Friday, March 6, 2009

Some thoughts on the freedom of the press...

In today's lecture, we saw the video interview of Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, both reporters at the Fox affiliate in Tampa, WTVT. It was a little like watching a re imagining of the movie The Firm, The Pelican Brief, or maybe Erin Brockovich, going back, maybe even The China Syndrome. A common thread through all these is that there is a group of people operating out of view with the unambiguous goal of silencing those that would tell an inconvenient truth. In one movie it might be a lawyer, in another a journalist but the fact remains that when someone researches the truth, they have an imperative duty to tell it and let the chips fall where they may.
In the rBST or BGH case that we learned about, there were two individuals that were eventually fired from their jobs for reporting their findings and refusing to have their research watered down to not embarrass a wealthy corporation, Monsanto is a large corporation, with revenues in 2008 in excess of 11 billion dollars, employs 18,000 people and is a jealous guardian of its products.
They have sued farmers for a number of reasons, including breeding pigs in a way that Monsanto patented, also for selling grain that was mixed with Monsanto-patented grain in neighboring fields (stuff that the wind blew over, basically) and not least, because farmers had “hormone-free” printed in the carton of milk. They have a number of products that are nominally for human consumption, but have associated with them either questionable performance in animal-trials, or like the Terminator seed technology, that causes plants to die at harvest time, (making the farmer to have to buy more seed every year) that are of a disturbing nature to the consumer.
The rBST controversy has made the public to stampede to organic labels. Only time will tell if these labels mean anything, or similar statements made, like “rBST-free” in fact mean it. Monsanto has been sued for polluting waterways with grievous amounts of PCBs, and lest we think that it was better in the past, it has been associated with a number of industrial accidents, some of them quite spectacular. This makes the Posilac case, as rBST is trademarked by Monsanto, a memorable one. The hormone in question is alleged to be already present in the animal, but if a synthetic version is injected, then another hormone triggers a 15-20% increase in output, albeit at the risk of a number of health problems for the cow.
The marketplace seems to have shied away from the controversy, and Monsanto responded by forming a lobbying group to refute and dilute the criticism. It doesn’t help the public perception when it becomes known that FDA, EPA top-tier people, even a sitting Supreme Court Justice have been in their payroll.
The question one must ask as a consumer is, do I want to be complicit with such a bully of a corporation? You may find that its tentacles reach too deeply into our American lifestyle. Their products dominate the corn and soybean crops in the US, and perhaps in another post we can explore that issue. Suffice it to say, unless you grow your own food (and I mean using your own imported seed, or killing wild animals) you can’t avoid eating products that are directly linked to this corporation.
What I admire in Akre and Wilson is that they took a stand on principle and they did not back down, even if it meant that they’d be fired or ruined. Of late, following the reversal of their win at the lower levels, Fox is suing them for lawyer’s fees, more than a million dollars’ worth. They represent the ethics I admire.


  1. I enjoyed this post Ben. Thanks for doing your research and bringing to light more concerning facts about Monsanto. You are right about this company being a bully who thinks that it is above the government and above ethics. When you hear and read about cases like what Akre and Wilson went through, I just wonder: How could they ever be stopped? How could they ever be accountable? And how did they get that much power in the first place?

  2. Yeah, that was an amazing story of two folks who wanted the truth told and had real balls. I admire their dedication to the truth. I can't imagine the pain they must of went through just standing up to the huge corporations and their own employer. That would have been difficult to do, that's for sure. I was amazed by the Monsanto story and all the info you gave in your post, pretty scary stuff.