Line 4Line 4 Copyic/close/grey600play_circle_outline - material

Answers

Question

Monsanto has a history of producing promoting dangerous chemicals and lying about their safety. For example, they started producing PCBs in the 1920s, knew they were dangerous by 1956 (as later proven by internal company memos), and covered up the truth for 23 years until PCBs were banned by the US Congress in 1979. PCBs, which can cause cancer, liver disease, and neurological disorders, still show up in the blood of pregnant women, according to a 2011 study. Another famous example is the insecticide DDT, which Monsanto insisted was safe from 1944 until it was banned in 1972 due to overwhelming research confirming its toxicity. (Source: http://gmo-awareness.com/2011/05/12/monsanto-dirty-dozen/ ) Why should we trust that Monsanto is not doing the same thing with GMOs: lying about their safety, covering up unfavorable research, and hiring scientists to tell only one side of the story, as the company did for decades with PCBs and DDT?

Submitted by: mmacauley


Answer

Expert response from Martin Zucker

Former Assistant General Counsel, Monsanto Company

Friday, 06/09/2013 20:28

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clear up some myths and clarify that the premise of your statements and question is completely false. I am familiar with the former Monsanto Company’s activities around DDT and PCB, and I can assure you that the company did not misrepresent information about these products.  And, on the GMO side, we certainly have not misrepresented the extensive, well-documented safety data on GM crops.  You've touched on several topics, though, and in the following bullets, I've attempted to share additional information to address each of your concerns: 

 

  • GMO safety:  The safety of GM crops is not simply Monsanto’s opinion or supported solely by studies conducted by Monsanto. More than 30 different companies or organizations have developed and assessed the safety of biotech traits―resulting in almost 2,500 independent scientific reviews and approvals by scientists at regulatory agencies on more than 300 traits in 25 crops in 59 countries worldwide. The safety of GM crops has also been considered and confirmed to be as safe as conventional crops by numerous independent scientists throughout the world such as the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the National Academy of Sciences. You can find more information on this topic in the Explore the Basics section of this website, or in other answers, such as this one provided by Peter J. Davies, professor of plant physiology and international professor of plant biology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.


Regarding negative research results, we cannot and would not choose which research to present to a regulatory agency for review.  We are required by law to provide all of the information – including data that is not favorable to our products.  I’d recommend you review Cathleen Enright’s response to a similar question about negative results, available here.

 

Regarding expert opinions on the science, none of the independent experts on this website has been paid to respond to your questions. They are volunteering their time and sharing their knowledge to address your questions. I encourage you to engage them by asking any specific questions you have about the science.

 

  • PCBs:  Regarding PCBs, this useful and legal product was sold by the former Monsanto Company to the manufacturers of other products who incorporated PCBs into their products for a variety of reasons.  Widely recognized as a nonflammable safety fluid, PCB was required by many electrical and building codes and insurance companies for use in electrical equipment in buildings where the possibility of fire presented a risk to human life.  A 1972 joint report by agencies of the U.S. government, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, recognized Monsanto’s efforts to reduce discharges of PCBs to the environment, noted that there was no evidence at that time concerning any potential human health effects and stated that the continued use of PCBs in electrical equipment was essential until suitable substitutes could be developed.


Contrary to the allegations you cite, Monsanto has been among a large group of academic, regulatory and industry scientists who for decades have been actively publishing research articles in the public domain about the potential environmental presence and potential health effects of PCBs. From the 1930s onward, Monsanto sponsored over 300 toxicological studies of PCBs at leading academic and scientific institutions. Shortly after PCBs were first detected in the environment, Monsanto voluntarily withdrew PCBs from open uses, a process that was completed in 1973.  Monsanto voluntarily ceased all production in 1977. Two years later, the EPA issued regulations prohibiting manufacture and distribution but specifically authorized the continued use of PCBs in certain electrical applications.
PCBs, like numerous other industrial chemicals, are found at trace levels in humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) regularly measures over 100 such chemicals. According to NHANES, “[t]he measurement of an environmental chemical in a person’s blood or urine does not by itself mean that the chemical causes disease.” Studies of highly exposed PCB workers, whose PCB levels were up to hundreds of times those found in the general population, have shown no consistent pattern of statistically significant increased risk of disease.

 

  • DDTWith regard to DDT, the former Monsanto Company did manufacture DDT from 1944 until 1957, when it ceased manufacture for economic reasons, well before environmental concerns led to EPA’s regulatory action.  Interestingly, many health professionals still consider the use of DDT under proper conditions as an important part of the worldwide fight against malaria.

 

Again, I appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns.

Answer

Expert response from Kevin Folta

Professor and Chairman, Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida

Friday, 10/10/2014 12:18

There are two ways to answer this. The first is sort of a copout, but it's true — the Monsanto Company is not the same company. It is a plant breeding and genetic improvement company now. The chemical end of the enterprise was sold off a long time ago, I don't remember the details, but they are easy to find. 

 

Moderator Note: Learn more about the history of Monsanto Company by reading this response.

 

The better answer is this: When we look back at issues like DDT or PCBs, from any company it was public scientists who pointed out the issues. There is no way that any company can hide information, especially when it is being grown on a jillion acres worldwide. Finding a problem with GM crops — a real problem from good research that is reproducible — would change agriculture. It would be Nobel Prize material. There's lots of incentive to find a problem. 

There is a lot of research done, independent research too. And clearly, "unfavorable research" does get published, so there is no conspiracy.

 

The most important point is that you have to reach back 50 years to find objectionable chemicals, long since banned or highly regulated. It sort of supports the idea that nobody is getting away with marketing dangerous products. 

Answer

Expert response from Kevin Folta

Professor and Chairman, Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida

Friday, 10/10/2014 12:18

There are two ways to answer this. The first is sort of a copout, but it's true — the Monsanto Company is not the same company. It is a plant breeding and genetic improvement company now. The chemical end of the enterprise was sold off a long time ago, I don't remember the details, but they are easy to find. 

 

Moderator Note: Learn more about the history of Monsanto Company by reading this response.

 

The better answer is this: When we look back at issues like DDT or PCBs, from any company it was public scientists who pointed out the issues. There is no way that any company can hide information, especially when it is being grown on a jillion acres worldwide. Finding a problem with GM crops — a real problem from good research that is reproducible — would change agriculture. It would be Nobel Prize material. There's lots of incentive to find a problem. 

There is a lot of research done, independent research too. And clearly, "unfavorable research" does get published, so there is no conspiracy.

 

The most important point is that you have to reach back 50 years to find objectionable chemicals, long since banned or highly regulated. It sort of supports the idea that nobody is getting away with marketing dangerous products.