Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (TFC)— Despite Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) being touted as saviors, nations worldwide restrict or outright ban their use. That gouges their champion corporation – Monsanto – with deep profit wounds. That paradigm forces the company to get creative, and test all manner of boundaries. As agricultural advancement demand grows, with GMOs failing to catch on, Monsanto turns to countries like Vietnam to welcome its product.
The agra-giant once found success in Vietnam during the 20th century struggles against colonialism. During the Vietnam War, the lush jungles of the Vietnamese countryside drowned in massive amounts of the toxin known as Agent Orange. It acted as a kind of augmented herbicide, officially used to clear dense bush for troops. It was also useful for destroying food supplies, and tainting drinking water. A Vietnamese man interviewed for the 1975 documentary Hearts And Minds, who built coffins for a living, claimed many countryside children died due to the poison.
Monsanto’s earlier incarnation created it, and still distances itself from responsibility. It not only claims to not be the same company, but that its also not responsible for the military’s use of Agent Orange. “Monsanto today, and for the last decade,” says company spokesperson Charla Lord, “has been focused solely on agriculture.”
Lord says today’s Monsanto “shares a name with a company that dates back to 1901. The former Monsanto was involved with a variety of businesses including the manufacture of Agent Orange for the US government.”
Lord claims US courts have cleared Monsanto of wrongdoing involving the weaponization of Agent Orange. The US military has similarly denied responsibility, possibly because biological warfare is outlawed. According to Huffington Post, over 12 million gallons of Agent Orange blanketed south Vietnam from 1961-1971.
Holistically, Agent Orange was and is a hellish compound capable of ruining both flora and fauna–soldiers included. Reports of intergenerational cancers, birth defects, and other genetic-based malformations abound in Vietnam veterans. That’s nothing compared to the Vietnamese people, however, who’ve seen these sustain until the present. Many defects can be traced back to Agent Orange, and America’s use of it.
Don’t be so inclined as to believe this past will hurt Monsanto’s present in Vietnam. According to the Huffington Post, a large percentage of Vietnam’s existing population was born after the war ended. That’s created an unexpectedly high interest in normalization with the West, and its corporations. Many of those who’d harbor hate or distrust of America are either elderly or died in the war. Now, Vietnam’s population wants in on potentially lucrative markets like genetically modified foods. That means first leaving ghosts howling from an echoing past where they lay.
“GMOs are a scientific achievement of humankind,” proclaimed former Vietnam agriculture minister Cao Duc Phat, “and Vietnam needs to embrace them as soon as possible.” Local farmers recall “parties” Monsanto held to promote their genetically modified seeds. Farmer Nguyen Hong Lam remembers gatherings lasting “even three days”, “they were as much fun as wedding parties.”
CEO of Monsanto’s Vietnam-based subsidiary Narasimham Upadyayula stated “We do hundreds of these [launch] events in the fields.” “Seeing is believing”, says Upadyayula, “their livelihood depends on that.” “We gave them a vision.”
That “vision”, however, has seen massive rejection worldwide. Activists in Argentina recently stopped a multi-million dollar Monsanto effort dead in its tracks. It took three years of hard protesting, Natural News reports, but ultimately construction of a GMO seed plant burned out. The plant reputedly would’ve been Monsanto’s second largest Latin American operation, capable of “treating 3.5 million hectares of maize.”
A similar outcome manifested in 2014, when Argentina’s protesters halted the construction of another manufacturing plant. Monsanto earned ire partly due to its changing of Argentina’s beef from an all-grass diet to GMO grain. Other countries, such as Hungary and Haiti–even after the latter’s earthquake crisis—destroy entire fields of genetically modified crops. The problem isn’t just the seeds themselves, but what their very cultivation does.
GMO agriculture, from a profit perspective, is fueled both by the sale of seed and poisons used to treat fields. Some GMOs are actually engineered specifically to either withstand high grade poison, or to produce it themselves. Unfortunately, the targeted pests adapt and bring about the demand for increasingly volatile toxins.
While Monsanto advocates for its agra-toxins, it doesn’t seem to care what the government thinks. Earlier this year, Free Thought Project reports, Monsanto began selling seeds resistant to two poisons. One, glyphosate, has been used specifically for Monsanto GM (Genetically Modified) farming for some time. According to Digital Journal, the lucrative poison is expected to bring in $8.50 billion to Monsanto by 2020. It was also mixed with key compounds used to create Agent Orange in 2014 to spray GM fields. Those sprays would go on to contaminate nearby river systems, and taint the land itself until nothing other than GMOs could be grown there.
The other, dicamba, is pushed by Monsanto despite its lack of approval by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Dicamba is more toxic than Glyphosate, which is already known for its destructive tendencies. The compound, similar to Glyphosate, is known to be volatile, and drift into natural and agricultural areas.
Monsanto sought to utilize dicamba in a new spray–Vapor Grip–claiming it to be more controllable. According to Free Thought Project, Monsanto began selling dicamba-resistant seeds despite it still being banned by FDA. Monsanto claims it advised farmers not to spray the outlawed poison, though no real oversight exists. Give you one guess what happened next.
As the year went on, agra-agencies in several states began getting reports of damaged crops due to spray drift. Farmers are expected to lose 10-30% of their fields due to poisons which can not be contained or controlled.
One individual, Bill Bader, noticed his peach trees yielding useless walnut-sized fruit. According to Free Thought Project, the tree’s show unanimous, obvious signs of dicamba drift. Bader reputedly noticed similar damage a year earlier, when dicamba-resistant cotton was introduced nearby. Tests eventually validated Bader’s suspicions that illegal spray was used not once, but twice.
Now, with nations outright rejecting GM agriculture, Monsanto looks to Vietnam. “The government of Vietnam”, says Monsanto-Vietnam subsidiary CEO Narasimham Upadyayula, “really believes this country can become self-sufficient, and that science and technology can help farmers. Upadyayula says officials seek “maximum penetration of the technology”, after a decade gaining approval.
According to Huffington Post, anti-GMO activists have been urging Vietnam against the seeds. Citing uncertain crop yields and high cultivation and spray costs, activists say GMOs aren’t a good choice for developing countries. Monsanto and those who use its seeds also have no way to prevent cross-pollination with naturally occurring plants. GM crops are, after all, special due to their modified genes, which don’t occur naturally. Not enough has been done to ensure these genes won’t escape into the wild, and potentially endanger natural species.
It’s also interesting to note how some locals seem unaware of Monsanto’s very connection to Agent Orange. They instead focus on the corporation’s promises of economic prosperity through accepting its brand of biotechnology. Even Nguyen Hong Lam, a 64 year old farmer who fought for the US-backed Vietnamese ARVN forces, does not associate Monsanto with Agent Orange. They seem similarly unaware that the toxin, and its cousins, may return to their fields due to GMO agriculture.
Lam does, however, notice the lack of information on GMOs provided by that government. “If all the allegations against Monsanto are true,” he confesses, “then that is a major concern.” According to Huffington Post, Lam says he would’ve “boycotted Monsanto’s products if they are really that harmful. But..I trust the government to make the right decision for its people.” Lam has farmed GM seeds since their introduction in 2014, and has seen his profit increase by 20%.
Bundled in with Vietnam’s urge for American business is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which its included in. Although the partnership has provoked mass opposition in the west, Vietnam sees it as a critical opportunity. Vietnam is also critical to President Obama’s revitalization of relations with southeast Asia, Bloomberg reports. GMOs and the partnership are deeply connected, with one’s success dependent upon the other.
This is the broader scope of the situation, and why Vietnam’s near unconditional acceptance of GMOs is damning. Despite the attempts of mainstream academics, researchers are split on GM foods. While some seem zealous in their defense of GMOs, others have become whistleblowers.
Such details are, no doubt, unknown to the Vietnamese people craving trade at any means necessary. The tale is complicated, ongoing, and ripe with ethical questions and dilemmas to fill the rest of the century.