Monsanto Lies, Again (and Again and Again)
Earlier this week, Monsanto was found guilty by France’s highest court of false advertising, for claims that Roundup, its toxic weed killer, is biodegradable and leaves “the soil clean.” Environmental and consumer rights campaigners brought the French case in 2001, shortly after Monsanto announced its new ethics “Pledge.” The advocates noted that glyphosate, Roundup’s main ingredient, is classified in Europe as “dangerous for the environment” and “toxic for aquatic organisms.”
Monsanto has a long history of fraudulent statements about the safety of Roundup. In 1996, the New York Attorney General fined the company $50,000 for claims that Roundup was, you guessed it, biodegradable and good for the environment.
Glyphosate has been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and human embryonic cell death. Far from “biodegradable,” Monsanto’s own studies found residues of glyphosate on food crops up to five months after the chemical was sprayed, and the World Health Organization found “significant residues” of glyphosate after pre-harvest use of the chemical on wheat. This September, the advocacy group Beyond Pesticides and 32 other groups and individuals called on EPA to withdraw approval of glyphosate, citing the growing evidence of health and environmental risks from the pesticide.
The French and New York false advertising cases are far from unique for Monsanto. In 1999, the British Advertising Standards Authority found the company lied about safety testing and environmental benefits in ads about its genetically modified (GMO) crops. The company’s history of using fakery, dirty tricks, bogus public relations campaigns, and outright lies is too lengthy to fully outline here. But a few examples are worth noting:
- Two labs conducting glyphosate safety studies for Monsanto were cited for “routine falsification of data” and other offenses. One lab study claimed it used “specimens from the uteri of male rabbits….”
- An EPA scientist found Monsanto doctored studies and covered-up the dioxin contamination of a wide range of its products. She concluded that the company’s behavior constituted “a long pattern of fraud.”
- In response to the publication of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking indictment of the pesticide industry, Silent Spring, Monsanto and other chemical companies launched a major p.r. offensive. The industry sponsored public forums with purported “independent” experts speaking on the benefits of pesticides; the company’s propaganda tools included publication of a pamphlet called The Desolate Years, which posited a world of massive food shortages resulting from over regulation of pesticides (the company continues to repeat this lie to this day, in countless ads and public statements suggesting that food shortages will result unless the world unquestionably accepts its genetic food experiments).
- For decades, Monsanto dumped highly toxic PCBs in Anniston Alabama, then spent years covering up the dumping and the attendant health hazards to residents. As the Washington Post reported,
…for nearly 40 years, while producing the now-banned industrial coolants known as PCBs at a local factory, Monsanto Co. routinely discharged toxic waste into a west Anniston creek and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills. And thousands of pages of Monsanto documents — many emblazoned with warnings such as “CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy” — show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew.
Amazingly, following the article, Monsanto lied again: the company told the Post it held no responsibility for its past operations, claiming that the “new” Monsanto was not associated with prior operations of a subsidiary. Monsanto demanded a correction, and the Post did initially publish a “clarification.” But after activists who knew that Monsanto was indeed legally liable, the paper printed a correction of its clarification! When confronted about the lie, Monsanto officials lied again, stating they did not recall discussing the issue of liability with the Post.
- In 1999, the New York Times exposed that Monsanto hired public relations giant Burson Marsteller to pay fake protesters who posed as “pro-GMO” food demonstrators outside a Washington, DC FDA meeting. The Biotech Industry Organization, a Monsanto-supported trade group, similarly was charged with arranging for bringing African and Asian pro-GMO speakers to the 2002 Earth Summit and posing them as poor farmers. In 2003, EU environmentalists charged Monsanto with arranging another “fake parade” of purported African “farm experts” to a European Parliament meeting.
- A Monsanto-hired public relations firm, the Bivings Group, conducted an email campaign to pressure the science journal Nature to retract a paper showing that GMO corn had contaminated natural corn varieties in Mexico. The paper’s findings of contamination were later confirmed by at least two other studies.