Monsato Company is a Missouri-based company founded in 1901 by John F. Queeny and his wife Olga Monsato producing saccharine. In the mid-1940s, Monsato Co. began developing agricultural chemicals and throughout the 1960s and 1970s, herbicides were developed and introduced to the farmers. In 1981, a research group was established and the business’s primary focus was molecular biotechnology. In 1982, Monsato Co. bought Jacob Hartz Seed Co., a company known in the Midwest for its soybeen seeds. Also in 1982, scientists working for Monsato Co. produced the first genetically modified plant. In 1996, RoundUp Ready Soybeans were introduced possessing an in-seed herbicide. Several other in-seed herbicides are introduced in 1997 by Monsato Co. such as RoundUp Ready Cotton and RoundUp Ready Canola.
Also introduced is an in-seed insect protection called YieldGard Corn Borer. In 1998, Monsato Co. combines the technology of in-seed herbicides with their in-seed insecticides into one product for its corn seed. In 2002, Monsato Co. identifies corn hybrids, which yield more ethanol per bushel than normal corn. Later this same year, they also identify a similar hybrid in their soybeans, which will produce more oil than a normal soybean. In 2004, Monsato Co. creates American Seeds, Inc (ASI) to support regional seed business with capital, genetics, and technology investments. In 2005, Monsato Co. acquires four companies Fontanelle Hybrids, based in Fontanelle, Neb, Stewart Seeds, based in Greensburg, Ind., Trelay Seeds, based in Livingston, Wis., and Stone Seeds, based in Pleasant Plains, Ill.
In 2006, they acquire several other local seed companies, some family-owned, including Diener Seeds, Sieben Hybrids, Kruger Seed Company, Trisler Seed Farms, Gold Country Seed, Inc., Heritage Seeds and Campbell Seed. Over the next several years, they also acquire other local and regional companies and continue their research and development of genetically altered seeds. Over the course of a few decades, Monsato Co. has gone from a small company making saccharine to a Midwest agricultural giant manufacturing genetically altered seed.
1 A Possible Solution: Deregulation
Although the idea of producing more crops with less cost, such as additional chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides may sound, the fact remains that Monsato Co. is not only toying with nature, they are also putting smaller family-owned companies out of business. In the past several years, organic foods have become more popular. Consumers want to feed their families healthy food, not food filled with chemicals. In 2005, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) decided to back Monsato and other biotech companies by supporting the deregulation of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. This would mean that the GE companies would have no restrictions on their technology and its use.2 Deregulation has its obvious problems. Organic crop company leaders, such as Stonyfield, Whole Foods, and OrganicValley believe that GE crops use a higher amount of toxins, herbicides, and water.
Also the claims of higher crop yield will not be met and the price of this seed will be too costly for the average farmer. There is also the potential of cross-contamination of crops where a farmer using GE seed spreads the toxins to his organic neighbor through groundwater. This could lead to the organic farmer’s crops getting contaminated and his losing his license to sell organic products. Stonyfield and other organic companies opposed this ruling and in 2010 it went to the Supreme Court. The decision was that deregulation could not take place without the USDA making an environmental assessment of the genetically enhanced seeds used, and an injunction was put in place preventing the planting of GE alfalfa seeds.
David and Goliath
Biotech companies lobbied heavily in Washington. However, the smaller organic supporters caught the ear of the USDA and as a result persuaded them to conduct a meeting of the minds of both sides. The problem was clear – there was an incredible amount of support, political and financial, in favor of GE alfalfa. The result was that the UDSA would allow deregulation. The organic companies and farmers were faced with the fact that GE alfalfa was here to stay. What was left to fight over was whether it would be complete deregulation or one with restrictions. In their opinion, it was better to have some measure of control than no control at all, so the organic community stayed and fought.
They brought to the table demands for reassurance that “(a) organic farmers whose crops become contaminated by GE alfalfa must be compensated by the patent holders for their losses due to losing their organic certification and (b) the USDA must oversee all testing and monitoring of GE crops to ensure compliance as part of its role in protecting all US agriculture.” 3 The organic community won that portion of the battle.
The organic community may have won that battle, but they lost the war. Chemical companies and genetically engineered seed are a mainstay in today’s agriculture. Along with that they bring with them the potential for contaminated soil and damaged and lost crops of the small, everyday farmer. These farmers and family-owned businesses are being swallowed up on a regular basis. As the world’s population grows so does the demand for an ever increasing need of better, more enhanced, products. Technology provides us with the knowledge and growth for these, but in its wake leaves behind the things that matter very much to — clean air, clean soil, fresh water and “pure” food.
1) Monsato. (2010). Monsato. Retrieved from http://www.monsanto.com
2) Pearson, C. (2010, March). The Most Unethical Company is also Best Corporate Citizen. Cause Integration http://www.causeintegration.com/2010/ the-most-unethical-companyis-a-best-corporate-citizen-what-gives/
3) Hirshberg, G. (2011, January). Speaking with One Voice to Stop Monsato and Biotech. Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-hirshberg/speaking-with-one-voice-t_b_816447.html