QuestionEverything's picture
If it was legally proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Agent OrangeDioxin was not responsible for the reported illnesses of exposed Veterans, why would the U.S. Government be paying benefits to those exposed?

A:Expert Answer

While we cannot speak on behalf of the U.S. government or comment on specific benefit payments referenced in your question, Agent Orange is a topic that has been addressed on this site before. The response included below, provided by Martin Zucker, assistant general counsel at Monsanto, provides context to the use of Agent Orange by the U.S. military.


"It is tragic whenever people suffer from serious health problems.  The U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange is an emotional issue for many people, due in large part to misinformation.


"More than 40 years ago, the U.S. military used Agent Orange as a defoliant in the Vietnam War, and it saved the lives of many U.S. and allied soldiers.  The former Monsanto was one of nine companies that manufactured Agent Orange for the government.  The nine Agent Orange manufacturers were government contractors acting at the direction of the government which was exercising its authority under the War Powers Act. The government set the manufacturing specifications for Agent Orange, and decided when, where and how it was used.   Agent Orange was only made for military use by the government.


"In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand lower court rulings that the companies were not responsible for the implications of military use of Agent Orange because the war materials were supplied at the direction of the U.S. government.


"A concise and informative summary of Agent Orange can be found in an article written by U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, the judge in the United States who handled all Agent Orange litigation for 30 years.  Judge Weinstein notes that the idea that Agent Orange might be the cause of a wide variety of alleged personal injury was first suggested after the Vietnam War by a social worker from Chicago, and that idea became widespread in the media, becoming accepted fact without any proof.  He writes after handling the litigation for 30 years that there is simply no competent scientific or medical proof that Agent Orange caused the wide array of alleged serious injuries and birth defects.


"Outside of the U.S., Agent Orange lawsuits were filed in Korea by several thousand allied veterans from South Korea claiming injury from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.  Unlike the U.S. litigation which was settled long ago, the Korean matters proceeded through trial and appeals.  After carefully considering the evidence for over six years, in July 2013 the Supreme Court of Korea issued a decision which concluded that there was no scientific or medical evidence to support the claim that serious health effects, or aftereffects, were caused by alleged exposure to Agent Orange."


We hope this response helps to answer at least part of your question. If you have any additional questions about GMOs, please ask us.


QuestionEverything's picture

While technically unrelated to GMOs, it frightens me to think that were the technology one day proven to be harmful, by the precedent of Agent Orange, Monsanto and others might be able to avoid legal responsibility for the aftermath. The VA website specifically states: "VA and federal law presumes that certain diseases are a result of exposure to these herbicides." So tax dollars are basically paying these claims that there was supposedly no legal basis to force Monsanto to pay?

Transparency's picture

@ Question Everything: I think this is a great question. I asked a question about Agent Orange awhile back, and was given the following response by one of Monsanto’s legal experts: “Apart from Judge Weinstein’s article, in 2005 he granted summary judgment to the defendant manufacturers based on the government contractor defense which dismissed a third wave of Agent Orange-related claims by U.S. Vietnam veterans, and in so doing specifically wrote the following: ‘In earlier waves of such suits in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the courts concluded that none of the available evidence would support a finding to a more-probable-than-not standard of causality between exposure to Agent Orange and disease (except for a quickly discoverable and curable form of skin irritation, chloracne). The scientific basis for that conclusion of lack of any substantial proof of causality, either general or specific to individuals, remains much the same. See Institute of Medicine, Veterans and Agent Orange, Update 2002 (2003).’”
In response to this answer, while I appreciate the prompt reply, I have to say Judge Weinstein’s findings are outdated, as much has changed since he presented his rulings many years ago.
For example, in an interesting recent development, the W.Va. State Supreme Court upheld a judge's approval of Monsanto Co.'s massive settlement with thousands of West Virginia residents.
“In a 4-1 decision Friday, the court affirmed a January ruling approving the class-action settlement of a lawsuit alleging that the Nitro community was contaminated with dioxin from the former Monsanto chemical plant. The plaintiffs said Monsanto polluted their community by burning waste from production of the defoliant Agent Orange.” [
So now we see that a US Court has officially ruled Agent Orange caused harm to an entire community, not only ruling once, but re-affirming this ruling a second time.
In addition, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs states the following on its website: “Dioxin is a highly toxic substance found in Agent Orange and some other herbicides. Studies suggest that this chemical may be related to a number of cancers and other health effects in humans…VA contracts with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences, a non-governmental organization, to scientifically review evidence on the long-term health effects of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnam Veterans… Based on a review of the latest Institute of Medicine (IOM) report ‘Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2010’, VA has: Published a final regulation Sept. 6, 2013 to presume Veterans’ early-onset peripheral neuropathy is related to their exposure to herbicides during service…”
Thus, based on the Sept. 6, 2013 final regulation as presented by the Institute of Medicine and the US Department of Veterans Affairs., we also now have solid scientific evidence that Agent Orange caused harm to our Veterans.
This topic is highly relevant to the GMO issue, because if the public cannot trust Monsanto with regard to its official statements on Agent Orange, it makes it very difficult to trust the biotech giant with other matters.

QuestionEverything's picture

@Transparency, my apologies, I should have made a point to credit you. I read your question and the response, and felt that your counter-response warranted further comment from Monsanto et al, which is why I wrote the question. I have actually been fairly "pro-GMO" up to this point, mainly because I feel strongly that the science suggests that the technology is safe, but also partly because I felt that no company in this "day and age" would put themselves in such a position of obvious culpability if they did not feel completely confident that the public was safe. Understanding that there very well may be a legal precedent protecting the originators of the technology should it someday be proven unsafe makes me question my previous conclusion. I don't know if it was only the "government contractor defense" that protected them, meaning that the government assumed responsibility for the effects since they were the ones who actually applied it, or what. I would truly appreciate a thoughtful response to this because the implications are frightening.

Dominick Dickerson's picture

I fail to see how this question applies to GMOs. While there are very real problems concerning our governments use of agent orange in the past and the health crisis that resulted from it, I feel it doesn't serve any purpose here other than trying to establish a kind of genetic fallacy regarding GMOs that looks like this : agent orange is bad, agent orange was made by Monsanto, Monsanto also develops GMOs therefore GMOs are bad. It seems like bad argumentation.

The concern that it lessens Monsanto's credibility on GMOs is, while understandable ,ultimately unnecessary. There are independent sources of research that concur with the findings concerning health safety of GMO crops. If your concern is with corporate abuse of GM technology I strongly advise you to write you congressman and encourage him to support increasing government financed research into biotech and genetic engineering.

Transparency's picture

@Dominick Dickerson, I appreciate your viewpoint here. But if you are saying that my question about Agent Orange equates that I am saying GMOs are bad, just to clarify, nowhere do I say that in my post. I do not necessarily believe all GMOs are bad, nor do I necessarily believe all GMOs are good. What I do believe in is discernment, asking questions, and looking at the big picture. I have often been told that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. While this concept obviously doesn’t always apply to all situations, and people and organizations do evolve and change for the better, I believe there may be a grain of truth to this saying as well. I also believe solid relationships are built on long-term trust and transparency, and this includes the public’s relationship with corporate entities. @QuestionEverything, I appreciate your thoughtful feedback, thank you.