The biotechnology and genetic engineering giants Monsanto are widely regarded as one of the most hated companies in the world. Often referred to as evil,Monsanto has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way! Before we begin, here is a brief background on the company and how they earned this villainous reputation.
Monsanto began in 1901 as a small chemical company and by 1902 they had sold an artificial sweetener to Coca Cola. In the 1920’s they broadened their scope and began creating synthetic chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. They created PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) which were used as coolants in electrical equipment such as chemical plants. In the 1970s PCBs were banned after they were found to cause problems such as damage to the liver, hormones and the immune system and also an increase in the risk of cancer. In the 1960s during the Vietnam War, Monsanto was contracted to create a chemical which would clear the jungles in Vietnam as a military tactic. This chemical was Agent Orange. It did it’s job of killing the thick forests, however it also killed and maimed over 400,000 people. This chemical was so toxic that is continues to have fatal consequences even today. Since the Vietnam War, over half a million children have been born with severe birth defects and most will not survive to see their 5th birthday.
In the early 1980s there were concerns for Times Beach in Missouri as it was nearby to a Monsanto plant which produced a great amount of chemical waste. By 1983 Times Beach was completely evacuated due to severe toxic contamination and an alarmingly level of PCBs in the soil. Monsanto still denies their products are to blame.
Monsanto ‘relaunched’ in the 1990s as an agricultural company and emerged as the leader of genetically modified crops. They modify organisms and produce genetically modified seeds for agricultural purposes. These genetically modified crops are resistant to herbicides and pesticides meaning that the crop can survive large amount of chemical spraying. Since Monsanto is also the leading producer of chemical herbicides with products such as RoundUp, this means their sales have inevitably sky rocketed. There are still varied opinions on the debate of genetically modified foods and the health risks involved. Ingesting large amounts of chemicals and genetically modified organisms however isn’t something that many people prefer over organically grown produce.
So what about the bees?!
The first issue is that genetically modified crops have been created to ‘self pollinate’ without the intervention of the humble pollen spreading bee.
The second issue is the invention of neonicotinoids. There is a new stream of genetically modified seeds that contain ‘systemic pesticides,’ which are informally coined “the chemical you can’t wash off.” These chemicals are actually imbedded in the genetics of the crop, instead of being sprayed onto the surface of the plant. In the late 1990s these were introduced into commercial farming, the most common systemic pesticide being neonicotinoids.
When the bee attempts to pollinate a genetically modified crop, it becomes poisoned by the toxins and chemicals imbedded in the genes of the plant. When the bee returns to their hive they also bring back the chemicals, which are then stored along with the rest of the pollen. This has lead to a bee massacre and is the main contributor to Colony Collapse Disorder which is the sudden disappearance of honeybee colonies.
Over 1 third of crops worldwide rely on bees for pollination and this significant decline in the honeybee population has lead to a decrease in crop production and agricultural profits.
This has huge implications for farmers who use honeybees to pollinate their crops. Ultimately, it may lead to the disappearance of organically grown crops and the sole reliance on Monsanto’s genetically modified substitutes which will remain unaffected by this ecological disaster.
I hope this has perhaps opened your eyes and encouraged you to question your consumption habits and made you aware of some of the more serious implications of genetic modification and companies like Monsanto.
This is only scratching the surface of the information that is out there on this topic so I urge you to do your own research and get involved with the future of this Earth.