“The World’s Most Evil Company” May Lose a Few Court Fights—But Will Keep On Poisoning and Killing Millions of People with Its Carcinogenic Pesticide ‘Roundup’


[This article has been excerpted from the Preface to Mitchel Cohen’s book, The Fight Against Monsanto’s Roundup: The Politics of Pesticides. To learn more about the book and its numerous contributors, please click on https://www.ThePoliticsofPesticides.com.]

Monsanto (now part of Bayer AB) had to pay $78 million in 2018 and $10 billion more in 2020 to settle 100,000 cancer lawsuits. But that won’t stop a company whose 2021 revenues will top $49.991 billion…which is why Roundup is still being profitably sprayed in 160 countries around the world.

Abattle royale is ripping through every country against the Monsanto Company’s carcinogenic chemical glyphosate, the primary active ingredient in its most profitable pesticide, “Roundup.” (Monsanto is now owned by the drug and agrochemical multinational corporation, Bayer.)

Advocates of pesticides claim that they increase crop yields, protect the public from insect-borne diseases, and save labor costs by chemically killing “weeds.” Opponents counter that synthetic pesticides harm human beings, animals, beneficial insects, wildlife, and plants;[1] they pollute drinking water and food chains, increase health-related costs, and represent a contemptuous and colonizer’s approach to life and nature. The production and application of pesticides for corporate profit ignores and, in fact, assaults human health and the ecological balance of the natural environment.

For every environmental movement success in pressuring governments to ban an egregious pesticide, the industry spits out a new one and the cycle begins again. Victories over individual pesticides are undermined by a methodology that examines each chemical in isolation from the others; each corporate polluter is seen as an exception to the rule, a “bad apple” in an otherwise benevolent system. Thus, arsenic begat DDT, DDT begat organophosphates, the first wave of organophosphates begat pyrethroids and glyphosate, and now glyphosate begets dicamba.

Jonathan Latham, co-founder and Executive Director of the Bioscience Resource Project and the Editor of Independent Science News, points out[2] that, although stopping the applications of glyphosate will be a significant victory, it will not be enough; the chemical corporations’ policies will remain unchanged and they will simply substitute another poison.

Movements concerned with stopping the mass applications of pesticides need to go deeper, beyond the usual concerns about a particular chemical or corporation. If each pesticide, banned after years of struggle, is thought of as the exception to the rule, then the system itself is assumed to be fundamentally stable and beneficial, save for those few rotten apples.

The system, though, is fundamentally unstable, unsustainable, and harmful. It reflects—and regurgitates—an approach to nature and to human life in which life is denigrated, and maximization of corporate profits is par for the course (golf courses being one of the prime abusers of pesticides in urban areas).

We will never succeed in saving ourselves, our children and the environment by opposing one pesticide (or pipeline, or corporation) at a time, as corporate capitalism engages in its relentless drive to expand, consolidate smaller companies, centralize production, and exert monopolistic control. Consideration of more radical frameworks and actions is therefore essential if ecological activists are to build upon limited victories and save the interconnected web of life on this planet.

In 2015, rocker Neil Young wrote and belted out the lead song for an album titled, The Monsanto Years:

You never know what the future holds in the shallow soil of Monsanto, Monsanto
The moon is full and the seeds are sown while the farmer toils for Monsanto, Monsanto
When these seeds rise they’re ready for the pesticide
And Roundup comes and brings the poison tide of Monsanto, Monsanto

The farmer knows he’s got to grow what he can sell, Monsanto, Monsanto
So he signs a deal for GMOs that makes life hell with Monsanto, Monsanto

Every year he buys the patented seeds
Poison-ready they’re what the corporation needs, Monsanto.Monsanto officials attempted to discredit Neil Young. They investigated him, monitored his communications, and posted internal memos about his social media activity and music. The company did the same with Reuters senior correspondent Carey Gillam, who published devastating investigations of the company’s weedkiller and its links to cancer.[4]And then Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a forty-six-year-old groundskeeper and pest-control manager at Benicia Public School District in Solano County, California, sued Monsanto. Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after he had repeatedly sprayed Roundup, as directed, on school grounds (and thereby unwittingly jeopardized the lives of 5,000 young students in that district as well as his own). After a four-week trial ending on August 10, 2018, a unanimous jury awarded Johnson $289 million.While San Francisco Superior Court judge Suzanne Bolanos upheld the jury’s verdict finding that Roundup indeed caused Johnson’s cancer, she cut its unprecedented punitive damage award by seventy-five percent.[5]
Some jurors were so upset by the prospect of having their verdict thrown out that they wrote to Bolanos:“I urge you to respect and honor our verdict and the six weeks of our lives that we dedicated to this trial,” juror Gary Kitahata wrote. Juror Robert Howard said that the jury paid “studious attention” to the evidence and that any decision to overturn its verdict would shake his confidence in the judicial system.[6]
“The cause is way bigger than me,” Johnson said. “Hopefully this thing will start to get the attention that it needs to get right.”[7] Indeed, Johnson’s was the first of what has mushroomed into 125,000 lawsuits against Monsanto over cancers, injuries and deaths caused by Roundup.[8] In another legal victory against Monsanto, the Court of Appeal for the State of California affirmed the lower court’s decision, ruling that “Monsanto acted with willful disregard for the safety of others.…Monsanto’s conduct evidenced reckless disregard of the health and safety of the multitude of unsuspecting consumers it kept in the dark [and was] motivated by the desire for sales and profit.”[9]
Dewayne Johnson’s victory against Monsanto—a David vs. Goliath battle—snapped attention to the issue of toxic pesticides, the corruption of regulatory agencies, and notably, the pesticide horrors that thousands of workers are subjected to on a daily basis. It also opened a window onto the sordid history of the Bayer corporation, its involvement with the Nazis in Germany in World War II, and its medical “experiments” done first on Mexican workers at the border before carrying that “research” over the Atlantic, to use on the Jewish population in Nazi Germany.[10]“We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us”
Along the U.S. southern border, agribusiness conglomerates recruit farmworkers from Mexico and Central America to pick crops for low pay, under wretched conditions. Like the crops, the workers are soaked with pesticides. American folksinger Woody Guthrie’s song, “Pastures of Plenty,” depicts those conditions:It’s a mighty hard row that my poor hands have hoed
My poor feet have traveled a hot dusty road
Out of your Dust Bowl and westward we rolled
And your deserts were hot and your mountain was cold
I worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes
Slept on the ground in the light of your moon
On the edge of the city you’ll see us and then
We come with the dust and we go with the wind.[11]Every year, there are ten to twenty thousand cases of farmworker poisonings reported, with different chemicals impacting different areas of the body. For example, workers in the citrus industry have higher incidence of gastric cancer, which is caused by phenoxyacetic acid herbicide 2,4-D; the organochlorine insecticide chlordane; and the herbicide triflurin.[12]That spraying is intended to kill insects and rodents, but all too often the health of the workers is of secondary concern, when it is considered at all. We can trace the U.S. government’s mass spraying of migrant workers at least as far back as 1917 when, under the guise of protecting the country from the threat of typhus, U.S. Customs agents began delousing Mexicans who were legally crossing the border at the El Paso-Juarez international bridge and into areas of the U.S. that were formerly part of Mexico.In 1917 alone, 127,000 workers crossing the border were forced to strip naked and given pesticide showers. By the 1920s, the chemical used at the border switched to the notorious cyanide-based Zyklon B, manufactured by the German chemical conglomerate IG Farben. Border agents tested the gas on Mexican workers, with the results sent to the German affiliate where it was used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews in the gas chambers. Like the Mexican workers, the Jews in Germany were similarly considered “vermin.”“All immigrants from the interior of Mexico, and those whom U.S. Customs officials deemed “second-class” residents of Juarez, were required to strip completely, turn in their clothes to be sterilized in a steam dryer and fumigated with hydrocyanic acid, then stand naked before a Customs inspector who would check his or her ‘hairy parts’ — scalp, armpits, chest, genital area — for lice. Those found to have lice would be required to shave their heads and body hair with clippers and bathe with kerosene and vinegar.”[13]Historian/musician David Dorado Romo remembers how his great Aunt, Adela Dorado, “would tell our family about the humiliation of having to go through the delousing every eight days just to clean American homes in El Paso. She recalled how on one occasion the U.S. Customs officials put her clothes and shoes through the steam dryer and her shoes melted.”[14]In a moment now forgotten from history, one day in 1917 a 17-year-old female migrant, Carmelita Torres, working as a maid in Juarez, crossed the border as she did every day to clean houses and refused to undress and be showered in pesticides. By noon, she was joined by several thousand “refusers” at the border bridge. Carmelita Torres became the Rosa Parks of what would be dubbed “the Bath Riots.”The Orchestration of Disease—Manufacturing Fear of Immigrants
At the time of the Bath Riots, the mainstream (corporate) press did everything it could to sensationalize the typhus “threat” from Mexican migrants. That disease devastated the Russian working class at the time of the 1917 revolution, along with tens of thousands of Austrian prisoners of war (World War I) in Serbia.[15]
But in the U.S. that year, there was the small total of only 31 typhus cases overall, and only three typhus-related fatalities in El Paso. While public health was certainly a concern, officials used fear of typhus as a vehicle for fomenting repressive migrant and anti-working-class policies. Today, typhus – caused by a bacterium transmitted by some body lice—is readily treated with oral Ivermectin and clean clothing.
As one of the founding corporations in the IG Farben consortium, Bayer had no compunction about testing drugs on unwilling human subjects, such as prisoners, soldiers, and migrants. The U.S. Holocaust Museum describes Bayer’s involvement in Nazi “medical experiments” on Jews and other prisoners who were deliberately infected against their will with tuberculosis, diphtheria, and other diseases at the Dachau, Auschwitz, and Gusen concentration camps. Nazi physician Helmuth Vetter, appointed as the German Reich’s chief doctor by Heinrich Himmler, coordinated the experiments.The Holocaust Museum notes that in Buchenwald, “physicians infected prisoners with typhus in order to test the efficacy of anti-typhus drugs, resulting in high mortality among test prisoners.”[16] Bayer was central to those “experiments”. The company was particularly active in Auschwitz. “A senior Bayer official oversaw the chemical factory in Auschwitz III (Monowitz). Most of the experiments were conducted in Birkenau in Block 20, the women’s camp hospital. There, Vetter and Auschwitz physicians Eduard Wirths and Friedrich Entress tested Bayer pharmaceuticals on prisoners who suffered from and often had been deliberately infected with tuberculosis, diphtheria, and other diseases.”[17] Following World War II, Vetter was convicted by an American military tribunal at the Mauthausen Trial, and was executed at Landsberg Prison in February 1949.After the war, some employees of Bayer appeared in the IG Farben trial, one of the Nuremberg Subsequent Tribunals under U.S. jurisdiction. Among them was Fritz ter Meer, who helped to plan the Monowitz camp (Auschwitz III) and IG Farben’s Buna Werke factory at Auschwitz, where medical experimentation had been conducted and where 25,000 forced laborers were deployed. Ter Meer was sentenced to seven years, but was released in 1950 for good behavior. One positive outcome of these subsequent Nuremberg trials was the establishment of the Nuremberg Code, a product of the Nuremberg Doctors’ trial which codified prohibitions against the kinds of involuntary experimentation conducted by Bayer in the concentration camp system.[18]In the immediate postwar, the victorious allies divided the IG Farben conglomerate into individual companies, but still allowed them to function. Bayer, along with BASF and Hoechst—all part of the IG Farben conglomerate and supporters of the Nazis in World War II—re-emerged as one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.Bayer, however, “did little to come to terms with its Nazi past,” the Holocaust Museum notes, and adds this tidbit: “Fritz ter Meer, convicted of war crimes for his actions at Auschwitz, was elected to Bayer AG’s supervisory board in 1956, a position he retained until 1964.”[19]At the U.S. border with Mexico, the U.S. government policy of spraying Mexican workers with toxic pesticides continued apace thru the late 1950s and into the 1960s. The organochloride insecticide DDT became the pesticide of choice, until the movement inspired by Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, forced out DDT after a decade of mounting protests.An Aspirin the Size of the Sun
In June 2018, the U.S. Justice Department approved the $66 billion purchase of Monsanto by the German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer, making Bayer-Monsanto the most powerful agribusiness entity on the planet. It now owns and controls more than 25 percent of the world’s seeds, and more than one third of global herbicide sales.The Bayer-Monsanto consolidation—one of the rotting legs of what physicist and world ecology advocate Vandana Shiva calls “The Poison Cartel”—came on the heels of the merger of the agricultural divisions of Dow and Dupont (now called Corteva Agriscience), and Syngenta’s merger with ChemChina. (Syngenta itself was the outcome of the consolidation of part of Novartis with AstraZeneca.)
As a result of its acquisition of Monsanto, Bayer—no stranger to protecting itself from condemnations of its dreadful record when it comes to human rights and environmental justice—now has to decide how to proceed with the torrent of lawsuits, which have resulted in penalties and fines soaring into many billions of dollars.[20] Bayer could not alleviate this headache even by gulping down the adult-size dose of its other famous drug, packaged in its familiar yellow and brown box. To do so would take, in poet Roque Dalton’s verse, “an aspirin the size of the sun.”
By July 2021, the financial pressures on Bayer forced the company to begin pulling Roundup from the shelves of such companies as The Home Depot and Lowe’s; as of 2023, Roundup will no longer be sold to individual gardeners in the U.S.,[21] a historic victory for enviro-activists and the environment.[22]But the Biden administration—like those before it (Republican and Democratic alike)—presses on in defense of Monsanto and its attempt to control the agriculture throughout the globe via genetically engineering the world’s food supply, for which its herbicide, Roundup, has been so destructively designed.
Biden has gone so far as to appoint “Mr. Monsanto”—Tom Vilsack—again, as Agriculture Secretary. (Vilsack served in that same capacity for eight years in the Obama administration, despite much protest from environmental activists.[This same Poison Cartel has accumulated trillions of dollars by manufacturing pharmaceutical drugs to “save us” from the cancers and neurological diseases their pesticides are causing. The “revolving door” spins freely between corporate interests and regulatory agency apparatchiks no matter which party is in power.[24] The agencies not only “look the other way” but have now been exposed for having ghost-written Monsanto’s applications for Roundup and other chemicals to those very same agencies.[25]
The entire planet is awash in chemical pollutants that poison our drinking water, food and soil, human breast milk,[26] animals, and ecosystems. Our “leaders” have long and storied histories of groveling before and collaborating with the titans of industry, whose propaganda machines promote self-interested assurances that their products are “safe” and environmentally friendly. They know that truthful information, under the right circumstances, can move people to rebel.
So they contaminate the truth, just as they pollute the natural environment, to foster public acceptance of pesticides and genetic engineering of the world’s food supply. Will activists in the United States and other industrial countries be able to force their governments to reverse course? Will they succeed in challenging the corporate quest for ever-increasing profits and control? To do so requires those reading this essay to be reborn as ecology activists who strive to win society to a different way of looking at human interactions with nature—no easy task, in current circumstances —and to take action based on that transformed consciousness.Key pieces of information regarding the U.S. government’s worldwide advocacy (including the threatened use of its military) on behalf of Monsanto’s patented seeds exploded onto the internet via thousands of cables “liberated” by current political prisoner Julian Assange. The cables Assange published revealed massive U.S. government attempts on behalf of Monsanto, and its patents, to arm-twist countries throughout the world, along with its attempts to squelch opposition to GMOs (genetically modified organisms). The cables showed U.S. diplomats applying financial, diplomatic, and even military pressure on behalf of Monsanto and other biotech corporations.In a 2007 cable marked “confidential,” Craig Stapleton, then U.S. Ambassador to France, advised the U.S. to prepare for economic war with countries unwilling to introduce Monsanto’s GM corn seeds. He called for retaliation, to “make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices. In fact, the pro-biotech side in France…[has] told us retaliation is the only way to begin to turn this issue in France.”[27] The U.S. diplomatic team recommended that “we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits.”[28]In another cable, this one from Macau and Hong Kong, a U.S. Department of Agriculture director requested $92,000 in U.S. public funds for “media education kits” to combat growing public resistance to genetically engineered foods. It portrays attempts to mandate the labeling of GMOs as a “threat” to U.S. interests, and seeks to “make it much more difficult for mandatory labeling advocates to prevail.”The cables released by Wikileaks revealed that officials in the Obama administration, particularly in
Hillary Clinton’s State Department, intervened at Monsanto’s request “to undermine legislation that might restrict sales of genetically engineered seeds.” Under Hillary Clinton, the U.S. State Department was so gung-ho to promote GMOs that Mother Jones writer Tom Philpott called it “the de facto global-marketing arm of the ag-biotech industry, complete with figures as high-ranking as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mouthing industry talking points as if they were gospel.”
The New York Daily News reported that State Department officials under Hillary Clinton were actively using taxpayer money to promote Monsanto’s controversial GMO seeds around the world.The fight against GMOs and Roundup is partly a propaganda war; U.S. officials recommended pro-biotech and bio-agriculture DVDs be sent to every high school in Hong Kong.[29]
The cables reveal the joint strategic planning of Monsanto and the U.S. government. In one series, Monsanto concluded that northern Thailand would be an ideal location to cultivate genetically engineered corn for export to other countries, due to the area’s very low labor and infrastructure costs.
In this cable, one country, Peru, is mentioned as recipient, and the U.S. official suggests that even with transportation expenses across two oceans included, it would nevertheless be more profitable to grow and ship GMO corn from northern Thailand than from neighboring Argentina or Brazil, since U.S. “diplomatic efforts” would be used to drive down the cost of production in northern Thailand. The U.S. would press Thailand to drop its opposition to GM cultivation, and the country would be rewarded. The cables provide a fascinating (and terrfying) glimpse into the seemingly mundane mechanisms of global imperialism on a very localized level.
WikiLeaks “acquired” and published a searchable database and unabridged text of the secret 2015 TransPacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and Trade in Services Agreement.[30] The rogue publisher exposed the U.S. government’s pressure on other countries to purchase and plant Monsanto’s patented genetically engineered seeds, which required the concomitant purchase of Monsanto’s patented pesticides in order for the crops to grow.The treaties limited the ability of one country to legally challenge environmental depradation in trade with another, making it abundantly clear that environmental issues could not be successfully addressed in piecemeal fashion, but must be seen as integrated political, technological, economic, and scientifically packaged warfare. To succeed, movements would be compelled to not only examine the dangers of each pesticide du jour, but the underlying mechanisms by which corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Novartis, BASF and other pesticide and pharmaceutical manufacturers come to determine government policies overall, as well as those of global regulatory agencies, which in turn allow them to get away with masking the truth about their products.Left activists have always exposed the collaboration between government and corporate expansion, but the details revealed by WikiLeaks’ documents are nothing short of astounding. They reveal the need for ecological movements to develop far more radical strategies for dealing with the immense destruction by capitalism in practice, and not just in theory. For this largely unknown contribution by Julian Assange, ecological activists, along with antiwar radicals motivated by Julian’s “collateral damage” video (obtained from Chelsea Manning), owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid.Today, Julian Assange—locked away in a British prison despite judicial findings in his favor—is fighting for his life. The U.S. government seeks to bring this Australian citizen back to the United States for a show trial and then lock him up forever, if they don’t assassinate him en route.[31] The sacrifices Julian Assange has made are profound, and his contribution to ecological as well as antiwar movements is enormous. It is incumbent on all to demand an end to his incarceration and torment by the U.S. and British governments.[32]And yet, despite worldwide exposure of glyphosate’s dangers and its designation as a “probable carcinogen,” only a handful of governments throughout the world joined with environmental activists and health professionals in banning it. We—people who want to breathe clean air, drink pure water, preserve what’s left of the old-growth forests, protect the many species that share this earth with us, and escape from the epidemics of cancer and neurological disorders—need to grasp why government officials ever allowed it at all?A strategic question: How significant is the fight to ban individual pesticides, since the industry releases new and equally dangerous ones into the environment, to replace the ones being banned or withdrawn?[33]
The Fight Against Monsanto’s Roundup: The Politics of Pesticides encourages readers to think about the weaknesses and contradictions of the process used to approve pesticides. The purported experts have been proven wrong on so many occasions that we’d be fools to take their acceptance of Roundup at face value, especially since many researchers conceal their financial arrangements with corporate funders, thereby biasing the outcome and reporting of their research.[34]
The 2016 occupation and blockade of an underground oil pipeline under construction at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota offered a wider vision for how to construct effective social movements. The Dakota Access pipeline was to carry oil 1,172 miles from [Canada’s] Bakken oil fields for distribution in the U.S. midwest. More than 10,000 participants took part in an occupation lasting months, and, unlike the politicians in D.C., heroically refused to be divided by the false assurances of those in power.But even in the face of unprecedented united opposition to the pipeline among Native American tribes and environmental activists, many politicians nonetheless acceded to the assurances of corporate power regarding the safety of their pipelines, just as they had done with regard to pesticides and genetically engineered products.[35]
Those policies, and the politicians who comply with and promulgate them, betray the public good; corporate donations to their campaigns serve to bribe key legislators and government executives to boost Roundup, despite the dangers. And budget-conscious officials—many of them in thrall to the pesticides industry—have decided that it’s more cost-effective for now to lay off workers and replace their labor-intensive but much safer weeding-by-hand with chemical herbicides like glyphosate. In the short run, this reduces public expenditure, until the outsized health and environmental costs are factored in.
The fight for clean water, soil, and air remains just as necessary today, unfortunately, as it was in 1962, when Rachel Carson issued her call to arms not only against chemical pesticides such as DDT but, lest we forget, a plethora of pollutants including (especially) radiation from atomic bomb tests. Today, sixty years after its publication, Silent Spring’s clarion call to fight the corporate and government polluters and defend the environment is more necessary than ever. And to succeed, mass movements need to draw on the insights, efforts, victories, and sacrifices of prior generations.The spirits of those who came before lead us to becoming aware of the connections between Roundup and the genetic engineering of agriculture. They also help us to connect the issues of hydrofracking, climate chaos, huge dams, mountaintop removal, nuclear power and weapons, oil and gas pipelines, pollution, factory farming, EMF pollution, and wetlands destruction and flooding.
Industrial capitalism is anti-ecological at its core. Rachel Carson bequeathed us a legacy of courage, which impels us to devise new forms of action not only against individual pesticides, but against the systemic wars initiated by the same corporations and governments for labor, land, resources, and geopolitical control. It’s high time that the Left (and I’m talking about the real Left here, not the media-anointed Left) exposes the integrated nature of these technologies and provides the kind of anti-capitalist leadership needed, one that challenges arch-rightwing forces that are misleading well-meaning people into a void filled with reactionary formulations and strategies.





















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