War Profiteer of the Month: Monsanto
Monsanto has been by far the most prominent and controversial corporation promoting the introduction of biotechnology in agriculture. The company has a long and messy history of manufacturing hazardous chemicals. Their products have included chemical warfare agents (Agent Orange), industrial materials (PCBs), food additives (NutraSweet), agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Monsanto was the first major agrochemical and pharmaceutical company to pursue the ‘life sciences’ concept. During the 1990s it shed many of its chemical concerns and embarked on a spending spree investing heavily in biotechnology research, and spending nearly $10 billion world wide acquiring seed companies. In the late 1990s Monsanto was the first company to widely market first generation GM crops. This was accompanied by an aggressive public relations campaign aimed at persuading a concerned public that GM crops were a safe and desirable innovation. The campaign backfired, resulting in Monsanto becoming the primary focus of a rapidly growing global resistance to GM crops (to a large extent drawing attention away from the likes of Aventis (Agrevo) and Syngenta (Novartis/AstraZeneca) who were quietly getting on with introducing similar products). By late 1998 a combination of Monsanto’s status as an international bogeyman, and a need for returns on their extensive investments resulted in a loss in market confidence in the company and their share price plummeted. Stability was regained through a merger with pharmaceutical giant Pharmacia/UpJohn in April 2000. As a result of this merger the combined company, known as Pharmacia, has taken over Monsanto’s pharmaceutical wing Searle. The infamous agrochemical and biotechnology division, still known as Monsanto, has been spun off as a nominally separate company with Pharmacia retaining an 85% share.
Monsanto in Colombia
The aerial fumigation program that has grown out of the U.S. government's so-called "war on drugs" is caried out with Monsanto's products and is endangering the fragile ecosystems and indigenous cultures of Colombia's Amazon Basin.
The fumigation program, which the U.S. finances as part of Colombian aid package is designed to eradicate coca and other plants used to manufacture illicit drugs. The program indiscriminately wipes out legitimate subsistence crops as well as natural plants, and kills birds, mammals and aquatic life. The chemicals are applied by aircraft and frequently fall on Columbia's indigenous peoples, subjecting them to a variety of health afflictions.
Though carried out by Colombian police and military authorities, the aerial fumigation program utilizes U.S. government aircraft, fuel, escort helicopters and private military contractors.
"Fumigation violates our rights and our territorial autonomy,It has intensified the violence of the armed conflict and forced people to leave their homes after their food crops have been destroyed" said Emperatriz Cahuache, president of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples.
The enviromental cosencuence are huge too, For every hectare of forest sprayed, another is lost to [pesticide] drift and another to additional clearing of displaced crops.