Click here for background on Monsanto’s Involvement in Agent Orange
Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched my colleagues engage in a number of discussions on this blog and others. Many of those conversations typify the spirited debate over biotech and sustainable agriculture: Are biotech crops safe? Is the higher yield from biotech crops really enough to feed the world? Can a person be a supporter of both biotech and organic farming? As an observer, it’s pretty cool to see people with opposing viewpoints respond to each other with facts, theory and vigorous discourse. What’s disappointing to see is when an intelligent debate about yield or herbicides or sustainability come screeching to a halt when Monsanto’s critics throw out Agent Orange as a subject-changer.
For those who haven’t heard about Agent Orange, here’s a primer: During the Vietnam War, guerilla troops used their knowledge of the South Vietnamese jungles to ambush American and Allied soldiers. The U.S. government, under the Defense Production Act, directed seven companies – including Monsanto, which was then primarily a chemical company – to manufacture the material. The government specified how it would be produced and controlled how it was used in the field, including application rates. It is impossible to quantify exactly how many soldiers were saved by the use of Agent Orange in the jungles of Vietnam, but the fact is that a lot of lives were saved.
Since the Vietnam War, both scientific and public concern has arisen over a by-product of the manufacturing process, present in trace amounts in Agent Orange – the dioxin compound 2,3,7,8-TCDD.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed lower federal court rulings to stand, which had dismissed claims by Vietnamese civilians and U.S. veterans that the manufacturers should be held responsible for the occurrence of health problems in the plaintiffs. The lower courts had ruled that the manufacturers were government contractors and protected by the government contractors defense. It has been Monsanto’s position all along that the claims by the Vietnamese were best handled in government-to-government discussions.
Although Monsanto is now entirely focused on agriculture, Monsanto is still involved in litigation regarding Agent Orange. We will be providing updates on Agent Orange cases both in For the Record and in future blog posts.
John is a Manager of Public Affairs at Monsanto.He has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis. He has worked in government on the federal, state and local level. Immediately prior to coming to Monsanto, he worked at a local public relations firm. John has an extensive background in Internet communications and looks forward to writing about a wide variety of issues, especially intellectual property, corporate ethics and biofuels.