In a compelling interview with France 24, Vandana Shiva, environmental activist and anti-globalization author, reveals the nefarious influence multinational corporations like Monsanto have on agriculture. Rather than helping farmers to grow their land, the corporation’s chemicals and patented genetically engineered (GE) seeds force farmers to become dependent on them.
According to Shiva, when villages in India are able to save seeds and engage in organic agriculture, the wealth is maintained in the village instead of by corporations, and the local economy jumps tenfold. She also calls out Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ “charitable endeavours,” which she compares to the piracy of Christopher Columbus.
Shiva’s analogy paints Gates as the Christopher Columbus of modern times, with a mission to impose genetically modified organisms (GMOS) on small farmers around the world. “When Bill Gates pours money into Africa for feeding the poor in Africa and preventing famine, he’s pushing the failed Green Revolution, he’s pushing chemicals, pushing GMOs,” Shiva said.
Why Isn’t Gates Funding Regenerative Agriculture?
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation not only funds The Cornell Alliance for Science, which is essentially a front group for the agrichemical industry, but is also pro-GMO, which makes sense, since Gates has also bought millions of dollars’ worth of shares in Monsanto stock, according to AlterNet (and also invested in soy- and GE-yeast-based “burgers”).1
It seems he has a penchant for GMOs and lab-grown meat, both forms of patented staple foods that, while looking good on the surface, pose many new, and likely unforeseen, hazards to the global food supply.
As Shiva noted, he’s furthering the Green Revolution, the Rockefeller Foundation-funded conversion of natural farming to a system dependent on chemicals, fossil fuels and industry, and in so doing, “Bill Gates is continuing the work of Monsanto.”
A whopping 35% of cereal and soy harvested globally is fed to animals being raised on CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations).2 Where you could once find locally grown food nearby, we’re now very much dependent on the industrial agriculture complex for our very sustenance.
By taking the power away from small farmers and putting it into the hands of multinational corporations like Monsanto, we have a worrying consolidation and industrialization of agriculture and the food supply.
‘Huge Upsurge’ in Roundup Cancer Lawsuits
Since Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018 for $63 billion, they’ve been grappling with lawsuits alleging their (formerly Monsanto’s) glyphosate-containing Roundup caused health problems, including cancer. To date, 42,700 lawsuits against Bayer have been filed by individuals alleging that glyphosate caused them to develop cancer, a “huge upsurge” in recent months.3
According to Bayer, the rise in glyphosate lawsuit filings “may reflect a campaign by plaintiffs’ lawyers and lead generators to increase the volume of plaintiffs as quickly as possible in connection with” settlement negotiations.4
Bayer has remained unfazed, even with the staggering number of filings, stating, “This significant increase is clearly driven by the plaintiff-side television advertising spend which is estimated to have roughly doubled in the third quarter compared with the entire first half of the year … However, the number of lawsuits says nothing about their merits.”5
Analysts at JP Morgan suggested the number of glyphosate lawsuits may soon surpass 45,000.6 U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria7 ordered attorneys for Bayer and the plaintiffs to meet for settlement talks, appointing attorney Kenneth Feinberg as the mediator.8
Bayer said it will act in “good faith” and participate in the mediation, but initially said it doesn’t plan to negotiate until its appeals have run their course, a process that could take years. Bayer also continues to defend glyphosate’s safety, and said it expects U.S. appeals courts to reverse or “tone down” the first three court rulings they lost.9
In August 2018, jurors ruled Monsanto must pay $289 million in damages to DeWayne “Lee” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who claimed the company’s herbicide Roundup caused his terminal cancer.10 The award was later slashed to $78 million,11 but it signaled the beginning of a running trend in Roundup cancer lawsuits.
In the second case, a judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Edwin Hardeman, who alleged his repeated exposures to Roundup caused him to develop cancer. Bayer was ordered to pay more than $80 million in the case, which also found Monsanto failed to warn consumers that the product carried a cancer risk.12
Hardeman was awarded $75 million in punitive damages, $5.6 million in compensatory damages and $200,000 for medical expenses, but a judge later slashed the amount to $20 million, plus compensatory damages.13 In a similar trend, the third Monsanto Roundup case involved Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who both developed Non-Hodgkin lymphoma after regular use of Roundup.
The jury ordered Bayer to pay $2 billion in punitive and compensatory damages,14 but a judge later said the punitive damages, which make up the majority of the award, should be reduced.1
Farmers Don’t Care About Glyphosate Lawsuits
With the rising number of people alleging glyphosate caused them to develop cancer, farmers may start to shy away from its use but, according to Bayer, so far this isn’t the case. “There is extremely strong support among farmers, who are imploring us to keep this crop chemical — which is systemically relevant for the preparation of fields — on the market,” Werner Baumann, Bayer chief executive officer, told journalists.16
Sales of glyphosate-based herbicides in the third quarter of 2019 are “roughly on par” with last year’s numbers, Baumann added.17 Bayer reportedly gets most of its Crop Science business from U.S. and Brazilian farmers, but their pro-glyphosate sentiments may not be echoed around the world.
Germany, for instance, announced it would be banning glyphosate in 2023, with a phase out starting even sooner.18 The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate is a “probable carcinogen” in 2015. Germany’s decision to ban the chemical, however, is based on its effects on insect populations, including pollinators that support the food supply.
In the first phase of the ban, starting in 2020, glyphosate will be prohibited in city parks and private gardens. Use of glyphosate will also be banned in areas with rich biodiversity, such as grasslands, orchard meadows and some river and lake shores.19
An increasing number of other countries are also concerned about glyphosate’s toxicity and have imposed bans, restricted usage or made plans to do so. Among them:20
Monsanto Fights to Hide Secret PR Work
Meanwhile, as the legal battles continue, Monsanto is trying to block orders requesting that internal records between the company and PR firms be turned over. Monsanto is claiming that its dealings with PR firm FleishmanHillard be considered “privileged,” similar to a relationship between attorneys and their clients. According to U.S. Right to Know:21
“FleishmanHillard became the agency of record for Monsanto’s ‘corporate reputation work’ in 2013, and its employees became deeply involved with the company, working ‘at Monsanto’s offices nearly every day’ and gaining ‘access to online repositories of non-public confidential information,’ the company said.
‘The fact that some of these communications involve the creation of public messaging does not strip them of privilege,’ Monsanto said in its court filing.”
Bayer has stated that it stopped communications and public affairs activity with FleishmanHillard earlier in 2019, after it was revealed that the agency was involved in creating Monsanto hit lists.22 The lists contained hundreds of names and other personal information about journalists, politicians and scientists, including their opinions about pesticides and genetic engineering.23
Monsanto has even gone so far as to plant a spy in the courtroom during one of the Roundup cancer trials. A woman named Sylvie Barak told other journalists that she was a freelancer for the BBC, but it later turned out that she wasn’t. Instead, she appeared to have worked for FTI Consulting, a business advisory firm that Monsanto and Bayer had hired.
Barak invited the other journalists to meet one of her clients and have a “girls’ night out” of sorts, during which she seemed to fish for reporters’ views on Monsanto and spew industry-friendly banter.
A reporter who was present, but who wished to remain anonymous, told HuffPost, “[Barak] would make suggestions about interesting parts of the testimony. And then go on and on about certain points of testimony to try and get it into stories, and it was always bad for the plaintiffs.”24
FTI responded by saying Barak attended the trial to take notes, and Bayer denied authorizing FTI to work at the cancer trial, but several journalists involved said they were left feeling like someone else might be watching them.
“Monsanto has also previously employed shadowy networks of consultants, PR firms, and front groups to spy on and influence reporters,” HuffPost stated. “And all of it appears to be part of a pattern at the company of using a variety of tactics to intimidate, mislead and discredit journalists and critics.”25