|Traded as||NYSE: MON
S&P 500 Component
|Founded||St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
|Founder||John Francis Queeny|
|Headquarters||Creve Coeur, Missouri, U.S.|
(Chairman, President and CEO)
|Products||Herbicides, pesticides, crop seeds|
Number of employees
|~21,900 (FY 2013)|
Monsanto Company is a publicly traded American multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation headquartered in Creve Coeur, Greater St. Louis, Missouri. It is a leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed and Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide.
Founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, Monsanto initially produced food additives like saccharin and vanillin, expanded into industrial chemicals like sulfuric acid and PCBs in the 1920s, and by the 1940s was a major producer of plastics, including polystyrene and synthetic fibers. Notable achievements by Monsanto and its scientists as a chemical company included breakthrough research on catalytic asymmetric hydrogenation and being the first company to mass-produce light emitting diodes (LEDs). The company also formerly manufactured controversial products such as the insecticide DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange, and recombinant bovine somatotropin (a.k.a. bovine growth hormone).
Monsanto was among the first to genetically modify a plant cell, as one of four groups announcing the introduction of genes into plants in 1983, and was among the first to conduct field trials of genetically modified crops, which it did in 1987. It remained one of the top 10 U.S. chemical companies until it divested most of its chemical businesses between 1997 and 2002, through a process of mergers and spin-offs that focused the company on biotechnology.
Monsanto was one of the first companies to apply the biotechnology industry business model to agriculture, using techniques developed by Genentech and other biotech drug companies in the late 1970s in California.:2–6 In this business model, companies invest heavily in research and development, and recoup the expenses through the use and enforcement of biological patents. Monsanto's application of this model to agriculture, along with a growing movement to create a global, uniform system of plant breeders' rights in the 1980s, came into direct conflict with customary practices of farmers to save, reuse, share and develop plant varieties. Its seed patenting model has also been criticized as biopiracy and a threat to biodiversity. Monsanto's role in agricultural changes, biotechnology products, lobbying of government agencies, and history as a chemical company have made the company controversial.
- 1 History
- 2 Products and associated issues
- 2.1 Current products
- 2.2 Former products
- 2.3 Pipeline products
- 2.4 Pipeline products - cancelled
- 3 Legal actions and controversies
- 4 Political contributions and lobbying
- 5 Donations
- 6 U.S. public officials' connections
- 7 Sponsorships
- 8 Awards
- 9 See also
- 10 Documentaries
- 11 References
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 External links
1901 to WWII
Monsanto was founded in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1901 as a chemical company, by John Francis Queeny, a 30‑year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry. He funded the start-up with his own money and capital from a soft drink distributor and gave the company his wife's maiden name (his father-in-law was Emmanuel Mendes de Monsanto, a wealthy financier of a sugar company active in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and based in St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies). The company's first products were commodity food additives, like the artificial sweetener saccharin, caffeine, and vanillin.:6
Monsanto expanded to Europe in 1919 by entering a partnership with Graesser's Chemical Works at Cefn Mawr, near Ruabon Wales, to produce vanillin, aspirin and its raw ingredient salicylic acid, and later rubber processing chemicals. This site was later sold and closed in 2010. In the 1920s Monsanto expanded into basic industrial chemicals like sulfuric acid and PCBs. Queeny's son Edgar Monsanto Queeny took over the company in 1928.
In 1926 the company founded and incorporated a town called Monsanto in Illinois (now known as Sauget). It was formed to provide minimal regulation and low taxes for the Monsanto chemical plants at a time when local jurisdictions had most of the responsibility for environmental rules. It was renamed in honor of Leo Sauget, its first village president.
In 1936 Monsanto acquired Thomas & Hochwalt Laboratories in Dayton, Ohio, in order to acquire the expertise of Charles Allen Thomas and Dr. Carroll A. ("Ted") Hochwalt. The acquisition was subsequently made Monsanto's Central Research Department.:340–341 Thomas spent the rest of his career at Monsanto, serving as President (1951–60) and Chairman of the Board (1960–65). He retired in 1970. In 1943, Thomas was called to a meeting in Washington DC with Brig. Gen. Leslie Groves, commander of the Manhattan Project, and with James Conant, president of Harvard University and chairman of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC). They urged Thomas to become co-director of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos with Robert Oppenheimer, but Thomas was reluctant to leave Dayton and Monsanto. Thomas joined the NDRC, and Monsanto's Central Research Department began to conduct research for the Manhattan Project under contract from the US government.:vii To that end, Monsanto operated the Dayton Project, and later Mound Laboratories, and assisted in the development of the first nuclear weapons.
In 1946, Monsanto developed and marketed "All" laundry detergent until they sold the product line to Lever Brothers in 1957. In 1947, its styrene factory was destroyed in the Texas City Disaster. In 1949, Monsanto acquired 'American Viscose' from England's family business Courtaulds. In 1954, Monsanto partnered with German chemical giant Bayer to form Mobay and market polyurethanes in the United States.
Monsanto began manufacturing DDT in 1944, along with some 15 other companies. This insecticide was much welcomed in the fight against malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. Due to DDT's toxicity, its use in the United States was banned in 1972. In 1977, Monsanto stopped producing PCBs; the United States Congress banned domestic PCB production two years later.
1960s and 1970s
In the mid‑1960s, William Standish Knowles and his team invented a way to selectively synthesize enantiomers via asymmetric hydrogenation. This was an important advancement because it was the first method for the catalytic production of pure chiral compounds. Using this method, Knowles' team designed the "first industrial process to chirally synthesize an important compound" — L‑dopa, which is currently the main drug used to treat Parkinson's disease. In 2001 Knowles and Ryōji Noyori won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In the mid-1960s chemists at Monsanto developed the Monsanto process for making acetic acid, which until 2000 was the method most widely used to make this important industrial chemical. In 1964 Monsanto chemists invented AstroTurf (but called ChemGrass early on), which the company then commercialized.
In 1968, it became the first company to start mass production of (visible) light emitting diodes (LEDs), using gallium arsenide phosphide. This ushered in the era of solid-state lights. From 1968 to 1970, sales doubled every few months. Their products (discrete LEDs and seven-segment numeric displays) became the standards of industry. The primary markets then were electronic calculators, digital watches, and digital clocks. Monsanto was a pioneer of optoelectronics in the 1970s. Between 1968 and 1974, the company assumed title sponsorship of the PGA Tour event in Pensacola, Fla., that was renamed the Monsanto Open. Notable winners included World Golf Hall of Fame member Gene Littler, in 1971.
In 1974 Harvard University and Monsanto signed a ten-year industrial-funded research grant to support the cancer research of Judah Folkman, which at that time was the largest such arrangement ever made; medical inventions arising from that research were the first for which Harvard allowed its faculty to submit a patent application.
In 1979, Monsanto established the Edgar Monsanto Queeny safety award in honor of its former CEO (1928‑1960), an annual $2,000 prize given to a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers to encourage accident prevention.
1980s to early 1990s: emphasis on agribiotech
Monsanto scientists were among the first to genetically modify a plant cell, publishing their results in 1983; five years later, the company conducted the first field tests of genetically engineered crops. Increasing involvement in agricultural biotechnology R&D in general dates from the installment of Richard Mahoney as Monsanto's CEO in 1983. This involvement increased under the leadership of Robert Shapiro, appointed CEO in 1995, leading ultimately to divestment of product lines unrelated to agriculture.
In 1985, Monsanto acquired G. D. Searle & Company, a life sciences company focusing on pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and animal health. In 1993, Monsanto's Searle division filed a patent application for Celebrex, which in 1998 became the first selective COX‑2 inhibitor to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Celebrex became a blockbuster drug and was often mentioned as a key reason for Pfizer's acquisition of Monsanto's pharmaceutical business in 2002.
1996 to present: growth into world's largest-grossing seed company
In 1996, Monsanto purchased Agracetus, the biotechnology company that had generated the first transgenic varieties of cotton, soybeans, peanuts, and other crops, and from which Monsanto had already been licencing technology since 1991. Monsanto first entered the maize seed business when it purchased 40% of DEKALB in 1996; it purchased the remainder of the corporation in 1998. In 1998 Monsanto purchased Cargill's seed business, which gave it access to sales and distribution facilities in 51 countries. In 2005, it finalized the purchase of Seminis Inc, a leading global vegetable and fruit seed company, for $1.4 billion. This made it the world's largest conventional seed company at the time.
Spin-offs and mergers
Through a series of transactions, the Monsanto that existed from 1901 to 2000 and the current Monsanto are legally two distinct corporations. Although they share the same name and corporate headquarters, many of the same executives and other employees, and responsibility for liabilities arising out of activities in the industrial chemical business, the agricultural chemicals business is the only segment carried forward from the pre-1997 Monsanto Company to the current Monsanto Company. This was accomplished beginning in the 1980s:
- 1985: Monsanto purchased G. D. Searle & Company for $2.7 billion in cash. In this merger, Searle's aspartame business became a separate Monsanto subsidiary, the NutraSweet Company. CEO of NutraSweet, Robert B. Shapiro, became CEO of Monsanto from 1995 to 2000.
- 1996: Monsanto acquired Agracetus, a majority interest in Calgene, creators of the Flavr Savr tomato, and 40% of DeKalb Genetics Corporation. It purchased the remainder of DeKalb in 1998.
- 1997: Monsanto spun off its industrial chemical and fiber divisions into Solutia In January, Monsanto announced the purchase of Holden's Foundations Seeds, a privately held seed business. By acquiring Holden's, Monsanto became the biggest American producer of foundation corn, the parent seed from which hybrids are made. The combined purchase price was $925 million. Also, in April, Monsanto purchased the remaining shares of Calgene.
- 1999: Monsanto sold off NutraSweet Co. In December, Monsanto merged with Pharmacia & Upjohn, and the agricultural division became a wholly owned subsidiary of the "new" Pharmacia; the medical research divisions of Monsanto, which included products such as Celebrex, were rolled into Pharmacia.
- 2000 (October): Pharmacia spun off its Monsanto subsidiary into a new company, the "new Monsanto". Monsanto agreed to indemnify Pharmacia against any liabilities that might be incurred from judgments against Solutia. As a result, the new Monsanto continues to be a party to numerous lawsuits that relate to operations of the old Monsanto. Pharmacia was bought by Pfizer in a deal announced in 2002 and completed in 2003.)
- 2005: Monsanto acquired Emergent Genetics and its Stoneville and NexGen cotton brands. Emergent was the third largest U.S. cotton seed company, with about 12 percent of the U.S. market. Monsanto's goal was to obtain "a strategic cotton germplasm and traits platform." The vegetable seed producer Seminis was purchased for $1.4 billion.
- 2007: In June, Monsanto purchased Delta & Pine Land Company, a major cotton seed breeder, for $1.5 billion. As a condition for approval from the Department of Justice, Monsanto was obligated to divest its Stoneville cotton business, which it sold to Bayer, and to divest its NexGen cotton business, which it sold to Americot. Monsanto also exited the pig breeding business by selling Monsanto Choice Genetics to Newsham Genetics LC in November, divesting itself of "any and all swine-related patents, patent applications, and all other intellectual property".:108
- 2008: Monsanto purchased the Dutch seed company De Ruiter Seeds for €546 million, and sold its POSILAC bovine somatotropin brand and related business to Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly in August for $300 million plus "additional contingent consideration".
- 2012: Monsanto purchased for $210 million Precision Planting Inc., a company that produced computer hardware and software designed to enable farmers to increase yield and productivity through more accurate planting.
- 2013: Monsanto purchased San Francisco-based Climate Corp for $930 million. Climate Corp. makes more accurate local weather forecasts for farmers based on data modelling and historical data; if the forecasts were wrong, the farmer was recompensed.
Products and associated issues
Monsanto chemist John E. Franz repurposed the chemical glyphosate as a systemic herbicide in 1970. Monsanto's last commercially relevant United States patent on glyphosate expired in 2000, and since then glyphosate has been marketed in the United States and worldwide by many agrochemical companies, in different solution strengths and with various adjuvants, under dozens of tradenames. As of 2009, sales of glyphosate represented about 10% of Monsanto's revenue due to competition from other producers of other glyphosate-based herbicides; their Roundup products (which include GM seeds) represented about half of Monsanto's gross margin.
As of 2015, Monsanto's line of seed products included agricultural seeds and vegetable seeds.
Many of Monsanto's agricultural seed products are genetically modified for resistance to herbicides, such as glyphosate. Monsanto sells glyphosate under the brand, "Roundup" – Monsanto calls these seeds "Roundup Ready". Monsanto's introduction of this system (planting glyphosate-resistant seed and then applying glyphosate once plants emerged) provided farmers with an opportunity to dramatically increase the yield from a given plot of land, since this allowed them to plant rows closer together. Without it, farmers had to plant rows far enough apart to control post-emergent weeds with mechanical tillage. Farmers have widely adopted the technology – for example over 90% of maize (Mon 832), soybean (MON-Ø4Ø32-6), cotton, sugar beet, and canola planted in the United States are glyphosate-resistant, as described in the GM crops article. Monsanto has developed a Roundup Ready genetically modified wheat (MON 71800) but it ceased development in 2004 due to concerns from wheat exporters about rejection of GM wheat by foreign markets.
As of 2009, the overall Roundup line of products including the GM seeds represented about 50% of Monsanto's business. The patent on the first type of Roundup Ready crop that Monsanto produced (soybeans) expired in 2014 and the first harvest of off-patent soybeans occurs in the spring of 2015. Monsanto has broadly licensed the patent to other seed companies that include the glyphosate resistance trait in their seed products. About 150 companies have licensed the technology, including Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer.
Monsanto invented and sells agricultural seeds that are genetically modified to make a crystalline insecticidal protein from Bacillus thuringiensis, known as Bt. In 1995 Monsanto's potato plants producing Bt toxin were approved for sale by the Environmental Protection Agency, after having approved by the U.S. FDA, making it the first pesticide-producing crop to be approved in the United States. Monsanto has subsequently developed Bt maize (MON 802, MON 809, MON 863, MON 810), Bt soybean, and Bt cotton.
Monsanto produces seed that has multiple modifications, also known as "stacked traits" — for instance, cotton that make one or more Bt proteins and is resistant to glyphosate. One of these, created in collaboration with Dow Chemical Company, is called SmartStax. In 2011 Monsanto launched the Genuity brand for its stacked-trait products.
As of 2012, the agricultural seed lineup included Roundup Ready alfalfa; Roundup Ready canola; cotton with Bt, Roundup Ready, or both traits; sorghum hybrids; soybeans with various oil profiles, most with the Roundup Ready trait; Roundup Ready sugarbeet; and a wide range of wheat products, many of which incorporate the nontransgenic "clearfield" imazamox-tolerant trait from BASF.
Two patents have been especially important to Monsanto's GM soybean business; one expired in 2011 and another reissued patent expired in 2014. The expiration of the second patent meant that glyphosate resistant soybeans became "generic". In 2013 Monsanto launched the first transgenic drought tolerance trait in a line of corn hybrids termed DroughtGard. The MON 87460 trait is provided by the insertion of the cspB gene from the soil microbe Bacillus subtilis; it was approved by the USDA in 2011 and by China in 2013.
In 2012 Monsanto was the world's largest supplier of non-GMO vegetable seeds by value, selling $800m of seed. 95% of the research and development for vegetable seed is in conventional breeding and the company is concentrating on improving the taste of several vegetables. According to their website they sell "4,000 distinct seed varieties representing more than 20 species". Broccoli, with the brand name Beneforté, with increased amounts of glucoraphanin, developed by Seminis a subsidiary from Monsanto was introduced in 2010.
In 2009, Monsanto scientists initially discovered that insects had developed resistance to the Bt Cotton planted in Gujarat and when studies were completed, Monsanto communicated this to the Indian government and its customers, stating that "Resistance is natural and expected, so measures to delay resistance are important. Among the factors that may have contributed to pink bollworm resistance to the Cry1Ac protein in Bollgard I in Gujarat are limited refuge planting and early use of unapproved Bt cotton seed, planted prior to GEAC approval of Bollgard I cotton, which may have had lower protein expression levels." The company advised farmers to switch to its second generation of Bt cotton – Bolguard II – which had two resistance genes instead of one. However, this advice was criticized; an article in The Hindu reported that "an internal analysis of the statement of the Ministry of Environment and Forests says it 'appears that this could be a business strategy to phase out single gene events [that is, the first-generation Bollgard I product] and promote double genes [the second generation Bollgard II] which would fetch higher price.'"
Monsanto's GM cotton seed was the subject of NGO agitation because of its higher cost. Indian farmers cross GM varieties with local varieties using plant breeding to yield better strains, an illegal practice termed "seed piracy". In 2009, high prices of Bt Cotton were blamed for forcing farmers of the district Jhabua into severe debts when the crops died due to lack of rain.
As in much of the developing world and especially in agricultural areas, child labor is widespread in India's agricultural sector, which employs ~60% of India's child labor. Child labor is especially used in seed production. The seed production is carried out on plots owned by small farmers, who sell the seed to "seed organizers", who in turn sell the seed to public and private seed agencies and companies. The public and private agencies and companies include Indian state corporations, Mahyco-Monsanto, Syngenta, and others. Monsanto's website states that the company complies with all child labor laws and that they are working towards minimizing its occurrence.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Until it stopped production in 1977, Monsanto was the source of 99% of the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) used by U.S. industry. The PCBs were sold under trade names such as Aroclor and Santotherm; the name Santotherm is still used for non-cholorinated products.:396 PCBs are a persistent organic pollutant, and cause cancer in both animal and humans as well, among other health effects; PCBs were initially widely welcomed due to the electrical industry's need for durable, safer (than flammable mineral oil) cooling and insulating fluid for industrial transformers and capacitors. PCBs were also commonly used as stabilizing additives in the manufacture of flexible PVC coatings for electrical wiring, and in electronic components to enhance the heat and fire resistance of the PVC. They were known to be highly toxic from the beginning. As leaks of transformers occurred, and toxicity problems arose near factories, their durability and toxicity became widely recognized as serious problems. PCB production was banned by the U.S. Congress in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001.
In the late 1960s, the Monsanto plant in Sauget, IL. was the nation's largest producer of PCBs, which remain in the water along Dead Creek in Sauget. An EPA official referred to Sauget as "one of the most polluted communities in the region" and "a soup of different chemicals"
Agent Orange was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical.:6 It was given its name from the color of the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped, and was by far the most widely used of the so-called "Rainbow Herbicides".
In 2002, the Washington Post carried a front-page report on Monsanto's legacy of environmental damage in Anniston, Alabama, related to its legal production of PCBs. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit pending at that time provided documentation showing that the local Monsanto factory knowingly discharged both mercury and PCB-laden waste into local creeks for over 40 years. In another story published in 2002, the New York Times reported that during 1969 alone Monsanto had dumped 45 tons of PCBs into Snow Creek, a feeder for Choccolocco Creek which supplies much of the area's drinking water, and that the company buried millions of pounds of PCB in open-pit landfills located on hillsides above the plant and surrounding neighborhoods. In August 2003, Solutia and Monsanto agreed to pay plaintiffs $700 million to settle claims by over 20,000 Anniston residents related to PCB contamination.
As of November 2013, Monsanto was associated with 9 "active" Superfund sites and 32 "archived" sites in the US, in the EPA's Superfund database. Monsanto has been sued, and has settled, multiple times for damaging the health of its employees or residents near its Superfund sites through pollution and poisoning.
Brofiscin Quarry was used as a waste site from about 1965 to 1972 and accepted waste from BP, Veolia, and Monsanto. A 2005 report by Environmental Agency Wales found that the quarry contained up to 75 toxic substances, including heavy metals, Agent Orange, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
In February 2011 Monsanto agreed to help with the costs of remediation, but did not accept responsibility for the pollution. In 2011 Environment Agency Wales and the Rhondda Cynon Taf council announced that they had decided to place an engineered cap over the waste mass in the quarry and stated that the cost would be 1.5 million pounds; previous estimates discussed in the media had been as high as £100 million, which Environment Agency Wales had dismissed. The site was cleared of vegetation and engineering work began in October 2011.
rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone)
Monsanto developed and sold recombinant bovine somatotropin (also known as rBST and rBGH), a synthetic hormone that increases milk production by 11–16% when injected into cows. In October 2008, Monsanto sold this business, in full, to Eli Lilly for a price of $300 million plus additional consideration.
The use of rBST has been controversial, with respect to its effects on cows to which it is administered and with respect to the milk produced by those cows.
In some markets, milk from cows that are not treated with rBST is sold with labels indicating it is rBST-free; this milk has proved popular with consumers. In reaction to this, in early 2008 a pro-rBST advocacy group called "American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology" (AFACT), made up of dairies and originally affiliated with Monsanto, formed and began lobbying to ban such labels. AFACT stated that "absence" labels can be misleading and imply that milk from cows treated with rBST is inferior. The organization was dissolved in 2011 but its website is still accessible.
|This section is outdated. (August 2015)|
Along with other ag-biotech companies, Monsanto has been working on developing drought-resistant GM crops.
As of 2013, Monsanto's new product line, the "Xtend Crop System" was undergoing regulatory review. The system includes seed genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate and dicamba, and an herbicide product including those two active ingredients. In May 2013 the US Department of Agriculture announced that additional reviews of the Xtend soybean would be conducted due to issues of possible environmental damage.
In May 2013, glyphosate-resistant wheat (a GMO) that was not yet approved for release was discovered in a farm in Oregon, growing as a weed or "volunteer plant". The wheat was developed by Monsanto, and was a strain that was field-tested from 1998 to 2005 and was in the regulatory approval process before Monsanto withdrew it based on concern that importers would avoid the crop. The last field test in Oregon occurred in 2001. As of May 2013 there was no information as to how the wheat got there or whether it had entered the food supply; volunteer wheat from a former test field two miles away was tested and it was not found to be glyphosate-resistant. Monsanto faced penalties up to $1 million if violations of the Plant Protection Act would be found. The discovery threatened US wheat exports which totaled $8.1 billion in 2012; the US is the world's largest wheat exporter. New Scientist reported that the variety of wheat was rarely imported into Europe and doubted that the discovery of the wheat would affect Europe, but more likely destined for Asia. According to Monsanto it destroyed all the material it held after completing trials in 2004 and it was "mystified" by its appearance. On June 14, 2013, the USDA announced: "As of today, USDA has neither found nor been informed of anything that would indicate that this incident amounts to more than a single isolated incident in a single field on a single farm. All information collected so far shows no indication of the presence of GE wheat in commerce." As of August 30, 2013, while the source of the GM wheat remained unknown, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan had all resumed placing orders, and the disruption of the export market was minimal.
Pipeline products - cancelled
Genetic use restriction technology, colloquially known as "terminator technology", produces plants that have sterile seeds. If put into use, it would prevent the spread of those seeds into the wild. It also would prevent farmers from planting seeds they harvest, requiring them to repurchase seed for every planting, although they also need to do this for hybrid seeds, because second-generation seeds are inferior, and in cases of patented transgenic seeds, where patent-holders like Monsanto enter into contracts with farmers who agree not to plant harvested seeds as a condition of purchase.
Terminator technology has been developed by governmental labs, university researchers, and companies, sometimes in collaboration and sometimes independently. The technology has never been known to have been used commercially. Rumors that Monsanto and other companies intended to introduce terminator technology have caused protests, for example in India.
In 1999, Monsanto pledged not to commercialize terminator technology, and has displayed that pledge on its website to the present day. The Delta and Pine Land Company intended to commercialize the technology, but D&PL was acquired by Monsanto in 2007.
In the 2000s Monsanto entered into the pig breeding business via a subsidiary, Monsanto Choice Genetics. It exited the business in 2009 when it sold that business to Newsham Genetics LC in November, divesting itself of "any and all swine-related patents, patent applications, and all other intellectual property".:108
Legal actions and controversies
Monsanto is notable for its involvement in high-profile lawsuits, as both plaintiff and defendant. It has been defendant in a number of lawsuits, mostly over health and environmental effects of its products. Monsanto has also made frequent use of the courts to defend its patents, particularly in the area of agricultural biotechnology, as have other companies in the field, such as Dupont Pioneer and Syngenta.
Controversies outside the US
GM soy was approved for cultivation in Argentina in 1996. When Argentina approved the cultivation of GMO in 1996 14 million acres were used for soy production and by 2008 that area grew to 42 million acres. The growth was driven by Argentine investors' interest in buying or leasing land on which to grow soy for the export market. The consolidation has led to a decrease in production of many staples such as milk, rice, maize, potatoes and lentils, and as of 2004 about 150,000 small farmers had left the countryside; by 2009 in the Chaco region, 50% were displaced.
The Guardian newspaper interviewed a Monsanto representative and reported that the representative "said that any problems with GM soya were to do with use of the crop as a monoculture, not because it was GM. 'If you grow any crop to the exclusion of any other you are bound to get problems.'"
In 2005 and 2006, Monsanto addressed unlicensed use of its patented "Roundup Ready" technology by farmers and companies in Argentina by enforcing its patents on soymeal imported into Spain from Argentina, which obligated Spanish customs officials to seize the soymeal shipments.
In 2013, tensions arose between environmentalist groups, on one side, and Monsanto and the government of Córdoba, on the other. The company, with the local authorities' consent, is building a corn seed conditioning facility in Malvinas Argentinas, Córdoba and neighbours have denounced the risk of environmental impact. Despite court rulings which have decided the enterprise could continue to build the facilities, environmentalist groups have organised demonstrations and have opened an online petition for the subject to be decided on a popular referendum. Nevertheless, the court rulings have also stipulated that while construction can continue, the facility could not begin operating until the environmental impact report required by law is dutifully presented.
Brazil had originally approved GM crops in 1998 but Brazilian advocacy groups had successfully sued to overturn the approval. In 2003 Brazil allowed a one-year exemption when GM soy was found in fields planted in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. This was a controversial decision, and in response, the Landless Workers' Movement protested by invading and occupying several Monsanto farm plots used for research, training and seed-processing. In 2005 Brazil passed a law creating a regulatory pathway for GM crops, and the agriculture minister Roberto Rodrigues stated that "Brazilian soy farmers, who have used cloned or smuggled versions of the biotechnology company's Roundup Ready variety for years, will no longer have to worry about breaking the law or facing legal action from Monsanto as long as regulators approve the seeds for planting."
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, public attention was drawn to suicides by indebted farmers in India following crop failures. For example, in the early 2000s, farmers in the state of Andhra Pradesh, were in economic crisis due to high interest rates and crop failures, leading to widespread social unrest and suicides. Monsanto was one focus of protests with respect to the price of Bt seed and yields of Bt seed. In 2005, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, the Indian regulatory authority, released a study on field tests of certain Bt cotton strains in Andhra Pradesh and ruled that Monsanto could not market those strains in Andhra Pradesh because the yields were poor. At about the same time, the state agriculture minister barred the company from selling any Bt cotton seeds in the state, because Monsanto refused a request by the state government to provide a compensation package of about Rs 4.5 crore (about one million USD) to indebted farmers in some districts, and because the government blamed Monsanto's Bt seeds for crop failures. The order was later lifted. In 2006, the Andhra Pradesh state government tried to convince Monsanto to reduce the price at which it sold Bt seeds. When Monsanto did not reduce the price enough to satisfy the government, the state filed several cases against Monsanto and its Mumbai based licensee Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds. Research by International Food Policy Research Institute, an agriculture policy think tank based in Washington DC, stated that there was no evidence for an increased suicide rate following the 2002 introduction of Bt cotton, and that Bt cotton was effective in India. The report stated that farmer suicides predate the official commercial introduction of Bt cotton by Monsanto Mahyco in 2002 (and its unofficial introduction by Navbharat Seeds in 2001) and that such suicides were a fairly constant portion of the overall national suicide rate since 1997. The report concluded that while Bt cotton may have been a factor in specific suicides, the contribution was likely marginal compared to socio-economic factors. As of 2009, 87% of Indian cotton-growing land was used for Bt cotton.
Critics, including Vandana Shiva, said that the crop failures could "often be traced to" Monsanto's Bt cotton, and that the seeds increased farmers' indebtedness, and argued that Monsanto misrepresented the profitability of their genetically modified cotton, Bt Cotton, causing farmers to suffer losses leading to debt. In 2009, Dr. Shiva wrote that Indian farmers who had previously spent as little as ₹7 (rupees) per kilogram were now paying up to ₹17,000 per kilo per year after switching to Bt cotton. More recently, in 2012 the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Central Cotton Research Institute (CCRI) stated that for the first time farmer suicides could be linked to a decline in the performance of Bt cotton, and they issued an advisory stating that “cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”
In 2004, in response to a request from the All India Biodynamic and Organic Farming Association, the Mumbai High Court required the Tata Institute to produce a report on farmer suicides in Maharashtra, and the institute submitted its report in March 2005. The survey cited "government apathy, the absence of a safety net for farmers, and lack of access to information related to agriculture as the chief causes for the desperate condition of farmers in the state."
Various studies identify the important factors as insufficient or risky credit systems, the difficulty of farming semi-arid regions, poor agricultural income, absence of alternative income opportunities, a downturn in the urban economy which forced non-farmers into farming, and the absence of suitable counseling services. The ICAR and CCRI stated that the cost of cotton cultivation had jumped as a consequence of rising pesticide costs while total Bt cotton production in the five years from 2007 to 2012 had declined.
March Against Monsanto protests
A worldwide protest against Monsanto and GMOs took place on May 25, 2013. The number of protesters who took part is uncertain; figures of "hundreds of thousands" or "two million" were variously cited. According to organizers, protesters in 436 cities and 52 countries took part.
The March Against Monsanto organizers planned a second day of protests in May 2014, and in statement released before the event said that millions of activists would join marches in over 400 cities in 52 countries on six continents. The day of protest took place on May 24, 2014.
Political contributions and lobbying
Monsanto lobbies the United States Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture about regulations that would affect the production and distribution of genetically engineered produce. In 2011, Monsanto spent about $6.3 million. In comparison, the 20th highest spender, Pfizer, spent $12.9 million. US diplomats in Europe have worked directly for Monsanto. In 2008, Monsanto spent $8.8 million for lobbying. $1.5 million was to outside lobbying firms with the remainder used by in-house lobbyists. In 2011, total money spent on lobbying was about $6.3 million, more than any other agribusiness firm except the tobacco company Altria, and $2 million of which was spent on matters concerning "Foreign Agriculture Biotechnology Laws, Regulations, and Trade."
Monsanto gave $186,250 to federal candidates in the 2008 election cycle through its political action committee (PAC) – 42% to Democrats, 58% to Republicans. For the 2010 election cycle they gave $305,749 – 48% to Democrats, 52% to Republicans.
As of 2012, Monsanto spent $8.1 million opposing the passage of Proposition 37 in the US state of California, making it the largest donor against the initiative. Proposition 37, which was rejected by a 53.7% majority in November 2012, would have mandated the disclosure of genetically modified crops used in the production of California food products. Biotechnology labeling is not required by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but it has been adopted by over 40 countries. According to public disclosures, the Council for Biotechnology Information and The Grocery Manufacturers Association, have each made matching donations of $375,000 to fight the initiative.
Michael R. Taylor, a former Monsanto Vice President for Public Policy and the current Senior Advisor to the Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, was described by Businessweek during his tenure as Monsanto's VP for Public Policy as "Monsanto's chief rep in Washington."
Monsanto is a member of the Washington D.C based Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the world’s largest biotechnology trade association, which provides "advocacy, business development, and communications services." Between 2010 and 2011 BIO spent a total of $16.43 million on lobbying initiatives.
In March 2013, the Farmer Assurance Provision known as Monsanto Protection Act by critics was part of a bill to provide continued funding to the federal government in the ongoing US budget stalemate, and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. It expired on September 20, 2013. NPR stated that "the provision authorizes the USDA to grant "temporary" permission for GMO crops to be planted, even if a judge has ruled that such crops were not properly approved, only while the necessary environmental reviews are completed. That's an authority that the USDA has, in fact, already exercised in the past." It was originally included as Section 733 in the June 2012 initial draft of the FY2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill.:86–87 Politico reported that Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) authored the provision, and "said he worked with the company (Monsanto) and had a valuable partner in the late chairman, Inouye, who was sympathetic given Monsanto’s large seed operations in Hawaii." The bill's sole dissenter, Senator John Tester (D-MT), proposed an amendment to remove it from the bill, but it never went to a vote. Before the provision was passed, supporters said that "opponents of agricultural biotechnology have repeatedly filed suits against USDA on procedural grounds in order to disrupt the regulatory process and undermine the science‐based regulation of such products... Activist groups have made it clear they will continue to use the court system to challenge regulatory approvals of corn, soybean and other biotechnology‐derived crops, and have openly stated their intention to use litigation as a way to impede the availability of new technology to growers and consumers....If enacted, growers would be assured that the crops they plant could continue to be grown, subject to appropriate interim conditions, even after a judicial ruling against USDA. Moreover, the language would apply only to products that have already satisfactorily completed the U.S. regulatory review process and does not remove or restrict anyone’s right to challenge USDA once a determination of no plant pest risk has been made. Opponents described it as" hidden backroom deal" and after it passed the Senate, more than 250,000 petitioners signed a petition for President Obama to veto the bill on the premise that it "effectively bars federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of controversial genetically modified... seeds, no matter what health issues may arise concerning GMOs in the future". In September 2013, the controversial provision was removed from the Senate version of the bill.
The Monsanto Company Citizenship Fund aka Monsanto Citizenship Fund is a political action committee from Monsanto that has donated over $10 million to various candidates from 2003 -2013.
As of October 2013, Monsanto and DuPont Co. continued backing an anti-labeling campaign with roughly $18 million dedicated to the campaign. Washington along with 26 other states made proposals in November to require labels on Genetically Modified Foods
During the late 1990s, Monsanto lobbied to raise permitted glyphosate levels in soybeans and was successful in convincing Codex Alimentarius and both the UK and American governments to lift levels 200 times to 20 milligrams per 1 kilogram of soya.:265 When asked how negotiations with Monsanto were conducted Lord Donoughue, then the Labour Party Agriculture minister in the House of Lords, stated that all information relating to the matter would be "kept secret.":265 During a period of 24 months prior to the 1997 British election Monsanto representatives had 22 meetings at the departments of Agriculture and the Environment.:266 British newspapers revealed that Stanley Greenberg, an election advisor to Tony Blair, went on to work as a Monsanto consultant.:266 It was also reported that a former Labour spokesperson, David Hill, became Monsanto's media adviser at the lobbying firm Bell Pottinger.:266 The Labour government was challenged in parliament about "trips, facilities, gifts and other offerings of financial value provided by Monsanto to civil servants" but only stated that Department of Trade and Industry had two working lunches with Monsanto.:267 It was also revealed that Peter Luff, then a Conservative Party MP and Chairman of the Agriculture Select Committee, had received up to £10,000 a year from Bell Pottinger on behalf of Monsanto.:266
In January 2011, John Vidal of The Guardian reported on Wikileak documents that suggested US diplomats in Europe were responding to a request for help from Spanish government; the article says: "In addition, the cables show US diplomats working directly for GM companies such as Monsanto. 'In response to recent urgent requests by [Spanish rural affairs ministry] state secretary Josep Puxeu and Monsanto, post requests renewed US government support of Spain's science-based agricultural biotechnology position through high-level US government intervention.'" The documents show that in 2009, when the Spanish government's policy allowing MON810 corn to be grown, as allowed under European law, was under pressure from EU interests, Monsanto's Director for Biotechnology for Spain and Portugal requested that the US government support Spain on the matter. The reports also indicated that Spain and the US had worked closely together to "persuade the EU not to strengthen biotechnology laws." Spain was viewed as an EU member that was a key supporter of GM and there was a widespread belief in biotechnology industry that "if Spain falls, the rest of Europe will follow." The documents also revealed that in response to an attempt by France to ban a Monsanto's MON810 in late 2007, the then US ambassador to France, Craig Roberts Stapleton, in a bid to "help strengthen European pro-biotech voices," asked Washington to "calibrate a targeted retaliation list that [would cause] some pain across the EU," in particular those countries that did not support the use of GM crops. This activity transpired after the US, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico and New Zealand had brought an action against Europe via the World Trade Organization with respect to the EU's banning of GMOs; in 2006, the WTO had ruled against the EU.
Monsanto is a member of EuropaBio, the leading biotechnology trade group in Europe. One of EuropaBio's initiatives is "Transforming Europe’s position on GM food", and it has stated that there is "an urgent need to reshape the terms of the debate about GM in Europe." In an effort to transform European policy relating to the production and distribution of genetically modified foods within the EU, EuropaBio proposed the recruitment of high-profile "ambassadors" that might affect opinion on GM policy by lobbying European leaders directly. The organisation also aimed to introduce the ambassadors to high-level European bureaucrats and MEPs with the goal of making a stronger case for GM within the EU.
After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Monsanto donated $255,000 to Haiti for disaster relief and 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid (non-GM) corn and vegetable seeds worth $4 million. However, a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) rapid assessment of seed supply and demand for the 5 most common food security crops found that the Haitians had enough seed and recommended that imported seeds should be introduced only on a small scale.
The announcement of the donation initially raised concerns that the donation would include genetically modified seeds, but Monsanto representatives said no such seeds were included and the donation comprised conventional seed and hybrid seeds, which are produced by manually cross-pollinating plants. A report by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) investigated the donation and responses to it. Emmanuel Prophete, head of Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture's Service National Semencier (SNS), told HGW that SNS was not opposed to the hybrid maize seeds because it at least doubles the yield of corn. Louise Sperling, Principal Researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) told HGW that she was not opposed to hybrids, but noted that most hybrids require extra water and better soils and that most of Haiti was not appropriate for maize hybrids.
Activists expressed concern that some of the seeds were coated with the fungicides Maxim or thiram. In the United States, pesticides containing thiram are banned in home garden products because most home gardeners do not own adequate protection. Activists alleged that the coated seeds were handled in a dangerous manner by the recipients and judged that such seeds should not have been donated.
The seeds were donated free of charge, and were in turn sold at a reduced price in local markets. However, farmers feared that they were being given seeds that would "threaten local varieties" and an estimated 8,000–12,000 farmers attended a protest of the donation on June 4, 2010, organized by a Haitian farmers' association, the Peasant Movement of Papay, where a small pile of seeds was symbolically burned.
U.S. public officials' connections
A number of people have held positions at Monsanto and in US government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Supreme Court at various points in their careers. Critics of Monsanto have said that the interconnections between the company and the US government have allowed Monsanto to profit by favorable regulations at the expense of customer safety. On the other hand, supporters of the practice of individuals moving between government sector and the private sector point to the need for competent and experienced individuals in both sectors and to the importance of appropriately managing conflicts of interest that such cross-sector movements may cause.:16–23 The list of such people includes:
- Earle H. Harbison, Jr. served with the Central Intelligence Agency for 18 years, rising to the rank of Deputy Director, after which he had a career at Monsanto, rising to the roles of President, Chief Operating Officer, and Director of Monsanto, which he held from 1986 to 1993.
- Michael A. Friedman, MD, was Senior Vice President of Research and Development, Medical and Public Policy for Pharmacia, and later served as an FDA deputy commissioner.
- Linda J. Fisher was an assistant administrator at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before she was a vice president at Monsanto from 1995 to 2000. In 2001, Fisher became the deputy administrator of the EPA.
- Michael R. Taylor was an assistant to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner before working as an attorney for King & Spalding, a private-sector law firm that represented Monsanto among other clients. He later served as deputy commissioner for policy to the FDA on food safety between 1991 and 1994 during which time the FDA approved rBST. He was accused of a conflict of interest, but a federal investigation cleared him. Following his tenure at the FDA, Taylor returned to Monsanto as Vice President for Public Policy. On July 7, 2009, Taylor entered government as Senior Advisor to the Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration for the Obama administration.
- United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas worked as an attorney for Monsanto in the 1970s. Thomas wrote the majority opinion in the 2001 Supreme Court decision J. E. M. Ag Supply, Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. which found that "newly developed plant breeds are patentable under the general utility patent laws of the United States."
- Mickey Kantor served on Monsanto's board after serving in government as a trade representative.
- William D. Ruckelshaus served as the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, was subsequently acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and then Deputy Attorney General of the United States. From 1983 to 1985, he returned as EPA administrator. After leaving government he joined the Board of Directors of Monsanto; he is currently retired from that board.
- Between serving for Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was chairman and chief executive officer of G. D. Searle & Company, a pharmaceutical company which produced aspartame apparently while working on an ulcer drug. Monsanto bought the company in 1985, and re-branded aspartame as NutraSweet. Rumsfeld's stock and options in Searle were $12 million USD at the time of the transaction.
- Monsanto is a client of the Lincoln Policy Group, a lobbying group created by former chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Blanche Lincoln after she lost her re-election bid in 2011. Robert Holifield, who was chief of staff on that committee, is a partner in the group.
Monsanto has been the corporate sponsor of attractions at Disneyland, namely:
- Hall of Chemistry (1955 to 1966)
- Monsanto House of the Future (from 1957 to 1967)
- Fashions and Fabrics through the Years (from 1965 to 1966)
- Adventure Thru Inner Space (from 1967 to 1986)
Monsanto has donated $10 million to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis since the 1970s, which named its 1998 plant science facility the 'Monsanto Center'. At the Field Museum, Monsanto has sponsored several exhibits, for example about Gregor Mendel since 2007 and "Underground Adventures" since 2011 "about the importance and fragility of the ecosystem within soil". Since at least 1999, the Field Museum has had a "Monsanto Environmental Education Initiative", led by Gregory M. Mueller Chair of the Department of Botany and Associate Curator of Mycology . Other staff of the Field Museum, like Curator Mark W. Westneat, have travelled to Monsanto meetings
Science Magazine ranked Monsanto as 5th on its 2013 Top Employers list, describing its top attributes as "innovative leader in the industry", "makes changes needed", and "does important quality research".
In 2013, Monsanto was listed as one of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens by Corporate Responsibility Magazine.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, recognized Monsanto as having a 100% score on their 2010 Corporate Equality Index (CEI). Monsanto received the same score again in 2011, 2013, and 2014. The Foundation named Monsanto "one of the Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality." In a press release, HRC president Chad Griffin stated that the company was going "above and beyond the call of duty." 
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