The many crimes of the rapacious global corporation Monsanto were exposed at a public forum in Sydney November 23, organised by Agent Orange Justice – Australia Vietnam Solidarity Network.
AOJ’s Rosanna Barbero presented a very educational talk interspersed with excerpts from videos that thoroughly demonstrated that this capitalist company puts its profits way ahead of the health of individuals and even the health and safety of humanity as a whole. It prompted a very useful and inclusive discussion.
Genetically modified food
Monsanto’s corporate crimes have so far gone unpunished, and its profits have soared, while it continues to destroy our food supply, our health and the planet. Monsanto is well known as the promoter of genetically modified food, which locks farmers into a dead-end dependence on the company, and the world into a dangerous course of patented and hazardous food crops that ultimately threaten the safety of the world’s food production.
The company is also the major financial beneficiary of Agent Orange, the herbicide used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam for a decade from 1961 to 1971 and destroy the health of millions of Vietnamese and their offspring. Monsanto knew well beforehand, certainly by 1949, after an accident in its plant in Nitro, Virginia, that dioxin, the deadly by-product of Agent Orange production, had terrible health effects, including creating genetic malformations. But it suppressed the knowledge of these results and continued production.
The US military were also well aware of the toxic effects of Agent Orange: “[We] were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. We were even aware that the ‘military’ formulation had a higher dioxin concentration than the ‘civilian’ version, due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the ‘enemy’, none of us were overly concerned”, wrote James Clary, a US Air Force scientist in Vietnam.
Monsanto’s profits have been enormous, rising to $6 billion in 2010-11. Aware of the dangerous game it plays with the health of people and the world, and the likelihood of political and legal challenges by its victims, it has set aside a fund of $256 million to fight court battles. Few individuals will be able to match it. It owns many of the capitalist politicians. Indeed, the George Bush administration became known as “the Monsanto administration”. The United Nations had initially taken a position against genetically modified food, but after Monsanto pressure and lobbying, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation eventually came out with the Monsanto line.
Monsanto also spends a chunk of its fabulous profits on PR. It has set up a foundation, with the stated goal of “contributing to food security”, and claims it is “a human rights organisation”.
Monsanto is now the world’s top seed company, controlling a scary 23% of the world’s seeds. (Monsanto plus the next four global seed companies control 85%!) Its genetically modified seed has to be bought each season from Monsanto, and is dependent on using Monsanto’s “GMO ready” Roundup weed killer. It profits both ways. Once in, there’s no escape for the farmers. Monsanto has a special legal department of enforcers, to make sure no one reproduces seeds the natural way, but has to continue getting the patented seed from Monsanto.
As an indicator of how it operates, after the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, Monsanto donated food and seed. The GMO seed spread. People in Haiti have opposed this, with no success so far. Monsanto threatens to dominate Haitian agriculture.
In Malawi, through the World Bank and USAID, Monsanto donated seed, fertiliser and pesticide. Now Malawi is almost totally dependent on Monsanto, giving it a base from which to subvert African agriculture.
Rosanna Barbero explained how Monsanto works with aid agencies, for example World Vision, under the banner of providing livelihood support and “food security”, but actually enforcing dependence. Unfortunately, Monsanto has also targeted Vietnam, the major victim of its Agent Orange production. In 2000 it set up a plant in Vietnam. There has been opposition; farmers opposed the introduction of genetically modified seed, but their voices were not heard. Many Vietnamese are still insisting, however, that they can’t forget the past, the war and Monsanto’s terrible legacy through Agent Orange production.
We can’t ignore Monsanto’s role in the manufacture of Agent Orange and its refusal to accept responsibility for its crimes, and the threat it poses to agriculture on the planet.
Agent Orange Justice
Since its launch six months ago, Agent Orange Justice has had modest but encouraging success. It’s held forums and campaigned at political events. It’s set up a very informative website and a Facebook page Facebook page. Four AOJ members participated in the second international conference organised by the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin in Hanoi in August. AOJ member Senator Lee Rhiannon presented a speech to parliament on the issue on November 8 <http://lee-rhiannon.greensmps.org.au/content/parliament/speech/speech-agent-orange>. Trade unions and other organisations have affiliated.
AOJ has ambitious plans to develop the campaign in 2012. Further outreach forums will be held, including speaking at events and meetings of other organisations. In June a major four-day event is being organised, an art exhibition focussing on the issue of Agent Orange. Paintings and cartoons from prominent artists have already been promised. During the exhibition there will be seminars, film showings and photographic and poster displays. Contact AOJ to build or contribute to our events, or to join or affiliate <firstname.lastname@example.org>.