Norman Borlaug dies at 95

American agronomist and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug has died aged 95 of complications from cancer at his home in Dallas, Texas in the United States late on Saturday evening.

Norman Borlaug in June 2003

Norman Borlaug in June 2003

Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his development and introduction of high yield crops, and also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal, the two highest civilian awards in the U.S..

Borlaug’s name is nearly synonymous with the Green Revolution, against which many criticisms have been mounted over the decades by environmentalists, nutritionists, progressives, and economists.

Throughout his years of research, Borlaug’s programs often faced opposition by people who consider genetic crossbreeding to be unnatural or to have negative effects.

Borlaug’s work has been criticized for bringing large-scale monoculture, input-intensive farming techniques to countries that had previously relied on subsistence farming. These farming techniques reap large profits for U.S. agribusiness and agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto Company and have been criticized for widening social inequality in the countries owing to uneven food distribution while forcing a capitalist agenda of U.S. corporations onto countries that had undergone land reform.

The Monsanto Company is the world’s leading producer of the herbicide glyphosate, marketed as “Roundup”. Monsanto is also the leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed, holding 90% market share for various crops.

Other major products have included the herbicides 2,4,5-T, DDT, and Agent Orange used primarily during the Vietnam War as a defoliant agent later proven to be highly carcinogenic to any who come into contact with the solution, the excitotoxin aspartame (NutraSweet), bovine somatotropin (bovine growth hormone (BST)), and PCBs.

In 1947, an accidental explosion of ammonium nitrate fertilizer loaded on the French ship S.S. Grandcamp destroyed an adjacent Monsanto styrene manufacturing plant, along with much of the port at Galveston Bay. The explosion, known as the Texas City Disaster, is considered the largest industrial accident in US history, with the highest death toll killing at least 581 people.

It also triggered the first ever class action lawsuit against the United States government, under the then-recently enacted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), on behalf of 8,485 victims.

As of February 2005, Monsanto has patent claims on breeding techniques for pigs which would grant them ownership of any pigs born of such techniques and their related herds. Greenpeace claims Monsanto is trying to claim ownership on ordinary breeding techniques.

Monsanto claims that the patent is a defensive measure to track animals from its system. They furthermore claim their patented method uses a specialized insemination device that requires less sperm than is typical.

In 2006, the Public Patent Foundation filed requests with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to revoke four patents that Monsanto has used in patent lawsuits against farmers. In the first round of reexamination, claims in all four patents were rejected by the Patent Office in four separate rulings dating from February through July 2007.

Legal actions

In USA

In 1997, it was alleged Fox News cooperated with Monsanto in suppressing an investigative report on the health risks associated with Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone product, Posilac.

Posilac, a synthetic hormone used to increase milk production in cows, while banned in many first-world countries, is used in the United States. Steve Wilson and Jane Akre disagreed with the inclusion of material in the story they felt was slanted or misleading. Both reporters were eventually fired. Wilson and Akre alleged the firing was for retaliation, while the FOX affiliate contended they were fired for insubordination.

The court held that Fox News had no obligation to report truthfully, and the First Amendment protects their right to lie. Therefore, the court held that firing a reporter for refusing to lie is not actionable under the whistleblower statute.

In India

The state of Andhra Pradesh, India, at first resisted Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton; however, as it has proved immensely popular with farmers, they have attempted to control its price. In 2005, after the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, the Indian regulatory authority, released a fact-finding statement, the state agriculture minister barred the company from selling cotton seeds in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

The order was later lifted. More recently, the Andhra Pradesh state government filed several cases against Monsanto and its Mumbai based licensee Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds, after they challenged the order directing the company not to charge a trait price of more than Rs. 900 per pack of 450 grams of Bt.

In the UK

Between 1965 and 1972, Monsanto paid contractors to illegally dump thousands of tons of highly toxic waste in UK landfill sites, knowing that their chemicals were liable to contaminate wildlife and people. The Environment Agency said the chemicals were found to be polluting groundwater and the atmosphere 30 years after they were dumped.

The Brofiscin quarry, near Cardiff, erupted in 2003, spilling fumes over the surrounding area, but the local community was unaware that the quarry housed toxic waste.

A UK government report shows that 67 chemicals, including Agent Orange derivatives, dioxins and PCBs exclusively made by Monsanto, are leaking from one unlined porous quarry that was not authorized to take chemical wastes. It emerged that the groundwater has been polluted since the 1970s.

The government was criticised for failing to publish information about the scale and exact nature of this contamination. According to the Environment Agency it could cost £100m to clean up the site in south Wales, called “one of the most contaminated” in the UK.

In Indonesia

In January 2005, Monsanto agreed to pay a $1.5m fine for bribing an Indonesian official. Monsanto admitted a senior manager at Monsanto directed an Indonesian consulting firm to give a $50,000 bribe to a high-level official in Indonesia’s environment ministry in 2002, in a bid to avoid Environmental impact assessment on its genetically modified cotton.

Monsanto told the company to disguise an invoice for the bribe as “consulting fees”. Monsanto also has admitted to paying bribes to a number of other high-ranking Indonesian officials between 1997 and 2002. Monsanto faced both criminal and civil charges from the Department of Justice and the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Monsanto has agreed to pay $1m to the Department of Justice and $500,000 to the SEC to settle the bribe charge and other related violations.

On March 5, 2008 the deferred prosecution agreement against Monsanto was dismissed with prejudice (unopposed by the Department of Justice) by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, thereby indicating that Monsato had complied fully with the terms of the agreement.

In France

Monsanto was fined $19,000 in a French court on January 26, 2007 for misleading the public about the environmental impact of its record selling herbicide Roundup. A former chairman of Monsanto Agriculture France was found guilty of false advertising for presenting Roundup as biodegradable and claiming that it left the soil clean after use.

Environmental and consumer rights campaigners brought the case in 2001 on the basis that glyphosate, Roundup’s main ingredient, is classed as “dangerous for the environment” and “toxic for aquatic organisms” by the European Union. Monsanto’s French distributor Scotts France was also fined 15,000 euros. Both defendants were ordered to pay damages of 5,000 euros to the Brittany Water and Rivers association and 3,000 euros to the CLCV consumers group.

Related:

American Academy of Family Physicians
Pesticide Exposure and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Wikipedia
Green Revolution and cancer
Environmental Health Perspectives
Differential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Placental Cells and Aromatase
Organic Consumers Association
Millions Against Monsanto Campaign

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