Thursday, July 7, 2016

Is Monsanto retreating?


Back in the Vietnam era, there was this chemical called Agent Orange. It was sprayed on patches of jungle where enemy troops might want to hide, and it killed pretty much everything it touched. Several companies made Agent Orange, but Monsanto’s was the strongest.
The British paper The Guardian is reporting that Monsanto is withdrawing requests for approval to sell eight of its products, including some genetically modified plants, in Europe.
This is unusual behavior for the chemical behemoth. Why would they do such a thing? Their stockholders must be livid.
Monsanto has only one approved product in Europe, a genetically modified corn, altered to be resistant to a European corn pest. Monsanto GM corn accounts for only 1 percent of the corn grown in Europe.

To a person who carefully watches what they put in their mouth, Monsanto needs no introduction. I've written about them in the past myself. For the rest of you, here’s a summary:

 It has been estimated by some green organizations that over 3 million people were affected by Agent Orange, and that 500,000 Vietnamese children were born with birth defects as a direct result, bring calls in some quarters for Monsanto to be tried for war crimes.

Thousands of Vietnam veterans suffering from effects, they were convinced, of exposure to Agent Orange were disallowed benefits. “Monsanto studies showed that [Agent Orange] was not a human carcinogen,” according to former EPA insider William Sanjour; when in fact, Sanjour says, “If [the studies] were done correctly, they would have reached just the opposite result.”

Vietnam ended and, after years on the government gravy train Monsanto was hurting for business. In 1976 they came out with a product called Roundup. Different chemistry, same end result: Kills pretty much everything it touches.

One might say they’ve had some success with it: The Huffington Post reported in 2007 as much as 185 million pounds of glyphosate – the main ingredient in Roundup - was used by U.S. farmers that year, double the amount used in 2001.

I’m sorry I don’t have more up-to-date figures. It almost seems like Monsanto got to someone at the USDA - as they stopped reporting pesticide usage figures in 2008.
Would it be safe to assume glyphosate use has doubled again by now, to over 300 million pounds per year? That’s about one pound of glyphosate for every man, woman and child in the U.S., dumped on the ground, every year.

Monsanto, of course, claims: “Studies show that the soil-binding potential of glyphosate is stronger than that of nearly any other herbicide.” They say it binds strongly to soil for an average of 32 days, too strongly to be washed away by rainfall, and long enough for it to break down into a harmless amino acid.

However Paul Capel, environmental chemist and head of the agricultural chemicals team at the U.S. Geological Survey Office, said, “Glyphosate, the key ingredient in "Roundup" herbicide, was found in every stream sample examined in Mississippi in a two-year period and in most air samples taken.”

And now they’ve withdrawn their applications for governmental approval of their products in Europe. Why? We’ll get to that in another column.
 Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at

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