Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Follow the money, Part 2

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott wanted to demonstrate that university researchers are not "in the pocket of Big Ag." And to that end, therefore, she was pleased to post a brief paragraph about an article in the Seattle Times about an Organic farming study at - gasp! - a research university.

I have attempted to develop the case that even without direct manipulation of results; even while leaving research scientists to come to their own, independent conclusions, "Thems that's got the money makes the rules." And in the world of agriculture, those who have the money are companies like Monsanto. And they are able to fund research projects that they view as favorable to their cause, and they are able to defund projects that they view as unfavorable. Meanwhile, "Little Ag" as we might call most of the biodynamic/pro-organic/anti-GMO crowd, lacks the funds and, more importantly, any similar financial incentives to sponsor similarly complex and large-scale research that may prove favorable to its cause.

In this post, however, I want to push one step further along the lines of how, it appears, companies like Monsanto really are controlling a lot of the research that impacts their bottom lines and our (consumers') health . . . for good or ill.

Let me begin with a broad-based documentary book: The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin, an award-winning French journalist and filmmaker.

It is filled with testimonies of people here in the United States and around the world whose lives, they claim, have been upended due to the products and practices of Monsanto.

When I say "upended," I am referring to businesses destroyed, livelihoods wiped out, interminable and extortionate lawsuits pursued against those who, I imagine most of my readers would agree, should have never been sued in the first place. It includes detailed stories of children and adults whose lives have been threatened--indeed, whose bodies have been injured--by the promotion of soy as a primary food (at the expense of a much more diverse diet) . . . and by the use of Monsanto's prize herbicide, Roundup®.

Robin develops these stories in detail.

For example, she describes the situation in Argentina where, apparently, soy is consumed at far higher rates than it is here in the United States. She quotes an Argentine doctor who says,
Several colleagues in the region and I have observed a very significant increase in reproductive anomalies such as miscarriages and premature fetal death; malfunctions of the thyroid, the respiratory system--such as pulmonary edemas--the kidneys, and the endocrine system; liver and skin diseases; and severe eye problems. . . . We have observed in the region a significant number of cases of cryptorchism and hypospadias in boys, and hormonal malfunctions in girls, some of whom have their periods as young as three.
Robin explains what cryptorchism and hypospadias are: "Cryptorchism is a birth defect characterized by undescended testicles; hypospadias is a malformation of the urethra [in which] it does not reach the tip of the penis." (The World According to Monsanto, p. 266)

After reading this and other similar stories, I expect you will take Dr. Mercola's warnings about eating soy even more seriously.

Back to Robin.

She quotes a French researcher who found that Roundup®, even at concentrations significantly less than those used in farming (the scientist referenced a concentration of 0.05%, whereas concentrations used in farming are normally 1 to 2%) . . . --Even at concentrations significantly less than those used in farming, Roundup® kills human embryonic cells. "And," the scientist continued,
When you use an even weaker concentration--by diluting the product bought in a store 10,000 or even 100,000 times--you find it no longer kills cells but blocks the production of sex hormones, which is also very serious, because of those hormones enable the fetus to develop its bones and form its future reproductive system. It can therefore be concluded that Roundup is also an endocrine disruptor.
You would think, with such powerful testimonies against it, Monsanto might have difficulty promoting its wares. It does not. In fact, if anything, it seems to enjoy the aid of governments around the world. Robin provides enough details, in general, to explain that oddity. I need to let you get a-hold of your own copy and read it.

But the following item may help explain the phenomenon.
  • Many--some would say most--of the primary American government oversight agencies that are supposed to be ensuring Monsanto "plays fair" are, themselves, overseen by . . . former and/or future Monsanto employees! Possible conflicts of interest?
    • Perhaps most shocking, for me, was to see that Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court judge who wrote the opinion that granted Monsanto and other such companies full patent rights over genetically modified seeds. --Not that Thomas' role in the case was more egregious than many other connections between Monsanto and the government; it was "just" that I had no idea that a person of Thomas' stature would have permitted himself to play a role like that in which potential conflicts-of-interest would be so visible.

      Then again,
    • Michael R. Taylor was an assistant to the Food and Drug Administration commissioner before he left to work for a law firm that was seeking to gain FDA approval of Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone. Taylor then became deputy commissioner of the FDA from 1991 to 1994. Taylor was later re-appointed to the FDA in August 2009 by President Obama.
    • Dr. Michael A. Friedman was a deputy commissioner of the FDA before he was hired as a senior vice president of Monsanto.
    • Linda J. Fisher was an assistant administrator at the United States Environmental Protection Agency‎ (EPA) before she was a vice president at Monsanto from 1995 - 2000. In 2001, Fisher became the deputy administrator of the EPA. --Any potential conflicts of interest, there, you think?
    • Michael (Mickey) Kantor is a former United States Trade Representative, the Secretary of Commerce for the United States, and member of the board of directors of Monsanto Corporation. --No conflicts of interest?
    • Michael Taylor, a Monsanto attorney, is, I am given to understand, largely responsible for writing the federal "regulations" for genetically modified foods! --And can you guess what company owns patents on the genetic codes of 90 percent of all transgenic crops? It wouldn't be Monsanto, by any chance? (Oh, yes, it would!)
    • And on and on these lists go.
    For just a few references on this subject (that document these matters far better than I have), see Lies and Deception: How the FDA Does Not Protect Your Best Interests, Why are Monsanto Insiders Now Appointed to Protect Your Food Safety?, and the Public officials formerly employed by Monsanto section of the Wikipedia article about Monsanto . . . just for starters.
Robin and others have documented the shenanigans Monsanto engages in to discredit and destroy any scientists who dare to speak out against GMOs. I urge you to read the story of Ignacio Chapela and David Quist on pp. 246-253 in Robin's book. It is quite chilling.

If you are reluctant to purchase the book or borrow it from the library, then I urge you simply to click through to this article by Jeffrey Smith and published and commented upon by Dr. Mercola. It summarizes the stories of researchers Arpad Pusztai, Irina Ermakova, Andrés Carrasco, Judy Carman, Terje Traavik, Allison Snow, Marc Lappé and Britt Bailey, Bela Darvas and many more.

You can look these people up elsewhere on the web. Their stories, happily, are known (to those who know to look them up). Sadly, most of us are unaware of how our information is being manipulated.

For more on Monsanto, I encourage you to read Dr. Mercola's Evil Monsanto Finally Reaping Its Just Desserts.

--If you have read this far, I thank you. But I want to be fair.

There is--or, at least, there appears to be--another side to the story.

Jeffrey Smith is vilified as being a nutcase whose views are unworthy of your consideration. Are his opponents' criticisms worthy of consideration? {Note, for example, that they take on Irina Ermakova's claims about the dangers of GMO. But then, again, see what Ermakova has to say about her own work.) Who should you believe?

For more on GMOs and Monsanto, I encourage you to go to Jeffrey Smith's website, Seeds of Deception. But check out, too, Monsanto's website to get their take. And The GMO Crop (mis)Information Page.

Monsanto sounds very reasonable on its own website. "If you have questions, please contact us and we will do our best to respond in a timely manner," they say.

Maybe I will write. . . .
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