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Sci Tech

Monsanto, a half-century of health scandals

By Soren Seelow, Le Monde  Posted by Siv O'Neall (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Monday, February 13, the rapporteur of the Supreme Court has dealt another blow to Monsanto's flagship product: he directed the Ministry of Agriculture to analyze the toxicity within six months and decide once again whether the marketing of the pesticide should be authorized.

>> News: In Argentina, people exposed to the herbicide complain of multiple health problems.

    Herbicide Lasso : off sale

The sentence that struck Monsanto's second herbicide on Monday 13 February is more significant. French judges have in effect held that the manufacturer of crop protection products must "fully" indemnify the plaintiff, Paul Francis. This farmer is now working only part-time, suffering from chronic fatigue and persistent headaches. Doctors consider his central nervous system was affected as a result of inhalation of Lasso.

Monsanto appealed. "Monsanto's products comply with safety requirements in place at the time of the placing on the market. [The company] has a very strict policy regarding the scientific assessment of safety of plant protection products", the company responded in a statement. Still considered dangerous, this herbicide has however been banned in Canada since 1985, in Belgium and the UK since 1992 and in France since 2007 (it was authorized on December 31, 1968).

    Growth Hormones: scandal on Fox News

In early 1990, Monsanto launched their first product derived from biotechnology: Posilac, the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), genetically engineered hormone designed to increase the production of milk in cows by nearly 20%. This hormone leads to mastitis, inflammation of the udder, which forces farmers to treat their cows with antibiotics, which one then finds traces of in the milk. This miracle product is now banned everywhere except in the United States. (emphasis added)

A Canadian documentary, The Corporation, talks about how Monsanto pressured Fox News (Murdoch) to prevent it from disseminating a survey revealing the dangers of Posilac in 1997. This excerpt illustrates the particularly aggressive lobbying this company has been paying for: not only was the investigation never released, but its authors were dismissed by Fox News.
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     GMO: Law suits galore

Between 1995 and 1997, GM soybean Roundup Ready, Roundup Ready canola (rapeseed) and Roundup Ready cotton, all three resistant to the herbicide Roundup, received marketing authorization. Since its patent on glyphosate has expired today (marketed as Roundup), the company has decided to change its strategy and undertake the patenting of life forms. It currently produces 90% of GMOs in the world.

This is a virtual monopoly that the firm defends dearly. During the 2000s, Monsanto will accuse hundreds of farmers in courts of having used "fraudulently" its patented transgenic seeds, that is to say that they are accused of having replanted them.

Monsanto claims the rights to intellectual property on some seeds. This did not prevent it from itself being prosecuted for acts of "biopiracy". In August 2011, the National Biodiversity Authority of India announced that it had filed suit against the company, accusing it of having developed a genetically modified eggplant (BT-brinjal)  from local varieties without having sought the authorization.
 
Another conviction, in the United States this time. Monsanto agreed in 2010 to pay a $ 2.5 million fine for having sold unauthorized GMO cotton. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused the company of having violated the law which prohibits the sale of genetically modified cotton in parts of Texas, where these varieties had been banned for fear of pesticide resistance.

   Aspartame: towards a new health scandal?
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Monsanto states clearly on its website: after having been a leading producer in the 1980 and 1990, the company has no longer been producing aspartame since 2000. The company still insists, however, on the fact that this most widely used sweetener "causes no disease."

However, recent studies have demonstrated an increased risk of premature births in women who use this product. The European Food Safety Authority was even invited in May by the European Commission to plan a complete reassessment of the safety of aspartame in 2012.

In the columns of Le Monde , Yann Fichet, director of corporate affairs of the French subsidiary of the company, is concerned that Monsanto has become "an attractive name for those who want to get a large audience." The company is trying to erase its battered reputation by stressing on its site the principles of its ethical codes: "Integrity", "Dialogue", "Transparency", "Sharing", "Utility" and "Respect" . Contacted by Le Monde .fr, Monsanto had not responded at the time this article was published.

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