Monsanto, the controversial US agricultural corporation, will be tried by a non-legally binding tribunal on Saturday, 50 years after it was commissioned by the US army to produce the lethal herbicide Agent Orange for use in the Vietnam War.
The proceedings in The Hague will attempt to unpick Monsanto’s complicity in war crimes during the conflict and its alleged perpetration of ‘ecocide’, or widespread destruction of the environment.
Named after the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped, Agent Orange was used to destroy forest cover used by North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops, as well as the crops that fed them.
Evidence has since linked its use to causing a slew of physical deformities and mental disorders. The Vietnam Red Cross reports that 3 million Vietnamese have been affected by Agent Orange and 150,000 children have suffered birth defects as a consequence of exposure to the toxic defoliant.
Glyphosate, a component in Monsanto’s “Roundup” herbicide, the most widely used in the world, is also linked to birth defects, according to Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception. The herbicide accompanies the use of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) seeds that the company is promoting, via its subsidiary Dekalb Vietnam, in Vietnam today.
Smith told The Diplomat in November 2014 that “this evidence is found in Monsanto’s own research, as well as experience today in Argentina and other countries where populations are experiencing a skyrocketing of birth defects when exposed to this dangerous weed killer”.
Then-agriculture minister Cao Duc Phat told a local newspaper in 2010 that he had “sent a letter to Monsanto asking them to bring their seeds to Vietnam” because “GMOs are a scientific achievement of humankind, and Vietnam needs to embrace them as soon as possible.”
Do Hai Linh, from the Vietnamese environmental NGO People and Nature Reconciliation, said Monsanto had crept back into Vietnam under the guise of promoting “biotechnology” and “environmentally-friendly agriculture”.
“Many of us were amazed and disappointed that Monsanto and their genetically modified organism business were accepted into the country so easily, given their direct involvement in the catastrophic Agent Orange campaign and given that the use of GMO seeds is still a controversial debate with inconclusive explanations,” Linh said.