Fifty-four years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s clarion call, against a Silent Spring, the pesticide sector of the agricultural industry is vastly energized by genetically engineered (GE) food crops. Behemoth monopolies are being forged by biotech corporate rogues who have deluged the farming industry; eradicating crop diversity with genetically engineered mono crops that are infested with far more insidious poisonous pesticides than those in use during Rachel Carson’s lifetime.
The recent spate of proposed mega mergers has generated fears on both sides of the Atlantic that this would limit choice for farmers in markets already dominated by a few large companies; would all but eliminate competition, raise seed prices for farmers and ultimately drive up food prices for consumers.
DuPont has proposed a $130 billion merger with Dow, ChemChina offered $44 billion to merge with Syngenta, and Bayer offered $66 billion for a Monsanto merger. If these three mergers were approved, the three emerging companies would control more than 75% of corn-seed sales, 60% of all commercial seeds, and 70% of the world’s pesticides.
Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, held a hearing in September 2016 in which he stated: “to me this consolidation wave has become a tsunami.” He urged the Anti-Trust divisions of the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to work together:
“[to] conduct a careful analysis of the state of the agricultural biotechnology and seed industry so as to ensure that the multiple proposed transactions under consideration do not substantially lessen competition and aggravate an already concentrated industry.
“Because this agriculture sector has been the subject of a number of waves of consolidation in recent years, I am concerned that the convergence of these proposed transactions – as well as others currently being discussed – will have an enhanced adverse impact on competition in the industry and raise barriers to entry for smaller companies by altering the industry structure for seeds and chemicals. I am concerned that vertical integration of traits, seed and chemicals will make it more difficult for smaller biotechnology companies, independent producers and independent crop input companies to compete.
I also am concerned that further concentration in the industry will impact the price and choice of chemicals and seed for farmers, which ultimately will impact choice and costs for consumers. Finally, I am concerned that further consolidation will diminish critical research and development initiatives, which drive innovation and technological advances in the industry.
The most troubling merger is the proposed merger between Bayer and Monsanto which would be a reunion of two giant chemical corporate rogues. Bayer’s corporate record of unmitigated evil extends over a period of 128 years; when it aggressively marketed heroin in children’s cough medicine. It exercised its most malevolent predilections during its tenure within the I.G. Farben cartel. Indeed, the concern about this merger is greatest in Germany “because,” Sven Giegold, the German Green representative explains, “Bayer is among the companies with the worst reputation of all German companies, because of a history of scandal.” (Deutsche Welle, 2016)
The Chicago Tribune reports that “Bayer’s Mega Monsanto Deal Faces Mega Backlash in Germany” because “Germans view Monsanto as the main example of American corporate evil.” A lawmaker who formulates policy positions on genetic engineering, said the merger would “strengthen the economic power of genetic engineering in Germany, which we see as very problematic as the majority of the population in Germany is opposed to the technology.”
Indeed, a recent study by the German Environmental Ministry found that 75% of Germans are against genetic engineering of plants and animals. And, not only the Green Party but many Social Democrats have taken a position against reauthorizing the use of products using glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide. To counteract the strong backlash, Bayer “has already enlisted two large PR firms to advise on the takeover and potential backlash, according to people familiar with the matter.”
Bayer’s focus on developing lethal chemicals as weapons began during World War I when it produced mustard gas from which it profited handsomely by selling it to both German and allied forces. During the Nazi era, Bayer was the lead member of the IG Farben conglomerate, developing, contracting and providing the chemicals used for genocidal mass murder – including Zyklon B. (Read Uninterrupted Record**) The Bayer-Monsanto merger has been dubbed, “a marriage in Hell” because it will likely pose serious threats to public health, the ecological system and the economic well-being of farmers.
Monsanto-Bayer Mega-Deal a Nightmare for America? Monsanto is the most hated agricultural producer of genetically modified crops in the world. Monsanto has generated a worldwide protest campaign by the Organic Consumers Organization, and an annual “Millions Against Monsanto” march. Both companies produce pesticides; together they would control 28% of the global pesticide market. The size of the combined duo has raised environmental alarms as well as decisively wiping out competition.
The previous Monsanto /Bayer joint venture (in 1954) was called MoBay, the chemical company that produced and distributed Agent Orange. This poisonous herbicide was sprayed over millions of acres in Vietnam, between 1962 and 1972, poisoning millions of people, and was linked to birth defects and stillbirths in animals and humans. (Coalition Against Bayer Dangers (CBG) 2013).
In 1973, Monsanto sold its 50% shares to Bayer following a court-ordered consent decree to resolve an anti-trust suit by the US Department of Justice (DOJ). (See Herbicide Company ‘Geneology’” [chart] by Prof. Arnold Appleby, Oregon State University, 2008)
“Although Bayer had part and eventually full interest in Mobay, its promotional material was never allowed to mention Bayer’s name.” (International Directory of Co. Histories, 2006)
Industrialized corporate agriculture has supplanted bio-diverse multi-crop farming with monoculture
Intensive monoculture farming favors giant farms that specialize in one crop which they grow in the same field year after year. The bulk of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE or GMO) products are: corn, cotton, soybeans, canola and recently alfalfa. Intensive monoculture farming has given rise to an exponential increase in pest populations that thrive on these crops – i.e., corn rootworms, potato beetles and soybean aphids. Thus, a highly profitable by-product of monoculture farming is an increased the demand for pesticides.
“Monsanto’s approach to insect and weed management depends upon the heavy use of a few biocides to control pests. And most of these pests are large problems mainly because of the biological simplification of the agricultural system. (The Union of Concerned Scientists)
Before 1996, when genetically engineered products entered the US food supply, there were 600 independent seed companies; by 2009 there were only 100 remaining seed companies. Monsanto has systematically purchased 40 companies. There are, currently, six companies that dominate the biotech seed and agro-chemical industries: Bayer, Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, and BASF. If the proposed mergers are consummated, there will be only four remaining.
The American Antitrust Institute reports that Monsanto possesses patent rights to 97% of soybean traits; 76% of corn traits; and 95% of cotton traits. This monopoly over seed technology allows Monsanto to dictate the terms of licensing and the price. “Monsanto has been known to take legal action against farmers who attempt to save and replant the company’s seeds.” (CNN, 2016)
Between 1994-2010, crop seed prices have more than doubled “relative to the prices farmers received for commodity crops.” The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) acknowledges that this crop seed concentration is the biggest increase for any of the agricultural inputs studied. (Law 360)
The Wall Street Journal quotes Mark Watne, a 54-year old soybean and wheat farmer and president of the North Dakota Farmers Union who stated:“If you take six big companies and make them three, you’ve just made it simpler for them to hold prices higher and maximized their ability to make better margins at expense of farmers,” (Sept. 14, 2016)
The agricultural seed & pesticide sector is roughly $100 billion.
If approved, the newly formed GE seed-pesticide-drug behemoth would have combined annual sales of $67 billion; and would control 29% of the world’s seed market and 24% of the pesticide market. (The Guardian, 2016) The ramifications of the Bayer – Monsanto merger is especially worrisome.
The Financial Times quotes Suzanne Schmidt, an environmental scientist in Germany who said: “The bigger the market share they have, the harder it will be to control them.” When Bayer announced its bid for Monsanto, she immediately sold her shares in Bayer that she had inherited from her father. (Sept. 6, 2016)
The Wall Street Journal quotes Mark Watne, a 54-year old soybean and wheat farmer and president of the North Dakota Farmers Union:“If you take six big companies and make them three, you’ve just made it simpler for them to hold prices higher and maximized their ability to make better margins at expense of farmers,” (Sept. 14, 2016)
Concentrated market control eliminates competition, resulting in unfettered price hikes
The further concentration of control of agricultural supplies would obviously result in astronomical increased seed prices for farmers. The global agricultural needs and food supply would end up depending on just a few companies whose extensive record shows them to be the most unscrupulous companies in the world. We can expect a torrent of unidentified genetically engineered foods to dominate U.S. supermarket shelves.
Two former lawyers of the DOJ, Maurice Stucke (Professor of Law) and Allen Grunes, (Chair of Antitrust Committee of the Bar Association of DC) urged the DOJ to kill the Bayer-Monsanto merger as it would further concentrate power, eliminating competition in an already highly consolidated industry, in violation of the Clayton Act. And a petition urging the European Commission to block the Bayer-Monsanto deal has so far garnered 40,720 signatures. (“Why Bayer-Monsanto Merger is Really Scary” by Sally Painter. Top Secret Writers, 2016)
Monsanto, Sygenta and Bayer have earned the reputation of being “the scourge of Asia” because of their bullying marketing tactics for genetically engineered seeds and pesticides. Monsanto has bought up dozens of its competitors to become the largest supplier of genetically engineered seeds which cost about twice as much as conventional seeds. As its market share has grown, seed prices have risen dramatically. According to the Organic Center research their cost has risen more than 140% since 2001. That in a nutshell explains the corporate goal of shifting natural food to GM foodstuff.
“We are a science-based company. I feel very strongly that you need to be grounded in the science or you lose the drift.” — Hugh Grant, CEO, Monsanto
“What we do is good for consumers. We help to produce sufficient, safe, healthy and affordable food…this is also good for their growers because they have better choices to increase yields in a sustainable way…. Together, we want to make and shape the future of farming.” — Werner Baumann, CEO, Bayer AG, Sept. 2016
Critics refute GMO propaganda about the claimed benefits of GMOs
- A report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Feeding the World Without GMOs (2015) found that GMOs have not improved crop yields in the last 20 years when compared with traditionally bred corn and soy grown in western Europe where GMO crops are banned.
- A report by the Economic Research Service of the USDA (2014) also acknowledged that over the past 15 years, GMOs have not “definitively” increased crop yields:”in fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties.” (p. 12)
- GMO crops are not feeding the hungry; 40% of US corn goes for fuel, and a majority of soy is used for animal feed. Globally, 99% of GMO crops — soy, corn, cotton and canola — are similarly not used to provide nutrients to hungry people.
- Monsanto’s RoundupReady and Bt technology lead to glyphosate resistant weeds and insects which now infest millions of acres of U.S. cropland. By 2011, eight superweeds had developed glyphosate resistance in the US; and these are causing farmers huge problems.The Union of Concerned Scientists lists the following negative actions by the GMO biotech industry which continues to resist putting resources into developing sustainable agriculture.
#1: Promoting Pesticide Resistance Monsanto’s RoundupReady and Bt technologies lead to resistant weeds and insects that can make farming harder and reduce sustainability.
#2: Increasing Herbicide Use Roundup resistance has led to greater use of herbicides, with troubling implications for biodiversity, sustainability, and human health.
#3: Spreading Gene Contamination Engineered genes have a bad habit of turning up in non-GE crops. And when this happens, sustainable farmers—and their customers—pay a high price.
#4: Expanding Monoculture Monsanto’s emphasis on limited varieties of a few commodity crops contributes to reduced biodiversity and, as a consequence, to increased pesticide use and fertilizer pollution.
#5: Marginalizing Alternatives Monsanto’s single-minded emphasis on GE fixes for farming challenges may come at the expense of cheaper, more effective solutions.
6: Lobbying and Advertising Monsanto outspends all other agribusinesses on efforts to persuade Congress and the public to maintain the industrial agriculture status quo.
#7: Suppressing Research By creating obstacles to independent research on its products, Monsanto makes it harder for farmers and policy makers to make informed decisions that can lead to more sustainable agriculture.
#8: Falling Short on Feeding the World Monsanto contributes little to helping the world feed itself, and has failed to endorse science-backed solutions that don’t give its products a central role.
Europeans reject GE/GMOs as “Frankenfoods”
Nineteen European countries have rejected all GM products: Austria, Belgium (the Wallonia region), Britain (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia.
Every European country requires GMO seeds and products to be identified by a GMO label. Thus far, US consumers are denied full disclosure of which foods on their grocery shelves are genetically engineered. It is estimated that currently between 75% and 80% of US foods have been genetically modified. FDA confirms that 93% of soybean products and 88% of corn are genetically modified.
The rejection by Europeans is based on skepticism and greater understanding about the foreseeable risks. For example, the primary ingredient in the Monsanto’s popular pesticide Roundup, is glyphosate (an organophosphorous compound). The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared glyphosate a “probable human carcinogen.” Aaron Blair, National Cancer Institute scientist emeritus, who chaired the IARC, said the WHO based its decision on human, animal, and cell studies by independent researchers, not tainted by industry influence.
“The studies found glyphosate in farm workers’ blood and urine, chromosomal damage in cells, increased risks of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in some people exposed, and tumor formation in some animal studies. One study suggests that glyphosate may affect pathogens such as Salmonella in ways that can contribute to antibiotic resistance. Other recent research suggests it can interfere with hormones.”
The really big unanswered question is the potential health effect of low levels over extended periods of time. ” (“What Do We Really Know About Roundup Weed Killer?” by Elizabeth Grossman, National Geographic, 2015)
National Geographic reports that glyphosate made recent headlines for its widespread use on genetically modified seeds and research that links it to antibiotics resistance and hormone disruption. Several governments are planning to restrict its use, and some school districts are talking about banning it. Sri Lanka, alarmed by suspected links to human kidney disease, has banned it. Brazil is considering a similar move. Mexico and the Netherlands have imposed new restrictions, and Canada has just begun a process to consider new rules. The U.S. EPA is reviewing its approved uses of glyphosate and expects to release a preliminary assessment. (National Geographic, 2015; BMJ J Epidemiological Community Health, March 2016)
Hawaii is the anti- GMO epicenter of protest in the US
When the Kauai County enacted a law limiting the planting of biotech crops and the use of pesticides, three of the world’s largest agrochemical companies filed a lawsuit to block it. DuPont, Syngenta and Agrigenetics Inc, a company affiliated with the Dow AgroSciences unit of Dow Chemical Co, filed suit Friday in U.S. district court in Honolulu. The suit claims the action in Kauai is unconstitutional and seeks an injunction permanently barring enforcement of provisions of the law requiring large agricultural companies to disclose pesticide use and GMO crop plantings while establishing buffer zones around schools, homes and hospitals. The measure has broad support on the island and on the mainland United States from organizations and individuals who say heavy pesticide use by the agrochemical companies is poisoning people and the environment. (Reuters/ Scientific American, January, 2014)
However, the measure threatens the extraordinarily lucrative agrochemical business interests. To appreciate the stakes, Monsanto’s Roundcrop was introduced in the late 1970s; by 2016 there was a 100-fold increase in the frequency of its use and the volume of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) being applied. This was partly in response to the unprecedented global emergence and spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds. (A Consensus Statement of Concern, Environmental Health, 2016)
Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser, who co-introduced the bill, said the county was asking for basic disclosure and buffer zones and the big agrochemical companies were simply trying to bully islanders. “They chose to use their money and legal power to bully us in the courts. These companies do not want our county to set a precedent that other communities are going to follow.”
For centuries, farmers have saved seeds from season to season
They planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, then reclaimed and cleaned the seeds over the winter for re-planting the next spring. Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head . Monsanto uses surveillance agents and sues any farmer who replants the GMO seeds that he had bought from Monsanto, claiming patent infringement. For nearly all of its history the US Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented. But in 1980, the Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, laid the groundwork for just a few giant corporations to take control of the world’s food supply. Under Monsanto’s sale’s agreement, farmers must pay for new seeds every year.
In addition to extracting ever higher prices for its GMO seeds, Monsanto’s price gouging and mafia-like enforcement tactics have bankrupted small farmers, and driven some (in India) to suicide. Adding insult to injury, Monsanto uses its resources to intimidate farmers: when pollen from its genetically engineered (GE / GMO) seeds have been blown by the wind into an organic farmer’s field, Monsanto immediately files suit against the organic farmer claiming theft of intellectual property. (“Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear,” by Donald Barlett and James Steele, Vanity Fair, 2009)
Dr. Vandana Shiva has been called the Gandhi of grain, a “rock star in the worldwide battle against genetically modified seeds.” She is the founder of Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy (RFSTN, India) which campaigns for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights. She attributes the deepening agrarian and food crisis to changes in the seed supply system which has eroded seed diversity and seed sovereignty.
“The seed is the first link in the food chain – and seed sovereignty is the foundation of food sovereignty. If farmers do not have their own seeds or access to open pollinated varieties that they can save, improve and exchange, they have no seed sovereignty – and consequently no food sovereignty.”
“Across the world, new seed laws are being introduced which enforce compulsory registration of seeds, thus making it impossible for small farmers to grow their own diversity, and forcing them into dependency on giant seed corporations…India has lost its cotton seeds because of genetic contamination from Bt Cotton – a strain engineered to contain the pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis bacterium. Canada has lost its canola seed because of contamination from Roundup Ready canola. And Mexico has lost its corn due to contamination from Bt Cotton.”
“corporations are pushing governments to use public money to destroy the public seed supply and replace it with unreliable non-renewable, patented seed – which must be bought each and every year.” (“The seed emergency: The threat to food and democracy,” 2012)
She disparages the very idea of an intellectual-property ownership right for seeds as “a bad, pathetic attempt at seed dictatorship.” In a provocative article, titled Corporate Imperialism – the Only Reason for GMOs (2015) she wrote:
“Genetically Modified crops are based on farmers varieties. Their yield, resilience and taste have come from centuries of natural breeding by farmers. Plant varieties are constantly evolving, and farmers select the best varieties based on taste, resilience and yield. This continuum allows for better seeds, which give us better plants that provide even better seeds – a cycle that gives us better food.
The biotech industry pirates these varieties, adds a toxic gene or a herbicide tolerant gene, and claims ownership. Every year farmers have to buy the same seed from the biotech industry. Then they have to buy the ancillary chemicals that GM seeds need and they have to irrigate, raising input costs astronomically. As the ‘pests’ and ‘weeds’ evolve, the GMO seed doesn’t, eventually succumbing to evolved superpests and superweeds. The farmers are left with no crop to sell and debt from the exorbitantly priced chemical inputs and GMO seeds. GMOs are killing our farmers with this debt trap while MoBay’s cash registers overflow.”
Neonicotinoids are neurotoxic pesticides 5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic than DDT
In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DDT—largely due to the influence of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (1962). Scientists now warn that the currently used class of neurotoxic insecticides, called neonicotinoids (that are chemically similar to nicotine which is toxic for insects) are reportedly far more toxic than DDT.
Neonicotinoids (neonics) were introduced in the late 1990s and are the most widely used in the world. They are the primary active ingredient in insecticide seed treatment marketed by Bayer and Syngenta, as Imidacloprid. Its global share in the pesticide marketplace expanded to roughly 25% in 2008, which adds up to $2.5 billion.
“In the U.S., neonicotinoids are currently used on about 95 percent of corn and canola crops; the majority of cotton, sorghum, and sugar beets; and about half of all soybeans. They’re also used on the vast majority of fruit and vegetable crops, including apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes. Neonicotinoids are also applied to cereal grains, rice, nuts, and wine grapes.
Charles Benbrook, research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, has estimated that neonicotinoids are used on approximately 75 percent of the acres devoted to these crops in the U.S. They are also widely used on landscaping plants and urban trees and in numerous home garden pest-control products — all in places frequented by bees, domesticated and wild.” (Elizabeth Grossman, “Declining Bee Populations Pose a Threat to Global Agriculture,” Yale E360 Report, 2013)
The insidious problem with neonicotinoids is that they are genetically implanted directly into the seed where they are fully incorporated into the plant’s DNA tissue. They remain present in pollen and nectar exposing pollinators – e.g., bees and butterflies — to their poisonous effects.
Pollination Facts: The honeybee is regarded as the most important commercial pollinator globally, responsible for at least 90% of commercial pollination. Honeybees contribute over $14 billion to the value of U.S. crop production. Many of the country’s crops would not exist without the honey bee at bloom time. A reduction in the honeybee population reduces crop yields, posing a serious threat to the food supply.
“Today they’ve infected our soil, waterways, and have even been found in food or blood stream. They’re harming our pollinators as well as developing human brains.”
“Neonics are five to 10 thousand times more toxic than DDT and the environment, and everything in it, is being poisoned …” (Honey Colony, 2015)
New York beekeeper Jim Doan, a director of the American Beekeeping Federation says, “
There is no place to go hide, the outlook is not good.“
In 2009, the EPA finally began a slow process of re-assessing the risk of neonics. The preliminary findings were so alarming about the toxic effect on bees that in 2015, EPA proposed to prohibit the use of neonicotinoids.
In 2013, the EU prohibited its use; the ban is maintained in Germany and France. (“Pesticides: Germany Bans Chemicals Linked to Honeybee Devastaion,” The Guardian, 2008; Different regulatory Positions… Pesticide Action Network UK Factsheet, 2012; The Ecologist, 2015)
“…enough knowledge exists to conclude that existing levels of pollution with neonicotinoids and fipronil resulting from presently authorized uses frequently exceed the lowest observed adverse effect concentrations and are thus likely to have large-scale and wide ranging negative biological and ecological impacts on a wide range of non-target invertebrates in terrestrial, aquatic, marine and benthic habitats.” (Environmental Science & Pollution Research International, 2014)
In January 2016, EPA issued its long awaited Risk Assessments and conceded that neonicotinoids for insecticides that are potentially harmful to bees. (EPA’s Schedule for Review of Neonicotinoid pesticides)
2016 “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables with highest concentration of pesticides compiled by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.
In June 2016 The U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan House-Senate agreement to replace the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was signed into law by President Obama.
In July 2016, the US hastily enacted an ambiguously worded federal GMO labeling law
It was enacted primarily to preempt state laws — in particular Vermont’s law — which required food manufacturers and grocers selling prepared foods explicitly to label items that contained GMO ingredients by January 2017. The Vermont law would have imposed fines of as much as $1,000 a day for companies that violate the law. (The Wall Street Journal, July 2016)
The federal law has no such enforcement provisions. Industry supported the law as an expedient way to prevent the more stringent state laws from being implemented. The federal law entrusts the Secretary of Agriculture to determine if and when GMO foods require to be identified. This provision was criticized by the Food and Drug Administration This leaves much room for manufacturers and biotech companies to negotiate. (Reuters 2016)
Read Part II: The Suppression of Independent Science: Was a USDA scientist muzzled because of his bee research?