Columns, Don’t Get Me Started

Don’t get me started: Monsanto’s side of the story

By John deJong

While researching this month’s feature, I Googled Monsanto to hear their side of the story and soon got to their “Background” page. On it were Monsanto’s takes on many of the serious issues surrounding GMOs and the ubiquitous use of herbicides such as Roundup.

Monsanto would have us believe that hundreds of studies have been done proving the safety of GMOs and glyphosate. Instead, the proof that GMOs are safe is a carefully constructed house of cards. Most of the posts were 10 or 15 years old, in keeping with Monsanto’s philosophy of the first science is the only science.

One backgrounder of interest addressed the reproductive health of farm workers and their families’ exposure to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup. The three papers Monsanto cited were based on a 1994 self-report study of farm families in Ontario, Canada. Since the study and all three papers hinted at serious problems, Monsanto attempts to discredit them all. Monsanto would have us believe that glyphosate is safe—based on one discredited study.

There are no well-designed studies of the reproductive health of farmers and their families. There are no large, long term feeding studies of the effects of diets that contain traces of glyphosate, or GMOs, for that matter. Twenty-one years later there is no further research on the safety of exposure to glyphosate that Monsanto is willing to publicize. Apparently Monsanto doesn’t have the time or money to do a real study.

But that’s not science. It’s the epitome of anti-science. Monsanto’s assumption, at every turn, is that if a study is inconclusive or even just mildly damning, it proves the safety of GMOs and glyphosate.

Remember the old toy, the Magic Eight Ball? It would mysteriously provide an answer to whatever question you put to it. One answer was Reply hazy, ask again later. It would seem that the results of Monsanto’s “science” supporting the safety and efficacy of glyphosate and GMOs always come up with a similar answer, Reply hazy, don’t ask again.

But this is not so funny, considering that 200 million pounds of glyphosate were used in the United States in 2007, about half a pound per person.

Looking further on the Backgrounder page, I click “Testing fraud: IBT and Craven Laboratories.” It’s a short summary of two testing lab-for-hire fraud cases. Monsanto portrays itself as the victim of the frauds and bewails the $6.5 million it spent doing the same tests again.

This is getting interesting. I go to copy the Backgrounder, so I can think about it off-line, but my mousepad won’t let me copy and paste. That’s funny, I’ve never had this problem before. I try downloading the PDF file. Still no dice. I do get the clue that “Without the proper password you/I do not have permission to copy portions of this document.” Well, shit. I forgot my Monsanto-issued double-secret password. Just a minute while I go look for it on the bottom of the Roundup bottle in my neighbor’s shed.

Shhh-ittt! The number is smudged and he didn’t screw the top on tight. I’m going to have to type “Testing fraud: IBT and Craven Laboratories” into my browser, without copy and paste.

Information that is probably most damning of Monsanto isn’t accessible.

Anyway, the IBT and Craven scandals involved two labs that did contract safety tests for Monsanto. In 1976 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration discovered that 71% of the studies done by Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories had “numerous discre pencies, between the study conduct and data.” IBT was changing the results of its testing to benefit its clients. While IBT officals were criminally implicated, Monsanto and the beneficiaries of this testing fraud got off without as much as a slap on the wrist.

“In 1990, the pesticide industry (and Monsanto) was once again the victim of testing fraud,” according to Monsanto’s backgrounder. Victim schmictim, do you really think that Monsanto had the bad luck of finding evil labs that falsified safety tests twice?


John deJong is the associate publisher of CATALYST.

This article was originally published on October 1, 2015.