Monsanto (now merged with Bayer) is a the largest agricultural biotechnology company in the world. They are also the planet’s leading producer of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, a process that promotes the manipulation of traits which naturally occur in plants and crops. Ever since the company gained government approval for their first modified soybean in the late 1990s, a public debate has persisted as to the potential health hazards of GMO products.
The feature-length documentary The World According to Monsanto provides a comprehensive overview of that debate. As detailed in the film, Monsanto has long been steeped in controversy. During its earliest incarnation at the start of the twentieth century, the company manufactured a series of products which were eventually deemed unacceptably toxic in their applications, including the DDT insecticide, Agent Orange and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB).
Monsanto produced the latter in the town of Anniston, Alabama for nearly four decades. When Anniston residents began to link the chemical to increased incidents of cancer, retardation and a variety of other chronic illnesses and abnormalities, they successfully sued the company to the tune of 700 million dollars.
The film spends much effort in exploring the dangers of Monsanto’s most profitable product - Roundup, a herbicide that has proven enormously popular in both homes and agricultural communities for its ability to kill weeds. The filmmakers discover that the company was reprimanded twice for false advertising in claiming the product was biodegradable and friendly to the environment. Many concerns persist regarding its potential long-term effects on the environment and human health as proper testing has never been officially sanctioned.
The film places the blame for this squarely at the feet of the United States government and its most influential policy makers. Monsanto wields great influence in Washington, DC, and the filmmakers accuse those in power of being susceptible to the company’s strong-arm bribery tactics.
The World According to Monsanto ultimately suffers from its central framing device, which consists of filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin sifting through Google search pages to find the next lead in her investigation, as well as its one-sided view of the issue. But the evidence it does offer provides much food for thought.