>Date: Sun, 23 Aug 1998 19:13:11 -0500
>From: Richard Wolfson <email@example.com>
>Subject: From Agent Orange to tampered genes: Monsanto's life cycle
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>Thanks to firstname.lastname@example.org (jim mcnulty) for posting this:
>>From Agent Orange to tampered genes: Monsanto's life cycle.
>The Observer (UK) 23rd August 98.
>But the company is spending £1m to convince the British consumer it's
>green. Alexander Garrett reports.
>The high profile campaign to persuade people that genetically engineered is
>safe suffered a fresh setback last week with a decision by the Vegetarian
>Society not to endorse products containing such ingredients.
>The decision will hit several products containing soya beans produced by
>Monsanto, the US company behind a £1m advertising campaign to win the
>hearts and minds of UK consumers.
>Although the debate surrounding GM foods has been well aired, little is
>widely known - on this side of the Atlantic , at least - about Monsanto
>Monsanto is not the only company seeking to foist GM foods on the public,
>but it is by far the most aggressive. Based in St Louis, Missouri, it used
>to be big into chemicals. But it has been rapidly reinventing itself in the
>last few years as a 'life sciences' company, specialising in the fast
>growing business of biotechnology.
>With sales of $10.7bn last year, and a market capitalisation of $22bn, it
>dwarfs the many tiny biotech start ups that are competing for a slice of
>this new market.
>But it is a company which also has a number of skeletons in it's closet,
>including Agent Orange, the defolient used 30 years ago by the US
>Government to impose a scorched earth policy in Vietnam.
>The lethal cocktail is blamed by thousands of veterans for a litany of
>health problems including cancers and birth defects in their children - and
>helps explain why Monsanto's efforts to paint itself as a grren company
>have met a credibility gap.
>Monsanto's attempt to become the world's pre-eminent 'life sciences
>company' is the latest chapter in a corperate tale that began acorss the
>Atlantic at the turn of the century.
>Founded in St Louis in 1901 by Edgar Queeny - and named after his wife,
>whose maiden name was Olga Mendez Monsanto - it's first product was
>saccharin, supplied eclusively to the youthful Coca - Cola company.
>After the First World War, Monsanto moved into chemicals , first buying the
>Commercial Acid Company of Illinois, the the RA Grasser Chemical Works ar
>Ruabon in North Wales.
>In the twenties it became an important producer of aspirin, and in the
>ensuing decades it mowed through a swathe of new products areas, including
>detergents, plastics, fibre products, machine controls and silicon wafers.
>For the last decade, the name Monsanto has been mainly synonymous with two
>blockbuster products: the artificial sweetener Nutrasweet and the herbicide
>Nutrasweet was acquired as part of the pharmacuetical company GD Searle in
>1985; Round up is the most succesful product to come out of Monsanto's
>agriculture divison, started in 1960.
>In the mid eighties, Monsanto's then president Richard Mahoney decided to
>turn it into a Life Sciences company. That meant focussing on three areas:
>food ingredients, medicine, and most importantly, agricultural products.
>Mahoney started selling off everything that didn't fit into the strategy,
>culminating in the spin - off of the remaining chemicals business into a
>new company, Solutia, early last year.
>Bob Sapiro took over as president in 1993, and started buying again with a
>vengeance. His target was seeds. Over the last 12 months he has paid $4 bn
>for two companies that were involved in creating new varieties, De Kalb
>Genetics and Delta Pine Land, then added another $1.4 bn for the
>international operations of leading producer Cargill.
>That could have left Monsanto over extended, even vulnerable to a takeover.
>So Shapiro engineered a $33 bn merger with American Home Products, a drugs
>company that numbers slimming drugs and contaceptive devices among it's
>products. Unveiled in June, it was one of the largest deals in American
>corperate history. Finally in early July, it splashed out another £320 m to
>take over UK based Plant Breeding International from Unilever.
>Dan Verakis, a Monsanto spokseman who has been drafted in from St Louis to
>help sort out it's image problem, says the PBI aquisition marks the end of
>it's buying spree. "We are now involved in the areas and crops we want to
>be in", he said.
>Critics claim Monsanto already has a potential stranglehold on a large
>slice of the world's food production, particularly in grains such as soya,
>corn and wheat. They claim that its target is to own the genes that boost
>productivity, the distribution of seeds and the seeds themselves, which
>farmers are not allowed to re-sow without paying Monsanto.
>Verakis rejects that analysis. "There are 1500 seed companies out there,
>and at the most the companies that we own, have less than 10 per cent of
>the global seed market", he said.
>He outlines Monsanto's utopian vision: it believes that biotechnology is
>set to unleash three waves of products for the benefit of mankind.
>The first consists of genetically modified crops which are resistant to
>insects and disease, or tolerant to herbicides. These will allow farmers to
>meet the growing demand for food from a population set to double in size
>over the next fifty years.
>The second wave, due to begin in five years, will see genetically-induced,
>'quality traits' in food such as high fibre maize, or high starch potatoes,
>some of which will help docters fight disease.
>And in the third wave, plants will be used as 'environmental - friendly
>'factories' to produce substances for human consumption.
>It is a vision that many enviromentalists believe is deeply flawed, but has
>proved seductive to investors, who have boosted Monsanto's share price
>almost 600% in five years. That valuation depends heavily on Monsanto's
>ability to win the argument about genetically modified products.
>It's current financial health is difficult to discern: the disposal of
>Solutia, new aquisitions and 'research' write offs of $415m, all skewed the
>figures last year, but Monsanto ended up making a profit of $294m on it's
>continuing operations in 1997, compared with $413 the previous year.
>Things are about to become more muddled with the AHP merger, which will see
>the Monsanto name disappear and the dawning of a new company with control
>split between the managements of the two entities.
>One thing is clear: Monsanto is not the sort of company to retire meekly
>when things get bloody. It has demonstrated it's stomach to fight on
>numerous occasions. In 1988, it withdrew union rights from it's UK workers,
>and a couple of years later, it fought back successfully when doubts were
>raised about Nutrasweet. It has also waged an aggressive campaign to
>promote it's milk boosting hormone, Bovine Somatropin, which has
>nevertheless been banned by the European Union until the end of next year.
>The UK Licence for that product has now been sold to another US drug giant,
>In the next month or two, it is expected to unveil it's latest weapon in
>the propaganda war: an advertising campaign in which some 49
>representatives of countries around the world exhort Europeans not to be
>selfish by resisting biotechnology. The line of the campaign is 'Let the
>Liz Hosken of the Gaia Foundation, a non governmental organisation that
>promotes bio-diversity in the Developing World, said "I see it as emotional
>Jim Thomas, a campaigner at Greenpeace, accusses Monsanto of
>'irresponsibility - for producing a technology that is inherently
>uncontrollable and unnecessary'.
>Monsanto portrays itself as a company whose green credentials are second to
>none, but Hosken fears it's approach will replicate many of the mistakes
>made in the so called 'green revolution' 30 years ago, when small farmers
>across the developing world got hooked on the products of the West's
>agrochemical industries, and then sank into debt.
>Verakis says this is illogical. "We have a great self-interest in all this.
>The more farmers we put out of business, the more we would harm ourselves."
>Richard Wolfson, PhD
>Consumer Right to Know Campaign,
>for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term
>Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
>500 Wilbrod Street
>Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
>tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
>Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html
>contains more information on genetic engineering as well as
>previous genetic engineering news items
>Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months
>See website for details.
--Dan in Sunny Puerto Rico--
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