Monsanto is an American multinational company founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, a thirty-year pharmaceutical veteran married to Olga Mendez Monsanto, for which Monsanto Chemical Works is named. In the 1920s Monsanto expanded into industrial chemicals and drugs, becoming the world’s bigger maker of aspirin and acetylsalicylic acid, which was found toxic. During this time period, the company introduced their polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), an oil that wouldn’t burn, resistant to degradation and with limited applications. Eventually, its use was banned after fifty years for causing such devastation, but it is still present in almost all animal and human blood and tissue cells across the globe and is considered one of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet.
The Vietnam War (1961-1975) is most known for the extensive bombings of North Vietnam. More dangerous, however, yet less well-known to the general public, was the chemical war carried out from 1961 to 1971 against South Vietnam. The involvement of the U.S. government escalated over a period of twenty years, peaking in 1968 and ending with a complete withdrawal of troops in 1973. During this period, it engaged with the companies Dow Chemical and Monsanto, which were assigned the task of designing herbicides that would contaminate the jungles where the North Vietnamese forces operated. The project, known as ‘’Rainbow Herbicides’’ included Agent Pink, Agent Green, Agent Purple, Agent Blue, Agent White, and Agent Orange. As a result, a total of 20 million gallons of herbicide have been sprayed across Vietnam for ten years, that is until scientific research studies had proven that the dioxin present in Rainbow Herbicides, caused cancers in laboratory rats.
American air forces, the navy as well as tanker trucks, and men with backpack sprayers, diffused 72 million liters of the chemical Agent Orange to spoil the coverage of communistic North Vietnam, as well as destroy the rice fields. Their goal was to pursue from the jungle the combatants taking shelter there, to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail by which supplies, weapons, and medication arrived down from the North, to facilitate surveillance of roads, coastlines, and waterways and to destroy the rice fields, depriving the guerrillas of food and aid.
The contained dioxin TCDD in Agent Orange was classified as “super poison” and as a consequence 3 million people got sick, and 150,000 children were born with disabilities. Even today there are still 3,500 children a year who are born disabled according to the aid group Green Cross. Lavallard claims that to the millions of Vietnamese victims, must be added the American veterans and their Canadian, South Korean, New Zealand and Australian allies who used defoliants without knowing they were dangerous. Herbicides were delivered separately, and mixtures were made on the scene before being loaded into tanks, without provision and without protection. Military bases and they’re encircling were regularly sprayed with defoliants to remove the bush growth. Furthermore, soldiers saved rainwater for drinking or washing in empty drums and prepared barbecues in them. Indeed, veterans have experienced same pathologies as the Vietnamese, and their children have also been affected.
An immense environmental disaster and a human catastrophe taking different forms, including health, economic as well as socio-cultural, which had dramatic consequences that are still felt today. For years, a conspiracy of silence has ulterior the toxicity of the defoliants used. Agent Orange was one of them, a chemical containing two herbicides, one of which turned out to be contaminated with a highly toxic strain of dioxin.
According to official and unofficial documents about the history of the dangerous defoliants, the U.S. chemical companies that made the Rainbow Herbicides as well as the government and military authorities who ordered its spraying on Vietnam, knew the human health cost it could take. Indeed, a review of the documents related to the use of Agent Orange, a dioxin-laden herbicide, including public papers from the companies that manufactured it and the government that used it, provides compelling evidence that those in charge also covered information about the devastating effects it could have on people.
Nowadays, Monsanto is a known agricultural company, claiming to help farmers grow food more sustainably. From seed to software, to fiber and fuel, they are developing tools to assist growers in protecting natural resources while providing sustenance to the world. With it headquarter in St. Louis, 69 subsidiaries across the world, including over 20.000 employees, Monsanto believes that in the face of a changing climate and other environmental challenges, it is helping to ensure that the agricultural system continues to suit the needs of everyone.
In regard to legal and non-legal responses, the international community has done a lot to hold the company liable, however without results. In fact, many lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, and various activists and organizations worldwide had and are still fighting against the atrocities committed. The greatest accomplishment was, therefore, the establishment of the ad hoc International Monsanto Tribunal, which aimed to include the crime of ecocide in the Rome Statute that would allow the prosecution of individuals and legal entities suspected of having committed this crime. Yet, without positive outcomes.
Monsanto, being one of the largest and most powerful companies in the United States, is an ambitious target for non-profit organizations and protests groups. Moreover, their direct cooperation with the government makes it even more difficult to prosecute. As Derricks points out for the last 50 years, the company has gotten away with this crime. However, I believe justice can and must be done with the right resources and support of the international community. Indeed, with the support of different governments worldwide programs such as Agent Orange Education can be set up to share awareness about the wrongdoing.