The Monsanto Blackwater Connection; Spying on Activists
No matter where you stand on genetically modified crops and biological patents, Monsanto indisputably engages in questionable business practices as a multinational corporation. From situating employees in top-level government roles to brokering a deal with Blackwater to infiltrate animal rights activist groups, the history of this biotech giant hints at a nefarious agenda.
The Blackwater Controversy
Throughout the mid to late-aught’s, the private military contractor, Blackwater, became a go-to firm for the CIA, State Department, and Department of Defense for everything from military operations in Iraq to ad-hoc law enforcement during Hurricane Katrina.
Unsurprisingly, Blackwater developed a comfortable relationship with the CIA, through which most of its larger contracts were acquired. It even created a price sheet for CIA services its multinational, private-sector clients might desire, like setting up safe houses anywhere in the world, or having CIA operatives represent your interests in front of national decision makers.
Founded by American businessman and former Navy SEAL, Erik Prince, the company essentially employed modern-day mercenaries – though Prince prefers epithets with less negative connotations. Since he started the company in 1997, it has gone through several name changes due to controversies it found itself embroiled in, including the Nissour Square massacre in 2007, during which Blackwater contractors killed 14 innocent civilians and wounded 17 others.
Today, the firm is known as Academi, it’s third name change in addition to over 30 shell corporations it created to acquire U.S. government contracts after its name was tarnished from employees’ reckless behavior. Many of those contracts were awarded by officials who were unaware they were dealing with Blackwater, adding to the $2 billion in government contracts the company amassed between ’97-’10.
Prince is no longer affiliated with the company, having sold it in 2010 when it started coming under flak for a litany of legal offenses stemming from its operations. Prince moved to the United Arab Emirates, a country with no extradition treaty with the U.S.
The Monsanto-Blackwater Deal
One of the aforementioned CIA operatives was a man named Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA’s counter-terrorism center. In 2008 Black travelled to Zürich to meet Kevin Wilson, security manager for global issues at Monsanto. Black worked as the chairman for the Total Intelligence Consulting Company, which was owned by Blackwater at the time. During his meeting with Wilson, he proposed to make Total Intelligence the “intel arm” of Monsanto.
Monsanto hired Total Intelligence Solutions from 2008-09 under the agreement it would infiltrate animal rights activist groups by having employees become legal members. It also promised to monitor activists’ blogs and websites on Monsanto’s behalf.
The story originally came about through the reporting of Jeremy Scahill, a writer for The Nation, who has written extensively about the shady operations of Blackwater and its subsidiaries.
Though Wilson claimed he was told Total Intelligence and Blackwater were completely separate entities, Scahill noticed an email was sent after their meeting to Prince discussing the use of Blackwater operatives in infiltrating animal rights activist groups.
A History of Monsanto Government Ties
Monsanto’s infiltration outside of the private sector has been most obvious in Michael R. Taylor’s back-and-forth employment between the big agriculture industry’s public and private sector. Taylor began his career working for a corporate law firm that represented Monsanto, before being hired as policy chief for the FDA in the early ’90s. Taylor was later hired directly by Monsanto as its vice president of public policy, before being tapped again to lead the FDA in 2009.
During his initial tenure in the FDA, Taylor green-lit the approval of GMOs and recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH. Aside from the fact that the approval of these two nascent biotechnologies was lucrative for Monsanto, he didn’t require producers to label food products containing GMOs.
Taylor also allowed for food producers to initially regulate themselves and argued against the Delaney Clause, which prohibited substances that were known carcinogens from being used as food additives.
When Taylor first crafted his regulations on GMOs, the policy treated GM foods the same as food additives, in which the producer was allowed to determine whether it was “generally recognized as safe,” GRAS, or not GRAS. Though this system had already existed, Taylor eased the regulations surrounding information that farmers could rely in using new technologies. This allowed farmers to rely on unpublished studies and information in determining the GRAS standard, as opposed to those publisehd in scientific journals.
After his initial stint at the FDA, Taylor moved on to the USDA, then to Monsanto, then back to the FDA, where he currently sits as the Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
Taylor isn’t the only former Monsanto employee who would later go on to work in government. In fact, former employees have worked at the State Department, Department of Defense, Supreme Court, EPA, Social Security Administration, and Department of Commerce.
In addition to these mostly appointed positions, Monsanto has a long history of lobbying and donating to political campaigns across all levels of government and on both sides of the aisle. Over the past few decades the company has spent millions on lobbying, PACs, and individual campaign contributions.
Is Monsanto Really That Bad?
The company faced a number of lawsuits from its products and policies from disparate parts of the world, stemming from GM crops not producing the promised higher yields, negative health effects from GM foods, and entire countries banning Monsanto products.
The fact that nearly 40 countries in the world have banned or restricted GMO crops should raise a red flag for anyone on the fence about biotech products.
There is a lot of conflicting information about whether GM foods are safe or dangerous, but the historical lack of regulation and safety testing is a concern. We’re not quite at the point of being able to test the long-term effects of consuming GM foods, considering they’ve technically only been around for 30 years or so. However, rising negative trends can be correlated with the introduction of GMOs.
And when a toxin used as an insecticide is found in the blood stream of pregnant mothers and their babies, there’s cause for concern.
Monsanto has become known for having a militaristic grip on its patents, threatening customers who don’t ascribe to their strict legal clauses with mafia-style intimidation tactics. Their investigators will show their targets photos that let them know they’re being watched or followed, in addition to the constant threats. The company even has an 800 number to pit farmers against one other, encouraging them to call each other out for replanting their seeds.
The company is not hesitant to take farmers to court who disobey or don’t understand the company’s restrictions on replanting seeds. And Monsanto’s investigative legal team casts a big net when finding farmers to prosecute. The company has even taken farmers to court who unintentionally grew GM crops when the wind blew Monsanto seeds into their fields.
In Missouri, a Monsanto investigator walked into a man’s small country store, accusing him of violating Monsanto’s policy of replanting seeds. The agent threatened the man with a major lawsuit, promising him he wouldn’t be able to beat Monsanto’s team of lawyers. The man wasn’t even a farmer, but it wasn’t until he hired a lawyer and fought the company in court that they realized they had the wrong guy. He was never given an apology or reimbursed for lawyer’s fees.
This unapologetic, hawkish attitude seems to be a recurring theme in the company’s litigation strategy. If they don’t get their way with customers whom they believe to be in violation, but don’t have a strong case against, Monsanto’s lawyers will pull them into a legal battle so drawn out, the accused farmer or co-op can’t afford to continue fighting and will eventually have to acquiesce.
Avoiding Monsanto and GMOs
Last year the federal government passed a law mandating that GMO foods be labelled, much to the chagrin of certain members of Congress who tried to prevent its passage. This was likely due to the multitude of campaign contributions these members received from Monsanto and big agricultural corporations.
The movement initially started when Vermont passed a law that demanded food manufacturers label GM foods. This forced larger companies to label all of their products that contained GMOs because it would be too costly to produce an entire distribution line specifically for one state.
Though 70 percent of food products in North America contain GMOs, it’s still possible to avoid them. Anything that is labelled USDA organic, 100% organic, or certified organic is by definition GMO-free. There are other labels, like the Non-GMO project that can guide consumers away from GM foods.
Specific foods that are common GM crops include sugar beets, soy, and corn, but these are often used as additives in many different food products, so looking out for these in listed ingredients can help you identify which foods contain genetically modified material.
The demand in Vermont started as a grassroots movement that inevitably created much larger waves than most expected. Movements like these that may appear to be small can force the larger hands at play to bow to consumer demands. And whether one believes GMOs are dangerous or not, when it comes to our food supply and the future of food, large corporations shouldn’t have the final word in our essential sustenance.
The Actual Truth About Fluoride
Fluoride is added to 70% of America’s drinking water, in what has long been a controversial practice of involuntary mass medication. The CDC lists fluoridation as one of the top 10 most important public health measures of the 20th century. But a group of non-profit organizations is now fighting the EPA on this practice, citing a mountain of evidence that shows little benefit, and massive risks.
Not only has the ingestion of fluoride been linked to a variety of health concerns, but research increasingly shows that it doesn’t even improve our teeth. While applying fluoride directly to the tooth’s enamel can perhaps prevent tooth decay, it has been proven in dozens of peer-reviewed studies that swallowing the substance has no health benefit whatsoever.
So why exactly do we fluoridate our water?
The origin of the practice is downright bizarre: In 1901, dentist Frederick McKay began a 30-year study of what was known as “The Colorado Brown Stain.” Residents of Colorado Springs showed a unique disfiguration of their teeth: brown, mottled pits appeared in this population with alarming consistency. Yet, as McKay would soon discover, there was a beneficial trade-off for this unsightly condition: Those afflicted by the “Brown Stain” showed a complete lack of tooth decay and cavities.
After an analysis of the local water supplies, McKay found an unusually high amount of fluoride, which he credited for both the lack of decay and the “Brown Stain.” Today, the “Brown Stain” is known as dental fluorosis, and mild cases (which only produce white streaks) are present in 58% of adolescents. This mild discoloration has been a known side effect of fluoridation since the beginning, but the benefit of cavity and decay reduction was thought to outweigh the risk.
In the last few decades, however, an abundance of medical research has emerged that shows much more profound potential dangers, leading to an ongoing legal battle to end this practice. Fluoride is essentially toxic to the human body, although in small doses, no acute effects are perceived. While our kidneys are able to filter out 50-60% of the fluoride we consume, the rest is stored in the body and has been observed to build up over time in certain areas.
One organ that is particularly susceptible to fluoride build-up is the pineal gland — the part of our brain responsible for regulating sleep and reproductive hormones. Sometimes known as “the third eye,” this small gland has been linked to metaphysical abilities by many cultures throughout history. Philosopher and scientist René Descartes believed the pineal gland to be the “principal seat of the soul.”
It is estimated that 40% of Americans have significant amounts of fluoride build-up in this gland by age 17. By old age, the pineal gland contains about the same amount of fluoride as a tooth. While the role of the pineal gland in facilitating psychic abilities and increased intuition is still up for debate, the fact that fluoride consumption impacts the gland’s ability to function is absolutely proven.
And that’s not the only part of the brain that suffers: over 30 independent studies have linked fluoride to a reduction in childhood IQ: A 2018 study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that, for every increase of 1 milligram per liter of fluoride in a pregnant women’s urine, their offspring averaged 2.4 points lower IQ scores at age 1-3 years old. This follows a 2017 study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showing in utero fluoride levels associated with lower IQ in 6-12 year-olds.
Animal studies have shown other neurological effects, including impaired memory, reduced ability to learn, and even mild forms of brain damage. With potential health risks like that, you would think that the evidence of fluoride’s benefits must be pretty solid. …..well, think again.
There is no solid proof that drinking fluoride actually improves dental health.
In a 1989 study, data collected by the National Institute of Dental Research found that children who live in areas where the water supplies are fluoridated have tooth decay rates nearly identical to those who live in non-fluoridated areas. While tooth decay has declined in the US since fluoridation was introduced, countries which do not add fluoride to their water have seen the same rate of decline in tooth decay. This data from the World Health Organization implies that factors other than fluoridated water are contributing to the overall improvement of dental health worldwide.
In fact, there has never been a controlled, randomized trial to demonstrate the effectiveness or safety of fluoridation, despite over 60 years of consumption in public water supplies. A 2009 study, funded by the NIH, was surprisingly the first to look at individual exposure to fluoride (as opposed to simply living in a fluoridated community). They found no correlation whatsoever between fluoride ingestion and tooth decay.
Considering the wealth of scientific evidence now available, the involuntary mass consumption of fluoride seems indefensible. Yet the EPA has dismissed citizen petitions to remove the substance and is now trying to dismiss a lawsuit that would ban the use of fluoride under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Carbon filtration devices, like those made by Pur or Brita, will not remove fluoride from water. Even expensive reverse-osmosis filters can not remove 100% of the substance, although they can be up to 90% effective. Even if you have your own well or collect rainwater to drink, fluoride is still practically impossible to avoid. Food and drink is often made with fluoridated water. And of course, no explicit labeling is required.
When most people hear the term fluoride, they think of happy, white, shiny teeth. But if more Americans looked at the actual truth about this practice, perhaps the involuntary medication could end.