Monsanto in Court: What’s the Big Deal?

Monsanto: seedy and greedyMonsanto likes to frame itself as a benevolent mastermind of food production: friend to the lowly farmer, and selfless guardian of the environment. Their web site proclaims through text and video that Monsanto Company is Comitted to Sustainable Agriculture. Monsanto’s TV commercials are filled with soft-focus feel-good images of children playing in green fields, as abundant crops sway gently in the summer breeze.

Riiiiiiight.

A smooth and well-funded PR department, a quasi-monopoly on GM technology, and aggressive legal tactics towards farmers who resist Monsanto’s stranglehold have bought ample success for the biotech Goliath. But recent lawsuits shine a harsh and unflattering light on Monsanto’s practices, as farmers and others around the country reach for a slingshot and take aim. Two court cases deserve close attention in the coming months, from ecovores and other conscientious consumers.

Nitro Residents vs. Monsanto: Dioxin Contamination

In West Virginia, mediation in December 2011 failed to avert a class action suit against Monsanto by residents of a town called Nitro. Residents allege Monsanto illegally burned dioxin waste at its Nitro chemical plant, covering the town with toxic soot and unsafe levels of dioxin contamination. The case was initially filed in 2004, and the trial finally began earlier this month. biohazard warningAnywhere from 5,000 to 80,000 residents are suing Monsanto for access to medical monitoring, to assess potentially serious health effects caused by long term dioxin exposure following unsafe disposal. They hoped to hold Monsanto accountable for cleaning up the toxic chemicals contaminating their town, but that part of the case was recently thrown out. So according to the West Virginia Gazette,

Putnam County jurors will decide only if current and former Nitro residents should receive medical monitoring to detect diseases potentially caused by exposure to Monsanto’s dioxin. They won’t be able to do anything to clean up homes and businesses, ending the toxic exposure. Lawyers for thousands of residents and property owners in the class-action suit appealed [this decision]. They say the rulings left a huge gap in their efforts to deal with the legacy of Monsanto’s chemical-making operations. “The current presence of dioxin contamination in the class area is a public-health hazard,” the lawyers argued in court documents. “It makes little sense to initiate a medical monitoring program for a population without first eliminating that population’s exposure to the toxin at issue.” Thanks to Monsanto’s maneuvering, the jury will not be allowed to consider issues surrounding the need (or cost) of environmental cleanup, to limit further exposure.

Originally the company that gave us such destructive chemical products as Agent Orange, dioxin, and PCBs, Monsanto now controls 70 to 90 percent of global food production. Monsanto has a long history of unethical and deceptive corporate conduct — a tradition that’s alive and well in their handling of the Nitro dioxin case. They clearly expect to pollute with impunity, and endanger health without consequence. Monsanto’s actions here refute their rosy PR self-portrait, and deserve consumer notice.
protest signs: save our farmers, save our food, no GMOs!

Organic Farmers vs. Monsanto: GMO Contamination

Along with a hideous corporate conduct record regarding toxic pollution, Monsanto has proven repeatedly that it is anything but friendly to the family farmer:

Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto admits to filing 144 lawsuits against America’s family farmers, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts. Due to these aggressive lawsuits, Monsanto has created an atmosphere of fear in rural America and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy.

On January 31, 2012, oral arguments begin in a landmark case filed against Monsanto by 270,000 individuals represented by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. The lawsuit seeks protection for organic farmers whose crops are contaminated by unwanted GM seeds or pollen. According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,

Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell,” says North Dakota farmer, Tom Wiley. “If I contaminate my neighbor’s property, I am held responsible. Farmers need legal protections to ensure that if the biotech industry contaminates their crops with GMOs, the industry is held responsible.

After decades of riding roughshod over the American farming community, Monsanto now stands to be made accountable for some of the problems GE contamination causes small-scale and organic farmers. Naturally, they are maneuvering like crazy to avoid anything of the sort, and hope to have the case dismissed. So on January 31, a district court judge will begin hearing arguments for and against Monsanto’s motion to dismiss, marking what could be real turning point (one way or another) for the rights of U.S. farmers and consumers. Get involvedif you think organic farmers deserve legal protection from Monsanto’s overly-aggressive patent litigation, and if you value consumers’ rights to choose organic food.

Truth vs. PR Fiction: Let Actions Speak Louder 

Despite decades of problem behavior, Monsanto continues to thrive. So far, their PR guys are earning their keep: profits just keep on climbing. These court cases against Monsanto are a big deal for consumers, because they provide a better view of this company than any billboard or bus-bench ad or dreamy soft-focus TV commercial ever will. An informed consumer base is the only solution– watch these cases closely, and see if Monsanto’s actions match their spin!  If you look past the advertising, you won’t want this company anywhere near your food supply.

DDT, Agent Orange, GMO-- what next, Monsanto?For a more in-depth (read: more disturbing) look at Monsanto’s approach to growing our food — meanwhile abusing farmers, providing food of questionable safety, contaminating the environment with toxic chemistry, and devastating agricultural communities around the world — watch The World According to Monsanto. It’ll make you angry; but

ignorance is only bliss until it bites you in the bottom

like these court cases, it’s definitely well worth watching!

Image credit: Creative Commons photos by Avesha Michael, bionicteaching, Alexis Baden-Mayer, and MillionsAgainstMonsanto.

Written by tanyas

6 Comments

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  1. I agree that “an informed consumer base is the only solution” -so thanks for covering this. Monsanto is being sued by India’s national diversity authority for violating biodiversity protection laws; the case illuminates Monsanto’s practice of bribing officials in order to circumvent environmental restrictions. They (and the other big GMO players like Dupont, Bayer and Dow) are doing damage in the name of profits that cannot be undone.

    • I’ve heard some arguments for some biotech applications that might be a ‘maybe’, given best possible management practices; but anything involving Monsanto in any way automatically gets a resounding ‘NO!!!!’, imo… they’re just too completely consistent in their behavior– and I definitely don’t mean that as a compliment!

      Thanks for your comment– I knew they had problems in India, but wasn’t aware of that case. Maybe somehow someone somewhere will find a way to extract some small trace of accountability from them, for some small part of the trouble they cause the world. Here’s hopin’, right?!

      Thanks again for the input! 🙂

      • One implication of this growing push-back in the US is certainly that Monsanto is focusing more and more on other parts of the world where regulatory regimes (where they exist at all) are even more inadequate that the lame one we have in the States. India is one example, and Mexico is on its way to being another.

        • Yep — I think it’s interesting how some of those ‘markets’ (aka people, farmers, and communities) are doing better than others at fending them off… blatantly problematic corporate ethics abound, in the active pushing of products known to cause problems for third world farmers (google ‘india Bt suicide’ or ‘Roundup resistant weeds’ or ‘Africa Monsanto biodiversity’)… Shocking that Monsanto would be so badly behaved! (<–sarcasm)

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