Guy’s news: If polar bears could sue

Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, was awarded $289m in damages from agrochemical giant Monsanto this month. A San Francisco court found Johnson’s terminal cancer was attributable to his use of glyphosate, the world’s ‘favourite herbicide’.

Monsanto has a long history of suppressing evidence of risk to extend the life of profitable products, and then ducking the consequences. From the 1920s, they led in the manufacture of electrical coolants called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are hormone disrupters that cause reduced fertility. As early as 1937, Monsanto were presented with evidence of PCBs’ danger, but continued to sell them until they were finally banned in the 1980s. By then 150m tonnes had been manufactured: highly persistant, leaking into the environment, and accumulating in animals at the top of the food chain – most significantly marine mammals and polar bears. Monsanto’s other products include Agent Orange, DDT, bovine growth hormone, and a dominant role in GM technology (alongside others that have been safe and of genuine benefit).

Monsanto has now merged with Bayer who, if possible, have an even more questionable history: stretching from the use of forced labour and human guinea pigs in trials in Nazi Germany to, more recently, knowingly causing thousands of haemophiliacs to be infected with HIV, through a plasma product known to be contaminated but deemed too costly not to sell.

We will never banish risk if we are to progress, but government, legislation and the law have repeatedly failed to balance the risks and the benefits of progress, and to hold accountable those responsible for diffuse and long-term pollution. Corporate interests have too loud a voice, placing shareholder value above a broad and balanced assessment. Should glyphosate be banned outright? Actually, I am not sure (more next week perhaps), but its use certainly needs tighter regulation. Monsanto will appeal and Johnson will probably be dead before he gets a penny. Encouragingly, there is a movement led by to use the law to challenge corporate and government environmental performance; I reckon they are worth supporting if you have some spare cash.

Guy Singh-Watson

16 responses to “Guy’s news: If polar bears could sue

  1. There are so many things going on with our food chain that we have no knowledge and control over.
    I am glad that we have people with the knowledge coming out and speaking openly and pointing us in the right direction, thank you for keeping us all up to date

  2. Thanks as always, Guy. As Alison says, there is so much about pollution we are ignorant about, and when we do find out (usually years down the line, as in this case) it is quite frightening to think how compromised our food is. However I recently reached over 550 deliveries from Riverford, which encouraged me to think that in fact our family has consumed a great deal of veg and other food items that are very good for us! Keep up the good work.

    • That is a lot of veg Janey. Can you imagine how many carrots we have delivered to you in total?! Thousands!
      Thanks for being such a loyal customer.

  3. How many Dewayne Johnson’s we have all around the world, and not just that, MIT Scientist Dr. Stephanie Seneff says that Glyphosate could Cause Autism in 50% of Children by 2025, if this doesn’t scare the hell out of people I don’t know what does. It is a terrifying prospect and in my opinion Gliphosate should be banned completely.

  4. I hope Client Earth suceeds though i am not sure they will it would appear that the EU government have decided to renew Monsanto s licence after all,
    I hope I am wrong.
    I am also concerned that in or out of the EU our environmental policies will continue to be eroded, and only people like Guy who voluntarily are trying to do the right thing will continue to do what they can.
    I do sign petitions, donate money to support the people/ Organizations that stand on the front line and try to look after my garden to benefit of the wildlife &won’t give up, But …..

    • Lesley Somerville

      Don’t give up, Jenny. We must all do our little bits here and there. It does make a difference. Thank you for what you do!

  5. From my research, it’s not just Monsanto for making and marketing glyphosate but also those who use it. I read that it is is used immediately prior to harvesting, in order to increase yield, which is not what it was developed for. So greedy wheat producers are also culpable. It’s what has prompted me to use only organic flour and make my own bread again. I’m lucky..I have the time and resources to buy and use organic as much as possible…it was different for me when I was working and bringing up my children. Am really pleased to have ‘found’ Riverford.

  6. A few years ago, I went on a march in London against Monsanto. Marches were conducted in cities around the world. The media chose to completely ignore us. I asked the BBC why they hadn’t reported it and they said it was not a big enough march. We estimated 2 million in all had taken part.

  7. Thank you, Guy, for the information about Monsanto and Bayer.
    I have been concerned for some time now about all the toxic things which continues to be fed to animals, sprayed on crops and added to prepared foods; also the way we have been misled for many years I to eating “healthy foods” which turn out not to be healthy at all but in many cases unhealthy options.
    I have been enjoying your organic produce since the beginning of this year together with other foodstuffs through Riverford Organics.

  8. Highly recommend this episode of Rich Roll’s podcast with Dr Zach Bush discussing Round Up / Glyphosate and the consequences…

  9. Well put, Guy! I was just in our local Sainsburys and it was interesting to see how many healthy-looking products (especially cereals) are not organic, and therefore of questionable origin.

  10. Yet another thought provoking piece from Guy. One of these days we’ll all wake up and realise the damage being done to the planet in the name of producing unsustainably cheap food and maximising profit. We’ve been with Riverford since March 2005, and not only do we have the wonderful veg, eggs, cheese and milk but the superb meat and red wines. We too make our own bread (albeit in a bread machine) using only organic flour – five minutes to prepare, the machine does the rest! It is a conscious decision to shop organically and ethically, and it is something many more people could do if only they were to put their minds to it. The difficulty is that we live in a society where cheap is good irrespective of the consequences.

    • Unfortunately it’s not as straight forward to say more people could do it if they put their minds to it. There are wider issues here that lead people to the cheapest options. We’ve also been customers since 2003. We used to buy most of our groceries from Riverford in more affluent times but can now scarcely afford a monthly box with both the increased cost of living, wage freezes and a growing family. It’s easy to knock individuals here but it’s government and policies that should be lobbied .

  11. Like others have said a big thank you Guy for informing us as to what is going on. I have kept up with as much as I am able , but have often wondered how far back in time these chemicals go.
    For a lot of my adult life I have bought organic veg and meat because I believe that they must be better for you than the supermarkets produce I was put off supermarket produce when I found out that it all had to be perfect. Nothing in this world is perfect.
    I do believe that round up should not be sold to the public for the simple reason that a lot of the public are not interested in what they are spraying, and they could be doing a lot of damage to our environment.
    I certainly look forward to my Riverfords goodies.
    My husband bought some grapes that were not organic I told him that they were one of the fruits that were in the top ten of polluted products by sprays .

  12. It’s truly intriguing that we can’t taste these chemicals in our raw or cooked foods, for if we could, supermarkets wouldn’t sell anything & chemical producers would be forced to be more ethical in the way they operate. At present we can only feel the effects through illness, (difficult to prove) of the vast range of toxins in ready-made meals & pre-packaged, factory made products lining the shelves as opposed to fresh produce. For me, however, the big issue is the cost of food available to the Haves as oppposed to the Have-nots, who though they dont earn much, are forced to eat risky food from supermarkets who are proving to be astonishingly unethical & unscrupulous -we recently purchased lactose-free mozzarella cheese from Tescos, well within the sell-by date, yet it was still ‘off’. I try to buy organic as far as possible but the gap in cost between organic & non-organic is widening with each passing month & it’s becoming a challenge. I believe that the cost of fresh food in the EU zone in particular, is also sky-rocketing. We live in Germany with a daughter just about to start her first job as a new graduate in technology in Ireland, where I’ve spent the past 2 weeks helping her settle in & source her food. In Germany Aldi is best for ordinary working people (& students especially) on a budget as they offer a good selection of organic veg & exceptional quality across the range of their products. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for their stores in the UK & Ireland. Our daughter will have to shop selectively from 3 other big name supermarkets (until she can afford to drive out to farms) & reduce her intake of red meat which is no bad thing really & supplement her veg intake with frozen alternatives like peas & beans if only to cut down on time consuming repeat visits to said supermarkets. Fresh food is also deteriorating faster especially if it is organic. I follow Riverford because at least I will be able to remain aware, which is very important these days (despite not being able to buy the company’s products) through Guy’s highlighting of the contentious issues surrounding our food production & selling methods. It was wonderful to read about the success of this case against Monsanto & I hope we continue to win our moral, ethical & economic battles against Big Food, Pharma & Medical corporations.

  13. Pingback: @IslingtonLB and others should stop use of #glyphosate | Going Green in Pooterland

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