Over the past few years, Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, has been vilified in the media. From environmental protests and accusatory documentaries, to “franken-food” memes, the corporation has had the world in an uproar with their notorious cutting-edge creations.
To understand how Monsanto got to this point, it is important to realize the evolution of the company since its creation. Founded in 1901, Monsanto began as a chemical company before becoming an agricultural giant. Historically, Monsanto’s most famous products have also been their most hotly debated, including DDT, PCBs, and the dairy cow hormone, rBGH.
Initially, a producer of saccharin, the artificial sweetener, Monsanto soon realized it could dominate the market by adding caffeine and vanillin to its product line. Soft drink giant, Coca-Cola became the company’s chief customer, and in 1915 Monsanto made over $1 million in sales with its manufactured food substitutes. By the World War II, Monsanto continued revolutionizing the chemicals arena and had grown to become the world’s leading manufacturer in both rubber and plastics. The company’s Central Research Department was responsible for groundbreaking new chemical exploration, including its work with polonium in conjunction with the Manhattan Project, which lead to the creation of the atomic bomb.
Over the following decades, Monsanto continued side work as a government contractor. It was one of a handful of companies that produced Agent Orange, and its toxin compound, dioxin. The product was a highly toxic weaponized herbicide used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to clear jungle vegetation and destroy food supplies. By the 1970s Agent Orange became banned in the United States, but Monsanto continued to experiment with the production of new and “better” herbicides. Roundup Weed and Grass Killer was soon introduced into the U.S. market, featuring Monsanto’s latest synthetic compound, glyphosate. The new product was developed and advertised to kill virtually any plant it comes in contact with, making it an instant hit with the agricultural industry and in turn, making Monsanto into the world’s largest producer of herbicides.
Soon after, Monsanto shed its chemicals and plastics divisions, invested in biogenetics research, and ultimately rebranded itself as an agricultural company. Dominating the market, the corporate giant went on to create and introduce a wide variety of new GMO products, like its line of Roundup Ready seeds, which were genetically engineered to be resistant to the company’s best seller, Roundup. That meant that farmers could freely spray Roundup even after crops began to grow, killing only the weeds and not their “Roundup ready” glyphosate-resistant harvest. The use of Roundup Weed and Grass Killer, and the GMO seeds soared around the world. The rise of this powerful herbicide has undoubtedly reshaped agriculture as we know it, but at what cost?
Today, millions of agricultural workers, landscapers, and gardeners around the world use Roundup. It is sold in local stores in more than 160 countries worldwide and is one of the most popular herbicides on market. A U.S. geological survey on glyphosate usage (the main ingredient in Roundup) estimates that well over 2.6 billion pounds of the herbicide has been used on land over the last two decades. Although the weed killer has revolutionized large and small-scale farming practices, Monsanto is currently facing questions in the European Union and litigation in the United States from farmers, members of their families, and others who claim that Roundup, and in particular, the main ingredient, glyphosate, is a dangerous carcinogen causing many medical concerns including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Due to limited U.S. regulation and research on glyphosate, a full spectrum of data on the link to cancer is limited. Attorneys involved in the litigation against the corporate giant on behalf of families across the county have found evidence that Monsanto had known of the connection between the use of Roundup and the cancer link for years. They allege, that not only did the Monsanto fail to warn its users, but also used false data in an attempt to discredit reports suggesting the cancer link. Attorneys allege the company even went as far as producing additional falsified reports suggesting the product’s safety.
In March of 2017, a federal judge unsealed documents that exposed communication concerning Roundup. Internal emails revealed Monsanto developed fake research and data to be published by fake “experts” to say Roundup and glyphosate was safe. According to Reuters, the plaintiffs who have brought product liability claims against Monsanto allege that the company’s internal managers wrote unqualified parts of reports published on the safety of its product including the “Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulatory agencies used these reports when they determined whether glyphosate was safe, according to Reuters. Additionally, the court documents showed that a senior official at the EPA may have worked with Monsanto to hide investigations of glyphosate after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared in 2015 that the chemical is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
With the use of Roundup at all-time highs around the world, many are calling for more testing and studies to clarify the long-term health and environmental effects of glyphosate. The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health researchers agree and argue that Roundup’s chemical ingredient, glyphosate, should be subject to further safety review to determine its cancer link. The recommendations include better testing of glyphosate levels in the human body and improved tracking of exposure for people especially in professions like landscaping and agriculture. “The current safety standards are outdated,” they write, “and may fail to protect public health and the environment.”Many questions still remain.
While studies as to the possible dangers of Roundup continue, the product is now considered to be the most heavily-used agricultural chemical of all time! With so much saturation on the agricultural landscape, studies show glyphosate is now found in our food, water, soil, as well as in our bodies.
Studies show 90% of U.S. corn, soy, sugar, canola, and cottonseed are being genetically modified and sprayed with Roundup. Laboratory testing commissioned by multiple organizations including Moms Across America and Sustainable Pulse revealed that glyphosate is now showing up virtually everywhere in the environment and no one knows the full extent of what that could mean in regards to our health.
Glyphosate was detected in more than 75% of air and rain samples collected during the 2007 growing season in the Mississippi Delta agricultural region. According to the Detox Project, staggeringly high glyphosate levels were found in the breast milk of mothers studied. Glyphosate was also found in blood samples on non-pregnant women in Canada as well as in urine samples across the globe. The samples from U.S. women had maximum glyphosate levels and were more than eight times higher than levels found in urine samples of Europeans.
The analysis suggests that eating conventional genetically modified (GMO) foods(the prime candidates for Roundup spraying) is associated with these higher glyphosate levels in the body. The Detox Project went on to explain, “Glyphosate levels have been found to be significantly higher in urine of humans who ate non-organic food, compared with those who ate mostly organic food.”
Although there have not been any iron clad studies that prove a direct correlation between glyphosate and any specific medical conditions such as cancer, data continues to be reviewed and studied. As more users continue to come forward with cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Monsanto continues to insist that Roundup and glyphosate are safe.
Currently, there are more than 800 plaintiffs involved in the class action lawsuit against Monsanto specifically alleging the product caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
With conflicting reports, the World Health Organization’s current stance says the product is “probably carcinogenic” while the EPA asserts it is “not likely carcinogenic.” There are still no definitive answers.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a common cancer that starts in the lymphatic system. About 72,000 people are expected to be diagnosed this year, according to the American Cancer Society. An estimated 20,000 people will die from it in 2018.
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