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.”



Note: post has been updated to correct spelling of Monsanto. Mea culpa.

A lot–probably a majority–of American companies are good corporate citizens. We don’t hear much about them, because they aren’t newsworthy.

Monsanto, on the other hand, is very newsworthy.

Most media about Monsanto is focused on its herbicide Roundup, which has been shown to cause cancer if people are repeatedly exposed to it. (There have been several recent jury verdicts awarding breathtaking sums to afflicted users.) But Monsanto’s sins go well beyond the manufacture and sale of a dangerous product.

The company is especially vicious in its efforts to silence reporters and food safety activists whose coverage is less than glowing.

A non-profit food safety watchdog on Thursday revealed the lengths the agrochemical company Monsanto has gone to in order to keep the dangers of its products secret—monitoring journalists and attempting to discredit them, identifying a progressive musician and activist as a threat, and crafting a plan to counter the watchdog’s public information requests about the company.

Monsanto’s so-called “fusion center” targeted U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), which investigates safety and transparency issues within the U.S. food system. When USRTK filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests beginning in 2015 regarding Monsanto’s relationship’s with publicly-funded universities, the multinational corporation assembled a plan to counter the group’s findings, according to newly-released documents.

Journalists and critics of the company applauded USRTK’s release of the documents and said they only bolstered the case, long made by environmental and public health advocates, that Monsanto must be stopped from profiting off dangerous chemicals and covering up their harms.

The nonprofit had made Freedom of Information requests to universities in an effort to confirm accusations that Montsanto had paid for favorable research results. The 30 plus pages of internal documents that were released detailed the company’s plans to counter and discredit the organization.

In another article, a journalist who was targeted by Monsanto explained how the company goes about discrediting those who publish unflattering reports.

As a journalist who has covered corporate America for more than 30 years, very little shocks me about the propaganda tactics companies often deploy. I know the pressure companies can and do bring to bear when trying to effect positive coverage and limit reporting they deem negative about their business practices and products.

But when I recently received close to 50 pages of internal Monsanto communications about the company’s plans to target me and my reputation, I was shocked.

I knew the company did not like the fact that in my 21 years of reporting on the agrochemical industry – mostly for Reuters – I wrote stories that quoted skeptics as well as fans of Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds. I knew the company didn’t like me reporting about growing unease in the scientific community regarding research that connected Monsanto herbicides to human and environmental health problems. And I knew the company did not welcome the 2017 release of my book, Whitewash – The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, which revealed the company’s actions to suppress and manipulate the science surrounding its herbicide business.

Monsanto’s efforts included engineering web placement of negative “information” about her–written by Monsanto– that would pop up at the top of internet searches, production of “third party talking points,” and payments to “readers” who would post negative reviews of her book.

The records were uncovered as part of court-ordered discovery in litigation brought by plaintiffs alleging their cancers were caused by exposure to Roundup. The documents  revealed years of company activities aimed at manipulating the scientific record about Roundup.

Companies like Monsanto not only pose a danger to thousands of people–they create a perception that no business enterprise can be trusted. That perception isn’t just bad for law-abiding enterprises–it’s bad for America’s economic health.

A functioning government  with a functioning Consumer Protection agency would shut Monsanto down.