Whenever I hear the name Monsanto I can’t help but think about one of the greatest environmental crimes in the history of the United States. Back in 1935 Monsanto bought out a small chemical company located in Anniston, Alabama, a struggling town of about 22,000 poor and working class people. Monsanto spent the next 36 years using Anniston as its manufacturing headquarters for PCBs, an industrial coolant. Tragically, the company was also recklessly poisoning the local community, environment and its own workers with hundreds of tons of this highly toxic material.
For decades Monsanto used Snow Creek, a small local waterway that flowed past its plant, to dispose of PCBs. The company claims that they just didn’t know any better – that as soon as they became aware that PCBs were a human and environmental health problem, they took steps to stop the dumping and to protect local residents and workers. But as documents that the company was forced to turn over during a series of lawsuits that began in the late 1990’s show, their claimed ignorance of the harmful impacts of PCBs is just another in a long, ongoing list of Monsanto’s endless lies.
As early as 1938 Monsanto knew from researchers that PCBs caused liver damage in rats. In the 50’s they started to tell their own workers to wear protective clothing and respirators when working around PCBs, while at the same time they continued to dump their poisons out into the West Anniston community. In 1966, Monsanto hired a Mississippi State University biologist to dunk fish into Snow Creek. The study found that “all 25 fish lost equilibrium and turned on their sides in 10 seconds and all were dead in 3 ½ minutes,” their skin broken and bleeding. The fact the Creek was lethal didn’t stop Monsanto. By 1969 the company was pouring 250 pounds of PCBs a day into the creek that feed into the area’s drinking water supply and which many local residents, including children, used for fishing, playing and recreating. That year, Monsanto researchers found fish in the local community fishing spot with PCB levels 7,500 times the legal limit. A company memo concluded, “there is little object in going to expensive extremes in limiting discharges.” Instead, Monsanto executives enlisted state officials to try and “handle the problem quietly without release of the information to the public.”
Monsanto’s toxic legacy continues to date – there’s never been a proper cleanup. Many of the people who live in West Anniston today are told to wear masks when cutting their grass; their children are told not to kick up any dirt when playing in the yards for fear of breathing in carcinogenic dust left by behind by Monsanto after they packed up and moved out.
Unfortunately, Monsanto’s reprehensible conduct in Anniston was simply a precursor for its current diabolical deeds. What the company did, and is still doing, to the people of West Anniston underscores a corporation devoid of any decency and honesty. Throughout the world they have continued to engage in false adverting, bribery, cover-ups, threats, deceit and outright illegal business practices. Sadly, perhaps its worst is yet to come.
Today, Monsanto is busy trying to commandeer the world’s crop supply through the development, patenting and sale of genetically modified plant seeds and food products, or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). If Monsanto gets its way, virtually every consumable plant on the earth – every soy bean, ear of corn and kernel of wheat -will have the company’s brand of ownership burned into it. And there isn’t any twisted tactic the company won’t employ to obtain its greedy goal of controlling our food sources. They’ve bribed governmental officials, threatened media outlets, intimidated researchers and crushed local farms with frivolous patent lawsuits.
Monsanto’s latest effort in its quest for world food domination is GMO sweet corn. A 2010 study in the International Journal of Biological Sciences links Monsanto’s GMO corn to liver failure in rats. Monsanto, of course, discounts the study in the same way it purposefully ignored the 1938 PCB study that showed liver failure in rats. Seems as if a biotech company like Monsanto should have a little more respect for science, but not when it impacts their massive profits. Despite indicators that GMO corn will have many serious human and environmental health impacts, Monsanto’s lobbyists convinced USDA to approve it for human consumption, so now Monsanto has permission to peddle its contaminated corn to us. It’s in negotiations with Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the country, to carry the corn throughout its US stores.
The ironic tragedy is that if they’re successful, Monsanto will be returning to Anniston, Alabama to the Walmart Supercenter on McClellan Blvd. to continue the job it started in 1936, poisoning the people of a town that has already suffered enough.
Scott Edwards is co-director of the Food & Water Justice project. He came to Food & Water Watch after spending eleven years with Waterkeeper Alliance, most recently as Director of Advocacy. Scott’s work at Waterkeeper involved designing and implementing strategies for a whole host of campaigns on issues such as industrial agriculture, mercury contamination, coal and military wastes. He has brought cases against the U.S. Navy for the bombing of the island of Vieques, prosecuted U.S. energy companies in Canadian courts for contamination of waterways and has been very active against factory farms in both North Carolina and the Chesapeake region. While at Waterkeeper, he was also very active in setting up programs in Asia, including China, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Prior to getting his law degree and entering the practice of environmental law, Scott taught ecology and environmental sciences to New York City high school students. He works out of the New York office of Food & Water Watch.