Into the Den of DOW Chemical
May 14, 2015
The Dow Gardens at the Midland Center for the Arts in Michigan were abloom with apple blossoms, tulips and pansies. It was sunny and fresh with spring as I walked into the shareholder meeting lobby. I was directed to the table for people without a ticket. I presented my shareholder legal proxy statement from Samuel, a friend of a farmer friend.
This in itself was a miracle of human spirit. You see, Samuel is a 30 year former employee of Dow. He worked on bio engineering. He has the utmost pride in Dow and continues to believe in what they are doing. Their mission to feed the world is on the right track, he said to me, and he does not agree with my opinion. He does however, believe in freedom of speech. He does support the right for an American to buy a share to be able to attend a meeting and share their feelings. He agrees one should be able to state their opinion. So on that note, he agreed to help me out of a dilemma (I had not purchased my one share before their deadline) and grant me legal proxy to attend in his place. This was enormously generous of him. It speaks volumes of the kind of man he is and the kind of country we could be if we all supported such free speech and had an open mind to hear each other’s opinions. I was touched. I made sure to tell him I would share his values with my sons. At dinner, I later shared what Samuel did and their mouths made little O’s of surprise. They learned that despite our perspectives, we can all still honor each other. Samuel reminded me that we can all be great and I will be grateful to him forever. His former CEO was not so generous.
Inside the Dow shareholder meeting, well dressed middle aged people mingled. They were far younger and far more women than at Syngenta. I found a table filled with brochures and booklets about their “sustainability” programs and began talking with Mark, the CSO. He explained how they were making huge advances in sustainability in their “Footprint” “Handprint” and “Blueprint” programs. He was a friendly and professional Dad of 8 and when I brought up my concerns about glyphosate, he agreed he had concerns about its endocrine disrupting impacts as well. He said they were moving towards many safer option in their company, including a termite killer which draws termites to the bait trap instead of gassing the whole house. This is good, especially since sources have shared that Dow is paying for several children who are in comas after being exposed to termite gassing of their homes. The deal with their parents was they could not go public about it however, it has to stay quiet…of course. It boggled my mind how seemingly good people could work at such a place. They must not feel that they have any other options. I wished in my heart for a leader for our country that would support good honest jobs in America.
Mark and I talked briefly, we discussed Enlist and his faced looked pained when I brought up the health concerns and drift problem near schools. He tried to explain that Enlist is designed to stay on the plant and not drift, but he saw that I was not impressed. He expressed a genuine interest in connecting with me after the meeting. He gave me his card and I promised to send him many studies. I was glad to make this connection before the meeting and felt it was already worth it. I really felt that Mark was truly interested in the best for his children and the future of the company. We shall see.
I walked into the dark theater and became quickly aware that this was a very different feel than all the other shareholder meetings. The people asking questions were seated, high up along the slope of the amphitheater, towards the back of the crowd, it would be difficult for us to make eye contact. The stage would clearly making the CEO and two officers front and center stage, and not the shareholders. In other meetings the volume of the shareholders dominated the room. Here we were observers.
I sat along the aisle in a seat marked “Reserved for Q&A”. After a few moments I was approached by Mark, and he explained the process I needed to file to ask a question. I needed to fill out a card he said, and he directed me to the appropriate woman behind me. That was kind of him. If he hadn’t told me I might have missed out on the opportunity.
At 10:00 sharp the meeting began. As CEO Andrew Liveris walked on stage and began speaking it became obvious. This was a performance and he was a master. He spoke boldly, charismatically and clearly. He was as if CEO Hugh Grant had gone through Anthony Robbins training. His Australian accent and loud voice boomed throughout the theater. The flashy video which accompanied his talk about Dow highlited the many new innovations in several departments, electronics ( now without lead!), pesticides ( Iconoclast is safer for beneficial insects!), and performance plastics ( sneaker soles which are light as a feather!). I hate to say it but I had to actively resist being impressed. I had to remind myself that all these products are made with chemicals, likely all toxic, which would be in landfill for hundreds of years, polluting the earth and life for future generations. I know it seems like we need all these things, but from the Native American perspective of only taking actions which positively impact the next Seven Generations, none of these products would be acceptable.
After his impressive performance, I knew it would be challenging to bend the ear of the proud shareholders. I found it interesting that the CEO actually adjourned the meeting before the Q&A. No other shareholder meeting had done that. It was as if whatever we had to say did not matter. We were an afterthought.
Then he was asking for questions. A giant light suddenly rotated from the front of the stage and pointed to the side aisle on the other side of the theater from me. It was blinding. The light illuminated the microphone and in comparison darkened the rest of the theater.
A staffer announced the name of the person with a question, whether they were a shareholder or speaking by proxy and the nature of their question…giving Andrew a few moments to pull out his standard answer for that topic, I am sure. I was surprised that there several people who had questions, in all the other shareholder meetings there was only one or two others, if any at all. I soon discovered that the tactics they used during the Q& A were probably designed to limit and undermine the speakers as much as possible. A few of the speakers had been coming for “decades” to the meeting, complaining to board and shareholders about toxins, stolen technology or lawsuits. Dow was clearly ignoring these issues and had not resolved them. This could not be good for their reputation. I was glad I got to see the amount of time a speaker was allowed and how they were treated before it was my turn; bright light glaring, giant clock on the stage about 3 feet high by four feet wide, with colored lights shining. When it got down to 10 seconds left, a loud attempt at a pleasant bell chimed, Bing, bing bing bing, every second until the end of the two minutes. And exactly at 2 minute the microphone went dead. The speaker was left shouting into the audience like child after their parent’s car fading in the distance. It was clear Dow did not welcome discourse. I was angered by their treatment of the speaker and nervous that I would not be able to say all that I had to say. When it was my turn to speak I felt rushed, un appreciated and annoyed before I even started. But I came to deliver probably one of the most important messages the company could hear and so I did.
“My name is Zen Honeycutt Founder and Director of Moms Across America and I am here today from California to speak on behalf of millions of sick children and their mothers.
I would like to first acknowledge that Dow has taken steps to develop softer chemicals. You have also however, taken steps to develop stronger, more toxic chemicals such as Enlist Duo which has been predicted to be catastrophic for children, especially when sprayed near schools.
1 out of 2 children in America today have a chronic illness. 1 out of 2 men and 1 out of 3 women are expected to get cancer in America today. Many of these people are your family members.
Miscarriages have risen to 30% the highest in recorded history. All of these conditions and more can be directly linked Dow’s products. The recent findings of the lawsuit in Kauai make it urgent for Dow to mitigate risks.
Why do mothers claim these chemicals are harmful? We have seen it firsthand and have scientific studies back up our findings. My son tested positive for glyphosate, which is in your products, in his urine 8 x higher than was found in Europe, at a time when he had a sudden onset of autism symptoms. We went organic, avoided GMOs and Glyphosate which is sprayed as a drying agent on wheat, sugar and allowed on 160 of our food crops, and within 6 weeks, he no longer tested positive for glyphosate, his autism symptoms were gone and have never come back, for over a year. My other son’s life threatening food allergies went from a 19 down to a .2. I no longer have to fear of him dying from food. We have hundreds of testimonials from other mothers reporting the same if not better results with many health issues.
How could this be? Manufacturers claim glyphosate targets the shikimate pathway found insects but recent scientific studies show our gut bacteria have a shikimate pathway too. The gut is where 70% of our immune system lies. Destroying our gut bacteria leads to an increase in illness, mineral deficiency, behavioral issues, autism, allergies and auto immune disease.
There is an impact to having animals and humans eat chemicals that do NOT wash off or cook off and by definition KILL LIFE.”
The bell began to chime, BING BING BING BING BING…
"Will you consider changing direction of your business completely”-
The microphone went dead.
I shouted, “-STOP investments in synthetic toxins and instead invest in non toxic products? “
Andrew looked annoyed but said coolly (and I paraphrase to the best of my memory) “Thank you for attending Ms.Honeycutt, you stated your case very well. We are always developing new and more sustainable products and we are confident in our testing. The EPA also requires very thorough documentation of safety studies and we adhere to their standards. The EPA..” blah blah bah the EPA this and that and passing the buck makes me sick to my stomach. I wanted to scream. Then he said “ and Enlist that you mentioned is actually designed to reduce the possibilities of drift and remain on the plant”
I couldn't help it, I shouted at the top of my lungs, because I had to and because I wanted to, “BUT YOU ARE STILL SPRAYING GLYPHOSATE ON OUR FOOD AND IT HAS BEEN DEEMED BY THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION TO BE A PROBABLE CARCINOGEN!!”
He interrupted-“Well, that is a statement that we disagree with.” Then he went on to say something else about safety and how fabulous Dow is, completely ignoring all of my points. I felt like my throat would explode. I wish in hindsight that I had screamed, “Disagreeing with a statement does make you any less responsible for your actions. A difference of opinion does not absolve you from the harm you are causing! In fact your denial makes you MORE liable!”
I wanted to say so much more. I found myself suddenly almost grateful to Monsanto for giving me so much time at the microphone. I got up 4 times to speak there, each time for about two to three minutes. I don’t want to give Monsanto kudos but it was a completely difference experience to allowed to speak than to be blinded and cut off.
I sat down feeling like a knotted ball of electrical wires. I was angry, frustrated and sad.
Next an African America man from Los Angeles and Ameritrade asked how Dow was planning on mitigating risks from the rising “organic food trend”. He said what if this really catches on, how will Dow reduce losses and mitigate risks?
Andrew literally said “Well you know organic is all in your head. It’s a label, it’s a made up concept, it’s not real. What is real is that we have to feed 7 billion of people and they will continue to need food…blah blah blah organic is totally unimportant” Then he added “ Thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer the previous question again.” Several chuckled. I wanted to hit something.
Immediately after the close of the meeting a short white haired man in his nineties sitting behind me came up to me and berated me. He pointed his finger in my face and it’s a good thing I have resolved my issues with my Dad and I have a great relationship with him, because other wise this man really would have triggered me and I might have grabbed that finger.
”You know you’ve got it completely wrong.” He asserted. “I am 92 years old and I have been working on genetically modified science for over 30 years and my kids are fine. You are barking up the wrong tree missy.”
I felt heat rise in my face.
“Sir, what if you are wrong-“
“I’m not!” He almost shouted. People were staring as they passed us exiting the theater.
“But if you are, sir, the impact is enormous, the harm that is happening will affect many generations, possibly your grandchildren. You may not see an impact in your children, some don’t, but we just don’t know how these GMOs and chemicals impact our grandchildren.
“No, you’re wrong”
“If I am wrong, sir, what is the impact on the mothers and children? They are just eating organic.”
“That’s just a made up thing,” he said.
“Actually it’s the way God made food”, I said. “It’s perfect the way it is. There is nothing wrong with organic food-“
“No, you just don’t know what you are talking about,” he interrupted again.
“You just don’t want to listen” he said and walked away.
As I walked through the halls towards the exit, I had that feeling you dread as a new student in school, where everyone is staring at you but no one wants to talk to you. I held my chin up anyway.
In the bathroom, a woman thanked me and I began to relax a bit.
As I left the building two more men discreetly shook my hand and thanked me. Just a word or two … they probably did not want to be seen talking with me. Just as I was walking out of the parking lot though, a man waved at me from a few hundred feet away and ran over to me. He did not mind being seen.
“Hi, oh I was hoping to talk to you-” he huffed…”I just want to tell you that you made a difference today. You embarrassed them. They will have to change.” He looked at me sincerely and I resisted the urge to hug him. Tears welled up in my eyes.
He said earnestly, “The shareholders, we know this already, I mean, not all of what you said but we know and we want this to change.”
“How do we do that?” I asked him… "is it by referendum...what?”
He looked pensive, searching. “I think what you did was important, that was a step, but yes I suppose a referendum…it will never get through to get voted on though, and then even if it does, the percentages that get votes is so small, like 19 or 20% at most. What you did is a start though, they can’t deny they have to make changes.” Then he asked if I really came from California for this. I said yes, and told him how I went to Monsanto, Syngenta in Switzerland, Dupont and today Dow. He was impressed and sad and grateful all at the same time. We both knew how daunting it was. When I looked into his eyes, even though he was a bearded man in his late forties, the opposite of me, I just saw a human, with mutual needs, for safety and for people to do the right thing. I know it sounds woo woo, but I felt one with him, connected to all humanity. I was present to our universal need to feel safe.
These chemical companies do not make us safe. Most of their products are poisoning us. This is not a hysterical generalization, it is a fact. Andreu Lau’s book “The Myth of Safe Pesticides” states that these chemical companies have created, and the EPA allows over 800 endocrine disruptors in our environment and on our food. Endocrine disruptors, at microscopic amounts during pregnancy, cause birth defects, infertility, sterility and loss of infants. They are likely connected to sex hormone changes that lead to depression and suicide. They have been shown to cause loss of IQ and have even shown amphibians to be born without brains. Many babies downstream from glyphosate sprayed orchards have had the same birth defects.
This is not an issue that we have time to stick our head in the sand and ignore. When I was in New Zealand on speaking tour several people told me every young couple they know was having trouble getting pregnant. A Senator’s secretary in California said to me in January, after I told her about GMOs, glyphosate and the impact in infertility and sterility, hat she knew. She lowered her voice and said firmly, “I know all about this. Five out of six of my girlfriends lost their babies recently, and it’s because of this. The food they eat.”
So for the babies here and lost, I will continue to speak up. Bright lights, dinging bell or not, I will continue to shout if needed. I am sorry I have to wait for another year to speak again at shareholder meetings. I would love to do this again much sooner. BASF’s meeting has passed ( I did not have the money at the time of the meeting to fly to Belguim) and Bayer’s is in Cologne next week but I did not raise enough money to attend. I am very grateful for the sponsors who donated what we did raise and for the opportunity to speak as much as I did.
This Saturday is the March Against Monsanto and millions around the world will protest the harmful actions of the chemical company behemoth. In my speech in Chicago I will remind the crowd that Syngenta, DOW, Dupont, Bayer and BASF are equally as liable for harm. On the flight home, I read the company statement, CEO Liveris's compensation package totals $26 million. Chemical company CEOs are extremely motivated to protect their way of life. All we have to combat their actions is the power of community.
Next week, on May 27th is also the one year anniversary from when we told the EPA that we found glyphosate in breast milk and since then they have done nothing except tell us they WILL test for glyphosate in breast milk. They have not even issued a letter to pregnant moms to advise them to eat organic. May 27th is also Rachel Carson’s birthday, author of “Poison Spring”, a landmark book from the 50’s that predicted all of these toxic chemicals would do exactly what they are doing. When will our regulators listen? What will have them listen and take action?
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