The deal between agribusiness giants Bayer and Monsanto has thrown the spotlight on the controversial history of these companies, as well as that of BASF, another German firm to which Bayer sold $9 billion of its agribusiness to. While Monsanto has a dark link to the Vietnam war, Bayer and BASF both emerged from I.G. Farben (IGF), a key collaborator of the Nazis.
IGF, a chemical and pharmaceutical conglomerate with a turnover of 1.2 billion reichsmarks as on 1926, was a major source of financial support to right wing parties including the NAZI party, which was struggling to capture political power, winning a meagre 3% vote share in 1928 elections.
Until the decisive year of 1933 when the Nazis seized power, the conglomerate was donating 400,000 Reichmarks every year to the far-right parties. By the end of that year, the NAZI party alone had received 3.5 million from IGF.
By Increasing the funding year on year leading up to the Second World War in 1939, when the party received 7.5 million marks in donations, the company had placed itself well to benefit from the conflict, from which IGF made a profit of 300 million Reichmarks, despite the extremely high taxes.
IGF recorded sales of 3.1 billion during the course of the war. The company’s products - produced using 35,000 inmates of Auschwitz as slave labour - were most procured by the NAZI government. One of those product was Zyklon B - the poison used in gas chambers.
Bayer emerged out of one of the most important factories in the conglomerate. According to a lawsuit filed against Bayer by a Auschwitz survivor, SS surgeons, on orders from Bayer, administered infection-causing bacteria on healthy individuals, and then tested the company’s medications on them.
To improve the efficiency with which these tests were carried out, the conglomerate - which had come to be known as the “Devil’s chemist” - even built its own concentration camp. Josef Mengele, the NAZI doctor who came to be known as the “Angel of Death” for his experiments on twins - using one as the subject and other as the ‘control’ - also worked in close coordination with Bayer.
BASF was another important factory within IGF. After defeating the NAZIs, the allied powers tried 24 board members and executives of IGF in the Nuremberg trials and broke up the company. Out of this, Bayer, BASF and another important factory called Hoechst emerged as independent international companies.
Effects of Agent Orange endure
Monsanto, which Bayer is now set to acquire, too has a notorious record. The company was contracted by the US government to produce the chemical known as ‘Agent Orange’ - 11.2 million gallons of which was sprayed in Vietnam as a part of chemical warfare, the effects of which the country continues to suffer.
Last decade, over 30 years after the war, the Vietnamese government said that 3 million out of the 84 million people in the country, suffered birth defects and other health problems including cancer, caused by Agent Orange. By 1993, over 34,000 US troops who had come into contact with the chemical while on missions had claimed exposure-related disabilities.
Contamination of soil and water bodies continues to affect the food chain in Vietnam, spreading the area of contamination. Almost half of the country’s mangroves - which play an important role in protecting the country’s shores from typhoons and tsunamis - were destroyed.
However, Monsanto has never acknowledged its role in this disaster, stating that: “Research on Agent Orange has been conducted for decades and continues today. While a causal connection linking Agent Orange to chronic disease in humans has not been established, some governments have made the decision to provide certain medical benefits to veterans and their families even though there has not been a determination that an individual’s health problem was caused by Agent Orange.”
It further added that, “From 1965 to 1969, the former Monsanto Company manufactured Agent Orange for the U.S. military as a wartime government contractor. The current Monsanto Company has maintained responsibility for this product since we were spun-off as a separate, independent agricultural company in 2002.”