By Carmelo Ruiz Marrero *
Originally founded in 1901 as a chemistry company, Monsanto began betting big on transgenic biotechnology and the seed business in the late 20th century. In the 1980s and 1990s it swallowed up numerous agricultural and genetics companies such as Asgrow, Calgene, Dekalb and Holden, and in 2000 it reorganized, redefining itself as a "life sciences" company. In 2005 it became the number one seed company in the world when it bought the Mexican conglomerate Seminis.
Most of its transgenic seeds are genetically modified to tolerate its own glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup, thus making it possible to sell the seed and the agrochemical as an integrated technology package. These Monsanto GM crops are known as Roundup Ready. The combination of transgenic seeds and herbicide has turned out to be one of the most impressive business success stories in recent agricultural history, but it is in dire disarray, putting the future of the company in jeopardy.
The collapse of the Roundup Ready business model is due to several factors. First, glyphosate is becoming a useless agrochemical due to the emergence of resistant weeds. “After two decades of continuous Roundup-based warfare, glyphosate-resistant 'super weeds' are proliferating and Roundup Ready crops are suffocating in grass-infested fields,” says ETC Group, a Canadian-based non-governmental organization. “In the United States, farmers now face nearly 100 million acres of herbicide-resistant grasses in 36 states. Globally, at least 24 weed species are already resistant to glyphosate. " (2)
According to an editorial in the scientific journal Nature published in June 2014:
“Pork grass (Amaranthus palmeri) is not a weed that one can take lightly. It can grow to over eight feet tall, grow more than six inches a day, produce 600,000 seeds, and it has a hard, woody stem that can ruin farm equipment trying to pull it up. It is also becoming more and more resistant to the popular herbicide glyphosate. The first resistant population was confirmed in 2005 in a cotton field in Georgia, and the plant now torments farmers in at least 23 US states. There is broad agreement that the proliferation of these resistant plants is rooted in the wide acceptance of crops modified to be resistant to glyphosate. "
By 2012, glyphosate-resistant grasses had infested 25 million hectares of farmland in the United States. They have also appeared in other countries that have welcomed glyphosate-tolerant crops, including Australia, Brazil, and Argentina. Covering crops year after year with the same herbicide is the perfect way to promote resistant weeds. " (3)
Furthermore, the supposed safety of the herbicide is increasingly being questioned. In 2015 the World Health Organization declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen, and recent information also suggests that studies validating glyphosate do not stand up to critical scrutiny. According to a report by the British organization GM Watch published in November 2015:
"Monsanto has known for four decades that glyphosate causes cancer, according to a new paper published by researchers Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff. Samsel is the first independent investigator to examine Monsanto's secret toxicology studies on glyphosate. He obtained the studies, which had been denied to other researchers, by petitioning his senator. She reviewed the Monsanto data with her co-investigator, Dr. Stephanie Seneff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Samsel and Seneff concluded that 'significant evidence of tumors was found' during their investigations. " (4)
That same month, another peer-reviewed scientific report exposed dubious science used in Monsanto-sponsored glyphosate safety studies when the company sought approval from the US authorities:
“Dr. Marek Cuhra has carried out a careful study of all the evaluations made on the toxicity of glyphosate to aquatic organisms - and in particular the water fly Daphnia magna. It found that the 1978 industry-sponsored study conducted by McAllister and Forbis for ABC Laboratories (which was never published) purported to show that glyphosate was 300 times less toxic than subsequent studies found. And yet that deeply flawed study was used in the toxicity assessment of glyphosate by the US EPA and other regulators around the world, under the assumption that it was completely reliable. The study was intended to show that glyphosate was indeed harmless, and that was accepted as scientific 'fact'. " (5)
In addition to these two studies, we also have information on glyphosate toxicity from the late Argentine scientist Andrés Carrasco (6) and the French team led by the courageous Gilles-Eric Seralini. (7)
Monsanto management understands that the survival of the company depends on buying more competitors and thus acquiring new lines of agro-toxic products and transgenic crops resistant to these. But the business landscape has changed in the last three decades, today there are not as many options as before. In the 1980s there were thousands of seed companies, while today the commercial seeds and agricultural poisons business is controlled by a cartel of just six companies - Monsanto and five competitors. And what is worse, of these five competitors, two are merging: North American companies Dupont-Pioneer and Dow Agrosciences. Between the two of them, they can give Monsanto a good kick.
The only option Monsanto strategists see is to buy from Europe's Syngenta, the world's largest pesticide company. Already in 2015 he presented two purchase offers, the second for $ 45 billion, and began 2016 with a third offer, which Syngenta is currently studying and considering.
Another benefit of such a merger would be a relief to your tax burden, since the resulting megacorporation will likely be incorporated outside of United States territory. According to a report cited by the ETC Group, Monsanto could save $ 500 million a year in taxes by moving to another country.
If you marry Syngenta, Monsanto will surely take the opportunity to change its name. For millions of people around the world, the Monsanto name is synonymous with evil, scandal, controversy and toxic contamination, so it would not be a bad thing to remove it and change it for another. Why keep the name anyway? Today Monsanto appears to have little or no relationship with the Monsanto family, which the company's founder, John Francis Queeny, married in the late 1800s. A name change would not be an unusual move. Other corporations have, including Andersen Consulting, Blackwater, Kentucky Fried Chicken, KPMG, Philip Morris, and Vivendi.
Unfortunately for Monsanto, the merger with Syngenta, while likely, is not inevitable. German companies BASF and Bayer Cropscience, both members of the "Big Six" cartel, have also submitted offers to Syngenta, as has China's state-owned ChemChina. (8)
What if Syngenta says no to Monsanto? The company could end up crushed between two giants, Dow-Dupont on the one hand and Syngenta-ChemChina on the other. According to the ETC Group, "No matter what mergers happen (in 2016), there is little doubt that the infamous Monsanto name will soon be history."
* Carmelo Ruiz Marrero is a journalist, environmental educator and author of The Great Botanical Chess Game: Writings on Biotechnology and Agroecology (Editorial Tiempo Nuevo 2015). Since 2004 he has directed the Biosafety Blog (http://bioseguridad.blogspot.com/search/label/es). His most recent blogging project is The World According to Carmelo (http://carmeloruiz.tumblr.com/tagged/esp) and his Twitter account is @carmelorui
2) ETC Group. “Breaking Bad: Big Ag Mega-Mergers in Play” December 15, 2015. http://www.etcgroup.org/content/breaking-bad-big-ag-mega-mergers-play
3) Nature. "A growing problem". June 11, 2014. http://www.nature.com/news/a-growing-problem-1.15382?WT.ec_id=NATURE-20140612
4) GM Watch. “Monsanto’s secret studies reveal glyphosate link to cancer” November 6, 2015. http://www.gmwatch.org/news/latest-news/16515-monsanto-s-secret-studies-reveal-glyphosate-link-to-cancer
5) GM-Free Cymru. “More Monsanto scientific fraud in early glyphosate‘ safety studies ’” http://www.gmfreecymru.org/news/Press_Notice07Nov2015.html
8) Carmelo Ruiz. “Syngenta and the Chinese factor” Counterpunch, January 28, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/28/syngenta-and-the-chinese-factor/