The food on our plates

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Since its creation at the start of the 20th century, US group Monsanto has developed and marketed saccharin, commodity chemicals, plastics, PCBs and, during the Cold War, toxic pesticides and herbicides, including the defoliant Agent Orange (containing dioxin, banned in 1970, and the herbicide 2,4,5-T). Agent Orange was used on a massive scale by the United States army during the Vietnam War, with catastrophic ecological and human health impacts affecting millions of Vietnamese civilians and US army veterans (cancers, congenital disorders, etc.). Monsanto subsequently produced glyphosate (the weed killer Roundup, which claims to be biodegradable), then the first GMO plants in the early 1980s, and finally a transgenic bovine growth hormone (Posilac). Today, hundreds of millions of tons of glyphosate are used each year (91 producers in 20 countries) and 185.1 million hectares are planted with GMO crops, mostly soya used to feed cattle and poultry. Analysis shows that both are present in water, air and neighboring non-GMO and untreated crops. WHO classified glyphosate in the category of products that are probably carcinogenic for humans. The company’s 2017 Annual Report reported revenues for the year of USD 14.6 billion, with gross profits of USD 7.9 billion and net profits of USD 2.3 billion. Its success is based on the North American productivist, export-oriented industrial agriculture policy model, followed in Europe (supported by the Common Agricultural Policy [ CAP ]), India (green revolution then cotton), Argentina and Brazil (soya) and finally in Africa (cotton). Within this model Monsanto deploys every means at its disposal to build a dominant market position (intellectual property, lack of transparency, scientific fraud in certification processes, lobbying, conflicts of interest, intimidation, lawsuits, corporate communications on a massive scale, trolling, etc.). This model has benefited substantially from weak health agencies (United States and European Union), a failure of public expertise, and the pre-eminence accorded to economic rationality over the precautionary principle and the duty to protect.

Independent scientists, NGOs, farmer associations, journalists, victims and citizens have mobilized via whistleblowing, victim support, lawsuits, and achieving recognition of the crime of ecocide by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Monsanto’s merger with Bayer, approved by the European Commission in March 2018 (following investigations focused solely on economic criteria around distortion of competition), created the world’s largest agrochemicals and seed group, endorsing – with absolute impunity – the monopolistic model of an agriculture that is unsustainable in ecological, health and social terms.

Genetic engineering and world seed market

Sources: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016, www.isaaa .org; Monsanto 2017 Annual Report,

Comment: The map and diagrams have been compiled using data from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), an international lobbying organization for the development of GMOs in countries of the South. Together, they show the global development of GMO crops, which is dominant in the Americas and increasingly in Asia, particularly for soy – a staple for animal feed and the international meat market – and corn. Countries of the South, with their urgent food needs, represent new markets for biotechnology and glyphosate multinationals.

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" The food on our plates " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:

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