Conservation Biology

Thursday, August 31, 2006


The Monsanto company was established at the turn of the last century by John Francis Queeny [1]. If we look at the company today it employs 45 000 people, operates globally and for 2004 reported revenues of US$5.4 billion [1]. It is the world’s biggest producer of glyphosate, a herbicide better known under the trade name Roundup and Genetically Modified (GM) products for the agricultural industry and has a global market share of 70%–100% for various GM crops [1]. As stated by Karen in her posting, Monsanto in a stroke of pure genius developed Roundup Ready crops. In doing this Monsanto engineered crops to be resistant to its herbicide so it could be applied to remove all troublesome weeds that usually are a problem in food production. In 1995 Monsanto purchased Seminis Inc to become the largest conventional seed company in the world [1]. Monsanto is coy about how many patents it holds, but the number is large – estimated at about 11 000. Its generosity in funding for tertiary institutions research in biotechnology is well known; it has has spearheaded science for and its chemists have included Nobel Prize Winner William S. Knowles [1]. Funding of the sciences is balanced with respect for the social environment with huge sponsorships to the arts and culture (Disneyland and Walt Disney World) [1]. This philanthropic and altruistic corporation stands tall in our Global Village. For many of us, our everyday food items are produced through Monsanto’s dedication and research, and recently they even applied to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva for a patent for securing pig production globally (WO 2005/017204) to help us enjoy even more bacon. Monsanto’s mission is to provide all people of the world with “better food, better nutrition, and better health”.


INTEGRITY is the foundation for all that we do. Integrity includes honesty, decency, consistency, and courage. Building on those values, we are committed to:

DIALOGUE We will listen carefully to diverse points of view and engage in thoughtful dialogue. We will broaden our understanding of issues in order to better address the needs and concerns of society and each other.

TRANSPARENCY We will ensure that information is available, accessible, and understandable.

SHARING We will share knowledge and technology to advance scientific understanding, to improve agriculture and the environment, to improve crops, and to help farmers in developing countries.

BENEFITS We will use sound and innovative science and thoughtful and effective stewardship to deliver high-quality products that are beneficial to our customers and to the environment.

RESPECT We will respect the religious, cultural, and ethical concerns of people throughout the world. The safety of our employees, the communities where we operate, our customers, consumers, and the environment will be our highest priority.

ACTING AS OWNERS TO ACHIEVE RESULTS We will create clarity of direction, roles, and accountability; build strong relationships with our customers and external partners; make wise decisions; steward our company resources; and take responsibility for achieving agreed-upon results.

CREATE A GREAT PLACE TO WORK We will ensure diversity of people and thought; foster innovation, creativity and learning; practice inclusive teamwork; and reward and recognize our people.


1900’s - Monsanto’s first product, saccharin, was sold to the Coca-Cola Company[1].

1917 – US government filed a law suit against Monsanto over the safety of saccharin[1].

1919 - Monsanto produce vanillin, salicylic acid, aspirin and rubber [1].

1920s - Monsanto expanded into industrial chemicals like the production of sulphuric acid [1].

1940s, Monsanto became a leading manufacturer of plastics, including polystyrene, and synthetic fibers. Monsanto operated the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Manhattan Project leading to the development of the first nuclear weapons [1].

1947 - Monsanto was responsible for USA’s largest industrial explosion while loading ammonium nitrate fertilizer onto the French ship S.S. Grandcamp – this is referred to as the “Texas City Disaster in Galveston Bay” which officially claimed 581 human deaths and 5000 injuries [2].

1960s and 1970s - Monsanto is the largest supplier to the US Military of “Agent Orange” for its operations in Vietnam [1].

1980s - Vietnam veterans filed law suits over the side effects of Agent Orange which include increased incidents of chloracne (soft tissue sarcomas), Hodgkin's disease, respiratory cancers, prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, Porphyria cutanea tarda (a type of skin disease), acute and subacute transient peripheral neuropathy, spina bifida, Type 2 diabetes, and acute myelogenous leukemia (found only in the second or third generations) [3]. The veterans received compensation to a value of $180 million [1].

1982 - Monsanto scientists become the first to genetically modify a plant cell [1].

1984 - Australian, Canadian and New Zealand war veterans obtained an out of court compensation from Monsanto [1].

1987 - Monsanto conducted the first field tests of genetically engineered crops [1].

1990s, - Monsanto sued some 150 US farmers for patent infringement in connection with its GE seed and based this on violation of its technology which prohibits farmers from saving seed from one season's crop to plant in the next season. One farmer received an eight-month prison sentence through Monsanto’s action [1].

1997 - Fox News succumbed to pressure from Monsanto to suppress their investigative report on the health risks associated with Monsanto's bovine growth hormone product, a synthetic drug used to increase milk production that is banned in most countries (except USA and South Africa where it is commonly used). Fox journalists Steve Wilson and his partner Jane Akre [4], were requested to withdraw their reports despite Monsanto having lied about the risks of contaminated milk and infected cattle[1]. Fox fired these two journalists.

1999 - 20,000 South Koreans filed a lawsuit against Monsanto and Dow on the Agent Orange use [1].

2000 - The company GLC sued Monsanto for the $71 million dollars due to a shortfall in expected sales [1].

2002 –Citizens of Anniston, Alabama received US$700 million in damages for environmental pollution since the 1970s by Monsanto's PCB production. Monsanto was found guilty of “negligence, wantonness, suppression of truth, nuisance, trespass, and outrage” under Alabama law. The court accused Monsanto of “conduct so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and intolerable in civilized society” [1]

2002 – Monsanto’s PR firm Bivings Group admitted under pressure of BBC's news and current affairs programme Newsnight, to conducting Internet-based smears on scientists and critics of the biotech industry [5].

2003 - Monsanto sued Oakhurst Dairy in Maine for advertising that its milk products did not come from cows treated with bovine growth hormone, claiming that such advertising hurt its business [1].

2004 - French company RAGT Genetique withdrew it rights to a conventionally-bred strain of easily milled wheat called Galatea that it had purchased from Monsanto in May 2004. In this action RAGT Genetique essentially recognized that Galatea is derived from (rather than a cross-bred from) the wheat strain Nap Hal developed over centuries by Indian farmers [1].

2004 - Syngenta (the world's largest agrichemical company) launched a US lawsuit charging Monsanto with using coercive tactics to monopolize markets in food production [1].

2006 - Korean Appeal Court ordered Monsanto and Dow to pay $62 million in compensation to about 6,800 victims of Agent Orange. Too date no Vietnamese has obtained compensation from Monsanto despite second and third generation genetic disorders following the deployment of Agent Orange during the war [1].

2006 - Monsanto was found guilty for bribing an Indonesian official and agreed to paying $1.5m in fines for its transgression. Monsanto has agreed to pay an additional $1m to the Department of Justice, for failing to adopt internal compliance measures and to co-operate with continuing civil and criminal investigations of its business practice. It is also paying a further $500,000 to US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to settle other bribe charges and related violations[6].

References (rather incomplete)

[1] Wikipedia contributors. Monsanto [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Aug 26, 13:24 UTC [cited 2006 Aug 31]. Available from:

[2] Wikipedia contributors. Texas City Disaster [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Jul 28, 22:05 UTC [cited 2006 Aug 31]. Available from:

[3] Wikipedia contributors. Agent Orange [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Aug 30, 22:14 UTC [cited 2006 Aug 31]. Available from:

[4] Wikipedia contributors. Steve Wilson (broadcaster) [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Aug 27, 04:44 UTC [cited 2006 Aug 31]. Available from:

[5] Ethical Investing Monsanto Stock Investment News [Internet]. Monsanto's PR firm admits involvement in e-mail campaign to discredit scientists [cited 2006 Aug 31]. Available from:

[6] BBC News in video and audio [Internet]. Monsanto fined $1.5m for bribery; 2005 January 07:06 GMT [cited 2006 Aug 31]. Available from:

WHAT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT MONSANTO? (Monsanto and Careers) (Monsanto - South African News) (Monsanto - South African News) (Monsanto - South African News) (list of Monsanto's Products) (Monsanto's University Research) (Monsanto - World's Most Unethical and Harmful Investment) (Monsanto - Fact Files) (Monsanto - Source Watch) (Monsanto Corporation - one stop shop) (The Dark Side of Monsanto) (Monsanto strategy to gain control of Water rights)

Image Credit


If you think you have never eaten GM food, you are probably in for a surprise. While searching for articles on GMO’s I came across a recent South African article. According to Viljoen et al. (2006) South Africa is currently the only country in Africa commercially growing GM crops. We have no legislation on labelling GM products in our country, however many product do carry labels like “GMO free”, “non GMO” or “may be genetically modified” on local and foreign products.

What did they find? From the 58 randomly sampled maize and soy products, 44 tested positive for traces of GMO’s. Of the 20 products that did carry GM related labels, 14 tested positive. If you are a vegetarian and make use of soya products, chances are more than great that they are genetically modified… 77% of labelled soya products tested positive. If you are concerned about GMO products and want to learn more, I can send you the article via e-mail. You’ll be surprised how many brands you’ll recognize!


Viljoen CD, Dajee BK and Botha GM. 2006. Detection of GMO in food products in South Africa: Implications of GMO labelling. African Journal of Biotechnology 5(2):73-82.

Karen Marais
BCB Hons NISL student
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17