Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

In this volume, the author uncovers one of the most controversial stories in the history of food and agriculture, exposing new evidence of corporate influence. The author introduces readers to farm families devastated by cancers which they believe are caused by the chemical, and to scientists whose reputations have been smeared for publishing research that contradicted business interests. Readers learn about the arm-twisting of regulators who signed off on the chemical, echoing company assurances of safety even as they permitted higher residues of the pesticide in food and skipped compliance tests. And, in startling detail, the author reveals secret industry communications that pull back the curtain on corporate efforts to manipulate public perception.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Introduction: A Silent Stalker

Abstract
Since the mid-1990s, one of the largest and loudest public policy debates in the United States and Europe has been over the introduction of genetically engineered crops. Questions about the safety of these crops—for humans, animals, and the environment—have raged across continents, roiling markets and dividing nations and states over how to view this type of tinkering with nature. The debate has led to increasing consumer awareness of, and activism against, the industrialized farming practices that produce our food, and numerous books have documented an array of concerns over genetically modified crops.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 1. What Killed Jack McCall?

Abstract
Standing on the ridge overlooking her coastal California farm, Teri McCall sees her late husband, Jack, nearly everywhere. There, atop the highest hill, is where the couple married in 1975—two self-described “hippies” who knew more about how to surf than to farm. Midway up the hill, on a lush plateau surrounded by the lemon, avocado, and orange trees Jack planted, sits the 800-square-foot house the then-young Vietnam War veteran built for his bride and a family that grew to include two sons and a daughter. One of those sons now lives there with his own wife and small son. Solar panels Jack set up in a sun-drenched stretch of grass help power the farm’s irrigation system.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 2. An Award-Winning Discovery

Abstract
It’s unclear if Swiss chemist Henri Martin ever fully understood the billion-dollar baby he brought into the world when he discovered what would eventually become known to scientists as N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine, or glyphosate. After all, Martin was not looking for an herbicide; he was looking for a drug. It was 1950, the dawn of an era in which efforts to address global health issues were evolving into fresh profit centers that spawned waves of new drug offerings. General scientific research, particularly biological research, was expanding; enhanced mechanization meant faster and more robust production of new drugs; and the race was on to find the latest and greatest magic potion. Martin was working at the time for a small pharmaceutical company called Cilag, which would be acquired by the burgeoning giant Johnson & Johnson Company in 1959.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 3. The “Roundup Ready” Rollout

Abstract
Mark Nelson was still a young farmer in the mid-1990s, figuring out the best tools and tactics for coaxing corn, soybeans, and wheat from the farm fields of northeastern Kansas, when he started hearing about a new type of high-tech seed that would soon be for sale. Other farmers Nelson knew were talking about it. So were university extension agents and seed dealers. It seemed everyone was talking about, and waiting for, these special seeds that had been transformed by alterations to their DNA. Through the magic of technology, scientists at Monsanto Company had found they could insert genetic material from a strain of Agrobacterium into the chromosome of the soybean, transforming the bean into a crop that could withstand being sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup and still continue to grow and flourish. The company then planted and studied the altered soybean seeds in locations around the United States and in Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Costa Rica through 1991 and 1992, developing a wide range of soybean varieties to commercialize.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 4. Weed Killer for Breakfast

Abstract
For many people, a toasted bagel topped with honey might sound like a healthy breakfast choice. Others might prefer a bowl of oatmeal, cornflakes, or a hot plate of scrambled eggs. Few would likely welcome a dose of weed killer that has been linked to cancer in their morning meal. Yet that is exactly what private laboratory tests in the United States started showing with alarming frequency in 2014: residues of the world’s most widely used herbicide were making their way into American meals.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 5. Under the Microscope

Abstract
So just how dangerous is glyphosate? Most people would agree that, as with virtually any pesticide, it’s not a good idea to drink it, bathe in it, or inhale it. Farmworkers are trained to wear protective gear when applying or mixing their farm chemicals and to follow an assortment of guidelines to protect themselves and others from harmful exposures. But the question of exactly how dangerous long-term use of glyphosate might be, especially in formulations such as Roundup, has thus far been hard to answer.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 6. Spinning the Science

Abstract
For every scientist who raises a concern about a product, there seems to be a corporation to contradict him (or her). We’ve seen this happen again and again. Tobacco industry executives famously hid research done by their own scientists that showed the hazards of cigarettes, and they misled lawmakers and regulators about the addictive properties of nicotine. Many other corporate powers, including those in the agrochemical industry, have long histories of defending themselves against claims that they covered up the dangers of injury from asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Agent Orange, or other chemicals.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 7. A Poisoned Paradise

Abstract
The Hawaiian Islands have long been a draw for tourists from around the world. But the year-round climate of warm winds, sunshine, and ample moisture has also made the islands a hot spot for multinational agrochemical and seed companies, which see the tropical environment as an ideal testing ground for a range of new seeds and the chemicals used on them. Corn is the big seed crop, in high demand around the globe. And with the introduction of genetic engineering of corn and other seeds in the mid-1990s has come a broad expansion by the seed and chemical companies across Hawaiian farmland and broad use of glyphosate herbicides.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 8. Angst in Argentina

Abstract
American farmland has long been the largest market for genetically engineered seeds and the glyphosate herbicides used on them, but the United States is by no means the only country to have adopted the new technology with open arms. Farmers in Argentina started using genetically engineered seeds about the same time farmers in the United States did, after regulators in Argentina approved Monsanto Company’s Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996. Soy production soared over the next decade as farmers who previously had been tending to grass-fed cattle, growing rice and potatoes, or running dairy farms shifted their focus to growing soybeans. Many farmers plowed up pastures to become part of what was billed as a biotech revolution. Because the beans tolerated direct sprays of glyphosate herbicide, controlling weeds was easier than ever, and, like the Americans, Argentine farmers quickly became eager buyers of both the specialty seeds and the glyphosate chemicals. The timing was perfect. Rising demand for protein—translation: meat— was fueling strong global demand for soy needed to feed livestock that would end up on dinner plates around the world. Argentina soon became the world’s third-largest soybean supplier, and genetically modified soybeans became Argentina’s most important export. Argentine farmers adopted biotech cotton and corn as well, with roughly 24 million acres of the nation’s farmland planted with biotech seeds by 2014, most of which were designed to be sprayed with glyphosate.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 9. Uproar in Europe

Abstract
To some, the suggestion seemed more than a little unusual: members of the European Parliament, who were deep into a debate over the risks and rewards of glyphosate in the spring of 2016, should take a close look inside themselves before voting on whether or not to ban the controversial pesticide—literally. The Green Party, whose platform backs environmentally sustainable policies, pushed the idea of a “pee test,” as the press called it, in hopes of demonstrating the pervasiveness of the chemical’s reach and underscoring the very real personal implication of the political decisions being debated. Though some dismissed the idea as a political stunt—a “pissing contest”—48 of the 751 parliament members agreed to submit their urine for scrutiny by researchers at Bio-Check, a diagnostic laboratory located in the German city of Leipzig, Saxony. They handed over their samples in April and awaited the results, though not necessarily with eagerness.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 10. When Weeds Don’t Die, But Butterflies Do

Abstract
History has shown that proving a specific chemical causes cancer is a long road that can leave countless lives in limbo for decades while the science is sorted out. But when it comes to the impact a certain chemical can have on the environment, often the evidence is easier to see. In fact, sometimes it is impossible to miss.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 11. Under the Influence

Abstract
So where, one might ask, are the regulators? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has top authority over glyphosate, just as it does for other chemicals, but the agency has repeatedly discounted concerns about the chemical’s impact on people and the environment, relying on a helping hand from industry to guide its actions. We’ve seen the cozy relationship between Monsanto Company and regulators play out over and over. We saw it in the 1980s, when EPA officials reversed the findings of agency scientists who considered glyphosate to be a possible human carcinogen; when the EPA followed Monsanto’s lead in ignoring concerns about weed resistance until it was too late; when the EPA raised the legal tolerance levels for the amount of glyphosate that could be in our food even as cancer concerns were growing; and again in 2016, when the EPA rearranged its Scientific Advisory Panel on glyphosate at industry demand. And, of course, Monsanto’s connections to, and appearance of assistance from, the EPA’s top cancer assessment official, Jess Rowland, speak volumes about the strength of corporate influence within the agency.
Carey Gillam

Chapter 12. Seeking Solutions

Abstract
For Stephen Ellis, who grows wheat, barley, corn, and soybeans on 4,200 acres along Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, questions about glyphosate’s safety and effectiveness are part of a broad risk-versus-reward ratio that he and other farmers must calculate as they confront the constant challenges Mother Nature brings.
Carey Gillam

Epilogue

Abstract
Teri McCall doesn’t like to talk much about her lawsuit against Monsanto. Even as the litigation slogs forward, as lawyers thumb through millions of documents, studies, memos, and reports, and as expert witnesses prepare their testimonies for the long-winding case that may take years to resolve, McCall is trying to move past her pain. Doing so has been made harder by the fact that she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer shortly after losing Jack. She tackled the cancer with aggressive surgery and now considers that fight also part of her past. Still, she has lost weight; the slim blue jeans and soft blouses she favors hang loose on her limbs. Her blue eyes and honey-blond hair still have the brightness of a woman decades younger, but her face has gained shadows of grief that she is not sure will ever be erased.
Carey Gillam

Backmatter

Additional information