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EarthRX:The Killer Whale in the Coal Mine

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<i>EarthRX:</i>The Killer Whale in the Coal Mine

“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible” – Philip Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications. “Playing God in the Garden,” New York Times Magazine, October 25, 1998.

Earlier this month the autopsy of “Lulu,” a female killer whale that washed up dead on the shores of Scotland’s Isle of Tiree tangled in crabbing nets and cages, produced some results that are not just sensational but also downright disturbing and need to be examined in a deeper light. Lulu has a message for us.

“The Most Contaminated Killer Whale Ever Recorded” ran headlines around the globe as the researchers who examined the 18-foot-long carcass reported finding “shocking” levels of PCB chemicals in the Whale’s body—something like 20 times what is considered safe and manageable for mammals like killer whales.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are organic chlorine compounds used since the 1930s in everything from electrical equipment to copy paper. Production of them was banned in the U.S. in 1979 after it was discovered that they disrupt hormone function, cause developmental effects and are a “probable” cause of cancer, but unfortunately they are now found in rivers and oceans all over the world as well as just almost every animal on earth and even people.

Yes, you probably have PCBs in your blood right now.

The major U.S. producer of PCBs, Monsanto itself (drum roll), has been sued countless times over its negligence with PCBs, including recently losing a $47 million dollar verdict in St. Louis for not just causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma in more than 100 plaintiffs, but also for lying and covering up the data that had shown just how toxic these chemicals were in the first place.

Monsanto has also been under fire for many of its other products, including the Roundup brand pesticide which was used widely worldwide on everything from backyard weeds in Oregon to coca leaf eradication in Colombia. When the United Nations issued a report two years ago finding that glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup, was in fact highly carcinogenic, the backlash was so fierce that Colombia even completely ended its decades-long war on drugs in protest of the injustice of it—after all, they were tricked into spraying something even more toxic than the cocaine they were producing onto large areas of their fertile countryside.

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Photo by Mike Charest, CC BY 2.0

You would think that the world has had enough of Monsanto at this point, but unfortunately the toxic tyrant is just warming up. Recently bought out by Pharmaceutical titan Bayer in an 66 billion dollar deal that has been described as a Marriage Made in Hell, Bayer/Monsanto now owns not just nearly a third of the global seed market, but also a quarter of the world’s pesticide market as well. In fact, as now both the largest seed and pesticide company in the world, this corporate conglomerate is “consolidating agriculture’s top seed and chemical producers into a knot of global powerhouses” according to a recent article in Bloomberg.

Isn’t something wrong here, folks? Why is a chemical company with a track record of committing mass damage to humans and the earth becoming the master of our food supply? More than 40 percent of American cropland is already planted with Monsanto products while staples like corn and soy are completely dominated (near 90 percent) by the company. Now they are even working on a Frankenstein version of wheat to complete the unholy trinity, as more than 60 percent of the calories consumed on earth come from these three crops.

One ring to rule them all anyone?

Anyone numbskull enough to think that all this is happening because of “free market” economics, is simply not paying attention to the history of empire and how this story has continued to play out time and time again in smaller arenas (read up on the real cause of the Irish Potato Famine for example). They are also completely ignoring the fact that our tax payer dollars are being used to not only subsidize this corporate takeover of agriculture but even to promote these products across the world and disrupt local agricultural economies.

America, we have a problem. Like the canary that drops dead in the coal mine to warn those working there that the air has now become too foul to breathe, we have got an eight-ton killer whale so loaded with toxic chemicals from the water we all need to survive that there is simply no hiding from this situation anymore.

We can no longer ignore the Poltergeist folks.

So what to do? Well, if the solution to any crisis is always hidden in the problem itself, maybe Lulu the killer whale can help out. And as it turns out, orcas, do in fact have a lot to teach us.

Killer whales are highly social and intelligent animals that use an extremely wide ranging musical language to communicate and engage in complex social rituals including group “get to know you” greetings where two opposing rows line up facing each other before all mixing together at the same time. They cooperate on everything from hunting to feeding, often holding food in their mouth to give to others. Imagine if we replaced capitalistic competition with this kind of community instead—we certainly wouldn’t be poisoning ourselves to death.

Killer whales are also one of the only other two species in the world besides humans where females enter menopause after their child bearing years. They do this for the same reason that we do: because grandmothers have a very important role in society. G’ma orcas don’t just help raise the kids as part of the extended family—they’re actually the leaders of both the smaller “pod” and the much larger “clan.”

That’s right, killer whales are matrilineal, just like many native societies around the world—including most of the original tribes here in the Amazon Rainforest. The fact that it was ruled by women is the reason why it was named the “Amazon” by Europeans explorers in the first place and that’s also why it developed such a complex and sustainable culture. In a matrilineal society, mothers and grandmothers call the shots —not the bratty little boys who think the whole world is their monopoly board.

Imagine that.

Main and Lead Photo by Kenai Fjords National Park Public Domain Mark 1.0,


Ocean Malandra writes the EarthRx Column for Paste Magazine and divides his time between the Redwood Forest of Northern California and the Amazon Jungle of South America.

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