Monsanto

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History and Activities

There are in fact two Monsanto companies, although today's Monsanto grew out of the original business. The original company was founded in 1901 by John F. Queeny who gave it his wife's maiden name. Monsanto began by producing saccharine before moving into a range of other activities. Among the more dubious features of the company's history are that it was closely involved in the Manhattan Project, which created the first nuclear bomb[1]; that in 1967 it entered into a joint vernture with German company IG Farben, 'the financial core of the Hitler regime and main supplier of Zyklon-B to the German government during the extermination phase of the Holocaust"[2]; that it was one of the primary manufacturers of Agent Orange, code name for a powerful herbicide, defoliant and chemical weapon used widely by the US military during the Vietnam War[3] [4]; and that for 40 years until the 1970s it produced polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), toxic chemicals now banned in many countries[5], seemingly with knowledge of their hazardous nature [6]

In 2000 a new Monsanto Company was created as a subsidiary of Pharmacia, to which the original Monsanto had changed its name after a merger. Then in 2002 the new Monsanto was spun off and is now an independent company. It has, according to its website, 'a very special focus on developing agricultural solutions'. Specifically, 'In the 21st century, we have committed ourselves to innovation in plant biotechnology, genomics and breeding to improve productivity and to reduce the costs of farming.'[7] Monsanto manages its business in two segments, Seeds and Genomics and Agricultural Productivity.

Market share/importance

Rob Fraley, co-president of Monsanto's agricultural sector, stated in 1996: "What you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it’s really a consolidation of the entire food chain"[8].

Monsanto has a vision of a future with ‘Abundant Food and a Healthy Environment’ [9], however, their vision of how to achieve this may differ from yours. Monsanto is one of the most powerful companies attempting to shape the future of agriculture and take control of the global food chain. They are by far the biggest seller of GM crops in the world. Their products account for 80% of the total area of global farmland planted with GM crops in 1999. Monsanto are also the second largest seed company in the world with global sales of $1,700 million[10]. RoundUp, manufactured by Monsanto, is the world’s biggest selling herbicide.

History

Monsanto has been by far the most prominent and controversial corporation promoting the introduction of biotechnology in agriculture. The company has a long and messy history of manufacturing hazardous chemicals. Their products have included chemical warfare agents (Agent Orange), industrial materials (PCBs), food additives (NutraSweet), agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Monsanto was the first major agrochemical and pharmaceutical company to pursue the ‘life sciences’ concept. During the 1990s it shed many of its chemical concerns and embarked on a spending spree investing heavily in biotechnology research, and spending nearly $10 billion world wide acquiring seed companies. In the late 1990s Monsanto was the first company to widely market first generation GM crops. This was accompanied by an aggressive public relations campaign aimed at persuading a concerned public that GM crops were a safe and desirable innovation. The campaign backfired, resulting in Monsanto becoming the primary focus of a rapidly growing global resistance to GM crops (to a large extent drawing attention away from the likes of Aventis (Agrevo) and Syngenta (Novartis/AstraZeneca) who were quietly getting on with introducing similar products). By late 1998 a combination of Monsanto’s status as an international bogeyman, and a need for returns on their extensive investments resulted in a loss in market confidence in the company and their share price plummeted. Stability was regained through a merger with pharmaceutical giant Pharmacia/UpJohn in April 2000. As a result of this merger the combined company, known as Pharmacia, has taken over Monsanto’s pharmaceutical wing Searle. The agrochemical and biotechnology division, still known as Monsanto, has been spun off as a nominally separate company with Pharmacia retaining an 85% share.[11]

Exposé on Monsanto

Le Monde Selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto) is a documentary film directed by Marie-Monique Robin and released in 2008 by French film company ARTE. It exposes Monsanto's history of pollution and its current activities in GM seeds and herbicides. Robin states in the film that she invited Monsanto to take part in the documentary but that the company refused. A DVD of the film can be bought from ARTE's website[12] in an English language version.

Monsanto blog

In 2009 Monsanto set up a blog called "Monsanto According to Monsanto".[13] The blog marks Monsanto's first formal foray into PR via social media such as blogs and twitters.

The blog attempts to give the company a human face, using the welcoming tagline, "Monsanto - We're just like you" on a page with the url: http://blog.monsantoblog.com/2009/02/25/monsanto-good-people/. One of the bloggers, "Kate", writes:

Monsanto is a community of people, not a machine-like corporation. We are over 20,000 employees worldwide (including me). We are your neighbors, friends, and relatives. What I am getting at is – we are people – we are human.[14]

The blog was set up in response to Marie-Monique Robin's documentary exposé of Monsanto, Le Monde Selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto), released in 2008. The film details Monsanto's history of pollution and its current activities involving GMOs and herbicides.

Monsanto's blog states:

The title Monsanto According to Monsanto is a spoof of The World According to Monsanto, a horribly biased documentary which portrays Monsanto in a very negative light. Aside from the shoddy journalism, we at Monsanto found it incredibly arrogant that the filmmaker would present her own twisted view of Monsanto as the company’s view of the world.[15]

While the blog accuses Robin of "shoddy journalism", it does not give any detail as to which, if any, of Robin's points it thinks are incorrect. Instead, it dedicates itself to attempting to counter various items of negative publicity that are in the news: for example, the farmer suicides in India that have been partly blamed on the failure or variability of Monsanto's Bt cotton in that country.[16][17][18]

The Monsanto bloggers are called "Brad" (Brad Mitchell, Monsanto's director of public affairs), "Garrett", "John", "Kate", "Kathleen" and "Santiago".[19]

Supported organisations

Monsanto UK Ltd was a donor to the Science Media Centre from 2010-2012 according to the SMC.[20]

Resources

External Links

References

  1. Oak Ridge National Laboratories Chapter 2: High-Flux Years accessed 2007
  2. ZNet Nutrapoison Accessed 2007
  3. Military Spot Agent Orange Accessed 2007
  4. Wikipedia Agent Orange Accessed 2007
  5. IPCS Inchem Concise International Chemical Assessment Document 55 - POLYCHLORINATED BIPHENYLS:HUMAN HEALTH ASPECTS Accessed 2007
  6. Michael Grunwald (2002) Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution The Washington Post January 1, 2002. Accessed 2007
  7. Monsanto Timeline Accessed 2007
  8. Fraley R. (co-president of Monsanto's agricultural sector) 1996, in the Farm Journal. Quoted in: Flint J. (1998) Agricultural industry giants moving towards genetic monopolism. Telepolis, Heise Online. Accessed 2007
  9. Monsanto home page Accessed 2007
  10. all 1999 figures sourced from RAFI reports ‘Speed Bump or Blow Out For GM Seed’ and ‘Seed Industry Giants: Who Owns Whom?’ available online at RAFI Accessed 2007
  11. The information in this section is predominantly sourced from ‘Feeding the Hungry Transnationals’ and the ASEED Europe Monsanto Briefing available online at Groundup Accessed 2007
  12. ARTE boutique, ARTE website, accessed March 28 2009
  13. "Why a Monsanto blog?", Monsanto According to Monsanto blog, accessed March 28 2009
  14. Monsanto - We're just like you, 25 Feb 2009, Monsanto According to Monsanto blog, accessed March 28 2009
  15. "Why a Monsanto blog?", Monsanto According to Monsanto blog, accessed March 28 2009
  16. "Indian farmer suicide - the bottom line", Monsanto According to Monsanto blog, accessed March 28 2009
  17. P. Sainath, "Neo-Liberal Terrorism in India: The Largest Wave of Suicides in History", CounterPunch, 12 February 2009, accessed March 28 2009
  18. P. Sainath, Farmer suicides: And meanwhile in Vidarbha, India Together, 10 April 2007, accessed March 28 2009
  19. About the Bloggers", Monsanto According to Monsanto blog, accessed March 28 2009
  20. Data from Internet Archive holdings of the Science Media Centre website, 2002-2013.