Back in the limelight for its nefarious practices, Monsanto made the news twice recently for the negative environmental health impacts of its products. The company is perhaps most famous as one of the first to create a GMO-based herbicide system for corn and soy employing its “RoundUp Ready” technology. (Plants are genetically altered to resist the effects of the herbicide “RoundUp” so weeds can be sprayed without affecting yields.) This plan works out great for Monsanto -- selling two products inextricably linked to one another—but perhaps not so much for human health.
Research experts recently convened on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO) to assess the carcinogenicity (ability to cause cancer) of leading organophosphate chemicals, a group to which the active ingredient in RoundUp, glyphosate, belongs. Published in this month’s The Lancet, the panel put glyphosate in the category “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Tom Philpott of Mother Jones gives a synopsis of the finding:
The authors cited three studies that suggest occupational glyphosate exposure (e.g., for farm workers) causes 'increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides." They also point to both animal and human studies suggesting that the chemical, both in isolation and in the mix used in the fields by farmers, "induced DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, and in human and animal cells in vitro"; and another one finding "increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage" in residents of several farm communities after spraying of glyphosate formulations."
Monsanto, not surprisingly, is demanding that WHO retract the report, according to Carey Gillam of Reuters. "The WHO has something to explain," Gillam quotes a Monsanto executive. We’re sure that the WHO would refrain from snarkily pointing this executive to the bibliography that is at the bottom of the report, but we are not sure that we ourselves could resist. There are, perhaps, some merits to Monsanto’s argument on this issue which are judiciously explained by Alice Walton of Forbes.
Adding to the mountain of bad press on the Agri-Giant, the city of San Diego and its Unified Port District (SDUPD) recently sued Monsanto for the chemicals it contributed to polluting the San Diego Bay. Dorian Hargrove of the San Diego Reader explains that city was recently fined almost $1 million for allowing hazardous chemical dumping in the bay. It has allocated $6.45 million to the clean up. A portion of the chemicals polluting the bay are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which are manufactured by Monsanto. The complaint of the city and the SDUPD shows that Monsanto hid the risks of PCBs from the public despite knowing that it was extremely toxic.
Natasha Geiling of Think Progress explains that though Monsanto got of the the PCB business just prior to the EPA ban of PCBs in 1979, it was the sole producer of these chemicals for over 40 years. According to the lawsuit, Monsanto knew of the dangers almost ten years prior to stopping their manufacturing. Geiling gives an excellent historical review of similar pollution lawsuits. Quoting Dr. Noah Sachs, professor of law at the University of Richmond, Geiling speculates on the outcome of the suit:
Both San Diego and Monsanto are in for a long fight, but if the city wins, the implications could be massive. 'It would be a blockbuster verdict,' Sachs said, 'the kind that could result in tens of billions of dollars of damages for Monsanto.'”
Unfortunately, in the eyes of the law, pollution lawsuits are tricky, and we can expect Monsanto to be counting on that. Geiling also points out that even if the suit is won, PCBs are still ubiquitous in other parts of the world. Regardless, it is good to see someone holding a corporation accountable for putting profits over human and environmental health!
Image via Flickr
Study: Monsanto's Roundup Herbicide Probably Causes Cancer via Mother Jones
Monsanto: Pay for damaging San Diego via San Diego Reader
Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson