Monsanto the giant chemical company responsible for the invention of saccharin and Agent Orange, among other products has been in the news lately for its fight against milk labels. Monsanto doesn't like cartons of milk to be stamped with labels boasting that the milk came from cows not treated with rBGH, the artificial growth hormone produced by Monsanto under the name Posilac that encourages cows to produce more milk. That would imply its milk is less safe.
According to an article in Vanity Fair magazine, while rBGH increases milk production, it also has possible side effects for the cows such as lameness, disorders of the uterus, increased body temperature, digestive problems, and birthing difficulties. In addition, cows are at increased risk for mastitis, an udder infection.
The article, titled "Monsanto's Harvest of Fear," details the company's other battles, which are no less scary than the milk label controversy. Farmers across the country get visits from Monsanto agents and are threatened with lawsuits if they are suspected of violating the company's patents on its genetically modified seeds.
Monsanto created seeds that were resistant to its own herbicide, and then patented the seeds, according to the article, even though the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had historically refused to patent seeds, seeing as they were "lifeforms with too many variables." Farmers must buy new seeds every year, instead of saving seeds from the last crop.
One store owner in Missouri got a visit from one of the company's investigators, who threatened him with having illegally planted Monsanto soybean seeds. Only he had never planted or sold any seeds at all. No matter. The investigator left him with something along the lines of: Monsanto is big. You cant win. We will get you. You will pay.
When the company finally concluded they had the wrong guy, there was no apology issued.
Other company milestones include a chemical plant explosion in Nitro, West Virginia, and serious environmental pollution in Alabama from a Monsanto PCB plant. (The PCBs were produced as industrial coolants and are now listed as probably carcinogens by the EPA.) The community in Anniston, Alabama, breathed air and drank from wells contaminated with PCBs for years.But back to the milk. I think one of the simplest and most striking examples of Monsanto's influence is that there were no long-term studies on the effects of drinking milk from cows treated with rBGH before the growth hormone was approved, and there haven't been any since the FDA approved it in 1993. The article says William von Meyer, a Wisconsin geneticist, "observed that when rBGH was approved the longest study on which the F.D.A.s approval was based covered only a 90-day laboratory test with small animals." Von Meyer is quoted, But people drink milk for a lifetime." Right.
This French documentary The World According to Monsanto examines Monsanto's efforts to promote its genetically modified crops as sustainable and as the answer to worldwide hunger.
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