The Political Plate

A little over a week ago, I emailed bostonboomer that I wanted to do a post about Monsanto.  She was kind enough to share older posts done by Sima about Monsanto.  After reading Sima’s posts I have to admit that I was intimidated by her detailed, informative and brilliant commentaries.  Her knowledge of Monsanto’s business and political dealings, stemming from her experience as an organic farmer, is incredible.  I highly recommend going back and reading or re-reading them.  I’m going to try to bring you up to date on what has been happening since her last post.  I just hope that I can do both Sima and the subject justice.

Once I became involved in the animal rights movement in 1990, a formerly unseen world opened up to me.  It was akin to looking behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.  Learning about how the animals we call food are raised, what they are fed and the chemicals that are put into their bodies, was disturbing to say the least.  Since that time, the major media outlets, along with independent filmmakers, have covered issues such as factory farming, the overuse of antibiotics and the rise of antibiotic resistance,  along with other issues that affect the food supply.  A good place to get started is with the film Food Inc. and its website.

Monsanto popped up on my radar around 1993 with the introduction of rBGH, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone.  Although there was an overabundance of milk on the market, this chemical was being introduced to increase the supply of milk available for consumption.  Why?  One of the reasons was to drop the price of milk.  That would be good for the consumer, right?  Well, corporations are not in the business of making their products more affordable for their customers, as we all know.  The ploy was to drive prices low enough so that family dairy farmers could not afford to stay in business, leaving the business to Monsanto’s real customers, giant dairies who would use their product(s).  With family dairy farms bankrupt, Monsanto could better control the market and prices.  From a study by the Economic Research Service/USDA.

Between 1970 and 2006, the number of farms with dairy cows fell steadily and sharply, from 648,000 operations in 1970 to 75,000 in 2006, or 88 percent (fig. 1). Total dairy cows fell from 12 million in 1970 to 9.1 million in 2006, so the average herd size rose from just 19 cows per farm in 1970 to 120 cows in 2006.1 Moreover, because milk production per cow doubled between 1970 and 2006 (from 9,751 to 19,951 pounds per year), total milk production rose, and average milk production per farm increased twelvefold.

Monsanto has since sold its posilac (rGBH) business to the Big Pharma company, Eli Lilly.  If you still believe that advertising slogan, “Milk, it does a body good”, you might want to read this.

Let me start off with yesterday’s article by Jim Hightower,  although it’s mostly about Dow Chemical, Monsanto gets some space as well.  And there are some great comments.  For more on 2, 4-D check out these links: , and,4-DTech.pdf

Monsanto is a multi-tentacled corporation attached to all aspects of our lives.  At their facilities in Dayton, OH during WWII they were involved with the development of the first nuclear bomb.  One of their early successful inventions was Astroturf.  They have manufactured Agent Orange (the defoliant/herbicide used during the Viet Nam war), and PCBs (banned in the U.S. in 1979 but still found in the environment since PCBs don’t break down easily).  For more information, you can download the free E-book, A Small Dose of Toxicology.  In recent years, Monsanto has focused on the world food supply, whether it’s chemicals to kill weeds, like Roundup, or creating genetically modified (GM) seeds for which they hold patents.   Natural News began a July, 2010 post with this unsettling paragraph:

At a biotech industry conference in January 1999, a representative from Arthur Anderson, LLP explained how they had helped Monsanto design their strategic plan. First, his team asked Monsanto executives what their ideal future looked like in 15 to 20 years. The executives described a world with 100 percent of all commercial seeds genetically modified and patented. Anderson consultants then worked backwards from that goal, and developed the strategy and tactics to achieve it. They presented Monsanto with the steps and procedures needed to obtain a place of industry dominance in a world in which natural seeds were virtually extinct.

Some of the crops grown with Monsanto’s GM seeds include corn, soy, sugar beets, alfalfa and cotton.  Monsanto also produces and sells Stevia and Aspartame.  To preserve their ownership of these patented seeds, farmers using them cannot save seeds produced from the crops they grow.  The farmers must buy new seeds each year for their annual crops.  Monsanto has sued farmers suspected of harvesting seeds along with their crops.

One of the most recent areas Monsanto wants to exploit are public lands.  In November, several groups filed a lawsuit to prevent the planting of GM crops on refuges.

The Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its director, in Federal Court.

Fish and Wildlife signed agreements allowing farmers to plant crops, including genetically modified soybeans and corn, on refuges and wetlands in eight Midwestern states, according to the complaint.

And planting on public lands isn’t just limited to U.S. lands.  World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the most respected conservation groups worldwide has ties to many multinational corporations, including Monsanto.  They are helping to promote GM crops in other countries.

On the federal tax front, Monsanto paid an average of 22% in taxes for years 2008 – 2010.  This report lists the 2008 – 2010 period detailing the profits, taxes and rates for 280 of U.S. corporations.

ALEC Exposed has a page dedicated to Monsanto, detailing much of their history and activities.  As with most multinational corporations, Monsanto is heavily invested in lobbying.  Interestingly, the years they spent the least money on lobbying were during the reign of King George II, otherwise known as GW Bush. Monsanto’s highest expenditures were in 1999, 2000 and 2008 – 2011.  Open Secrets has an overview of Monsanto’s lobbying expenditures, the lobbyists, the issues in which their lobbying efforts were focused along with the agencies and the associated bills before Congress.  Open Secrets is quite an informative site, also covering PAC contributions and campaign contributions to specific elected officials.

In our current political climate, campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures aren’t a surprise.  After all, it is how the system is fueled.  Open Secrets has a recent blog post detailing Monsanto’s activities so far this year.  The Monsanto/government connections go even deeper though.  During Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing, he worked as a counsel for Monsanto.  When a recent case involving Monsanto came before the Supreme Court, not surprisingly, Thomas did not recuse himself.   The Organic Consumers’ Union’s site, Millions Against Monsanto, has a list of both elected officials and agency appointments of former Monsanto employees from Bush Sr. to Obama.  Sadly, Bill Clinton appointed more than any other president listed.  Unfortunately, they don’t list U.S.  diplomats who also once worked for Monsanto.  What a wonderful way to help promote the products of their former employer in countries all around the world.

Wikileaks posted documents showing connections between Monsanto and U.S. Ambassadors.  Several EU countries have rejected the use of Monsanto’s GM seeds.  Fearing loss of export income, the possibility of pressuring or even retaliating against these countries were discussed in the diplomatic cables Wikileaks obtained.  You can read Sima’s post here:

Monsanto’s reach extends around the world.  GM cotton was promoted as a boon to small farmers, but the reality is different.   This story details the results in one village and the collaboration between Monsanto and The Times of India.  Stories from Africa aren’t any better.  The Gates Foundation is investing millions to promote and encourage the use of GM crops.  I find it disturbing with a number of NGOs, researchers and politicians who are working hand in hand with Monsanto and other GM companies seemingly without concerns for the possibilities of the damage to the world food supply, public health and the environment.  Alternet has posted a story about Kenya and the support from The Gates Foundation for Monsanto’s GM crops.  For another opinion on The Gates Foundation/Monsanto/Africa issue, check out this Opinion piece in the Seattle Times  written by Glenn Ashton.

The one beacon of hope has been some EU countries.  The people have loudly spoken out against GM foods.  However, the picture may not be as rosy as it has been portrayed.  Gaia Health digs deeper into the announcement in February, 2012 that both Monsanto and BASF are pulling out of Europe.

Let’s not forget about the stock market either.  Monsanto has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Marina, a bio-tech company.  I especially liked (not really!) this from the post:

Time and again, the company’s collaborations with agri-business research firms and molecular-bred hybrid technologies have proved effective. Although instances of societal resistance to new technology and poor acceptance of new products by farmers continue to raise anxiety, continuous increase in production led by technology upgradation helps balance such unease.

The personal is the political, and what is more personal than the food you eat and the food that you feed your families?  If you are interested in digging deeper, here is the documentary The World According to Monsanto

You can also get more information about the many issues and areas of concern about food at the Center for Food Safety site.  I hope I didn’t give you too much to “chew” on.

Monday Night Feel Good News

Good Evening!! It’s a long weekend here in Massachusetts. Today is Patriots Day, which commemorates the beginning of the American Revolution on April 19, 1776. It’s also the day of the Boston Marathon, which I guess didn’t go so well since it was almost 90 degrees here. Anyway, in honor of the holiday, I thought I’d post some feel good news for a change.

I read a wonderfully touching story at BBC News yesterday that I just had to share. It’s about a little boy who got lost 26 years ago and how as an adult he was able to locate his mom using Google Earth.

Saroo was only five years old when he got lost. He was travelling with his older brother, working as a sweeper on India’s trains. “It was late at night. We got off the train, and I was so tired that I just took a seat at a train station, and I ended up falling asleep.”

That fateful nap would determine the rest of his life. “I thought my brother would come back and wake me up but when I awoke he was nowhere to be seen. I saw a train in front of me and thought he must be on that train. So I decided to get on it and hoped that I would meet my brother.”

Saroo did not meet his brother on the train. Instead, he fell asleep and had a shock when he woke up 14 hours later. Though he did not realise it at first, he had arrived in Calcutta, India’s third biggest city and notorious for its slums.

I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for a little five-year-old boy! But somehow Saroo found the courage and strength to survive on the street. He learned how to beg in order to survive–and how to keep himself safe. Eventually Saroo ended up in an orphanage and then was adopted by a couple from Australia.

It sounds like he was happy with his adoptive parents, but as he grew older Saroo had a strong urge to find his original family. He didn’t even know the name of the town where he was born so using his early childhood memories he searched Google Earth for familiar landmarks.

“I multiplied the time I was on the train, about 14 hours, with the speed of Indian trains and I came up with a rough distance, about 1,200km.”

He drew a circle on a map with its centre in Calcutta, with its radius about the distance he thought he had travelled. Incredibly, he soon discovered what he was looking for: Khandwa. “When I found it, I zoomed down and bang, it just came up. I navigated it all the way from the waterfall where I used to play.”

When he got to Khandwa, Saroo was able to use his memories to find his way to his childhood home; but when he got there he found the house abandoned. Fortunately neighbors remembered his family and were able to tell him where his mother lived and they were reunited.

The heartbreaking part of the story is that Saroo’s brother had been killed on that night in 1986, which explains why the five-year-old Saroo was left in the train station alone.

“A month after I had disappeared my brother was found in two pieces on a railway track.” His mother had never known whether foul play was involved or whether the boy had simply slipped and fallen under a train.

“We were extremely close and when I walked out of India the tearing thing for me was knowing that my older brother had passed away.”

Life is so strange sometimes.

Have you heard about the 750-pound cow that escaped from a slaughterhouse in Paterson, New Jersey and tore up the town?

The wild scene began shortly after 8 p.m. after the black-and-white cow apparently slipped away unnoticed from a slaughterhouse on River Street, [animal control officer John] De Cando said….

The cow ran up and down Presidential Boulevard, spent some time at a basketball court, then continued on River Street, crossing the Arch Street Bridge and wading into the Passaic River.

“It was like Dodge City,” De Cando said. “You had five police cars on one side of the street, five on the other and the 750-pound cow looking both ways. When the opportunity came, it booked between the police cars.”

De Cando finally got close enough to tranquilize the cow twice. The cow, which was trapped between a fire hydrant and a truck, began snoring as a crowd gathered.

I’m cheering for that cow. De Cando said the Slaughterhouse owner said he would take the cow to a farm instead of killing her; but an animal rights activist named Mike Stura decided to take matters into his own hands.

The brave cow who managed to escape from the perils of a Paterson, New Jersey slaughterhouse has found sanctuary and received a heartwarming bovine fairytale thanks to an upstate New York man.

Animal rights advocate Mike Stura rescued the 750-pound cow and guided it to a Woodstock, New York animal sanctuary where as Stura put, “He’ll never end up on someone’s plate, that’s for sure.”

That’s great, Mike, but I’m pretty sure the courageous cow is a “she,” not a “he.”

I’ve got one more heartwarming animal story. At least I found it heartwarming. On Friday, a Magellanic penguin at the St. Louis Zoo demonstrated its good taste by biting Newt Gingrich.

At least one penguin at the St. Louis Zoo appears to be a feisty opponent of Newt Gingrich.

The Republican presidential candidate is sporting a small bandage on his finger after getting nipped by a small penguin during his tour of the zoo on Friday. Gingrich was in St. Louis to speak during the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting.

Maybe that penguin is a supporter of gun control.

Finally, I love the story about the bit of sci-fi speculation by Robert Breslaw, “a very distinguished chemist at Columbia, a National Medal of Science winner, and former president of the American Chemical Society” (ACS).

Last week, the ACS sent out a press release that headlined: “Could ‘advanced’ dinosaurs rule other planets?” Whoever wrote the press release had pulled the headline from a humorous note from the end of Breslaw’s very serious scientific paper:

After suggesting that early meteorites may have seeded a pre-life earth with chiral amino acids, Dr. Robert Breslow ends this paper with this flight of fancy:

the universe or 
amino acids 
have landed
 on Earth. 

have the good

off not 

All the science blogs are in an uproar about this, but I thought it was funny–and a great idea for a horror movie. Hey all you chemists out there–get a sense of humor, will you?

Have you heard any feel good news lately?