Will Monsanto Feed the People They Poison?

Monsanto PCB Lawsuit

Story at-a-glance -

  • Congress is in the process of updating the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 40-year-old piece of legislation in serious need of overhaul
  • The House of Representatives slipped in a clause that many are calling a “gift” to chemical giant Monsanto; the paragraph shields the company from legal liability related to PCBs
  • Under the clause, PCB lawsuits against Monsanto by state and local governments and individuals would be blocked; states would also be blocked from passing PCB regulations

By Dr. Mercola

If you're still on the fence wondering if Monsanto's genetically engineered (GE) crops are a good thing or a bad thing for the environment and human health, a look at this company's sordid past may help make up your mind.

While Monsanto refers to itself as a "sustainable agriculture" company delivering products that support farmers, be aware that they've spent many years to try and rehabilitate their image.

Prior to their foray into the seed business, Monsanto was (and still is) a producer of toxic chemicals responsible for widespread death and suffering.

One such chemical was polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Once heralded for its ability to prevent electrical fires, it has since become known as one of the most toxic and environmentally persistent chemicals ever created.

And now, a chemical safety bill could shield the company from all legal liability related to its widespread destruction.

'Monsanto Clause' Lets Monsanto off the Hook for Environmental Destruction

Congress is in the process of updating the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 40-year-old piece of legislation in serious need of overhaul. Once reformed, the Act will determine how the chemical industry is regulated, including which chemicals are allowed and who can sue over any related problems.

That latter part is important, especially when faced with the type of devastation caused by chemicals like PCBs. But the House of Representatives has slipped in a clause that many are calling a "gift" to chemical giant Monsanto; the paragraph shields the company from legal liability related to PCBs.

Monsanto produced almost all PCBs sold in the U.S. — all 1.25 billion pounds of them.1 If the clause is allowed to remain in the Toxic Substances Control Act, PCB lawsuits against Monsanto by state and local governments and individuals would be blocked. States would also be blocked from passing PCB regulations.

As reported by The New York Times, Monsanto insists it did not ask for the clause to be added, and the House denies it is a "gift."2 If you believe Monsanto had nothing to do with this clause, they also have some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you.

Now city officials and lawyers involved in suing Monsanto to recover cleanup costs associated with PCBs or receive compensation for related health problems are protesting the "Monsanto Clause." According to The Times:3

"Taxpayers and public entities would be left holding the bag to pay hundreds of millions of dollars if not billions of dollars cleaning up Monsanto's PCBs,' said John Fiske, one of the lawyers representing the six cities suing to collect money from the company to help cover cleanup costs.

Monsanto has not yet argued that the cities are barred from suing, but Mr. Fiske says he is certain that if the legislation passes, the company will make that argument.

Ms. [Charla] Lord [a company spokesperson] says Monsanto bears no responsibility for cleanup costs in cities like Seattle, San Jose and San Diego.

'PCBs served an important fire-protection and safety purpose,' she said in a written statement. 'If these products were improperly disposed of, Monsanto is not responsible.'"

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Monsanto Knowingly Produced Global Environmental Contaminants

Monsanto was one of the producers of Agent Orange, which is arguably the opposite of a sustainable product — not only in the areas where the chemical was intentionally applied but also in areas near to its manufacture.

Byproducts from the manufacture of Agent Orange were dumped into New Jersey's Passaic River for decades, and today it is thought to be one of the most contaminated waterways in the U.S.

Then there are the PCBs, which were manufactured from the 1930s through the 1970s, when they were finally banned in 1979 after their carcinogenic potential was revealed.

PCBs have also been linked to fertility, reproductive and endocrine damage along with neurological effects, including damage to learning and memory. The chemicals were used in many manufactured products, from electrical equipment and plastics to flooring and industrial products.

Various lawsuits, from individuals to municipalities, are now trying to hold Monsanto accountable for PCBs' widespread pollution.

Monsanto (and Monsanto-related entities) is now facing at least 700 lawsuits on behalf of people who claim their exposure to PCBs caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma.4 And their environmental assault is just as bad.

More U.S. Cities Sue Monsanto for Polluting Local Waterways

The City of Seattle has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto for PCB pollution. They want Monsanto to pay to help clean up pollution it caused in the Duwamish River and also wants to hold Monsanto responsible for making the river's fish too contaminated to eat.

The city alleges that Monsanto knew all along that PCBs were toxic but continued to market them anyway. According to The Seattle Times:5

"The city's arguments in court will include two particularly sobering points: Monsanto has long known of the toxicity of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and the city of Seattle has suffered and will continue to suffer damages.

… Monsanto's protective veneer is a mantle of corporate restructuring, but there has been a $700 million settlement with an Alabama community … Seattle says Monsanto intentionally concealed the certainty of global contamination in order to maximize profits."

In 2002, Monsanto was found guilty of decades of "outrageous acts of pollution" in the town of Anniston, Alabama, where it dumped PCBs into the local river and secretly buried the toxic chemical in a landfill.6

Internal documents revealed Monsanto had full knowledge of the severity of the pollution problem it caused for at least three decades, and decided to ignore it.

San Diego has also sued Monsanto for polluting the Coronado Bay with PCBs.7 In addition to Seattle and San Diego, San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley, California and Spokane, Washington have also filed lawsuits against Monsanto for continuing to produce and promote PCBs despite knowing their hazards.8

Monsanto Sues California to Withdraw Glyphosate on Its Carcinogen List

California environmental officials intend to add glyphosate to their Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals. Established in California in 1986, Proposition 65 requires consumer products with potential cancer-causing ingredients to bear warning labels.

Rather than label their products sold in California as likely carcinogenic, most companies reformulated their product ingredients so as to avoid warning labels altogether, and they did this on a national scale, not just in California.

Monsanto, however, is trying a different strategy. They filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block California from listing glyphosate as a known carcinogen. As reported by Alternet:9

"The State relies on the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) — the world's leading authority on cancer — as the basis for listing chemicals that are known or probable carcinogens under Prop 65.

In 2015, IARC concluded, by a unanimous decision, that glyphosate is 'probably carcinogenic'

In its lawsuit, Monsanto is challenging the State's use of the IARC listings, claiming that it is unconstitutional for a State agency to rely on findings from an International organization, no matter how well respected that organization is (one of IARC's major funders is the U.S National Institute of Health, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)."

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has filed a motion to intervene to defend the listing of glyphosate under Prop 65. Meanwhile, a group of European NGOs, including environmental group Global 2000, sued Monsanto and the European Food Safety Agency.

The suit alleges that they distorted scientific data on the cancer-causing effects of glyphosate. The Nation reported:10

"There are suspicions that EU authorities and the industry tried on the basis of incorrect data analysis to keep glyphosate in the European market despite its likely carcinogenic effects on humans,' said Global 2000's lawyer, Josef Unterweger."

Monsanto's Grass Gone Wild

In 2003, with the permission of the USDA, Monsanto and Scotts performed a field trial of experimental GE grass, which, like Roundup Ready crops, is impervious to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. The trial was conducted in Central Oregon on a 400-acre plot near the Crooked River National Grassland.

The grass, a type of GE creeping bentgrass that was being designed specifically for use on golf courses, turned out to be extremely hardy — so hardy that Oregon Live described it as "nearly impossible to eradicate."11

The experimental test plot was shut down and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expressed concerns that the grass could negatively affect endangered species in Oregon. But by then it was too late. The grass had already spread beyond the test plot, including into the national grassland preserve.

More than a decade later, the invasive GE grass is still a problem in Oregon. Monsanto and Scotts are growing tired of the battle, and, as is the case with Monsanto and PCBs, are looking to be let off the hook.

So, they petitioned the USDA to deregulate (i.e. remove restrictions) the GE bentgrass seeds, which is typically done when a company wants to bring the product to market. The companies claim they will not sell the seeds in the future, which means they're seeking deregulation for another purpose. Namely, if the GE grass is deregulated, Monsanto and Scotts will not be liable for any damage related to their "grass gone wild."12,13 As explained by Oregon Live:14

"The reason they are willing to go through the long, expensive deregulation process is simple: If the USDA grants their petition, the ongoing invasion suddenly becomes Oregon's problem, not Scotts' and Monsanto's. Equally troubling is that, once the bentgrass is deregulated, the USDA would no longer have the authority to monitor whether Scotts and Monsanto keep their word about not selling these seeds.

With the recent approval of Roundup-resistant Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue turfgrass, these companies are moving aggressively to dominate the grass seed market. And, without any legal hurdles in their way, there could be extreme pressure to eventually sell these seeds."

Monsanto Wants to Keep You in the Dark About Their Toxic Products

It's not surprising that Monsanto is trying to keep people in the dark about the health risks associated with PCBs and glyphosate. They've also spent millions to defeat GMO labeling initiatives, so you won't know which foods contain their genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In 2013, the company donated nearly $5 million to the anti-labeling campaign in Washington State, and in 2012 they donated more than $7 million to help defeat California's Proposition 37. Together with the food and industrial agriculture industries, biotechnology companies like Monsanto spent more than $101 million on lobbying to avert GMO labeling and preempt state rights, and that was in 2015 alone.15

They may feel defeat is near, as such lobbying efforts have risen sharply. For instance, these industries spent $66 million on such lobbying efforts in 2014 and just over $25 million in 2013.16 The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), whose 300-plus members include Monsanto, Coca-Cola, and General Mills, is among those pushing a Congressional bill called the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014."

The bill, dubbed the "DARK" (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act, would preempt all states from passing GMO labeling laws. It would also bar states from enacting laws that make it illegal for food companies to misrepresent their products by labeling GE ingredients as "natural."

Last but not least, the DARK Act would also limit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) power to force food companies to disclose GE ingredients. They are trying to HIDE the presence of genetically engineered ingredients and are pulling out ALL the stops to do so.

Monsanto Shares and Profits Are Tumbling

Shares of Monsanto dropped 7.5 percent in early March, a sign that the company's utter disregard for humankind may finally be catching up to them. They also issued a profit warning they're blaming on low global crop prices and a strong U.S. dollar. Barron's reported:17

"Monsanto (MON) cut its 2016 earnings guidance today, a fact that has made its shares the worst performer in the S&P 500. Its guidance cut could also have an impact on other chemical companies, including DuPont (DD) and Dow Chemical (DOW)."

If you'd like to get involved, particularly in stopping the "Monsanto Clause" that will shield Monsanto from PCB liability, you can sign the petition "Don't Let Monsanto Get Away with Poisoning Anniston!"