PCBs Pervade San Diego Bay
A San Diego group of attorneys is suing Monsanto to get millions of dollars for remediation projects to clean up San Diego Bay. Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) have been linked to cancer, neurological damage, thyroid problems and reproductive complications.
Monsanto is all about the profits even when it has knowledge that what it’s selling is poison. Cases have been filed in Federal Court in San Jose, Oakland and Spokane in addition to San Diego. Dozens more cities across America may soon follow suit.
Municipalities have been forced to shell out millions to clean up rivers, creeks and bays. It has been established that fishing in such places and consuming those fish is dangerous to human health. PCBs have shown up in breast milk and sea lions among other places. They are ubiquitous in our environment.
Monsanto marketed the PCBs under the trade name Aroclor. The chemicals accumulate in fish that are devoured by humans with the result that almost everybody who eats fish has a certain amount of PCBs in their system. PCBs were used in electrical equipment, highway paint, caulk and many other products.
Monsanto’s position is that, if their product was improperly disposed of, it was not their fault. Under California’s public nuisance laws, however, a company may be held responsible if it knowingly marketed a product even though it knew it was hazardous.
Monsanto officials knew as early as 1969 that Aroclor was dangerous, but decided to keep manufacturing and marketing it anyway in order to increase profits. Their official discussions went so far as to say that Aroclor was likely a “global contaminant.” Monsanto employees had thrown fish into a heavily contaminated creek and discovered that they started bleeding and losing their skin in about 10 seconds.
The Oakland city attorney said that the chemical giant “chose profits over people, and American cities and citizens are still suffering the consequences.”
Robert Reich Nails Monsanto’s Modus Operandi
In an excellent book, Saving Capitalism (For the Many, Not the Few), Robert Reich has a great section on Monsanto. I, therefore, give over the rest of this article to a quotation from this book:
Monsanto, the giant biotech corporation, owns the key genetic traits in more than 90 percent of the soybeans planted by farmers in the United States and 8o percent of the corn. Its monopoly grew out of a carefully crafted strategy. It patented its own genetically modified seeds, along with an herbicide that would kill weeds but not soy and corn grown from its seeds.
The herbicide and herbicide-resistant seeds initially saved farmers time and money. But the purchase came with a catch that would haunt them in the future: The soy and corn that grow from those seeds don’t produce seeds of their own. So every planting season, farmers have to buy new seeds. In addition, if the farmers have any seeds left over, they must agree not to save and replant them in the future. In other words, once hooked, farmers have little choice but to become permanent purchasers of Monsanto seed. To ensure its dominance, Monsanto has prohibited seed dealers from stocking its competitors’ seeds and has bought up most of the small remaining seed companies.
Not surprisingly, in less than fifteen years, most of America’s commodity crop farmers have become dependent on Monsanto. The result has been higher prices far beyond the cost-of-living rise. Since 2001, Monsanto has more than doubled the price of corn and soybean seeds. The average cost of planting one acre of soybeans increased 325 percent between 1994 and 2011, and the price of corn seed rose 259 percent. Another result has been a radical decline in the genetic diversity of the seeds we depend on. This increases the risk that disease or climate change might wipe out entire crops for years, if not forever. A third consequence has been the ubiquity of genetically modified traits in our food chain. At every stage, Monsanto’s growing economic power has enhanced its political power to shift the rules to its advantage, thereby adding to its economic power.
The Fight to Label GMOs
Beginning with the Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970, and extending through a series of court cases, Monsanto has gained increased protection of its intellectual property in genetically engineered seeds. It has successfully fought off numerous attempts in Congress and in several states to require labeling of genetically engineered foods or to protect biodiversity. It has used its political muscle in Washington to fight moves in other nations to ban genetically engineered seed. To enforce and ensure dominance, the company has employed a phalanx of lawyers. They’ve sued other companies for patent infringement and sued farmers who want to save seed for replanting. Monsanto’s lawyers have also prevented independent scientists from studying its seeds, arguing that such inquiries infringe the company’s patents.
You might think Monsanto’s overwhelming market power would make it a target of antitrust enforcement. Think again. In 2012, it succeeded in putting an end to a two-year investigation by the antitrust division of the Justice Department into Monsanto’s dominance of the seed industry. Monsanto has the distinction of spending more on lobbying—nearly $7 million in 2013 alone—than any other big agribusiness. And Monsanto’s former (and future) employees frequently inhabit top posts at the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, they staff congressional committees that deal with agriculture policy, and they become advisors to congressional leaders and at the White House. Two Monsanto lobbyists are former congressman Vic Fazio and former senator Blanche Lincoln. Even Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas was at one time an attorney for Monsanto. Monsanto, like any new monopoly, has strategically used its economic power to gain political power and used its political power to entrench its market power.
It’s useful to view the strategy of the new monopolists as integrating economic and political dominance. They acquire key patents and then spend vast sums protecting them and charging others with patent infringement. In addition, they use mandatory licensing agreements to require potential competitors to use whole lines of their products and prevent customers from using competing products, thereby creating de facto industry standards. Favorable court rulings, advantageous laws, and administrative decisions to forgo antitrust lawsuits or bring them against competitors extend these de facto standards to entire sectors of the economy.
And so, dear reader, we live in a world in which large corporations feel free to pollute and despoil the environment including the food we eat because they have not only market dominance but because they have political dominance as well. The revolving door between government and corporations swings ever so easily, the hinges are well lubricated. Congresspersons and their staff have easy access to lucrative jobs once they have established their contacts on the inside.
They just have to lobby their old friends on behalf of Monsanto and other large corporations giving them a free license to pollute and purvey dangerous products. The hallmark of these products is not that they will kill you immediately like the poor fish that Monsanto employees threw into a PCB-polluted river, but that the symptoms will show up as cancer and other related diseases years later when Monsanto can no longer be linked to those outcomes.
More Bad News for Monsanto
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), IFOAM International Organics, Navdanya, Regeneration International (RI), and Millions Against Monsanto, joined by dozens of global food, farming and environmental justice groups announced December 4th, 2015 that they will put Monsanto on trial for crimes against nature and humanity, and ecocide, in The Hague, Netherlands, next year on World Food Day, October 16, 2016.
Vandana Shiva, physicist, author, activist/founder of Navdanya, and member of the RI Steering Committee said: “Monsanto has pushed GMOs in order to collect royalties from poor farmers, trapping them in unpayable debt, and pushing them to suicide. Monsanto promotes an agro-industrial model that contributes at least 50 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Monsanto is also largely responsible for the depletion of soil and water resources, species extinction and declining biodiversity, and the displacement of millions of small farmers worldwide.”
Andre Leu, president of IFOAM and a member of the RI Steering Committee, said: “Monsanto is able to ignore the human and environmental damage caused by its products, and maintain its devastating activities through a strategy of systemic concealment: by lobbying regulatory agencies and governments, by resorting to lying and corruption, by financing fraudulent scientific studies, by pressuring independent scientists, and by manipulating the press and media. Monsanto’s history reads like a textbook case of impunity, benefiting transnational corporations and their executives, whose activities contribute to climate and biosphere crises and threaten the safety of the planet.”
Get set for an epic battle between a corporation that is destroying the planet and those who are pushing back against this monstrous corporate behemoth.