Monsanto, Dow and Agent Orange – an original article by John Pilger
Agent Orange Action Group is pleased to welcome this original article by John Pilger a renowned writer, broadcaster and film-maker whose documentaries have won prestigious awards from many countries; his contribution to our pages is appreciated.
February 24, 2012
On 13 February, a French court found the Monsanto company guilty of poisoning a farmer, Paul Francois, who developed neurological problems after working with one of Monsanto’s weedkiller. The court found that Monsanto had failed to provide proper warning on the product label. When I read that news item, some 40 years vanished. I was back in Vietnam in a fishing village called Son Tra. The American military ‘strategy’ was that the people of Son Tra would be more ‘secure’ if all their basic vegetation was stripped away. This would ‘deny cover to any infiltrating enemy elements’.
Son Tra was sprayed with defoliant herbicides, manufactured by Monsanto and the Dow Chemical Company. The herbicide, 2,4,5-T, was called Agent Orange and contained an impurity, dioxin, one of the most devastating poisons. The previous year, 1970, the US government had banned the marketing of 2,4,5-T following a campaign by small farmers – people like Paul Francois – who gave evidence that the herbicide turned young trees to powder and causes paralysis and blindness among their livestock and impotence in themselves.
Banned at home, the spray could still be used overseas, especially in the American war in Vietnam. It was not long before a pattern of deformities began to emerge in the Vietnamese people: babies were born without eyes, with deformed hearts and small brains and with stumps instead of legs. In August 1970, in a report to the US Senate, Senator Gaylord Nelson wrote that ‘the US had dumped [on south Vietnam] a quantity of toxic chemical amounting to six pounds per head of population including women and children’.
The impact on the environment was apocalyptic. Mangroves in villages like Son Tra were destroyed perhaps forever. Decaying plant matter robbed the water of oxygen and reduced the catches of fish and crabs by as much as 80 per cent. The land around was stricken with saline and became rock hard and good for nothing.
But the spraying continued. Following the report to the Senate, the US military changed the codename of the Agent Orange operation from ‘Operation Hades’ to the friendlier ‘Operation Ranch Hand’.
Whenever I have returned to Vietnam, and traveled in the Mekong Delta, I see adults and children who bear the deformities of Agent Orange. Because the poison remains in the soil and water, babies are still born deformed, if they are born at all; miscarriages and stillbirths are a mark of the poisoning. One of the two companies that caused this horrific state of affairs, Dow Chemical, was given the contract to provide the ‘decorative wrapping’ to the main stadium for the London Olympic Games, an event that is said to celebrate life and human prowess.