Monsanto

Background

Founded in 1901 — and now a part of Bayer — Monsanto was involved in some of the biggest chemical and environmental controversies of the 20th century. 

Monsanto got its start selling the artificial sweetener saccharin to Coca-Cola. During World War I, the company moved into manufacturing chemicals in the US as European imports were cut off. In the 1920s, they began manufacturing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), sulfuric acid and other chemicals. They moved into manufacturing synthetic fabrics and plastics in the 1940s, Agent Orange in the 1960s, and food biotechnology in the 1990s. [1], [2], [3], [4]

Over its history, Monsanto has manufactured a huge array of industrial and consumer products including vinyl siding, anti-freeze, polystyrene (used in Styrofoam) and the fibers used in Astroturf. Monsanto aided the US Manhattan Project, which led to the development of nuclear bombs during World War II, participating in plutonium purification and production. [5]

Bayer first placed its bid for Monsanto in 2016 and closed the $63 billion deal in June 2018. [6]

Stance on Climate Change

In 2009, Monsanto received the “Angry Mermaid Award,” a mock honor announced by author Naomi Klein on behalf of environmental group Friends of the Earth and corporate watchdog Spinwatch, for promoting GMO crops as a way for farmers to accommodate climate change (in an early version of the precision agriculture strategies heavily promoted by pesticides makers today), for pushing a questionable strategy of using its crops for biofuels, and for its products’ role in deforestation in Latin America and greenhouse gas pollution. [7], [8]

In 2013, Monsanto acquired Climate Corporation, which played an early role in developing and marketing digital and precision agriculture strategies. “The Climate Corporation is focused on unlocking new value for the farm through data science,” CEO Hugh Grant said at the time — “Everyone benefits when farmers are able to produce more with fewer resources.” PrecisionAg, a trade publication, later called Climate Corp. the “Jewel in Bayer’s Monsanto Deal Crown,” arguing that the purchase would give Bayer a foothold in “digital farming”. [9], [10], [11]

Monsanto’s early role in marketing digital/precision farming and regenerative agriculture-style strategies, as well as other Monsanto climate change-linked products, drew public backlash over charges that Monsanto sought to “profit off climate change,” as Mother Jones magazine described it in 2013. [12]

Monsanto nonetheless continued to market GMO’s and other products as ways farms could insulate themselves against the impacts of a changing climate: “Today, no single issue will impact the world and the success of our farmer customers, our partners and our company more than sustainability, which includes our ability to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” CEO Hugh Grant said in 2015. [13]


Read more: Digital and Precision Agriculture – Criticisms and Concerns


In 2016, Monsanto commissioned a report by consulting firm ICF International, which said that the farming sector could help to sequester 100 million metric tons of greenhouse gases through regenerative agriculture practices like sowing cover crops and using no-till farming, as well as precision agriculture technology. [14]

Before it was bought by Bayer, Monsanto also marketed a “Carbon Neutral Crop Production” plan that involved “data-enabled precision agriculture,” “biotech plants,” and the use of cover crops and “reduced tillage” tactics. [15]

While not all forms of no-till agriculture rely on glyphosate, the pesticide and the company’s GMO seeds are often associated with some forms of no-till farming. “Glyphosate and Roundup Ready crops have played a key role in the growth of agriculture and even helped boost adoption of no-till practices,” trade publication No-Till Farmer reported in 2017. But, the publication warned, there was emerging evidence that using glyphosate could potentially damage soil health, which plays an important role in no-till farming. [16]


Read more: Regenerative Agriculture – Criticisms and Concerns


Role in Pesticides Controversy

The company had a long involvement with pesticides — including many that later became notorious for their impacts on people’s health and the environment. 

In 1944, Monsanto began manufacturing the insecticide DDT, a chemical made notorious by Rachael Carson’s book Silent Spring (which is credited with kickstarting the environmentalist movement in the United States). [5]

In the mid-1940’s Monsanto also started manufacturing a herbicide called 2,4,5-T, part of a chemical group that later became known as dioxins. Dioxins proved to be both highly toxic and carcinogenic — they are one of what the World Health Organization has labeled the “dirty dozen” chemicals because they’re both dangerous and persistent in the environment. Monsanto’s agricultural division got its start in the 1960’s. 2,4,5-T became one of two ingredients in the defoliant Agent Orange, used by the US military during the Vietnam War. Workers who made those chemicals as well as residents of towns around Monsanto’s plant and the military veterans who used Agent Orange later sued Monsanto over their exposure to dioxins. [2], [17], [18], [19], [2]

In 1976, the company began marketing Roundup, an herbicide made with glyphosate. In the 1990’s Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready” genetically modified crops including soybeans and corn, designed to survive the application of Roundup while weeds would not. [20], [4]

In the late 1990’s, Monsanto spun off its chemicals and fibers divisions, focusing on making itself a “life sciences” company. [2]

The Wall Street Journal later labeled Bayer’s 2018 acquisition of Monsanto “one of the worst corporate deals in recent memory,” as just weeks after the deal closed, the company began losing lawsuits alleging that Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide — marketed until 1996 as “practically non-toxic” and safer than table salt — caused cancer. [6], [21]

In 2019, the New York Times noted that glyphosate was “the most widely used agricultural chemical in history.” In June 2020, Bayer, which had acquired Monsanto before Roundup’s dangers were publicly known, agreed to pay $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of lawsuits alleging that Roundup caused people to develop cancer. The settlement includes $1.25 billion for a panel that will examine whether glyphosate, Roundup’s key ingredient, causes cancer and if so, at what levels of exposure. [22], [23]

That settlement followed a string of jury trials in which juries determined that Roundup had caused cancers and that Monsanto had failed to warn users of its dangers, leading to verdicts as high as $2 billion for a northern California couple who had both developed the same form of cancer (verdicts that were later reduced and that Bayer appealed). [23], [24]

Monsanto also worked with BASF to develop a herbicide known as dicamba, which was designed to overcome Roundup resistant weeds that had appeared on millions of acres of US farms, The Guardian reported in March 2020. Dicamba, the newspaper noted, was first used in the 1960’s but rarely, because it tended to drift off farms and kill plants as it moved. In 2011, Monsanto and BASF had sought to market new uses for dicamba, the Guardian reported, despite being warned privately as early as 2009 that the consequences could be “catastrophic.” [25]

In February 2020, a jury reached a $265 million verdict in favor of two Missouri peach farmers whose 30,000 peach trees were damaged by drifting dicamba, finding Monsanto and BASF liable. [26]

In June 2020, Bayer announced a settlement of up to $400 million covering a group of other dicamba drift lawsuits, adding that it would separately appeal the $265 million peach farm verdict. [27]

Lobbying

A New York Times report from 2001 described Monsanto’s “political power with deep connections in Washington” in the 1980s and 1990s: “What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto — and, by extension, the biotechnology industry — got. If the company’s strategy demanded regulations, rules favored by the industry were adopted.” [28]

In the 2016 US election, the last full cycle before Monsanto was bought by Bayer, the company spent $926,466 on lobbying expenditures, data from OpenSecrets.org shows. [29]

From January to December 2018, the latest year for which data is available, Monsanto spent between €1,250,000 – €1,499,999 on EU lobbying on “providing solutions to EU farmers and offering choice of safe and sustainable agricultural products”, data from LobbyFacts.eu shows. [30]

Monsanto held four meetings with members of the EU Commission between 2014 and 2019, according to Transparency International’s Integrity Watch database. [31]

Affiliations

Monsanto was a member of Croplife International. [32]

Monsanto was also affiliated with the following organisations, in 2018, according to LobbyFacts.eu data: [30]

Monsanto has recruited advisory board members from the Cornell Alliance for Science, and investigations group US Right to Know says FOIA-obtained emails show the groups closely “coordinating”. [33]

Resources

  1. Monsanto,” Britannica. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Vig5T
  2. Donald L. Barlett, James B. Steele. “Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear,” Vanity Fair, April 2, 2018. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttps://archive.fo/p9TID
  3. Toxic Substances Portal – Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs),” Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/k8xu
  4. Reuters Staff. “CORRECTED: Timeline: History of Monsanto Co,” Reuters, November 11, 2019. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/MuZPb
  5. GMO Awareness. “Monsanto’s Dirty Dozen. Twelve Products that Monsanto has Brought to Market,”Centre for Research on Globalisation, May 12, 2011. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/H1CH3
  6. Ruth Bender. “How Bayer-Monsanto became one of the worst corporate deals – in 12 charts,” The Wall Street Journal, August 28, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  7. Alexis Baden Mayer, Ronnie Cummins.“Why Monsanto Won the Angry Mermaid Award,” Organic Consumers Association. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/21kJy
  8. John Upton. “Study Finds Biofuels Worse for Climate than Gasoline,” Climate Central, August 25, 2016. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/supSb
  9. Michael Specter. “Why the Climate Corporation Sold Itself to Monsanto,” The New Yorker, November 4, 2013. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/tiqXR
  10. Don Jergler. “How Monsanto’s Climate Unit is Changing Risk Profile of Farmers,” Insurance Journal, August 25, 2016. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/zFlsA
  11. Matthew J. Grassi. “OPINION: Climate Corp. is the jewel in Bayer’s Monsanto Deal Crown,” Precision Ag, September 15, 2016. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/CuBqj
  12. Maggie Severns. “5 Ways Monsanto Wants to Profit Off Climate Change,” Mother Jones, October 9, 2013. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/scs60
  13. Robert Holly. “GMOs, Monsanto and the fight against climate change,” Investigate MidWest, July 9, 2015. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/qylXB
  14. Leon Kaye. “Monsanto: Farming Has a Critical Role in Fighting Climate Change,” Triple Pundit, August 30, 2016. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/b5zBw
  15. Advancing Products and Practices to Fight Climate Change,” Monsanto. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/bMQxa
  16. John Dobberstein. “Is Glyphosate Harming Your No-Tilled Soils?,” No-Till Farmer, October 28, 2017. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/v2CCk
  17. Dioxins and their effects on human health,” World Health Organisation, October 4, 2016. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/tlQse
  18. Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam,” Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides. National Academies Press, Washington DC. (1994). Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/R4ZEw
  19. Charles Ornstein, Hannah Fresques, Mike Hixenbaugh. “The Children of Agent Orange,” ProPublica, December 16, 2016. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/ZVoDt
  20. Crystal Gammon. “Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells,” Scientific American, June 23, 2009. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/4XyVl
  21. Monsanto Agrees to Modify Roundup Ads in New York State,” Associated Press, November 25, 1996. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/CQvS0
  22. Patricia Cohen. “Roundup Weedkiller Is Blamed for Cancers, but Farmers Say It’s Not Going Away,” The New York Times, September 20, 2019. Archived November 10, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  23. Patricia Cohen. “Roundup Maker to May $10 Billion to Settle Cancer Suits,” The New York Times, June 24, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  24. Patricia Cohen. “$2 Billion Verdict Against Monsanto Is Third to Find Roundup Caused Cancer,” The New York Times, May 13, 2019. Archived November 10, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  25. Carey Gillam. “Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms,” The Guardian, March 30, 2020. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/bJx9C
  26. Amanda Bronstad. “After $265M Verdict, Could Dicamba Be Another Herbicide Problem for Monsanto?,” Law.Com, February 24, 2020. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/JOiSy
  27. Bayer Announces Agreements to Resolve Major Legacy Monsanto Litigation,” Bayer, June 24, 2020. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Rp0zC
  28. Kurt Eichenwald. “Redesigning Nature: Hard Lessons Learned; Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle,” The New York Times, January 25, 2001. Archived November 10, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  29. Monsanto Co,” OpenSecrets. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Gwp7B
  30. Monsanto”, LobbyFactsEU. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/iFGFh  
  31. Integrity Watch – Commission Meetings,” Transparency International. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/HHyVV
  32. CropLife International,” LobbyWatch. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/uhrAx
  33. Stacy Malkan. “Cornell Alliance for Science is a PR Campaign for the Agrichemical Industry,” US Right to Know, September 23, 2020. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/etg9p

Other Resources

Related Profiles

APCO Worldwide Background APCO has been described as “one of the world's most powerful PR firms.” [1], [2] According to its agency profile at O'Dwyers, “APCO Worldwide is a...
Hugh W. Ellsaesser Credentials Ph.D., Meteorology. [1] Background Hugh W. Ellsaesser, born in 1920, is a meteorologist by training and retired “guest scientist” at the Lawren...
Alfred (Al) Pekarek Credentials Ph.D., University of Wyoming (1974). [1]B.A. University of Minnesota-Twin (1965). [1] Background Alfred (Al) Pekarek is a former ass...
Benny Josef Peiser Credentials Ph.D. , University of Frankfurt (1993). Peiser studied political science, English, and sports science. [1], [2] Background Benny Peiser is a sports ...