Monsanto®'s dozens of Superfund sites ( large contaminated sites of high priority for the us Environmental Protection Agency ) across the United States alone are affecting hundreds of communities and their environment with terrifying health and ecological consequences. Monsanto® maintains strong ties with the us government, and especially with the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration). It is a bedfellow with many other economical and political power houses around the world. The company engages in campaigns of misinformation, the persecution of institutions and individuals, including scientists, farmers and activists that dare to disclose its crimes. Monsanto® is spreading new technologies and products, while scientists, ecological institutions and human rights organizations are putting out alerts about issues like public health, food safety and ecological sustainability issues on which our future on this planet depends. This is all particularly troublesome since Monsanto® is entering a new chapter of disregard for our planet through the creation and commercialization of gmos. Looking at the company’s past and present, this project aims to picture what Monsanto® ’s near future will look like.
For Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation, the Franco- Venezuelan photographer Mathieu Asselin was awarded the Aperture Foundation First Book Award in 2017, the Dummy Book Award Kassel 2016, and a special mention for the Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award 2016 at the Rencontres de la Photographie (Arles), his book is shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation 2018. Beyond the distinguished editorial object, this recognition enshrines an exceptional documentary process conducted for five years through Vietnam and the United States, which portrays an overwhelming portrait of the ancient and current practices of this giant chemical industry.
In order to construct his meticulous investigation, Mathieu Asselin exhumed and consulted hundreds of documents - press excerpts, judgments, archives, films, and testimonies - focusing on facts or dates that dramatically illustrate the ravages of all kinds which mark the company's long history of sprawling development. Thus, the drama of the small town of Aniston (Alabama, 1970), that became a ghost city as a result of releases into the air and water of the infamous and poisonous chlorinated PCB derivatives produced by the local factory. Thus, the terrifying Agent Orange - another Monsanto product - an acid-based herbicide and defoliant which the US military will detonate on the plains of Vietnam from 1968 to 1971, permanently contaminating up to ten percent of its territory and causing thousands of victims.
The book also methodically illuminates another facet of Monsanto's processes to establish its global grip: propaganda and communication. Whether they are advertisements describing an ideal world where chemistry and its derivatives contribute to universal well-being, or subjugating contracts signed by thousands of farmers condemning them to an unfair economic model and ecological nuisance, each document published by Monsanto can be analyzed as an exercise in disinformation. Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation is intended to pay tribute to the hundreds of associations, to the thousands of famous or anonymous individuals, "to the NGO's who oppose with tenacity and at their own risk the perils of the Monsanto lobby”.
Benoit Rivero, Actes Sud
If there ever was a compelling David vs. Goliath comparison, it is the relationship between farmers and the seed-producing and trading company Monsanto®. Farmers, guided by thousands of years of experience, fear and respect the weather and its almighty power over the success of their crops. Now, the days when farmers controlled their own seeds have passed. Thus farmers have come to fear another entity: The almighty rulers of their seeds. Monsanto®, Dupont®, the Swiss Syngenta® and the French Group Limagrain® operate a de-facto oligarchy over seeds. These very large and highly complex companies are listed on the stock-markets. Their main goal is to satisfy their shareholders, not to partner meaningfully with the recipients of their products, and by extension, with every one of us who eats. In the summer of 2016, it was announced that the German Chemical and Agricultural giant Bayer® made an offer to take over Monsanto®. Bayer® holds a two-percent share of the world seed market and is far better known for its AspirinTM and Alka-Seltzer® than for its still sizable share in seeds. Monsanto® holds 23 percent of the worldwide seed market. The offer was such: Bayer® was to pay $62 billion for Monsanto®. It was supposed to be a cash deal, outweighing the biggest cash deal ever made until then, which was the 2008 fusion of beer giants Anheuser® and InBev®. Under the agreement, Bayer® would pay $128 for each share of Monsanto®. On the day of the offer ( may 9, 2016 ), this amount represented a 44 percent premium over Monsanto®’s share price. The merger, as it was presented to the world, would serve both companies. It would catapult Bayer® to the lead in the seed business, a market which holds a great future as long as humans live and multiply. It would also provide Monsanto® with the deep pockets to become the de-facto monopolist in seeds, leaving its competition behind. According to Bayer®'s CEO Werner Baumann, who initiated the offer a few weeks after he was installed in his position, the deal would deliver «substantial value to shareholders, our customers, employers and society at large». Monsanto®'s CEO Hugh Grant found similar promising words: «We believe that this combination with Bayer® represents the most compelling value for our share- owners, with the most certainty through the all-cash consideration». Both statements underline what has become the primary goal in today's stock-market economy: to please and serve the short-term wants of shareholders. According to the first outline of the merger, Bayer®'s ceo Werner Baumann predicted that the fusion would be completed by the end of 2017. Since then, the outlook has changed. Roadblocks have been encountered. Bayer® and Monsanto® run operations in 30 countries; they need the approval from all 30 antitrust institutions. Millions of pages have been prepared to compel the antitrust agencies in those countries of the good of the deal. As of this writing in late January 2018, 14 agencies have given their approval. Neither the eu, nor the us nor India are among them. A final decision is expected in late spring 2018. Exasperated by the scrutiny, Bayer® has publicly complained that the demands for approval are excessive. ceo Baumann has described antitrust procedures as going to «unimaginable depths», with more than 4 million pages of documents provided to eu investigators. Bayer® has already agreed to sell certain seed and herbicide businesses for $5.9 billion to domestic rival Basf®, but has said it was bracing for antitrust authorities to demand that it sell more assets. The transaction caps a dramatic reshaping of the crop and seed industry. A year ago, the sector had at least a half-dozen global players. After Bayer® and Monsanto® tie together, creating a leader with$26billion in combined revenues from agriculture, that number will shrink to just four. The proposed deal comes amid several high-profile mergers in the industry, including the still-to-be-approved $130 billion merger between Dow Chemical® and DuPont®, as well as ChemChina®'s acquisition of Syngenta®, the Swiss firm. Monsanto® itself had last year offered to buy Syngenta®, but was rebuffed. Monsanto®'s focus on genetically modified crops has put the deal under scrutiny in Europe, where such crops are viewed with deep suspicion. Still, if the deal goes through, Bayer® gets access to more than 2,000 varieties of seeds for crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat. Bayer® had already developed seeds for rice, cotton, and oilseed. Such monopolies are what anti-trust agencies are supposed to prevent.
Text by Michael Saur
Rencontres d'Arles 2017
Photographer's Gallery London 2018
Fotomuseum Antwerpen FOMU Belgium 2018
50 YEARS, 50 BOOKS MASTERWORKS FROM THE LIBRARY OF MARTIN PARR. Rencontres Arles 2019.
European Parliament Strasbourg 2018