Then There’s Monsanto…..

It isn’t just the Trump administration that is thoroughly corrupt. In fact, it’s hard not to see Trump’s collection of mob wanna-be’s and hangers-on as representative of far too many American mega-corporations.

Take Monsanto. (As Henny Youngman might have said, please…)

A while back, the Guardian published an expose–one of many–that confirmed what farmers and rural folks have known for years, namely, that the company is rapacious, dishonest and immoral.

The US agriculture giant Monsanto and the German chemical giant BASF were aware for years that their plan to introduce a new agricultural seed and chemical system would probably lead to damage on many US farms, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.

Risks were downplayed even while they planned how to profit off farmers who would buy Monsanto’s new seeds just to avoid damage, according to documents unearthed during a recent successful $265m lawsuit brought against both firms by a Missouri farmer.

The documents, some of which date back more than a decade, also reveal how Monsanto opposed some third-party product testing in order to curtail the generation of data that might have worried regulators.

And in some of the internal emails, employees appear to joke about sharing “voodoo science” and hoping to stay “out of jail”.

Think about that last paragraph for a while.

The Guardian investigation focused on a product intended to replace Roundup–the company’s best-selling herbicide that has been connected to various cancers. Not that concern about user’s health entered into the equation. It seems that millions of acres of US farmland have become overrun with weeds that have become resistant to Roundup, the company’s name for glyphosate.

Farmers using Roundup would spray it on crops that Monsanto had genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with glyphosate. That was popular with farmers everywhere, not just in the U.S.,  but it led to the emergence of weeds that were also resistant to Roundup. The new system promoted by Monsanto and BASF uses a herbicide called dicamba; it “similarly provides farmers with genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton that can be sprayed directly with dicamba.” The weeds sprayed with the new product die–at least, so far– but the crops don’t.

There is, it appears, a down-side to the new product (other than the consequences of such herbicide use generally).

Dicamba has been in use since the 1960s but traditionally was used sparingly, and not on growing crops, because it has a track record of volatilizing – moving far from where it is sprayed – particularly in warm growing months. As it moves it can damage or kill the plants it drifts across.

The companies said they would make new dicamba formulations that would stay where they were sprayed and would not volatilize as older versions of dicamba were believed to do. With good training, special nozzles, buffer zones and other “stewardship” practices, the companies assured regulators and farmers that the new system would bring “really good farmer-friendly formulations to the marketplace”.

You can guess the rest. Only farmers buying Monsanto’s own dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds would be protected from drift damage. And they knew it. According to a report prepared for Monsanto in 2009, such “off-target movement” was expected, along with “crop loss”, “lawsuits” and “negative press around pesticides.” Monsanto’s own projections estimated that damage claims from farmers would total more than 10,000 cases. Evidently, those anticipated lawsuits were just a cost of doing business–business that generated enough profit to make even significant losses quite manageable.

And of course, one way Monsanto generated profit and business was through the drift–which encouraged the “drifted on” farmers to buy Monsanto’s resistant seeds.

It’s Roundup all over again.

Three juries so far have found that Roundup is carcinogenic and that Monsanto hid the risks. And just as Monsanto has done in the Roundup cases, it has tried to keep most of the discovery from the dicamba litigation designated confidential. According to the Guardian, some 180 of those documents have been unsealed.

“The documents are the worst that I’ve ever seen for any case that I’ve worked on,” said lawyer Angie Splittgerber, a former tobacco industry defense attorney who works with Randles in the firm Randles & Splittgerber. “So many of them put things in writing that were just horrifying.”

The linked article has facts and figures and is worth reading in its entirety–not just because Monsanto’s behavior has been utterly despicable for many years, but because lax government oversight has allowed a number of companies to behave with similar impunity. Too many of America’s “movers and shakers” consider this kind of behavior “doing business.”

Capitalism requires effective regulation in order to work properly. This is what happens when the regulated capture and control the regulators.

This is the cesspool from which Trump and his enablers emerged. This is their “normal.”


What The Jury Said

I have heard damning stories about Monsanto for years, so it didn’t surprise me when Trump’s EPA retreated from Obama-era findings that a chemical in one of the company’s herbicides, glyphosate, is a carcinogen. Glyphosate is a component of  Round-Up, which is widely used; numerous studies have linked that use to cancer, shortened pregnancies and other serious health outcomes.

The EPA may have backed off, but just last month, the Guardian reported a fairly stunning legal victory over the company.

Dewayne Johnson tries not to think about dying.

Doctors have said the 46-year-old cancer patient could have months to live, but he doesn’t like to dwell on death. These days, he has an easy distraction – navigating the international attention on his life.

The father of three and former school groundskeeper has been learning to live with the gift and burden of being in the spotlight in the month since a California jury ruled that Monsanto caused his terminal cancer. The historic verdict against the agrochemical corporation, which included an award of $289m, has ignited widespread health concerns about the world’s most popular weedkiller and prompted regulatory debates across the globe.

Johnson, who never imagined he would be known as “dying man” in dozens of news headlines, is still processing the historic win.

What is especially telling about the verdict is that Johnson–the first cancer victim to sue Monsanto and win– alleged that the company had spent decades intentionally covering up the cancer risks of its herbicide.

The groundbreaking verdict further stated that Monsanto “acted with malice” and knew or should have known that its chemicals were “dangerous”.

Monsanto, of course, has already filed a motion seeking to throw out the verdict– and prevent Johnson’s family from receiving the money. When a David like Johnson faces a Goliath like Monsanto, the eventual odds favor Goliath, and there are indications that the Judge is listening to Monsanto.

That said, deceiving the public about the risks of its products is hardly the only “rap” against Monsanto. I’ve read stories for years about the company’s vendetta against small farmers who save patented seeds they’ve purchased for use in ensuing years.

The agricultural giant Monsanto has sued hundreds of small farmers in the United States in recent years in attempts to protect its patent rights on genetically engineered seeds that it produces and sells, a new report said on Tuesday.

The study, produced jointly by the Center for Food Safety and the Save Our Seeds campaigning groups, has outlined what it says is a concerted effort by the multinational to dominate the seeds industry in the US and prevent farmers from replanting crops they have produced from Monsanto seeds.

In its report, called Seed Giants vs US Farmers, the CFS said it had tracked numerous law suits that Monsanto had brought against farmers and found some 142 patent infringement suits against 410 farmers and 56 small businesses in more than 27 states. In total the firm has won more than $23m from its targets, the report said.

There are also allegations that Monsanto will sue farmers whose fields contain more than one percent of crops grown from seeds that have “blown in” from adjacent fields. I was unable to verify the accuracy of that claim, although I once had a colleague whose father was a farmer, and my colleague claimed his father been targeted in just such a suit.

Fifty-three percent of the world’s commercial seed market is controlled by three firms – Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta. That amount of power and market dominance undoubtedly has something to do with the EPA’s reversal, despite the conclusions reached by numerous scientists.

Of course, Trump’s EPA doesn’t believe any science. They probably put more stock in voodoo–and they’re probably sticking pins in a doll that looks like Dewayne Johnson now.