(Beyond Pesticides, April 20, 2017) On Tuesday, the judges presiding over the International Monsanto Tribunal presented their legal opinion, delivering conclusions on the multinational corporation’s impact on issues ranging from human rights, food access, environmental health, to scientific research. In addition to Monsanto’s impact on human rights, the judges concluded that if ecocide were recognized as an international criminal law, the corporation would possibly be found guilty. According to the Organic Consumers Association’s press release, one of the organizing groups behind the creation of the Tribunal, “It is likely that the [legal] conclusions will lead to more liability cases against Monsanto and similar companies. This will shine a light on the true cost of production and will affect Monsanto (Bayer) shareholder value in the long run.”
The international judges determined that, based on a legal analysis of the questions asked, Monsanto has engaged in practices that have negatively affected the right to a healthy environment, to food, and to health. In addition to these infringement of rights, Monsanto has had a negative effect on the right to freedom indispensable for scientific research with “conduct such as intimidation, discrediting independent scientific research, [and] suborning false research reports.” In the third part of its advisory opinion, the Monsanto Tribunal interprets the “widening gap between international human rights law and corporate accountability” and calls for both the UN and non-state authoritative bodies to protect international human and environmental rights law.
The International Monsanto Tribunal was established by the Monsanto Tribunal Foundation as an initiative of civil society groups to put Monsanto on trial for crimes against nature and humanity, and ecocide, and to hold the corporation accountable for these violations. The legal opinion delivered on Tuesday came after the judges heard testimony from experts, witnesses, and victims beginning in October 2016 in The Hague, Netherlands, home to the UN International Court of Justice.
Relying on the “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” adopted by the UN in 2011, the five international judges assessed the potential criminal liability of Monsanto for damages inflicted on human health and the environment. The court also relied on the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court in The Hague in 2002, and considered whether to reform international criminal law to include crimes against the environment, or ecocide, as a prosecutable criminal offense.
Monsanto is the producer of Roundup, a widely-used herbicide that contains the active ingredient glyphosate, a chemical that is classified as a cancer-causing agent based on laboratory studies by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO). The corporation has developed and produced many other toxic chemicals, including: Lasso, an herbicide that is now banned in Europe; PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl), one of the 12 Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) that affect human and animal fertility; and 2,4,5 T, a dioxin-containing component of the defoliant, Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and continues to cause birth defects and cancer.
This international legal opinion follows on the heels of the lawsuit filed last week by Beyond Pesticides and Organic Consumers Association against Monsanto for misleading the public by labeling its popular weedkiller Roundup as “target[ing] an enzyme found in plants but not in people or pets.” The lawsuit charges that Monsanto’s statement is false, deceptive, and misleading because the enzyme targeted by glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is, in fact, found in people and pets. Plaintiffs claim that Monsanto benefited monetarily from this false advertising campaign, as the company knew and intended that consumers would pay more for weed killer products claiming not to target people or pets, furthering Monsanto’s private interest of increasing sales of Roundup and decreasing the sales of competing weed killer products that are truthfully marketed.
The mounting evidence of glyphosate’s hazards, as well as documentation of Monsanto’s collusion with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, is piling up and environmental groups, like Beyond Pesticides, are urging localities to restrict or ban the use of the chemical. Beyond Pesticides promotes these actions and many more through the Tools for Change webpage. Consumers can also avoid glyphosate exposure by buying and supporting organic food and agriculture. Beyond Pesticides has long promoted the importance of organic in a sustainable food system, and works to promote the widespread transition of conventional farmland to organic production. To find out more about the work Beyond Pesticides is doing on organic integrity, check out Keeping Organic Strong, or to see all the reasons to go organic, visit Eating with a Conscience.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.