Category Archives: Big Pharma
Some cynics write off citizen action including petitions and sign-carrying protestors. They don’t believe such small efforts can make any big difference. But the more than 600,000 people of Dutch city Rotterdam disagree. Their efforts, which began with a petition, have led to a “green initiative” in their city including the banning of Roundup, Monsanto’s flagship product.
The petition campaign was called “Non-toxic Sidewalks for Our Children.” With support from that country’s Green Party, concerned citizens were able to make a significant change for their city and their future.
As we know, Roundup (glyphosate) is a dangerous pesticide that is used all over the world. Though its maker, Monsanto, would have you believe there’s nothing to be afraid of, research says differently. As a matter of fact, glyphosate has been connected to numerous health problems including respiratory distress, cellular damage, and even cancer. Check out this article which outlines just 7 nasty effects of pesticides.
“It is bad stuff and I’m glad we’re giving it up,” says Emile Cammeraat, Green party leader in the council. “The producer Monsanto also provides genetically engineered seeds, Monsanto’s own plants are the only thing RoundUp doesn’t kill. In such a business district as you want to be, no Roundup is simply necessary, as there are organic alternatives.” (Translated by Fritz Kreiss)
Global consumers are getting wise to the dangers of Roundup and the GMO seeds designed to resist it. They don’t want Monsanto and other GMO-seed giants taking over the global food supply and have started grassroots resistance movements around the world. The problem lies in getting enough people to take actual action against the seed giants and local, state, and federal lawmakers who support them in one way or another.
Collectively, the people of Rotterdam were able to make their voices heard, essentially eliminating glyphosate from their local environment. There’s no reason similar cities in other areas of the world couldn’t do the very same thing.
Comically, the U.S. government has recently decided to increase the allowable amount of glyphosate in U.S. food crops, just as another place bans the substance. The new rule allowing for even greater use of this damaging ingredient would take existing limits on glyphosate and dwarf them with new, higher ones. These limits would truly only work to benefit the interests of one, and it’s not the American people, but Monsanto – the giant corporation who is making millions off of genetically modified crops and the destruction of agriculture and human health.
In addition to the Roundup ban, Rotterdam’s green initiative will provide new parks and play areas, and even get the city involved in planting fruit trees. There will be more flowers and environments to support bees and wildlife, and more places for the urbanites to take in nature without fear of contamination by Monsanto’s evil poster child
After hearing that GM crops could potentially increase yields, three farmers in Schmeiser’s region planted fields of Monsanto’s seed. Winds pushed pollen from GM canola into Schmeiser’s fields, and the plants cross-pollinated. The breed he had been cultivating for 50 years was now contaminated by Monsanto’s GM canola.
Did Monsanto apologize? No. It sued Schmeiser for patent infringement — first charging the farmer per acre of contamination, then slapping him with another suit for $1 million and attempting to seize his land and farming equipment. After a seven-year battle, the Canadian Supreme Court eventually ruled against him but let him keep his farm and his $1 million. He was one of the lucky ones.
Schmeiser’s case illustrates how Monsanto is dominating — and terrifying — the agricultural world with secretive technologies, strong-arm tactics, and government approval. According to the Center for Food Safety, Monsanto has filed at least 142 similar lawsuits against farmers for alleged infringement of its patents or abuse of its technology agreement. The company has won 72 judgments totaling almost $24 million.
Agriculture is a big industry in Florida. About $130 billion-per-year big, the second-largest industry behind tourism. Statewide, 9 million acres of farmland are divided into more than 47,500 commercial farms. In fact, Palm Beach County is the largest agricultural county east of the Mississippi River.
According to the USDA, 95,000 acres of corn, 125,000 acres of upland cotton, and 25,000 acres of soybeans have been planted in the state in 2013. With Food and Water Watch warning that nationally, 90 to 93 percent of such crops are genetically modified, Floridians have cause to know what’s lurking up the food chain.
A Biotech Revolution
When you’re good at something, you want to leverage that. Monsanto’s specialty is killing stuff.
When lawsuits piled up, putting a crimp in long-term profitability, Monsanto hatched a less lethal, more lucrative plan. It would attempt to take control of the world’s food supply.
This mission started in the mid-’90s, when the company began developing genetically modified crops like soybeans, corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, and wheat (much of it used for livestock feed). Monsanto bred crops that were immune to its leading weed killer, Roundup. That meant farmers no longer had to till the land to kill weeds, as they’d done for hundreds of years. They could simply blast their fields with chemicals. The weeds would die while the crops grew unaffected. Problem solved.
Monsanto put a wonderful spin on this development: The so-called “No-Till Revolution” promised greater yields, better profits for the family farm, and a heightened ability to feed a growing world.
But there was a dark side. First, farmers grew dependent on Monsanto, having to buy new seed every year, along with Monsanto’s pesticides. The effects on human health were largely unknown — would it harm people to consume foods whose genetic profile had suddenly changed after millions of years? Or to eat the animals that had consumed those plants? What about ripple effects on ecosystems?
But agriculture had placed the belligerent strongman in charge of the buffet line.
Monsanto squeezed out competitors by buying the biggest seed companies, spending $12 billion on the splurge. The company bought up the best shelf space and distribution channels. Its braying of global benevolence began to look much more like a naked power grab.
Seed prices began to soar. Since 1996, the cost of soybeans has increased 325 percent. Corn has risen 259 percent. And the price of genetically modified cotton has jumped a stunning 516 percent.
Instead of feeding the world, Monsanto drove prices through the roof — taking the biggest share for itself. A study by Dr. Charles Benbrook at Washington State University found that rapidly increasing seed and pesticide costs were tamping farmers’ income, cutting them from any benefits of the new technology.
Still, Monsanto was doing its best to make them play along. It offered steep discounts to independent dealers willing to restrict themselves to selling mostly Monsanto products. These same contracts brought severe punishment if independents ever sold out to a rival. U.S. regulators showed little concern for Monsanto’s expanding power.
“They’re a pesticide company that’s bought up seed firms,” says Bill Freese, a scientist at the Center for Food Safety. “Businesswise, it’s a beautiful, really smart strategy. It’s just awful for agriculture and the environment.”
Today, Monsanto seeds cover 40 percent of America’s crop acres — and 27 percent worldwide. The company makes nearly $8 billion per year.
“If you put control over plant and genetic resources into the hands of the private sector… and anybody thinks that plant breeding is still going to be used to solve society’s real problems and to advance food security, I have a bridge to sell them,” says Benbrook.
Seeds of Destruction
It didn’t used to be like this. At one time, seed companies were just large-scale farmers who grew various strains for next year’s crop. Most of the innovative hybrids and cross-breeding was done the old-fashioned way at public universities. The results were shared publicly.
“It was done in a completely open-sourced way,” says Benbrook. “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture exchanged all sort of seeds with other scientists and researchers all over the world. This free trade and exchange of plant genetic resources was the foundation of progress in plant breeding. And in less than a decade, it was over.”
The first crack appeared in 1970, when Congress empowered the USDA to grant exclusive marketing rights to novel strains — with the exception that farmers could replant the seeds if they chose and patented varieties must be provided to researchers.
But that wasn’t enough. Corporations wanted more control, and they got it with a dramatic, landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1980 that allowed the patenting of living organisms. The decision was intended to increase research and innovation. But it did the opposite, encouraging market concentration.
Monsanto, which declined an interview request for this article, would soon gobble up every rival seed company in sight. It patented the best seeds for genetic engineering, leaving only the inferior for sale as non-GM brands.
Syngenta and DuPont both sued, accusing Monsanto of monopolistic practices and a “scorched earth campaign.” But instead of bringing reform, the chemical giants reached settlements that granted them licenses to use, sell, and cross-develop Monsanto products. (Some DuPont suits still drag on today.)
It wasn’t until 2009 that the Justice Department, working in concert with several state attorneys general, began investigating the company for antitrust violations. But three years later, the feds quietly dropped the case. (They also ignored interview requests for this article.)
Dr. Peter Carstensen, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, said some states were interested in pursuing the case and “some of the staff in the antitrust division wanted to do something, but top management — you say the word ‘patent’ and they panic.”
Set the Lawyers to Stun
Historically, farmers were able to save money on seeds by using those produced by last year’s crops for the coming year’s planting. But because Monsanto owns patents on its genetically modified strains, it forces farmers to buy new seeds every year.
Armed with lawyers and private investigators, the company has embarked on a campaign of spying and intimidation to stop any farmer from replanting his seeds.
Farmers call them the “seed police,” using words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe Monsanto’s tactics. The company’s agents fan out into small towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants. Some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records.
In one case, Monsanto accused Indiana farmer David Runyon of using its soybean seeds, despite documented fact that he’d bought nonpatented seed from local universities for years. While attempting to pressure Runyon, Monsanto’s lawyer claimed the company had an agreement with the Indiana Department of Agriculture to search his land.
One problem: Indiana didn’t have a Department of Agriculture at the time. Like most Monsanto investigations, the case never went to trial and would appear to be more about intimidation than anything. Runyon incurred substantial costs defending himself without having done anything wrong. In 2006, the Center for Food Safety estimated that Monsanto had pressured as many as 4,500 farmers into paying settlements worth as much as $160 million.
Yet Monsanto wanted even more leverage. So it naturally turned to Congress.
Earlier this year, a little-noticed provision was slipped into a budget resolution. The measure, pushed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), granted the company an unheard-of get-out-of-jail-free card, which critics derisively dubbed “The Monsanto Protection Act.”
There have been some indications of adverse health effects, but Monsanto has largely kept its products from researchers. Long-term studies have been limited, but scientists have found greater prevalence of tumors and digestive problems in rats fed GM corn and potatoes, and digestive issues for livestock eating GM feed. Those who have published studies critical of GM have been besieged by industry-funded critics disputing their finding, assailing their professional reputations, and effectively muddying the water. The feds have never bothered to extensively study GM foods. Instead, they’ve basically taken Monsanto’s word that all is kosher. So organic farmers and their allies sued the company in 2009, claiming too little study had been done on Monsanto’s GM sugar beets.
A year later, a judge agreed, ordering all recently planted GM sugar beet crops destroyed until their environmental impact was studied.
The Monsanto Protection Act was designed to end such rulings. It essentially bars judges from intervening in the midst of lawsuits — a notion that would seem highly unconstitutional.
Not that Congress noticed. Monsanto’s spent more than $10 million on campaign contributions during the past decade — plus another $70 million on lobbying since 1998. The money speaks so loudly, Congress has become tone-deaf.
In fact, the U.S. government has become Monsanto’s de facto lobbyist in countries distrustful of GM safety. Two years ago, WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables showing how the feds had lobbied foreign governments to weaken laws and encourage the planting of genetically modified crops in Third World countries.
Other wires from State Department diplomats ask for money to fly in corporate flacks to lean on government officials. Even Mr. Environment, former Vice President Al Gore, was key in getting France to briefly approve Monsanto’s GM corn.
These days, the company has infiltrated the highest levels of government. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is a former Monsanto lawyer, and the company’s former and current employees are in high-level posts at the USDA and FDA.
But the real coup came in 2010, when President Obama appointed former Monsanto Vice President Michael Taylor as the FDA’s new deputy commissioner for foods. It was akin to making George Zimmerman the czar of gun safety.
Trust Us. Why Would We Lie?
At the same time Monsanto was cornering the food supply, its principal products — GM crops — were receiving less scrutiny than an NSA contractor.
Monsanto understood early on the best way to stave off bad publicity was to suppress independent research. Until recently, when negotiating an agreement with major universities, the company had severely restricted access to its seeds by requiring researchers to apply for a license and get approval from the company about any proposed research. The documentary Scientists Under Attack: Genetic Engineering in the Magnetic Field of Money noted that nearly 95 percent of genetic engineering research is paid for and controlled by corporations like Monsanto.
Meanwhile, former employees embedded in government make sure the feds never get too nosy.
Meet Michael Taylor. He’s gone back and forth from government to Monsanto enough times that it’s not a revolving door; it’s a Bat-pole. During an early-’90s stint with the FDA, he helped usher bovine growth hormone milk into the food supply and wrote the decision that kept the government out of Monsanto’s GM crop business.
Known as “substantial equivalence,” this policy declared that genetically modified products are essentially the same as their non-GM counterparts — and therefore require no additional labeling, food safety, or toxicity tests. Never mind that no accepted science backed his theory.
“It’s simply a political calculation invented by Michael Taylor and Monsanto and adopted by U.S. federal policymakers to resist labeling,” says Jim Gerritsen, a Maine farmer. “You have this collusion between corporations and the government, and the essence is that the people’s interest isn’t being served.”
The FDA approves GM crops by doing no testing of its own but by simply taking Monsanto’s word for their safety. Amusingly, Monsanto agrees that it should have nothing to do with verifying safety, says spokesman Phil Angell. “Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”
So if neither Monsanto nor the feds is ensuring that the food supply is safe, who is?
The answer: No one.
We’ve Got Bigger Problems Now
So far, it appears the GM movement has done little more than raise the cost of food.
A 2009 study by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman looked at four Monsanto seeds and found only minimal increases in yield. And since GM crops cost more to produce, their economic benefits are questionable at best.
“It pales in comparison to other conventional approaches,” says Gurian-Sherman. “It’s a lot more expensive, and it comes with a lot of baggage that goes with it, like pesticide use, monopoly issues, and control of the seed supply.”
Meanwhile, the use of pesticides has soared as weeds and insects become increasingly resistant to these death sprays. Since GM crops were introduced in 1996, pesticide use has increased by 404 million pounds. Last year, Syngenta, one of the world’s largest pesticide makers, reported that sales of its major corn soil insecticide more than doubled in 2012, a response to increased resistance to Monsanto’s pesticides.
Part of the blame belongs to a monoculture that developed around farming. Farmers know it’s better to rotate the crops and pesticides and leave fields fallow for a season. But when corn prices are high, who wants to grow a less profitable crop? The result’s been soil degradation, relatively static yields, and an epidemic of weed and insect resistance.
Weeds and insects are fighting back with their own law — the law of natural selection. Last year, 49 percent of surveyed farmers reported Roundup-resistant weeds on their farms, up from 34 percent the year before. The problem costs farmers more than $1 billion annually.
Nature, as it’s proved so often before, will not be easily vanquished.
Pests like Roundup-resistant pigweed can grow thick as your arm and more than six feet high, requiring removal by hand. Many farmers simply abandon fields that have been infested with it. Pigweed has infested Florida cotton fields, and farmers are now using old pesticides on top of Roundup to combat it.
To kill these adaptive pests, chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow are developing crops capable of withstanding even harsher pesticides. It’s producing an endless cycle of greater pesticide use at commensurate financial and environmental cost.
“It’s not about stewardship of the land,” says Thomas Earnshaw, sustainable farmer, educator, and founder of Outlaw Farmers in the Florida Panhandle. “The north Panhandle is probably the most contaminated land in the state — because of the monoculture farming with all the cotton and soy, both are “Roundup Ready” [GM crops]. They’re just spraying chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers into the soil, it’s getting into the water table, and farmers aren’t even making any more money — biotech is.”
Next Stop… the World!
The biggest problem for Monsanto’s global growth: It doesn’t have the same juice with foreign governments as it does with ours. That’s why it relies on the State Department to work as its taxpayer-funded lobbyist abroad.
Yet that’s becoming increasingly difficult. Other nations aren’t as willing to play corporate water boy as America is. The countries that need GM seeds often can’t afford them (or don’t trust Monsanto). And the nations that can afford them (other than us) don’t really want them (or don’t trust Monsanto).
Though the European Union imports 30 million tons of GM crops annually for livestock feed, it’s approved only two GM crops for human consumption. Although Brazil is poised to become the world’s largest soybean exporter on the strength of Monsanto seed, thousands of farmers there are suing Monsanto for more than $600 million after the company continued to charge them royalties two years after the expiration of its patent. Ecuador and Peru have shied away from GM crops. And even in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, Haiti mistrusted Monsanto so much that it declined its offer of seeds, even with assurances that the seed wasn’t GM.
In April, biotech companies took another hit when the European Union banned neonicotinoids — AKA “neo-nics” — one of the most powerful and popular insecticides in the world. It’s a derivative of nicotine that’s quite poisonous to plants and insects. German giant Bayer CropScience and Syngenta both make neo-nics, which are used to coat seeds, protecting crops in their early growth stage. In America, 90 percent of America’s corn crop comes with the coating.
The problem is that plants sweat these chemicals out in the morning dew, where they’re picked up by bees like a morning cup of Starbucks. Last year, a study linked neo-nics to the collapse of bee colonies, which threatens the entire food system. One-quarter of the human diet is pollinated by bees.
The mysterious collapse of colonies — in which bees simply fly off and die — has been reported as far back as 1918. Yet over the past seven years, mortality rates have tripled. Some U.S. regions are witnessing the death of more than half their populations, especially at corn planting time.
Last year’s study indicates a link to Monsanto’s GM corn, which has been widely treated with neo-nics since 2005.
But while other countries run from the problem, the U.S. government is content to let its citizens serve as guinea pigs. Beekeepers, though, are starting to fight back. This year, two separate lawsuits have been filed against the EPA demanding a more stringent risk assessment process and labeling laws for pesticides.
What’s Mine Is Yours
The same worries apply to contamination from GM crops. Ask Frank Morton, who grows organic sugar beet seeds in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and is among the few non-GM holdouts.
In 2010, a federal judge demanded farmers stop planting GM sugar beets. Farmers were surprised to find there was very little non-GM sugar-beet seed to be had. Since being introduced in 2005, Monsanto had driven just about everyone out of the market.
Morton’s farm is just two miles from a GM sugar beet farm. Unfortunately, beet pollen can travel as much as five miles, cross-pollinating other farmers’ fields and, in the case of an organic farmer, threatening his ability to sell his crop as organic and GM-free.
Morton has to worry about his fields because GM crops have perverted long-standing property law. Organic farmers are responsible for protecting their farms from contamination, since courts have consistently refused to hold GM growers liable.
Kansas farmer Bryce Stephens had to stop growing organic corn and soybeans for fear of contamination and has 30-foot buffer crops to protect his organic wheat. (Wheat pollen doesn’t travel far.)
“Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their side of the fence,” says Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen. “If it was anything but agriculture, nobody would question it. If I decided to spray my house purple and I sprayed on a day that was windy and my purple paint drifted onto your house and contaminated your siding and shingles, there isn’t a court in the nation that wouldn’t in two minutes find me guilty of irresponsibly damaging your property. But when it comes to agriculture, all of a sudden the tables are turned.”
Contamination isn’t just about boutique organic brands. It maims U.S. exports too.
Take Bayer, which grew experimental, GM rice — that was unapproved for cultivation and for human consumption — at test plots around Louisiana State University for just one year. Within five years, these test plots had contaminated 30 percent of U.S. rice acreage. No one’s certain how it happened, but Bayer’s rice was found as far away as Central America and Africa.
Within days of the USDA announcement that this untested GM rice had gotten loose, rice futures lost $150 million in value, while U.S. rice exports dropped by 20 percent during the next year. And Bayer ended up paying farmers $750 million in damages.
Last month brought another hit. A Monsanto test of GM wheat mysteriously contaminated an Oregon farm eight years after the test was shut down. Japan and South Korea immediately halted imports of U.S. soft white wheat — a particularly harsh pill for the Japanese, who have used our white wheat in almost all cakes and confectionary since the 1960s.
Monsanto’s response? It’s blaming the whole mess on eco-terrorists.
Just Label It
Trish Sheldon moved to Florida in 2001, but the bubbly blond still exudes a cool, friendly California air. In 2010, she started a state chapter of Millions Against Monsanto, then in 2011 founded a group called GMO-Free Florida to raise awareness of the risks of GMOs and push for mandatory labeling initiatives.
With Monsanto seeds covering more than 40 percent of America’s crop acres (a March study found that 86 percent of corn, 88 percent of cotton, and 93 percent of soybeans grown here are of a GM variety) and the agri-giant making an expected $7.65 billion profit this year, it’s doubtful the company will go away anytime soon. But as consumers become more aware of the sinister problems lurking in the food chain, activists in many states are pushing for laws that would require foods with GM ingredients to be labeled, much as foods with trans fats are.
More than 23 right-to-know groups have since popped up throughout Florida especially after California’s push for mandatory labeling legislation, called Proposition 37, failed last year. Chemical companies defeated the initiative, thanks to a $46 million publicity campaign full of deceptive statements.
“Even though there were lies and deceit by the biotech industry, that was the catalyst,” Sheldon says. “People were so pissed off that it failed [and] we started gaining steam.” This May, during a global day of action, more than 2 million protesters attended rallies in more than 400 cities across 52 countries. In Miami, organizers lost count when protesters topped 1,300.
“If they’re going to allow the American people to be lab rats in an experiment, could they at least know where it is from so they can decide whether they want to participate or not?” asks Lance Harvell, a Republican state representative from Maine who sponsored a GM labeling law this year. “If the FDA isn’t going to do their job, it’s time we stepped in.”
Maine is just the second state (nine days after Connecticut) to pass such a law. When Vermont raised the issue a year ago, a Monsanto official indicated the company might sue. So the new laws in both Maine and Connecticut won’t take effect until other states pass similar legislation so they can share defense costs.
In Florida, state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs and House Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda have sponsored similar bills — but neither version made it to committee. Both intend to revise and resubmit bills in the next legislative session, in January 2014.
“God gave the seed to the earth and the fruit to the trees,” Harvell says. “Notice it didn’t say he granted Monsanto a patent. The human body has developed with its seeds. You’re making a major leap into Pandora’s box, a quantum leap that maybe the human body isn’t ready to make yet.”
As more information comes out, it’s increasingly clear that GM seed isn’t the home run it’s portrayed to be. It encourages greater pesticide use, which has a negative impact on the environment and our bodies. Whether or not GM food is safe to eat, it poses a real threat to biodiversity through monopolization of the seed industry and the kind of industrial farming monoculture this inspires.
Meanwhile, a study by the University of Canterbury in England found that non-GM crops in America and Europe are increasing their yields faster than GM crops.
“All this talk about feeding the world, it’s really PR,” explains Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The hope is to get into these new markets, force farmers to pay for seed, then start changing the food and eating habits of the developing world.”
But as much as he hates GM, Kansas farmer Stephens is sanguine. “I’ve seen changes since I was little to where it is now,” he says. “I don’t think it will last. This land and these people here have gone through cycles of boom and bust. We’re just in another cycle, and it will be something different.”
Providing we don’t irreparably break it first.
Additional reporting by Sara Ventiera.
The pharmaceutical industry has “mobilised” an army of patient groups to lobby against plans to force companies to publish secret documents on drugs trials.
Drugs companies publish only a fraction of their results and keep much of the information to themselves, but regulators want to ban the practice. If companies published all of their clinical trials data, independent scientists could reanalyse their results and check companies’ claims about the safety and efficacy of drugs.
Under proposals being thrashed out in Europe, drugs companies would be compelled to release all of their data, including results that show drugs do not work or cause dangerous side-effects.
While some companies have agreed to share data more freely, the industry has broadly resisted the moves. The latest strategy shows how patient groups – many of which receive some or all of their funding from drugs companies – have been brought into the battle.
The strategy was drawn up by two large trade groups, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), and outlined in a memo to senior industry figures this month, according to an email seen by the Guardian.
The memo, from Richard Bergström, director general of EFPIA, went to directors and legal counsel at Roche, Merck, Pfizer, GSK, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Novartis and many smaller companies. It was leaked by a drugs company employee.
The email describes a four-pronged campaign that starts with “mobilising patient groups to express concern about the risk to public health by non-scientific re-use of data”. Translated, that means patient groups go into bat for the industry by raising fears that if full results from drug trials are published, the information might be misinterpreted and cause a health scare.
The lobbying is targeted at Europe where the European Medicines Agency (EMA) wants to publish all of the clinical study reports that companies have filed, and where negotiations around the clinical trials directive could force drug companies to publish all clinical trial results in a public database.
“Some who oppose full disclosure of data fear that publishing the information could reveal trade secrets, put patient privacy at risk, and be distorted by scientists’ own conflicts of interest. While many of the concerns are valid, critics say they can be addressed, and that openness is far more important for patient safety.”
Tim Reed, of Health Action International, a group that has previously exposed the pharmaceutical industry’s financial links with patient groups, said: “It’s incredibly ironic that this is a transparency initiative and we’ve now got clear indications that the pharmaceutical industry is ready to use patient organisations to fight their corner.
“It underlines the fact that patient groups who are in the pay of the pharmaceutical industry will go into battle for them. There’s a hidden agenda here. The patient groups will say they think it’s a great idea to keep clinical trials data secret. Why would they do that? They would do that because they are fronts for the pharmaceutical industry.
“Patient groups get traction because they are assumed to represent the voice of the suffering. But industry uses them to say we’re not going to get innovative medicines if the industry is deterred from investing by having to be transparent about their clinical trials,” he added.
A recent review of medical research estimated that only half of all clinical trials were published in full, and that positive results were twice as likely to be published than negative ones.
A source in the European parliament, who is close to the negotiations over the clinical trials directive, said he had experienced intense lobbying from patient groups. “We’ve witnessed this sort of activity in recent months, and it’s a concern if the pharmaceutical industry is behind some of it. They are trying to weaken some of the transparency proposals and that’s clear from the amount of lobbying we’ve had,” he said.
The patient groups focus on the concern that if companies release all of their clinical trials data, the information might be misconstrued, or intentionally cherry-picked, and spark damaging health scares around certain drugs or vaccines.
“These aren’t completely unfounded concerns, but the risk already exists, and those things already happen. The answer is to have a responsible scientific community that can counteract the allegations and claims,” the source said.
Two other strands of the campaign include discussions with scientific associations about the risks of data sharing, and work with other businesses that are concerned about the release of trade secrets and confidential data. The final strand calls, in the long term, for a network of academics across Europe that can be called on to correct false interpretations of the data. “That is deemed to be happening in any case,” the memo concedes.
In response to queries from the Guardian, GSK said: “This is not something we are doing. One of the reasons we’re involved in this is we want more companies to move towards greater transparency. I don’t think it’s for us to be mobilising patient groups to campaign on a negative level.”
A Roche spokesperson said the company consulted patient groups to understand their concerns about clinical trials, but “to our knowledge Roche has not been involved in any EFPIA’s potential activity in mobilising patient groups to express concern about the risk to public health by non-scientific re-use of data”.
A Lilly spokesman said: “Lilly is committed to working with Europe-based patient advocacy organisations for the benefit of patients in a way that is true to the EFPIA code of practice and Lilly’s integrity in business policy.”
Individuals who received the memo at several other companies, including AstraZeneca and Novartis, did not respond.
Tracey Brown, director of the campaign group, Sense about Science, and co-founder of AllTrials, a campaign to get all clinical trials registered and all results reported, said: “We now have the prospect of really significant developments to end the secrecy and make clinical trial reporting a practical reality and, finally, some sound commitments from parts of industry.
“In this context, the industry associations’ strategy to get others to raise further spurious problems is backward. It should embarrass anyone associated with it. I would say to the individual companies that they should publicly distance themselves from any association with EFPIA and PhRMA’s strategy now,” she said.
The EFPIA told the Guardian it had been working with PhRMA on a “commitment to enhance sharing of clinical data” to researchers and the public, and intended to make an announcement this week.
“Knowing that some people want all data to be made available to everyone, EFPIA is engaging with stakeholders to share concerns with harmful ‘re-use’ of data. We will engage not only with patient groups, but also with the scientific community,” it said.
Matt Bennett, senior vice-president of PhRMA, said in a statement: “EMA’s proposed policies on clinical trial information raise numerous concerns for patients. We believe it is important to engage with all stakeholders in the clinical trial ecosystem, including the patients who volunteer to participate in clinical trials, about the issue.
“If enacted, the proposals could risk patient privacy, lead to fewer clinical trials, and result in fewer new medicines to meet patient needs and improve health.”
Frederick Kaufman has penned a provocative article for Slate’s Future Tense column in which he makes the case for open-source genetically modified foods. “It will help fight climate change,” he says, “and stick one in Monsanto‘s eye.” What’s more, it’s an approach that still favors scientific advancement.
Kaufman says that GMOs have increased agriculture’s dependance on expensive “inputs” — the proprietary seeds and herbicides that have made multinationals like Monsanto and Dow so profitable. At the same time, transgenic crops are increasingly being perceived as a source of genetic pollution.
“The GMO story has become mired in the eco-wrecking narrative of industrial agriculture,” he writes, “and that is too bad for those who understand the real risks of climate change and discern our desperate need for innovation.”
The answer, says Kaufman, is to go open-source. He writes:
GMO agriculture relies on the relatively new science of bioinformatics (a mixture of bio- and information science), which means that DNA sequences look a lot more like software code than a vegetable garden. And if Monsanto is the Microsoft of food supply—raking in the rent on bites instead of bytes—perhaps the time has come for the agricultural equivalent of Linux, the open-source operating system that made computer programming a communal effort.
Kaufman says that food justice activists have been trying to undermine Monsanto’s market share through consumer advocacy and political reform. But it’s also possible, he says, to be against big-agriculture and for scientific advancement:
Open-source is the quickest way to undermine proprietary rights to food molecules, those rights that guarantee profit streams for transnationals while condemning the earth to a monocultural future of agriculture with no regard for agroecology. For the surest way to sabotage Monsanto is not to label but to sap its income. Already, a number of biotech pioneers have followed the open-source examples of Apache and Wikipedia. The database of the human genome mapping project has been free since it was published in 2003. The genetic map of rice has been made available at no charge to researchers worldwide. And the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has made its “Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture” a transnational paradigm of free-flowing information. Agricultural researchers in developing countries need not pay a penny to review all the latest life science research published in more than 3,000 academic journals.
Like open-source software, open-source food genetics would advance biological research in this country, and our universities would soon become hothouses of innovation. Intellectual production without intellectual property would thrive, as scientists gained access to DNA code in all its infinite variety, along with the freedom to create derivative work and redistribute findings. No great leap of faith would be required, as open-source is one of food’s oldest dynamics. There’s no patent on a roast chicken, and the derivative work of Momofuku founder David Chang does not owe a fee to Marcella Hazan, Julia Child, or Colonel Sanders. Chefs and their recipes have long constituted a creative commons.
There’s lots more to Kaufman’s article, so be sure to read it all at Slate.
Image credit: Ira Bostic / Shutterstock.com. Inset image: Nigel Treblin/AFP/Getty Images.
The Americans do not only spy on governments, authorities and private individuals across the world with the help of their secret services; they also understand how to push forward the global interests of their companies with full force. An impressive example of this is the agriculture giant Monsanto, the leading manufacturer of genetically modified seeds in the world.
A glimpse into the world of Monsanto shows that companies which delivered the pesticide ‘Agent Orange’ to the US military in the Vietnam war had close connections with the central power in Washington, with tough people from the field of the US secret services and with private insurance companies.
“Imagine the internet as a weapon”
In the global fight against genetic engineering, the US group draws on dubious methods, strange helpers – and the power of Washington. Critics of the group feel they are being spied upon.
The US group Monsanto is a giant in the agriculture business: and number one in the controversial field of plant genetic engineering. For its opponents, many of whom live in Europe, Monsanto is a sinister enemy. Time and again mysterious things happen, which make the enemy seem yet more sinister.
In the previous month, the European environmental organisation ‘Friends of the Earth’ and the German Environmental and Nature Protection Association (BUND) wanted to present a study on the pesticide glyphosate in the human body. Weed killers containing glyphosate are the big seller for Monsanto. The company aims for more than two billion dollars turnover for the Roundup product alone. ‘Roundup herbicide’ has a “long history of safe use in more than 100 countries”, Monsanto emphasises.
As viruses attack their computers, the eco-activists ask themselves: “could we be seeing ghosts?”
However, there are studies which show that the product may damage plants and animals and the latest study shows that many large city inhabitants now have the field poison in their bodies, without knowing it. Exactly what the spray can trigger in an organism is, as with so many things in this field, disputed.
Two days before the study across 18 countries was set to be published, a virus disabled the computer of the main organiser, Adrian Bepp. There was a threat that press conferences in Vienna, Brussels and Berlin would be cancelled. “We panicked”, remembers Heike Moldenhauer from BUND. The environmental activists were under extreme time pressure.
Moldenhauer and her colleagues have widely speculated about the motives and identity of the mysterious attacker. The genetic engineering expert at BUND believes the unknown virus suppliers wanted in particular to “generate confusion”. Nothing is worse for a study than a cancelled press conference: “we did ask ourselves at the time if we were seeing ghosts”, said Moldenhauer.
There is no evidence that Monsanto was the ghost or had anything to do with the virus. The company does not do things like that. It takes pride in operating “responsibly”: “Today, it is very easy to make and spread all kinds of allegations,” Monsanto claims. They say that “over and over there are also dubious and popular allegations spread, which disparage our work and products and are in no way based on science.”
Critics of the group see things differently. This is due to the wide network Monsanto has developed across the world. There are ties with the US secret services, the US military, with very hard operating private security companies and of course, with the US government.
A conspicuously large number of Monsanto critics report regular attacks by professional hackers. The secret services and military also like to employ hackers and programmers. These specialise in developing Trojans and viruses in order to penetrate foreign computer networks. Whistle-blower Edward Snowden has indicated the connection between intelligence services actions and economic drive. However, this sinister connection has been overshadowed by other monstrosities.
Some powerful Monsanto supporters know a lot about how to carry out a cyber war. “Imagine the internet as a weapon, sitting on the table. Either you use it or your opponent does, but somebody’s going to get killed” said Jay Byrne, the former head of public relations at Monsanto, back in 2001.
Companies regularly fight with dubious methods to uphold what they see as their right: but friend or foe, him or me – that is fighting talk and in a war, you need allies. Preferably professionals. Such as those from the secret service milieu, for example.
Monsanto contacts are known to the notorious former secret service agent Joseph Cofer Black, who helped formulate the law of the jungle in the fight against terrorists and other enemies. He is a specialist on dirty work, a total hardliner. He worked for the CIA for almost three decades, among other things as the head of anti-terroism. He later became vice president of the private security company Blackwater, which sent tens of thousands of soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan under US government orders.
Investigations show how closely connected the management and the central government in Washington are, as well as with diplomatic representatives of the USA across the world. In many instances, Monsanto has operationally powerful assistants. Former Monsanto employees occupy high offices in the USA in government authorities and ministries, industrial associations and in universities; sometimes in almost symbiotic relationships. According to information from the American Anti-Lobby-Organisation, Open Secrets Org, in the past year, 16 Monsanto lobbyists have taken up sometimes high ranking posts in the US administration and even in regulatory authorities.
For the company, it is all about new markets and feeding a rapidly growing world population. Genetic engineering and patents on plants play a big role here. Over 90 % of corn and soya in the USA is genetically modified. In some parts of the rest of the world the percentage is also growing constantly.
Only the European markets are at a standstill. Several EU countries have many reservations about the Monsanto future, which clearly displeases the US government administration. In 2009, the German CSU politician, Ilse Aigner, Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, also banned the corn type MON810 from German fields. When she travelled to the USA shortly afterwards, she was approached by her US colleague, Tom Vilsack about Monsanto. The democrat was once governor in the agricultural state of Iowa and distinguished himself early on as a supporter of genetic engineering. The genetic engineering industry elected him as ‘governor of the year’ in 2001.
Unfortunately, there is no recording of the discussion between Vislack and Aigner. It was said to be controversial. A representative for the Federal Government described the tone: there were “huge efforts to force a change in direction of the German government regarding genetic policy.” The source preferred not to mention details the type of “huge efforts” and the attempt “to force” something. That is not appropriate between friends and partners.
Thanks to Snowden and Wikileaks, the world has a new idea of how these friends and partners operate where power and money are concerned. The whistle-blowing platform published embassy dispatches two years ago, which also included details about Monsanto and genetic engineering.
For example, in 2007, the former US ambassador in Paris, Craig Stapleton, suggested the US government should create a penalties list for EU states which wanted to forbid the cultivation of genetically engineered plants from American companies. The wording of the secret dispatch: “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU.” Pain, retaliation: not exactly the language of diplomacy.
Monsanto led the fight to allow the famous genetically engineered corn plant MON810 in Europe with lots of lobbying – the group completely lost the fight. It was even beaten out of the prestigious French and German markets. An alliance of politicians, farmers and clergy rejected genetic engineering in the fields and the consumers do not want it on their plates. But the battle is not over. The USA is hoping that negotiations started this week for a free-trade agreement between the USA and the EU will also open the markets for genetic engineering.
Lobbying for your own company is a civic duty in the USA. Even the important of the 16 US intelligence services have always understood their work as being a support for American economic interests on the world markets. They spy on not only governments, authorities and citizens in other countries under the name of the fight against terror, they also support American economic interests, in their own special way.
A few examples?
Monsanto denies the accusations and emphasises that it operates “responsibly”
More than two decades ago, when Japan was not yet a major economic power, the study ‘Japan 2000’ appeared in the USA, created by the employees of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Japan, the study read, was planning a kind of world takeover with a ‘reckless trade policy’. The USA would be the losers, stated the study. The national security of the USA was at threat, it continued and the CIA gave the call to war.
America’s economy must be protected from the European’s “dirty tricks”, explained former head of the CIA James Woolsey. This, he maintained, is why the “continental European friends” were spied upon. A clean America.
The whistle-blower Snowden was once in Switzerland for the CIA and during this time, he reported on which tricks the company was said to have tried in order to win over a Swiss banker to spy on account data. The EU allowed the American services to take a close look at its citizens’ financial business. Allegedly, this was to dry up money sources for terror. The method and purpose are highly dubious.
In Switzerland, the scene of many earlier espionage novels now plays one of these episodes that make Monsanto especially mysterious and enigmatic: In January 2008, the former CIA agent Cofer Black travelled to Zurich and met Kevin Wilson, at the time Monsanto’s safety officer for global issues. About what did the two men talk? Probably the usual: Opponents, business, mortal enemies.
The investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, who wrote the reference work about Blackwater, the company specializing in mercenaries, wrote in the American weekly The Nation in 2010 about the reported strange meeting in Zurich. He had received leaked documents once again. These show: Monsanto wanted to put up a fight. Against activists who destroyed the fields. Against critics, who influenced the mood against the genetic modification company. Cofer Black is the right man for all seasons: “We’ll take off the kid gloves”, he declared after the 11 September terrorist attacks, and tasked his CIA agents in Afghanistan to take out Osama bin Laden: “Get him, I want his head in a box.” However, he also understands a lot about the other secret service business, which operates with publicly available sources. When he meets with the Monsanto safety officer Wilson, Cofer Black is still the Vice (President) at Blackwater, who has the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA and, of course private companies as customers. However, there was a lot of anxiety in January 2008, because the mercenaries of the security company had shot 17 civilians in Iraq and some Blackwater employees had drawn attention by bribing Iraqi government employees. It just so happened that Cofer Black was at the same time head of the security company Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), which was a subsidiary of Blackwater, not saddled with the same devastating reputation, however staffed with some excellent and versatile experts.
According to their own statements, Monsanto was conducting business with TIS at the time and not with Blackwater. It is without doubt that Monsanto received reports from TIS about the activities of critics. The activities in question were those that would have presented a risk for the company, its employees or its operating business. The information collected ranged from terrorist attacks in Asia to the scanning of websites and blogs. Monsanto emphasizes that TIS only used publicly accessible material when preventing said risk.
This matched Black’s modus operandus. No shady dealings.
There used to be rumors that Monsanto wanted to take over TIS to mitigate their risk – and there are new rumors these days that the group allegedly is considering a takeover of the company Academi that emerged after a few transformations from the former Blackwater Company. Is anything correct about these rumors? “As a rule we are not disclosing details about our relations with service providers, unless that information is already available to the public,” is the only commentary from Monsanto.
Every company has its own history, and the history of Monsanto includes a substance, which the turned the company into a demon not only not only for the aging 1968ers: Monsanto was one of the leading manufacturers of the pesticide Agent Orange, which was used until January 1971 by the US military in the Vietnam War. Forests were defoliated by constant chemical bombardment to make the enemy visible. Arable land was poisoned, so that the Vietcong had nothing to eat. In the sprayed areas, the teratogenic effects increased more than ten times. Children were born without noses, without eyes, with hydrocephalus, with facial clefts and the US military stated that the Monsanto agent was as harmless as aspirin.
Is everything allowed in war? Especially in the new fangled cyber war?
It is already obvious that somebody makes life difficult for Monsanto critics and an invisible hand ends careers. However, who is this somebody? The targets of these attacks are scientists, such as the Australian Judy Carman. Among other things, she has made a name for herself with studies of genetically modified plants. Her publications were questioned by the same professors which also attacked the the studies of other Monsanto critics.
It does not stop at skirmishes in the scientific community. Hackers regularly target various web pages where Carman publishes her studies and the sites are also systematically observed, at least that is the impression Carman has. Evaluations of IP log files show that not only Monsanto visits the pages regularly, but also various organizations of the U.S. government, including the military. These include the Navy Network Information Center, the Federal Aviation Administration and the United States Army Intelligence Center, an institution of the US Army, which trains soldiers with information gathering. Monsanto’s interest in the studies is understandable, even for Carman. “But I do not understand why the U.S. government and the military are having me observed,” she says.
The organization GM Watch, known to be critical of gene technology, also experiences strange events. Editor Claire Robinson reports continued hacker attacks on the homepage since 2007. “Every time we increase the page security just a bit, the opposite side increases their tenacity and following are new, worse attacks”, she says. She also cannot believe the coincidences that occur. When the French scientist Gilles Eric Seralini published a controversial study on the health risks of genetically modified maize and glyphosate in 2012, the web site of GM Watch was hacked and blocked. The same repeats when the opinion of the European food inspectorate (EFSA) is added to the site. The timing was skilfully selected in both cases. The attacks took place exactly when the editors wanted to publish their opinion.
It has not yet been determined who is behind the attacks.
Monsanto itself, as stated, emphasizes that the company operates “responsibly”.
The fact is, however, that much is at stake for the group. It is about an upcoming bill. Especially about the current negotiations on the free trade agreement. Particularly sensitive is the subject of the agricultural and food industry. The Americans want to open the European markets for previously prohibited products. In addition to genetically engineered plants controversial feed additives and hormone-treated beef are subject of the negotiations. The negotiations will probably extend over several years.
The Americans want to use the Free Trade Agreement to open the European GMO Market.
The negotiations will be detailed. Toughness will rule the day. US President Barack Obama has therefore appointed Islam Siddiqui as chief negotiator for agriculture. He has worked for many years for the US ministry of agriculture as an expert. However, hardly anyone in Europe knows: From 2001 to 2008, he represented CropLife America as a registered lobbyist. CropLife America is an important industry association in the United States, representing the interests of pesticide and gene technology manufacturers – including of course Monsanto. “Actually, the EU cannot accept such a chief negotiator because of bias”, says Manfred Hausling, who represents the Green Party in the EU parliament.
Translated by New Europe Translations for Sustainable Pulse (Original in German)
Several subjects are difficult for me to write about. At such times, a long-ago professor’s words comes to mind. He advised young writers to take extra care with emotion-charged topics, cautioning that the message could be lost amid the sentiment. Still, I have to try.
The terms fracking, toxic tar sands, genetically modified organisms, carcinogenic chemicals, metallic sulfide mining, acid mine drainage and many others stir fear-filled loathing. I need answers to troubling questions:
• Are the people who run these companies and our government genuinely evil or just exceedingly naïve as they destroy our planet in the name of energy and jobs?
• Why are so many of us, seduced by energy-guzzling lifestyles and the promise of jobs, unwilling to change our wasteful ways? A recent report stated that most people would rather adjust to the negative effects of our actions than change them.
• What are the most effective things people who truly care can do to make a difference before it is too late?
The natural environment, particularly fresh water, is our source of life and livelihood, ultimately more precious than oil and craved by other countries.
Now, Enbridge wants to increase both the pressure within and poisonous content of the oil flowing through this aging pipeline. The existing pipeline should be removed, not made more vulnerable to a disaster of absolutely unparalleled proportions from which there can be no real recovery.
What happened in 1989 in the exquisitely beautiful Prince William Sound, Alaska, thanks to Exxon can never be undone nor can it in the Gulf, due to the negligence of British Petroleum, or here in Calhoun County, compliments of Enbridge.
Major corporations lie willfully, continually and without compunction. British Petroleum pats itself on the back in its public relations for its “commitment that began two years ago” to the Gulf Coast.
Awfully late isn’t it? Where was its “commitment” from the very beginning of any thought of drilling for oil in the Gulf or anywhere else for that matter? Shame on them and shame on those who are swayed by the verbiage.
Likewise, Chevron brags that it is so concerned about the environment that if it cannot do things right, it won’t do them at all. Yet when this hyperbole began airing, the company had been cited for deliberately violating environmental regulations at one of its major operations in California.
To me, Monsanto is a curse word. What would Rachel Carson, founder of the environmental movement, say if she were alive today? Might her words be a prophetic: “I told you so”?
Genetically modified crops are already linked to health problems while Monsanto intimidates farmers who want to work with heirloom seeds in sustainable settings. It is seeking government approval to allow more toxic “Round-Up” residue on food crops.
Corporate executives and government officials snuggle up and plump pillows in the same bed. It is all so convenient and cozy for deal-making and favor-swapping.
Yet, my anger isn’t just directed at them. It is also at us, the public. We’re being lied to, our world is being poisoned before our eyes and many of us blithely do nothing constructive or corrective. We are not part of the solution, but part of the problem.
On July 14, we have the opportunity to take steps on behalf of change at “Oil & Water Don’t Mix: A Rally for the Great Lakes” to be held at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace, in view of the Mackinac Bridge. (See http://www.oilandwaterdontmix.
com and the report by the National Wildlife Federation, “Sunken Hazard.”)
Without drinkable water, breathable air, and safe food-bearing soil, we cannot live. Can it be put any more directly than that? I am angry. You should be too. But anger isn’t enough. What will we do?
Hopes of a genetically modified crop bonanza in India are fading fast. Maharastra state has banned the use of a particular type of transgenic cotton made by industrial giant Monsanto, saying it’s a threat to people’s lives and to other crops.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been accused of bribing doctors in China in order to boost sales. Chinese government officials say they have uncovered evidence of a bribery scheme involving 700 travel agencies who were used to funnel as much as three billion yuan ($480 million) in payments.
“We found that bribery is a core part of the activities of the company,” Gao Feng, the head of China’s fraud unit, said. “There is always a big boss in criminal organisations and in this case GSK is the big boss.”
Allegations about bribes at GSK first surfaced in January of this year in a series of tips made by an anonymous individual to company officials. The whistleblower alleged that the UK company made payments of $249 to $490 to promote Botox, a toxin used for medical purposes as well as for cosmetic purposes to get rid of wrinkles.
Soon after, the Wall Street Journal says it reviewed documents from as late as April 2013 for an internal GSK project called “Vasily” to pay 48 doctors who promoted Botox with “either a percentage of the cash value of the prescription or educational credits” depending on how many sales they made. GSK officials were encouraged to discuss the scheme on personal email accounts.
“I recommend that everyone else use a private email account because it will be better that way,” Ruiting “Candy” Chen, Glaxo central nervous system marketing manager said in an email translated by the Journal. “Remember you must send to personal email accounts, you accidentally sent to [another sales team member’s] public mail, careful next time!” wrote Any Zheng, Botox regional sales manager.
Chinese media reported on Monday that GSK allegedly made payments to the travel agencies which then transferred the money to doctors via credit cards when they made prescriptions. The travel agencies booked the payments for travel expenses to fake meetings.
GSK says it has suspended all work with the travel agencies. It also says Vasily was never implemented and has denied the charges.
“We take all allegations of bribery and corruption seriously,” a spokesman said in a press statement. “We continuously monitor our businesses to ensure they meet our strict compliance procedures. We have done this in China and found no evidence of bribery or corruption of doctors or government officials. However, if evidence of such activity is provided we will act swiftly on it.”
Chinese officials say that Mark Reilly, the head of GSK operations in China, fled the country on June 27 and has not returned. Several other executives have been arrested.
“The anonymous claims highlight the challenges multinational pharmaceutical companies face in China, one of their most significant and fastest-growing markets, because its health-care system is controlled and owned by the state and it has a tradition of government patronage and gift-giving,” write Christopher Matthews and Jessica Hodgson of the Wall Street Journal.
In reality, the comment by the Journal reporters reflects a bias on their part. GSK has been found guilty of routinely offering U.S. doctors lavish payments for promoting company products, despite the absence of a state health care system.
In July 2012 GSK agreed to pay out $3 billion to settle charges on pushing bupropion and paroxetine (as well as their failure to report safety data about the drug Avandia to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) — the largest such fine ever paid by a pharmaceutical company.
The U.S. Department of Justice noted that the company gave out “cash payments disguised as consulting fees, expensive meals, weekend boondoggles and lavish entertainment.” For example, doctors who promoted Wellbutrin were taken on “training sessions” to Jamaica. “Dr. Drew,” a TV doctor, was paid $275,000 in two months in 1999 alone to “deliver messages about [Wellbutrin SR] in settings where it did not appear that Dr. Pinsky was speaking for GSK.”
Nor was it the only Western pharmaceutical company accused of paying bribes to doctors to promote its products. In August 2012, in a criminal complaint issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, investigators laid out detailed charges against Pfizer for paying bribes in eight countries: Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Serbia.
For example, Pfizer Italy employees provided free cell phones, photocopiers, printers and televisions to doctors, arranged for vacations (such as “weekend in Gallipoli,” “weekend with companion” and “weekend in Rome”) and even made direct cash payments (under the guise of lecture fees and honoraria) in return for promises by doctors to recommend or prescribe Pfizer’s products.
On 9th August 2011, which is 69 years since the Quit India movement was launched in India as part of the freedom struggle, marches will be held in major Indian cities to throw out GM crops, industrial agriculture, corporate land grabs, and the multinational companies who are profiting at the expense of millions of small farming families.
India’s kisan swaraj movement – farmers’ independent self-reliance – has said that the question of who controls our agriculture – our crores of farmers or a few big corporations – has deep ramifications for the whole society.
“We all have a big stake in whether unsafe genetically modified foods will be thrust on us, whether unsafe agri-chemicals would further damage our water, soil and health, whether 10 crore (100 million) farmer families will lose their livelihoods, whether our rural and urban areas will be sustainable and whether we would have safe, diverse and nutritious food to eat.”
The 9th of August 2011 is to be a day of action which aims to strengthen the broader struggle against corporate domination of agriculture by focusing on its most potent symbol. From Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and other towns and cities in India, a strong signal will be sent that citizens will not tolerate corporate domination of our food and farming systems.
This call is being put out by Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), an all-India network of about 400 organisations of farmers, agricultural workers, consumers, social activists and academics, working to promote ecologically sustainable agriculture and secure livelihoods for farmers, and stop corporate domination of our agriculture and food system.
Monsanto’s Misdeeds and Growing Threat in India – A few indications about the dangers of Monsanto and the extent of its control [get the English pamphlet here /get the Hindi pamphlet here]:
1. Mahyco-Monsanto used its Bt cotton seed monopoly to set exorbitant prices. The Andhra Pradesh government had to use the MRTP Commission, Essential Commodities Act and then a special Act to finally push its price from Rs.1800 per packet to Rs.750.
2. Monsanto actually sued Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat state governments that they have no right to control seed prices – with Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi as its lawyer! How can individual farmers protect themselves from its legal machine?
3. Monsanto entered into licensing agreements with most seed companies so that out of 225 lakh acres of GM cotton, 210 lakh acres is planted with its Bollgard. During 2002-2006, Monsanto earned Rs.1600 crores just in the form of royalties.
4. Monsanto is on the Board of US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, under which bio-safety regime for GM crops was sought to be weakened; repeating its US strategy where its lawyers practically wrote the policies on GM seeds and patents.
5. Monsanto entered into hushed-up agreements with several states (Rajasthan, Orissa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir) under which the states spend hundreds of crores of public funds every year to purchase Hybrid Maize seeds from Monsanto and distributing them free of cost to farmers, creating a ready market.
6. Monsanto is pushing the sales of its herbicide glyphosate which is known to cause reproductive problems. Approval for its herbicide-tolerant GM crops would skyrocket the use of this hazardous chemical in our fields.
7. Recently, gross violations were exposed in its GM maize field trials in Karnataka.
Last year, if you’re like the average American, you ate more than your body weight of a group of foods you didn’t even know you were consuming. Foods that have never been proven safe to eat. Foods that are becoming more and more widespread in our food supply.
These foods consist of genetically modified organisms (GMO), plants that have been created in laboratories and then planted by farmers. The most frightening part about these foods is that they are unlike any other foods that humans have ever eaten before recent times. And they were probably on your dinner plate last night and almost certainly in your snack foods.
The Environmental Working Group, a consumer advocate organization, determined that Americans eat, on average, 193 pounds of GMO foods a year. And the group justifiably asks: “If you were planning on eating your body weight of anything in a year, wouldn’t you want to make sure it was safe to eat?”
But you don’t know if these foods are safe to eat, and nobody is planning any research to find out how risky they are. The government doesn’t require international corporations like Monsanto, which make tremendous profits off of these foods, to establish their safety. Other countries are more concerned about these foods than we are. As a matter of fact, the United States is just about alone in not requiring labeling of GMO foods or the performance of safety tests to see whether these bizarre, chemist-created foods are harmless. As a result, about 90 percent of the corn, soy and cotton now produced in the United States are GMO crops. When you eat processed foods like corn chips or breakfast cereal, 70 percent of what you take in has been made from GMO products.
Who stands to profit from this change in our eating habits? Primarily Monsanto, the biotech company that controls 90 percent of all GMO seeds that farmers plant. (For more on agricultural terrorism, go here.
A big reason Monsanto can get away with engineering this profitable threat to health stems from its gargantuan lobbying efforts in Washington. According to a report by Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization, Monsanto and other huge food and agricultural biotechnology firms and trade associations lavished more than $540 million in campaign contributions and lobbying efforts on the elected class during the past decade. And their efforts are accelerating.
Food and Water Watch has determined that the annual spending on politicians by these corporations has doubled during that time. These companies employ more than 100 lobbying firms and also have in-house lobbyists who wine and dine politicians and government functionaries to get what they want.
In many cases, the same people who hold high-paying jobs at Monsanto eventually move into positions at the regulatory agencies that are supposed to be protecting us against their abuses of the food system.
Consider the case of Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for Foods for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the past, he has moved from a job at the FDA to a job at a law firm that represented Monsanto. Then he moved to a job at Monsanto, over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, back to the law firm, over to Monsanto, to a position on a university, to a think tank and then back to the FDA. It’s a pretty cushy career path for Taylor, but a disaster for our protection from questionable food.
While Taylor was doing his second stint at the FDA, the agency adjusted its regulatory policies so GMOs could be introduced into our diet without being tested for toxic effects.
Aside from the possible danger of eating GMO foods that have had genetic material from other species added to their cells, the GMO crops that farmers grow often have been sprayed with unconscionable amounts of pesticides that contaminate our air and water. Residues of these chemicals may also contaminate foods made from these plants.
Many of these GMO crops are “Roundup®-ready.” That means they have been modified genetically to survive massive amounts of the pesticide called Roundup® (also provided by Monsanto). Glyphosate from Roundup® is now being detected in ground water far from the farms at which it is sprayed. Traces are even being found in the urine of city dwellers. It crosses the placental barrier and can be detected in the blood of unborn children.
This technology threatens you, me and the world around us. Roundup®-ready crops have led to the creation of “frankenweeds,” weeds impervious to herbicides. GMO seeds that produce their own pesticides are creating “frankenbugs” that withstand and even thrive on GMO plants.
But this toxic brew is killing off populations of beneficial insects like pollinating honeybees. It has led to what is called colony collapse disorder and a worldwide die-off of bees. GMO crops may also be wiping out monarch butterfly populations.
Right now, the only way for you to avoid GMO foods is to eat organic food. Any other food, even items marked “all-natural,” may contain GMO ingredients. You can get a free shopping guide to help you find non-GMO foods here.
Monsanto Finance Holdings Ltd, an Irish-incorporated company with an address on Lower Hatch Street, Dublin, made a profit of €2.5 million in 2012 but paid no tax, according to accounts just filed.
The firm made a profit of €3.69 million in 2011, when it again paid no tax.
The firm has no employees and its three directors have addresses in Bermuda.
The firm’s balance sheet shows that at the end of August 2012 it had financial assets of €50.8 million. Accumulated profits at that stage were €53.3 million and shareholders’ funds were €103 million. The firm is owned by a Monsanto company based in Switzerland, and is ultimately owed by Monsanto of St Louis, Missouri, US.
On May 31 world media headlines read “Monsanto backing away from GMO crops in Europe.” But before the world opens the champagne to celebrate the death of GMO, it is worthwhile to look more closely at what was officially said and what not.
The original source for the story is attributed to a German left daily, TAZ which printed excerpts from an interview with an official spokeswoman of Monsanto Germany.
Ursula Lüttmer-Ouazane reportedly told Taz “We’ve come to the conclusion that this has no broad acceptance at the moment.”
Her remarks were circulated worldwide and Reuters interviewed Monsanto corporate spokesman Thomas Helscher who reportedly said, “We’re going to sell the GM seeds only where they enjoy broad farmer support, broad political support and a functioning regulatory system. As far as we’re convinced this only applies to a few countries in Europe today, primarily Spain and Portugal.”
A Monsanto interview with a leftist German paper created the impression around the world that the world’s largest patent-holder of GMO seeds is in full retreat from pushing their GMO seeds, at least in the European Union. The reality is anything but that. Among other things, on June 10 the EU Commission plans to approve a new Monsanto GMO maize sort.
What Monsanto really says
A visit to the official website of Monsanto Germany presents an official company press release referring to the media statements, where the essential part says, ”Right now the media is flooded with reports that Monsanto has stopped the marketing of GMO seeds in Germany and the EU. That is not correct…”
Then on the parent website of Monsanto in St. Louis, the following statement appears: “We have a robust business selling high-quality, conventional corn, oilseed rape and vegetable seeds to our farmer customers in Europe. We’ve been telling people in Europe for several years now that we’ll only sell biotech seeds where they enjoy broad farmer support, broad political support and a functioning regulatory system. As Hugh Grant, our CEO told the Financial Times in 2009, ‘Europe’s going to make up its own mind in its own time.’ The only GM trait grown in Europe today is a corn resistant to the European corn borer, an insect that can do considerable damage to crops. Its cultivation accounts for less than 1% of the all corn cultivated in Europe (by hectares).”
A militant against genetically modified organisms flashes the victory sign in Labrihe, near the southwestern French town of Auch, after pulling genetically modified corn from a field planted by US firm Monsanto. (AFP Photo / Pascal Pavani)
A militant against genetically modified organisms flashes the victory sign in Labrihe, near the southwestern French town of Auch, after pulling genetically modified corn from a field planted by US firm Monsanto. (AFP Photo / Pascal Pavani)
Both statements are worth closer attention. First the German statement is a bit different from the US version. It officially denies as false the press reports that they have ceased marketing of GMO seeds in the EU. Second, their statement that they concentrate on breeding and sale of conventional seeds and plant protection chemicals is nothing other than a description of what the present status of Monsanto sales in the EU, nothing more. Because of the limited use so far of Monsanto GMO seeds in the EU, Monsanto business by definition focuses now where it earns money. However the “plant protection chemicals” Monsanto refers to primarily its own Roundup herbicide, which by license agreement with farmers must be sold paired with all Monsanto GMO seeds, but is also the number one weed killer sold in Europe and the world. It has also been proven to be highly toxic even to human embryo cells.
The US statement has interesting important differences. First it gives no hint of any change in Monsanto policy towards spreading GMO seeds in the EU. It states explicitly they will continue to spread GMO seeds in Spain and Portugal, both EU countries. And it quotes chairman Hugh Grant, not to be confused with the Hollywood actor, indicating the company expects the EU to come around on allowing its GMO. And it cites the present status of its GMO corn in the EU. Nothing more. No statement of a stop to GMO in the EU.
And the Monsanto beat goes on, the beat goes on, on, on…
The EU Commission has announced it will meet to vote on approving licensing of a new Monsanto GMO patented maize, SmartStax, on June 10, ten days after the carefully formulated Monsanto FAZ interview. Monsanto shares the patent with Dow AgroSciences. SmartStax supposedly produces six different insecticides. It has been approved by the EUs food safety agency, EFSA despite absence of critical safety tests and Commission approval is reported certain by Brussels sources.
According to Dr. Christopher Then of TestBiotech, SmartStax was given the safety OK from the (Monsanto influenced-w.e.) EFSA, the European food safety body, despite provable lack of serious safety tests by Monsanto/Dow AgroSciences.
Yet for most of the world who don’t have time to research the official statements of Monsanto but merely glance at a Reuters or TAZ headline, the message has been delivered that Monsanto has given up its EU effort on proliferating its GMO seeds. The timing of the TAZ interview is suggestive of what seems to be a carefully orchestrated Monsanto PR deception campaign. The TAZ original by writer Jost Maurin appeared on the same day, May 31, less than one week after March against Monsanto , a worldwide protest demonstrations against Monsanto, that took place in more than 400 cities in some 52 countries around the world. The TAZ article that was then used as reference for all world media after, appeared under the emotional and factually misleading headline: Sieg für Anti-Gentech-Bewegung: Monsanto gibt Europa auf (Victory for anti-GMO Movement: Monsanto Gives up Europe).
The March against Monsanto was notable in several key respects. Most alarming for Monsanto and the GMO cartel was the fact that it was the first such demonstration not organized by anti-GMO NGOs such as Greenpeace or BUND or Friends of the Earth. In Germany where this author participated as a speaker in one of the events, it was all organized by concerned activists via facebook. But the NGOs who formally oppose GMO were reportedly nowhere to be found as sponsors or even reportedly as active organizers.
That march presented Monsanto and friends with a frightening new element—the danger that that grass roots anti-GMO protest would spread and make life even more difficult for GMO proliferation in Africa, in China, India, Latin America and of course eastern and western Europe. All indications are that the timing of the well-formulated TAZ interview, notably with a left newspaper openly opposed to Monsanto GMO, was an orchestrated attempt to “manage perceptions” and take the headwind out of the sails of the growing anti-GMO sentiment in the EU and abroad. For the moment, Monsanto has gained a tactical victory in propaganda points as the broad public takes the retreat at face value. As one experienced opponent of Monsanto GMO put it in a private e-mail to me, it bears all the hallmarks of a slick PR campaign, “like a Burson & Marsteller tactic that applies to many controversial bad practices and part of why it works is that it takes a long time to build consumer/activist energy and momentum, whereas the PR-company can start on a very short runway …”
What Monsanto has not done is to recall its already commercialized GMO Maize in the EU, that despite damning independent scientific study of some 200 rats over a two year span showing rats fed GMO maize and Monsanto Roundup herbicide showed dramatically more cancer tumors, higher death rates and organ damage compared with non-GMO-fed rats.
Moreover, Monsanto openly admits it is pushing its way deep into the eastern European market for seeds, though mentioning only conventional seeds. Monsanto Vice President for International Corporate Affairs, Jesus Madrazo, stated that the company has been focusing on gaining market share in the conventional corn market in Ukraine, and that Eastern Europe and South America are key growth areas for the company now.
Then in the USA, it has leaked out that Monsanto directly worked with its apparent current favorite US Senator, Roy Blunt, a Republican from Monsanto’s home state of Missouri and one of the major recipients of Monsanto campaign finance, to draft for Blunt an obscure paragraph Blunt got into a spending bill, a bombshell that exempts Monsanto from being sued for any damage its crops or chemicals cause.
Called by opponents the Monsanto Protection Act, many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the Monsanto Protection Act was a part of the spending bill that they were voting on. The Monsanto bill, signed into law by President Obama despite hundreds of thousands of protest petitions not to, essentially gives Monsanto and other GMO purveyors legal immunity, even if future research shows that GMO seeds cause significant health problems, cancer, anything. The federal courts no longer have any power to stop their spread, use, or sales. The only other corporations in the US enjoying such outrageous legal immunity are the pharmaceutical vaccine makers.
What we have is a quite different picture from the slick spin reported by TAZ and from there picked up worldwide uncritically by mainstream media. Monsanto by its own open admission has not ceased marketing its GMO products and herbicides in the EU. It has not ceased imports of its GMO soybeans and GMO corn into the EU where it has managed to escape the EU GMO labeling law.
Monsanto also states it is concentrating on building market share in eastern Europe, where often regulators are more “relaxed” and in the notoriously corrupt Ukraine. They do not deny promoting GMOs there either; rather they state positively their focus on conventional seeds only. Simply put, the geopolitical stakes behind Monsanto and the attempt to control the world’s most vital seeds of life are far too high for the company to raise the white flag of surrender so easily.
A Monsanto precedent
There is a relevant precedent for this Monsanto PR deception campaign. In 1999, after months of growing worldwide anti-Monsanto protest over the fact Monsanto had made a takeover bid to buy Mississippi company, Delta & Pine Land in order to acquire Delta’s patent on a radical new GMO technique known officially as GURTS (Genetic Use Restriction Technology) and popularly as Terminator technology. Delta has won a patent together with the US Government’s USDA for the Terminator. It would force a GMO seed or plant to “commit suicide” after only one harvest, forcing the farmer to return each year to Monsanto to buy new seeds regardless the price or availability.
The Terminator image threatened to derail the entire fledgling GMO project at the outset such that Rockefeller University President and GMO financial sponsor, Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, made a rush visit to meet Monsanto’s board and convince them to make what was a tactical retreat in order to limit damage to a very fragile GMO campaign worldwide. Monsanto announced, deceptively it proved, that it would not pursue “commercialization” of Terminator technology and it dropped its takeover bid for patent holder Delta & Pine Land. The anti-GMO NGOs claimed a huge victory and nothing was heard for seven years until, with no fanfare, in 2006 Monsanto announced it was acquiring Terminator patent co-holder Delta & Pine Land. This time there was scarcely a peep from the anti-GMO lobby. They had lost momentum and the deal went ahead.
It remains to be seen if the forces for healthy non-GMO agriculture today prove as gullible as in 1999.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.