With the International Monsanto Tribunal beginning this week (14-16 October) in The Hague, MICK GRANT reports from Vietnam with this special investigation for The Ecologist five decades after the company's lethal herbicide Agent Orange first devastated the country – and discovers the agribusiness giant is sneaking its way back into Vietnam with modern herbicides and 'Roundup-Ready' GMO crops.
Flying into Saigon at night – after an absence of more than a decade – I am struck by the American corporate logos lighting up the landscape, especially those related to food and drink.
Golden Arches are sprinkled along the boulevards, and Starbucks mermaids flash their twin tails everywhere. A neon Colonel Sanders even takes on Ho Chi Minh portraits, sporting the same wispy white goatee.
As Vietnam embraces American culture, the US food gang is back in force – McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, Coca-Cola.
Well, Monsanto does not exactly advertise its presence because it is more on the Apocalypse Now side of things. Actually, when it comes to the food chain, Monsanto is more like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – War, Pestilence, Famine and Death.
As Monsanto rides roughshod over farmers, buys off politicians and pays off scientists, the Four Horsemen could easily be symbolic for the four GM crops they control: GM corn, cotton, soybeans and canola (rapeseed).
Back to the future …
But let's rewind a bit: to the days when Monsanto Corporation started out as the maker of killer poisons like DDT, PCBs, and Agent Orange.
From 1961 to 1971, the US dropped 21 million gallons of defoliants over large swathes of Vietnam, of which 12 million gallons were Agent Orange – a herbicide manufactured for the US Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical.
Its name derives from the colour of the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped. There were other colours in the 'rainbow herbicides', but Agent Orange was by far the most widely used.