Through my research I’ve come across some significant trends- one that Monsanto is surely a part of- and I’ve realized that the problem I am seeking to investigate extends beyond just Monsanto. There are social injustices being inflicted on our land, our homes and our bodies, most of which stem from public misconceptions, or even, public’s lack of knowledge altogether. How can I focus the blame on just one of many companies and contributors? Government versus citizens. Corporations versus consumers. People with money versus people in poverty. I’ve narrowed it down: The “big” people versus the “little” people.
This article sums this idea nicely: Capitalism, consumerism, corporate power has a hold on our existence. Our lives are a profit-making venture. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. We all get dragged into it in one way or another. Of course, this experience varies among countries and societies. It talks about how the power that lies in the hands of very view, and calls for a power shift back to the people.
“…we [need to] stop the cycle of putting profit before people.”
Before I elaborate on the injustices in the United States, I’d like to delve into the serious atrocities committed overseas. The things that go unnoticed, what no one acknowledges or wants to fix.
La Oroya, Peru is a mining town of 35,000 inhabitants nestled into a valley surrounded by mountains. Since 1922, the American Doe Run Corporation has been profiting from the poly-metallic smelter placed there. Over the years, the people of La Oroya have become almost entirely dependent on this plant for work— the life of this town basically revolves around the plant. The problem is that this plant has been emitting toxic wastes including: lead, copper, zinc, and sulfur dioxide. This article and a Time article explains the extent of pollution in this town, and shockingly reveals that 99% children in La Oroya have blood lead levels that are 3+ times more than the acceptable limit. Even after the active emissions from the smelter were reduced, the toxins will remain in La Oroya’s soil for centuries. Where the social justice issue arises is from the town’s dependency on a plant that is ultimately killing them. Due to the low economic class the majority of this town falls under, they cannot afford to simply shut down the plant.
“If this were to happen in wealthier parts like Lima, they [the government] would never stand for it like they do here.”
Their livelihood for years has been developed around this plant, making it practically impossible for it’s withdrawal.
This next one does in fact have to do with Monsanto. According to this article, in Argentina’s Santa Fe province cancer rates are 2-4 times higher than the national average. In Chaco, Argentina, the nation’s poorest province, children are 4 times more likely to be born with congenital birth defects. This has been especially noticeable since the rise in biotechnology in these regions. Biotechnology developed by Monsanto, that is. In 1996, Argentina was introduced to Monsanto’s glyphosate weed-killer (called “Roundup”) and crop seeds genetically engineered to resist being poisoned by ”Roundup”. However, the farmers that were given these products were untrained in the proper way to use them. Unknowingly, they mixed other chemicals with the “Roundup” and, due to lack of regulations, they sprayed the mixup freely over many crops. The host of chemicals being distributed over these crops are believed to be highly correlated to the rise in cancer rates over the past 20 years and not surprisingly, has been highly correlated to poorer communities.
Interestingly, this article explains how New York State’s attorney general sued Monsanto in 1996 for false advertising that glyphosate (Roundup) is “safe”, just because it received permission from the EPA to put the product on the market. Monsanto only had to pay a $50,000 fine. More information on this case was extremely difficult for me to find, so I apologize for the lack of details. But think about it… maybe that says something about how well Monsanto can cover up their failures?
Transitioning back to the United States— you’d be surprised about the amount of situations we’ve had that parallel the ones in the southern hemisphere. This article tells the story of Texas City, Texas, where the BP oil corporation had an oil refinery that they knowingly could release potentially harmful chemicals. According to the lawsuit that followed, BP “failed to take proper action to stop or control the release”. Although this was reported in 2011, the victims claim that BP has inflicted permanent environmental and health damages upon the community. Years of unsafe practices performed by the refinery has also led to a series of explosions and fires that killed 15 people and injured over 1,000 people. BP has pulled out of this region now that it is too contaminated. They sold their refinery for way more than its worth and have left many of the people there jobless and in a toxic environment. The mess that was left by BP was so severe that the city “may never recover fully” from the effects.
This image (also shown on the right) illustrates a very clear, interesting trend. The Connecticut regions with the highest concentration of air pollutants also happen to be the same regions with the highest number of minority people in the state. However, the link I provided doesn’t explain any more than what the picture explains. This link provides the statistics that show that most minority areas in Connecticut are also some of the most poverty stricken areas. The trends so far can be seen pretty clearly— the areas subjected to the most amount of harmful pollutants are those in low income or minority areas. The reason why? Perhaps because these areas are cheap for big companies to settle into. Perhaps because the people in these poorer areas have a little way to defend themselves. This is social injustice.
This next one applies to all of us. Similar to my previous posts, there are a variety of food products that are sold without safety certainty. According to this Prevention article, there is a produce “dirty dozen”. This is referring to the high pesticede contamination levels of certain produce. For example, beef, pork and poultry are extremely contaminated with pesticides when put on the market (more so than plant products). Unlike plant products, these fat-soluble pesticides that are exposed to the animals stay in the animal longer, accumulating in the animal’s fatty tissue. 90% of berries were found to have up to 40 different pesticides above safe levels. Other produce like tomatoes, grapes, nectarines, and potatoes were found with similar levels. Some could be reduced by peeling away the outer layer, but not all products have that ability. Even with peeling the skin, the levels are only mildly decreased. COFFEE. That’s right, coffee. Most coffee is grown in countries with little regulation on the use of pesticides on food. It’s scary to think about. These pesticides are on almost everything we eat daily, and similarly to my other posts, we are unaware of the long term side effects of all these chemicals accumulating in our body.
This New Yorker article really hits home and encompasses almost everything I’ve already mentioned. In North Carolina, coal ash was discovered in Dan River near Eden, NC. Coal ash is the remnants after coal is burned for electricity, and it contains a lot of toxins like: arsenic, lead, selenium, mercury and other heavy metals. Turns out the coal ash, which was being released from Duke Energy plant, had spread far beyond Dan River near Eden. The ash spread downstream to drinking water intakes from Danville, Virginia to the Atlantic Ocean. This contamination had been going on for 63 years. Similar situations were appearing near other Duke Energy plants in North Carolina, with people questioning the safety of their own water in those areas. After investigation, almost all of the water near the Duke Energy plants were indeed unsafe. Additionally, most of these plants were situated near poor or majority black communities. This terrifies me. What if something like were to happen in our hometown? What if it is going on? There’s so much that happens without our knowledge as it is, but when it affects your health and safety I believe it takes that issue to a whole other level.
Social Justice is awareness and action. Social justice is my, yours, and everyone else’s safety. Our environment and our food are inescapable. The “big” people make the decisions and the “little” people will suffer from it.
For more examples of these injustices, here’s a link to the 25 most polluted places in the world.
And here’s a video, incase you’re tired of reading 🙂