22nd December 2016
At the Tribunal Against Monsanto in the Hague in October, lawyers, witnesses and civil society gave evidence of global harm from Roundup, Monsanto's over-the-counter weedkiller.
This landmark Tribunal comes at a time when transnational companies are failing to adhere to basic codes of conduct, have failed to clean up after themselves and are creating a dirty planet with poisonous sprays, the result of which has wiped out the monarch butterfly and is on the brink of destroying the bees. The imminent merger between Big Pharma giants Bayer and agribusiness Monsanto, designed to make greater profits from pushing the world's bestselling herbicide Roundup, presented an opportunity for a panel of five international judges to hear the testimony of some of its victims.
Monsanto would have us believe that Roundup is non-toxic and say it is as 'safe as table salt.' In 2016 there is no labelling to explain any health risks or precautions, yet just two days' exposure may double or triple the risk of harm. Roundup contains glyphosate, a known carcinogen and a compound found in Monsanto's Agent Orange, a defoliant sprayed by the US military during the Vietnam War, destroying crops and jungle cover. Bayer supplied the nerve gas, Zyklon B, used in the extermination camps during World War II.
The Tribunal heard from over 24 country delegations, including Christine Sheppard, who contracted non-Hodgkins lymphoma from spraying Roundup in her garden, a consortium of Mexican beekeepers unable to sell their organic honey in Europe because it exceeds the minimum contamination levels for pesticides residues, and a farmer from Sri Lanka where 24,800 people have died and 69,000 are living with chronic kidney disease, many of them rice farmers who started using pesticides in the 1980's. In 2014 Sri Lanka banned glyphosate, the first nation in the world to do so.
Some 45 years on from Vietnam, birth defects are three times higher in areas exposed to Agent Orange and present in third and fourth generation Vietnamese. The US Government commissioned 11 million gallons of Agent Orange from Monsanto, just one of a spectrum of herbicides named Agent Blue, Agent Purple, etc, then spent millions compensating veterans exposed it. Monsanto maintains a strong presence in Vietnam today, gaining control over farmers buying into GM agriculture.
Glyphosate - irrefutable evidence of harm
Glyphosate has been patented three times: first in 1964 as a chelator, which binds and removes calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper and zinc from crops; then in 1974 as a herbicide, and then in 2010 as a human anti-parasitical/antibiotic. In 1985 the Environment Protection Agency listed glyphosate as a category 3 toxin. In 1993 they changed it to a Class 4 poison. In 2015 the World Health Organisation recognised glyphosate as a Class 2 probable human carcinogen. However, the derivative polycyclic hydrocarbons from petroleum residues hidden in Roundup are 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate itself, while Monsanto's studies on glyphosate have never been published in any peer-reviewed, scientific magazine. For reliable science one has to look to the work of independent researchers, like Prof Seralini in France and Dr Michael Antonoiou in the UK.
Monsanto was invited by registered letter to the Tribunal but declined. But its no-show stopped neither the two-day Tribunal being opened by former French environment minister Corinne Lepage, nor the Indian environmental activist, Vandana Shiva, from dedicating her parallel event, the People's Assembly, to the memory of Mae-Wan Ho ( Tribute To Mae-Wan Ho http://www.samburcher.com/articles/public-health/109-tribute-to-dr-mae-wan-ho-1941-2016.html).
The roots of Ecocide
An emerging law named 'Ecocide' addresses criminal damage against the fragile ecosystems on which all life depends. In September the International Criminal Court indicated that is ready to take over the prosecution of environmental destruction cases. So far, over 10 countries have integrated ecocide into their domestic law, including Vietnam.
The term was first used by plant biologist, Arthur Galston, at Yale University in 1970 after researching herbicides. David Zierler's 2011 book, The Invention of Ecocide, traces how herbicidal warfare in Vietnam resulted in a movement of scientists who advocated for ecocide to be an international crime. In 2011 the barrister Polly Higgins organised a mock trial at the Supreme Court in London (Ecocide - A Crime Against the Planet,http://www.caduceus.info/download/ECAD82.pdfl) following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010, yet the political arena has failed to respond to the scientific community's evidence of ecocrimes.
A Chinese delegate, XiuLin Gu, told me that Syngenta is pushing ahead with plans to roll out its herbicides in China, having spent large sums funding Chinese agricultural universities and thus influencing graduates in their thinking. However, there is still strong resistance in much of the vast rural areas of China that promote organic and traditional farming.
Tribunal lawyer Jackson Maogato said Monsanto is a serial killer whose only conscience is mak-ing profits. Lead judge Francoise Tulkens, former Vice President of the European Court of Human Rights, concluded that the activities of Monsanto will be examined in regards to rights, what happened in Vietnam and in relation to the new law of ecocide. She will deliver the Judges Opinion on 17th April, 2017.
Photos and videos (c) Sam Burcher 2016