The Monsanto Monopoly
Film delves into firm that controls more and more of world's food supply
Jay Stone
Canwest News Service
August 01, 2008

Directed and Written by: Marie-Monique Robin
Running time: 108 minutes
Rated: G (adult themes)
Rating 3

An Indiana farmer named Troy Roush, a man who had recently been investigated by the so-called "gene police" of the giant Monsanto company -- private investigators who wanted to make sure Roush hadn't been using Monsanto soybean seeds illicitly -- has a chilling message for the world in the documentary expose The World According to Monsanto.

"They are in the process of owning food," Roush tells the cameras. "All food."

Owning food.

It's a scary thought, especially based on the evidence uncovered, or often just collated, by independent French filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin.

The World According To Monsanto, which is a National Film Board of Canada co-production, sets forth an argument that the company -- the people who brought us the toxic defoliant Agent Orange, carcinogenic PCBs, bovine growth hormone, and other wonders of chemistry run amok -- is turning the world's food supply into a giant genetically modified crop whose health risks are perilous because Monsanto also has a history of faking scientific tests.

The film is an earnest and didactic examination in which we see Robin sitting at a computer looking up information on Google, which is then illustrated with real-life interviews.

The cameras travel from the U.S. to India, where Monsanto is pushing genetically modified cotton seeds that have been linked to farmer bankruptcies and resulting suicides, to Mexico, where GM seeds are contaminating corn that has been grown for thousands of years in pure soil.

The format of the movie is cumbersome -- "Michael Hansen (a scientist) has just mentioned bovine growth hormone," the narrator might say, "What's that?" -- but the message is frightening (it's a chemical marketed under the name Posilac that's being injected into American dairy cows to make them grow faster. Banned in Europe and Canada, it's been linked to physiological changes in the animals, and one scientist in the film says their milk contains puss, antibiotics and growth drugs linked to cancer.)

The documentary relies on research from many sources to make its case.

Part of it is scientific, and there is endless testimony about falsified studies and disastrous consequences: heartbreaking scenes of Vietnamese children who even today are disfigured by the fallout of Agent Orange.

Part of it is political and economic, and we learn, for instance, about Michael Taylor, who went from Monsanto to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help authorize the biogenetic foodstuffs that Monsanto made, and then returned to Monsanto as an executive. The company has bought up 50 seed firms around the world and is on the verge of controlling the very building blocks of food.

At the same time, a farmer in Paraguay talks about how Monsanto herbicides (the most famous is Roundup) are leaking into the waterways of surrounding farms and its GM seeds -- made to be resistant to Roundup, so that it can be sprayed on everything and kill only the weeds -- are contaminating the crops.

The farmer's ducks have died from herbicide in the water system even as his son is developing a terrible skin condition from walking across the neighbouring fields that are being sprayed.

The bottom line is, as always, money: "We can't afford to lose one dollar in business," says a leaked 1970 memo from the company, which was covering up the effects of PCB poison in a small Alabama town that has been devastated by cancer, children born with low IQs, impaired thyroid function, and more.

Monsanto ended up paying $700 million in fines and reparations, but no executive was ever charged. As someone says, it pays to keep it secret.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

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