MONSANTO: the Seed Line

As a product of Western civilization I’m not usually satisfied and I generally want more; I’m self-centered and uninterested. So when it came to Monsanto I was predictably ignorant and dismissive. When I first heard about the company it was through the nagging voice of my Mom; leaning into the air and waving her arms about, emphasizing to my Dad through the crackling receiver, “Monsanto, Monsanto! Look up Monsanto!” I wasn’t certain but I could hear the, “Yeah, yeah but Jo..” from the other end. I probably chuckled to myself and carried on with Alan and Charlie. So when my Mom interrupted the playful antics to put Food Inc. into the DVD player I’ll admit, I groaned. Twenty-two meat packed minutes later, the narrator drops the name Monsanto. I jumped from a comfortably established laying position to upright sitting, pointed to the screen and proclaimed, “Monsanto, Monsanto!” And from my Mom’s unturned head came the side spoken words, “Good one, Sherlock.”
What we already know about Monsanto is that it was created by a thirty year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry, John Francis Queeny. As a young boy Queeny and his family were forced from their home by the Chicago Fire. He began working as an office boy/delivery boy for the chemical firm Tolman and King. As the eldest of five children Queeny provided for his family on $2.50 a week. But the prosperous, hard working lad rose up in the ranks and began a career with the Meyer Brothers Drug Company. While working for the company as a salesman, Queeny decided he’d sold enough remedies and condiments that he could start his own manufacturing business. Previously knowing he could make a substantial amount of money through this kind of industry. Shortly thereafter Queeny married Olga Monsanto (whom he named the company after hoping to continue drug peddling on his own) and with a five thousand dollar investment he “conceived” the idea of manufacturing saccharin – a sweetening chemical that monopolized Germany. It wasn’t until World War Two that Monsanto really took off and downed the European competition in selling drugs to US drug stores. In 1927, Queeny released presidency of the company to his son Edgar.

Before Monsanto had hit the ground running it ran in one spot for Coca-Cola. From 1903 to 1905 Monsanto produced and provided all of its saccharin to the soft drink company and introduced them to caffeine and vanillin. Coca-Cola stopped using cocaine in their product formulas in 1903; when Monsanto came into their business. Making saccharin their chief product, Monsanto began expanding out into general drug manufacturing and in 1917 started selling aspirin. Until the eighties they were a top producer of the drug but that same year they experienced their first lawsuit. The US government was concerned with saccharin’s safety but the suit was later dismissed. They faced a second lawsuit in 1981 over the same safety concerns but with a twenty year investigation presenting no conclusive scientific evidence it was also dismissed and they were allowed to remove warning labels from their products. A third lawsuit was placed in 2009 but quickly dismissed in 2010.

The company continued to manufacture their prominent sweetener all the while being heavily involved with pharmaceutical companies and studies. In 1985, with the buyout profit of selling their joint petrochemical venture with Conoco Oil Company, Monsanto purchased a small pharmaceutical firm by the name of G.D. Searle & Company. The newly bought office, completely operated and owned by Monsanto, managed to get the FDA to approve aspartame for the second time. May I also mention again that numerous employees who worked for Monsanto now work for the Food and Drug Administration. They are the people who think it is okay to distribute Centrum, a vitamin made with the same chemicals as those found in your Bic Lighter. A year before Monsanto sold its sweetener business in 2000 for $440 million dollars; it merged with another pharmaceutical company and created Pharmacia with Pfizer. And since nothing is ever really simple and these things seem to go on and on, Monsanto wasn’t just sticking with drugs and sugar.

They had become involved in research for the Manhattan Project which led to the world’s first nuclear bombs. Monsanto operated and worked diligently for the Mound Laboratory (a nuclear facility) on behalf of the Federal Government until the late eighties. Shortly after researching nuclear bombs and distributing pain killers, Monsanto branched out into the petroleum business starting with a small Arkansas company called Lion Oil. Through out the late fifties they were introduced to the fertilizer business which ultimately led to hydrocarbon technology alongside oil and gas reserves. In 1973 Monsanto created a powerful, chemically operated herbicide. This product was helpful to farmers because it meant they could drench both their crops and crop land. But it wasn’t until the nineties that Monsanto started focusing on agriculture. They also played around with the retail gasoline business but eventually sold their services and refineries in 1972. While advancing in these aspects Monsanto created a product with the US Military that they called Agent Orange. It was a chemical meant to kill all the foliage in Vietnam so that the soldiers could see what they were doing. Ten years after spraying 72 million liters of the Agent Orange over the plus 1,000,000 Vietnam citizens and the plus 100,000 US troops, 9,170 veterans filed claims for disabilities and birth deformities. Personal relationships can verify said deformities. Personal relationships can also verify that in 1993 the FDA approved milk with the Monsanto patented rBGH – a bovine growth hormone that was studied to have caused early puberty in girls and prostate cancer.
Monsanto started its agricultural ambition with the purchase of seed companies and genetic laboratories. Since the Roundup weed killer had been such a success the Monsanto Company fueled the drive into agriculture. However, the success had finally faltered and the weeds were used to the poison; it no longer fazed them and they’d become these superweeds. Masters of their own domain. It is silly to think that Monsanto would find this to be any kind of obstacle as they were already taking part in the study of genetic modification. Through obvious love and respect for humanity Monsanto created the Ready Seed which was modified to be resistant against the herbicide. Allowing farmers to spray their fields incandescently, with a poisonous chemical but also allowing the continuance of crop life. That is to say we’re also consuming a side of herbicide with our genetically modified carrots.

Just like with Agent Orange, Monsanto has failed epically in proper testing and lab research. Their American reports and results weren’t matching up with their Japanese reports and results. Many side effects were unreported like a drastic weight gain in the lab rats. Many of the test results that were reported weren’t promising, like the ninety day lifespan rats had after testing. GM herbicides were destroying soil and the superweeds had to be killed with chemicals that were prohibited. These chemicals caused illness and violent allergic reactions in the people as well as in the animals. When the Japanese were performing tests on soya beans that Monsanto had genetically modified, they stood in what looked like a student kitchen. Filmed quietly and foreign they boiled the seeds to get rid of the chemicals. First they boiled the beans at 100⁰C for ten minutes. When that didn’t work they boiled the beans again at 100⁰C but this time for twenty minutes. Frustrated with their results they boiled the beans a third time at 220⁰C for just over twenty-five minutes. This destroyed most of the chemicals but they soon realized that no one was going to boil their beans at that temperature or for that length of time. So they concluded their results that evening and continued on with their business the following day. Yet we’re eating the same soya beans in our syrup, mustard, crackers, peanut butter, cereals – I’m stopping now.

During the 2002 African famine the leading man in charge declined genetically modified seeds from the States. The same grains and seeds that they’d been happily feasting on for years but not even Africa in a famine would take them.
Speaking of Africa there is one perhaps optional way for Monsanto to act positively. The technology in genetically modified food is actually quite incredible. From what I can understand there is a manner of breeding one vegetable gene with one fruit gene which in turn creates a tomato berry. In Uganda the people depend on a particular banana to supply them with food and nourishment. The fruit that this tree produces is far different from the bananas we’re used to eating – hello modification, didn’t see you there – as they are hard and taste like clay. But in some villages their banana trees are ridden with disease. So it is to say that Monsanto could genetically engineer the banana to resist the disease and allow the people of Uganda to live in relative food security. It is to say. And many Amish farmers swear by the GMO’s; a tool for the industry. Yet they won’t use tractors.
Both early presidents of the Monsanto Company, John and son Edgar, were deeply involved with the banks of St. Louis (birthplace and residence of Monsanto’s headquarters) and the Business Advisory for the US Department of Commerce. The conspiracy theorist in me is about ready to grab that sandwich board and a blown horn. But the realist in me is urgently telling to pay attention, to do your homework, and to make the choice for yourself. Monsanto has made us chemically dependent people and they have patented not only that chemical but the food as well. Any food you genetically modified you gain ownership of. Monsanto is on its way to gaining genetic ownership over the pig and is the process of genetically engineering wheat.

So, which side of the farmer’s fence do you want to be on?

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