The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption, and

The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption, and

Postby admin » Thu Feb 04, 2016 9:31 am

The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption, and the Control of the World’s Food Supply
Translated from the French by George Holoch
The New Press gratefully acknowledges the Florence Gould Foundation for supporting the publication of this book.
© 2008 by Éditions La Découverte / Arte Editions
English translation © 2010 by The New Press




To my parents, Joël and Jeannette, farmers who taught me to love the good things of the earth, and so to love life.

Table of Contents:

• Preface: A Book for Public Health by Nicolas Hulot
• Introduction: The Monsanto Question
o 1. PCBs: White-Collar Crime
o 2. Dioxin: A Polluter Working with the Pentagon
o 3. Dioxin: Manipulation and Corruption
o 4. Roundup: A Massive Brainwashing Operation
o 5. The Bovine Growth Hormone Affair, Part One
o 6. The Bovine Growth Hormone Affair, Part Two
o 7. The Invention of GMOs
o 8. Scientists Suppressed
o 9. Monsanto Weaves Its Web, 1995–1999
o 10. The Iron Law of the Patenting of Life
o 11. Transgenic Wheat: Monsanto’s Lost Battle in North America
o 12. Mexico: Seizing Control of Biodiversity
o 13. In Argentina: The Soybeans of Hunger
o 14. Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina: The “United Soy Republic”
o 15. India: The Seeds of Suicide
o 16. How Multinational Corporations Control the World’s Food
• Conclusion: A Colossus with Feet of Clay
• Notes
• Index
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Re: The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption,

Postby admin » Thu Feb 04, 2016 9:31 am

Preface: A Book for Public Health
by Nicolas Hulot

As I progressed in my reading of Marie-Monique Robin’s book, a flood of weighty questions overwhelmed me, filling me with anxiety that I might sum up in a single question: how is this possible? How can Monsanto, that emblematic firm of global agrochemistry, have made so many fatal mistakes, and how can it have marketed products so harmful to human health and to the environment? How has the company succeeded in conducting its business as though nothing had happened, constantly extending its influence (and its wealth), despite the tragedies its products have caused? How has it so quietly managed to continue its activities unconcerned and fool everyone? Why has it been able to carry on despite the heavy legal penalties it suffered and despite the bans imposed on some of its products (unfortunately, after they had already caused a good deal of irreparable harm)?

This book discloses a reality that hurts the eyes and grips the heart: that of a calmly arrogant company heedlessly profiting from the suffering of victims and the destruction of ecosystems. As the pages go by, the mystery is revealed. They show the prospering of a company whose history “constitutes a paradigm of the aberrations in which industrial society has become mired.” You may often shake your head in disbelief, but the demonstration is limpid, and we understand where Monsanto gets its power, how its lies have won out over the truth, and why many of its allegedly miraculous products in the end turned out to be nightmares. In other words, at a time when the North American company has taken on an even more totalizing ambition than before—imposing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on farmers and food consumers around the world—this indispensable book raises the question, while there is still time, of whether it is necessary to allow a company such as Monsanto to hold the future of humanity in its test tubes and to impose a new world agricultural order.

Consider the facts. How did Monsanto become one of the major industrial empires on the planet? By accomplishing nothing less than the largescale production of some of the most dangerous products of modern times: PCBs, which were used as coolants and lubricants, are devastatingly harmful to human health and the food chain and were banned after massive contamination was observed; dioxin, a few grams of which is enough to poison a large city and the manufacture of which was also banned, was developed from one of the company’s herbicides, which was the basis for the grimly famous Agent Orange, the defoliant dropped on Vietnamese jungles and villages (which enabled Monsanto to secure the largest contract in its history from the Pentagon); bovine growth hormones—the first test products for GMOs—are intended to cause the animal to produce beyond its natural capacities regardless of the known consequences for human health; the weed killer Roundup used to be presented in endless advertising as biodegradable and favorable to the environment, a claim flatly contradicted by legal decisions in the United States and in Europe.

I have had serious doubts regarding certain practices of this company, particularly its use of police tactics against farmers. Marie-Monique Robin’s book not only confirms them but reveals both a company driven by the engine of business alone, which is hardly surprising, and, more troubling, a company whose actions are based on an extraordinary sense that it can do as it likes. She sketches a portrait of a firm that is expert at slipping through the cracks and persisting in its practices against all comers, no doubt convinced that it knows better than anyone else what is good for humanity, persuaded that it is accountable to no one, appropriating the planet as its playing field and profit center. In Monsanto’s position outside democratic control, it is hard to tell whether it is commercial blindness, scientific arrogance, or pure and simple cynicism that dominates.

Robin’s investigation is both dense and laser sharp; testimony is abundant and concordant, documents are revealed, and archives are deciphered. Her book is not a pamphlet filled with fantasy and gossip. It brings to light a terrifying reality. For, in the course of many years of marketing its products— PCBs, herbicides, dioxin, bovine growth hormones, Roundup—Monsanto was fully aware of their harmfulness. The documents that the book reveals leave no doubt on that subject. Monsanto developed the habit of publicly asserting the opposite of what was known inside the company. Thanks to Robin, we now know what Monsanto knew. The company was aware of the toxic effects of its products. It persevered nonetheless, and it was allowed to go on.

Monsanto is now coming back in force and claims that the GMOs for which it is the principal seed producer have been developed out of its concern to help the farmers of the world to produce healthier food while at the same time reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment. The company claims that it has changed and that it has broken with its past as an irresponsible chemist. I don’t have the scientific competence to assess the toxicity of certain molecules or the risks incurred by genetic manipulation. I only know that the scientific community is sharply divided about the effects of transgenesis and that the results of experiments with cultivated GMOs have not provided proof that they cause no harm to health or the environment or that they are able to intensify food production to conquer hunger. The balance sheet Robin draws up for Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, the United States, Canada, and India is in any case distressing. I also know that the use of Monsanto 810 corn seeds, the only variety grown in France for commercial purposes, was wisely suspended by the French government in January 2008, after an administrative authority set up in the wake of the major environmental conference held in October 2007 pointed to new scientific findings and raised troubling questions. More generally, I know, as does any citizen on Earth with a grain of common sense, that one has to call a halt when it is obvious that industrial and commercial considerations have gone beyond the limits of the most basic precautions.

Today, while a real scientific, economic, and social debate is stirring France and Europe about the health and environmental effects of GMOs, as well as their consequences for the condition of farmers and the question of patents of living things, Marie-Monique Robin’s book is timely. It should be considered a work promoting public health and read with that in mind.

The global ecological crisis calls for a major transformation of the economic and social organization of human communities. It calls into question the capacity of world agriculture to provide sufficient food resources for the future nine billion inhabitants of the planet. There is no doubt that scientific and technological innovation can play a dynamic role—but not in just any way and not in everyone’s hands.

Indeed, what exactly would the world according to Monsanto be like?
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Re: The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption,

Postby admin » Thu Feb 04, 2016 9:32 am


The Monsanto Question

“You ought to do an investigation of Monsanto. We all need to know what this American multinational really is, which is in the process of seizing control of seeds, and so of world food.” The scene was the New Delhi airport in December 2004. I was being addressed by Yudhvir Singh, the spokesman of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, a peasant organization in northern India with twenty million members. I had just spent two weeks with him traveling around Punjab and Haryana, the two emblematic states of the “green revolution,” where almost all Indian wheat is produced.

A Necessary Investigation

At the time I was making two documentaries for the Franco-German television station Arte in a series dealing with biodiversity, entitled “Seizing Control of Nature.”1 In the first, The Pirates of the Living, I describe how the advent of the techniques of genetic manipulation provoked a veritable race for genes, in which the giants of biotechnology have not hesitated to seize the natural resources of developing countries through abuse of the patent system.2 For example, a Colorado farmer who claimed to be an independent spirit secured a patent for a variety of yellow bean that had long been grown in Mexico; claiming to be its American “inventor,” he demanded royalties from all Mexican peasants wishing to export their crops to the United States.3 And the American company Monsanto got a European patent for an Indian variety of wheat used in making chapati (unleavened bread).

In the second documentary, titled Wheat: Chronicle of a Death Foretold? I recounted the history of biodiversity and the threats it is under through the saga of the golden grain from its domestication ten thousand years ago up to the advent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), in which Monsanto is the world leader. At the same time, I produced a third film for Arte Reportage titled Argentina: The Soybeans of Hunger, which presented the disastrous results of transgenic agriculture in the land of beef and milk. It turned out that the GMOs in question, which covered half the arable land in the country, consisted of “Roundup-ready” soybeans, which had been manipulated by Monsanto to resist Roundup, the best-selling herbicide in the world since the 1970s—manufactured by Monsanto.4

For these three films—which present several complementary facets of a single problem, namely, the consequences of biotechnology for world agriculture and, beyond that, for the production of food for humankind—I traveled around the world for a year: Europe, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Israel, India. Everywhere lurked the ghost of Monsanto, almost like the Big Brother of the new world agricultural order, the source of much anxiety.

This is why the recommendation from Singh as I was about to leave India solidified a vague feeling that I did in fact have to look more closely at the history of this North American multinational, founded in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1901, which now owns 90 percent of the patents for all GMOs grown in the world and became the world’s largest seed company in 2005.

As soon as I got back from New Delhi, I turned on my computer and typed “Monsanto” into my favorite search engine. I found more than 7 million references, painting the portrait of a company that, far from enjoying universal favor, was considered one of the most controversial of the industrial age. In fact, adding to “Monsanto” the word “pollution” produced 343,000 hits. With “criminal” the number was 165,000. For “corruption,” it was 129,000; Monsanto falsified scientific data produced 115,000 answers.

From there, I navigated from one Web site to another, consulting a great many declassified documents, reports, and newspaper articles, which enabled me to assemble a picture that the firm itself would prefer to conceal. Indeed, on the home page of Monsanto’s Web site, it has presented itself as “an agricultural company” whose purpose is “to help farmers around the world produce healthier food, while also reducing agriculture’s impact on our environment.” But what it did not say is that before getting involved in agriculture, it was one of the largest chemical companies of the twentieth century, specializing particularly in plastics, polystyrenes, and other synthetic fibers.

Under the heading “Who We Are”/ “Company History,” one finds not a word about all the extremely toxic products that made its fortune for decades: the PCBs, chemicals used as insulators in electrical transformers for more than fifty years, sold under the brands Aroclor in the United States, Pyralène in France, and Clophen in Germany, the harmfulness of which was concealed by Monsanto until they were banned in the early 1980s; 2,4,5-T, a powerful herbicide containing dioxin, which was the basis for Agent Orange, the defoliant used by the American army during the Vietnam War, the toxicity of which Monsanto knowingly denied by presenting falsified scientific studies; 2,4-D (the other component of Agent Orange); DDT, which is now banned; aspartame, the safety of which is far from established; and bovine growth hormone (banned in Europe because of the risks it poses to animal and human health).

These were all highly controversial products, and they have simply disappeared from the firm’s official history (except for bovine growth hormone, which I will deal with at length in this book). A careful examination of internal company documents reveals, however, that this nefarious past continues to burden its activities, forcing it to set aside considerable sums to cover the judgments that regularly cripple its profits.

A Quarter Billion Acres of GMOs

These discoveries led me to propose a new documentary to Arte entitled The World According to Monsanto, the research for which forms the basis for this book. The idea was to narrate the history of the multinational company and to try to understand to what extent its past might shed light on its current practices and what it now claims to be. In fact, with 17,500 employees, revenue of $7.5 billion in 2007 (and profit of $1 billion), and facilities in forty-six countries, the St. Louis company claims to have been converted to the virtues of sustainable development, which it intends to promote through the marketing of transgenic seeds, which in turn are supposed to extend the limits of ecosystems for the good of humanity.

Since 1997, with extensive publicity and an effective slogan—“Food, Health, and Hope”—it has managed to impose its GMOs, principally soybeans, corn, cotton, and rapeseed, over vast territories. In 2007, transgenic crops (90 percent of which, it should be recalled, have genetic traits patented by Monsanto) covered about 250 million acres: more than half were located in the United States (136.5 million acres), followed by Argentina (45 million), Brazil (28.8 million), Canada (15.3 million), India (9.5 million), China (8.8 million), Paraguay (5 million), and South Africa (3.5 million). This “surge in GMO land” has spared Europe, with the exceptions of Spain and Romania.5 It should be noted that 70 percent of the GMOs cultivated in the world were at the time resistant to Roundup, Monsanto’s prize herbicide, which the firm used to claim was “biodegradable and good for the environment” (an assertion that earned it, as we shall see, two official legal findings of false advertising), and 30 percent were manipulated to produce a toxic insecticide known as Bt toxin.

As soon as I began this long-term investigation, I contacted the company’s management to ask for a series of interviews. The St. Louis headquarters sent me to Yann Fichet, an agronomist who is the director of institutional and industrial affairs of the French subsidiary located in Lyon. He set up an interview with me on June 20, 2006, in a Paris hotel near the Palais du Luxembourg (seat of the French Senate), where he told me he spent “a good deal of time.” He listened to me at length and promised to transmit my request to Missouri headquarters. I waited three months and then got in touch with him again, when he ended up telling me that my request had been rejected. During filming in St. Louis, I called Christopher Horner, head of public relations for the firm, who confirmed the rejection in a telephone conversation on October 9, 2006: “We appreciate your persistence in, in asking, but, uh, you know we’ve had several conversations internally about this and, uh, have not changed our position. So there’s no reason for us to participate.”

“Is the company afraid about the questions I could ask?”

“No . . . you know, that it’s certainly not a question of, you know, ‘Do we have the answers or not?’ It’s a question of what the end product is going to be and do we give legitimacy to the end product by participating. Our suspicion is that it would not be positive.”

Confronted with this refusal, I did not give up on presenting the firm’s views. I got hold of all the written and audiovisual archival materials available in which its representatives spoke and also made extensive use of the documents it has placed online, in which it justifies the benefits that GMOs are supposed to bring to the world. “Farmers who planted biotech crops used significantly less pesticides and realized significant economic gains compared to conventional systems,” said the company in its 2005 Pledge Report, a kind of ethical charter the company has been publishing regularly since 2000, in which it presents its commitments and its results.6

As a daughter of farmers, I am very aware of the difficulties that the agricultural world has experienced since I was born on a farm in Poitou-Charentes in 1960, and I have no difficulty imagining the impact that this kind of language can have on farmers who are struggling every day, in Europe and elsewhere, merely to survive. At a time when globalization is impoverishing the rural North and South, those who work on the land no longer know where to turn. Would the genius of St. Louis save their lives? I wanted to learn the truth because what is at stake concerns us all; it’s a question of who in the future will produce food for humankind.

“Monsanto Company is helping smallholder farmers around the world become more productive and self-sufficient,” the Pledge Report also says.7 “The good news is that practical experience clearly demonstrates that the coexistence of biotech, conventional, and organic systems is not only possible, but is peacefully occurring around the world.”8 This sentence drew my attention because it touches on one of the major questions raised by GMOs, namely, that of possible risks to human health: “Consumers around the world are living proof of the safety of biotech crops. In the 2003–2004 crop year, they purchased more than $28 billion of biotech crops from U.S. farmers.”9 I thought of all the consumers who are nourished by the labor of farmers and who can, through their choices, affect the evolution of agricultural practices and of the world beyond—on the condition that they are informed.

All these quotations from Monsanto’s Pledge Report are at the center of the polemic that pits defenders of biotechnology against its opponents. For the former, Monsanto has turned the page of its past as an irresponsible chemical company and is now offering products able to resolve the problems of hunger in the world and of environmental contamination by following the “values” that are supposed to direct its activity: “integrity, transparency, dialogue, sharing, respect,” as its 2005 Pledge Report proclaims.10 For the latter, all these promises are nothing but smoke and mirrors masking a vast plan for domination that threatens not just the food security of the world but also the ecological balance of the planet, and which follows in a straight line from Monsanto’s nefarious past.

I wanted to decide for myself. To do that, I followed two paths. First, I worked on the Internet day and night. In fact, the great majority of the documents I cite in this book are available on the Web. All one has to do is look for them and connect them, which I invite the reader to do, because it is truly fascinating: everything is there, and no one—least of all those charged with writing the laws that govern us—can reasonably say that we didn’t know. But, of course, that is not enough. And that is why I took up my pilgrim’s staff again. I traveled to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Paraguay, India, Vietnam, France, Norway, Italy, and Great Britain. Everywhere, I compared Monsanto’s words to the reality on the ground, meeting dozens of witnesses whom I had previously identified via the Web.

Many in the four corners of the world have raised the alarm, denouncing here a manipulation, there a lie, and in many places human tragedies—often at the cost of serious personal and professional difficulties. As the reader will find out in the course of this book, it is not a simple matter to oppose the truth of the facts to the truth of Monsanto, which is trying to “seize control of the seeds and hence of the food of the world,” as Yudhvir Singh said to me in 2004—a goal that the firm seems on the way to achieving in 2009, unless European farmers and consumers decide otherwise, bringing the rest of the world in their wake.
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Re: The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption,

Postby admin » Thu Feb 04, 2016 9:36 am

PART 1: One of the Great Polluters of Industrial History

1: PCBs: White-Collar Crime

We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business.

—“Pollution Letter,” declassified Monsanto document, February 16, 1970

Anniston, Alabama, October 12, 2006: With trembling hands, David Baker put the cassette into his VCR. “It’s an unforgettable memory,” the six-foot-tall man murmured, furtively wiping away a tear. “The greatest day in my life, the day when the people of my community decided to take back their dignity by making one of the largest multinationals in the world, which had always despised them, give in.” On the screen were images filmed on August 14, 2001, of thousands of African Americans who walked silently and firmly in the golden late-afternoon light toward Anniston’s cultural center on 22nd Street. The Anniston Star reported the next day that at least five thousand residents attended the meeting, the largest group many had ever seen in Anniston.

Asked why she had come, a fifty-year-old woman explained, “Because my husband and my son died of cancer.”

A man pointed to a little girl perched on his shoulders. “She has a brain tumor. We had lost hope of getting Monsanto to pay for all the harm its factory has done us, but if Johnnie Cochran is working for us, then it’s different.”

The name was on everyone’s lips. In 1995, the United States had held its breath as the celebrated Los Angeles lawyer defended O. J. Simpson against the charge of murdering his ex-wife and her friend in 1994. After a long and highly publicized trial, Simpson had been acquitted, thanks to the skill of his lawyer, the great-grandson of a slave, who had argued that his client was the victim of a racist police frame-up. From then until his death in 2005, Cochran was a hero to the American black community. “A god,” David Baker said to me. “That’s why I knew that by persuading him to come to Anniston, which he didn’t even know existed, I had practically almost won the fight.”

“Johnnie!” the crowd roared as the elegantly dressed lawyer climbed onto the stage. And Cochran spoke to a reverently silent audience. He was able to find the words that would resonate in this little southern town that had long been torn by the civil rights struggle. He spoke of the historic role of Rosa Parks, an Alabama native, in the struggle against racial segregation in the United States. He quoted the Gospel of Matthew: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Then he spoke of the story of David and Goliath, paying tribute to David Baker, the man who had made this unlikely meeting possible. “I look at this audience and I see a lot of Davids,” he said with passion. “I don’t know if you know what power you have. Every citizen has the right to live free from pollution, free from PCBs, from mercury and lead—that’s a constitutional principle! You will rise up against the injustice Monsanto has done you, because the injustice done here is a threat to justice everywhere else! You are doing a service to the country that must no longer be ruled by the private interests of the giants of industry!”

“Amen!” cried the crowd, giving him a standing ovation. In the course of the next few days, 18,233 inhabitants of Anniston, including 450 children with neurological defects, filed through the small office of the Community against Pollution organization, set up by Baker in 1997 to bring legal action against the chemical company. They joined the 3,516 other plaintiffs, including Baker himself, who were already engaged in a class action suit that had been filed four years earlier. After a half century of silent suffering, almost the entire black population of the town was challenging a company with a decades-long history as a major world polluter, and would soon receive the largest known settlement paid by an industrial company in U.S. history: $700 million.

“It was a tough battle,” commented Baker, still stirred by emotion. “But how could we imagine that a company could act so criminally? You understand? My little brother Terry died at seventeen from a brain tumor and lung cancer.1 He died because he ate the vegetables from our garden and the fish he caught in a highly contaminated stream. Monsanto turned Anniston into a ghost town.”

The Origins of Monsanto

Yet Anniston had had its glory days. Long known as the “model city,” or the city with the “world’s best sewer system” because of the quality of its municipal infrastructure, the little southern town, rich in iron ore, was long considered a pioneer of the industrial revolution. Officially chartered in 1879 and named after the wife of a railroad president, “Annie’s Town” was celebrated as “Alabama’s magnificent city” in the Atlanta Constitution in 1882. Run by a minority of white industrialists who were smart enough to reinvest their money locally to foster social peace, it competed with the nearby state capital, Birmingham, to attract entrepreneurs. In 1917, for example, Southern Manganese Corporation decided to establish a factory there for the manufacture of artillery shells. In 1925, the company changed its name to the Swann Chemical Company, and four years later it launched production of PCBs, universally hailed as “chemical miracles,” which would soon make Monsanto a fortune and bring disaster to Anniston.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are chlorinated chemical compounds that embody the great industrial adventure of the late nineteenth century. While working to improve the techniques for refining crude oil to extract the gasoline needed for the infant automobile industry, chemists identified the characteristics of benzene, an aromatic hydrocarbon that would later be widely used as a chemical solvent in the manufacture of medicines, plastics, and coloring agents. In the laboratory, the sorcerer’s apprentices mixed it with chlorine and obtained a new product that turned out to be thermally stable and to possess remarkable heat resistance. Thus PCBs were born, and for half a century they colonized the planet: they were used as coolants in electric transformers and industrial hydraulic machines, but also as lubricants in applications as varied as plastics, paint, ink, and paper.

In 1935, the Swann Chemical Company was bought by a rising enterprise from St. Louis, the Monsanto Chemical Works. Established in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, a self-taught chemist who also wanted to honor his wife, Olga Mendez Monsanto, the small company, set up with a $5,000 personal loan, began by manufacturing saccharin, the first artificial sweetener, which it then sold exclusively to another rising company in Georgia, Coca-Cola. It soon began supplying the soft drink company with vanillin and caffeine, and then started manufacturing aspirin, of which it was the largest American producer until the 1980s. In 1918, Monsanto made its first acquisition, buying an Illinois company that made sulfuric acid.

This shift to basic industrial products led to the purchase of several chemical companies in the United States and Australia after its shares went on sale at the New York Stock Exchange in 1929, one month before the crash, which the company survived, renamed the Monsanto Chemical Company. In the 1940s, it became one of the world’s major producers of rubber, followed by plastics and synthetic fibers such as polystyrene, as well as phosphates. At the same time, it reinforced its monopoly in the international PCB market, guaranteed by a patent that enabled it to sell licenses almost everywhere in the world. In the United States and the United Kingdom (where the company had a factory in Wales), PCBs were marketed under the name Aroclor, while they were known by the name Pyralène in France, Clophen in Germany, and Kanechlor in Japan.

“That’s how Anniston became the most polluted city in the United States,” Baker explained to me as we got into his car for a tour of the area. First came Noble Street downtown, which was the pride of the city in the 1960s, with two movie theaters and many stores, most now closed. We then drove through the east side, dotted with pleasant houses where the white minority traditionally lived. Finally, on the other side of the tracks, came the west side, the home of the city’s poor, mostly black, in the middle of an industrial area. That was where David Baker was born fifty-five years ago.

We were going through what he had rightly called a ghost town. “All these houses have been abandoned,” he told me, pointing to dilapidated and tumbledown houses on both sides of the street. “People ended up leaving because their vegetable gardens and water were highly contaminated.” We turned the corner from a lane full of potholes onto a wide thoroughfare with the sign “Monsanto Road.” It ran alongside the factory where the company had produced PCBs until 1971. A fence surrounded the site, which now belongs to Solutia (motto: “Applied Chemistry, Creative Solutions”), an “independent” company also based in St. Louis, to which Monsanto turned over its chemical division in 1997, in one of the company’s typical sleights of hand likely intended to protect it from the storm that its irresponsible conduct in Anniston was about to unleash.

“We weren’t fooled,” Baker said. “Solutia or Monsanto, it’s all the same to us. Look, here’s the channel of Snow Creek, where the company dumped its waste for more than forty years. It ran from the factory through the town, and flowed into the surrounding creeks. It was poisoned water. Monsanto knew it but never said anything.”

According to a declassified report, secretly prepared in March 2005 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 680 million pounds of PCBs were produced in Anniston from 1929 to 1971.2 Sixty thousand pounds of PCBs were emitted into the atmosphere, 1.8 million pounds were dumped in streams such as Snow Creek (following facility-cleaning operations), and 68 million pounds of contaminated wastes were deposited in an open pit located on the site, in other words, in the heart of the city’s black community.

Half a Million Pages of Secret Documents

As we started to go around the site on foot, we met a hearse that honked its horn and stopped alongside us. “This is Reverend Jeffrey Williams,” Baker explained. “He runs an Anniston funeral home. He succeeded his uncle, who recently died from a rare cancer, typical of PCB contamination.”

“Unfortunately, he’s not the only one,” said Reverend Williams. “This year I’ve buried at least a hundred people who died of cancer, many young people between twenty and forty.”

“I learned about the tragedy that’s affecting all of us from his uncle,” Baker went on. “For decades we accepted the deaths of our family members as a mysterious fate.”

When his seventeen-year-old brother Terry collapsed and died in front of the family home, Baker was living in New York, where he was working as an officer of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. After twenty-five years of good and faithful service, he decided in 1995 to go back home, where his experience as a union leader would soon be of great help to him. By chance, he was hired by Monsanto, which was then recruiting “environmental technicians,” responsible for decontaminating the factory site. “It was in the mid-1990s,” he said, “and we weren’t yet informed of the pollution dangers, but the company was quietly starting to clean up. That was where I heard about PCBs for the first time, and I began to suspect that they were hiding something.”

At the same time, Donald Stewart, an Anniston lawyer who had briefly been a United States senator, was contacted by a black resident of the west side of town, who asked him to come to the Mars Hill Baptist Church, located directly opposite the PCB factory. Accompanied by his congregants, the pastor informed him that Monsanto had offered to purchase the church from the community as well as a number of houses in the neighborhood. The lawyer understood that something was going on and agreed to represent the interests of the small church. “In fact,” said Baker, “the company was in the process of clearing the ground around itself to avoid having to compensate property owners.” Baker thought he knew why Monsanto was doing this, explaining that “it sensed that sooner or later pollution would come out into the open.”

In any event, people started to talk in Anniston. The former union organizer from New York set up a first meeting in the funeral parlor of Russell “Tombstone” Williams, Jeffrey’s uncle, which fifty people attended. They spoke late into the night of the deaths and illnesses that were devastating families (including those affecting young children), repeated miscarriages, and learning-related problems for the younger children. From this meeting came the idea of setting up an organization called Community against Pollution, presided over by Baker.

In the meantime, the Mars Hill Church affair had progressed: Monsanto offered a settlement, putting a million dollars on the table. During a meeting with the small Baptist community, Stewart found out that Monsanto’s offer to buy several of its members’ houses was contingent upon them promising never to take the company to court. The lawyer understood that Monsanto was hiding something big, and he suggested that they file a class action suit. Baker’s committee was asked to recruit the plaintiffs, with the maximum number set by Stewart at 3,500.

Stewart had caught a whiff of the case of his life, but he also knew that it was likely to be long and costly. To deal with legal costs, he decided to contact the New York firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres, and Friedman, famous for its litigation against the tobacco industry. The joint adventure would last more than seven years and would involve an investment of $15 million, with lawyers’ fees sometimes running as high as $500,000 per month. The first stage consisted of organizing blood tests and fatty tissue analyses of the 3,500 plaintiffs, to measure their PCB levels. These tests, which could only be conducted by specialized laboratories, cost about $1,000 each.

While the complaint was being prepared under the title Abernathy v. Monsanto, Stewart moved heaven and earth to get his hands on company documents proving that it had known of the toxicity of PCBs. He knew that without this incriminating evidence, the fight would be hard to win, because the company could always offer the defense of ignorance. Intuitively, he was convinced that a multinational full of scientists would operate in a very bureaucratic fashion, with a hierarchy that controlled everything through a very sophisticated document system; the slightest event or decision, he thought, had to have left written traces. He minutely scrutinized the depositions of Monsanto representatives, and he came across a pearl: according to a company lawyer, a “mountain of documents”—500,000 pages that had disappeared from the St. Louis offices—had been deposited in the library of a New York law firm that represented Monsanto.

Stewart asked to consult them, but he was told that the documents were inaccessible because they were protected by the work product doctrine, which allows attorneys to keep documents secret before a trial in order to avoid providing ammunition for the opposing party. Stewart turned to Judge Joel Laird of the Calhoun County court, who was handling Abernathy v. Monsanto: in a crucial decision, the judge ordered Monsanto to open up its internal archives.

Monsanto Knew, and Said Nothing

The “mountain of documents” is now accessible on the Web site of the Environmental Working Group, an NGO dedicated to environmental protection and headed by Ken Cook, who met with me in his Washington office in July 2006.3 Before meeting with him, I spent many nights combing through this mass of memoranda, letters, and reports drafted over decades by Monsanto employees with truly Kafkaesque precision and coldness.

Indeed, there is something I still have trouble understanding: how could people knowingly run the risk of poisoning their customers and the environment and not stop to think that they themselves or their children might be the victims of, to put it mildly, their negligence? I am not speaking of ethics or morality, abstract concepts foreign to the logic of capitalism, but merely of the survival instinct: was it lacking in the managers of Monsanto? “A company like Monsanto is a world of its own,” Cook told me, admitting that he had been plagued by the same questions. “The pursuit of profit at any price anesthetizes people devoted to a single purpose: making money.” He showed me a document that summed up this way of operating. Entitled “Pollution Letter,” it was dated February 16, 1970. Drafted by N.Y. Johnson, who worked in the St. Louis office, this internal document was addressed to the company’s marketing staff to explain to them how to answer their customers who had learned of the first public disclosures of the potential dangers of PCBs: “Attached is a list of questions and answers which may be asked of you by customers receiving our Aroclor-PCB letter. You can give verbal answers; no answers should be given in writing. . . . We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business.”

What is absolutely breathtaking is that Monsanto knew that PCBs presented a serious health risk as early as 1937. But the company carried on regardless until the products were finally banned in 1977, the date when its W.G. Krummrich plant in Sauget, Illinois (an eastern suburb of St. Louis, the site of Monsanto’s second PCB production facility), was closed down.

In 1937, Dr. Emmett Kelly, Monsanto’s medical director, was invited to a meeting at the Harvard School of Public Health, also attended by PCB users such as Halowax and General Electric, along with representatives of the U.S. Public Health Service. At this meeting, Cecil K. Drinker, a Harvard researcher, presented the results of a study he had conducted at the request of Halowax: a year earlier, three employees of that company had died after being exposed to PCB fumes, and several had developed a terribly disfiguring skin disease, which was then unknown but later named chloracne. I will come back in the next chapter to this serious pathology, which is characteristic of dioxin poisoning, sometimes resulting in an eruption of pustules all over the body, and which may last for several years or indeed never go away.

In a panic, Halowax management asked Cecil Drinker to test PCBs on rats. The results, published in the Journal of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology, were conclusive: the test animals had developed severe liver lesions. On October 11, 1937, an internal Monsanto report tersely noted that “experimental works in animals shows that prolonged exposures to Aroclor vapors . . . will lead to systemic toxic effects. Repeated bodily contacts with the liquid Aroclor may lead to an acne-form skin eruption.”

Seventeen years later, the problem of chloracne was the subject of an internal report written in chillingly technical language: “Seven workers developed chloracne in a plant using Arochlor,” a Monsanto manager reported, and then calmly explained: “The fact that air tests, even in the presence of vapors, showed only negligible amounts of chlorinated hydrocarbons indicates that this type of intermittent but fiercely long continued mild exposure is not innocuous.”

On February 14, 1961, the head of production of Hexagon Laboratories, another Monsanto customer, sent a letter to Kelly in St. Louis: “In reference to our recent telephone conversation, I would like to further discuss the incident wherein two of our plant personnel were exposed to hot Arochlor (1248) vapors generated by a broken pipe connection. For your information and records the two men developed symptoms of hepatitis as you predicted and were confined to a hospital for approximately two weeks. . . . Since we are dealing with a highly toxic material . . . it is felt that a more thorough and clearly written description of the hazards should be described under Safety of Handling.”

Monsanto did not follow its customer’s recommendation; it had only begrudgingly complied with labeling laws passed in 1958 intended to strengthen safety precautions in the handling of toxic products. “It is our desire to comply with the necessary regulations, but to comply with the minimum and not to give any unnecessary information which could very well damage our sales position in the synthetic hydraulic fluid field.”

Sometimes, confronted with urgent questions from their customers, Monsanto managers lost themselves in circumlocutions that might provoke a smile if the stakes were not so serious. For example, in August 1960, a manufacturer of compressors in Chicago was concerned about the possible environmental consequences of the discharge of wastes containing PCBs into rivers. “I would like to say that if small quantities of these materials are accidentally spilled into a receiving stream there would probably be no harmful effect,” a representative of the Monsanto medical department answered. “If, on the other hand, a great deal of the material was spilled some readily identifiable damage might ensue.”

As the years went by, however, the tone changed, probably because the threat of legal action brought by its own customers was weighing ever more heavily on the company. In 1965, an internal memo reported a telephone conversation with the head of an electrical company that used Aroclor 1242 as an engine coolant. The manufacturer had apparently said that in his own plant Aroclor spills on the floor were common. The memo noted: “I was brutally frank and told him that this had to stop before he killed somebody with liver or kidney damage.”

“Criminal” Conduct

In the face of the alarming reports coming from the field, there were very few voices who spoke up against the general inertia, including Dr. J.W. Barrett, a Monsanto scientist based in London, who suggested in 1955 that studies be conducted to rigorously evaluate the toxic effects of Aroclor. Kelly responded curtly: “I don’t know how you would get any particular advantage in doing more work.” Two years later, the head of the medical department, with the same self-assurance, commented on the results of an experiment conducted by the U.S. Navy with Pydraul 150, a PCB used as a hydraulic fluid in submarines. “Skin applications of Pydraul 150 caused the death of all the rabbits tested. . . . No matter how we discussed the situation, it was impossible to change their thinking that Pydraul 150 is just too toxic for use in a submarine.”

It is surprising when reading these documents to see the extent to which the company’s position was apparently immune to challenge. It conscientiously collected alarming data, which it hastened to lock in a drawer, keeping its eyes riveted on sales instead: “2.5 million pounds per year,” crowed the author of a 1952 document. But there were moments when I began to dream of a possible change in the company’s behavior.

“I think it will be huge,” Shkreli wrote in an email on August 27, 2015. “We raised the price from $1,700 per bottle to $75,000… So 5,000 paying bottles at the new price is $375,000,000 — almost all of it is profit and I think we will get three years of that or more. Should be a very handsome investment for all of us. Let’s all cross our fingers that the estimates are accurate.”...

While taking steps to purchase the exclusive rights to sell Daraprim, Shkreli wrote an email to the chairman of the board on May 27, 2015, boasting, “$1 bn here we come.”

On September 17, 2015, Tina Ghorban, senior director of business analytics and customer insights at Turing, forwarded a single purchase order for 96 bottles of Daraprim at the full price. Ghorban wrote, “Another $7.2 million. Pow!”

-- Emails Reveal Martin Shkreli Raised Drug Prices Purely For Profit, By Andrew Emett

For example, on November 2, 1966, the report of an experiment conducted at Monsanto’s request by Professor Denzel Ferguson, a zoologist from Mississippi State University, arrived in St. Louis. His research team had immersed twenty-five caged fish in Snow Creek, where waste from the plant was dumped and which, as we have seen, flowed through the city of Anniston. “All 25 fish lost equilibrium . . . and all were dead in 3½ minutes and . . . blood issues from the gills after 3 minutes exposure,” the scientist reported. He went on to say that at certain points the water was so polluted that it “kills fish in less than 24 hours when diluted 300 times.” In their final report, the Mississippi State scientists made several recommendations: “Do not release untreated waste in the future! Clean up Snow Creek.” And the conclusions pointed out: “Snow Creek is a potential source of future legal problems. . . . Monsanto needs to monitor the biological effects of its effluents as a protection against future accusations.”

Late in November 1966, the Brussels office of Monsanto Europe received a letter from a correspondent in Stockholm reporting on a scientific meeting concerning research conducted by a Swedish scientist, Soren Jensen. Published in New Scientist, this work had caused a great stir in Sweden.4 While analyzing DDT in samples of human blood, Jensen had accidentally discovered a new toxic substance, which turned out to be PCB. The irony of the story is that DDT, a powerful insecticide discovered in Switzerland in 1939, was also a chlorinated chemical product that Monsanto sold widely until it was finally banned in the early 1970s, in particular because of its human health effects. Jensen discovered that PCBs had already extensively contaminated the environment even though they were not manufactured in Sweden: he found significant quantities in salmon caught near the coast and even in the hair of his own family (his two children, ages three and six, his wife, and his five-month-old infant, who must have been contaminated by breast milk). He concluded that PCBs “accumulated in certain organs of animals and the food chain. They are said to be related to DDT and equally poisonous.”

And yet Monsanto management did not change its attitude: one year later it allocated an additional $2.9 million to further development of Aroclor products in Anniston and Sauget. “The company’s irresponsibility was staggering,” said Ken Cook. “It had all the data at its fingertips, but it did nothing. That’s why I say it was guilty of criminal conduct.”
In fact, no specific measures were taken to protect the workers in the Anniston plant. “At Anniston no special protecting clothing is provided for the Arochlors operators,” a 1955 document notes. “A daily change of clothing was provided in the past but this practice ceased before the war.” The only clearly announced recommendation was not to eat in the Aroclor department.

But the company was discreetly collecting data that would be used against it twenty years later: “The effects of exposure of PCBs on our employees have been reviewed by our medical Department and a consultant from the Eppley Institute,” explained William Papageorge, known as the “PCB czar” because he supervised their production for several decades. “In summary there is no evidence that our employees have been adversely affected by PCBs. . . . We have no program underway to study these “effects.” Similarly, technicians in St. Louis confirmed by firsthand observation that toxic products persisted in the environment for at least thirty years. In 1939, in fact, PCBs had been buried in patches of ground to test their effectiveness as termite poison: “There is still visual evidence of the presence of Aroclor,” noted an “officer” in 1969.

“The worst thing about all of this,” said Cook, “is that Monsanto never warned the residents of Anniston that the water, the soil, and the air of the west side of town was highly contaminated. As for state and local authorities, not only did they close their eyes, but they covered up the company’s actions. It’s really scandalous. I think one of the explanations of this tragedy is the racism of the leaders at the time: after all, they were only blacks.”

Complicity and Manipulation

In the spring of 1970, just after the Nixon administration, with great fanfare, had announced that the Environmental Protection Agency would be established later that year to meet the “public’s growing demand for clean air, water, and soil,” Monsanto made a preemptive strike: a note from May 7 marked “confidential” describes a meeting between company representatives and Joe Crockett, the technical director of the Alabama Water Improvement Commission (AWIC), the public body responsible for the state’s water quality. The purpose of the meeting was to “inform the AWIC representative of the situation” and “to build confidence that Monsanto intends to cooperate with governmental agencies to define the effects of Aroclor on the environment” (emphasis added). This was simply a public relations exercise, which in fact succeeded, since Crockett recommended that no statements be given “which would bring the situation to the public’s attention.” The note concludes: “The full cooperation of the AWIC on a confidential basis can be anticipated.”

At the same time the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was conducting tests on fish caught at the confluence of Snow Creek and Choccolocco Creek. They determined that PCB levels in the fish were at 277 parts per million (ppm), whereas the safe level for consumption had been set at 5 ppm. Curiously, the FDA took no steps to issue an advisory against fishing in the incriminated waterways nor against Monsanto, which thus had an opportunity to put the “cooperation” of the AWIC to the test: “We are now discharging 16 pounds of PCBs per day (compared to 250 in 1969) into Snow Creek,” according to an August 1970 document marked “Confidential. FYI and Destroy.” “Joe Crockett will try to handle the problem quietly without release of the information to the public at this time.” The residents of Anniston therefore continued to consume fish caught in contaminated streams until 1993, when the FDA issued its first order warning against the practice.

But Monsanto’s negligence, which some would call cynicism, did not stop there. I have already noted that the company was discharging some of its wastes in a dump near the factory that, when it rained, produced runoff into neighboring gardens. In December 1970, a neighborhood resident was allowing one of his pigs to forage in a vacant lot next to the dump. He was approached by a representative of Monsanto who offered to buy his animal. As an internal memo reveals, the animal was slaughtered and analyzed: its fat contained 19,000 ppm of PCBs.5 But in this case as well, no information was ever provided to the residents, who continued to allow their pigs to forage in the vacant lot for many years.

In fact, everything indicates that the company’s single obsession was to carry on its business come what may. In August 1970, when PCBs were increasingly gaining attention in the media, company management decided to set up an ad hoc committee to consider the situation. The committee issued a report marked “confidential,” which began by listing its objectives: “permit continued sales and profits of aroclors” and “protect image of . . . the Corporation.” There followed a long list of all cases of contamination recorded in the country. It turns out, for example, that a University of California researcher had detected elevated levels of PCBs in fish, birds, and eggs in the coastal region.6 A study conducted by the FDA had revealed that PCBs had been found in milk from herds in Maryland and Georgia; another study conducted by a laboratory of the Commercial Fisheries Bureau of the U.S. Interior Department in Florida had showed that juvenile shrimp did not survive in water containing 5 ppm of PCBs, and so on. Reading the report leads to the conclusion that PCBs were everywhere: they were used as lubricants in turbines, pumps, and food distribution equipment for cows, they were a component of the paint used for the walls of reservoirs, grain silos, swimming pools (particularly in Europe), and road markings and were used in the manufacture of oils used in metal fabrication, solder, adhesives, carbonless copy paper, and more.

“As the alarm concerning the contamination of the environment grows it is almost certain that a number of our customers or their products will be incriminated. The company could be considered derelict, morally, if not legally, if it fails to notify all customers of the potential implication,” the committee stated. It concluded that the company was faced with an “extraordinary situation. There can not be too much emphasis given to the threat of curtailment or outright discontinuance of the manufacture and sales of this very profitable series of compounds. If the products, the Division, and the Corporation are to be adequately protected, adequate funding is necessary.”

To put it plainly, Monsanto was proposing not to confess its mistake and simply withdraw its Aroclor product line from the market, but on the contrary to do everything possible to keep it on sale.
The first stage of the battle plan was to finance a toxicological study to test PCBs on rats. To that end, the company signed a contract with Industrial Bio-Tech Labs (IBT) in Northbrook, Illinois, one of whose new directors was Dr. Paul Wright, a toxicologist from Monsanto recruited for the occasion. A few months later, the preliminary results of the study reached company headquarters: “PCBs are exhibiting a greater degree of toxicity in this chronic study as we had anticipated. . . . We have additional interim data which will perhaps be more discouraging.” A letter to Joseph Calandra, the head of IBT, followed: “I think we are surprised (and disappointed?) at the apparent toxicity at the levels studied. We would hope that we might find a higher ‘no effect’ level with this sample as compared to the previous work.” In July 1975, Monsanto’s manager of environmental assessment and toxicology attempted to correct the results by strongly suggesting that the phrase “slightly tumorigenic” be replaced by the phrase “does not appear to be carcinogenic.”

A Poison as Toxic as Dioxin

Professor David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany, told me: “We all have PCBs in our bodies. They belong to a category of twelve very dangerous chemical pollutants known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), because, unfortunately, they are resistant to natural biological decay and they accumulate in the living tissue through the entire food chain.

“PCBs have contaminated the whole planet, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and regular exposure can lead to cancer, namely, liver, pancreatic, intestinal, breast, lung, and brain cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, immune deficiency, thyroid disorders, sexual hormone imbalances, reproductive problems, and serious neurological disturbances, because some PCBs belong to the dioxin family.”

He went on to explain that PCBs are biphenyl molecules in which one or more of the ten hydrogen atoms are replaced by chlorine atoms. There are 209 possible combinations, and hence 209 different PCBs, known as congeneric PCBs, the toxicity of which varies depending on the location and number of chlorine atoms in the molecule.

Writing these lines reminded me of an article in Le Nouvel Observateur of August 23, 2007, which, following Le Monde, Libération, and Le Figaro, reported on what Le Dauphiné libéré had called a “French Chernobyl.”7 According to the weekly, “The Rhône is polluted to its mouth. It contains levels of PCBs that are five to twelve times above European health norms! [i] Analysis after analysis, orders from the prefects came down like guillotines: the ban on the consumption of fish, decreed first north of Lyon and then applied as far as Drôme and Ardèche, was extended on August 7 to the departments of Vaucluse, Gard, and Bouches-du-Rhône. It may soon reach the Camargue marshes, which are fed by water from the river, and even coastal fishing in the Mediterranean and the harvesting of shellfish and crustaceans near the coast.”

The alarm was raised fortuitously by a professional fisherman who was the victim of his own good faith. “In late 2004, dead birds were found upstream from Lyon,” he explained to a journalist. “While they were being analyzed, as a precautionary measure, the veterinary services prohibited all consumption of fish. It was only a case of strictly avian botulism, but no one wanted my fish afterward. I asked for complete analyses to prove that they were good. And bingo! They were stuffed with PCBs!”

Since then, government services have been struggling to determine the origin of the pollution that is said to have affected hundreds of thousands of tons of sediment in the Rhône. I have already noted that the purchase and sale of PCBs or equipment containing them have been prohibited in France since 1987. A decree issued January 18, 2001, incorporated into French law a European directive enacted nearly five years earlier, on September 16, 1996, concerning the elimination of existing PCBs, a process that is supposed to be definitively completed by December 31, 2010, at the latest.8 A national plan for the decontamination and elimination of equipment containing PCBs was established only in 2003. According to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), 545,610 pieces of equipment containing more than five liters of PCBs had been inventoried in France by the end of June 2002 (450,000 of which belonged to Électricité de France (EDF)), amounting to 33,462 tons of PCBs to be eliminated. But according to the association France Nature Environnement, the goal is far from being reached in light of the fact that the declaration of equipment to be treated was voluntary. “Our fear was of seeing diffuse PCB pollution in the environment due to incomplete elimination of these wastes, with the risk that they would be dumped on industrial wastelands or in improvised dumpsites, or simply used as scrap metal,” the association wrote in its February 2007 newsletter.9

“The problem,” Carpenter explained, “is that PCBs are very difficult to destroy. The only way is to burn them at very high temperatures in special incinerators also able to treat the dioxin produced by their combustion.” Two factories in France are certified to carry out this delicate task: one is located in Saint-Auban in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, the other in Saint-Vulbas in Ain, on the banks of the Rhône. According to a report in Le Nouvel Observateur, until 1988 the Saint-Vulbas installation was authorized to discharge three kilos daily of PCB residues into the river (the maximum quantity is now three grams a day). To this possible source of contamination should probably be added discharges by the numerous companies in the “chemical corridor” that use Pyralène: oils containing PCBs were allowed to leak into the ground and from there into the water table and nearby streams. “For decades, in the United States and around the world, public authorities preserved the silence organized by Monsanto about the toxicity of PCBs,” said Carpenter. “Everyone closed his eyes to this poison, which is as dangerous as dioxin.”

One merely has to read a report presented to Congress by the U.S. Public Health Service and the EPA in 1996 to understand that the “health implications of exposure to PCBs” are extremely serious.10 The thirty-page report enumerates no fewer than 159 scientific studies conducted in the United States, Europe, and Japan that all reached the same conclusion: the three principal sources of human contamination by PCBs are direct exposure in the workplace, living near a polluted site, and, most important, the food chain, with the consumption of fish being by far the riskiest. In addition, all the studies found that contaminated mothers transmitted PCBs to their infants in breast milk and that the substances could cause irreparable neurological damage in the babies, who would be affected by what doctors have labeled “attention deficit disorder” and would have significantly lower than average IQs.

The devastating toxicity of PCBs could be studied in detail because of an accident in Japan in 1968, when thirteen hundred people on the island of Kyushu used rice bran cooking oil contaminated by PCBs because of a leak in a refrigeration system. They were affected by a disease at first called yusho, meaning “skin disease caused by oil,” characterized by severe skin eruptions, discoloration of the lips and nails, and swelling of the joints. When it turned out that the source of the mysterious disease was PCBs, researchers undertook long-term medical follow-up of the victims. The results showed that children born to mothers contaminated during pregnancy had an elevated early mortality rate and/or significant mental and behavioral impairment; in addition, the rate of liver cancer was fifteen times higher among the victims than in the normal population, and average life expectancy was considerably reduced. Finally, PCBs were still detectable in the blood and sebum of contaminated people twenty-six years after the accident.

These results were confirmed by a study of two thousand people in Taiwan contaminated in 1979 in circumstances similar to those of their Japanese neighbors (the “Yu-Cheng accident”).11 These two dramatic events explain the panic that seized Belgian authorities in January 1999 when the “dioxin chicken” crisis erupted. The cause was again the accidental contamination by PCBs of cooking oil that was then added to animal feed supplied to chickens, pigs, and cattle.

From the litany of studies listed in the EPA report, I will take note of two others that were particularly dramatic. One concerned 242 children whose mothers (of Amerindian origin or the wives of recreational fishermen) had regularly consumed fish from Lake Michigan over a period of six years before and during their pregnancies; all the children had low birth weight and persistent cognitive deficits. The other concerned Inuits of Hudson Bay, who were particularly exposed because of their heavy reliance on the meat of sea mammals at the top of the food chain, such as seals, polar bears, and whales, where the highest levels of contamination were found. (In fact, some species of sea mammals, including killer whales, are threatened with extinction caused by PCBs.)12

Denial Now and Forever

“There is no consistent, convincing evidence that PCBs are associated with serious long-term health effects,” declared John Hunter, CEO of Solutia, on January 14, 2002, in a conference he called with investors and representatives of the press.13 He was attempting to reduce the impact of an article in the Washington Post titled “Monsanto Hid Decades of Pollution,” published on January 1, 2002, just before the trial of Abernathy v. Monsanto opened.14 “Despite the extent of the scientific evidence, internal documents, and witness testimony, the manufacturers in St. Louis have continued to deny the responsibility of the firm in the ecological and health disaster of Anniston,” stated David Carpenter, called as an expert witness at trial. “They have never showed the slightest compassion for the victims,” Ken Cook confirmed to me, “not a word of excuse or a sign of regret, denial now and forever! Their line of defense can be summed up like this: ‘We didn’t know that PCBs were dangerous before the late 1960s, but as soon as we found out, we acted quickly to rectify the problem with government agencies.’ ”

The arrogance revealed by some company representatives in the trial transcript is truly chilling, and they do anything but make amends. An example is this excerpt from the testimony of William Papageorge, the “PCB czar,” given on March 31, 1998, in the Calhoun County court. “To your knowledge, sir, did Monsanto ever disclose to the residents of Anniston in 1968 or 1969 that twenty-seven pounds of organics and acid waste from the Aroclor and HCl departments were being lost from the plant?” asked the attorney.

“There was no reason to talk those numbers. They were meaningless,” answered Papageorge.

“But the answer is no?”

“That is correct.”

“Thank you. Did anyone ever tell the residents of Anniston at that time that Monsanto was visually checking Snow Creek and Choccolocco Creek to determine the effects of the PCBs in the plant effluent water?”

“Sir, this is no different than a service station man telling his neighbors he has got motor oil on the curb by his service station. Those things are just nonproductive comments that one can make to others.”

“I’m going to move to strike. But the answer, though, is no? Is that right?”


“Did Monsanto ever provide the residents of Anniston with any data concerning the health hazards of PCBs in humans?”

“Why would they?”

On February 23, 2002, after deliberating for five hours, the jury delivered its verdict: it unanimously found Monsanto and Solutia liable for having polluted “the Anniston area and people’s blood with PCBs.”15 The legal grounds for the verdict were “negligence, wantonness, fraud, trespass, nuisance, and outrage,” and it included a harsh judgment of Monsanto’s conduct, which was “so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society.” The firm soon filed an appeal with the Alabama Supreme Court, asking that Judge Joel Laird be removed from the case, but the appeal was rejected. The jury then undertook the difficult task of evaluating the damages that each victim would recover on the basis of the PCB blood level measured and the cost of a program for decontaminating the site. Fifteen percent of the 3,516 plaintiffs had a PCB blood level higher than 20 ppm (the acceptable level was 2 ppm), with spikes as high as 60 or even 100 ppm. David Baker had a level of 341 ppm and was awarded damages of $33,000. The highest award was $500,000.

A month after the verdict, the EPA, which had been conspicuously inactive on the issue for more than twenty years, announced that it had signed an agreement with Solutia to decontaminate the site. This decision, very favorable to the polluter and nullifying the jury’s work, provoked the anger of Alabama senator Richard Shelby, who brought the matter before a Senate subcommittee, which pointed out that Linda Fisher, the number two staffer at the EPA, was a former Monsanto executive.

At the same time, the federal district court in Birmingham announced that the case of Tolbert v. Monsanto, a class action filed by Johnnie Cochran, would open in October 2002. Solutia’s share price on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed. Judge U.W. Clemon, who wanted to avoid a costly trial, then undertook the tedious task of persuading the parties to negotiate an overall settlement covering the two cases. The company had until then rejected that solution, probably hoping to financially exhaust the plaintiffs by multiplying technical legal motions and delaying tactics. “In fact,” Baker explained to me, “the prospect of a highly publicized trial, with Johnnie Cochran in court, made Monsanto give up and negotiate to reduce publicity.” Finally, the polluter offered $700 million: $600 million divided into two equal funds to indemnify victims, and $100 million to decontaminate the site and finance a specialized clinic.16

“Who will pay?” wondered the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on February 7, 2004. The problem was indeed intricate: Monsanto had gotten rid of its chemical division in 1997 by selling it to Solutia. And in December 1999, the company, which then had a pharmaceutical branch and an agricultural branch (transgenic seeds and Roundup), announced its merger with Pharmacia and Upjohn under the name Pharmacia. In the summer of 2002, Monsanto recovered its independence, retaining only its agricultural division, and Pharmacia was purchased by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. As a result, the $700 million would finally be paid by Solutia ($50 million), Monsanto ($390 million), and Pfizer ($75 million), with the remainder covered by insurance.

The lawyers pocketed 40 percent of the damage award, which provoked some complaints. “That’s how the American system works,” Baker explained to me. “In this kind of case, the lawyers are paid only if they win, and Johnnie Cochran, for example, had spent $7 million preparing the trial. That means if you don’t find a Johnnie Cochran, you can’t do anything against a company like Monsanto. The thing I regret is that none of the company executives was sentenced to prison.”

The status of corporations as “persons” in United States law generally shelters company officials from individual liability. “In the American legal system,” said Cook, “it is very rare for executives or managers of companies to be found criminally liable. On the other hand, companies can be sued in civil court, and they are made to pay. But in fact, the damages they pay decades later are only a fraction of their profits. So it pays to keep secrets. I wonder what secrets Monsanto is keeping now. You can never trust a big company like Monsanto to tell us the truth about a product or a pollution problem. Never.”

PCBs Are Everywhere

According to accepted estimates, 1.5 million tons of PCBs were produced from 1929 to 1989, a significant portion of which ended up in the environment. How much exactly? It is hard to know. The fact remains that PCBs are everywhere and they are a nightmare for us as citizens, but they are also a nightmare for Monsanto (and the subsidiary it used, Solutia, which declared bankruptcy in 2003 largely because of the litigation it had inherited).

Here is a brief, not exhaustive, summary: In January 2003, the Environment Department of Oslo fined Bayer, Kaneka, and Solutia g7 million for contaminating the fjord on which the harbor is located with PCBs used in ship paints. (It should be noted in passing that many experts, including David Carpenter, strongly advise against consuming salmon raised in Norway and Scotland.) In January 2006, 590 workers in a General Electric factory in New York sued Monsanto for PCB contamination.17

In 2007, as France was discovering that the Rhône was polluted by PCBs, Wales was shaken by a scandal that had been suppressed for more than forty years.18 Monsanto had a subsidiary in Newport that until 1978 produced 12 percent of the PCBs manufactured in the world. From 1965 to 1971, the factory dumped into the Brofiscin quarry, an extremely porous former limestone quarry, some 800,000 tons of waste contaminated with PCBs. The activity had been denounced at the time by farmers who had noticed that their cattle were dying mysteriously. The decontamination of the site could cost more than g200 million. For now, Monsanto and Solutia are blaming the company that the Newport factory contracted with to transport and dump the wastes.

At a time when concern for the environment is in the headlines, it is likely that the ghost of PCBs will haunt Monsanto for a long time to come, just like dioxin, of which it was an experienced producer.



i. According to Le Monde of June 26, 2007, “the most contaminated fish had a level forty times above  the daily acceptable level.”
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Re: The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption,

Postby admin » Thu Feb 04, 2016 9:38 am

2: Dioxin: A Polluter Working with the Pentagon

We believe that a human rights policy to guide our actions as a global corporate citizen is a logical next step to our Monsanto pledge—to address the importance of showing and advancing respect for our people and those affected by our actions.

—Monsanto, Pledge Report, 2005

“Dioxin? That poison has given me nightmares for twenty-five years,” said Marilyn Leistner as she parked her car in front of the Route 66 State Park visitor center about twenty miles from St. Louis. “Take a look, there’s nothing left of Times Beach. Who could imagine that this was once a town of fourteen hundred where more than eight hundred families lived?”

It is indeed hard to imagine. It was October 2006, and we were in front of a newly refurbished building that housed a kitschy tribute to the mythical Route 66. One of the original U.S. highways, the “Mother Road” ran for 2,400 miles from Chicago through eight states, including Missouri, to Los Angeles. Next to the building stood a Western-style wooden sign with the words “Route 66 State Park.” “They wiped Times Beach off the map and put a state park on the decontaminated site to bury one of the worst dioxin scandals in the United States,” said Leistner, the last mayor of the vanished town.

A Town Wiped Off the Map

“Times Beach” and “dioxin” were long joined together in the headlines of American newspapers, to the dismay of the residents of the little town established in 1925 as a summer resort for people working in St. Louis. At first, no one lived in the town. People set up trailers and came on weekends to swim in the Meramec River, to fish, or to picnic. Known as “the Beach,” the town attracted permanent residents who built wooden houses on stilts because the idyllic spot was frequently flooded. Times Beach gradually became a real town, with stores, a gas station (owned by Marilyn Leistner’s husband), a church, thirteen saloons, and a town council.

In the early 1970s, the not very wealthy town decided to try to deal with the problem of the dust that covered its unpaved roads and made residents’ lives miserable. The town decided to call on the services of the Bliss Waste Oil Company, a company that collected waste oil and industrial wastes from gas stations and chemical plants in Missouri. The company’s head, Russell Bliss, suggested spraying mud mixed with residual oil on the streets of Times Beach.

“By the summer of 1971, we had noticed the deaths of many cats, dogs, birds, and even a raccoon,” said Leistner. “One resident contacted the EPA, and they told him to freeze some dead animals and an agent would come to get them. But no one ever came.” But the EPA had already been alerted. In March 1971, the owner of a horse arena located northwest of St. Louis had been troubled by the unexplained death of fifty horses after Bliss Waste employees had sprayed the stable floors with brownish mud. A few weeks later, his two children, who often played in the stables, fell seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. When the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were contacted, they conducted tests of the suspect material and found alarming levels of toxic products: 1,590 ppm of PCBs, 5,000 ppm of 2,4,5-T (a powerful herbicide), and 30 ppm of dioxin.1

“There literally were bushel baskets full of those dead wild birds,” Dr. Patrick Phillips, a Missouri State Health Department veterinarian, told the New York Times after being called to various places around the state where Bliss’s company had sprayed.2 Science published an article in 1975 on this mysterious deadly pollution, but for years the authorities did nothing.3 However, the EPA was quietly conducting an investigation. It was focused primarily on Missouri factories that produced toxic waste, as revealed by an exchange of letters in September 1972 between agency officials and William Papageorge, Monsanto’s “PCB czar”; apparently, samples had been taken from Russell Bliss’s oil tanks and analyses sent to Monsanto.

At length, the “black autumn” of 1982 arrived. “It was a nightmare,” said Leistner, who was then a town alderman. “On November 10, I was informed by a local reporter that Times Beach was on a list of one hundred sites contaminated by dioxin that had been drawn up by the EPA. On December 3, agency technicians came to collect soil samples. Two days later, the town experienced the worst flood in its history and many families had to be evacuated. On December 23, when residents were just coming back to their houses, the EPA informed us that the level of dioxin detected in the samples was three hundred times the level considered acceptable.”4

There was panic in Times Beach. While teams of EPA technicians wearing hazmat suits and gas masks went through the town, reporters flooded in from around the country. “At the time, we knew very little about dioxin,” Leistner recalled, “and it was by watching television news that we found out it was the most dangerous molecule ever invented by man. But that’s all. No one was able to tell us what that might mean for our health.” And there was good reason for this: the highly toxic effects of dioxin had been knowingly suppressed by its producers, particularly by a certain company in St. Louis.

In the meantime, the CDC set up an emergency unit in Times Beach. Residents were asked to come in for a health check. The television news broadcasts of the time that I was able to see show the anxiety in the people’s faces, outbursts of tears, and their impotent anger at the silence of the doctors avoiding questions. “My whole family was examined,” said Leistner. “My husband was suffering from delayed-onset cutaneous porphyria, a persistent skin disease. [i] Two of my daughters, my son, and I suffered from hyperthyroidism. I had had surgery for several benign tumors. One of my daughters suffered from severe allergies that produced hives all over her body; my second daughter was extremely thin, she had dizzy spells, and was losing her hair. When I asked the CDC officials if this was connected to dioxin, they said they didn’t know.”

In any event, panic had reached a peak in Times Beach. Severely depressed, the mayor resigned. At the same time, one of his assistants simply disappeared. According to Leistner, “he was a Monsanto executive who was working at St. Louis headquarters. When he found out the EPA had detected PCBs, he moved out.” And so Marilyn Leistner found herself in charge of the little town, having to “face the storm.” On February 22, 1983, Anne Burford, administrator of the EPA, announced that the government had decided to “buy Times Beach for the sum of $30 million.” The extraordinary plan proposed to indemnify and relocate all the residents, tear down the town, then decontaminate the site and burn the contaminated soil in an incinerator.

Monsanto Avoids Responsibility

“See, this is where our houses are buried,” said Marilyn Leistner, stopping for a few minutes in front of a large mound of grass-covered earth. “Everything we owned was bulldozed, the furniture, the appliances, even the children’s toys, because the flood had spread the dioxin and the PCBs everywhere. We left like plague-stricken refugees, because no one wanted to have anything to do with us: people were convinced we were contagious.”

“You didn’t sue?”

“Of course we did, but the case was dismissed because the court determined that we couldn’t prove the diseases we were suffering from were connected to dioxin contamination.”

“And the PCBs?”

“Well, officially the EPA was never able to trace the source of the PCBs that Russell Bliss had mixed with his oil.”

It is staggering, to put it mildly, that the EPA was unable to trace the source of the PCBs when the only manufacturer of those products owned a factory producing them in Sauget, Illinois, about twenty miles from Times Beach. “In fact,” Leistner explained, “we later found out that Rita Lavelle, who was Anne Burford’s assistant at the EPA, had destroyed documents that could have incriminated Monsanto.”

The affair was a big story in the United States in 1983. In investigating a misuse of the Superfund Program budget, a fund allocated to the EPA to decontaminate sites polluted by industrial wastes, some of which had been fraudulently used to finance the electoral campaigns of Republican candidates, Congress discovered that documents that would compromise the companies had disappeared. The investigation proved that the Reagan administration, known for its unstinting support of big business, had ordered Anne Burford to “freeze” the Times Beach case. Appointed as EPA administrator shortly after Reagan’s inauguration, she was forced to resign following the scandal, in March 1983. Her deputy, Rita Lavelle, had worse luck: she was sentenced to six months in prison on charges of perjury and obstructing a congressional investigation.5 The investigation revealed that she had shredded a number of incriminating documents and that she frequently lunched with representatives of Monsanto. But the company didn’t lose everything with the change: the new head of the EPA was William Ruckelshaus, who had been its first administrator in 1970 before briefly becoming acting director of the FBI in 1973 and then joining the boards of directors of Monsanto and Solutia.

“The problem,” Gerson Smoger, an environmental lawyer from Oakland who represented some former Times Beach residents, explained to me in October 2006, “is that we were never able to get our hands on the contracts that Russell Bliss had signed with Monsanto, which had two factories in Missouri, one in Sauget and the other in Queeny, both in the St. Louis suburbs. He always claimed he didn’t have them.”

“Some people say he was paid to make them disappear,” I commented. “Anything is possible. What’s certain is that he testified several times that Monsanto was one of his customers, but we have no written proof.”

He proceeded to list the various converging pieces of evidence: on April 21, 1977, Russell Bliss confirmed in a sworn deposition that Monsanto was his principal supplier of industrial wastes; on October 30, 1980, Scott Rollins, a driver working for Bliss, testified to a representative of the state’s attorney general that he frequently loaded barrels from the company’s factories, and so on. “Monsanto has always denied that it worked with Russell Bliss,” the lawyer said. “Furthermore, the company defended itself by saying that the PCBs came from other factories that used its hydraulic fluids. So the question of responsibility arises: at the time, we didn’t yet know that Monsanto had concealed the toxicity of PCBs from its customers, so they were considered responsible for their wastes. That’s how the PCBs were simply disregarded in the Times Beach case, and the authorities were concerned only with dioxin, forgetting in passing that most Monsanto products were also contaminated with dioxin.”

In fact, only one company accepted responsibility for the pollution: Syntex Agribusiness of Verona, Missouri. This subsidiary of Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company (NEPACCO) made the herbicide 2,4,5-T, a powerful defoliant contaminated with dioxin, of which Monsanto was also a significant producer. But fortunately for Monsanto, it did not manufacture the defoliant in Missouri. In a settlement with the EPA, Syntex agreed to pay $10 million toward the decontamination of twenty-seven toxic dumps in eastern Missouri, including Times Beach. “The irony of the story,” said Smoger, “is that at the very moment Syntex was designated as the guilty party, Monsanto was publishing falsified studies to conceal the toxic effects of its 2,4,5-T herbicide.”

The Herbicide 2,4,5-T and Dioxin

To understand the tragic irony of this drama of modern times, we have to go back to the origin of dioxin, a toxic substance produced in the process of manufacturing certain chlorinated chemical compounds or during their combustion at high temperatures. The term “dioxin” covers a family of 210 related substances (as with PCBs, the term “congeneric” is used), the most toxic of which has the scientific name tetrachloro-p-dibenzodioxin or 2,3,7,8-TCDD, TCDD for short. Long unknown to the public, the existence of dioxin emerged from the secrecy of industrial and military laboratories on July 10, 1976, in an episode known to history as the “Seveso catastrophe.”

On that day, an accident in the Italian chemical factory in Icmesa, owned by the Swiss multinational Hoffmann–La Roche, provoked the formation of an extremely harmful cloud that spread over the plain of Lombardy, particularly the town of Seveso. A few days later, more than three thousand domestic animals died of poisoning, while dozens of residents developed chloracne, the chronic disfiguring skin disease. In the face of the magnitude of the catastrophe and the emotion it provoked worldwide, the managers of Hoffmann– La Roche were obliged to reveal the agent responsible: dioxin, a product derived from the manufacture of the herbicide 2,4,5-T, the leading product of the Icmesa factory.

The identification of this molecule, a pure product of industrial activity, was closely related to the history of the defoliant, invented at about the same time in British and American laboratories during World War II. In the early 1940s, several researchers succeeded in isolating the hormone that controls plant growth, and they reproduced this molecule synthetically. [ii] They found that in small doses the artificial hormone greatly stimulated plant growth, and in large doses it killed the plants. Thus were born two very effective herbicides, which brought about a veritable “agricultural revolution and the beginning of weed science,” to use the words of the American botanist James Troyer.6 They were 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5- trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), which, along with insecticides such as DDT, accompanied the green revolution following World War II. Their simultaneous discovery by four different laboratories brought about a patent war that has never been resolved, which explains how many chemical companies have taken advantage of this legal void to launch production on both sides of the Atlantic. The demand was soon huge, because these “selective” herbicides have a considerable advantage for work in the fields: used in the right amounts, they destroy weeds (dicots) and leave intact grains such as corn and wheat (monocots).

In 1948, Monsanto built a factory manufacturing 2,4,5-T in Nitro, West Virginia. On March 8, 1949, a leak on the production line caused an explosion, leading to the release of an unidentified material that covered the building interior and escaped in the form of a cloud. In the weeks that followed, the workers present at the time of the accident and those called in to clean up the site developed a skin disease that was then totally unknown; they also experienced nausea, vomiting, and persistent headaches. Monsanto management asked Raymond Suskind, a doctor at the Kettering Laboratory in Cincinnati, to conduct discreet medical follow-up of the affected personnel. He presented a report on December 5, 1949, that was not made public until the mid-1980s during the trial of Kemner v. Monsanto, which will be discussed below. “A total of seventy-seven persons employed at the plant have developed cutaneous and other symptoms probably as a result of this accident,” the doctor conscientiously reported, and he attached a set of astonishing photographs showing shirtless men with faces disfigured by cracks and pustules and bodies covered with purulent cysts.

In April 1950, Suskind prepared a second report on six particularly affected workers who were still suffering from the mysterious skin disease a year after the accident and were also experiencing respiratory, central nervous system, and liver troubles, and impotence. The doctor went so far as to recommend “special treatment” for a worker who had developed an acute psychological pathology because his skin had darkened so much that he was “mistaken for a Negro and forced to conform with the racial segregation customs of the area on buses or in the theatres.”7

In 1953, Suskind widened his study to thirty-six workers, ten of whom were exposed in the 1949 accident and twenty-six others working in the production unit. He reported that thirty-one of them had very severe skin lesions, accompanied by irritability, insomnia, and depression. Twenty-three years later, in a confidential report disclosed at the Kemner trial, he again reported, with equal detachment, that of the thirty-six workers, thirteen had already died at an average age of fifty-four.

Through all these years, Monsanto adopted the same attitude as for PCBs: it hid the data in a drawer and said nothing to the health authorities and certainly not to its workers. But it seems highly improbable that its managers were unaware of a study published in 1957 by Karl-Heinz Schulz, a researcher in Hamburg, who had done follow-up on the workers in a BASF factory that manufactured 2,4,5-T after an accident on November 17, 1953, similar to the one in Nitro.8 This work had made it possible to identify the TCDD (dioxin) molecule and to provide a definitive name for the disease that characterized it: chloracne.

Long Live War

Not only did Monsanto fail to call into question the manufacture of 2,4,5-T, but the company did not hesitate to work closely with Pentagon strategists to develop its use as a chemical weapon. Following a Freedom of Information Act request to the Pentagon, the St. Louis Journalism Review revealed in 1998 that Monsanto had conducted a regular correspondence beginning in 1950 with the Chemical Warfare Service dealing with the military use of the herbicide.9 According to Cary Conn of the National Archives and Records Administration, the file contained 597 pages divided into four sections, including “laboratory development” and “pilot plant demonstration.” However, these documents, which posed no immediate danger to the security of the United States, could not be consulted because they had been classified “top secret” by the army on May 4, 1983. It will be clear later that the date was not an accident.

The co-founder of the Institute for Social Ecology and editor of a special issue of The Ecologist devoted to the questionable history of Monsanto, Brian Tokar, pointed out that it was not surprising that Monsanto management had been in contact with Pentagon officers.10 Indeed, this was true of all major chemical companies in the twentieth century, who had greatly profited from the two world wars. In a 2002 article titled “Agribusiness, Biotechnology, and War,” Tokar wrote: “Virtually all of the leading companies that brought us chemical fertilizers and pesticides made their greatest fortunes during wartime.” These companies now control biotechnology, seed, and food production.11 For example, during World War I, DuPont, which later became one of the world’s largest seed companies, supplied the Allies with gunpowder and explosives. During the same period, Hoechst (which merged with the French company Rhône-Poulenc in 1999 to form Aventis, a biotechnology giant) was supplying the German army with explosives and mustard gas. In 1925, Hoechst joined with BASF and Bayer to form IG Farben, the largest chemical conglomerate in the world, which produced Zyklon B (the gas used in the death camps to exterminate Jews). As for Monsanto, established at the beginning of the century to produce saccharin, it multiplied its profits during World War I by selling chemical products used to make explosives and poison gas.

It was sometimes war itself that made it possible to launch new products that subsequently made profits for chemical multinationals for decades. DDT, for example, which had been synthesized in 1874, emerged from oblivion during World War II thanks to the American army, which decided to use this now-banned insecticide to combat a typhus epidemic that was decimating its troops in Western Europe and to eradicate the mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite in the South Pacific.

Monsanto embarked upon large-scale production of DDT in 1944, at a time when its ties to Pentagon strategists had become extremely close. In 1942, in fact, its research director, Charles Thomas, had been invited by General Leslie R. Groves to participate in the top-secret project that issued in one of the greatest human and ecological catastrophes of the modern era. The Manhattan Project, as it was dubbed, was designed to make as quickly as possible the first atomic bombs in history, those that were to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Endowed with a $2 billion budget, the Manhattan Project assembled the best American physicists in the Pentagon’s nuclear weapons laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, while Monsanto chemists under Thomas’s direction were given a delicate mission: to isolate and then purify plutonium and polonium, which would be used to trigger the nuclear bombs. Enjoying the Pentagon’s absolute confidence, the company received consent for this important work to be carried out in its research laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.

Promoted to vice president of Monsanto after the war, Charles Thomas took charge of the Clinton Laboratories in Oak Ridge, where he was given the project of developing civil applications for nuclear power for the federal government, while maintaining his office in St. Louis. He ended his career as CEO of Monsanto in 1960, at a time when his company, which had become one of the most powerful chemical enterprises in the world, was about to secure the largest contract in its history: the production of Agent Orange for the Vietnam War.

Operation Ranch Hand and Agent Orange

“The Ranch Hand operation was unique in the history of American arms, and may remain so. In April 1975, President Ford formally renounced the first use of herbicides by the Unites States in future wars. ‘As long as this policy stands,’ Major [William] Buckingham writes, ‘no operation like Ranch Hand could happen again.’”12 These are the words of Richard H. Kohn in foreword to a book by Buckingham published by the Office of Air Force History in 1982 covering the use of herbicides in Southeast Asia from 1961 to 1971.

The advantage of this book, which carefully avoids considering the health and ecological consequences of the massive spraying of defoliants in South Vietnam, is that it presents in clinical technical detail the genesis of the chemical warfare waged by the United States under the euphemistic title Ranch Hand to the great benefit of multinationals such as Dow Chemical and, of course, Monsanto. It also tells us that “herbicides, or weed-killing chemicals, had long been used in American agriculture” and that the first experimental airborne spraying of pesticides took place near Troy, Ohio, on August 3, 1921, to combat a sphinx caterpillar infestation; the pilot was Lieutenant John Macready, and he was accompanied by an entomologist named J.S. Houser. The experiment was repeated the following year on a cotton plantation in Louisiana, to exterminate boll weevils in similar circumstances. This is proof, if any were needed, that industrial agriculture never would have seen the light of day without close cooperation between the military and scientific establishments, whose respective goals are not exactly to produce healthy food that respects the environment.

In the 1940s, the aircraft industry perfected spraying tanks that were fixed onto military aircraft to spray DDT in Western Europe and the Pacific, “to save lives,” according to Major Buckingham, who goes on to say that the Allies and Axis in World War II abstained from using chemical sprays either because of legal restrictions or to avoid retaliation in kind.13

The removal of the taboo seems in fact to have had two causes: the emergence of the Cold War, which justified the use of any means to confront the Communist menace, and the discovery of the revolutionary herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. I have already noted that they were invented simultaneously by British and American laboratories. Researchers soon recognized the potential they represented in wartime because they made it possible to destroy crops and thereby starve enemy armies and populations. In 1943, the U.K. Agricultural Research Council launched a secret testing program that would be used in Malaysia in the 1950s when, for the first time in history, the British Army used herbicides to destroy the crops of Communist insurgents. In the United States at the same time, the Center for Biological Warfare at Fort Detrick, Maryland, was testing dinoxol and trinoxol, mixtures of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, precursors of Agent Orange. It is reasonable to think that these preliminary tests were conducted with the close cooperation of Monsanto.

The first tests in real-life conditions took place in South Vietnam beginning in 1959. They were apparently such a novelty that the American military thought it appropriate to film them for a period of two years. In this extraordinary document, which I have been able to consult, one sees a military aircraft flying at low altitude above virgin forest release a milky cloud in a straight line as the aircraft moves forward. “After two weeks, it is obvious that the treatment has been effective,” the voice-over notes with satisfaction; “90 percent of the trees and bushes have been destroyed for two years.” Aerial shots then show a hole slicing through the luxuriant vegetation for several miles. The image of the spraying of herbicides—like images of napalm victims such as the young Kim Phuc running naked on a road in Vietnam— became one of the symbols of one of the most controversial wars of the twentieth century.

Operation Ranch Hand began officially on January 13, 1962, one year after John F. Kennedy entered the White House. According to Buckingham’s book, it was the president himself who made the decision, after bitter discussions between advisers from the Department of Defense under Robert McNamara, who urged the use of these “techniques and gadgets,” and those from the State Department, who feared international reactions and that the defoliation program would be used by “Communist propaganda” to turn the population against the United States. American involvement in Vietnam was still limited at the time: officially it consisted of assisting the efforts of the army of South Vietnam, then ruled by the dictator Ngo Dinh Diem, to contain the pressure of the Viet Cong, who were supported by the Communist North Vietnam of Ho Chi Minh. The goals of Operation Ranch Hand were to clear the main roads, the waterways, and the borders of South Vietnam in order to control the movements of the Viet Cong and to destroy the harvests that were supposed to supply the “rebels.”14

In July 1961, the first shipments of defoliants arrived at the military base in Saigon. They were delivered in fifty-five-gallon drums with a variety of colored stripes intended to facilitate the recognition of different products: “Agent Pink” contained pure 2,4,5-T, “Agent White” 2,4-D, and “Agent Blue” arsenic, while the most toxic, “Agent Orange,” introduced in 1965, was made of half 2,4,5-T and half 2,4-D.

On January 10, 1962, a communiqué from the South Vietnamese government was printed in all the country’s newspapers: “The Republic of Vietnam today announced plans to conduct an experiment to rid certain key communications routes of thick, tropical vegetation. U.S. assistance has been sought to aid Vietnamese personnel in this undertaking. . . . Commercial weed-killing chemicals will be used in experiments. These chemicals are used widely in North America, Europe, Africa, and the USSR. . . . The chemical will be supplied by the United States at the request of the Vietnamese Government. The Government emphasized that neither of the two chemicals is toxic, and that neither will harm wild life, domestic animals, human beings, or the soil.”15 What was left unsaid by the propaganda of President Diem, whom the White House had asked to accept responsibility for Operation Ranch Hand, was that the doses of herbicide used by the American forces would be as much as thirty times higher than those used in the United States, where 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D were carefully diluted before agricultural use.

On January 13, 1962, a Fairchild C-123 of the U.S. Air Force took off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base carrying more than 200 gallons of Agent Purple. Between then and 1971, an estimated 20 million gallons of defoliants were sprayed on 8 million acres of forests and crops. More than three thousand villages were contaminated, and 60 percent of the defoliants used were Agent Orange, which is the equivalent of more than eight hundred pounds of pure dioxin.16 According to a Columbia University study published in 2003, dissolving eighty grams of dioxin in a municipal water supply system could eliminate a city of 8 million inhabitants.17

The Conspiracy

The man I visited one day in October 2006 had the emaciated look of the gravely ill close to death. At sixty-seven, he looked fifteen years older. Sitting in his wheelchair, he pointed to the space where his legs used to be. Alan Gibson was vice president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, which has 55,000 members. “When I got back from Vietnam, I started to have problems with my eyes,” he explained. “And then, three years later, I had the first symptoms of what the doctors call peripheral neuropathy. My bones started to dissolve and come out of my toes. One day, I was washing my feet, and a piece of bone fell into my hand.”

“First they said it was gout,” his wife, Marcia, interrupted. “Then they amputated his toes, then his feet, and finally both legs.”

“Is this disease common among Vietnam veterans?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Marcia. “I’m a nurse at the VA hospital, and the most common diseases are cancer, especially lung cancer, liver cancer, and leukemia, and neurological disorders. In our association, there are also many veterans who have children or even grandchildren with physical or mental handicaps.”

Alan Gibson no longer recalls exactly when and where he first saw defoliants being sprayed. “It was so frequent,” he said. “We were in the jungle and then suddenly it felt like rain. There was engine noise. They told us it was [the same] weed killers that our farmers used every day. I have buddies who washed in empty Agent Orange drums or used them to barbecue. They never told us that the herbicides contained dioxin. But the government knew.”

Who knew what, and when? More than thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, the question continues to divide experts. According to a report prepared by the General Accounting Office in November 1979, “At that time the Department of Defense did not consider herbicide orange toxic or dangerous to humans and took few precautions to prevent exposure to it.”18

One frequently cited piece of evidence sheds light on the blindness of the military authorities. This is the testimony of Dr. James Clary, a scientist working in an Air Force chemical weapons laboratory in Florida, who played a key role in developing the spray tank designed to disperse Agent Orange. In a letter to Senator Tom Daschle, he wrote: “When we [military scientists] initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. We were even aware that the military formulation had a higher dioxin concentration than the civilian version due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the ‘enemy,’ none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide.”19

Another statement seems to indicate that military leaders stationed in Vietnam were not informed of the extreme toxicity of the dioxin contained in Agent Orange. Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., promoted to commander of naval forces in Vietnam in September 1968, headed the fleet patrolling the Mekong delta. To protect marines from being ambushed by the Viet Cong in this strategic zone, he ordered that the riverbanks be sprayed with Agent Orange. It turned out that the captain of one of the boats was his own son, Elmo R. Zumwalt III, who died of cancer at the age of forty-two, leaving an orphan with various handicaps. Thereafter, Admiral Zumwalt moved heaven and earth to dispel the secrecy surrounding dioxin. He was appointed special assistant to the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Edward J. Derwinski, and fought tirelessly to have victims of Agent Orange given adequate care.

“I think government authorities were not informed of the harmfulness of dioxin before the late 1960s,” said Gerson Smoger, a lawyer for many Vietnam veterans, “for a very simple reason: the two principal manufacturers, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, deliberately concealed the data they had in order not to lose a very lucrative market. I’m not afraid to say that this was an out-and-out conspiracy.” [iii]

With offices in Oakland, California, Gerson Smoger has specialized in environmental pollution cases—as noted, he represented residents of Times Beach—and he has also been prominent in class actions against pharmaceutical giants and tobacco companies. But his most important work involves Agent Orange. For years he has been collecting thousands of documents in his office basement, carefully arranged in numbered boxes, a mindboggling sight. “It takes months to consult them all,” Smoger said with a smile at my look of distress. “But I have been able to find proof that the behavior of Dow Chemical and Monsanto was criminal. First, contrary to what their executives said, they regularly tested the dioxin content of their products, but they never transmitted their results to the public health or military authorities. The Monsanto case is particularly serious, because the Agent Orange the company produced in its Sauget factory contained the highest level of dioxin.”

Smoger was referring to a memorandum from Dow Chemical dated February 22, 1965, describing a meeting of thirteen executives of the firm in which they discussed the toxicity of 2,4,5-T. They agreed to organize a meeting with other manufacturers of Agent Orange, including Monsanto and Hercules, “to discuss toxicological problems caused by the presence of certain highly toxic impurities” in samples of 2,4,5-T. “The meeting was kept strictly confidential,” said Smoger. “Dow spoke of an internal study that showed that rabbits exposed to dioxin developed severe liver lesions. The question was whether the government should be informed. As a letter, of which I also have a copy, proves, Monsanto criticized Dow for wanting to reveal the secret. And the secret was kept for at least four years, the years when the spraying of Agent Orange reached a peak in Vietnam.”

By late 1969, government authorities could no longer say that they were uninformed: a study conducted by Diane Courtney for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that mice subjected to significant doses of 2,4,5-T developed fetal malformations and produced stillbirths.20 The news provoked strong feelings and a good deal of anxiety. On April 15, 1970, the secretary of agriculture announced on radio and television “the suspension of the use of 2,4,5-T around lakes, ponds, recreation areas, and houses, and on crops intended for human consumption, because of the danger the herbicide poses to health.”21

This was the end of Agent Orange, but for American veterans it was the beginning of a long battle for recognition of the harm they had suffered.

Monsanto Organizes to Protect Itself

In 1978, Paul Reutershan, a veteran suffering from intestinal cancer, sued the manufacturers of Agent Orange. Thousands of veterans soon joined him in the first class action ever filed against Monsanto and its like. The following year, on January 10, 1979, a freight train carrying twenty thousand gallons of chlorophenol (a substance used in the manufacture of wood treatment products) derailed in Sturgeon, Missouri, spilling the entire cargo. It turned out that the shipment came from the Sauget factory where Monsanto had until recently been manufacturing its PCBs. Samples taken by the EPA found that the chemical product contained dioxin. Sixty-five residents of Sturgeon, among them Frances Kemner, who was the lead plaintiff in the class action Kemner v. Monsanto, sued Monsanto.

This was a serious case for the company, especially since, following the Seveso catastrophe in 1976, TCDD was subject to particular scrutiny from the public and the media. Monsanto understood that it had to react if it did not want to be involved in a multitude of trials in which the long-term effects of dioxin on human health, particularly with respect to cancer, could not fail to come up. But it also knew that it had two assets, on which it would constantly rely from the late 1970s on.

In the first place, as Greenpeace, one of its fiercest opponents, pointed out in a report published in 1990, whatever its origin, dioxin is “a ubiquitous contaminant in the U.S. population and environment.”22 It is therefore difficult to prove that the level of dioxin recorded in an individual is directly tied to exposure as the result of an accident like the one in Sturgeon or spraying in Vietnam. To guard against possible accusations, Monsanto executives stopped at nothing: with the complicity of employees at the St. Louis morgue, they secretly took tissue samples from the corpses of road accident victims and had them analyzed, revealing that the fatty tissue of the corpses contained dioxin. This action, which says a good deal about the company’s practices, was brought to light at the trial of Kemner v. Monsanto, which will be discussed in Chapter Three.23

In the second place, as Greenpeace also pointed out, “epidemiological studies . . . are extremely difficult because dioxin is now ubiquitous in the human population,” and it is therefore practically impossible to find a control group of people that one can be sure have never been exposed. “In other words, rather than comparing an exposed population to an unexposed population, epidemiologists studying dioxin can only compare a more exposed group with a less exposed group. Such study populations and control groups must have distinctly different degrees of exposure and be of sufficient size to make incrementally increased health effects statistically significant.” Greenpeace therefore concluded that

human populations available for epidemiological studies have been groups identifiably exposed to extraordinarily high concentrations of dioxin, such as the following:

—communities accidentally or purposefully exposed to dioxin releases, such as those in Seveso, Italy, and Times Beach, Missouri, USA;

—people exposed to 2,4,5-T or other dioxin-contaminated pesticides, such as pesticide applicators and Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange; and

—workers employed in industrial facilities with known dioxin releases, such as certain Monsanto and BASF chemical workers.

Monsanto understood by 1978 that it was the only entity that had health data going back to 1949, the date of the Nitro factory accident. To determine whether dioxin causes cancer, one would have to locate the Nitro workers who had been examined by Raymond Suskind and compare their state of health thirty years later with that of the normal population. Suskind was therefore asked to supervise three epidemiological studies, with the help of two Monsanto scientists. As the Kemner v. Monsanto trial revealed, Dr. George Roush, the company’s medical director, reviewed the content of the studies before publishing them in peer-reviewed scientific journals in 1980, 1983, and 1984.24 As might be expected, the studies concluded that there was no connection between exposure to 2,4,5-T and cancer.

“This is how the veterans in the first class action had their claim for reparations denied,” Gerson Smoger explained. “When these studies were published, they were considered the absolute reference. And given their inability to prove that the cancers they were suffering from were connected to their exposure to dioxin, the veterans were forced to accept a settlement.” In fact, on May 7, 1984, when the opening of the trial initiated by Paul Reutershan in 1978 was imminent, the manufacturers of Agent Orange put $180 million on the table as a final settlement offer. Judge Jack Weinstein ordered that 45.5 percent of the amount be paid by Monsanto, because of the high dioxin content of its 2,4,5-T.25 Placed in a trust fund, the money was supposed to indemnify veterans who could prove total disability not connected to war wounds, with a deadline of ten years. Forty thousand veterans received amounts ranging from $256 to $12,800. “A pittance,” said Smoger. “Until it was discovered that the Monsanto studies had been manipulated.”



i. This skin disease produces blisters, scabs, and scars, primarily on the backs of hands, the forearms, and the face. It can be triggered by exposure to dioxin.

ii. In the United Kingdom, the researchers were William G. Templeton (Imperial Chemical Industries) and Philip S. Nutman (Rothamsted Agricultural Experiment Station); in the United States, Franklin D. Jones (American Chemical Paint Company) and Ezra Kraus and John Mitchell (University of Chicago).

iii. Seven companies produced Agent Orange: Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Diamond Shamrock, Hercules, T. H. Agriculture & Nutrition, Thompson Chemicals, and Uniroyal.
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Re: The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption,

Postby admin » Thu Feb 04, 2016 9:42 am

3: Dioxin: Manipulation and Corruption

Reliable scientific evidence indicates that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health effects.

—Jill Montgomery, Monsanto spokesperson, 2004

In February 1984, a few months before the Vietnam veterans were forced to give up their chance to receive real reparations, the trial of Kemner v. Monsanto opened in Illinois. For more than three years, fourteen jurors would listen to 130 witnesses and try to evaluate the harm suffered by the residents of Sturgeon, as well as the responsibility of Monsanto. This was “the longest jury trial in the nation’s history,” wrote the Wall Street Journal, which went on to say that “Monsanto has 10 lawyers working on the case in four-hour shifts to stay fresh. . . . Courtroom observers say that by establishing a reputation as a fierce adversary with an apparently unlimited budget to battle, Monsanto may discourage similar cases in the future.”1

Falsified Scientific Studies

The resources mobilized by the company matched the stakes: if all users of its products containing traces of dioxin were to turn against it, the company knew, it would be heading straight for bankruptcy. Hence, it had no hesitation about using every possible delaying tactic, at the risk of exasperating the court. “Justice delayed is justice denied. I believe that this court should refuse to be used as a pawn in such a waste of judicial resources.”2

On October 22, 1987, after deliberating for eight weeks, the jury rendered a peculiar verdict: the plaintiffs were awarded only a symbolic $1 in compensatory damages, on the grounds that they had been unable to prove the link between their health problems and the accident, but $16 million in punitive damages were assessed against Monsanto because the jury had been outraged by its irresponsible conduct in the management of health risks associated with dioxin. [i]

Thanks to the rigorous work of the plaintiffs’ attorney, Rex Carr, the jury heard that “Monsanto knew that simply redistilling its chlorophenols would eliminate or greatly reduce the Dioxin content” but that “this was not done until 1988.” Moreover, it “could have rid its chlorophenol products of dioxins by testing every batch and not selling those it found contaminated.”3

According to the testimony of Donald Edwards, a company engineer, Monsanto “was dumping daily 30 to 40 pounds of dioxin into the Mississippi River from its Krummrich Plant . . . getting in the St. Louis food chain through the river,” without informing the authorities. Worse, the testimony of three executives, including a chemist and the marketing manager, indicated that the company knew that Santophen, a chemical used in the manufacture of Lysol, a cleaning product recommended for cleaning children’s toys, was contaminated with dioxin. Out of fear of losing the market, it decided not to inform its customer, Lehn and Fink, going so far as to lie when that company raised questions. A letter from Clayton F. Callis, a Monsanto executive, to one of his colleagues confirms the offhand way in which the company treated the dioxin problem: “Dow has made an issue of the dioxin content of Penta,” he wrote on March 3, 1978, regarding pentachlorophenol, a wood treatment product manufactured by both companies. “Our product has higher dioxin content. Therefore, the monkey is on Monsanto’s back to prove that the dioxins are acceptable. This means studying the toxicology of not just one molecule, but many. This is close to an impossible task.”

There were many other similar examples, but the highlight of the trial was the revelation that the three previously cited studies supervised by Suskind and published between 1980 and 1984 were misleading. If they had been conducted properly, they would have produced a diametrically opposed conclusion, namely, that dioxin is a powerful carcinogen. Demonstrated by the lawyer Rex Carr, the fraud was later confirmed by several scientific bodies, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the National Research Council (NRC).4 The NRC determined that the Monsanto studies were “plagued with errors in classification of exposed and unexposed groups . . . and hence [were] biased toward a finding of no effect.” 5 It was also confirmed by Greenpeace, which presented a very detailed account in 1990 that was widely covered in the press, whereas the revelations produced at the Kemner trial had gone largely unnoticed.6

Greenpeace showed that the study published in 1980 by Raymond Suskind and his colleague from Monsanto, Judith Zack, suffered, to put it mildly, from a lack of rigor in the definition of individuals considered “exposed” or “not exposed.” According to the explanations Suskind provided to the court, the two researchers had adopted as a preliminary hypothesis that “the group that was exposed to the runaway reaction and who could be identified as well by their development of chloracne was probably the most heavily exposed group in the Nitro population.”7 Hence, the group of those “exposed” included only the workers present on the day of the accident who had also contracted chloracne; those who had been present but had not gotten the disease were excluded from the group, whereas Suskind knew perfectly well that the absence of chloracne did not necessarily imply lack of exposure.

Conversely, anyone with skin problems (psoriasis, acne, and the like) was included in the cohort of the “exposed,” whereas workers on the production line who were absent on the day of the accident were systematically placed in the control group of the “not exposed,” even if they were suffering from chloracne. In a letter to Nature in 1986, the toxicologists Alastair Hay and Ellen Silberberg noted that “the total cohort of workers exposed to dioxin at Monsanto should be considered as a whole without making a distinction between workers exposed to dioxin in the process accident or when making 2,4,5-T.” This was especially true because the data gathered by Suskind in his 1953 study showed that “the incidence of chloracne was approximately the same in the two groups” and that “notably serious diseases of long latency, such as cancer, may be expected to result from lower and more chronic exposure.”8

The study published in 1983 by Judith Zack and William Gaffey, both Monsanto employees, was supposed to compare the state of health of 884 of the factory’s employees, including those working on the 2,4,5-T production line (the “exposed” group) and “all the others” (the control group), including “employees holding a job having plant-wide responsibilities with the potential for exposure to 2,4,5-T were, for the purposes of this study, considered to be non-exposed,” as the two authors acknowledged.9 The result was that rates of cancer were lower in the exposed group than in the non-exposed group. The trick was having included in the study only employees working in the factory and/or having died between January 1, 1955, and December 31, 1977. In other words, those who had worked at Nitro between 1948 and 1955 were excluded, as were those who died after 1977. This arbitrary protocol made it possible to exclude from the study twenty workers who Monsanto knew had been exposed (notably in the 1949 accident), nine of whom had died of cancer and eleven of heart disease. Furthermore, four workers who had died of cancer and had been classified as “exposed” in the 1980 study were placed in the control group in the 1983 study.10

But it was the last study, the one published in 1984 by Raymond Suskind and Vicki Hertzberg, a colleague at the Kettering Laboratory, in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association that crossed all bounds. At a hearing in the Kemner case, Roush acknowledged that instead of the four cases of cancer recorded in the exposed group, there were twenty-eight (the other twenty-four had been omitted for some reason).11 When Suskind was subsequently questioned, he was, according to the plaintiffs, “shown to be such a fraud that he refused to return to the State of Illinois for completion of his cross-examination.”12

Hunting Down the Whistle-Blowers

Meanwhile, Greenpeace sent its file to Cate Jenkins, a chemist who had been working at the EPA since 1979. At the time, her assignment was to detect toxic industrial wastes and develop regulations to control them. Known for her intransigence toward polluters, this undisputed expert on dioxin had already clashed with her superiors, who thought that she had pushed a little too hard in her investigation of Penta, the wood treatment product. The production of Penta “releases 75 different dioxins,” including “TCCD and hexadioxin, which is 5000 times more toxic than arsenic,” she explained to the Canadian magazine Harrowsmith in 1990.13

As soon as she became aware of the materials put together by Rex Carr and picked up by Greenpeace, Jenkins grasped the implications that these revelations might have for U.S. government regulation of dioxin. In fact, relying on the only epidemiological studies then available, that is, the ones conducted by Monsanto, the EPA had concluded in 1988 that “the human evidence supporting an association between 2,3,7,8-TCDD [dioxin] and cancer is considered inadequate.”14 The agency had therefore decided to classify dioxin as a type B2 carcinogen in the EPA system, a “probable human carcinogen” for which there is “sufficient” evidence that it is a carcinogen from animal studies. [ii] Consequently, dioxin was not considered a priority pollutant and thus was not subject to regulation on atmospheric emissions provided for under the Clean Air Act. It seemed apparent to Jenkins that if the Monsanto studies had not been manipulated, the EPA’s conclusions (as well as those of the rest of the world, which had adopted the American position) would have been different.

As a conscientious public servant, she therefore decided to prepare a confidential memorandum entitled “Newly Revealed Fraud by Monsanto in an Epidemiological Study Used by the EPA to Assess Human Health Effects from Dioxins,” which she sent on February 23, 1990, to the chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Science Advisory Board of the agency, as well as to the office of the EPA administrator.15 She attached a portion of a brief from the Kemner case and asked that a scientific audit of the Monsanto studies be conducted, an initiative that would soon cause one of the stormiest episodes in her career.

Unfortunately, I was unable to meet Cate Jenkins, who refused to grant me an interview. When I contacted her in May 2006, she was in charge of coordinating EPA analyses of toxic waste in the ruins of “ground zero,” the site of the World Trade Center towers in New York destroyed in the attack of September 11, 2001. “It’s a very delicate issue,” she explained in a rather enigmatic e-mail, “and I’d rather concentrate on that.” She strongly suggested that I get in touch with William Sanjour, one of the most highly visible EPA managers before he was shunted aside until his retirement in 2001. In September 2007, as I was writing this, he was on the cover of Fraud Magazine as the recipient of the Sentinel Award from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners for his work at the EPA.16

“Cate’s afraid,” he told me when I reached him by phone in the spring of 2006. “When you know what she’s been through, you can understand that.” Like Jenkins, Sanjour is a whistle-blower—someone employed in government or private enterprise who realizes that his or her employer is endangering the public interest by violating a law or regulation, an offense sometimes coupled with fraud or corruption. Provoking the fury of their superiors, whistle-blowers are harassed, marginalized, defamed, and often fired. For them, the fall is all the harsher because they were really convinced that their efforts to reveal the truth had meaning. Pragmatists call them idealists; for companies such as Monsanto, they interfere with the smooth running of the production process. From this perspective, the story of William Sanjour is exemplary.

After studying physics at Columbia, he joined the EPA at its founding in 1970. He was soon appointed to head the Hazardous Waste Management Division, in charge of supervising the treatment and storage of toxic industrial waste. His work led Congress to enact the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976, which he worked to enforce, even if it meant provoking the fury of the polluters and his own superiors. “Unfortunately,” he says now, “the EPA is more concerned with protecting the interests of the companies it is supposed to regulate than with defending the public interest.” Sanjour’s superiors were unhappy with his testimony to Congress and his public speeches, in which he openly denounced the collusion of the agency with major industrial companies.

A lover of sailing, Sanjour arranged to meet me on July 14, 2006, at a small marina not far from the nation’s capital. “Let me tell you how the EPA dreamed up a law especially for me,” he said with mock pleasure. Indeed, to silence its black sheep, with the cooperation of the Office of Government Ethics the agency issued a regulation barring its employees from having their travel expenses paid when they were invited to speak for no fee and outside work time by activist or citizen organizations. “My expertise was frequently called on all over the country,” he said. “From one day to the next, I had to decline all invitations, because it would have cost me too much.” He took the matter to court and, with the help of the National Whistleblower Center, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that supports whistle-blowers and helps protect their careers, succeeded in having the offending regulation overturned and establishing a precedent affirming the right of whistleblowers to denounce employers who are obviously violating the law.17

This EPA “sentinel,” who had been serving as a policy analyst for several years, decided in July 1994 to draw up a report on the affair of Cate Jenkins and dioxin, entitled The Monsanto Investigation.18 In it he provided an “analysis of the failure of EPA to investigate allegations that the Monsanto Company had falsified scientific studies on the carcinogenicity of dioxin.”

“I sifted through the whole file,” he explained. “Here it is.” He took out of a trunk a stack of documents at least twenty inches thick, secured in the course of various proceedings against Monsanto (such as Kemner v. Monsanto) or the EPA (such as Jenkins’s complaint to the Department of Labor). Spread before me were hundreds of documents, including, according to Sanjour, many internal memoranda from Monsanto showing how the company concealed the toxicity of one of the most dangerous products ever inflicted on the planet, not stopping at trying to crush the woman who dared to reveal the scandal.

The EPA Obeys Orders

“Here’s the proof that the EPA was infiltrated by Monsanto,” Sanjour told me, handing me a five-page letter from James H. Senger, vice president of Monsanto, to Raymond C. Loehr, who chaired the Executive Committee of the agency’s Science Advisory Board. “It’s dated March 9, 1990, just two weeks after Cate sent her confidential memo to the committee. How had the company found out about it?”

“Monsanto has learned of the EPA’s receipt of highly inflammatory and inaccurate information pertaining to epidemiology studies involving Monsanto’s Nitro, West Virginia plant,” the executive wrote. “The allegations of fraud are not credible. . . . We are very disturbed by the false charges being made against Monsanto and Dr. Suskind.” Less than three weeks later, the CEO of Monsanto, Richard J. Mahoney, penned a letter to William Reilly, the EPA administrator, attaching an article from the Charleston Gazette.19 “Unfortunately, that internal EPA memorandum has now found its way to the news media and is being treated as the official EPA position,” he complained. “This is creating a serious problem for Monsanto that we simply don’t deserve. We request a prompt statement from your office to the effect that Ms. Jenkins does not speak for the US EPA on this issue and that her views are hers alone and not the official position of the agency.” This was followed by an answer from Don R. Clay, deputy administrator, whose servile tone is perplexing: “The opinions expressed in the internal EPA memorandum were those of Dr. Jenkins not the EPA. . . . We regret any problem that Monsanto may have had as a result of the news media’s use of this memorandum. If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.”

As a sensible whistle-blower, Jenkins had arranged to leak her memorandum to the media so that a trace of it would remain in the event the EPA decided to bury her request. The affair had created a stir at the top of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the most widely read medical weekly in the world, which six years earlier had unquestioningly published Monsanto’s third study. What follows is an excerpt from a letter from the vice president of the American Medical Association, published on April 13, 1990, in reply to the questions quite properly raised by a doctor who was worried about the reliability of studies published by the scientific journal, considered the bible of medical research: “JAMA is very concerned about the reliability of the scientific studies we publish. However, when allegations of possible fraud arise, the editors of scientific journals are in no position to carry out the necessary investigations. We lack access to the necessary records and individuals involved [emphasis added]. Thus, the conduct of such investigations becomes the responsibility of the institution employing the authors of the study (usually a university), or the private or governmental agency that sponsored the research, or both.” [iii]

In other words, JAMA published what was sent to it without verifying the validity of the data, even when the author of the article is paid by a major industrial company. Yet publication in such a prestigious medical research journal is a guarantee of seriousness, which the vice president of Monsanto did not hesitate to make use of in his March 9, 1990, letter defending Suskind, where he pointed out that Suskind’s conclusions had been “peer reviewed.” Lies are thereby propagated in the international scientific community thanks to a damaged system that affects all areas of research, including biotechnology.

Meanwhile, at the EPA Cate Jenkins’s memo became a hot potato that no one knew how to get rid of. Curiously, the agency’s advisory board, which had used the Monsanto studies to recommend that dioxin be classified in category B2 in 1988, acknowledged its incompetence to conduct the scientific audit Jenkins had asked for, and turned the issue over to another agency, NIOSH. At the same time, no doubt to put on a good face for the media, the head of the agency asked the Office of Criminal Enforcement (OCE), its criminal investigation division, to assess the validity of the accusations of fraud.

“That was the best way to bury the matter,” complained Sanjour, “because who was going to risk making a judgment about fraud if no one had first carried out the scientific audit that Cate had asked for?” On August 20, 1990, the criminal investigation was officially opened, and two detectives, John West and Kevin Guarino, were specially appointed from Denver. They were supposed to verify the “alleged violations of the federal environmental laws by the Monsanto Chemical Company, its offices and employees,” who may have infringed on the Toxic Substances Control Act, which required that companies inform the EPA of the toxicity of their products, and who might be guilty of “conspiracy to defraud EPA” and of “false statements.”20

“The investigation never happened,” Sanjour told me. “No one ever established whether Monsanto had committed fraud; the only investigation was of Cate Jenkins, the whistle-blower, who was mistreated, harassed, and had her life turned into a living hell.” In the file Sanjour had given me, I was able to consult the monthly activity reports prepared by the agency’s two detectives. Most of them were simply otherwise blank pages with the notation “There was no significant investigative activity to report this month.” A short “interview report” dated November 14, 1990, states that the two Keystone Kops had met Jenkins in her office. The next day, obviously concerned by their lack of curiosity, she sent out a second detailed report supporting her arguments on “Monsanto’s fraud,” specifying on the last page that she had sent copies to sixteen organizations and individuals, including Greenpeace, Admiral Zumwalt, and the National Vietnam Veterans Coalition (NVVC), which encompassed sixty-two veterans organizations.

Three days later, the unrepentant whistle-blower was invited to an NVVC ceremony where she received the association’s medal honoring her courage and the quality of her work. Jenkins publicly confirmed that the EPA was conducting a criminal investigation of Monsanto’s fraudulent studies. “From that point on,” said Sanjour, “Monsanto constantly intervened at the EPA to block the investigation and to force the agency to discipline or even fire Cate. All these internal documents prove it,” he said, showing me a sheaf of letters on Monsanto letterhead. “And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Monsanto is one of the most powerful companies in the United States: it has privileged access to the White House, the Congress, the press. Get this: not only was the investigation buried, but a lawyer for Monsanto ended up drafting a letter for the EPA in which the agency apologized.”

I read the letters in question very carefully, and I must admit that I was staggered by the self-assurance of the Monsanto executives: far from making amends, they evidenced unshakable arrogance, presenting themselves as victims, adopting the stance of offended virgins, or expressing thinly veiled threats, as though they were addressing humble subordinates. “Monsanto recognizes that the Agency did issue a corrective statement indicating that the employee was acting in her individual capacity . . . and that her memorandum does not reflect the Agency’s official position,” Monsanto’s Senger wrote, for example, on October 1, 1990, to Clay at the EPA. “However, that statement has not remedied the problems caused by continual references to the accusations repeated in the memorandum which was prepared on Agency stationery. . . . Given the Company’s science-based focus, preservation of Monsanto’s reputation for performing accurate world-class research is of critical importance to our business and research operations.”

In 1991, James Moore, a lawyer for Monsanto, appeared on the scene. He had not been chosen at random: he worked for Perkins Coie, the law firm of William Ruckelshaus, who, as noted, had twice been EPA administrator, with a long stint on the board of Monsanto and Solutia in between. “For all the reasons I have previously discussed with you, there is no basis for a conclusion that fraud was perpetrated,” Moore asserted on March 12, 1992, to Howard Berman, associate director of the OCE. “The inquiry by EPA’s criminal unit should be concluded expeditiously so that Monsanto can clear its good name and such references to the alleged criminal nature of the studies will cease.”

The admonition bore fruit. On August 7, 1992, a final “investigative report” concluded: “The investigation is complete. The original allegations regarding the submission of fraudulent studies by Monsanto to the EPA were reviewed. The [word deleted] EPA Office of Health and Environmental Assessment, [word deleted] stated that even if the studies were falsified, they would have little implication in the end because the Monsanto studies were immaterial to EPA’s decision making regarding dioxin.”

But this was still not enough for Monsanto, as demonstrated by a note written on August 26, 1992, by an official at the EPA (whose name has been deleted) recounting a recent telephone conversation with Moore: “Now Jim Moore wants to talk about what EPA might or should say to set the record straight by untarnishing the company’s reputation. He understands the sensitivity of the request. . . . At the very least, I would think that he would be entitled to a letter saying that the investigation was closed for lack of evidence sufficient to support a criminal prosecution. . . . I suggested to Jim that he consider writing a letter to [word deleted] proposing what Monsanto wants and why.”

Collusion Between Government and Industry

While Monsanto was dictating its orders to the EPA, Cate Jenkins was suffering the trials of the whistle-blower. She was relieved of most of her responsibilities on August 30, 1990, and remained essentially unoccupied until she was involuntarily transferred to an administrative position—a job as a “pencil pusher,” in her words—especially created for her. Her fate had in fact been sealed by late February 1990, as revealed in a memorandum from her superior, Edwin Abrams: “I don’t think Cate should be involved with anything that puts her in direct contact with the regulated community or the general public, because she has extremist views on dioxin. If we insist on retaining her, place her in some administrative or staff position (like Bill Sanjour) and not worry about whether she is happy.”21 The reference made Sanjour chuckle, but he quickly got serious: “We criticized Soviet methods a lot in this country,” he said angrily. “I think there’s an atmosphere like the KGB inside the EPA.”

On April 21, 1992, Jenkins filed a complaint with the Labor Department against the EPA. A month later a judge ordered that she be reinstated in her original position on the grounds that her involuntary transfer was discriminatory and illegal. The EPA appealed. The order of reinstatement was upheld two years later by the secretary of labor, who also criticized the conduct of the EPA, which “on more than one occasion, has punished its whistleblowers by transferring them to undesirable positions.”22

“Despite her ordeal, Cate can be proud of her work,” Sanjour says today. “It’s thanks to her that the Vietnam veterans were finally heard and that the collusion between Monsanto and the government was uncovered. Unfortunately, it was too late for my friend Cameron Appel, who died of cancer in 1976, at just thirty, leaving two orphans. He was a captain in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. I dedicated my report on dioxin to him, because I think the story needs to be given human faces. That’s what Monsanto seems to forget, because it’s interested only in dollars.”

As the “sentinel of the EPA” says, Jenkins’s courageous memorandum opened Pandora’s box and led to an outpouring of revelations and decisions that benefited first of all the American victims of Agent Orange. “We were able to get some new legislation in late 1991 and she was responsible for it,” testified John Thomas Burch, chair of the NVVC, before an administrative law judge of the Labor Department on September 29, 1992. “This study was blocking us, because it was specially mentioned by those who controlled the legislation. And once we were able to show there were defects in the study, we could get by that and we could move forward. . . . It meant thousands of men getting medical care who wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise.”23

In fact, the first person to react to Jenkins’s report was Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr., who after the death of his son had been appointed special assistant to Veterans Affairs secretary Edward Derwinski. In an interview in the Washington Post, he said he was “shocked by some studies I felt were dishonestly done, funded by the chemical industry,” and by the fact that “the Centers for Disease Control failed to focus on veterans, who had sustained the greatest exposure to the chemical. . . . I had no inkling how difficult it was to get at the truth.”24 On May 5, 1990, the admiral presented a confidential report in which he asserted that Monsanto’s fraud was part of a vast government plot intended to prevent compensation of the victims of Agent Orange and of dioxin in general.25

For instance, the U.S. Congress in 1982 had appropriated $63 million for the Veterans Administration (the former name of the Department of Veterans Affairs) to conduct a study of the effects of dioxin on veterans. When the VA was inordinately slow in beginning work, Congress transferred responsibility for the study to the CDC, to which the Pentagon was supposed to provide details on the Air Force’s spraying program and archives detailing troop movements during the Vietnam War. Four years later, Dr. Vernon Houk, director of the Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control at the CDC, announced that he had canceled the study “on strictly scientific grounds,” because his researchers had been unable to find “a population of people who were exposed in sufficient numbers” to be able to conduct it.26 In his report, Admiral Zumwalt denounced the “purposeful effort to sabotage any chance of a meaningful Agent Orange exposure analysis.” He went on to say: “Unfortunately, political interference in government sponsored studies associated with Agent Orange has been the norm, not the exception. In fact, there appears to have been a systematic effort to suppress critical data or alter results to meet preconceived notions of what alleged scientific studies were meant to find.”

In support of his criticism, Admiral Zumwalt cited another example of manifest fraud, which had been revealed by Senator Tom Daschle during a congressional hearing on Agent Orange.27 In the course of the hearing, Senator Daschle demonstrated that the U.S. Air Force had deliberately concealed the results of a study of the effects of spraying on pilots in the Ranch Hand program: contrary to the “reassuring” results it had published in 1984, it appeared that the children of the pilots involved had twice as many birth defects as those in the control group.

The former commander of the U.S. Navy in Vietnam drove home the point: “Shamefully, the deception, fraud and political interference that has characterized government sponsored studies . . . has not escaped studies ostensibly conducted by independent reviewers, a factor that has only further compounded the erroneous conclusions reached by the government.” He referred, of course, to the Monsanto studies, but could have also been referring to those conducted by its German counterpart BASF, one of whose factories had had an explosion in 1953 similar to the one in Nitro four years earlier. In a troubling parallel, scientists paid by the German company had published research asserting that the workers exposed during the accident had developed no particular pathology.28 An article in New Scientist seven years later revealed that the study had been falsified in the same crude manner as the Monsanto studies: twenty supervisory employees who had not been exposed to 2,4,5-T had been placed in the exposed group, thereby masking the elevated level of cancers of the lung, trachea, and digestive system.29

Last but not least, at the very time the admiral was preparing his report, two studies provided further ammunition: the first, published in the journal Cancer, demonstrated that Missouri farmers who had used chlorinated herbicides such as 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D had an abnormally high rate of cancer of the lips, bones, nasal cavities, sinuses, and prostate as well as of non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma and myeloma.30 These results were confirmed by similar research on Canadian farmers published the following year.31

Corruption: The Richard Doll Affair

Faced with this avalanche of revelations produced by one of the country’s most prestigious military officers, the administration of George H.W. Bush could only yield. On February 2, 1991, Congress passed a law (P.L. 102-4) requiring the National Academy of Sciences to draw up a list of illnesses attributable to dioxin exposure. Sixteen years later, that list included thirteen serious diseases: several types of cancer (some of which are very rare), type 2 diabetes, peripheral neuropathy (from which Alan Gibson, the veteran I met, was suffering), and chloracne. This evolving list enabled the Department of Veterans Affairs to compensate and provide medical care for thousands of veterans, out of the 3.1 million soldiers who had served during the Vietnam War.

This radical change of course also affected the EPA, which had to go back to the drawing board at a time when the international community was eagerly awaiting a study of the initial health effects of the Seveso catastrophe. This study, conducted by Dr. Pier Alberto Bertazzi, confirmed unusual levels of soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and myeloma among the exposed population.32 This new study was “one more nail in the coffin for dioxin,” confidently declared Dr. Linda Birnbaum, head of the Experimental Toxicology Division of the EPA, as she announced that the agency was in the process of reevaluating its classification of the substance, which was likely to be shifted to category A (a human carcinogen) considering the “overwhelming” evidence. The crowning irony was that in support of her argument, Birnbaum cited four studies published by Swedish scientists between 1979 and 1988 that previously had been deliberately ignored by the EPA, to the great benefit of Monsanto, once again pulling strings in the background.

The story is so incredible that it’s worth taking a second look at it, because it says so much about the company’s practices. Completely by chance, in 1973 a young Swedish researcher named Lennart Hardell discovered the deadly effects of dioxin on human health. He had been consulted by a sixty-three- year-old man in the Norrlands University Hospital at Umea University. Suffering from liver and pancreatic cancer, he had been a forest worker in northern Sweden who for more than twenty years had been employed spraying a mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T on deciduous trees. Thus began a long research process in collaboration with three other Swedish scientists that led to the publication of studies pointing to the association between soft-tissue sarcoma and dioxin exposure.33

In 1984, Hardell was asked to testify before an investigative commission that had been set up by the Australian government, which was then facing demands for reparations from soldiers who had participated in the Vietnam War alongside the Americans. The Royal Commission on the Use and Effects of Chemical Agents on Australian Personnel in Vietnam presented its report in 1985, and it provoked sharp controversy.34 In an article in Australian Society, Professor Brian Martin of the University of Wollongong denounced the manipulations that had led the commission to “acquit Agent Orange.”35 Indeed, in a display of staggering optimism, the report found, according to Martin, that “no veteran had suffered due to exposure to chemicals in Vietnam.” The commission concluded: “This is good news and it is the commission’s fervent hope that it will be shouted from the rooftops.”

In his article, Martin recounted that the expert witnesses called by the Vietnam Veterans Association had been “attacked strongly by counsel for Monsanto Australia.” Martin went on to say: “The commission’s report evaluated the expert witnesses in similar terms to Monsanto. Those who did not rule out the possibility of the chemicals having harmful effects had their scientific contributions denigrated and their reputations belittled. By contrast, expert witnesses exonerating the chemicals were uniformly lauded by the commission.” The authors of the report did not hesitate to copy almost verbatim two hundred pages provided by Monsanto to denigrate the results of the studies by Hardell and Olav Axelson.36 “The effect of the copying is to present the views of the Monsanto submission as the commission’s own,” Martin observed. For example, in the vital volume dealing with the carcinogenic effects of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, “the Monsanto submission’s phrase ‘it is submitted that’ has been replaced in the commission’s report by the phrase, ‘the commission concludes,’ in the midst of pages and pages of almost verbatim copying.”

Very sharply challenged by the report, which insinuated that he had manipulated the data in his studies, Hardell in turn closely examined the document. He was surprised to discover that “the views taken by the commission . . . were supported by Professor Richard Doll in a 1985 letter to Honourable Mr. Justice Phillip Evatt, the commissioner,” in which Doll stated that “[Hardell’s] conclusions cannot be sustained and in my opinion, his work should no longer be cited as scientific evidence. It is clear, too, . . . that there is no reason to suppose that 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T are carcinogenic in laboratory animals and that even TCDD [dioxin], which has been postulated to be a dangerous contaminant of the herbicides, is at the most, only weakly carcinogenic in animal experiments.”37

Richard Doll was not just anybody. Long considered as one of the greatest cancer specialists in the world (he died in 2005), this British epidemiologist, knighted by the queen, had made his name by demonstrating the association between smoking and the onset of lung cancer. Having dared to denounce the lies of the cigarette industry, he had the reputation of being incorruptible. In 1981, Doll had published a much-cited article on the epidemiology of cancer in which he asserted that environmental causes played a very limited role in the development of the disease.38 However, the legend was shattered in 2006 when The Guardian revealed that Doll had secretly worked for Monsanto for twenty years.39 In the archives he had donated to the library of the Wellcome Trust in 2002 was a letter dated April 29, 1986, on Monsanto letterhead. Written by William Gaffey, one of the authors of the controversial studies of dioxin, it confirmed the renewal of a contract providing payment of $1,500 per day. The question of a link between Doll and Monsanto had been raised initially by Hardell and his colleagues in a very enlightening article in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine entitled “Secret Ties to Industry and Conflicting Interests in Cancer Research.”40

But my investigation of the concealment of the harm caused by Agent Orange had more surprises in store—and an element of pure horror, which I found in Vietnam.

The Damned of Vietnam

The nurse in the sky-blue uniform took a bunch of keys out of her pocket and opened the door without saying a word. We went into a room lined with shelves holding dozens of jars straight out of a horror movie. They were fetuses preserved in formaldehyde, monstrous, a cemetery of babies deformed by dioxin: a penis in the middle of a forehead, Siamese twins with one gigantic head, a body with two heads, a shapeless mass attached to a tiny body without limbs. “Anencephaly, 1979,” said one label; “Microcephaly,” said another; “Hydrocephaly,” yet another. Most of the jars had no label because the deformities were so bizarre that they still lacked a medical name.

We were in Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in December 2006. The “museum of the horrors of dioxin,” as the Vietnamese called it, had been set up in the late 1970s by Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, an obstetrician who had long headed the hospital’s maternity ward, the largest in the country, and who had recently retired. This renowned dioxin specialist still spends time in the “Peace Village” on the second floor of the hospital, one of the twelve centers set up by Vietnam to care for handicapped children, the victims of Agent Orange. Phuong, a short, slender woman in an immaculate white coat, was conducting her weekly visit to the little patients who occupied five scrupulously clean rooms. Some were confined to bed because they had been born without arms or legs; others were romping on the tile floor under the watchful eye of a nurse sitting in the midst of plastic toys. I was deeply touched by the serenity that emanated from these crippled children, proof that they were receiving high-quality medical and emotional care. “Most of them suffer from neurological problems and severe organic anomalies,” the doctor said, taking a little boy born without eyes onto her knees. I could not tear my eyes away from the fetal head attached to a child’s body nestled against the doctor’s shoulder.

Phuong was still a student when she witnessed for the first time the birth of a deformed baby in the maternity ward of Tu Du Hospital. “It was in 1965,” she explained in respectable French. “At the time, I had never heard of dioxin. In the succeeding years we saw a significant increase in the number of stillbirths with severe deformities and of children born with serious handicaps. And it’s still going on: in 2005, we recorded more than 800 children born with deformities in this hospital alone, which is significantly above the international average.”

“The spraying of defoliants stopped nearly forty years ago. How could dioxin have affected these children?” I asked.

“We know that dioxin accumulates in the food chain and that it is lipophilic, that is, it combines with fats. The mothers of these children may have been contaminated by food or by breast milk from their own mothers. We also know that dioxin can produce chromosomal anomalies, which may also explain the transmission from one generation to the next.”

“Have you verified that the parents of these children have dioxin in their bodies?”

“According to admission records, 70 percent of the children treated here have parents living in areas that were sprayed by defoliants. Unfortunately, tests to detect dioxin are very expensive—about g1,000—and there are no laboratories in Vietnam that are able to perform them. The only time we did have a test done was on the mother of Viet and Duc, Siamese twins born with three legs, one pelvis, one penis, and one anus, whom we successfully separated. We found a rather high level of dioxin in her fatty tissue. My country’s medical authorities estimate that 150,000 children today have deformities due to Agent Orange and that 800,000 people are ill.”

“Are their birth defects characteristic of dioxin?”

“No, but dioxin acts inside cells like a hormone favoring the growth of deformities and diseases that exist otherwise.”

“How do you explain that a company like Monsanto and even some American scientists continue to deny the existence of a link between dioxin exposure and genetic deformities?”

“It’s history repeating itself. First they denied the link with cancer, and now, to avoid responsibility, they deny the link with birth defects.”

Among the thirteen diseases currently acknowledged by the United States to be linked to dioxin, only one is a birth defect, spina bifida. [iv] “The problem,” explained Professor Arnold Schechter, who was in Ho Chi Minh City at the time of my visit, “is that we lack scientific data. Only animal studies have been done: they show that when a female is exposed to dioxin the probability that she will have offspring with severe handicaps or deformities, including cerebral deformities, increases considerably.” A professor at the University of Texas, Schechter is one of the world’s most eminent dioxin specialists. In the early 1980s, he defied the American embargo on Vietnam and joined with scientists in Hanoi to conduct long-term research on the dissemination of dioxin in the environment.

One of these scientists was Professor Hoang Trong Quynh, a former colonel in the Vietnamese army who participated in “the two wars of liberation, first against France, and then against the United States,” he explained to me in impeccable French. For thirty years, the two researchers combed the Vietnamese countryside collecting blood samples and fatty tissue from people and animals in order to analyze dioxin levels. Their work has led to many publications, the latest concerning forty-three residents of the South Vietnamese city Bien Hoa, located near a former air base used for Agent Orange spraying missions.41 The tests showed high blood levels of dioxin, over 5 parts per trillion (ppt), with peaks as high as 413 ppt, even in young children. [v] In addition, some soil and sediment samples taken in the Bien Hoa region, particularly near Bien Hung Lake, showed extremely high levels of TCDD, over 1 million ppt.

“In Vietnam,” Schechter explained, “the urgent task is to decontaminate what we call hot spots, places with high dioxin levels, like the former Bien Hoa air base, because while dioxin does not accumulate in plants, it does penetrate the soil, where its half-life can be as long as one hundred years. Leached by rain, it gets into the water table, lakes, and rivers. There it stays attached to sediments, contaminating phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish, birds, and humans through the food chain. Once it’s in the blood, it is distributed to the cells, where it attaches to fatty tissue. Its half-life averages seven years in the human body. It can be eliminated only by weight loss or in breast milk. The problem is that it then contaminates the infant.”

On this December day in 2006, the two octogenarians were traveling to Binh Duong Province, about one hundred miles from Ho Chi Minh City, which was one of the regions most heavily sprayed with Agent Orange. They were to meet with a family whose three children in their twenties were mentally handicapped. The father had lived in Bien Hoa from 1962 to 1975. The mother had never left Binh Duong Province.

“Did you see Agent Orange being sprayed?” Schechter asked.

“Yes,” said the father. “It smelled like ripe guava.”

“In this family,” Schechter commented, “if the parents’ dioxin levels turned out to be high, one could say that there is a strong probability that the children’s handicaps are linked to Agent Orange. If not, we don’t know. No epidemiological study of the links between dioxin and birth defects has ever been conducted.”

“That’s not true,” interrupted Quynh. “Studies by Vietnamese colleagues have been published showing that in villages sprayed with Agent Orange, rates of miscarriages and birth defects are much higher than in villages that were not sprayed. But because these studies were not headed by Westerners, American scientists pay no attention to them.42

“How do you explain that?” I asked, aware that the conversation had entered sensitive ground.

“Dioxin has become a highly political subject,” Schechter said, obviously embarrassed. “That’s a shame, because in the end we’re all concerned: we all have dioxin in our bodies and it’s important to know precisely what its effects are on human organisms. Unfortunately, scientists are prisoners of interests that are outside their control.”

Meanwhile, one thing is certain: on March 20, 2005, the Bush administration announced the cancellation of a binational research program that had been initiated two years earlier by an agreement between the United States and Vietnam.43With a budget of several million dollars, the study was supposed to be headed by Professor David Carpenter of the University of Albany, whom I met in the course of my investigation of PCBs. “This study was to focus on Vietnamese populations, primarily on the link between dioxin exposure and birth defects,” he explained to me. “Officially, it was canceled because of lack of cooperation from the Vietnamese government. It’s true that the government can be criticized for bureaucratic delays, but I think the decision was very convenient for the manufacturers of Agent Orange, against whom new complaints had been filed.”

In fact, on June 9, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court had decided in favor of Daniel Stephenson and Joe Isaacson, two Vietnam veterans suffering respectively from bone marrow cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosed in the late 1990s. Considering themselves unaffected by the 1983 settlement, they had decided to sue Monsanto and the other companies. The companies had appealed, but the Supreme Court found against them, opening the way to a new class action that included Alan Gibson as a plaintiff and Gerson Smoger as an attorney. Four years later, the trial had still not begun.

In February 2004, the Vietnam Association of Agent Orange Victims filed a complaint in federal district court in New York. But it was dismissed in March 2005 by Judge Jack B. Weinstein, the same judge who had presided over the 1983 settlement, on the grounds that the military use of herbicides was not prohibited by any international law and could therefore not be considered a war crime. Citing a 1925 treaty that banned the wartime use of “gases deployed for their asphyxiating or toxic effects on man,” the eighty-year- old judge found that this treaty did not concern “herbicides designed to affect plants that may have unintended side-effects on people. If supplying contaminated herbicide had been a war crime the chemical companies could have refused to supply it. We are a nation of free men and women,” Judge Weinstein wrote, “habituated to standing up to government when it exceeds its authority.”44

The language must have delighted Monsanto, which, for its part, had never varied its defense. “We are sympathetic with people who believe they have been injured and understand their concern to find the cause,” declared Jill Montgomery, a Monsanto spokesperson, in 2004, “but reliable scientific evidence indicates that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health effects.”45

Never-ending denial—which is also a characteristic of the company’s current position on Roundup, the herbicide it introduced on the market when in the mid-1970s 2,4,5,-T was finally banned in the United States and subsequently in the rest of the world.
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Re: The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption,

Postby admin » Thu Feb 04, 2016 9:45 am

4: Roundup: A Massive Brainwashing Operation

Glyphosate is less toxic to rats than table salt following acute oral ingestion.

—Monsanto advertisement

“If, like Rex, you hate weeds in your garden, here’s Roundup, the first biodegradable herbicide. It kills weeds from the inside down to the roots and pollutes neither the soil nor Rex’s bones. Roundup, the herbicide that makes you want to kill weeds!” Many television viewers in France will remember this lighthearted ad showing a dog happily spraying Roundup on weeds in the middle of a lawn and then digging up the bone it had buried in the very spot where the herbicide had shriveled the roots of the weeds. Rex’s enthusiastic barking suggests that the dog will gnaw on that bone with complete assurance because Roundup is completely harmless. One might almost imagine the nice dog washing down its feast with the dregs from the container of “biodegradable herbicide.”

The Most Widely Sold Herbicide in the World

Broadcast 381 times on the major French television channels between March 20 and May 28, 2000, this publicity campaign cost Monsanto the tidy sum of 20 million francs. Similar spots were being broadcast at the same time almost everywhere in the world, because the company was at a critical juncture; its patent on Roundup was set to expire later that year, which would end its monopoly on the most widely sold herbicide in the world and open the door to the production of generic varieties and hence competition. This put Monsanto in a very tight spot, because it was betting its future on the development of transgenic crops that it was calling “Roundup-ready” because they had been genetically manipulated specifically to withstand being sprayed with Roundup. In short, the stakes for the multinational were huge, and it would defend its leading product tooth and nail.

Roundup is the trade name Monsanto had given to glyphosate, a herbicide the company’s chemists had discovered in the late 1960s. The distinctive feature of this “unselective” weed killer—unlike 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T—is that it destroys all forms of vegetation because of the way it works: it is absorbed by the plant through the leaves and quickly carried by the sap to the roots and rhizomes. There it inhibits an enzyme essential for the synthesizing of aromatic amino acids, which leads to a decrease in the activity of chlorophyll as well as of certain enzymes. This causes the necrosis of tissue, leading to the death of the plant.

As soon as it was put on the market in 1974, first in the United States and then in Europe, Roundup had “spectacular success,” in the words of a promotional Web site for Monsanto and the Scotts Company, which distributed the product in France.1 In fact, while it was entangled in the ecological and health scandal of 2,4,5-T, the company was advertising the virtues of this innovation on its packaging: “Respects the environment,” “100% biodegradable,” and “Leaves no residues in the soil.”

“The active ingredient in Roundup is inactivated when it touches the soil, which preserves surrounding plants and permits seeding or replanting one week after application,” according to the Web site. These enticing promises explained why glyphosate became a farmers’ favorite, and they used it in huge quantities to clear their fields of weeds before sowing their next crops. With its ecological aura, Roundup also became the idol of managers of public spaces (parks, golf courses, highways, and so on). In spring, technicians in astronaut suits—airtight clothing covering them from head to toe, along with gas masks and protective boots—were commonly seen patrolling the streets of France with tanks of Roundup on their backs.

One day in May 2006, in an area south of Paris, I went along with one of these teams charged with eradicating these “adventitious” growths—the term professionals use to designate weeds. I had been struck by the unappetizing greenish color of the workers’ boots, and the weeders explained that they had to change them “every two months” because the “rubber is eaten away by Roundup.” “I’m very careful about my workers’ equipment,” agreed the head of the company, who asked to remain anonymous. “I also require that they scrupulously follow the dosage recommended by the manufacturer, which unfortunately we haven’t always done.” He added knowingly, “It seems that the product isn’t as safe as we’ve been led to believe.” He said nothing further, and I recalled the repeated ads on television showing kids playing on a lawn while their father in shorts and sandals attacks weeds with a spray bottle of Roundup Patio and Garden.

“In 1988,” the Web site explains, “Monsanto established its Garden division to extend access to Roundup to the amateur gardener. A new range of Roundup products for the public came on the market.” Roundup thus made its entry into all the gardens in France, where it was used abundantly (and with no protection) before the planting of vegetables for home consumption. “We all use it,” I was told by a man renting a garden near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. In his garden shed, the recently retired man was preparing the mixture that he would spray on his patch of land to prepare his seedbeds. “Look,” he said, pointing to his Roundup container, with its soft green color and bird logo. The product description read: “Used according to directions, Roundup poses no risk to people, animals, or the environment.”

In the United States, the infatuation with the likable herbicide was such that in 1993 fifteen cities agreed to participate in a “city beautification program” sponsored by Monsanto. Volunteers recruited by the firm found themselves in Spontaneous Weed Attack Teams (SWAT) that patrolled the streets to kill weeds. “The idea is to develop a phobia against weeds and to position Roundup as a socially responsible brand,” explained Tracy Frish, one of the leaders of a New York coalition favoring an alternative to pesticides, which was conducting a campaign attacking Monsanto’s deceptive advertising.2

A Double Fraud

Serious suspicions fell very early on the company’s new favorite product. And Monsanto once again succeeded in slipping through the cracks thanks to the negligence of the apparently incorrigible EPA. The EPA’s “constancy” was, to tell the truth, not at all surprising: all the facts that I have presented in this book—whether they have to do with PCBs, dioxin, or Roundup— cover the same period, roughly from 1975 to 1995. So, regardless of which product was at issue, the same protective blindness obviously prevailed.

I have already described the trial that made headlines in the early 1980s involving Industrial Bio-Test Labs (IBT) of Northbrook, a private laboratory, one of whose directors was Paul Wright, a toxicologist from Monsanto recruited to supervise a study of the health effects of PCBs. The EPA was quite familiar with IBT, because it was one of the chief laboratories in North America conducting tests of pesticides for chemical companies so that they could obtain regulatory approval for their products. By combing through the laboratory’s archives, EPA agents had discovered that dozens of studies had been faked—had “serious deficiencies and improprieties,” in the agency’s cautious language. In particular, they had discovered a “routine falsification of data” designed to conceal “countless deaths of rats and mice” involved in the tests.3

Among the offending studies were thirty tests of glyphosate.4 It was “hard to believe the scientific integrity of the studies,” noted an EPA toxicologist in 1978, particularly “when they said they took specimens of the uterus from male rabbits.”5

In 1991, Craven Laboratories was accused of having falsified studies that were supposed to measure pesticide residues, including Roundup, on plums, potatoes, grapes, and sugar beets, as well as in soil and water.6 “The E.P.A. said the studies were important in determining the levels of a pesticide that should be allowed in fresh and processed foods,” said the New York Times. Referring to the earlier IBT fraud, the article reported: “As a result of the falsification . . . the E.P.A. declared pesticides safe when they had never been shown to be.”7 The widespread fraud had resulted in the indictment and conviction of three IBT executives, but Monsanto and the other chemical companies that had benefited from the falsified studies suffered no consequences. With respect to Craven Laboratories, it appeared that the EPA was again sticking its head in the sand: “We don’t think there is an environmental or health problem,” said Linda Fisher, assistant administrator for pesticides and toxic substances. “First of all, we’re dealing with allegations. Right now we’re moving out to take preventive measures. . . . [It’s a] big deal to me.”8 The following year, the owner of Craven Laboratories and three employees were indicted on twenty felony counts. The owner was sentenced to five years in prison and Craven Labs was heavily fined.

It was indeed a big deal: after ten years at the EPA, Linda Fisher was hired by Monsanto in 1995 to head the company’s Washington office, responsible for lobbying political decision makers; she then returned to the EPA in May 2001 as deputy administrator—a typical instance of the revolving door system that exemplifies the collusion between large companies and government authorities.

In the meantime, Monsanto was cognizant of the impact that these two instances of fraud could have on its image. In June 2005, fourteen years after Craven Laboratories had been accused, the company published a note in which it stated with its usual self-assurance: “The damage caused to Monsanto’s reputation by discussion of this issue by the media, and then further use by activists to question the integrity of Monsanto’s data, cannot be calculated. All affected residues studies have been repeated and the data are sound, up-to-date and accepted by EPA.”9

After the two scandals, the EPA had indeed required that the questioned studies be repeated. But as Caroline Cox pointed out in the Journal of Pesticide Reform in 1998, “This fraud casts shadows on the entire pesticide registration process.”10 On the other hand, these “shadows” had no effect on Monsanto, which continued as though nothing had happened, its advertising campaign promoting Roundup as a pesticide that was “biodegradable and good for the environment.”

“False Advertising”

In 1996, complaints filed with the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau of New York had compelled the company to negotiate a settlement with the State Attorney General, who had opened an investigation of “false advertising by Monsanto regarding the safety of Roundup herbicide (glyphosate).” In a very detailed statement of findings, the bureau reviewed the numerous Monsanto newspaper and television ads, including “Glyphosate is less toxic to rats than table salt following acute oral ingestion” and “Roundup can be used where kids and pets’ll play and breaks down into natural material.”11

This was “false and misleading advertising,” the attorney general found, and he barred Monsanto, under penalty of a fine, from declaring that its herbicide was “safe, nontoxic, harmless or free from risk.” Nor could Monsanto claim that Roundup is good for the environment or “known for [its] environmental characteristics.” Two years later, the company was forced to pay $75,000 for suggesting in a new advertisement featuring a California horticulturist that the herbicide could be sprayed in and around water.12

Oddly enough, these American legal decisions never troubled the European Commission, much less the French authorities, who tolerated unquestioningly the advertising campaign Monsanto launched in the spring of 2000. But the image of the lovable Rex about to gnaw on a bone soaked in Roundup stirred the wrath of the association Eau et Rivières de Bretagne, which in January 2001 sued the French subsidiary of the American giant for false advertising.

“Scientific studies have shown that huge quantities of glyphosate have been found in rivers and streams in Brittany,” Gilles Huet, representative of the Breton association, told me in a telephone conversation in the spring of 2006, referring to a report published in January 2001 by the Observatoire Régional de Santé de Bretagne.13 In fact, analyses conducted of streams in Brittany in 1998 showed that 95 percent of the samples had a level of glyphosate above the legal threshold of 0.1 ppb, with peaks of 3.4 ppb in the Seiche, a tributary of the Vilaine. Huet pointed out that “in 2001 the European Commission, which reauthorized glyphosate, classified it as ‘toxic for aquatic organisms’ and ‘possibly causing long-term harmful effects on the environment.’We are asking for a minimum of consistency: a ‘biodegradable’ product that is ‘respectful of the environment’ cannot end up being ‘toxic and harmful’ in Brittany’s rivers.”

On November 4, 2004, the criminal court in Lyon, where the headquarters of the French subsidiary of Monsanto was located, began proceedings in which the company was charged with “false and misleading advertising.” Until 2003, taking advantage of delays in investigating the complaint by the Breton association, the agrochemical company had been able to continue its advertising campaign. And on the occasion of the Lyon trial, it even gained a further two-year delay by simply not appearing. Company representatives claimed never to have received notification by mail because, according to the prosecution, they had no address in France, and so the prosecution decided to put off the trial until June 2005. “Administrative error or maneuver by the company to avoid an ignominious judgment in terms of its brand image?” wondered the consumer association UFC–Que Choisir, which had joined the suit of Eau et Rivières de Bretagne in 2001. Gossip had it that the delay enabled the company to save the spring weed-killing campaign, crucial for its revenues: in 2004, Monsanto France had 60 percent of the glyphosate market, which amounted to annual sales of 3,200 tons of Roundup—use of the herbicide had doubled between 1997 and 2002.

The hearing was finally held at the Lyon criminal court on January 26, 2007, exactly six years after the complaint had been filed. The heads of Scotts France and Monsanto were fined g15,000, a penalty worth a few dilatory maneuvers. The court found that “the combined use on labels and packaging [of herbicides in the Roundup product range] of the terms and expressions ‘biodegradable’ and ‘leaves the soil clean’ . . . could lead the consumer to believe erroneously in the complete and immediate harmlessness of these products following quick biological degradation after use . . . whereas they can on the contrary remain durably in the soil, and even spread into the water table.”

Even more bothersome for Monsanto, which appealed, the court determined that the company knew “prior to publication of the challenged advertisements that the products concerned were ecotoxic in nature,” because, “according to studies conducted by Monsanto itself, a level of biological degradation of merely two percent may be reached at the end of 28 days.” Once again, the company possessed data contradicting what it was publicly claiming, but it carefully refrained from revealing them. Indeed, why should it have done so? As Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group in Washington, said with reference to PCBs, “It pays to keep secrets, because in the end the penalties are very light.”

The Very Problematic Process of Pesticide Registration

“We wish to point out that all the statements made on our labels are based on published scientific studies or studies communicated to the regulatory authorities of the Ministry of Agriculture in charge of delivering authorizations to market,” a Monsanto France executive wrote on June 8, 2000, to the French government agency in charge of competition policy and consumer protection. It must be conceded that the representative of the firm was right on that point. But by offering a defense of this kind, he was putting his finger on the heart of the problem: namely, that the process for registering chemical products in France (as in a number of developed countries) opens the door to all sorts of abuse and fraud, much to the dismay of consumers.

To be more precise, I would even say that the registration process is in fact a sham: contrary to what the regulatory authorities would have us believe, it is in reality based entirely on the goodwill of the chemical companies, which provide data from studies they are supposed to have conducted to prove the harmlessness of their products. These data are then examined by “experts” who vary widely in their competence, courageousness, and independence. All one need do is read the book Trust Us, We’re Experts by the American writers Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber,14 or Pesticides: Révélations sur un Scandale Français by the French writers Fabrice Nicolino and François Veillerette,15 to realize that many toxic products have had a long career after being duly approved by the experts, whose names are concealed by opaque and not very democratic bureaucratic procedures.

In this sense, the history of Monsanto is a paradigm of the aberrations in which industrial society has become mired, forced to manage as best it can—that is, badly—the proliferation of toxic chemical substances that have invaded the planet since the end of World War II. The reasonable solution would be to ban outright any molecule that presents the slightest danger to people and the environment. But instead, to satisfy the interests of the major chemical companies—and, some would say, the interests of modern consumers—every effort is made to regulate dangerous substances only as much as is necessary to limit the most obvious or immediate damage. For the rest, après nous le déluge.

The history of pesticides constitutes a perfect illustration of this very twisted mechanism, whose workings it is important to understand, even if that involves entering into rather dry detail—the better to grasp its absurdity. As biologist Julie Marc points out in the doctoral dissertation she defended in 2004 at the University of Rennes, “the use of pesticides goes back to antiquity,” but until the twentieth century, the pest killers were of natural origin: peasants and gardeners used mineral derivatives, such as the copper in the old bouillie bordelaise (Bordeaux mixture), to treat plants affected by certain diseases or parasites.16 The development of industrial agriculture was accompanied by the massive use of chemical pesticides belonging to the family of organochlorides, the first of which was DDT. Called “phytosanitary products”—a clever rhetorical trick, replacing the notion of a “killer” with the euphemistic “medicine”—they covered three categories: fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides.

Every pesticide is made up of an active ingredient—glyphosate in the case of Roundup—and numerous inert ingredients, such as solvents, carriers, emulsifiers, and surfactants, the purpose of which is to intensify the physiochemical properties and biological effectiveness of the active ingredients, and which have no pesticidal effect of their own. Hence, the various products in the Roundup range contain between 14.5 and 75 percent glyphosate salts, with the rest of the formulation including a dozen principal additives, whose “composition is often kept secret,” as Marc observes. The role of these additives is to enable glyphosate to penetrate into the plant, as in the instance of polyethoxylated tallowamine (POEA), a detergent favoring the spread of spray droplets on the leaves.

In France, the third-largest user of pesticides in the world (after the United States and Japan), with 100,000 tons sold every year—40 percent herbicides, 30 percent fungicides, and 30 percent insecticides—it is estimated that 550 active ingredients and 2,700 commercial formulations are now registered. Following the practice of the rest of the world, notably other countries in Europe, every new phytosanitary product must be registered before it is put on the market, which means an authorization of sale for ten years, granted by the Ministry of Agriculture. To secure an authorization, the company must demonstrate that its formulation is effective and harmless, through a technical dossier containing laboratory tests of the chemical, physical, and biological properties of the product, as well as tests of its possible toxicity for people, animals, and the environment. When one reads the list set out by Julie Marc of the tests supposed to constitute this toxicological dossier, one may think that all is for the best in the best of all industrial worlds and that theoretically there is nothing to worry about.

The tests required by regulatory authorities in France, as in the rest of the European Union, are numerous. They begin by assessing the effects of the substance on rats (and sometimes other animals) when it is absorbed orally, through the skin, or by inhalation. Researchers measure in particular the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and elimination of the molecule by the organism, and calculate what is known as the “lethal dose,” that is, the quantity or concentration of the product necessary to bring about the death of 50 percent of a group of test animals (“LD50” or “LC50”), with a view toward avoiding serious accidents during use. They then evaluate what is called “subchronic toxicity,” the effects of repeated absorption of the product on bodily organs, chiefly the liver and kidneys. Usually conducted over a period of ninety days or one year (even two years if a problem appears), these tests make it possible to establish what experts call the NOAEL (no observable adverse effect level), that is, the maximum quantity of the substance whose daily absorption has no effects on the test animals. The NOAEL is expressed either in milligrams of active ingredient per kilogram of body weight of the animal tested per day or in milligrams of the substance per kilogram of food (expressed in ppm) if a food ingredient is involved. Finally, tests must verify whether the product is potentially oncogenic (causing cancer), teratogenic (causing birth defects), or mutagenic (causing permanent and inheritable changes in the DNA of subjects exposed).

Taken together, the toxicological data as a whole enable the establishment of regulatory categories, such as the lowest acceptable daily dose (LADD), which designates the quantity of the substance that the user or consumer is supposed to be able to absorb daily over a lifetime with no health effects. In other words, to make the absurdity of the process clear: it is known that a substance is toxic for mammals and one calculates the dose that can be inflicted on them daily before they fall ill, or even die. Then, the data are extrapolated to people. But how do we know that the dose calculated for a rat or a rabbit will protect us effectively from being poisoned? A mystery. And what of the accumulation and interaction among the various toxic substances that we ingest every day, because the LADD (the daily acceptable dose of poison) refers not only to many pesticides, but also to food additives, such as coloring agents and preservatives? The question is ignored. In any event, it is troubling to realize that the calculation of this disquieting LADD is based on tests conducted by the manufacturers, whose purpose is primarily to sell their products.

In addition to toxicity tests intended to assess the danger that a new molecule may constitute for people, there are tests that consider its performance in the environment (including its persistence, mobility, absorption into the food chain, and biodegradability), as well as its ecotoxic potential (for birds, bees, fish, and aquatic plants).

Finally, the toxicological file is examined by the Commission d’étude de la toxicité des produits antiparasitaires à usage agricole, which submits an opinion to the Ministry of Agriculture. This usually conforms to decisions made for the EU by the Permanent Phytosanitary Committee, in charge of preparing an evolving list of authorized active substances by classifying them according to their degree of toxicity (irritant, corrosive, harmful, toxic, and very toxic), along with labeling requirements. “According to French and international bodies, glyphosate is considered an irritant that may produce severe eye lesions, and [is] toxic for aquatic organisms,” Marc reports. “According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. EPA, and the European Community, the use of glyphosate in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions therefore poses no human health risks. . . . However, several epidemiological studies have demonstrated a correlation between exposure to glyphosate and cancer.”

Roundup Triggers the First Stage of the Development of Cancer

In fact, while regulatory agencies have continued to classify glyphosatebased herbicides as “not a human carcinogen,” a series of epidemiological studies tend to demonstrate exactly the opposite. For example, a Canadian study published in 2001 by the University of Saskatchewan showed that men exposed to glyphosate more than two days a year had twice the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma of men never exposed.17 These results were confirmed by a Swedish study published in 2002 by Lennart Hardell (the dioxin specialist) and his colleagues, which compared the health of 442 users of glyphosate-based herbicides with a control group of 741 nonusers, 18 as well as by an epidemiological investigation of farmers in the American Midwest by the National Cancer Institute.19 Another epidemiological study in Iowa and North Carolina of more than 54,315 private and professional users of pesticides suggested an association between the use of glyphosate and multiple myeloma.20

In France, a team under Professor Robert Bellé of the Station Biologique de Roscoff, which is under the authority of the CNRS [Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique] and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, studied the impact of glyphosate formulations on sea urchin cells. “The early development of sea urchins is one of the recognized models for the study of cell cycles,” explains Marc, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on the work of the laboratory in Brittany. In fact, the discovery of the sea urchin model, which is crucial for the early phases of carcinogenesis, earned the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the Britons Tim Hunt and Paul Nurse and the American Leland Hartwell.

In the early 2000s, Professor Bellé decided to use it to test the health effects of pesticides. His concern at the time had been raised by the level of pollution observed in French waterways as well as food: “The data concerning underground water in France revealed contamination considered suspect in 35 percent of cases,” says Julie Marc, who consulted all the available studies. “Ocean waters also showed widespread and perpetual contamination by herbicides. . . . The ingestion of fruits and vegetables also contributes to human pesticide levels. The figures in this area are disturbing, since 8.3 percent of the samples of vegetable foods of French origin analyzed contained pesticide residues above the maximum limits and 49.5 percent had some residues.”21

In this not very reassuring overview, the Brittany region displayed a record level of contamination, particularly affecting water intended for human consumption, according to Marc: “In 75 percent of cases, the regulatory standard for the combination of substances was exceeded and more than ten were sometimes detected in a single sample, with respective concentrations exceeding the regulatory standard of 0.1 ppb. This pollution originated from agricultural practices, but also from the use of pesticides in non-cultivated areas.” She also points to one of the aberrations in the regulatory system: it had set the acceptable level of residues in water as 0.1 ppb, but this referred to a single herbicide, and said nothing about the cumulative effect of different pesticides—a very common occurrence—nor of their interaction.

In the early 2000s, Bellé proposed to the regional council of Brittany that he conduct a study to assess the impact of herbicides on cell division. “The irony of the story,” he told me in his Roscoff laboratory on September 28, 2006, “is that we had decided to take Roundup as a control in the experiments, because we were persuaded that the product was completely harmless, as the advertisement of the dog with its bone suggested. And obviously, the huge surprise was that that herbicide produced much more significant effects than the other products we were testing. That’s why we changed the focus of our research to concentrate entirely on the effects of Roundup.”

“How did you proceed?” I asked.

“Concretely, we had sea urchins lay eggs; characteristically they produce large numbers of ova. We placed those ovocytes in proximity to sperm and put the fertilized eggs in a diluted solution of Roundup. I might emphasize that the concentration was well below that generally used in agriculture. We then observed the effects of the product on millions of cell divisions. We very soon realized that Roundup affected a key point in cell division—not the mechanisms of cell division itself, but those that control it. To understand the importance of this discovery, you have to recall the mechanism of cell division. When a cell divides into two daughter cells, the making of two copies of the genetic inheritance, in the form of DNA, gives rise to many errors, as many as fifty thousand per cell. Normally, a process of repair or the natural death of the defective cell, known as “apoptosis,” is automatically initiated. But a cell sometimes avoids the alternative [death or repair], because the point that controls damage to the DNA is affected. It is precisely this checkpoint that is damaged by Roundup. And that’s why we say that Roundup induces the early stages leading to cancer. In fact, by avoiding the repair mechanisms, the affected cell will be able to perpetuate itself in a genetically unstable form, and we now know that it can be the origin of a cancer that will develop thirty or forty years later.”

“Were you able to determine what it was in Roundup that affected cell division?”

“That is a crucial question. Indeed, we also conducted the experiment with pure glyphosate, that is, with none of the additives that go into Roundup, and we did not observe any effects, so it’s Roundup that is toxic, not its active ingredient. But when we looked at the tests that were used for the registration of Roundup, we were surprised to find that they had been conducted with glyphosate alone. In fact, pure glyphosate has no use, not even as a herbicide, because by itself it is unable to penetrate into cells and thereby affect them. That’s why I think there is a real problem with the registration process of Roundup and it would be necessary to look more closely at the numerous additives that go into it and at their interaction.”

Among the suspect additives is polyethoxylated tallowamine, whose acute toxicity has been confirmed by many studies. Roundup also contains inert ingredients about which nothing can be said because their identity has not been disclosed by the manufacturer, under a claim of “trade secrets.”22 Another factor to consider is the principal product of the biodegradation of glyphosate, -amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA), which has a long half-life.

In the face of these obvious malfunctions of the registration process, some courageous scientists such as Dr. Mae-Wan Ho in the United Kingdom and Professor Joe Cummins in Canada, members of the Institute of Science in Society, have called for an urgent revision of regulations relating to the most widely used herbicide in the world.23 I say “courageous” because Bellé’s story proves, if any proof were needed, that one does not touch the leading product of a company like Monsanto with impunity.

“Obviously, we immediately understood the significance our results might have for the use of Roundup,” he explained, since the concentration of the herbicide responsible for the cellular malfunctions was 2,500 times less than that recommended for spraying. In fact, a droplet was enough to affect the process of cell division. Concretely, that means that to use the herbicide without risk, you would have not only to wear protective clothing and a mask, but also make sure that there was no one in a five hundred yard radius. A little naively, we assumed that Monsanto must not be aware of this, or else these recommendations would be in the directions for use, and we sent them our results even before publishing the study.24 I have to say we were very surprised by their reaction. Instead of seriously considering our results, they responded a little aggressively that all the regulatory agencies had concluded that the product was not a human carcinogen and that in any event, cancer in sea urchins was of no interest to anyone. That is anything but a scientific argument. You would think they didn’t even know that the reason the sea urchin model had earned a Nobel Prize for its discoverers was precisely because we know that effects measured in a sea urchin cell are completely transposable to humans.”

“And how did your supervisory bodies, the CNRS [Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique] and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, react?”

“To tell the truth, their reaction was even more surprising,” Professor Bellé answered after a silence. “Some representatives traveled to Roscoff to urge us not to communicate with the mass media, on the pretext that it would produce a panic.”

“How do you explain it?”

“The question has troubled me for a long time. Now I think they didn’t want to make waves so as not to hinder the development of GMOs, which, as you know, have been modified to resist Roundup.”

“Aren’t you worried about your career?”

“I’m no longer afraid of anything,” he said quietly. “I will soon retire and I’m no longer heading the laboratory. That’s why I can let myself talk today.”

“A Killer of Embryos”

“Not interfering with the development of GMOs” is also the only excuse that Gilles-Éric Séralini was able to find to explain the inertia of the authorities in the face of Roundup’s toxicity. A professor at the University of Caen, this biochemist is a member of the French Biomolecular Engineering Commission, charged with assessing the potential risks involved in the deliberate release of GMOs, as well as of the CRII-GEN, the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering, which has continually called for more exhaustive studies of the health effects of GMOs.

Séralini has conducted several studies to assess the impact of Roundup and its effects on human health, as he explained when I met him on November 10, 2006, at his laboratory in Caen. “The reason I became interested in Roundup is because, with GMOs that have been modified to be able to resist it, it has become a food product, because residues are found in transgenic soybeans and corn kernels. In addition, I had read epidemiological studies done in Canada showing that there were more miscarriages and premature births among farm families using Roundup than in the general population.”

In fact, a study of Ontario farm families conducted by Carleton University and Canadian government researchers showed that the use of glyphosate in the three months preceding conception of a child was associated with an elevated risk of late spontaneous abortions (between the twelfth and nineteenth weeks).25 It is noteworthy that according to another study of North American farm families 70 percent of farmers had detectable levels of glyphosate on the day they used Roundup in the field, with a mean concentration of 3 ppb and a maximum of 233 ppb.26

A Texas Tech University laboratory likewise established that exposure of the Leydig cells in the testicles, which play a major role in the male reproductive system, to Roundup reduced their production of sex hormones by 94 percent.27 Finally, Brazilian researchers found that female rats that were pregnant when exposed to Roundup were more likely to produce offspring with skeletal malformations.28

All these results were confirmed by the two studies conducted by Séralini and his team, which measured the toxic effect of Roundup first on human placental cells and then on embryonic cells—“taken,” he was careful to point out, “from a line of embryonic kidney cells grown in the laboratory, which involved no destruction of embryos.”29

“How did you proceed?” I asked. “We put the cells in solutions of Roundup, varying concentrations of the product from the most minute, 0.001 percent, up to concentrations used in farming, that is, Roundup diluted to 1 or 2 percent. We also varied exposure times to determine the point at which the herbicide had an effect on what we call ‘cellular respiration,’ which conditions their production of sex hormones. We found that at levels within regulatory limits, such as residual levels accepted in food products like transgenic plants, Roundup literally killed human placental cells within a few hours, and human embryonic cells were even more sensitive.”

Séralini opened his laptop to show me the photographs his team had taken of the tests. At first, one could see a string of distinct and transparent cells with a dark spot in the center of each one, the nucleus. After a day of exposure to Roundup, they had dissolved into a formless dark mass, a “kind of purée,” in Séralini’s words. “In fact,” he explained, “under the effects of the product, the cells begin to contract; then, no longer able to breathe properly, they die asphyxiated. And I emphasize that this result occurs at doses well below those used in farming: for example, in this photograph, the concentration was 0.05 percent. That’s why I say Roundup is a killer of embryos. When you use an even weaker concentration—by diluting the product bought in a store ten thousand or even a hundred thousand times— you find it no longer kills cells but blocks their production of sex hormones, which is also very serious, because those hormones enable the fetus to develop its bones and form its future reproductive system. It can therefore be concluded that Roundup is also an endocrine disruptor.”

“Did you compare the effects of Roundup to those of glyphosate alone?”

“Of course! And we found that Roundup is much more toxic than glyphosate, whereas the tests that were the basis for the registration of Roundup were done with the active ingredient alone. So we contacted the European Agriculture Commissioner, who recognized that it was a problem, but nothing has happened since then.”

“What did the French authorities say?”

“Well, first you should know that it is impossible to get institutional financing for this kind of research. In France, as in most industrialized countries, there is no interest and thus no money for laboratories to conduct epidemiological studies or scientific reassessments of the toxicity of the chemical products that have invaded our daily life. But it seems to me that from a public health perspective there is real urgency, because our bodies have become veritable sponges for pollutants. One finds attached to the entire genome of human fetuses, as I have been able to observe, several hundred toxic substances, such as hydrocarbons, dioxins, pesticides, residues of plastic and of glue. These products, which were designed not to be soluble in water, accumulate and concentrate in our fatty tissue, and no one knows what their long-term effects may be. The problem is that the governmental authorities don’t really want to know. They are prepared to finance a study to improve the straws used for in vitro fertilization of pigs, but not one on the toxic effects of the most widely sold herbicide in the world. In my case, I found private financing, notably from the Fondation pour une Terre Humaine, but how many young scientists will embark on that kind of venture knowing that they will antagonize their institutional sponsors?”

By the way, the day I went to Caen to interview and film Séralini, his laboratories were strangely empty: “None of my doctoral students wants to appear next to me,” he explained. “They’re afraid of being associated with my statements and putting their careers in danger.” Welcome to the kingdom of independent science.

“The KGB atmosphere” that William Sanjour denounced at the EPA obviously extended beyond that U.S. government agency. Further evidence was provided by the reaction provoked in the French National Assembly by the publication of Séralini’s article in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2005. It was harshly criticized by the rapporteur of a study commission on the challenges posed by the testing and use of GMOs, Christian Ménard, a doctor and a deputy from Finistère, in a report published in April 2005: “Referring more specifically to the toxic character of glyphosate and glyphosatebased products, the conclusions of the recent study conducted by Professor Gilles-Éric Séralini need to be qualified. . . . The procedure followed and the conclusions of this study are very controversial. . . . The very concept of endocrine disruptor is particularly vague, and the international scientific community is currently in agreement in finding a lack of experimental evidence to establish a causal link between certain molecules suspected of being endocrine disruptors and the appearance of effects in people.”30

Though Ménard also “emphasizes . . . the necessity of conducting epidemiological studies, particularly on the use of herbicides, in order to establish comparisons among different herbicides,” this is something like a snake swallowing its tail. Governmental authorities do not encourage laboratories to conduct studies of the toxic effects of suspect molecules, so there is in fact little experimental evidence, and when it exists it is challenged; this makes it possible to conclude that there’s no problem.

Colombia’s Agent Orange

In the meantime, thanks to the unwavering collusion between politicians, the giants of the chemical industry, and the international scientific community, the use of pesticides is increasing almost everywhere in the world. It is estimated that 2.5 million tons of phytosanitary products are sprayed every year on the planet’s crops and that only “0.3 percent make contact with the target organisms, which means that 99.7 percent of the substances discharged go ‘elsewhere,’ into the environment, into the soil and water,” says Julie Marc.31 Hence, the contamination of rivers and water sources by the most widely used herbicide in the world might be behind the collapse of frog populations, as revealed by a 2005 study by Rick Relyea, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.32 He observed the effects of two insecticides (Sevin and Malathion) and two herbicides (Roundup and 2,4-D) on a population of twenty-five animal species from a pond (snails, tadpoles, crustaceans, and insects), that were placed in four tanks containing water from their pond. In each tank, he added a dose of pesticide, following the concentrations recommended by the manufacturer. The results were spectacular: “We added Roundup, and the next day we looked in the tanks and there were dead tadpoles all over the bottom,” said Relyea. “The most shocking insight coming out of this was that Roundup, something designed to kill plants, was extremely lethal to amphibians.”33 It should be noted that 2,4-D and the two insecticides produced no negative effects on tadpoles.

But animals are not the only ones to suffer from the consequences of pollution due to phytosanitary products. “The number of accidental poisonings by pesticides is estimated at more than a million per year around the world, 20,000 of which are fatal,” according to Marc. “If one adds cases of suicide, the figure of 3 million poisonings is reached, 220,000 of which are fatal.” In this dark picture, Roundup holds a choice position, because it is the favorite herbicide of would-be suicides by poisoning. According to a study conducted in Taiwan of 131 cases of suicide by swallowing Roundup, the majority of the victims had died after terrible suffering, evidenced by edema coupled with respiratory distress and violent vomiting and diarrhea.34 A similar study conducted in Japan made it possible to identify the lethal dose of the herbicide for an adult human: approximately 200 milliliters, about three-quarters of a cup.

More generally, Roundup is the most common cause of complaints of poisoning registered in Great Britain and in California, as the news service Pesticides News reported in 1996.35 Corroborating sources indicate that the symptoms of poisoning are always the same: eye irritation, vision problems, headaches, skin lesions and irritation, nausea, dry throat, asthma, respiratory difficulties, nosebleeds, and dizziness.

Writing these lines, I cannot help thinking of the torment suffered every day by the Indian and peasant communities of Colombia, subjected to what Washington strategists call “Plan Colombia.” Developed in June 2000 with the active cooperation of the Bogotá government, this program is aimed at eradicating the coca plantations that supply the international cocaine market and are used, in part, to finance guerilla movements. The principal means of eradication is airborne spraying of Roundup. It is estimated that from 2000 to 2006, nearly 750,000 acres had been sprayed, mainly in the departments of Cauca, Nariño, and Putumayo (which extend to the border with Ecuador), whose populations have also been affected by what some call “Colombia’s Agent Orange.” In the department of Putumayo alone, which is the home of several Indian communities, 300,000 people have been poisoned.

The situation was so dramatic that in January 2002, a United States NGO, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, complained to the Human Rights Commission and the UN Economic and Social Council. In its statement, it drew up a list of all the harms it had been able to observe in the field: “gastrointestinal disorders (e.g. severe bleeding, nausea, and vomiting), testicular inflammation, high fevers, dizziness, respiratory ailments, skin rashes, and severe eye irritation. The spraying may also have caused birth defects and miscarriages.”36 Moreover, “the spraying has destroyed more than 1,500 hectares of legal food crops (e.g. yucca, corn, plantains, tomatoes, sugar cane, grass for livestock grazing) and fruit trees and has resulted in the death of livestock (e.g. cows, chickens). . . . In sum, the situation provides a clear example of the link between the environment and human rights—severe damage to the air, water, land and biodiversity caused by the spraying is violating various human rights.”

The statement indicated that the herbicide used was Roundup Ultra, to which two surfactants had been added, Cosmo-Flux 411F and Cosmo-InD, whose function was to multiply the “effectiveness” of the product by four. In addition, the concentrations used in the mixtures prepared by the Colombian army under the guidance of North American colleagues were “more than five times greater than levels for aerial application recognized as safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency.” Finally, “application methods used contradict the manufacturer’s recommendations and exacerbate human and environmental harms. For example, the Roundup Ultra manufacturer recommends that aerial application not occur more than 10 feet above the top of the largest plants unless a greater height is required for aircraft safety. However, according to the Colombian antinarcotics police, the aerial herbicide application program flies aircraft 10–15 meters [approximately 25–30 feet] above the tops of the largest plants.” This, of course, meant the spread of the herbicide over a large area.

What can be said in the face of yet another scandal profitable to Monsanto? Nothing except to point to the directions for use that now appear on containers of Roundup Ultra sold in the United States: “Roundup will kill almost any green plant that is actively growing. Roundup should not be applied to bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, or streams as Roundup can be harmful to certain aquatic organisms. After an area has been sprayed with Roundup, people and pets (such as cats and dogs) should stay out of the area until it is thoroughly dry. We recommend that grazing animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, tortoises, and fowl remain out of the treated area for two weeks. If Roundup is used to control undesirable plants around fruit or nut trees, or grapevines, allow twenty-one days before eating the fruits or nuts.”

Extracted through the vigilance of North American consumer organizations, these warnings obviously did not apply to the poor peasants and Indians of Colombia. One might conclude, a little hastily, that Monsanto had learned the lessons of its inglorious past and that it was now more cautious when it came to the health of its fellow citizens. But, as the history of bovine growth hormone will show, it meant nothing of the kind.



i. Monsanto appealed the verdict and won, the court deciding that it was not possible to award punitive damages if the plaintiffs had not been able to prove that their problems were connected to dioxin exposure (U.S. News and World Report, June 13, 1991).

ii. The EPA classification adopts the one recommended by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It includes five groups: group A (human carcinogen); group B (probable human carcinogen), with two categories, B1 (limited human evidence) and B2 (no human evidence but sufficient animal evidence); and so on, down to group E (not a human carcinogen).

iii. All internal documents quoted in this section come from the file given to me by William Sanjour.

iv. Latin for “spine split in two.” Spina bifida is a defect in the spinal column in which one or more vertebrae are not correctly formed during gestation, forming a space that allows the spinal cord to stick out.

v. Unlike other toxic substances, dioxin is usually measured in parts per trillion. In Western countries, the average level of dioxin in humans is 2 ppt.
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Re: The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption,

Postby admin » Thu Feb 04, 2016 9:48 am

5: The Bovine Growth Hormone Affair, Part One: The Food and Drug Administration Under the Influence

Because the chemical composition of the milk is not altered as a result of POSILAC, the manufacturing and taste properties do not change.

—Monsanto Web site

“This affair was a real descent into hell. . . . I had joined the Food and Drug Administration thinking I would be working for the good of my fellow citizens, and I discovered that the agency had betrayed its role as guardian of the public health to become the protector of the interests of big business.” When I met him in New York on July 21, 2006, nearly twenty years after the events he was describing, Dr. Richard Burroughs still found it hard to talk about. “It’s too painful,” he said tensely every time I mentioned it. “It feels as though the ground is giving way beneath me all over again and I am going to be swallowed up. It’s still hard today to recognize that I was fired from the FDA because I opposed the marketing of a product I considered dangerous. But that was my job.”

Witnessing Burroughs’s distress made me think of Cate Jenkins, William Sanjour, and all those who will appear later in this book: Shiv Chopra of Health Canada, Arpad Pusztai of the Rowett Institute, Ignacio Chapela of the University of California at Berkeley, and the journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson. All had the same choked voice as soon as they began to talk about their experience as whistle-blowers. The story of Richard Burroughs is a classic example.

Fired for “Incompetence”

Burroughs is a veterinarian with a degree from Cornell who started out with a private practice in New York, where his parents had a dairy herd. “I adore cows,” he said with a smile that lit up his sixty-year-old face. “That’s why I chose this profession.” In 1979, he was hired by the FDA, which offered him training in toxicology. “I agreed to leave my hometown for Washington, because I felt it was essential.” Like almost everyone, he believed that any product that had been approved in the United States would pose no problems. And the FDA was the agency that did the approving.

Officially named the FDA in 1930 (although it has existed under different names since early in the century), the agency is charged with approving the marketing and sale of food and pharmaceutical products intended for human or animal consumption. Its bible is the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938. This restrictive law, from which the FDA derives its authority, was intended as a response to a national tragedy. A year earlier one hundred people had died after taking Elixir Sulfanilamide, a medication made with a solvent that turned out to be fatal. The new law required that in the future any product containing new substances be tested by the manufacturer and submitted to the FDA for approval before being put on the market. In 1958, the “Delaney amendment” was added, providing that if a product presented the slightest carcinogenic risk, it could not be approved. [i] It is important to note that the agency itself does not conduct toxicological studies, such as animal testing, but merely examines the data supplied by manufacturers.

So it was that Burroughs, who was working at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), was given the task of analyzing the request to approve for sale a bovine growth hormone, bovine somatotropin (BST), manufactured by Monsanto through genetic manipulation and designed to be injected in cows twice a month to increase their milk production by at least 15 percent. [ii] “For the CVM, it was a completely revolutionary product,” Burroughs explained, “because it was the first transgenic medication that we had had to study.”

Somatotropin is a natural hormone abundantly secreted by the pituitary glands of cows after calving, which stimulates lactation by enabling the animal’s body to call on reserve energy through its action on the tissues. Ever since its function was described by Soviet scientists in 1936, laboratories tied to agribusiness had tried to reproduce it to increase herd yields. They had no success: twenty cows a day had to be sacrificed to produce from their pituitaries the daily dose of growth hormone required for a single animal. In the late 1970s, researchers financed by Monsanto succeeded in isolating the gene that produces the hormone. They used genetic manipulation to introduce it into a bacterium, Escherichia coli (E. coli, commonly found in the lower intestine of mammals, including humans), thereby making possible its large-scale manufacture. Monsanto named this transgenic hormone recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) or recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). [iii] In the early 1980s, the company organized tests on its own experimental farms or in collaboration with universities such as the University of Vermont and Cornell.

The file Monsanto provided “is as tall as I am,” said Burroughs, who is five foot nine. “FDA rules require that we analyze data within ninety days. This is in fact a way for companies to discourage detailed examination: they send tons of paper, hoping that you will merely skim through it. I very quickly understood that the data were intended only to demonstrate that rBGH effectively boosted milk production. The scientists working for Monsanto had paid no attention to crucial questions: What did it mean physiologically for cows to produce milk beyond their natural capacity? How must they be fed so they would survive the exploit? What diseases might it cause? They hadn’t even thought that the cows were certainly going to develop mastitis, an inflammation of the udders, a common pathology in herds with high production levels.”

“And mastitis is also a problem for the consumer?”

“Of course, because it results in an increase of white blood cells, which means there’s pus in the milk! The cows have to be treated with antibiotics, which can leave residues in the milk. So it’s all very serious. In addition, you have to understand that the transgenic hormone upsets the cow’s natural cycle. Normally, a cow produces somatotropin after calving, which enables it to feed its calf. As the calf grows, the secretion of the hormone slows and finally stops. To restart milk production, the cow therefore has to have another calf. rBGH makes it possible to artificially maintain milk production beyond the natural cycle. This is why it can create reproductive problems for the cow, and thus cause financial loss to the breeder. When I saw that all these data were lacking, I asked Monsanto to go back to the drawing board, which took two to three years, because for the study to be valid, it had to follow changes in cows through at least three cycles.”

“And what were the results of the new studies?”

“First, I have to say they were of very poor scientific quality. For example, if you want to measure the impact of the transgenic hormone on mastitis, you have to select in each herd a group treated with the hormone and an untreated control group raised in strictly identical conditions. But Monsanto had dispersed the treated and untreated cows among different experimental sites and subsequently mixed all the results together. I was once again forced to make adjustments. I also remember an unannounced visit I made to one of their laboratories that was supposed to be analyzing the effect of the hormone on cows’ tissues and organs: I discovered that kidneys had disappeared. In spite of all these technical defects, it came out clearly from the studies that the frequency of mastitis was much higher.”

“Did you inform your superiors at the FDA?”

“Yes, and at first they reacted properly.”

In fact, a document dated March 4, 1988, attests that Richard P. Lehmann, director of the Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation at the CVM, conveyed Burroughs’s concerns to Terrence Harvey of Monsanto: [iv] “We have completed our review and find your application incomplete. The data are incomplete and lack full reports of adequate tests. . . . You have not clearly identified the incidence of clinical and subclinical mastitis in the herds tested. . . . You should clarify your regimen of treatment for mastitis. . . . You should address the use of gentamicin and tetracycline which are not approved for the treatment of mastitis in dairy cattle. . . . You have compromised the usefulness of your reproductive data by the use of prostaglandins and progesterone essays. It is not possible to evaluate the effect of bovine somatotropin on reproduction if concurrent use of reproductive hormones and diagnostic tests masks or otherwise alters the effect of the drug.” Finally, with respect to the toxicological study conducted on rats, the CVM official was stinging; the rats studied were too few (seven), the duration of the study too short (seven days), and the doses ingested by the test animals too small.

This letter marked the beginning of Burroughs’s descent into hell. “Suddenly I was put on the sidelines. I was denied access to the data I myself had asked for, and finally the file was completely taken away from me. And then, on November 3, 1989, my boss showed me the door; it was all over for me.”

“You were fired?”

“Yes, for incompetence,” he said quietly.

The veterinarian sued the FDA for unlawful dismissal and won at trial. The agency filed an appeal, but, according to Burroughs, it was finally obliged to rehire its employee. “I was shifted to the swine division. I didn’t know anything about pigs! At any moment I could have made a serious mistake, so I decided to resign. It was a very dark period. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I was ruined, because the litigation had cost a lot and I didn’t have a job. Fortunately, there were my wife and two children.”

“Were you threatened?”

“You mean physically? I’d rather not talk about it. Psychologically, yes. During the appeal, Monsanto’s lawyers threatened to go after me if I revealed confidential information about rBGH. That’s typical of Monsanto.”

“Do you think the FDA was deceived by Monsanto?”

“ ‘Deceived’ is not the right word; that would mean it happened without their knowledge. No, the agency closed its eyes to disturbing data, because it wanted to protect the company’s interests by encouraging the marketing of the transgenic hormone as quickly as possible.”

The Secret Data of Monsanto and the FDA

As Burroughs was battling for his career, a scientist known for his iconoclastic courage incidentally came upon a subject that was to become one of the fights of his life. Samuel Epstein, now emeritus professor of environmental medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, had authored many notable articles and books, particularly on cancer—the upsurge of which, he claimed, was linked to environmental pollution. [v] In the spring of 1989, he received a phone call from a farmer who had agreed to test rBGH on his herd.

“He got angry when he understood that I had never heard of the transgenic hormone,” Epstein told me in his Chicago office on October 4, 2006. “He said to me: ‘You ought to look at it, that’s your job! This hormone is making my cows sick, and I’m afraid the people who drink my milk will get sick too.’” This led Professor Epstein to comb through the 1987 and 1988 issues of the Journal of Dairy Science, where he found many “promotional articles” published by American researchers, and Europeans as well, who had tested rBGH for Monsanto. [vi] “All these publications claimed that the hormone posed no major health problems,” Epstein recalled, “but there were very few serious data backing up that claim. The tests had been conducted on small groups of ten cows, which reduced their statistical validity, and most important, they had been of very short duration. Despite these biases, they revealed a significant increase in mastitis and a decrease in the fertility of the cows treated, as well as major changes in the nutritional quality and the composition of the milk.”

Epstein then discovered that milk and meat from the American experimental herds had been placed in the food chain even though the hormone was not yet officially approved. On July 19, 1989, he wrote a letter to FDA commissioner Frank Young [vii] expressing his concerns, which he revealed a short time later in an article published in the Los Angeles Times.1 On August 11, 1989, the agency published a reply, signed by Gerald B. Guest, director of the CVM and Burroughs’s boss: “The pivotal human food safety information led us to make the determination that food derived from BST-treated cows is safe,” it said in typical bureaucratic prose. “Our scientists at the FDA are among the most knowledgeable and capable in the world today regarding the evaluation of animal drugs. We are dedicated to the people we serve—consumers of meat, milk, and eggs, and farmers who may use the new animal drug—as well as the animals which may be treated.”

Some weeks later, “toward the end of October,” Epstein received a “gift from heaven”: an unidentified person working at the FDA sent him a box containing all the veterinary data recorded on a Monsanto experimental farm near company headquarters in St. Louis. “It wasn’t the first time that had happened to me,” he said, smiling broadly. “Over the last thirty years, I’ve frequently received internal records from regulatory agencies or private companies sent by employees who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. But this was really a godsend.”

The cancer specialist immediately contacted Pete Hardin, editor of The Milkweed, a monthly devoted to milk production that was highly respected for its rigor and editorial independence. Together, they spent hours studying, comparing, and interpreting hundreds of pages filled with figures and raw data. “It was breathtaking to be able to work with original Monsanto documents,” Hardin said, still enthusiastic when I met him at his home in Brooklyn, Wisconsin, on October 6, 2006. “Look, most of them are marked ‘Company Confidential: this document belongs to the Monsanto Company. . . . It contains confidential information which may not be reproduced, revealed to unauthorized persons or sent outside the company without proper authorization.’ This is exactly what an investigative journalist loves to publish!”

The two men together produced an article, published in The Milkweed in January 1990, that caused quite a stir.2 It noted that the Monsanto study involved eighty-two cows followed through one lactation period, that is, forty weeks. The herd was divided into four groups: an untreated control group, a second injected every two weeks with a normal dose of the hormone, a third with three times the normal dose, and the fourth with five times the normal dose. At the end of the experiment, half the cows were slaughtered and their organs and tissue analyzed. The results were edifying:

• The organs and glands of the injected animals (thyroid, liver, heart, kidneys, ovaries, and so on) were much larger than in the control group, whereas the total weight of these cows when slaughtered was significantly lower. For example, the right ovary was on average 44 percent heavier in the group having received five times the dose than in the control group.

• The treated cows had significant reproductive problems: whereas 93 percent of the control group were successfully inseminated during the period, only 52 percent of the injected groups were.

• From one injected animal to another, the hormone level in the blood varied considerably, the highest being a thousand times higher than that recorded in the control group.

Oddly, the Monsanto scientists provided no statistical data on mastitis. On the other hand, it emerged from the documents that the injected cows had been treated with antibiotics much more often than those in the control group; some of the antibiotics used were not authorized by the FDA for use in dairy herds. [viii] One unfortunate animal (no. 85704) had received 120 different treatments. Finally, the milk produced in the experimental groups had been sold to the St. Louis distribution network. No profits are too small.

“Look,” said Hardin, taking a document from a thick file folder. “These are photos of cow carcasses after they were skinned. You can see blackish areas: that’s dead tissue located at the injection sites. It’s a very potent product. I remember reporting from a slaughterhouse where they were worried about making these unappetizing portions into hamburger meat.”

A Manipulated Article in the Journal Science

Epstein did not let go of the issue. He contacted John Conyers, chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, who in 1979 had asked him to testify in connection with a bill on white-collar crime. “I had mentioned the case of Monsanto, which had hidden health data on nitrilotriacetic acid, which it was manufacturing as a replacement for phosphate-based detergents,” he recalled. “The committee had finally defined two categories of company guilty of white-collar crime: those that deliberately concealed data, such as the carcinogenetic effects of a product, and continued to sell it as though nothing was the matter, and those that hid or destroyed information and in addition continued to advertise the product as safe.3 Monsanto fit into both categories: the first for PCBs, and the second for dioxin and rBGH.”

On May 8, 1990, Conyers officially asked Richard Kusserow, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, to open an investigation of bovine growth hormone, alleging that “Monsanto and the FDA suppressed and manipulated data from veterinary tests to secure approval for the commercial use of rBGH.” The request led to an investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. Among the witnesses testifying before the GAO were Richard Burroughs, whose case had recently been reported in the New York Times, and Samuel Epstein.4

But the FDA and Monsanto very quickly organized a counterattack. In August 1990, the agency decided to breach its statutorily mandated duty of confidentiality. For the first time in history, it took a public position in favor of a product it had not yet authorized by publishing an article in the prestigious journal Science, in which it asserted that milk from cows treated with rBGH was “safe for human consumption.”5 Officially, the article was written by two FDA scientists, Judith Juskevich and Greg Guyer, who were careful to note at the outset: “The FDA requires that the pharmaceutical companies demonstrate that food products from treated animals are safe for human consumption. . . . The companies also submit the raw data from all safety studies that will form the basis for approval of the product.” Specifically, the authors referred to two toxicological studies conducted by Monsanto: in the first, rats received injections of the transgenic hormone over a period of twenty-eight days; in the second study, which lasted ninety days, the test animals ingested rBGH, in order to test its particular effects on the gastrointestinal system. In both cases, the same conclusion was reached: “No significant change.”

“This publication was pure and simple manipulation,” Dr. Michael Hansen told me when I met him in New York in July 2006. Hansen is an expert who works for the Consumer Policy Institute and who, along with Samuel Epstein, has become one of Monsanto’s major gadflies. [ix] “First,” he explained, “the main reviewer of the article was Professor Dale Baumann of Cornell University, who had been paid by Monsanto to test rBGH on cows. It is clear that this was a real conflict of interest that Science never should have allowed.”

For a neophyte, the question of the reviewer may seem trivial, but it is essential. All reputable scientific journals operate in the same way. When a researcher submits an article for publication, the editorial board appoints a panel of reviewers (at least two) selected for their scientific expertise, who are asked to evaluate the quality of the paper. These unpaid reviewers may ask to consult the raw data on which the research relies if they think it necessary. If their opinion is positive, the editor gives the green light for publication. It is important to note that both the identity of the reviewers and the content of the article are kept confidential until the date of publication, to avoid pressure of any kind, a principle that, as will be seen, is not always respected. In any event, the label “peer-reviewed” constitutes a guarantee of quality and independence. [x]

“The second point,” Hansen went on, “is that the FDA truncated the results of the ninety-day study. Contrary to what it claimed, the absorption of rBGH by rats did have a significant effect, since 20 to 30 percent of them produced antibodies, which means that their immune system had been mobilized to detect and neutralize pathogenic agents.” Made public in 1998 thanks to disclosures in Canada that will be discussed in the next chapter, this information forced an agency representative, John Scheid of the CVM, to acknowledge that the agency had never had access to the study’s raw data, but instead had relied on a summary provided by Monsanto.6 “Those results should have induced further long-term studies of the effects of the growth hormone, and especially of IGF-1, on the quality and composition of milk from treated cows,” said Hansen, “but the FDA preferred to shut its eyes.”

IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1, also known as tissue growth factor) is at the heart of the dispute about rBGH. This hormonal substance is produced by the liver under the stimulus of growth hormone in all mammals. In humans, it is present in large quantities in colostrum, making infant growth possible. Its production reaches a peak at puberty and declines with age. The IGF-1 produced by human growth hormone is identical to that produced by bovine growth hormone, whereas the two hormones are noticeably different. Therein lies the problem and also the origin of the scientific sleight of hand used by the promoters of rBGH to substantiate its harmlessness. Said another way, the pituitary of the cow and of the human each produce a specific growth hormone, both of which, however, induce the production of the same substance, IGF-1, the function of which is to stimulate the proliferation of cells, thereby causing organisms to grow. When, for example, Jean-Yves Nau writes in Le Monde, “This hormone is specific to the animal species from which it comes and thus can have no effect on human metabolism, whether it is in milk or meat that is consumed,” he is mistaken.7

The “detail” is all the more important because there is one fact about which everyone is in agreement: the level of IGF-1 is distinctly higher in the milk of cows treated with transgenic growth hormone than in natural milk. According to the Science article, the increase can be as high as 75 percent!8 But the FDA added that “rBGH is biologically and orally inactive in humans” because it “cannot be absorbed in the blood” and when ingested “would be expected to be degraded in the human gastrointestinal tract in the same manner as other proteins.” “This is completely false,” according to Epstein and Hansen. “Several studies have confirmed that IGF-1 is not destroyed in digestion, because it is protected by casein, the principal protein in milk.”9

Clearly fully aware of the stakes, the FDA scientists hazarded a final argument: “Furthermore, 90% of rBGH is destroyed upon pasteurization. . . . The use of rBGH in dairy cattle presents no increased health risk to consumers.” “This is the height of bad faith,” according to Hardin, who showed me the study on which this assertion is supposedly based. It was conducted by Paul Groenewegen, a Canadian doctoral student, on an assignment from Monsanto. He heated milk of transgenic origin to 162º Fahrenheit (approximately 90º Celsius) for thirty minutes. “The normal time for pasteurization is fifteen seconds,” Hardin pointed out. “Milk pasteurized in these conditions no longer has any nutritional value, and yet 10 percent of the IGF-1 was not destroyed.”

A Serious Public Health Problem

There should be no mistake: the squabble over IGF-1 was more than a battle of experts, particularly in the United States, the third-largest consumer of milk in the world. [xi] When you know in addition that the greatest milk drinkers are children, then you can understand the concerns of the opponents of rBGH. Beyond that, this affair was symptomatic of an evolution of the American administration that leaves one breathless and whose repercussions also call into question European practices: how many dubious products have ended up on the market in the Old World through an approval process that is as opaque as it is expeditious?

The case of rBGH is simply devastating. “We have known for several decades,” Epstein explained to me, “that an elevated level of IGF-1 in the body can cause a disorder called acromegaly or giantism. Those affected have a very short life expectancy and generally die of cancer when they’re about thirty. There is nothing surprising about that: IGF-1 is a growth factor that stimulates the proliferation of all cells, good and bad. That’s why rBGH represents a real public health danger. About sixty studies have demonstrated that an elevated level of IGF-1 substantially increases the risks for breast, colon, and prostate cancer.”

He showed me the mass of publications carefully organized on the shelves of his library. The oldest studies were from the 1960s; the FDA could not have been unaware of them and ought, at a minimum, to have applied the precautionary principle required by the Delaney amendment. The most recent were published in the 1990s. One of them, conducted by a team of researchers at Harvard, followed a cohort of fifteen thousand men and concluded that an elevated level of IGF-1 in the blood multiplied the risk of prostate cancer by four.10 Another study published in The Lancet revealed that premenopausal women younger than fifty with an elevated level of IGF-1 had seven times more likelihood of developing breast cancer than those with normal levels.11

“Look,” Hardin told me, “I recently published two studies that confirm our concerns. The first was conducted by Paris Reidhead, who went through the national statistics and found that the rate of breast cancer among American women older than fifty has increased by 55.3 percent between 1994, the year rBGH was put on the market, and 2002.12 Similarly, a study conducted by Dr. Gary Steinmann of Albert Einstein Medical College in New York showed that American women who consume dairy products every day are five times more likely to give birth to twins than those who don’t, and that the rate of twin pregnancies increased by 31.9 percent between 1992 and 2002. All of that is the work of IGF-1.”13

“All right,” I said, rather taken aback, “but the GAO conducted an investigation. What did that produce?”

“Not much. Without exaggerating, I would say that it capitulated in the face of lack of cooperation from the FDA and especially Monsanto.”

In fact, at the initiative of the GAO, Congress asked the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to review the scientific findings on rBGH. From December 5 to December 7, 1990, the NIH held a special conference, which came to very cautious conclusions but nonetheless recommended that “more research be conducted” to determine the acute and chronic actions of IGF-1, if any, in the gastrointestinal tract.”14 Three months later, it was the turn of the American Medical Association (AMA) to publish an article: “Further studies will be required to determine whether ingestion of higher than normal concentrations of bovine insulin like growth factor is safe for children, adolescents, and adults,” wrote the association’s Council on Scientific Affairs.15

“The FDA and Monsanto completely disregarded these recommendations,” Epstein said angrily. “That’s why I say their attitude is criminal. Worse: with respect to the problem of residues of antibiotics, everything was done to obstruct the search for truth.” Recall that one of Richard Burroughs’s major worries had to do with the effect of the transgenic hormone on the frequency of mastitis. Mastitis is an infection treated with antibiotics, which pass into the milk in the form of residues. The milk drinker swallows these residues, which are in turn absorbed by the bacteria populating his or her intestinal flora. If you add to that the fact that this same milk drinker may be prescribed antibiotics for conditions such as colds, which are not caused by bacteria and thus cannot be treated by antibiotics, or for very minor bacterial infections, you can understand why many bacteria that were thought to have been conquered since Arthur Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 have become resistant to antibiotics. The result, of course, has been new outbreaks of diseases that the medical community had thought were eradicated. Hence, as early as 1983, three hundred renowned scientists submitted a petition to the FDA asking that it ban the use of antibiotics in animal feeds.16

Since then, publications on the damaging effects of resistance to antibiotics have proliferated. In 1992, when the argument over rBGH was raging, two researchers wrote in Science: “After a century of decline in the United States, tuberculosis is increasing. . . . One third of the cases tested in a New York City survey in 1991 were resistant to one or more drugs.”17 In the same year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 13,300 hospital patients in the country had died from infections caused by bacteria resistant to the antibiotics doctors had prescribed for them.18

Extreme Pressure

This is the reason the GAO took the mastitis problem very seriously.19 Having learned of a study by the University of Vermont, which had been paid by Monsanto to test the transgenic hormone on forty-six cows, the GAO asked for the results, but according to them the scientists refused. Publicized by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, a consumer and environmental advocacy organization, the affair caused a stir, forcing the FDA to break its silence. It was then discovered that 40 percent of the cows treated had required treatment for mastitis, compared to less than 10 percent in the control group.

At the same time, Monsanto was involved in a dispute with five British scientists, including Professor Erik Millstone of the University of Sussex, who, unlike others, did not give up. The episode is worth looking at in some detail because it clearly illustrates Monsanto’s attitude toward independent research. The seriousness of mastitis is measured by what is called somatic cell count (SCC): a high number of leukocytes (white cells) in a cow’s blood means that there is inflammation of the udder and therefore there is pus in the milk. It is also important to know that as the FDA was considering authorizing the marketing of rBGH, Monsanto had submitted a similar request to European countries. In this connection, the company had associated with twenty-six international research centers to conduct tests on the hormone.

On October 4, 1989, Millstone met Neil Craven, Monsanto’s Brussels representative, who agreed to send him the raw data from the tests conducted in eight centers located in the United States, Holland, Great Britain, Germany, and France (where the test was conducted by the Institut Technique de l’Élevage Bovin). A week later, a letter—which would soon become the heart of the matter—specified the framework of the agreement: “We would be interested to hear your views on the data when you have had chance to assess it,” Craven wrote. “As you know, we request that the raw data be kept confidential. We hope that you will discuss any interpretation of the data with us before disclosing it to third parties.”

Millstone dissected the data sent by the eight international centers, which concerned 620 cows, 309 of which had been injected with the hormone. He discovered that a certain number of animals had been “prematurely withdrawn from the statistics,” which of course distorted the results. For example, in Dardenne, Missouri, this was the case for cow number 321, found dead on March 28, 1986, and removed from the trial. Number 391 was withdrawn because of mastitis. In Arizona, number 4320 died of peritonitis; in Utah, number 5886 succumbed to lymphosarcoma; in Holland, number 701 was eliminated because of acute anemia caused by the rupture of blood vessels in the mammary glands; and so on. By doing a meta-analysis of the data, Millstone found that the SCC was on average 19 percent higher in treated cows than in the control groups. Knowing that the Veterinary Products Committee of the British Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food was in the process of studying the request to authorize marketing of rBGH, he sent them a summary of his findings, emphasizing that “some of Monsanto’s published figures did not coincide with those provided directly to us” and that “in commercial use, rBST might be responsible for a decrease in milk quality.”

Then on December 5, 1991, he contacted Doug Hard, Monsanto’s new Brussels representative, to ask him for authorization to publish an article in a scientific journal, and he attached a draft, in accordance with the prior agreement. “As the raw data are confidential, all subsequent analyses are as well.” Hard answered a month later, although he was conciliatory: he conditioned eventual publication on the prior appearance of a paper by Monsanto consultants in the Journal of Dairy Science, whose publication was imminent, he said. Two years passed with no further news. Millstone then wrote to the Journal of Dairy Science to suggest joint publication of his paper and Monsanto’s. He discovered that no article had ever been submitted by the company on rBGH and SCC. [xii]

Worn out by these maneuvers, Millstone embarked on a long struggle that says a lot about the purported independence of scientific journals. He contacted the Veterinary Record, which agreed to publish his article provided he get consent from Monsanto. Erik Millstone then turned to the British Food Journal, which initially gave a green light without prior consent from Monsanto but eventually reversed itself because the company threatened to attack the journal for “plagiarism.” “When you take someone else’s data and you submit it without putting their names on it . . . it’s called plagiarism,” argued Robert Collier, Monsanto’s point man for rBGH. Finally Millstone’s article, co-signed by Eric Brunner of University College London, was published on October 20, 1994, in Nature, the British counterpart of Science, in which he revealed the whole affair.20 The publication was accompanied by a note in which Millstone explained that Monsanto had no rights over the analyses conducted by his laboratory, only over the raw data, which he had kept confidential in accordance with his promise. It is interesting to note that in order to block the distribution of an article challenging its findings, Monsanto did not hesitate to brandish its intellectual property rights on data that raised questions about the health of consumers.

Welcome to the World of the Revolving Door

Back in the United States, on March 2, 1993, the GAO wrote to Donna Shalala, secretary of health and human services: “The approval of rBGH products should not be forthcoming until the antibiotic risk is validly assessed. The Department’s response suggests that our recommendations have not been seriously addressed.” And they never would be. On November 5, 1993, the FDA gave a green light to the marketing of Posilac, the trade name of rBGH. The only minor “restriction” was that the directions for use had to indicate that the product could produce twenty-two side effects in cows. Among them were reduced fertility, ovarian cysts and uterine disorder, a reduction in gestation time and in the weight of calves, a higher rate of twins, an increase in mastitis and SCC, and abscesses of one to two inches and sometimes as much as four inches, at injection sites. Hardly of minor importance.

Michael Hansen of the Consumer Policy Institute explained that rBGH “is the most controversial product ever authorized by the FDA.” “You have to understand that the transgenic hormone is not a drug designed to treat any cattle disease, but a product with a strictly economic purpose which has no benefit for either animals or consumers. The agency should therefore have required that it be totally harmless before approving its sale. Instead, it acknowledged that it might pose countless health problems by creating a new criterion, which violated the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act: ‘manageable risk.’ ” An internal FDA document reveals that at a meeting on March 31, 1993, the CVM concluded that the risks the transgenic hormone posed for human and animal health were “manageable” and that the agency should therefore proceed to its approval. According to Hansen, “the agency surreptitiously changed its regulatory criteria to satisfy the needs of Monsanto, which had been able to maneuver very cleverly by placing some of its representatives in key positions in the agency.” This was a perfect illustration of the revolving door, the hiring of private industry employees by government agencies and vice versa. Later on, I will discuss more thoroughly this national pastime, at which Monsanto is unquestionably a master, even considering only the case of rBGH. For example, it turns out that one of the hidden authors of the controversial article published by the FDA in Science was Susan Sechen, a former student of Dale Baumann (the principal reviewer of the article), who, you will recall, had been paid by Monsanto to test the transgenic hormone at Cornell University. After writing her dissertation on rBGH, Sechen had been hired by the CVM to evaluate the data provided by the company. Her supervisor was Margaret Miller, who had worked for Monsanto from 1985 to 1989 before becoming assistant to Dr. Robert Livingston, head of the CVM’s Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation.

Miller’s presence in such a strategic position had in fact created some controversy. On March 16, 1994—the date Posilac came on the market— CVM employees wrote an anonymous letter to David Kessler, the FDA commissioner, with copies to the GAO and to Consumers Union: “We are afraid to speak openly about the situation because of retribution from our director, Dr. Robert Livingston, who openly harasses anyone who states an opinion in opposition to his,” the whistle-blowers wrote. “The basis of our concern is that Dr. Livingston had Dr. Miller write a policy on use of antimicrobials in milk. She picked an arbitrary and scientifically unsupported number of 1 ppm as being the allowable amount of antimicrobial in milk permitted without any consumer safety testing. This is for an antimicrobial. A cow could be treated with several antibiotics and each one would be permitted to be in milk at a level of 1 ppm without additional consumer safety testing. Effects of the different antibiotics could be addititive and this is not taken into account.”

“As soon as we learned of this letter, we began to hope again,” recounted Jeremy Rifkin, the media-savvy president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, whom I met in his Bethesda office in July 2006. Author of the bestseller The Biotech Century, this economist was unquestionably the first American intellectual to recognize what was at stake with rBGH, the initial GMO product put on the market by Monsanto.21 He launched a national campaign in February 1994, which he called the “Pure Food Campaign.” In television archives he can be seen pouring containers of milk into the gutters of New York as a young activist accosts passers-by. “Transgenic growth hormone is a test to persuade us to accept GMOs,” she shouts through a megaphone, brandishing a sign reading “No to transgenic milk!” Relying on the anonymous letter from the CVM whistle-blowers, Jeremy Rifkin managed to convince three members of Congress to ask the GAO to open an investigation. The investigative arm of Congress, which had just pathetically buried its first investigation of the health risks of rBGH, opened a second one, this time on a possible conflict of interest affecting FDA handling of the question. [xiii] Under scrutiny were Susan Sechen, Margaret Miller, and a man named Michael Taylor.

Taylor perfectly embodies the revolving door system and, beyond that, the links between Monsanto and U.S. regulatory agencies. According to his résumé, this lawyer, born in 1949, worked first at the FDA (from 1976 to 1980), where he helped draft documents concerning food safety for the Federal Register. In 1981 he joined the prestigious firm of King and Spalding in Atlanta, whose clients included Coca-Cola and Monsanto. On July 17, 1991, he was appointed deputy commissioner for policy of the FDA, a position tailor-made for him. He remained there for three years, long enough to supervise the drafting of basic documents concerning the regulation of rBGH and beyond that of GMOs, then spending a brief period at the Department of Agriculture, and was then hired in the late 1990s as a vice president of Monsanto.

When I finally tracked him down in July 2006, he was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future (RFF) and director of its Center for Risk Management. RFF is a “nonpartisan organization” based in Washington that “conducts independent research . . . on environmental, energy, and natural resource issues.” Taylor never agreed to meet me, with or without a camera. But, oddly, he granted me a telephone interview, and I was able to record our conversation. I remember that, in a fit of paranoia, I assumed that he had done the same thing. At the time I was waiting for an answer from Monsanto about interviews in St. Louis, and I knew that the company was investigating me, conscientiously weighing the pros and cons.

“The fact that you worked for seven years as an attorney for Monsanto and that you later supervised the approval process for one of its most controversial products never raised an ethical issue for you?” I asked cautiously.

“No, no. There are rules and I respected them.”

“You don’t think there was a conflict of interest?”

“Absolutely not. Besides, the GAO conducted a very detailed investigation and it totally cleared me.”

In fact, much to the dismay of Jeremy Rifkin, the GAO investigation found no conflict of interest. “Welcome to Washington!” Rifkin said ironically. “At their hearing, Michael Taylor and Margaret Miller claimed that they had voluntarily withdrawn from all meetings having to do with rBGH. So move on, there’s nothing here.”

“The GAO investigation was a charade,” according to Samuel Epstein. “How could they accept that alibi at face value when it was Michael Taylor who signed an FDA directive recommending not labeling natural milk as ‘rBGH free’ or ‘hormone free’? You understand what that means? The agency in charge of food safety published an absolutely unprecedented document that prevented consumers from choosing the milk they wanted to drink and, most important, allowed Monsanto to sue all the sellers of dairy products that publicly rejected milk with hormones. Don’t you think the country has lost its mind?”22



i. Named after a Democratic representative from New York, James Delaney (1901–87), who would certainly be spinning in his grave if he could read this.

ii. In the 1970s, three other companies manufactured the transgenic hormone: Elanco, a subsidiary of Eli Lilly; Upjohn; and American Cyanamid. But finally only Monsanto stayed in the running.

iii. The two terms are used today, but not by the same people: anxious to erase the fact that its product is an artificial hormone, Monsanto speaks exclusively of “rBST,” while opponents use “rBGH.”

iv. Harvey had spent his entire career at the FDA, where he headed the CVM, before moving to Monsanto as director of regulatory affairs.

v. In 1994, Professor Epstein established the Coalition for the Prevention of Cancer. He received the Right Livelihood Award (the “alternative Nobel Prize”) in 1998, in 2000 the Project Censored Award, and in 2005 the Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medal for his “international contributions to cancer prevention.”

vi. The hormone was tested in France at the Institut Technique de l’Élevage Bovin (located in Le Rheu, near Rennes) as well as at breeding centers of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique. (Le Monde, December 30, 1988, and August 30, 1990).

vii. Frank Young held the post from August 1984 to December 1989. He was replaced by David Kessler (1990–97), who put in place the nonregulation of GMOs.

viii. The following antibiotics were mentioned: Banamine, Ditrim, Gentamicin, Ivomec, Piperacillin, Rompun, and Vetislud.

ix. The Consumer Policy Institute is a division of Consumers Union, established in 1936, which publishes Consumer Reports, the second most widely circulated American consumer magazine (4.5 million subscribers).

x. The week following the publication of the article in Science, Dr. Jean-Yves Nau, editor of the science page in Le Monde, devoted an article to it: “Les chercheurs de la FDA estiment que l’utilisation de cette hormone ne présente pas de danger pour le consommateur,” Le Monde, August 30, 1990.

xi. In 2004, annual consumption was 89.1 liters per person. If other dairy products are added (yogurt, ice cream, cheese, and so on), the figure rises to 270 liters per year.

xii. When the affair came to light, Monsanto finally published an article in the Journal of Dairy Science in the summer of 1994.

xiii. On April 15, 1994, the three members of Congress wrote to the GAO explaining that the first investigation failed “because of the refusal by the Monsanto company to communicate all available clinical data on rBGH.”
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Re: The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption,

Postby admin » Sat Feb 06, 2016 2:18 am

6: The Bovine Growth Hormone Affair, Part Two: The Art of Silencing Dissenting Voices

Posilac is the single most tested new product in history.

—Monsanto promotional film

Samuel Epstein was right: the further you go in this unbelievable story, the more you have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. It feels as though it’s straight out of a science fiction novel. On November 5, 1993, the FDA granted authorization to put Posilac on the market. Ninety days later, at the expiration of the legal waiting period, precisely on February 4, 1994, Federal Express trucks traveled to every corner of the American countryside delivering the first doses of the transgenic hormone. In fact—and this is another peculiarity—rBGH is not purchased in veterinary pharmacies but is ordered directly from Monsanto on a toll-free number.

Labeling Prohibited under Threat of Legal Action

Six days later, the Federal Register published a document entitled “Interim Guidance on the Voluntary Labeling of Milk and Milk Products from Cows That Have Not Been Treated with Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin,” the purpose of which was to “prevent false or misleading claims regarding rBST.”1 It is one thing to state, as the document does in the first part, that “the agency found that there was no significant difference between milk from treated and untreated cows, and therefore, concluded that . . . [it] did not have the authority . . . to require special labeling for milk from rBSTtreated cows.” It is another for the FDA not to require milk producers who use the transgenic growth hormone to inform cooperatives or distributors of dairy products, meaning that milk from cows injected with rBGH will be mixed with natural milk, with no particular notice. And what about people who are absolutely determined to drink natural milk? Well, their suppliers will not have the right to use the simple label “rBST free.” The argument presented by the FDA is rather surprising: “Because of the presence of natural BST in milk, no milk is ‘BST-free,’ and a ‘BST-free’ labeling statement would be false. Also, FDA is concerned that the term ‘rBST free’ may imply . . . that milk from untreated cows is safer or of higher quality than milk from treated cows. Such an implication would be false and misleading.”

To be sure, this guidance had no legal force and the agency did not formally prohibit the label “rBST free,” but it strongly suggested that it should be accompanied by a short statement intended to “inform the consumer,” which it called a “contextual statement”: “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows.” And who signed the guidance? Michael Taylor.2 “Of course I’m the one who signed the document—it was my role to sign all the documents the FDA published—but I didn’t write it,” Taylor told me over the phone, sounding embarrassed. “And why come back to this old story fifteen years later?” Why? Because it sheds light on the way GMOs would in the end be imposed on the entire planet under the influence of a multinational company that had planned everything with implacable logic. That is why I was interested in small details—because the company had left nothing to chance.

To be precise, it is true that Michael Taylor himself had not written the guidance. And that is understandable: as number two at the FDA, he had other things to do. As he acknowledged in the course of our conversation, his task was to “supervise the regulatory process.” The person who drafted the document was Margaret Miller, the former Monsanto employee who had become a deputy director in the CVM. This is what the CVM whistleblowers claimed in their 1994 anonymous letter: “The basis of our concern is that Dr. Margaret Miller, Dr. Livingston’s assistant and, from all indications, extremely ‘close friend,’ wrote the FDA’s opinion on why milk from BST treated cows should not be labeled. However, before coming to FDA, Dr. Miller was working for the Monsanto company as a researcher on BST. At the time she wrote the FDA opinion on labeling, she was still publishing papers with Monsanto scientists on BST. It appears to us that this is a direct conflict of interest. As you know, if milk is labeled as being from BST-treated cows, consumers will not buy it and Monsanto stands to lose a great deal of money.”

Although Michael Taylor did not draft the guidance, his former law firm inspired its content. The guidance apparently drew on a confidential document sent to the FDA on April 28, 1993, by King and Spalding. Recall that Michael Taylor had served for seven years as counsel for Monsanto, working, says his CV, on food labeling, particularly of transgenic origin. Entitled “Mandatory Labeling of Milk and Other Foods Derived from Dairy Cows Supplemented with Bovine Somatotropin Would Be Unlawful and Unwise,” the memorandum from King and Spalding, which was “submitted on behalf of Monsanto Company for the Food and Drug Administration,” presents arguments quoted directly in the FDA guidance: “In addition to being unlawful, such a requirement would be unwise. Consumers would be misled into believing that there is some difference between milk and other foods derived from BST-supplemented dairy cattle and foods from untreated animals. In fact, there is no significant difference.”3

“This FDA guidance takes the cake,” said Michael Hansen, the Consumer Policy Institute expert who sent a detailed critique to the agency on March 14, 1994. “First—and the FDA knew this very well—milk from treated cows is not identical to natural milk; second, it has long since authorized labels such as ‘organic product,’ ‘cheese from Wisconsin,’ ‘produced by Amish,’ or ‘Angus beef,’ and it never thought that might mislead consumers by implying a difference in terms of quality or food safety. Why would it be different for milk labeled ‘rBST free’? Once again, the document was tailor made for Monsanto, which knew very well that if milk was labeled, consumers would do everything to avoid products from the transgenic hormone.” He referred to eleven surveys conducted in the 1990s, all of which confirmed that the vast majority of consumers preferred to buy milk without rBGH if they had the choice. [i]

In the meantime, the guidance had thoroughly benefited Monsanto, which brandished it to sue anyone who dared to use the label “rBGH free.” The first victim, in 1994, was Swiss Valley Farms, a dairy cooperative in Davenport, Iowa, which informed its 2,500 members that it would not buy their milk if they used rBGH. “If things like that were repeated, it would cause irreparable harm to Monsanto,” company spokesman Tom McDermott said in justifying the suit.4 The case ended in a settlement authorizing the cooperative to label its milk, provided that it add the brief “contextual statement” highly “recommended” by the FDA guidance: “The FDA has found no significant difference between milk from cows treated with rBST and nontreated cows.” “All dairy professionals are terrified,” a director of a cooperative in the Northeast said shortly afterward, demanding anonymity for fear of reprisals.5

In 2003, it was the turn of Oakhurst Dairy Inc., the largest dairy company in northern New England, to find itself in court. This family business had sharply increased sales ($85 million) by labeling its products with the statement: “Our Farmers’ Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones Used.” In return, it paid its producers a bonus. Monsanto sued on the grounds that the label constituted a “disparagement of the use of growth hormones in dairy herds.” “We don’t feel we need to remove that label,” declared Stanley T. Bennett, president of Oakhurst Dairy. “We ought to have the right to let people know what is and is not in our milk.”6 Like its Davenport counterpart, the company, however, settled by adding the celebrated brief statement.7

In February 2005, Tillamook County Creamery Association, one of America’s largest cheese producers, was the target of Monsanto’s thunderbolts. In the face of growing demand from its customers to supply natural milk, the dairy cooperative had asked its 147 members to stop using the transgenic hormone. Monsanto had immediately dispatched a lawyer from King and Spalding to Portland, Oregon, to persuade some of the members of the board of directors to reconsider the decision. In a press release, the cooperative expressed surprise at these “intrusive tactics” aimed at “sowing dissension “among its members.8

It was indeed hard to see why the company should have abstained from such practices, since it could boast of always having received unfailing support from the FDA. Evidence of this is provided by a letter from Dr. Leslie Crawford, deputy administrator of the agency, sent in 2003 to Brian Lowery— long in charge of rBST matters at Monsanto, and later director of the company’s human rights policy—which the International Dairy Food Association (IDFA), a powerful pro-rBGH dairy lobbying group, [ii] hastened to put on its Web site: “You stated that these deceptive practices mislead consumers about the quality, safety, or value of milk and milk products from cows supplemented with rBST. . . . We share your concerns. . . . FDA . . . is in the process of exploring ways to document current labeling practices for certain milk and milk products to determine if these products are labeled in a manner that is false and misleading.”

Illegal Propaganda

“Look to your left—that’s one of the largest dairy farms in the region, and it is certain that it uses the transgenic growth hormone,” said John Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders. “If you want to film it, be discreet—you never know.” The young farmer carefully pulled over to the side of the road. We had picked up his anxiety, and we did the three shots as quickly as possible. In front of us was a huge dairy establishment holding several hundred cows penned in straight rows. The animals never went outside and were fed entirely with food supplements—genetically modified (GM) soy and meal. Dark-skinned workers moved around the site. “They’re undocumented Mexicans,” Peck explained. “This kind of business operates like a factory that employs a low-paid workforce that is easily exploitable.” It was October 2006, and we were in Wisconsin, long the largest dairy producer in the United States until it was outstripped by California, where farms like the one in front of us had proliferated in the last ten years, thanks to rBGH. “Today,” Peck said, “Wisconsin farms have an average of 50 cows compared to 400 in California, but we are the largest producer of organic milk.”

We got back on the road and drove through hilly green country dotted with tidy farms, many displaying the sign “Amish Products.” Wisconsin harbors the fourth-largest Amish community in the country, who continue to abide by the rules set by the old order, unchanged since the sect from Switzerland settled in the United States in the late seventeenth century: beards for the men and bonnets for the women, all wearing traditional clothing, and the rejection of all techniques arising from “progress,” starting with electricity. The Amish light their buildings with candles, travel in horse-drawn buggies, and work their land with teams of oxen.

“Amish agricultural products are having great success these days, because they are necessarily organic,” according to John Kinsman, president of Family Farm Defenders, whom we had just met at his home. “They sell their milk directly from the farm, which allows them to avoid attacks from Monsanto.” Around sixty and very talkative, Kinsman is one of the leading opponents of the transgenic hormone. He became active against it very early on, first for economic and social reasons. “rBGH is a real aberration,” he said, laying out a thick file on his kitchen table. “When Monsanto submitted it to the FDA, the American government was paying farmers to slaughter their cows, because we had been overproducing milk for a quarter century.” In fact, in 1985, to deal with milk surpluses that were annually costing the federal budget the tidy sum of $2 billion, Congress passed the Food Security Act, intended to reduce the cost of the price support program by reducing the number of dairy farms. Some fourteen thousand farmers agreed to accept subsidies to send more than 1.5 million cows to the slaughterhouse (this program cost $1.8 billion). “Growth hormone is part of the system of industrial agriculture which drives toward the concentration of production and consequently the disappearance of many agricultural units unable to handle the expenses incurred by the intensive farming model,” Kinsman explained. “We think this model is contrary to sustainable development and the production of quality food, which only family and organic farming can provide.”

We went back on the road and met a farmer who had used rBGH for a while but gave it up because of serious veterinary problems. “It’s very hard to find a farmer who will testify about his difficulties,” Kinsman commented. “First, because most of them are ashamed of having subjected their animals to such abuse and at the same time threatening the health of their customers; and then, to be able to get the hormone, you have to sign a contract that includes a confidentiality clause in case there is a problem. I’ve met farmers who have been sued by Monsanto because they had spoken publicly,” Kinsman said.

The farmer we met was named Terry, and he had a herd of about forty Holsteins that were peacefully grazing not far from his house. The black-and- white animals were guarded by two Peruvian llamas. “They’re excellent, better than dogs,” he explained, amused by my surprise. Then, suddenly turning serious, he warned at the outset: “I’ve agreed to meet with you, because John persuaded me that you were on the level and someone has to speak out so companies like Monsanto will stop spreading their control over agriculture in this country. My story is unfortunately quite common. One day, in 1992 or 1993, my veterinarian told me about a miracle drug that was about to come on the market and that, he said, would considerably increase my revenues. Since we’re in a business where we’re often financially on edge, I agreed to try it as soon as it was available.”

“Did veterinarians commonly promote rBGH?” I asked, a bit surprised.

“Yes,” said Kinsman. “Monsanto was constantly propagandizing for its product even before it was approved. The company offered a $300 bonus to every veterinarian who persuaded a farmer to use it. It also organized promotional banquets in all the dairy states, at which it distributed a video touting the virtues of the growth hormone.”

I saw this for myself when I got a copy of the video produced by Monsanto, showing a gentleman with a very professorial air strolling around a dairy farm and talking about the advantages of rBGH, “the most studied product in the history of the FDA.” “The drug has been tested for years, and it works,” he asserts, as a man nearby injects a row of astonishingly docile cows. Monsanto started distributing this video to farmers in the late 1980s, provoking the anger of the FDA. On January 9, 1991, Gerald B. Guest, director of the CVM, sent a letter to David Kowalczyk of Monsanto: “Over the past several years your company has developed a large number of items, including brochures, video tapes and sponsored meetings, which in part promote bovine somatotropin (BST) as being safe and/or effective for increasing milk production in dairy cattle even though all BST products are still under investigation to determine whether they can be legally marketed in the United States. [Federal regulations do] not permit the sponsor, or anyone acting on behalf of the sponsor, to represent that a new animal drug is safe or effective for the purposes for which it is under investigation.” The letter goes on to note that among the events were “cocktails and dinners” organized for veterinarians and “CVM personnel,” who always refused to participate. Honor was preserved. Meanwhile, the FDA official politely ordered Monsanto to halt these illegal promotional practices or face penalties.

Massacre on the Farm

“Look,” Kinsman said to me, “I kept a promotional leaflet from Monsanto singing the praises of Posilac.” He read: “Cows treated with Posilac are in very good health. . . . The performance of calves born from treated cows is excellent.”

“That’s a lie,” Terry protested. “I used the growth hormone on twelve cows in my herd. I very soon noticed that they were losing a huge amount of weight. I kept on increasing the feed rations, but nothing could be done and they grew thinner right before your eyes. At the end of the lactation period, I wanted to have them inseminated, and I tried four or five times, but it never worked. None of the cows I had injected gave me a calf. In the end, I sold them for slaughter. Fortunately, I saved the rest of the herd, or else I would have lost everything.”

“That’s what happened to many farmers in Wisconsin,” said Kinsman, who referred me to a 1995 study by Mark Kastel, an independent consultant working at the time for the Wisconsin Farmers Union.9 In late summer 1994—that is, six months after Posilac had been put on the market—the farmers’ organization, in cooperation with the National Farmers Union, based in Denver, set up a toll-free number for users of the hormone. The first farmer who would allow his name to be used was John Shumway of New York, who had given an interview about his difficulties to a local weekly.10 After barely two months of injections, he had had to sacrifice onequarter of his herd, about fifty cows, because of acute problems with mastitis. Recontacted a year later, in September 1995, Shumway said that he had replaced 135 of his original herd of 200, and that his losses came to about $100,000, from a combination of the decline in milk production and the purchase of new animals.

The toll-free number was soon swamped with calls from dairy farmers around the United States. For example, Melvin Van Heel—70 cows in Minnesota—reported that he no longer knew how to treat his animals, which were suffering from mastitis and huge abscesses at injection sites. Al Core— 150 cows in Florida—noticed that his cows could no longer walk because of the great weight of their udders and that they limped because of wounds on their legs and hooves; in addition, three treated cows had given birth to deformed calves (legs above their heads or external stomachs); Jay Livingston— 200 cows in New York State—reported that he had had to replace 50 animals, some of which had died suddenly, and that after stopping injections, he had had the rest of the herd inseminated: 35 cows gave birth to twins, most of them with very weak constitutions, “good for absolutely nothing.”

Reading this apocalyptic report, I recalled the emotional reaction of Richard Burroughs, the veterinarian fired by the FDA. “It’s terrible what they’re doing to cows,” he had said. “To be able to turn themselves into milk factories, they are forced to draw constantly on their reserves, which weakens their bones. Encumbered with monstrous udders, they limp and can hardly stay standing.”

All the farmers in Mark Kastel’s survey had sent reports to Monsanto, as provided in the contract they had signed, but the company had not responded. Worse, although Monsanto was legally obligated to report the secondary effects that its product caused in the field, it had, according to Kastel, improperly delayed transmitting some of the reports to the FDA. And in any event, what good would that have done? On March 15, 1995, although he was inundated with alarming reports, Stephen Sundlof, the new director of the CVM, coolly noted: “Based on these reports, the FDA does not find any cause for concern.”11

Today, whereas major food distribution companies are trying to obtain milk that if not organic is at least natural, to satisfy increasing consumer demand, no official assessment has ever been made of the use of the transgenic hormone. [iii] “The FDA has kept its head in the sand,” said Kinsman, “but inadvertently, its irresponsible conduct has in fact fostered the growth of organic farming. By attempting at all costs to avoid milk from cows treated with rBGH, consumers have fallen back on organic milk producers, and as a result they’ve started to wonder about the quality of their food. I don’t think any official decision will ever ban the use of the hormone, but in the long run consumers will make it disappear from our farms. And that will be a massacre.”

“Why a massacre?” I was taken aback.

“Because rBGH is a real drug,” said the experienced activist. “When cows stop being injected, they experience withdrawal and they literally collapse. It’s been called ‘crack for cows.’ The day when large dairy farms are forced to stop injections, because no one wants their milk, they will have to send their herds for slaughter, which will represent, according to our estimates, onethird of the dairy cows in the country.”

“That’s alarming, but how did such madness happen?”

“The power of blind money. Monsanto was able to rely on a real war machine to silence all dissonant voices.”

Lobbying and Control of the Press

“This is just a note to say thanks for the efforts of you (and the Animal Health Institute) to keep me and the AMA generally informed on the progress of BST and the public climate for it. The amount of advance communicating Monsanto and the other BST companies have been doing on this product is impressive. . . . I see no reason for the medical community to be anything but comfortable with the safety of this product for people and milk. Let’s stay in touch on BST’s progress and continued good luck at Monsanto.” This smooth letter was sent on June 30, 1989, by Roy Schwartz, a vice president of the American Medical Association, to Dr. Virginia Meldon, vice president of Monsanto for scientific affairs. It is a perfect illustration of the “war machine,” composed of charm and influence, that Monsanto put together to nip in the bud any criticism of its products.

Established in 1847, the AMA counts 250,000 doctors as members, onethird of all practitioners in the country. In support of “Helping Doctors Help Patients”—its official motto—it publishes the Journal of the American Medical Association, the most widely read medical journal in the world. “The AMA has always argued in favor of rBGH,” Samuel Epstein explained, “just like the American Cancer Society [iv] and the American Dietetic Association, which is one of the alibis of the Dairy Coalition, a powerful dairy lobby, set up as if by chance in 1993, at the time the FDA approved Posilac, which brings together representatives of the dairy industry, large food distribution chains, the association of Agriculture Secretaries of the fifty states, scientists sponsored by Monsanto, et cetera.” Epstein continued, “Relying on these networks, the Dairy Coalition flooded the press with deceptive information about rBGH and organized defamation campaigns against anyone who, like me, never stopped warning about the dangers of the transgenic hormone.”

“What about the press?” I asked. “How did it behave?”

“Ah, the press. It didn’t get involved very much, either because it didn’t understand anything about this transgenic hormone business or because it was blinded by the aura of respectability around the FDA. Indeed, how could anyone imagine that the agency would betray its duty on this issue? Finally, the few reporters who really did their work were severely punished, like, for example, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson.”

Now a symbol of press censorship in the United States, this husband-and- wife team of reporters was hired on November 18, 1996, by Channel 13, WTVT, in Tampa, which was owned by New World Communications, to work on an investigative magazine program launched with much fanfare. “The investigators. They uncover the truth! They protect you!” promised the repeatedly broadcast promo. Jane Akre and Steve Wilson are well-known investigative reporters who between them have won a number of prestigious awards, including three Emmys and a National Press Club award.12

“We were delighted to be able to work together on a magazine that gave us carte blanche to investigate subjects of our choosing,” Akre explained in July 2006 in their Jacksonville, Florida, home. “The first subject we proposed had to do with rBGH, because we had heard about the disputes surrounding the product. I was in charge of the investigative reporting and Steve of production. I will always remember the first report I did. I’d managed to film a farmer as he was injecting his cows; they shook violently every time the nine-inch needle was plunged in their flanks.” Jane showed me the pictures, copies of which she kept in a box in her basement: they showed the farmer squeezing the huge udder of a cow; a thick, brownish liquid spurts into his hand. “You see these little lumps?” he says, extending his palm toward the camera. “That’s what you call mastitis.” A few minutes later, a long tracking shot sweeps along a shelf piled with all kinds of antibiotics.

Jane Akre filmed for a month. She met defenders of the transgenic hormone, such as a scientist from the University of Florida, and Robert Collier, a Monsanto representative, but also opponents such as Samuel Epstein and Michael Hansen. She interviewed the representative of a small dairy sued by the company for having labeled its milk “BST free.” But the FDA refused to grant her an interview. “At the time, I was still very naive,” she said with a smile, “and this refusal surprised me, so convinced was I that the agency must have had good reasons for approving a drug that seemed very dangerous, so much so that Steve and I decided to give only organic milk to our daughter Alix.”

In the meantime, New World Communications of Tampa, and along with it Channel 13, had been bought by Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch, the Australian American press baron noted for his very commercial and conservative conception of journalism.

When the editing was completed, the couple showed the report to Daniel Webster, the news director, who was enthusiastic. He decided to broadcast it in four parts and to promote it with an expensive radio advertising campaign. The first broadcast was set for Monday, February 24, 1997, in prime time.

“The Friday before the broadcast we were called into Daniel Webster’s office, and he handed us a letter that had been faxed,” Akre said. “It was signed by John Walsh, a partner in the prominent New York law firm Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, and addressed to Roger Ailes, the CEO of Fox News”: “I write to bring to your attention a situation of great concern to Monsanto involving your recently acquired, owned and operated station in Tampa, Florida,” the letter began, even though Walsh had never seen the report. “Serious questions arise about [the] objectivity [of your reporters] and [their] capacity for reporting on this highly complex scientific subject. . . . The fact is that every scientific, medical, or regulatory body in the world which has reviewed and approved this product has come to the same conclusion: milk from rBST treated cows poses no risk to human health. . . . There is a lot at stake in what is going on in Florida, not only for Monsanto, but also for Fox News and its owner, as well as for the American people and a world population that can benefit significantly from the use of rBST and other products of agricultural biotechnology.” Then, aware of the recipient’s sore points, Monsanto’s lawyer pointed out that the conduct of the two Tampa journalists was all the more regrettable because it was occurring “shortly after the verdict in the Food Lion case.” The subtext: Be careful, because the same thing could happen to you. [v]

Bob Franklin, the general manager of the station, asked to see the report: “He found it very good,” Jane Akre recalled, “and together we agreed to offer Monsanto another interview. The company asked us to send the list of questions beforehand, which we did, but finally it refused to meet with me.”

A few days later, another letter reached Fox News headquarters. This time the tone was openly threatening: “I find it nothing short of amazing that one week after my detailed letter to you about the concerns of my client Monsanto Company . . . I should be writing to you again to advise you that the situation has not improved, but clearly worsened in terms of the irresponsible approach being taken by WTVT’s news correspondent Jane Akre,” the lawyer wrote. He inveighed against the eight questions submitted by the reporter, particularly one on “crack for cows.” “Indeed some of the points clearly contain the elements of defamatory statements,” he continued, “which, if repeated in a broadcast, could lead to serious damage to Monsanto and dire consequences for Fox News.”

“What could Fox News be afraid of?” I asked after carefully reading the two letters.

“Of losing advertising,” Jane answered. “Monsanto is a major advertiser, particularly for Roundup and NutraSweet, its two leading products, which represents a substantial budget.”

“That’s how you and Steve became whistle-blowers?”

“Yes. We never would have imagined going through an experience like that in a country that prides itself on being the greatest democracy in the world.”

Open warfare had now been declared. In Tampa, it was conducted by Dave Boylan, who had just been appointed general manager of Channel 13 after it was purchased by Fox. He asked the two journalists to start from scratch and prepare a new version of the report, which had been canceled until further notice. “We rewrote the script eighty-three times!” Jane said with some amusement, adding that she had kept drafts of every version. “But it was never suitable. For example, we couldn’t use the word ‘carcinogenic,’ but had to replace it with ‘possible health implications.’ Or we had to minimize the scientific competence of Dr. Samuel Epstein, and so on. We later discovered that the Dairy Coalition had flooded Fox News with documents supposedly demonstrating the harmlessness of rBGH. Every version was carefully reviewed by Carolyn Forrest, a lawyer for Fox News, who one day in exasperation said: ‘Don’t you understand? It’s not the truth of the facts that’s important. I don’t think this story is worth going to court and to trial spending a couple of hundred thousand dollars to fight Monsanto.’ ”

According to Jane Akre (when I met her in July of 2006), on April 16, 1997, Dave Boylan allegedly threatened to fire the two reporters for “insubordination” if they refused to reedit the report following to the letter the “recommendations” of Fox News: “We paid $3 billion to buy these stations,” he was reported to have said. “We’re the ones who decide what the content of the news should be.” Steve Wilson replied that if the report was broadcast without their consent, they would file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission for violation of the Communications Act of 1934.

On May 6, the new manager of Channel 13 reportedly changed tactics: he offered to pay the reporters a full year’s salary, including benefits (about $200,000), and to appoint them to fictitious positions as consultants. In return for this “golden handshake,” they had to promise never to reveal how Fox had censored the report or what they had discovered about rBGH. “Put your offer in writing, and we’ll look at it,” Steve answered, to Jane’s great surprise. But she soon understood.13

The invaluable document was an exhibit in the complaint they filed after they had been fired “without cause” on December 2, 1997. To establish their claim, Jane and Steve relied on a recent Florida law on whistle-blowers, pointing to the fact that the various lies that their employer had wanted to force them to include in their report were contrary to the public interest and violated the regulations of the Federal Communications Commission. [vi] This was the first time that reporters had used this law and Fox News took the case very seriously, hiring a dozen lawyers, including some from the firm of Williams and Connolly, which represented Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

For two years, they filed countless motions to dismiss in order to avoid a trial. Jane and Steve were forced to sell their house to pay for their legal costs, but they won a preliminary victory: the case would be heard in a Tampa court in July 2000. After five weeks of trial, the jury had to answer one question: “Do you find that the plaintiff, Jane Akre, has demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant . . . terminated her employment contract because she threatened to reveal under oath and in writing to the Federal Communications Commission the broadcast of a falsified, distorted, or tendentious news report?” The jury answered in the affirmative and Jane won damages of $425,000. [vii]

“Were you supported by the press?” The question obviously saddened Jane, who replied: “No. The major national media ignored the trial. The CBS news magazine 60 Minutes and the New York Times promised to do something, but we never heard from them again. There were even incredible manipulations. For example, we had a long meeting with a reporter from the St. Petersburg Times, a very respected Florida newspaper. She had assiduously followed the trial. When we read her article, we came down to earth. There was one sentence that said: ‘The jury did not believe the couple’s claim that the station bowed to pressure from Monsanto to alter the news report.’ In fact, that sentence had been added by the editor in chief without the reporter’s knowledge. It was then repeated word for word on CNN, which never granted us a right to reply. But the worst thing was that our troubles weren’t over.”

Indeed, Fox appealed. On February 13, 2003, a Florida appeals court reversed the decision. The judges considered that no law prohibited a television network or a newspaper company from lying to the public. To be sure, the rules established by the Federal Communications Commission prohibited it, but they did not have the force of law. As a consequence, the court found that the law on whistle-blowers could not apply in the case of Jane and Steve. At the conclusion of a very technical opinion, which did not consider the underlying question—namely, the dishonesty of Fox News toward its viewers—the two reporters were required to reimburse the network’s attorneys’ fees, which amounted to at least $2 million.

“In fact,” Jane insisted, “the court adopted the arguments of the company’s lawyers, who felt no shame in declaring that no law prohibited the distortion of the news. We appealed, and finally the Florida Supreme Court threw out Fox News’s claim for reimbursement of legal fees. But after what happened to us, you can understand that investigative journalism is dead in this country, and that no reporter will try to stand in Monsanto’s way.” [viii]

An Attempt at Corruption in Canada

I left Florida shaken by my colleague’s story. I naively thought I had explored every one of the “special” methods Monsanto had no hesitation in using to impose its products on the market. But I had not had my last surprise. As my plane took off for Ottawa, I dove into the file of press clippings I had put together on the approval process for rBGH in Canada. “Health Canada Researchers Accuse Firm of Bribery in Bid to OK ‘Questionable’ Product” was the headline in the Ottawa Citizen on October 23, 1998. “The scientists’ testimony before a Senate committee was like a scene from the conspiratorial television show The X Files,” said the Globe and Mail on November 18.

I discovered that Monsanto had filed a request for authorization to put its transgenic hormone on the market with Health Canada, the Canadian counterpart to the FDA, in 1985. Generally, Health Canada models its decisions on those of the U.S. agency, but this time, even though the machine had been well oiled, it jammed. Three scientists from the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs (BVD) took on the uncomfortable role of whistle-blowers by publicly denouncing the imminent authorization of rBGH. In June 1998, they were called to testify before a Senate committee that met over a period of several months before publishing a report recommending that Monsanto’s product not be approved for sale in Canada. I obtained a transcript and a video recording of the committee’s hearings—the atmosphere does indeed recall The X Files.

The opening session immediately took on a solemn tone when the three whistle-blowers asked to take an oath on the Bible or the Canadian constitution. They were Drs. Shiv Chopra, Gérard Lambert, and Margaret Haydon, who had been working at Health Canada for thirty, twenty-five, and fifteen years, respectively. One after the other they rose, stretched out their hands, and swore to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

There was a lengthy silence among the rather stiff and formal members of the audience, who seemed both embarrassed and surprised, until Senator Terry Stratton spoke. “I have two lines of questioning. The first goes back to the fact that you swore on oath,” he said. “Are you now satisfied that your personal professional life will be protected? In other words, do you believe that you no longer have any worries about actions taken against you? . . . The minister has sent a letter to the committee stating that you are, as a group, to testify honestly and directly without fear of reprisal. Do you feel comfortable with that letter?”

“If I have sworn an oath in the presence of God, then I am supposed to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” answered Chopra. “Then my question to myself was what truth am I going to tell—the one I know or what the minister is telling me to tell? That is my conflict. . . . It has been said that there is a guarantee that there will be no repercussions, but . . . that remains to be seen because I am still under a complete gag order, to the extent that I cannot even attend meetings. If I said something at a dinner meeting and somebody heard and reported to the [Human Safety] department [of the BVD], I could be in trouble.”

“Finally, it does not appear to me that you have a lot of confidence in the process, obviously,” answered Stratton. “One thing I would like to impress upon you, if you do have a problem with respect to grievances or with respect to threats from management, this committee would be delighted to hear from you.”

“The department is saying all over the place that the client—and this is in writing—the client now is the industry and we have to serve the client,” said Chopra. “The conflict was that our concern at the BVD, particularly in the Human Safety Division, has been that we have been pressured and coerced to pass drugs of questionable safety, including rBST. . . . I stuck my neck out and I wrote to the previous Minister of Health and the current Minister of Health as well as all the way to the Deputy Minister complaining about these very serious problems of secrecy, conspiracy . . . and saying that something needs to be done. I specifically wrote to Minister Dingwall. I urged him to intervene to safeguard the public interest. I never received a reply. In November 1997, we met with Dr. Paterson, one executive of Health Canada, and we told him we wanted a scientific gaps analysis of the records to be done. . . . When we got them, there were no raw data, only a summary sent by the FDA. . . . [The raw data] are locked up. They are kept in the personal custody of Dr. Ian Alexander, who is called the file manager of rBST. No one else is supposed to look into it.”

Next to be questioned was Margaret Haydon, who had been given the task of examining the request for approval from 1985 to 1994, until it was taken away from her. “My files were stolen in May of 1994 from my locked cabinets,” she testified in a delicate voice. “I discovered that there appeared to be a lot of things missing, so I was quite shocked. . . . It amounted to most of my work over the ten previous years dealing with rBST reviews. So I decided that I would document this and send a memo to my chief. I came back after the weekend and again looked in the file cabinet and there were some additional files back in. . . . Then an investigation began with the security group in Health Canada. After interviewing me, Sergeant Fiegenwald took some of the files that were back for fingerprinting, and he also asked me to write statements on anything I could recall or that I thought might have caused these documents to be removed. I provided him with the original, and I kept a copy for myself. A few months later, in November of 1994, when I was away on sick leave, a member of Health Canada Security Department called me and demanded that I provide the copy of my statements. She came to my home and demanded these. I have never seen those since that time, so that was kind of a surprise.”

“Would you say the files that you had were pro-rBST or anti-rBST?” asked Senator Nicholas Taylor.

“There were a lot of questions that I had asked, and there were numerous what we call ‘additional data letters’ asking questions of the company to provide additional information. So at that point I was not recommending that the drug be approved from a point of view of safety in the intended species or efficacy.”

“I gather if, after your research, people offered you rBST-treated milk, you would not want to drink it?”

“Personally, I would probably decline.”

“I do not believe I am in Canada, when I hear you that your files have been stolen!” said Senator Eugene Whelan. “What in the hell kind of system have we got? Do not forget that I was minister for eleven years, and research was my favorite topic. . . . So I have every reason to be skeptical when we become more dependent all the time on Monsanto and these companies doing the research for us. . . . I have strong reservations about less and less public research and big grants by Monsanto to Agriculture Canada for this, and big grants to somebody else from another company for that. . . . I would ask each one of you, has any one of you been lobbied by Monsanto?”

“I will describe the situation,” said Haydon. “I am not sure ‘lobby’ is the correct word, but I did attend a meeting back approximately in 1989 to 1990, and Monsanto representatives had met with myself and my supervisor, Dr. Drennan, and my director, Mr. Messier. At that meeting, an offer of one to two million dollars was made by the company. I do not know any more about what became of that, but my director indicated after the meeting that he was going to report it to his superiors.”

“Dr. Haydon talked about the one to two million dollars from Monsanto at a meeting,” Shiv Chopra added. “The Fifth Estate channel network did a program. They checked with Dr. Drennan, who is now retired. They asked him: ‘Was that offered?’ He said: ‘Yes.’ They said: ‘Did you consider that to be a bribe?’ He said: ‘I would say so.’ They said: ‘Well what did you do after?’ He said: ‘Well, I laughed.’ They said: ‘After you laughed, what did you do? Did you report?’ He said: ‘I did.’ They said: ‘Then what happened?’ He said: ‘I don’t know.’ ”

Tension in the room was at its peak. The members of the committee maintained a long silence, finally broken by Senator Mira Spivak, who put her finger on an extremely important point: “In The United States, the FDA approved the product based on some summary which turned out to be incorrect, because the raw data were not available or they didn’t get access to them. Now the JECFA, which is the joint committee of the WHO and the FAO, said there is nothing wrong with rBST as of this year, also based on summaries which had nothing to do with raw data. May we trust the JECFA?”

To understand the importance of this question, you should know that the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is a scientific consultative committee established in 1955 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), two UN bodies. The committee meets regularly to examine requests to put new food products on the market. With that in mind, it relies on appropriate experts supposed to be selected by member countries for their competence and impartiality. The decisions of the JECFA are transmitted to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, also dependent on the WHO and the FAO, established in 1963 to develop uniform standards for food products and issue international recommendations regarding the health and safety of technological practices related to food. Documents published by the commission have an aura of international scientific expertise and the imprimatur of the United Nations.

The work of the Canadian Senate committee was very informative about the way in which the JECFA and the Codex Alimentarius Commission operate, providing confirmation of what some had suspected, namely, that their work had been controlled by Monsanto. On December 7, 1998, the Senate committee heard testimony from Michael Hansen, the expert from the Consumer Policy Institute, who was familiar with the ins and outs of the UN organizations since he had participated in several meetings as a representative of consumer organizations. He revealed that the first panel of scientists assembled by the JECFA in 1992 to evaluate the transgenic growth hormone included six representatives from the FDA, among them Margaret Miller—the former Monsanto employee—and Drs. Greg Guyer and Judith Juskevich, the authors of the controversial Science article. The rapporteur of the second panel, in 1998, was none other than Margaret Miller. Under these circumstances, it is not hard to see why the JECFA issued a favorable decision on rBGH, as Ray Mowling, Monsanto vice president for government and public affairs, was eager to point out: “The UN report reaffirmed that treating cows with BST to increase milk production is safe . . . there are no food safety or heath concerns related to BST residues in products such as meat and milk from treated animals.”

A Testing Ground for GMOs

That same afternoon, December 7, 1998, the senators heard testimony from David Kowalczyk, Monsanto’s director of regulatory affairs, who was caught lying openly. “In the memos, you are suggesting to Health Canada who should be on the JECFA panel,” declared Senator Spivak, looking him in the eye. “Do you think that suggesting who Canada’s representative on the JECFA panel should be might be overstepping the boundaries in your relationship with Health Canada?”

“This is the first time I have heard that. I have never made any recommendation on who should be on JECFA.”

“There are memos and minutes of meetings that report conversations that you have had with Mr. [Ian] Alexander, who controlled the data provided by your company. He denied it as well.”

After hearing from Health Canada’s three whistle-blowers, Senator Whelan concluded: “I still maintain we should be doing more research. Now, for instance, Monsanto is paying $600,000 to Agriculture Canada to find a wheat that is immune to Roundup. I wrote to ten universities. One of them told me to mind my business when I wanted to find out what strings are attached to the research grants they are getting. A couple of them called me and said: ‘You are on the right trail, but we cannot give you any information.’ They are scared to death. I am so proud of you people because you are not scared to death. If they ever do anything to you, let us know.”

Whelan, a former Minister of Agriculture, was prophetic. After the act of national catharsis produced by the senate committee, everything went back to normal. Canada definitively banned rBGH from its territory, leading to the same action by the European Commission, although the latter had been on the verge of following the advice of the JECFA and lifting the moratorium that had been in force since 1990. [ix] Australia and New Zealand followed suit. But at Health Canada, old habits reasserted themselves: in July 2004, Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon, and Gérard Lambert were fired for insubordination. “After our testimony to the committee, we were harassed and marginalized,” Chopra explained when he met with me in July 2006 in his home outside Ottawa. “Everything we were afraid of happened, and no one lifted a little finger. We took the case to court, but there is no law protecting whistle-blowers in Canada. This country is corrupt to the core, and that’s the title of the book I’m working on.”

“Do you think Monsanto played a role in your firing?”

“I have to be very careful about my answer,” he said, smiling. “Let’s say our testimony came at a very bad moment for the company, which was just launching its GMOs in Canada. It’s clear that the growth hormone was a testing ground, which turned out badly in part, but it enabled the company to work out its techniques for conquering the market.”
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Re: The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption,

Postby admin » Sat Feb 06, 2016 2:22 am

PART II: GMOs: The Great Conspiracy

7: The Invention of GMOs

The health and safety of biotechnology products is not an issue: the food, feed and environmental safety of the products must be demonstrated before the products enter the agricultural production system and supply chain.

—Monsanto, Pledge Report, 2005

“The cow hormone drug was simply the first major application of biotechnology to food production and Monsanto is a very powerful corporation with many, many linkages to top level persons in government. I think the prevailing ethic at the federal government was ‘Biotechnology is so important that we can’t let a few little questions about cow safety or human safety get in the way.’ The drug got approved, regardless of its demerits,” Michael Taylor told me.

Indeed, by the time rBGH was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, dozens of GMOs were in development in the laboratories of biotechnology companies, chiefly Monsanto, which had just filed an application for the marketing of Roundup Ready soybeans, genetically modified to resist the spraying of Roundup. The connection between the company’s maneuvering to secure approval of the controversial hormone at any cost and its plan to position itself in the market as the “Microsoft of biotechnology” was confirmed, unexpectedly, by Taylor, who, it will be recalled, worked as counsel for Monsanto, was appointed deputy commissioner of the FDA in 1991, and a few years later became a Monsanto vice president.

“I think in terms of public acceptance, it’s been one blunder after another,” he confessed in our telephone conversation. “If you’re trying to have a strategy for having the public understand and accept a new technology, having the first application of it be related to milk, which we already have more than we need, it helped create a climate of . . .”

“Suspicion?” I suggested, completely astounded by what I was hearing.

“Suspicion, yes,” he answered. “I think that Congress should change the law. It should create a mandatory notification system that ensures that every product is looked at by FDA and the FDA makes a safety judgment about every product.”

I still find it hard to understand why Taylor made this surprising confession. Was it belated remorse, or an attempt to exculpate himself for the role he played in supervising the writing of U.S. regulations of GMOs, which influenced all governments and international organizations, including the European Community? The answer is a mystery.

The Scramble for Genes

Before recounting in detail the genesis of what can be considered one of the greatest conspiracies in the history of the food industry, it is appropriate to outline in broad terms the saga of genetic engineering. And just this once I must admit that Monsanto’s tenacity and enthusiasm were impressive— it overcame all its many competitors to become the unchallenged leader in this advanced field.

It is generally accepted that the story began in 1953 when the American James Watson and the Briton Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the molecule that contains the genetic code for every living organism. The discovery won the two geneticists and biochemists a Nobel Prize in 1962 and signaled the birth of a new discipline: molecular biology. As Hervé Kempf has noted in La Guerre secrète des OGM, it also led to the emergence of a “doctrine” according to which “the organism is a machine” entirely dependent on genes alone, the key to the understanding of the mechanisms of life. This “doctrine”—not to call it a “dogma”—was clearly summarized by the 1958 Nobel Prize winner Edward Tatum: “(1) All biochemical processes in all organisms are under genetic control. (2) These overall biochemical processes are resolvable into a series of individual stepwise reactions. (3) Each single reaction is controlled in a primary fashion by a single gene. . . . The underlying hypothesis, which in a number of cases has been supported by direct experimental evidence, is that each gene controls the production, function, and specificity of a particular enzyme.”1

In other words, every biological reaction that characterizes the functioning of a living organism is governed by one gene that expresses a function by triggering the production of a specific protein. This exclusive idea, which some call “all gene,” is the source of one of the greatest misunderstandings underlying the development of biotechnology, one that persists today. “In reality,” as Arnaud Apotheker, holder of a doctorate in biology and spokesman on GMO issues for Greenpeace France, pointed out in 1999, “every day phenomena turn out to be more complex: a single gene may code for proteins having very different primary structures and biological properties depending on the tissues of an organism or the organism itself. The molecular machinery of living things is of a complexity that we are barely beginning to glimpse.”2 We now know, for example, that some genes interact with others and that it is not a simple matter to extract them from one organism and introduce them into another in order for them to express the protein and hence the function that has been selected. Rather, transferring genes this way may cause unexpected biological reactions in the host organism.

Beginning in the early 1960s, molecular biologists set to work to develop techniques that would enable them to manipulate genetic material to create chimerical organisms that nature never would have been able to produce on its own. To do so, they strove to divide and put together fragments of DNA, to copy and multiply genes with the aim of transferring them from one species to another. This genetic tinkering was often justified by a generous humanitarian vision, expressed, for example, in 1962 by Caroll Hochwalt, Monsanto’s vice president for research, in a commencement speech at Washington University in St. Louis: “It is entirely conceivable that, through the manipulation of the genetic information at the molecular level, a crop such as rice could be ‘taught’ to build a high protein content into itself, literally working a miracle of alleviating hunger and malnutrition.”3 It should be pointed out that at the time the secrets of DNA were of little concern to Monsanto, which was busy making its fortune in the jungles of Vietnam.

So it was at Stanford University, not in St. Louis, that the first genetic manipulations took place. In 1972, as Monsanto was preparing to launch Roundup, Paul Berg succeeded in “recombining” DNA—that is, putting together two fragments of DNA from different species into a hybrid molecule. A little later, his colleague Stanley Cohen announced that he had succeeded in transferring a frog gene into the DNA of a bacterium able to reproduce the intruder in large quantities. These discoveries, which broke a law that had been considered inviolable, the impossibility of crossing what was known as the “species barrier,” created great excitement, along with deep concern, in the international scientific community. The worries turned into an uproar when Paul Berg announced his intention to insert a carcinogenic virus, SV-40, from a monkey into an E. coli cell, a bacterium that colonizes the human digestive tract. Some scientific authorities, such as Robert Pollack, a cancer virus specialist, worried: “What will happen if the manipulated organism inadvertently escapes from the laboratory?”4 The general outcry led to a temporary moratorium on genetic manipulation and, on February 25, 1975, the first international conference on recombinant DNA. For two days at Asilomar, a Pacific seaside resort in California, leading figures in the rising discipline considered the risks of genetic engineering, focusing the debate on experimental safety and the formulation of rules, such as measures to contain manipulated organisms. But at no point did they broach ethical questions, which were excluded from the outset. It was as though the biologists had already decided to “limit the involvement of the public and the government in their affairs to the minimum.”5 The message was soon received loud and clear by the future world leader in biotechnology.

After the Asilomar conference, genetic engineering experiments proliferated in the United States—the National Institutes of Health recorded more than three hundred in 1977. While attempts to place legal restrictions on these extremely hazardous new scientific activities were buried one after the other—in 1977 and 1978, sixteen bills were proposed in Congress, but none passed—start-ups and risk capital companies were flourishing, particularly in California, where another promising technology had just given birth to Silicon Valley. Companies such as Calgene and Plant Genetics Systems were established by biologists who had previously worked in universities and who, carried away by an extraordinary burst of research activity and the prospect of huge financial rewards, plunged into the economic arena, raising millions of dollars on the New York Stock Exchange or taking shares in and joining the boards of private companies.

This veritable “race for genes” brought about an unprecedented association between science and industry, which radically transformed research practices, as the sociologist Susan Wright explains in her standard work on the history of biotechnology, published in 1994: “As genetic engineering became seen as a promising investment prospect, a turn from traditional scientific norms and practices toward a corporate standard took place. The dawn of synthetic biology coincided with the emergence of a new ethos, one radically shaped by commerce.”6 This development was very markedly stimulated by Monsanto through the patent system that controlled research and the products derived from it.

The Triumph of Genetic Tinkering

While start-ups were making news on the stock market, one man in St. Louis was conducting a solitary battle. His name was Ernest Jaworski, and he had joined Monsanto in 1952. This researcher, who was an expert on glyphosate and had worked out the details of its manner of acting on plant cells, had an idea that seemed completely preposterous to his colleagues in the old chemical company: instead of trying to manufacture new herbicides, why not create selective plants by manipulating their genetic makeup precisely so they could survive the spraying of herbicides?

Encouraged by John Hanley, who became CEO of Monsanto in 1972 and was also convinced that biology represented the future of chemistry, Jaworski initiated himself into the cultivation of plant cells in a Canadian laboratory and then supervised the work of thirty researchers, including such rising stars of molecular biology as Robert Fraley, Robert Horsch, and Stephen Rogers. “These young genetic engineers did believe that their workwould be good for the planet, possibly making it easier to grow food or reducing agriculture’s dependence on chemicals,” according to Daniel Charles, author of Lords of the Harvest, who was able to interview the pioneers of biotechnology before they decided to sink into stubborn silence. “Some of them, working inside chemical companies, often saw themselves as ‘green’ revolutionaries fighting against the entrenched power of the chemists, whom they dismissed as ‘nozzleheads.’ ”7

Meeting on the fourth floor of U Building at Monsanto’s Creve Coeur location, a suburb of St. Louis to which the company had recently moved, the team was nicknamed “Uphoria” by company skeptics, who saw this group of excited young men as economically irresponsible oddballs. At the same time, the “Kremlin,” as the company management, located in D Building, was called, had broken with company habits and for the first time in its history plunged headlong into basic research without knowing what applications it would lead to. “Scientific excellence was the priority,” according to Rob Horsch. “There was no pressure to produce a product. For example, we were working on petunias. No one came and said to us: ‘Petunias? What do you think we are? A university?’ In fact, we were a kind of entrepreneurial unit protected by the management.”8

Following the lead of laboratories in California, Belgium, and Germany, the Uphoria researchers developed a three-stage research program: first, to manipulate DNA to extract genes that might be useful, known as “genes of interest”; next, to transfer those genes into plant cells; and finally, to develop tissue cultures in order to reproduce and encourage the growth of these manipulated embryonic cells. The first stage was worked out thanks to the discovery of restriction enzymes, which functioned like scissors, enabling molecular biologists to cut DNA to extract genes of interest.

But the second stage was another story. Contrary to the argument often put forth by promoters of biotechnology, the techniques of genetic manipulation have absolutely nothing to do with the genealogical selection that has been practiced by breeders since the work of Louis de Vilmorin in the midnineteenth century. Seed companies have merely rationalized and systematized the ancestral practices of farmers who, since the advent of agriculture in Mesopotamia ten thousand years ago, have endeavored to keep the best grains from their harvests to seed their fields the following year. The contribution of professional breeders is to cause the cross-breeding of two plants—the “parents” of the line—selected for complementary agronomic qualities (such as resistance to disease or crop yield), in the hope that their descendants will preserve the same characteristics because of the laws of heredity. The best examples from the second generation are then selected and forced to cross-breed, and so on over several generations. It is clear that genealogical selection is based on natural laws, in this case the sexual reproduction of plant organisms; human action is aimed only at orienting the range of possibilities within a single genetic reservoir, but in the end the “improved” plant might very well have been created by Mother Nature in the fields. I will return to the effects of genealogical selection on biodiversity in Chapter Eleven, but for now, it is important to understand that this agronomic procedure cannot be identified with the techniques of genetic manipulation, which, rather than respecting the natural laws of plant development, attempt instead to break them in any way possible.

Molecular biologists knew very well that plant organisms possess defense mechanisms designed to protect them from the intrusion of foreign bodies, including, of course, genes coming from other living species. From the very beginning, those biologists understood that genetic manipulation could not be carried out without using an intermediary, or a “mule,” able to transport the selected gene and make it enter by force into the target cell. For this purpose, they turned to a bacterium that is abundant in the soil, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which has the capacity to insert some of its genes into plant cells to cause tumors. [x] In other words, this bacterium is a pathogen that changes the genetic inheritance of cells by infecting them.

In 1974, a Belgian research team succeeded in identifying the plasmid (a ring of DNA) constituting the vector by which the gene that induces the tumor is transferred from the bacterium to the plant. In St. Louis, as in laboratories around the world at the time, they then attempted to isolate in the plasmid the gene responsible for the tumors and replace it with the gene of interest by adding a gene “promoter,” a sequence of DNA that triggers the expression of the gene to be triggered. The gene in question is often 35S, from the cauliflower mosaic virus, which is related to the hepatitis B virus, raising the alarm of some opponents of unrestricted tinkering with genes.

But there was more: if the gene-inducing tumors had been suppressed, how could one know that the plasmid was doing its work and inserting the substitute gene in the plant cell? The only solution the sorcerer’s apprentices found was to attach to the genetic construction what they called a “selection marker,” in this case a gene resistant to antibiotics, usually kanamycin. To verify that the transfer had actually taken place, the cells were sprayed with an antibiotic solution, and the “chosen” were those that survived this shock treatment. (This gave rise to further health concerns— at a time when resistance to antibiotics was in the process of becoming a serious public health problem, some Cassandras were afraid that the selection marker would be absorbed by bacteria populating the human intestinal tract, reducing medicine’s ability to fight infectious agents.)

In the meantime, on January 18, 1983, at the symposium on molecular genetics in Miami, representatives of three laboratories—one Belgian and two Americans, one of whom was Rob Horsch of Monsanto—announced that they had succeeded in inserting a genetic construct, a kanamycin resistance gene to be exact, into cells of petunia and tobacco plants (two plants susceptible to Agrobacterium tumefaciens). The three laboratories had filed patents on their simultaneous discoveries. For Monsanto, serious work was beginning and the call to battle had sounded.

The “Artificial Cassette” of Roundup Ready Soybeans

“I’ll never forget the first time I used the phrase ‘We are not in the business of the pursuit of knowledge; we are in the business of the pursuit of products.’ You could have heard a pin drop. They were furious.”9 The words are those of Richard Mahoney, who, as soon as he was appointed CEO of Monsanto in 1984—a position he held until 1995—decided to shake up the Uphoria troops. The end had come for lavishly funded research on tinkering with petunias, and the aim was now clear: to create transgenic plants that brought in money. Called by Fortune one of “America’s toughest bosses,” Mahoney was an unselfconscious businessman who bluntly declared: “Forgiveness is out of style, shoulder shrugs are out of fashion. Hit the targets on time without excuses.”10

Subjected to unprecedented stress, Ernest Jaworski’s team understood that the laboratory’s success was a question of life or death and that a failure would signal the victory of the pure chemists. From then on, all research was focused on the production of plants resistant to Roundup, which, ten years after its introduction, had become the most widely sold herbicide in the world. Furthermore, the implacable boss reminded everyone that the patent guaranteeing a monopoly on glyphosate derivatives would expire in 2000 and that GMOs soon to be known as “Roundup Ready” would be a good way of pulling the rug out from under manufacturers of generics. This was a concrete objective that delighted Jaworski, because in the end this had been his original idea: to manipulate plants so that they could survive the use of herbicides, which could therefore be sprayed at any time on crops—corn, soybeans, cotton, rapeseed, and why not wheat?—to destroy only weeds.

But they hadn’t gotten there yet. In 1985, the Monsanto researchers were obsessed by only one thing: finding the gene that would immunize plant cells against Roundup. This was especially urgent because Calgene, a California start-up, had just announced in a letter published in Nature that it had succeeded in making tobacco resistant to glyphosate.11 Discussions were already under way on an agreement with the French company Rhône- Poulenc to develop crops resistant to glyphosate. At the same time, the German company Hoechst was going all out to find the gene resistant to its herbicide Basta, not to mention DuPont (Glean) and Ciba-Geigy (atrazine). In short, all the chemical giants were pursuing the same goal, because the stakes were primarily economic: companies were already imagining the patents they could file on all the major food crops in the world.

In St. Louis, stress took up permanent residence, because the notorious gene remained elusive. Jaworski’s researchers were going around in circles. They had succeeded in identifying the gene responsible for the enzyme that, as I reported in Chapter Four, is blocked by the action of glyphosate molecules, causing tissue necrosis and plant death. The idea was to manipulate it so as to deactivate the reaction to the herbicide, and then introduce it into plant cells, but nothing worked. “It was like the Manhattan Project,” said Harry Klee, a member of the research team. “The antithesis of how a scientist usually works. A scientist does an experiment, evaluates it, makes a conclusion and goes on to the next variable. With Roundup resistance we were trying twenty variables at the same time: different mutants, different promoters, multiple plant species. We were trying everything at once.”12

The search lasted for more than two years, until the day in 1987 when engineers thought of rummaging through the garbage in Monsanto’s Luling plant, located 450 miles south of St. Louis. At this site on the banks of the Mississippi, Monsanto produced millions of tons of glyphosate annually. Decontamination pools were supposed to treat production residues, but some of the residues had contaminated nearby land and ponds. Samples were taken to collect thousands of microorganisms in order to detect the ones that had naturally survived glyphosate and identify the gene that gave them that invaluable resistance. It took a further two years for a robot analyzing the molecular structure of the bacteria collected to finally come up with the rare pearl. It was “a great Eureka moment,” said Stephen Padgette, one of the “inventors” of Roundup Ready soybeans, now a Monsanto vice president.13

But the game was far from over. They now had to find the genetic construct that would enable the gene to function once it was introduced into plant cells, specifically soybeans, the oil-producing plant the team was working with after preliminary trials with tomatoes. The stakes were huge: along with corn, soybeans dominated American agriculture at the time, annually contributing $15 billion to the national economy. Until 1993, when Roundup Ready soybeans were officially launched, Stephen Padgette and his colleagues in the Roundup resistance program divided their time between the laboratory and the greenhouses covering the roof of the Chesterfield Village biotechnology research center that Monsanto had set up in a wealthy suburb of St. Louis. It took “700,000 hours and an $80 million investment” to attain the result: a genetic construct including the gene of interest (CP4 EPSPS), the promoter 35S from the cauliflower mosaic virus, and two other fragments of DNA derived from the petunia intended to control the production of the protein.14 The “‘Roundup tolerant soybean gene cassette’ is a completely artificial one that never existed in natural life kingdom nor could have evolved naturally,” reported Japanese biologist Masaharu Kawata of Nagoya University.15

This was so much so that the Monsanto researchers encountered enormous difficulties in introducing it into soybean cells. They had to give up the “mule,” Agrobacterium tumefaciens, because they had constantly faced the same problem: whenever they inundated the cells with antibiotic, the ones that had not absorbed the cassette died, but those dead cells poisoned the genetically modified cells in a phenomenon Rob Horsch named “colloperative death,” a sinister-sounding neologism indicating death from cooperative collapse.16

In the face of this resistance from nature, the team decided to bring out the heavy artillery, a “gene gun” invented by two Cornell University scientists, developed in collaboration with Agracetus, a Wisconsin biotech company that Monsanto acquired in 1996. When John Sanford and his colleague Ted Klein came up with the idea for this last-ditch weapon, they were considered crazy, even though laboratories at the time were prepared to do anything to force the desired DNA to penetrate into the target cells: some researchers were using microscopic needles, while others employed electric charges to make little holes in cell walls to enable the DNA to enter (evidence, if any were needed, that biotechnology has nothing to do with the traditional technique of genealogical selection). But nothing was working.

The gene gun is now the insertion tool most frequently used by the “artillerymen” of genetic engineering. It works by attaching genetic constructs to microscopic gold or tungsten bullets and shooting them into a culture of embryonic cells. A clear picture of the imprecision of the technique can be found in the description Stephen Padgette provided in 2001 to Stephanie Simon of the Los Angeles Times: “Trouble was, the gene gun inserted the DNA at random. Sometimes a bundle would splinter before landing in a cell. Or two gene packets would double up. Even worse, the DNA would at times land in a spot that interfered with cellular function. The team had to fire the gun tens of thousands of times to get a few dozen plants that looked promising. After three years of field tests on these promising plants, a single line of transformed soybean shone as superior. It could resist heavy doses of glyphosate, as the greenhouse experiment proved. . . . ‘It was bulletproof,’ Padgette recalled with pride. In 1993, Monsanto declared it a winner.”17

But at what cost? As Arnaud Apotheker points out in Du poisson dans les fraises: “In their determination to subjugate nature, humans use the technologies of war to force cells to accept genes of other species. For some plants, they use a chemical or bacteriological weapon to infect cells with bacteria or viruses; for others they use only classic weapons, such as gene guns. In both cases, waste is considerable, because on average one cell out of a thousand enters the transgene, survives, and is able to generate a transgenic plant.”18 In 1994, in any event, Monsanto filed a request for authorization to market Roundup Ready soybeans, the first widely grown GMO. And once again the company had “bulletproofed” everything, as its vice president said.

Maneuvers in the White House

While the team in Chesterfield Village was desperately tracking the glyphosate resistance gene, company management was demonstrating a capacity for foresight that might be surprising if one were unaware of the consequences. As the New York Times reported in a very well-informed article in 2001: “In late 1986, four executives of the Monsanto Company, the leader in agricultural biotechnology, paid a visit to Vice President George Bush at the White House to make an unusual pitch.”19

To fully understand the subtlety of the strategy managed by Leonard Guarraia, then director of regulatory affairs for the company, recall that the Reagan administration’s watchword was “deregulation,” intended to “liberate market forces” by shrinking the intrusive state. This ideology was aimed at fostering American industry by reducing to the maximum extent possible what White House hard-liners called “bureaucratic obstacles,” which is how they saw the health and environmental tests required by regulatory agencies before a new product could be marketed: the FDA for food and drugs, the EPA for pesticides, and the Agriculture Department (USDA) for crops.

The United States at the time was conducting a merciless struggle to impose its superiority in competition with Japan, and to a lesser extent with Europe, particularly in the area of new technologies, but also in agricultural products. In this extremely competitive context, the stakes involved in biotechnology were considerable. For this reason, on June 26, 1986, the White House issued a policy document entitled “Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology,” directed primarily at preventing Congress from getting involved in this delicate issue by introducing specific legislation for the regulation of GMOs. Addressed to the three relevant regulatory agencies (FDA, EPA, and USDA), the directive provided that products derived from biotechnology would be regulated within the framework of already existing federal laws, insofar as “recently developed methods are an extension of traditional manipulations” of plants and animals.20 In other words, GMOs did not require special treatment and would be subject to the same system of approval as non-transgenic products.

But the document did not satisfy Monsanto, which clearly had another idea in mind. “‘There were no [GMO] products at the time,’ Leonard Guarraia, a former Monsanto executive who attended the Bush meeting, recalled. . . . ‘But we bugged Bush for regulation. We told him that we have to be regulated.’ ”21 So what was behind what the New York Times called an “unusual pitch”?

“In fact,” Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union told me in July 2006, “Monsanto wanted an appearance of regulation. The company knew that after the PCB and Agent Orange scandals, when it had lied or concealed data, it would not be believed if all it did was to say that GMO products posed no danger to health or the environment. It wanted federal agencies, primarily the FDA, to be the ones to say that the products were safe. So, whenever a problem arose, it would be able to say: ‘The FDA has established that GMOs do not pose any risks.’ This was also a way of covering itself in case things turned out badly.”

According to the New York Times reporter, the Washington meeting bore fruit: “In the weeks and months that followed, the White House complied, working behind the scenes to help Monsanto . . . get the regulations that it wanted. It was an outcome that would be repeated, again and again, through three administrations. What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto—and, by extension, the biotechnology industry—got.”22

To understand just how unusual Monsanto’s approach was, one has to consider that at the time some high FDA officials were absolutely opposed to the idea of regulating GMOs, even in the form of a document that would be an “appearance of regulation.” This was so, for instance, for Henry Miller, the agency spokesman for biotechnology, who had no compunctions about calling GMO opponents “troglodytes” or “intellectual Nazis” and whom the White House would have to fight hard.23

But that wasn’t all. The New York Times was able to get its hands on a draft of a secret document, dated October 13, 1986, in which the company’s directors established a veritable battle plan to impose GMOs in the United States. Among the primary objectives were “‘creating support for biotechnology at the highest U.S. policy levels,’ and working to gain endorsements for the technology in the presidential platforms of both the Republican and Democratic Parties in the 1988 election.”24

In fact, I found evidence on film of the company’s boundless self-confidence: it was capable of expressing thinly veiled threats to George Bush when it felt the administration was resisting it. I was able to see extraordinary archive footage filmed on May 15, 1987, by the Associated Press. It shows Ronald Reagan’s vice president, who was then running for president, walking through Monsanto’s St. Louis laboratories wearing a white coat. Followed by a pack of reporters, the future president first participates in a class on genetic manipulation.

“What I’d like to do today is show you some of the steps we go through when we’re moving genes from one organism to another,” explains Stephen Rogers, one of Uphoria’s three rising stars, with a test tube in his hand. “We take DNA, cut it apart, mix different pieces together, and then rejoin them. . . . This tube contains DNA that was made from a bacterium. DNA would look the same whether it was from a plant or an animal.”

“Oh, I see,” says George Bush, his eyes fixed on the test tube. “This will lead you to do what? To have a stronger plant? Or a plant that resists . . .”

“In this case it resists the herbicide,” Rogers answers.

“We have a fabulous herbicide,” says a voice off-camera.

Then Bush walks through the greenhouses on the Chesterfield Village roof, where a Monsanto executive in suit and tie shows him transgenic tomato plants that turn out to be the real purpose of this self-serving guided tour. Next comes an absolutely astounding conversation: “And we have before USDA right now a request to test this for the first time on a farm in Illinois this year,” the executive says.

“We keep hallucinating about it . . . the expense goes up and nothing happens,” says Rogers.

“And I would say quite frankly we have no complaint about the way USDA is handling it,” the executive goes on. “They’re going through an orderly process; they’re making sure as they deal with these new things [that] they do them properly, and uh, no, if we’re waitin’ until September and we don’t have our authorization we may say somethin’ different!”

“Call me, I’m in the dereg business,” says Bush with a great burst of laughter. “I can help.”

On June 2, 1987, exactly two weeks after the amazing guided tour, the Monsanto researchers conducted their first field test of transgenic crops in Jerseyville, Illinois. There is a photograph showing Stephen Rogers, Robert Fraley, and Rob Horsch posing in front of a tractor wearing farmer’s caps. Facing them are crates containing tomato shoots manipulated through the magical power of the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens.

Political Regulation Made to Order

George H.W. Bush assumed the presidency in January 1989. In March, he appointed his vice president, Dan Quayle, to head the Council on Competitiveness, “with responsibility for reducing the regulatory burden on the economy.”25 On May 26, 1992, Vice President Quayle presented American policy on GMOs in front of an audience of business executives, government officials, and reporters. “We are taking this step as part of the President’s regulatory relief initiative, now in its second phase,” he declared at the outset. “The United States is already the world leader in biotechnology and we want to keep it that way. In 1991 alone, it was a $4 billion industry. It should reach at least $50 billion by the year 2000, as long as we resist the spread of unnecessary regulation.”

Three days later, on May 29, Monsanto was victorious: the FDA published in the Federal Register its regulatory policy on “foods derived from new plant varieties.”26 It should be noted that the title of this twenty-page document, considered a bible around the world, carefully avoided any reference to biotechnology, presented in the introduction as merely an extension of genealogical selection, following recommendations issued by the White House six years earlier: “Foods . . . derived from plant varieties developed by the new methods of genetic modifications are regulated within the existing framework . . . utilizing an approach identical to that applied to foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”

Anyone wanting further information was asked to contact a man named James Maryanski. I went through a long struggle to locate the man who held the key position of Biotechnology Coordinator for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA from 1985 to 2006. In 2006, this microbiologist who had joined the agency in 1977 was enjoying an active retirement, working as an “independent consultant” on the “safety of GM foods” for various governments, as the CV he gave me states. An interesting sidelight: as I was about to give up locating him, I asked to interview an FDA representative about the 1992 regulation, explaining that I was producing a documentary on Monsanto, particularly on the approval of Roundup Ready soybeans. On July 7, 2006, I received an e-mail from Mike Herndon, one of the agency’s press officers: “I must respectfully decline your request for an on-camera interview. FDA must appear neutral in its relationship with food manufacturers. Being interviewed in a documentary about a company whose products FDA regulates is inappropriate.”

The statement is ironic in light of the fact that the 1992 policy statement was developed in close cooperation with Monsanto, which in fact wanted the agency to present an “appearance of regulation,” in the words of Michael Hansen. And this task was confided to none other than Maryanski under the supervision of Michael Taylor, who was then deputy commissioner of the FDA. (I have already described Taylor’s role in the bovine growth hormone affair; I will come back to his subsequent career as a Monsanto vice president.)

I was finally able to meet the former FDA official one day in July 2006 in New York, on his return from a consultation in Japan. I was surprised to encounter a short, shy man with light-colored eyes and a calm, quiet voice. Later, viewing this filmed three-hour conversation, I was able to recognize his controlled panic, perceptible only in the nervous blinking that seized him on several occasions.

To start with, I questioned him on the instructions transmitted by the White House regarding the drafting of the regulation of transgenic foods. “Basically, the government had taken a decision that it would not create new laws,” he explained cautiously. “For the FDA, it felt that the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which ensures the safety of all foods except meat, poultry and egg products, which are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), had enough authority for the agency to deal with new technologies. And actually what occurred at FDA was that the commissioner, Dr. David Kessler . . . established a group of scientists under my authority and lawyers, who were given the charge to see whether in fact we could regulate foods developed by biotechnology under the existing Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”

“But this decision that GMOs should not be submitted to a specific regulatory regime wasn’t based on scientific data, it was a political decision?” I asked. The question made him a little tense.

“Yes, it was a political decision. It was a very broad decision that didn’t apply to just foods. It applied to all products of biotechnology,” he said hesitatingly.

The Amazing Trick of the Principle of Substantial Equivalence

I then proceeded to read a paragraph of the regulation that lies at the heart of the dispute around GMOs: “In most cases, the substances expected to become components of food as a result of genetic modification will be the same as or substantially similar to substances commonly found in food such as proteins, fats and oils, and carbohydrates.”27

These few apparently anodyne lines pointed to a concept that has been adopted around the world as the theoretical basis for the regulation of GMOs: the “principle of substantial equivalence.” Before I dissect why it represents the nub of what I called earlier one of the greatest conspiracies in the history of the food industry, let me give the floor again to James Maryanski, who continued to defend it stubbornly: “What we do know, is that the genes that are being introduced currently, to date, using biotechnology, produce proteins that are very similar to proteins that we’ve consumed for many centuries. . . . Using Roundup Ready soybeans as an example, this is a plant which has a modified enzyme that is essentially the same enzyme that’s already in the plant: it has a very small mutation, so, in terms of safety, there’s no big difference between that introduced enzyme and the one that already occurs in the plant” (emphasis added).

In other words, GMOs are roughly identical to their natural counterparts. And it is precisely this “roughly”—rather surprising coming from a microbiologist—that makes the concept of substantial equivalence suspect in the eyes of those who denounce its emptiness, such as Jeremy Rifkin of the Foundation on Economic Trends, one of the earliest opponents of biotechnology. “Here, in Washington, if you were to have an evening and go out and get a drink at one of the local haunts where all the lobbyists hang out, everybody would laugh about this. They all know this was a joke, this ‘substantial equivalency.’ This was simply a way to paper over the need for these companies, especially Monsanto, to move their products into the environment quickly, with the least amount of government interference. And I should say they were very, very good at getting their interests expressed,” he said to me in July 2006.

Michael Hansen, the Consumers Union expert, drove the point home when I spoke to him around the same time. “The principle of substantial equivalence is an alibi with no scientific basis created out of thin air to prevent GMOs from being considered at least as food additives, and this enabled biotechnology companies to avoid the toxicological tests provided for in the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and to avoid labeling their products. That’s why we say that American regulations of transgenic foods violate federal law.” To support his argument, Hansen showed me a document relating to an amendment to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, passed in 1958, entitled the Food Additive Act. As the name indicates, this amendment was aimed at regulating food additives such as coloring agents, preservatives, or “any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result, directly or indirectly, in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food (including any substance intended for use in producing, manufacturing, packing, processing, preparing, treating, packaging, transporting, or holding food).”

Following this definition, many are the substances that might be considered food additives, the safety of which would then have to be rigorously assessed through an obligatory procedure, including toxicological tests that might last, depending on circumstances, from twenty-eight days to two years. Answering to the “precautionary principle,” as Congress required, the tests would have to demonstrate that there is a “a reasonable certainty that the substance in the minds of competent scientists is not harmful under its intended conditions of use.” Excluded from the category of “food additives,” and therefore not subject to toxicological tests, were substances “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), either because they were “used in food before January 12, 1958,” or because “scientific procedures” have shown that they pose no health risk.

I asked Maryanski, “Could you give me an example of substances classified as GRAS?”

“Yeah, those are common food processing enzymes, or salt, pepper, vinegar, things that have been used for many years and that the scientific community has established as safe.”

“And how was the FDA able to decide that the gene introduced into a plant by genetic manipulation was GRAS?” I asked, looking him in the eye.

We had reached the heart of the debate between advocates and adversaries of GMOs. Indeed, even though no scientific study had yet been conducted to verify it, the FDA had decided a priori that transgenes did not fit into the category of food additives and that GMOs therefore could be marketed without prior toxicological testing. This is all the more curious because when the agency published its regulation, it had been considering a request that showed how essential it was to wait. The California biotech company Calgene (the one that had given Monsanto a chill by announcing in Nature that it had succeeded in producing Roundup-resistant tobacco) had filed a request for the approval of a tomato christened “Flavr Savr,” manipulated to slow the ripening process.

There is no need to insist on the significance of a tomato tinkered with so that it can remain firm on supermarket shelves for an extended period. But it is important to know that it contained the kanamycin resistance gene and that its inventors had rightly concluded that the gene should be considered a “food additive.” They had therefore asked a laboratory (the International Research and Development Corporation of Michigan) to conduct toxicology tests designed to measure the health effects of transgenic tomatoes on rats. But the FDA did not yet know the results of the study when it published its regulation. It was later found that seven of the forty test animals had died after two weeks for unexplained reasons and that a significant number of them had developed stomach lesions. Even so, adhering to its dogma, the agency had given Calgene the green light on May 18, 1994.

Before coming back to James Maryanski, let us look at the end of this appalling story. The cultivation of the transgenic tomato, which seemed so promising in the laboratory, turned out to be a catastrophe: yields in California were so low that the inventors decided to move production to Florida, where the crop was decimated by diseases. “There are so many things that can kill a plant, and it’s all in the details,” said a former plant breeder for Calgene.28

Flavr Savr was then shifted to Mexico, where the results were far from acceptable. As a 2001 FAO study soberly commented: “Since 1996, Flavr Savr tomatoes have been taken off the fresh produce market in the United States. The manipulation of the ripening gene appeared to have had unintended consequences such as soft skin, strange taste and compositional changes in the tomato. The product was also more expensive than non-modified tomatoes. ”29

In the interim, Calgene had fallen into the pocket of Monsanto, which had definitively buried the doomed tomato.

The L-Tryptophan Affair: A Strange Fatal Epidemic

Had Maryanski understood what I was getting at? In any event, he blinked nervously when I asked him on what scientific data the FDA had based its decision to declare transgenes to be GRAS. “What FDA was saying was: if you introduce a gene into a plant, that gene is DNA . . . and we have a long history of consuming DNA and we can establish that that is GRAS,” he said, seeming to search for his words.

“If we come back to the example of Monsanto’s soybeans, that means that the agency considers that a gene from a bacterium imparting resistance to a powerful herbicide is by definition less dangerous than a coloring agent?” I insisted.

“Correct,” answered the former biotechnology coordinator, blinking even more rapidly.

The FDA’s position, supported by Maryanski, infuriated Hansen, who pinpointed the question that Monsanto and its allies had always wanted to evade: “Currently, when you want to add a microscopic amount of a preservative or a chemical agent to a food product, it is considered a food additive and you therefore have to do all kinds of tests to prove that there is a reasonable certainty that it is safe. But when you manipulate a plant genetically, which can create countless differences in the food, you’re not asked to do anything. In fact, the whole misunderstanding or confusion comes from the fact that the FDA has always refused to assess the technique of genetic manipulation and not just the final product; it made the assumption that biotechnology was intrinsically neutral, even though it had received a warning sign that should have made it much more cautious.”

Hansen then told me the dramatic story of L-tryptophan, which has been thoroughly documented by Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology, based in Fairfield, Iowa, a rigorous critic of GMOs.30 L-tryptophan is an amino acid found naturally in turkey, milk, brewers’ yeast, and peanut butter, among other things. A precursor to serotonin, it was prescribed in the form of a dietary supplement as a remedy for insomnia, stress, and depression. In the late 1980s, thousands of Americans suffered from a mysterious illness that was called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), because muscular pain (myalgia) was a symptom experienced by all victims. They also suffered from a litany of recurrent ailments: edema, coughs, skin lesions, respiratory difficulties, puckering of the skin, mouth ulcers, nausea, visual and memory problems, hair loss, and paralysis.

The strange epidemic was first reported on November 7, 1989, by Tamar Stieber, a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, who had learned that all the victims had taken L-tryptophan (her reporting won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1990). Four days later, 154 cases were reported to medical authorities, and the FDA requested that the public avoid taking the dietary supplement. But the number of victims grew: a preliminary survey in 1991 counted thirty-seven dead and fifteen hundred permanently disabled.31 According to later estimates by the Centers for Disease Control, EMS was fatal to one hundred patients and caused illness or paralysis in five thousand to ten thousand people.

As Jeffrey Smith reported, L-tryptophan in the United States was imported from Japan, where six producers shared the market. Investigation by the health services revealed that only the product made by Showa Denko was associated with the epidemic. Investigators then discovered that in 1984 the company had modified its production process by using biotechnology to increase yields: a gene had been introduced into the bacteria from which the substance was extracted after fermentation. The manufacturer gradually changed the genetic construct so that the final strain (Strain V), produced in December 1988, turned out to contain five different transgenes and a large number of impurities.32

Then began a strange battle about the origin of the disease, which everything indicated was directed primarily at discrediting the hypothesis that the disease could have been triggered by genetic manipulation. Some researchers argued that the problem could have come from a change in the filter used by Showa Denko to purify the product, but it was later shown that this change had not taken place until January 1989, after the outbreak of the epidemic. Others suggested that L-tryptophan itself was the problem, but as the expert Gerald Gleich pointed out, “Tryptophan itself clearly is not the cause of EMS in that individuals who consumed products from other companies than Showa Denko did not develop EMS.”33 Only Showa Denko was sued, and after settlements negotiated in 1992, it paid more than $2 billion in damages to more than two thousand victims.

Nonetheless, the FDA had decided in 1991 to permanently prohibit the sale of L-tryptophan, even if it was produced conventionally, and in subsequent official reports it does not even mention the fact that the strains involved were transgenic.34 But one man at the FDA had very seriously considered the hypothesis that EMS might have been caused by the technique of genetic manipulation: James Maryanski.

In September 1991, six months before the FDA published its regulation on GMOs, according to a declassified document of which I have kept a copy, Maryanski met GAO representatives “at their request.” They wanted “to discuss issues related to food biotechnology for the studies they are conducting on new technologies,” he wrote. “They asked about L-Tryptophan and the potential that genetic engineering was involved. I said that we . . . do not yet know the cause of EMS, nor can we rule out the engineering of the organism.”35

When I met the former FDA official in July 2006, he did not know that I was aware of this document. “The FDA had considered the use of genetic manipulation, but it had no information indicating that the technique itself could create products that would be different in terms of quality or safety,” he said with assurance.

“Do you remember what happened with L-tryptophan in 1989?”

“Yes,” he mumbled.

“It was a genetically manipulated amino acid. In theory, we know amino acids very well.”

“That’s right.”

“It caused an epidemic of an unknown illness, EMS.”

“That’s true,” he said. His eyes started blinking nervously.

“How many people died?”

“Well, but we have many—”

“At least thirty-seven. And more than one thousand disabled,” I said. [xi] “Do you remember?”

“I remember.”

“According to a declassified FDA document, you said: ‘We do not know the cause of EMS and we cannot rule out the manipulation of the organism.’ You did say what I just read?”


But six months after his statement to the GAO representatives, Maryanski did not balk at signing the FDA document approving GMOs, which stated loud and clear: “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”36

Beyond what it reveals about the FDA’s blind spots, the L-tryptophan affair is exemplary in more ways than one. As Jeffrey Smith points out in Genetic Roulette, “The epidemic took years to identify. It was discovered only because the disease was rare, acute, came on quickly, and had a unique source. If one of these four attributes were not present, the epidemic might have remained undiscovered. Similarly, if common GM food ingredients are creating adverse reactions, the problems and their source may go undetected.”37

Contrary to James Maryanski’s assertions, FDA scientists were perfectly aware of the unknowns and the risks associated with biotechnology and GMOs, but the agency chose to ignore their warnings.



i. These surveys were conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Cornell University, the University  of Wisconsin, Dairy Today, etc.

ii. On the site, one finds the following: “Monsanto is a supplier of agricultural products  that increase farm productivity and food quality. The company manufactures and markets Posilac, a  technology that has demonstrated its profitability by enabling dairy farmers to produce 8 to 12 more  gallons per cow per day.”

iii. On June 5, 2006, Dairy and Food Market Analyst reported that chains such as Dean Foods, Wal-  Mart, and Kroger, although not very inclined to support organic farming, were promising to sell only  milk that was rBST free.

iv. It was precisely to denounce the collusion between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical  multinationals that Epstein established the Coalition against Cancer.

 v. In 1992, the program Prime Time on ABC News had broadcast a report showing employees of the  Food Lion chain, filmed on hidden camera, mixing ground beef past its expiration date with fresh  meat. Following the broadcast, the price of Food Lion shares had collapsed, and almost one hundred  stores had been forced to close. The company sued ABC News and at trial won $5.5 million in damages.  The verdict had caused serious worries in the country’s newsrooms (the damages were reduced  on appeal to $2).

vi. According to the terms of this law, a whistle-blower is an employee who is the victim of retaliatory  measures for having refused to participate in an illegal activity carried out by his company or for having  threatened to denounce that activity to the authorities.

vii. Steve had decided to handle his case on his own, which he did with the spirit of an experienced  lawyer, but the jury thought that the principal victim was Jane.

viii. Since then, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson have won many prestigious awards: the First Amendment  Award of the Society of Professional Journalists; the Joe Callaway Award for Civic Courage; a Special  Award for Heroism in Journalism from the Alliance for Democracy; and the Goldman Environmental  Prize for North America.

ix. On March 10, 1999, the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare of the European  Commission issued a ninety-one-page report recommending that “rBST not be used in dairy  herds.” At no point was there any mention of risks that the hormone might pose for human health.  The hormone has been officially banned in the European Union since January 1, 2000.

x. Agrobacterium tumefaciens causes crown gall disease, which attacks the roots of some plants by inducing  the growth of a tumor. It was discovered by two American researchers in 1907.

xi. I did not know at the time that the preliminary estimate of the number of victims was much lower than the reality.
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