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A choice of two biotech evils

February 2019

In 2018, we saw the merger of two biotech and chemical manufacturing giants. Germany's Bayer swallowed America's Monsanto in a €54 billion buy out which has created a mega corporation with 115,000 employees and anticipated revenues of €45 billion.

The Monsanto brand has been an issue for years, and Bayer, wanting to avoid buying the negative image along with its assets immediately made "Monsanto" disappear.

Monsanto died age 117. Its first product was a nutrient-free artificial food additive, the sweetener saccharin. After that, the company expanded into industrial chemicals, including research on uranium which lead to the atomic bomb, PCBs (more below), and polystyrene which ranks high in the list of total hazardous waste generators.

Real infamy followed the Agent Orange defoliant supplied under contract to the US government for use in the Vietnam war. Monsanto's method produced Agent Orange which was exceptionally high in dioxins, a persistent pollutant which is causing birth defects and cancers to this day. Falsified data 'proving' dioxin is not a carcinogen relieved Monsanto of a great deal of the liability for compensation claims.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, or 'PCBs', were considered an industrial wonder chemical: an oil which would not burn and was impervious to degradation. Monsanto manufactured PCBs for 60 years, until they were, and continue to be, omnipresent in human tissues and wildlife around the globe. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) PCBs have "been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system". It took 37 years before the evidence of PCB contamination started to accumulate, but Monsanto had known for over a decade that this group of chemicals was seriously harmful.

ONE PCB STORY

Near one American town unfortunate enough to be the site of a PCB factory, millions of pounds of the toxin were dumped in "oozing open-pit landfills". Once court action made Monsanto documents public, it became clear the company "knew the truth from the very beginning. They lied about it. They hid the truth from their neighbours". One Monsanto memo explains: "We can't afford to lose one dollar of business". Eventually the company was found guilty of conduct "so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society".

When the scale of the PCB environmental clean-up costs and further liabilities for other past actions became clear, Monsanto side-stepped the problem by hiving off all its unpopular chemicals into a separate company, "Solutia". Solutia, indeed, solved everything by rapidly going bankrupt.

This left 'Monsanto' reborn as an agricultural biotechnology company. In this incarnation, continuing profits could be assured by endless patents on infinitely variable synthetic genes. The world could be polluted with self-regenerating DNA constructs whose harmful effects could easily be obscured by the complexity of their living context and a bit of clever science.

In the meantime, Monsanto's clumsy PR on GMOs, and a rising tide of concern over 'Roundup', the company's bread-and-butter herbicide with which most GMOs are designed to be used, has irrevocably attached a skull-and-crossbones to its name. So Monsanto became Bayer.

Monsanto R.I.P. may have been a master in the art of polluting the globe, concealing inconvenient truths and wearing down its victims with litigation, but Bayer makes Monsanto's indiscretions look like school-boy japes.

Herr Bayer founded his chemical and pharmaceutical company in 1863 and became a household name for generations for 'Bayer's aspirin'.

During the First World War, the company turned its attention to the manufacture of chemical weapons, such as chlorine gas, and built up a "School of Chemical Warfare".

Between the World Wars, Bayer merged with other German chemical manufacturers (including BASF and Hoest) to form part of a massive conglomerate, 'IG Farben'. Smelling the cash to be made in warfare, IG Farben was the single largest donor to Hitler's election campaign, and subsequently became the largest profiteer from the Second World War.

IG Farben produced all the explosives for the German military and followed in the wake of Hitler's army systematically looting the chemical industries in occupied territory.

The company also used slave labour in its mines and factories, and a large part of the Auschwitz camps in Nazi-occupied Poland was IG Farbens' industrial complex. In return for a yearly stipend, Hitler's SS supplied IG Farben with forced labour from the Auschwitz concentration camp and siphoned off the human waste once they were too weakened to work into the Auschwitz death camp. (No prizes for guessing who made and supplied the Zyklon B' cyanide-based gas used in the extermination chambers and the methanol used to burn the excessive numbers of corpses being generated).

Even as part of IG Farben, Bayer retained its identity as a supplier of pharmaceuticals. In this role, it supplied the experimental materials for 'Angel of Death' Josef Mengele's human 'medical' experiments (bank-rolled by IG Farben), and was instrumental in the purchase of the human subjects required.

In 1946, the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal concluded that without IG Farben, the Second World War would simply not have been possible. However, the sentences on those few prosecuted were "light enough to please a chicken thief", and in the 1950s Bayer de-coupled itself from IG Farben, taking along with it the assets it needed and some key personnel (previously convicted of slavery, looting and mass-murder) to man the helm.

After a number of pharmaceutical safety incidents (see below), Bayer moved into crop protection with GMOs and agrichemicals.

Bayer's consumer-unfriendly medical supplies include:
  • HIV-infected blood Factor VIII which it continued to produce and sell long after a safe product had become available. The reason? To save money. 
  • A vital antibiotic whose potentially catastrophic incompatibility with other drugs was not disclosed to doctors. 
  • An anti-cholesterol drug whose lethal side-effects were not disclosed for nearly two months 
  • Mirena IUD contraceptive devices remained on the market for years after they were found to cause pelvic inflammation and ectopic pregnancy, and to translocate inside the body 
  • Blockbuster anticoagulant, Xarelto, was approved for use in the US on the basis of falsely elevated safety scores during clinical trials involving faulty blood testing equipment. Xarelto went on to cause haemorrhage, death and a class action with 14,000 plaintiffs. 
Bayer CropScience division can boast of manufacturing glufosinate herbicide, a known disruptor of reproduction and brain development, used with glusofinate-tolerant GM crops, and neonicotinoid insecticidal seed dressings now infamous for catastrophic effects on bees. 

After an explosion in one of its US pesticide factories (whose outcome could have surpassed the 1984 Bhopal disaster), a Congressional investigation concluded that Bayer had "engaged in a campaign of secrecy by withholding critical information ... undermining news outlets and citizen groups concerned about the dangers posed by Bayer's activities ... providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public" and deliberately removing and destroying evidence.

Bayer single-handedly brought the US rice industry to its knees by contaminating it with unapproved GM 'Liberty Link' (glufosinate tolerance) genes which may remain in long-grain rice forever.

The company had no qualms about purchasing Aventis CropScience along with its unenviable reputation for spreading GM 'StarLink' (insecticide) genes through the maize supply, which also may remain in the food chain forever.

Monsanto's business will constitute almost half of Bayer's turnover, making it No.1 in seeds and No.2 in crop-protection products globally.

Bayer has also confidently bought into the current glyphosate cancer problem.

When the US courts upheld the first glyphosate cancer claim in August 2018, Bayer shares dropped 25 percent, and by November the claimants lining up behind the first had reached 9,700. The company remains (outwardly at least) phlegmatic or perhaps cynically confident. It claims its course will be guided by the economics: when court costs outstrip the likely costs of settlement, it intends to settle. The company has drafted in the same legal team which got it off the Xeralto hook (see above), and the signs are it intends to block every court case forever by claiming the jurors have been biased by the negative media coverage surrounding glyphosate.

As Bayer's CEO says "Due to our exposure as a pharmaceutical company, we have the experience to defend those (glyphosate) cases."

OUR COMMENT

Monsanto seems quite the cuddly amateur compared with the new captain of the GM juggernaut carrying our staple foods.

Bearing in mind that a single, artificial, unpredictably disruptive gene could destroy or toxify whole swathes of our food supply, and that a single uncontrollable, unpredictable GM microbial or viral pathogen could devastate whole populations, and that a host of GM-related chronic diseases could already be creeping up on us, Bayer products could result in deaths many orders of magnitude greater than the millions it has already had a hand in.

The answer the the question at the top, 'who would you want in control of your food', is probably YOU.

Keep right on refusing the GM, patent-controlled, chemical-laden future Bayer is intent on enslaving us in.


SOURCES:
  • Monsanto: A history, GM Watch, 6.02.09
  • Bayer: A history, GM Watch,
  • Bayer to ditch Monsanto name after mega-merger, AFP, 4.06.18
  • Tina Bellon, Bayer CEO says would consider glyphosate settlement depending on costs, Reuters, 2.11.18
  • Brian Hanrahan, Bayer Faces Class Action Suit Over Stroke Drug, www.handelsblatt.com, 11.09.16
  • Katie Thomas, FDA asks if faulty blood monitor tainted Xarelto approval, New York Times, 22.06.16
  • Koraly Dimitriadis, Women aren't being warned about the dangers of Miren IUDs, www.news.com.au, 25.04.18

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