In a bid that is expected to face intense scrutiny from regulators in both the United States and in Germany, German pharmaceutical manufacturer Bayer announced last week that it had secured a deal to take over the world’s fifth largest agrochemical manufacturer, Monsanto.
While it is true that Bayer already manufactures agrochemicals similar to those manufactured by Monsanto, the company’s holdings in pharmaceutical and healthcare products far exceed their holdings in agrochemical manufacturing. By their own account, the company reports on their website that their pharmaceutical holdings accounted for 49% of their total sales by market segment in 2015. That’s over double the amount brought in by their agrochemical investments in the same year.
Most people know Bayer as the original manufacturer of Asprin, and that is where the company got it’s start. But when you dig a little deeper you find that the company also manufactures everything from Aleve to food supplements, vitamins, birth control pills, acne medications, and yes – even drugs relating to oncology – or, in layman terms, the treatment of cancer.
You don’t have to take my word for it though, because even their own website lists three major drugs used widely in the treatment of cancer patients: Nexavar, which is used to treat kidney, liver, and thyroid cancer; Stivarga, which is used to treat colorectal and gastrointestinal cancer; and Xofigo, which is used to treat bone cancer. So as you can clearly see, this is a company that has a major financial interest in the treatment of cancer.
Monsanto on the other hand, has spent the last hundred years manufacturing everything from synthetic sweeteners to household weed killer. Initially they got their start manufacturing food additives such as saccharine and vanillin. Saccharine is an artificial sweetener 300 times more potent than raw sugar, it’s used mostly as a cheap alternative to sugar in drinks, candies, and cookies. Vanillin is an alternative to vanilla extract, commonly used to reduce production costs.
Saccharine made headlines in the 1970s when it was discovered in numerous studies that its consumption had a direct correlation with the diagnosis of urinary bladder cancer in lab rats. By 1977, Congress had begun mandating that all food products containing saccharine bear the following product warning: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” After years of research and lobbying, the labeling requirement was eventually lifted in 2000 after it was found that the mechanism in lab rats that caused cancer from saccharine does not exist in humans.
While Monsanto’s manufacturing of food additives and their arguable links to cancer is definitely concerning, the company has manufactured products that in fact were positively linked to cancer and have since been banned. Several of those products caused massive loss of human life to cancer.
For most of the early part of the 19th century, Monsanto was the leading manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls. In the 1960s and 70s, PCBs were found to be potent carcinogens and were implicated in reproductive, developmental and immune system disorders. According to thousands of pages of released Monsanto documents, they knew about the PCB dangers from early on, but decided to conceal what they knew. One Monsanto memo explains their justification: “We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business.”
It wasn’t until after World War II that Monsanto began championing the use of pesticides in agriculture. This is when they began manufacturing the herbicide 2,4,5-T, which contains dioxin. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military initiated an herbicidal warfare program using a mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. This combined agent was known as Agent Orange and had very high concentrations of dioxin.
Monsanto was one of the two largest manufacturers of Agent Orange, which has since been linked to cancer and birth defects. According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, plus 500,000 children born with birth defects, leading to calls for Monsanto to be prosecuted for war crimes. Internal Monsanto memos show that Monsanto knew of the problems of dioxin contamination of Agent Orange when it sold it to the U.S. government for use in Vietnam.
Their more recent investments in the research and manufacture of genetically modified organisms are also cause for concern. A GMO (as they are known), is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Recent studies have shown possible links between GMOs and everything from cancer to gluten intolerance.
A quick glance at the Monsanto website indicates that they manufacture over 2,000 seed varieties for different industries, and a deeper dig into some of the companies they own shows exactly what kinds of genetically modified foods we’re talking about. Their Seminis company manufactures everyday table vegetables such as beans, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. Their De Ruiter brand manufactures tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers.
Monsanto has made quite the name for themselves in recent years with their lobbying and even lawsuits against efforts to ban or label GMO products.
Also raising eyebrows is their manufacture of the glyphosate molecule, the primary chemical in the household weedkiller called RoundUp. In 2015, the World Health Organization declared glyphosate to be a probable carginogen. But that hasn’t prohibited it’s sale widely in every home improvement store in America. Nor has it led Monsanto to stop the sale of it’s “RoundUp Ready Soybeans and Corn”. In fact, in recent years the company has made massive new investments into the research of a number of other RoundUp Resistant crops such as canola, alfalfa, and sorghum; many of which end up in products that we consume on a daily basis.
While all of this is reasonable cause for concern, there are a number of other reasons to be concerned about the marriage of Bayer and Monsanto. Chief among them, the 2010 appointment of a new Deputy Commissioner of Food at the FDA by the name of Michael R. Taylor. As if having many highly paid lobbyists in Washington wasn’t good enough, the 2010 appointment of Taylor among the highest ranks of the FDA has solidified Monsanto’s firm grip on power within the agency – which, as it’s name implies, is the nation’s leading watchdog over all food and drugs that are released for public consumption.
If allowed to proceed, the pending $66 Billion merger of Bayer and Monsanto will consolidate the leading producer of cancer causing chemicals into the hands of the 13th largest cancer drug manufacturer in the world. The combined company would have regulatory approval for the manufacture of products that both cause and cure cancer. To call this a conflict of interest would be an understatement. In essence, Bayer will soon sell you cancer as well as the drugs to treat it.