Note: This is obviously NOT a post about education. Given the relative freedom of speech that this blog has afforded me since I left the employ of a quasi-US governmental nonprofit five years ago, I reserve to right to explore other important issues related to Vietnam, including the war legacy of Agent Orange and the issue of food sovereignty as it relates to genetically modified crops.
Below is a guest post by Chuck Palazzo, an American war veteran and Agent Orange and Unexploded Ordnance activist and researcher, who is currently living, writing and working in Danang. Consider this rather lengthy introduction an opportunity to add my two cents, echoing some of the points Chuck makes.
A 13 October 2014 post on Monsanto’s blog Beyond the Rows, entitled Monsanto and Vietnam University of Agriculture Collaborate to Develop Talents in Agricultural Biotechnology, announced a new VND 1.5 billion scholarship program “for outstanding students studying agricultural biotechnology. This scholarship aims to nurture and encourage the engagement of young talents in the development of agricultural biotechnology and products thereof to support farmers.” How noble but I wish the source of funding weren’t an entity that was once voted the Most Evil Corporation of the Year and which happens to have an unsavory “Vietnam connection.” Audacity (the Yiddish word “chutzpah” also comes to mind) is the correct word to describe this charm offensive.
[I once advised a well-known student organization that they should be careful who they take money from in the form of corporate sponsorship. One example was an organization that promotes the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco-related products. The moral of the story is choose carefully and ethically, when it comes to sponsorship.]
At first glance, I had a visceral reaction to the obscene symbolic and practical significance of this scholarship program, sponsored by Monsanto, one of the companies that gave the world – and profited handsomely from – Agent Orange (AO) and is now reaping huge profits from highly controversial genetically modified (GM) crops. For a paltry $70,000, rounded down, they have bought their way into the Vietnam University of Agriculture and the country’s media, a wolf in sheep’s clothing – in more than one media reference – with a Trojan horse approach to improving the bottom line, so to speak.
Keeping in mind that Monsanto’s 2013 revenue was nearly $15 billion, I wonder what the ROI will be on that 70k? Monsanto execs must be smiling like a Cheshire cat at how easy it is to buy access and influence in a country that was once on the receiving end of one of its most infamous products, a country that continues to pay a steep price in environmental degradation and human suffering, as do US war veterans and others exposed to AO.
If the world were just, Monsanto is one of a number of multinational companies of US origin that would be forced to compensate the millions of victims – here, in the US and elsewhere – for the multi-generational effects of one of their marquee products, Agent Orange, rather than being given the opportunity to (once again) profit from Vietnam. If they want to curry favor with the public here and massage global public opinion, why not establish a multimillion dollar grant program for AO victims, all four generations of them? No need to accept any responsibility, just make the lives of these people more bearable, less painful, more livable. Just do the right thing.
Monsanto has two offices in Vietnam. Note: Dekalb is a Monsanto subsidiary.
DEKALB VIETNAM COMPANY LIMITED
Unit 1303, Floor 13, Centec Tower
72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street
Ward 6, District 3
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Phone: (84-8) 3823 3470 -76
Fax: (84-8) 3823 3473 – 3823 3469
DEKALB VIETNAM COMPANY LIMITED – HA NOI REP. OFFICE
10th Floor, 442 Doi Can Street
Cong Vi Ward, Ba Dinh District,
Ha Noi City, Vietnam
Phone: (84-4) 3762 1146
Fax: (84-4) 3762 1149
The Audacity of Monsanto and the Short Memory of the Vietnam National University of Agriculture
by Chuck Palazzo
“…a pledge of VND 1.5 billion scholarship for outstanding students studying agricultural biotechnology. This scholarship aims to nurture and encourage the engagement of young talents in the development of agricultural biotechnology and products thereof to support farmers.”
As I read this, several ethical questions immediately came to mind. Could it possibly be that the same Monsanto that manufactured one of the most disastrous herbicides in history, Agent Orange, has been allowed to resurface in Vietnam in the guise of agriculture? To be more precise – GMO – Genetically Modified Organisms and Seeds? That is exactly what has occurred. According to various estimates, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 11 to 12 million gallons of Agent Orange over nearly 10% of then-South Vietnam between 1961 and 1971. One scientific study estimated that between 2.1 million and 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange. Vietnamese advocacy groups claim that there are over 3 million Vietnamese suffering from health problems caused by exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange.
Yes, the same Monsanto which, according to their own website, states: “At the time the herbicides were used, there was little consideration within the U.S. military about potential long-term environmental and health effects of the widespread use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. As a result, the governments that were involved most often take responsibility for resolving any consequences of the Vietnam War, including any relating to the use of Agent Orange. U.S. courts have determined that wartime contractors (such as the former Monsanto) who produced Agent Orange for the government are not responsible for damage claims associated with the chemistry.”
OK, Monsanto, agreed that you were and continue to be complicit with the US Government. OK, it’s convenient for Monsanto and the other manufacturers of Agent Orange to hide behind the US courts. But is it OK for this same Monsanto, which lied to the public about the deadly effects of Agent Orange, be allowed to return to Vietnam under the guise of improving agriculture? Is it OK for this same company that has been responsible for some of the worst chemical concoctions known to man (PCBs is another example) are now held in such high esteem that the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture awards them The Sustainable Agriculture Company Award? Sustainability? GMO’s do not contribute to the sustainability of agriculture or anything else for that matter. To make matters worse, some of the same components used in Agent Orange are also being genetically implanted into GMO seeds – for human consumption. Other GMO seeds have been developed to withstand mega-doses of herbicides without killing the crop itself – albeit, the chemicals will saturate and ultimately destroy the surrounding environment. This is clearly NOT sustainability.
Monsanto has not compensated any victim of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the US, or anywhere around the world for the death and destruction this corporate giant has been responsible for over the years. They refuse to. They hide behind US laws, which, in my opinion are a disgrace, as evidenced by my own fellow American veterans who continue to die as a result of their own exposure to Agent Orange and the countless Vietnamese victims who I see and advocate for daily, many of whom are 2nd and 3rd generation victims.
Monsanto is an incredibly large, multinational company that has the financial capability to do as they please – in the US, in Vietnam and throughout the world. GMO’s do not resolve the world hunger problems; they do not resolve drought-related issues. Poor farmers around the world enter into contracts with Monsanto that ensure the seeds they use are destroyed at the end of each season – forcing the farmer to continue to buy seeds from Monsanto. Yep, control the food and you will control the people.
What about food sovereignty? There is none as long as Monsanto is part of the agricultural food chain in Vietnam and anywhere their seeds are being used.
Sure, let us recognize talent in our universities and grant awards and scholarships based on academic achievement. But not by using the blood money Monsanto has granted to the Ministry of Agriculture, paid in part by profits earned from the Agent Orange they manufactured and sold to the U.S. Government during the American War. The same Vietnam that was saturated with Agent Orange. The same Vietnam whose victims of Agent Orange who, now very well into the 3rd generation, continue to suffer and die, for very likely, many more years to come.