In an unprecedented display of utter disgust against a single corporation, millions of people of all different walks of life, nationalities, races and political persuasions in fifty different countries across the globe marched against Monsanto recently. The march was a huge success from the organizers’ point of view in taking a firm stand against – and raising awareness of – the highly unethical and downright criminal practices routinely engaged in by the biotech giant, despite the mainstream media’s failure to report on it.
Thus far the biotech industry, with Monsanto at the helm, has been able to steer the debate in the “right” direction by having the talking heads in the media focus on the pros and cons of labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In addition, the fact that some protesters seemed to think capitalism is to blame shows that not everyone has taken the time to dig into Monsanto’s history or that of genetic modification.
The following might come as a startling revelation to those who would look to the government to regulate the biotech industry, but Monsanto itself has been lobbying for legislation since the introduction of GMOs in the late eighties. Its executives still had a bad taste in their mouth from dealing with the public’s reaction to its Agent Orange used by the U.S. military to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam as well as a major scandal in Alabama concerning its dumping of poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the environment. Consequently, it was decided that next time, someone other than Monsanto would have to be left holding the bag, and the United States government seemed like the right candidate. The resulting deal with the government was that GM foods would be considered just as safe (by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) as natural, non-GM foods. That turned out to be the decision that laid the groundwork for our current predicament.
Unbeknownst to the public, though, considerable debate had taken place before the FDA made its final decision. In fact, the majority of the scientists reporting to the agency on the safety of GM foods identified potential risks. Nearly a decade after the decision of the FDA, a lawsuit forced its documents into the public domain. They showed that “the predominant view was that genetic engineering entails distinct risks and that its products cannot be regarded as safe unless they have been confirmed to be so through appropriate feeding studies”.Other findings, as described in the international bestseller Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey M. Smith (p.132-133) included the following:
“The Toxicology Group, for example, warned that genetically modified plants could “contain unexpected high concentrations of plant toxicants”, and described the reasons why these might be very difficult to identify. Their director wrote, “The possibility of unexpected, accidental changes in genetically engineered plants justifies a limited traditional toxicological study.”
The Division of Food Chemistry and Technology outlined four potential dangers:
1. “Increased levels of known naturally occurring toxins:,
2. Appearance of new, not previously identified” toxins,
3. Increased tendency to gather “toxic substances from the environment” such as “pesticides or heavy metals”, and
4. “Undesirable alterations in the levels of nutrients.”
They warned, “unless genetically engineered plants are evaluated specifically for these changes”, these four “may escape breeders’ attention.” The division recommended testing every GM food “before it enters the marketplace.”
Gerald Guest, the director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) sent a letter to Maryanski [FDA biotech coordinator] saying that he and other CVM scientists concluded that there is “ample scientific justification” to require testing and review of each GM food before it is eaten by the public. He stated, “CVM believes that animal feeds derived from genetically modified plants present unique animal and food safety concerns.” He pointed out that, “residues of plant constituents or toxicants in meat and milk products may pose human food safety concerns.” Guest also wrote, “I would urge you to eliminate statements that suggest that the lack of information can be used as evidence for no regulatory concern.” “
In short, despite the fact that there obviously was reason for serious concern and caution would have been more than warranted, Monsanto’s political connections paid off – and still are today. Needless to say, its executives have done their level best to maintain and expand those connections. Obama’s appointments to key positions in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and FDA show that those connections are still very much alive and well. To name a few: Michael Taylor, former VP for public policy for Monsanto, is now the deputy commissioner of the FDA; Rajiv Shah, who worked in key positions for the Gates Foundation – a major funder of GMO agriculture research – has been appointed head of USAID and Roger Beachy, former director of the Monsanto Danforth Center, now holds the position of director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the USDA. Besides, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once worked for the Rose law firm, counsel to Monsanto.
During election season in 2007, Barack Obama advocated for “letting folks know whether their food is genetically modified, because Americans should know what they are buying”. Considering his track record on the GMO front since then, it is quite astonishing to see the naiveté of those who would take that rhetoric at face value yet blame capitalism for the evil that is Monsanto.
Read part two of this article here.
 Smith, J.M. (2003). Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating. Fairfield, IA: Yes! Books). p. 130
 Smith, J.M. (2003). Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating. Fairfield, IA: Yes! Books). p. 132.