Myth #8: Monsanto invented Agent Orange

False. Monsanto did not invent Agent Orange.

As we have explained in greater depth on our website and elsewhere, Agent Orange is the name given to the combination of two commercially available herbicides which had been used for decades before the Vietnam War. The former Monsanto, which was primarily a chemical company, along with 9 other companies, supplied the U.S. government these herbicides as part of the war effort. The combination of these herbicides is what the U.S. government named Agent Orange after the colour of the stripe put on the barrels that contained it. 

The nine Agent Orange manufacturers were government contractors acting at the direction of the government, which was exercising its authority under the U.S. War Powers Act. The government set the manufacturing specifications for Agent Orange, and decided when, where and how it was used. Agent Orange was only made for military use by the government.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand lower court rulings that the manufacturers were not responsible for the implications of military use of Agent Orange because the war materials were supplied at the direction of the U.S. government.

A concise and informative summary of Agent Orange can be found in an article written by U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, the judge in the United States who handled all Agent Orange litigation for 30 years.  Judge Weinstein notes that the idea that Agent Orange might be the cause of a wide variety of alleged personal injury was first suggested after the Vietnam War by a social worker from Chicago, and that idea became widespread in the media, becoming accepted fact without any proof.  He writes after handling the litigation for 30 years that there is simply no competent scientific or medical proof that Agent Orange caused the wide array of alleged serious injuries and birth defects.

Outside of the U.S., Agent Orange lawsuits were filed in Korea by several thousand allied veterans from South Korea claiming injury from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.  Unlike the U.S. litigation which was settled long ago, the Korean matters proceeded through trial and appeals.  After carefully considering the evidence for over six years, in July 2013 the Supreme Court of Korea issued a decision which concluded that there was no scientific or medical evidence to support the claim that serious health effects, or after-effects, were caused by alleged exposure to Agent Orange.

Given this background, we are mystified as to why certain non-governmental organizations and extremists groups continue to talk about Monsanto’s involvement with Agent Orange as if it were yesterday.

Many widely respected companies, from German auto makers, banks and pharmaceutical companies to aeroplane manufacturers, clothing companies and food producers at one time or another have supplied governments for military procurement purposes during times of war. Yet few people shun these auto-makers, aspirin makers, banks, clothing companies or food producers because of that involvement.

Why is Monsanto different? We would argue that in fact Monsanto is no different than those other companies. What is different, sadly, is that Monsanto has competitors, along with certain political groups and non-governmental organizations, that appear to see a commercial or political benefit in keeping Agent Orange in the headlines.

Consider these facts: Monsanto stopped making Agent Orange in 1969, more than 40 years ago. Hardly anyone working for Monsanto at that time is still with the company today. The majority of the chemicals business of Monsanto was spun off in the 1990′s, and by simple math almost anyone who would have worked for Monsanto in the 1960s must be in their 60s today and is most likely retired. The vast majority of people working at Monsanto globally today were born long after the Vietnam war ended and the production of Agent Orange was discontinued.

Time to move on?

[If you've heard any other stories about Monsanto that you suspect aren't true, check out our other blog entries in this series or download our pocket-sized Myths & Facts leaflet, which is available in several languages.]

9 comments to Myth #8: Monsanto invented Agent Orange

  • William  says:

    I wasn’t born during the Vietnam war, but looking at the people who mutated from Agent Orange broke my heart and filled it with darkness.

  • Kathy  says:

    Yes, Mirex was available commercially, and was, in fact, used on the National Mall. But it was the chemical companies who developed and sold a concentrated system to the government to kill the forest cover in Vietnam, a war we were not winning.

    • Brandon Mitchener  says:

      Thanks for your comment. What you say isn’t incompatible with our own statement. Yes, the former Monsanto–a very different company–made AO, but it didn’t invent it and didn’t use it and stopped making it as soon as the war ended. Certain activist groups continue to hammer today’s Monsanto with such legacy issues even though the former Monsanto stopped making those things in the early 1970s and almost anyone who even worked for that company then is long since retired. The only reason the activists drag this up on a regular basis is to demonize all pesticides and companies that make them even though it’s obvious that AO and the pesticides used in agriculture today are subject to very different regulatory approvals and uses.

  • Steve Downey  says:

    So again no one is responsible. Agent Orange does not cause significant problems. That is so much of a lie. I served honorable in the United State Marine Corp in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, my rear was a place called LZ Baldy; it was named that way because it was heavily spray with Agent Orange. Today I am rate 10% disabled for systemic heart disease due to exposure to AO. What bothers me the most outside of the fact that AO will probably be the cause of my death is that my skin since returning from Vietnam is allergic to sunlight. I can not tolerate direct sunlight for more than 30 minutes or my skin breaks out in horrible rashes and I will itch uncontrolably. The V. A. says it does not fall under the listed skin problems. Before Vietnam I was an avid water skier, swimmer and diver. Someone had to know this Agent Orange should not be used near living humans. P.S. I was awarded a Meritorious Promotion to Corporal while in Vietnam and feel very hurt my government has not done more to prosecute the people reasonable for Agent Orange.

    • Brandon Mitchener  says:

      Steve,

      Thanks for your comment. Many people continue to suffer from the experience of the Vietnam War, where both troops and civilians may have been exposed to a number of products including napalm as well as Agent Orange. I have an uncle who was also exposed to Agent Orange and is collecting disability benefits from the U.S. government despite the lack of a causal connection linking Agent Orange to chronic disease in humans. It’s not the case that “no one is responsible.” But U.S. courts have determined that wartime contractors (such as the former Monsanto) which produced Agent Orange for the government are not responsible for damage claims associated with the chemistry.

      Our full official statement about AO can be found on our website here: http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/agent-orange-background-monsanto-involvement.aspx. The purpose of the blog post on which you commented was simply to provide additional context about how certain groups continue to use AO as a hammer to beat Monsanto with, even though the Monsanto of today has little to do with the company that stopped making AO more than 40 years ago. This is unfair to the people who work at Monsanto today and does nothing to help those, like you and my uncle, who are still living with the legacy of the war.

      Sincerely,

      Brandon Mitchener

    • I Melvin Wallace was With FLC LSU # 3  says:

      I was At Baldy Aug 1969 to July 1970. Went there with the 7th the day they went to Baldy and Ross. nick name was doc to to my initials was M.D.

  • Harlow Nicoll  says:

    I served in Vietnam fromm 4/69 to 3/71. My AO involvement has led to heart disease, lung disease copd asthma chronic bronchitas,liver disease h. as in hepatitis C, diabetes, gastro esophageal reflux disease, glaucoma.
    Last but least I have no immune
    system. I have had two surgeries this
    year. The first was for necrosis fascitisduribg which I nearly lost my right leg and during my medication pump
    to change to a new one the unit came
    out covered with staph. All of these diseases are chronic and will kill me.
    Of course all of these diseases are a coincidence. Corporations, thats you and aa failing government is a lethal ccombination. Tank you very much. And now who did invent this AO? Be a man,
    pass the buck and tell us.

    • Brandon Mitchener  says:

      First of all, I want to express Monsanto’s sympathy for your health problems. The U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange is an emotional issue for many people, not just American servicemen. I do, however, have to point out to you that the former Monsanto (and 8 other companies) manufactured Agent Orange at the direction of the United States Government, which set the specifications for Agent Orange and decided how, where and when it was used. Agent Orange was only made for military use by the U.S. Government. We have additional information about Agent Orange on our website Monsanto.com (http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/agent-orange-background-monsanto-involvement.aspx).

  • Engineer  says:

    I find this article interesting. I currently work for a Chemical company that also produced AO during the war that was not Monsanto. I thought that I might understand where it came from. I feel sorry for the people affected by it and will never understand what they are going through. Like Monsanto it was a long time back then and they had no idea what AO would do to people. I go to work everyday and produce chemicals to make peoples lives better in every way. Its definitely a different world now.

    Thank you for addressing their needs, for they have endured atrocities beyond measure.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>