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Synthesis/Regeneration 16   (Summer 1998)

Second International Days of Action Against Genetic Engineering

The Monsanto Saga

by Vermont activists

Are you concerned about ...

One giant corporation, with its New England operations centered in Springfield, Massachusetts represents all these problems and more.

Monsanto, a huge, multinational chemical company, headquartered in St. Louis, is one of the world's leading producers of pesticides, and the most influential US company in the rapidly expanding field of biotechnology. Monsanto is the third largest chemical company in the US and the world's largest producer of weed-killing chemicals. Through its ownership of food processing companies like Gargiulo and seed companies like Asgrow and Holden's, Monsanto is forcing its vision of a high-tech agriculture based on sophisticated new chemicals and genetic engineering into all areas of food production.

Monsanto was founded in 1901 to bring technology to the US to manufacture saccharin, the first artificial sweetener. Saccharin was one of the first such products to be associated with cancer and leukemia. In the 1950s, Monsanto developed PCBs, which were used widely in electrical transformers throughout the 1960s and '70s, until they were banned as a potent cause of cancer, birth defects and a variety of immune system disorders.

Monsanto's Agent Orange was used by the US military in Vietnam to destroy vast areas of jungle. In the 1980s, Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange sued and received a multimillion dollar settlement due to a wide array of devastating health problems. In the 1980s and '90s, Monsanto paid over $100 million in fines and settlements for contaminating communities, and their own workers, with dioxins, PCBs, benzene and other toxic chemicals. In fall, 1997, Monsanto created a new company called "Solutia" in order to spin off its persistently controversial industrial chemicals facilities. Monsanto also manufactures Nutrasweet, the controversial artificial sweetener that is believed to cause seizures, dizziness, depression, fatigue and other nervous system disorders.

Today, Monsanto is aiming to contaminate our entire food supply with products of genetic engineering. Monsanto's genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH, or rBST) was approved by the FDA in 1993, despite overwhelming evidence that the hormone causes udder infections and reproductive problems in dairy cows. It is also associated with a rise in IGF-1, a related hormone that has been shown to aid the growth of human cancer cells. The use of rBGH is banned in Europe and in Canada.

In 1995, Monsanto began contracting with farmers to grow soybeans that are genetically engineered to be resistant to Roundup, Monsanto's best-selling weed-killer. In 1997, 6-12% of the soybeans grown in the US are reported to be Monsanto's herbicide-resistant variety. Up to 60% of all processed foods contain soy oil or other soybean products. These soybeans are banned in many European countries. Monsanto is also promoting genetically engineered varieties of potatoes, cotton, and other staple agricultural products. Meanwhile, they are aggressively marketing Roundup for wider use in the management of forests, orchards and tree farms, as well as for routine lawn maintenance.

Monsanto is using its legal muscle and its influence at the highest levels of the US government to rush products to market without adequate safety testing, and to halt efforts to label genetically engineered foods. They have threatened numerous small dairy companies with lawsuits for labeling products as free of genetically engineered BGH. Even U.S. Agriculture secretary Dan Glickman has been enlisted in the campaign to pressure skeptical European consumers and food processors into accepting products of genetic engineering. Forestry officials in several states, particularly New Hampshire, continue to promote the use of Monsanto's Roundup to suppress the growth of hardwood (deciduous) trees and shrubs by companies seeking to optimize their "harvest" of spruce and fir.

Monsanto is using its legal muscle and its influence at the highest levels of the U.S. government to rush products to market without adequate safety testing, and to halt efforts to label genetically engineered foods.

In the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, Massachusetts, Monsanto, with its spin-off Solutia, produces plastic resins used by the automobile, graphics and packaging industries, among others. The plant has been cited for numerous incidents of air and water pollution, and contamination of plant workers. In another Springfield facility, Agrimark, New England's largest wholesale milk distributor, processes milk from cows treated with Monsanto's rBGH into products such as Cabot brand butter. Finally, the company funds the "Monsanto Eco-Center" at Springfield's downtown Science Museum. This is a small part of this chemical giant's nationwide public relations effort to paint itself as "environmentally responsible."

What can you do?

This is modified from a flyer developed in Vermont for a demonstration in Springfield, Massachusetts as part of the Second International Days of Action Against Genetic Engineering

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