REAPING THE WHIRLWIND: agribusiness and environmental destruction

Protest against Monsanto

Agrochemical companies are responsible for massive environmental degradation; their actions also make a major contribution to global warming, second only to the energy sector. 13% of carbon emissions come from agriculture, of which 65% comes from two sources: cattle rearing and the addition of natural or synthetic fertilisers and wastes to soils. CHARLES CHINWEIZU reports.

Chief culprits include Bayer, Monsanto, DowDupont and the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. (3M). Imperialist countries, like Britain, working through the World Bank, are imposing an industrialised input-intensive agriculture on underdeveloped countries to the benefit of these corporations. They have deliberately dumped massive amounts of toxic chemicals into rivers and drinking water tables causing numerous illnesses and deaths. Their actions have led to land grabs, damage to public health, growing pesticide resistance, biodiversity losses and groundwater and soil contamination.

Land grabs

Only 0.5% of earth’s surface is used for growing food crops for human consumption. Imperialist agribusinesses want to expand by bringing another 1.4 billion hectares into use for crop production. 60% of these 1.4 billion hectares lie in 13 countries. They include Madagascar, Mozambique, Angola, Kazakhstan, DRC, Sudan, Argentina and Brazil.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US, British, Danish and Dutch governments, are funding the World Bank’s Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) project, to expand agribusiness activity in Africa through the takeover of land for commercial agriculture, opening them to input markets, privatising seed systems, and reforming agricultural trade and tax laws, to impose a market­based agriculture. (The Unholy Alliance, The Oakland Institute, 2016). In 2012, the G8 launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN), to give agrochemical companies a central position in agriculture to the detriment of small­scale farmers. The New Alliance supports the increased use of industrial inputs such as synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, hybrid and genetically-modified seeds. Britain provides funding via the Department for International Development. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), created in 2006 by the Gates and Rockefeller foundations, is also part­funded by Britain, and mainly promotes hybrid seeds and synthetic fertilisers, the fastest growing source of agriculture greenhouse gas emissions.

Britain, Holland, DuPont and Rio Tinto finance the Beira Agricultural Corridor in Mozambique. Britain and the US also fund the Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania, alongside Bayer, Monsanto, Syngenta, Yara, Unilever, Nestle and SABMiller. Tanzania is allocating about a third of the most fertile lands to agribusinesses. Mozambique has promised 10 million hectares. At least 56 million hectares have so far been handed over. The land given to investors is frequently in use but owners lack legal claims to the land or access to lawyers to defend their rights. Thousands of people have been driven off their land with no compensation. The EBA criminalises the saving or exchange of seeds, critical to smallscale farming. Crushed by unpayable imperialist debt, these African countries compete to be more agribusiness friendly, cutting taxes in order to attract these opaque investments so that they grow food for export rather than for domestic consumption. The EBA and NAFSN are the continuation of the discredited IMF/World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes.

Hunger in the midst of plenty

Agribusinesses like Bayer claim their technology can ‘produce more food on less land...to feed a rapidly growing world population [using] scarce natural resources...limited arable land and changing dietary habits’, and that food production must double by 2050. But global food production has increased faster than global population growth. About 820 million people suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2017. This figure has been rising since 2014. In 2011, the World Bank Institute (WBI) reported that the world produces enough food to feed 14 billion people, twice the global population. The WBI report subsequently disappeared from their website.

5,935 kilocalories/person/day of food for direct human consumption is grown globally, of which only between 2,500-2,800 kcal/p/d is eaten. Harvesting, trading, investment (re-planting), transport and processing losses, non-food uses (biofuels, 16%), consumer waste, and farmed animal feed (34%) take the rest. Hunger is not caused by scarcity of food, but by the inability of millions to pay for it. About half of industrially produced cereals (over 1 bn tonnes) goes to biofuels and farmed animal feed rather than food for human consumption. In 2017/18, 129,000 hectares of agricultural land in the UK were used to grow crops for bioenergy. Bayer’s plans for doubling food production by 2050 means more food for livestock and vehicles, not for hungry people.

Agribusiness destroys the environment

Yields of four main crops – corn, rice, wheat and soybeans — are stagnating; biodiversity losses and climate change will prevent any improvement. 27,000 plant and animal species are lost annually. Agricultural biodiversity contributes to more sustainable farming, unlike agrochemical mono culture and associated pesticide ‘crop protection’. A 2009 report ‘Agriculture at a crossroads’ discredited the myths of capital­ and input­intensive industrialised agriculture, showing it was less productive than smallholder family farming. Extreme climate­related disasters doubled in number between 1990–2016, harming productivity and food availability. Doubling production would require an extra one billion hectares of land, an extra 150 megatons of nitrogen fertiliser annually, and a two­gigaton rise in CO2 equivalent annual emissions, an environmentally destructive policy.

In 2014, six multinationals (Du Pont, Dow, Bayer, Monsanto, Syngenta, and BASF) controlled 75% of the world’s agrochemical and 63% of commercial seed sales. The merger of Dow and Dupont and the acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer have concentrated this monopoly control further. Putting profit-driven corporations in charge of agriculture to ‘alleviate poverty’ is a serious threat to global food security.

DowDuPont

DowDuPont was formed by the merger in 2017 of Dow Chemical and DuPont, two equally notorious criminal corporations. Driving the merger were two needs: one, to consolidate a combined agribusiness following rising oil prices, falling pesticide sales, rival Syngenta being acquired by ChemChina, and Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto both in 2016; and two, to offload lawsuit debt onto a new separate company. Hence, leading up to the merger, in 2015 DuPont spun off Chemours ostensibly to take over production of Teflon, but actually to erase its environmental liabilities.

Dow was notorious for the world’s worst industrial chemical disaster: the 1984 gas leak at the Union Carbide India pesticide plant which killed 22,000 people. Dow refused to take responsibility for the ‘accident’, itself a result of prioritising profit over safety (FRFI 183, February 2005, https://tinyurl.com/y3c8k95w).

DuPont originally produced Teflon, famous for its non­stick properties and used in cookware. DuPont used a soaplike additive in the manufacture, called PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), or C8. PFOA is one of thousands of per­ and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) made by DuPont, which it purchased from 3M in 1951. 3M also sold its PFAS to other companies to make household products such as textiles, pizza boxes, dental floss, carpets, cosmetics and aqueous fire-fighting foams.

In 1961, DuPont’s Chief of Toxicology said C8 was toxic and should be ‘handled with extreme care’. Between 1962­1984 DuPont discovered a series of serious illnesses in animals exposed to C8, and dangerous levels of C8 in drinking water, yet neither the government nor public were informed. In 1981, women were barred from working in the Teflon division after two of seven pregnant workers gave birth to children with birth defects. For over 50 years, DuPont continued to dump C8 into the Ohio river near its plant, almost 1,250 tons by 2003. The sheer brazenness of DuPont’s criminality is shocking.

C8 exposure in humans is linked to a range of illnesses such as thyroid disease, and some cancers. Exposure is so widespread that C8 has been detected in newborns, breast milk and umbilical cord blood, Arctic circle polar bears, eaglets, every fish tested, and even blood from Sweden and rural China.

DuPont/Chemours ‘agreed’ to phase­out C8 by 2015, but introduced GenX as a supposedly safer alternative. Chemours and DuPont have been dumping PFAS into Pompton Lakes and Delaware River in New Jersey, and GenX into the Cape Fear River in North Carolina since 1980. Chemours also has a plant in Dordrecht, Holland, and has been illegally discharging C8 and GenX into the sewage works, from where it has contaminated drinking water supply around south Holland and was found in the tap water of three Dutch water companies by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in 2017.

In June 2019, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) classified GenX a ‘substance of very high concern’ (SVHC). This measure, proposed by Germany and Holland, was opposed by Chemours, the European Chemical Industry Council – and Britain. 17 other EU countries explicitly supported the SVHC proposal. Britain is always on the side of the capitalist corporations. Rather than copy over EU environmental legislation following a no­deal Brexit, in February 2019 Britain deleted a section banning endocrine­disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that interfere with the body’s normal functions, and only reinstated it on threat of legal action. PFAS are suspected EDCs. EDCs are the subject of aggressive industry lobbying against the EU ban.

3M and PFAS

3M has also dumped PFAS waste into the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. Some waste buried at landfill sites, entered underlying drinking aquifers creating a 100 square mile underground plume, polluting the Mississippi and nine surrounding lakes. 3M knew in 1950 that PFAS were toxic, and in 1961 that it polluted groundwater. By 1975 it knew further that a key Scotchgard ingredient, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), had been found in employees blood, caused testicular cancer, and by 1978 that it was not biodegradable. Like Dupont, it kept quiet about PFAS toxicity, and only told the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1998. However, it continued to make and sell PFAS products globally. 3M agreed to phase out PFOS in 2003 and stopped making C8 in 2000, but sold the rights to DuPont who continued to manufacture C8 until 2015.

PFAS aren’t regulated under the US’s primary water­protection laws. US politicians are pressing the EPA to set minimum standards on PFAS in drinking water and designate them as hazardous chemicals. As a consequence of 3M’s uncontrolled greed:

  • 19 million US citizens are currently using public water systems exposed to PFAS contamination. PFAS do not degrade and persist permanently in the environment and in human organs and blood.
  • About 110 million US citizens have had some kind of PFAS chemical in their drinking water. • C8 has been found in the blood of 99% of citizens in the US.
  • Livestock has accumulated PFOS from grazing on contaminated feed or fields.
  • A 2019 FDA investigation found PFAS in a number of popular US supermarket foods, including meat, seafood and dairy products.
  • As of July 2019, there were 712 pollution sites in 49 US states, mostly airports and military bases where fire-fighting foams based on PFAS leaked into the groundwater.

3M’s actions are a crime against humanity.

BayerMonsanto

Bayer acquired Monsanto to become the world’s biggest maker of seeds and agrochemicals. It is facing 13,400 lawsuits alleging that Monsanto’s herbicide weed­killer Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is toxic, after a groundkeeper diagnosed with cancer after using Roundup won his action with £226m in compensatory and exemplary damages. In 2015, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. The Roundup additive POEA was reported in 2017 to be even more toxic than glyphosate itself. Glyphosate­based weed­killers are widely used by councils in Britain.

Thieves fall out

In 2017­2018, DuPont/Chemours and 3M settled bellweather lawsuits over local PFAS contamination. In May 2019, Chemours sued DuPont for $3.9bn, for ‘[attempting to] off­load its historical environmental liabilities’ during the Chemours spinoff, as the criminals turned on each other. Lawsuits, blockades, and protests are piling up against agribusinesses including 3M, DowDuPont and BayerMonsanto. The domination of all aspects of food production by a handful of giant monopolies represents a major threat to humanity. These corporations dominate regulatory systems, political parties, food and agricultural policy, even governments, and expose us all to agrochemical toxins that harm our health and the environment. Taking on these ruthless and predatory giants must be central to the movement against climate change.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 271, August/September 2019

 

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