia Mar. 7, 2017.
13 Sonnenberg J. Shoot to Kill: Control and Controversy in the History of DDT Science. Stanford Journal of Public Health May 1, 2015.
14 The National Library of Medicine. Space Spraying (Communicable Disease Center, 1954). YouTube June 10, 2017.
15 Catlin MD. DDT so safe you can eat it 1947. YouTube Jan. 12, 2011.
16 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Studies on the Use of DDT. U.S. Department of the Interior Aug. 22, 1945.
17 EPA. DDT – A Brief History and Status.
18 Sonnenberg J. Shoot to Kill: Control and Controversy in the History of DDT Science. Stanford Journal of Public Health May 1, 2015.
20 Formuzis A. Monsanto Relied on Shady EPA Risk Study To Dispute Court Verdict That Roundup Caused Cancer. Environmental Working Group Apr. 2, 2020.
21 Rowland J. Read the Emails, Texts That Show EPA Efforts to Slow ATSDR Glyphosate Review. U.S Right to Know Apr. 16, 2019.
22 Stuart T. Monsanto’s EPA-Manipulating Tactics Revealed in $289 Million Case. Rolling Stone Aug. 14, 2018.
24 Mathiew Asselin.
25 O’Hagan S. Toxic neighbour: Monsanto and the poisoned town. The Guardian Apr. 20, 2018.