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