We have great respect for the U.S. soldiers sent to war and all those affected by the Vietnam conflict. All sides share in the pain from this difficult time in our history. One of the legacies of that war is Agent Orange, where questions remain nearly 40 years later.
By way of background, the U.S. military used Agent Orange from 1961 to 1971 to save the lives of U.S. and allied soldiers by defoliating dense vegetation in the Vietnamese jungles and therefore reducing the chances of ambush.
As the war began and intensified, the U.S. government used its authority under the Defense Production Act to issue contracts to seven major chemical companies to obtain Agent Orange and other herbicides for use by U.S. and allied troops in Vietnam. The government specified the chemical composition of Agent Orange and when, where and how the material was to be used in the field, including application rates. Agent Orange was one of 15 herbicides used for military purposes during the Vietnam War and the most commonly applied. It received its name because of the orange band around containers of the material.
The manufacturing companies included Diamond Shamrock Corporation, Dow Chemical Company, Hercules, Inc., T-H Agricultural & Nutrition Company, Thompson Chemicals Corporation, Uniroyal Inc. and Monsanto Company, which at the time was a chemical manufacturer. Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange from 1965 to 1969.
Agent Orange was a 50-50 mix of two common herbicides, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, which had been used domestically since the late 1940s without incident by U.S. farmers, railroads and others. Since the Vietnam War, both scientific and public concern has arisen over the dioxin compound 2,3,7,8-TCDD, a byproduct of the manufacturing process used to produce 2,4,5-T (which, again, was one of the herbicides in Agent Orange.) TCDD was present in trace amounts. Research on the issue of Agent Orange has gone on for decades and continues today.
There have been a number of lawsuits. Monsanto and the six other chemical manufacturers reached agreement with U.S. veterans in a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in 1984 that involved millions of U.S. veterans and their families. There was not a finding of fault. It was settled by the parties rather than undertake a lengthy and complicated trial. The $180 million in funds that were part of the agreement were distributed according to a plan developed in part by U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein.
There have been other lawsuits since that time. In March of 2009, a key legal question was settled in the United States when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand unanimous lower court rulings disallowing recovery from lawsuits on the Agent Orange issue. The Supreme Court agreed that the companies were not responsible for the implications of military use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, because the manufacturers were government contractors, carrying out the instructions of government.
Monsanto is now primarily a seed and agricultural products company.
We believe that the adverse consequences alleged to have arisen out of the Vietnam War, including the use of Agent Orange, should be resolved by the governments that were involved.
The Congressional Research Service explored this issue in detail in May of 2009. It can be read at www.vn-agentorange.org/RL34761_200905.pdf