Monday, October 8, 2012

Stranger Than Fiction

Welcome, Corporate Cops!  

Umbrella, Cyberdyne, Tyrell Corporation, Weyland-Yutani, Omni Consumer Products: sci-fi is rife with irrationally evil business entities who's sole function is to put the blocks to the humanity for the sake of a few additional profit points.

But what if I were to tell you that there are some very real companies out there who's business practices are so vile, so reprehensible and so underhanded that they make these fictional corporate villains seem uninspired by comparison.

Enter Monsanto, a one-hundred and ten year old company that began to amass its fortune by selling the  artificial sweetener saccharin to the Coca-Cola company.  In the 1920's, Monsanto began to produce various drugs, chemicals and plastics.  Not long after they started manufacturing PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) which was widely used as a coolant in motors and transformers.  That is until 1979 when the U.S. Congress banned the stuff after scientists linked it to various types of cancers including non-Hodgekin Lymphoma.  Before the ban, Monsanto was responsible for producing 99% of all PCB's used in various industries.

In the 1940's Monsanto began produce the pesticide DDT or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane for those of you out there who aren't into brevity.  In her book Silent Spring published in 1962 biologist Rachel Carson made a compelling case that thirty years worth of indiscriminate spraying of the chemical was having a highly detrimental effect on wildlife, the environment and human health.  The book created such a stir that John F. Kennedy (a.k.a. the last real President of the United States) set up a committee to verify the validity of her claims.  When Carson's theories were largely validated, the EPA was ordered to de-register DDT and it was eventually banned in 1972.

Nonplussed by these minor setbacks, Monsanto concentrated on finding a new revenue stream.  In the 60's and 70's this came in the form of a fat military contract for the notorious herbicide / defoliant called Agent Orange.  The U.S. Army sprayed twenty million gallons of this crap over Vietnam in order to deprive enemy troops of food and cover.  In the end, it destroyed over five million acres of forest and farmland, killed or maimed approximately four hundred thousand Vietnamese and ushered in about five hundred thousand birth defects.

And for all those poor naive idiots out there who still believe that the American government would never harm its own citizens: as of April 1993, almost forty thousand U.S. Army vets had applied for disability claims after being exposed to Agent Orange during active duty.

In 1973, Monsanto began flogging a glyphosate-based herbicide called Roundup.  Over the course of the next forty years, it became the dominant weed-killer used in the United States, with over eighty-two tons applied to crops.  Although the EPA still considers Roundup to be harmless to humans, debate continues to rage about its possible effects on plants, animals and the environment.    

Perhaps because they were growing weary of losing lawsuits, Monsanto began to scale back its chemical production in lieu of exploring the brave new frontier of biotechnology.  In 1983 it produced some of the first genetically-modified plant cells.  Introductory crops followed just four years later, including a soybean resistant to the herbicidal effects of the company's very own Roundup.  In a move that was either inspired by standard practice or brilliant foresight, Monsanto put a patent out on a slew of their Frankensteinian creations.

Not only did this help them recoup any initial investment sunk into research and development, it also allowed them to sue independent farmers into oblivion.  This is brilliantly illustrated in the following clip from the awesome documentary Food Inc.  

The really scary thing is that Monsonto's corporate lobbyists are so powerful that the friggin' U.S. State Department acts like their personal attack dog, going after nations that attempt to block the sale of the company's genetically modified, Borg-like crops!

After making a mint screwing around with the genetic makeup of plants, Monsonto then turned its attentions to the animal kingdom.  In 1993, the FDA approved Monsanto's bid to sell bovine growth hormones which artificially inflate milk production in cattle.  Dubbed Posilac, the product has been sold relentlessly in all fifty of the United States for the past eighteen years.  Mercifully, Canada and over thirty other nations across the world had more common sense, refusing to approved it on the basis of  animal health.

And then there's the company's shameful environmental record.  For forty years, while they cranked out PCB's from their factory in Alliston, Alabama, Monsanto knowingly dumped hazardous by products into open landfills and nearby rivers.  The end result: in 2003 Monsanto paid $300 million dollars in damages to local folks who's lives were destroyed by this naked act of gross negligence.  

Conservatives love to argue that regulations are killing free enterprise and government needs to take a "hand's off" approach to big business.  But until companies like Monsanto learn to ethically self-govern themselves, their point is completely moot.

Maybe the only way to get crooked outfits like Monsanto to clean up and fly straight is to sic Sarah Connor, Rick Deckard, Ellen Ripley, Robocop and Chris Redfield on them.

Oh, wait a minute.

Those people aren't real.

EPIC DOC:  This awesome little doc dishes up the full scoop on Monsanto in the same time it takes to watch an episode of The X-Factor.  

EPIC EVIL:  Got yer very own evil corporation at home?  Here are a few more nefarious mission statements to give you inspiration!


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