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In a nutshell, Monsanto is the creator or Roundup and largest producer of genetically modified seeds on the entire planet. By a lot, too! In fact, in 2003, Monsanto produced 90% of them. However, Monsanto was not always in the business of genetically modifying seeds. Their history is very diverse and interesting to say the least.
A Simple Soft Drink Industry Supplier
In 1901, John F. Queeny founded Monsanto. The name was a tribute to his wife, who’s maiden name was Olga Monsanto. He’d been in the pharmaceutical business for 30 years. He put all of his savings into the business and even borrowed from a soft drink supplier out of Chicago. In the beginning Monsanto was in the business of producing saccharin, and went by the name, Monsanto Chemical Works. They actually supplied Coca-Cola with saccharin. Saccharin is a coal-derived sweetener, 700 times sweeter than sugar. I hope you caught that, coal-derived part. The debate over the safety of saccharin for human consumption has literally gone on over a hundred years, and it still has not been banned! The company added caffeine and vanillin to production and supplied the soft drink industry.
The company started making some really good money. World War I happened, and Monsanto started producing phenol and aspirin. They took over an acid company to help with operations. Then, they went international, as the worlds largest producer of phenol and cresol. Thought I’d share the official definitions of phenol and cresol with you. These definitions come straight from The Medical Dictionary by Farlex.
/cre·sol/ (kre´sol) a toxic, corrosive liquid with disinfectant and antiseptic actions, obtained from coal tar as a mixture of three isomeric forms and containing not more than 5 per cent phenol; used for sterilizing items.
The Manhattan Project And The Mound Laboratory
During World War II, Monsanto was actually a part of the Manhattan Project, which lead to the first nuclear bomb. They also operated the Mound Laboratory on behalf of the government.
Growing And Creating
Monsanto forms the Chemstranc Corp with the help of American Viscose. They combine their strengths and are very successful in the synthetic fiber and rubber fields. They eventually take over Lion Oil, which contributed to them getting into the fertilizer business. Are you seeing a pattern? A company of chemists take over companies and produce more and more chemically-created, artificial products.
Dabbling In Agriculture
It wasn’t until the 1950’s that Monsanto began dabbling in the agricultural industry. Ever heard of Randox? It was Monsanto’s first pesticide. It was created to stop weeds before they ever surfaced. By 1960, the U.S. headquarters were in Missouri, and overseas headquarters were in Brussels, Belgium. Monsanto was already a booming, global corporation. At this point they were in the nylon, acrylic fiber, oil, gas, plastic, and agricultural industries. They decided to take the word chemical out of their name. How ironic?! Well, we’ll give them credit here, as environmental concerns grew in the 60’s, they did come up with a biodegradable detergent.
They were the leading manufacturer of the herbicide, Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. It was extremely toxic. In some areas, the soil and water contained levels of 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin that were hundreds of levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe. They decided to decrease pollution by phasing out the production of polychlorinated biphenyl, but it was hard to shake the blame for the devastating impact Agent Orange had had on service members. Tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms, and cancer were all being linked to Agent Orange. A lawsuit was filed (Monsanto and others involved agreed to pay 180 million to settle, right before the trial), but sales continued to boom.
Roundup And Herbicide Disputes
Monsanto created their infamous, Roundup (herbicide). Not long after, they lost millions to Spray-Rite over an agricultural herbicide dispute. Monsanto was accused of fixing prices.
Remember how Monsanto started with saccharin? Well, in the 1980’s, they decided to buy the pharmaceutical producers of NutraSweet (aspartame). That same pharmaceutical company they purchased also manufactured copper IUD’s. Lawsuits about their side-effects began to occur. In 1990, Monsanto introduced Simplesse, a natural fat substitute. Sales continued to soar. They create Maxaquin, a one-a-day antibiotic, approved for use in the U.S.
The Introduction Of Synthetic Hormones For Dairy Cows
In 1993, after spending over 300 million dollars in development, Monsanto gets FDA approval for bovine somatropin, a synthetic hormone for cows. The synthetic hormone would increase the milk production in dairy cows. Both dairy farmers and veterinarians opposed the synthetic hormone. The FDA approved it, anyway.
EPA And USDA Approve Bioengineered Seed Use
Monsanto purchases Merck & Co.’s specialty chemical unit, Kelco (as if they weren’t already deep enough into the chemicals). In 1995, the EPA gives Monsanto approval to grow plants that they bioengineered to produce their own insecticides. They could plant, but not sell these bioengineered crops, such as potatoes, corn, and cotton. Not long after, the USDA grants their approval to market tomatoes that take longer to ripen. Monsanto continues to improve their herbicide, Roundup, and they join forces with DeKalb Genetics to explore the potential of agricultural biotechnology. You’ve heard soybeans are a highly genetically modified crop? Well, in 1996, Monsanto bought Asgrow Seed, the second largest marketer of soybean seeds in the U.S. That might explain a thing or two.
Government Support And Continued Growth
Very interesting fact here: In 1997, in his State of the Union address, President Clinton actually named Monsanto as a company he’d enlisted to help create more jobs! Monsanto acquires Holden’s Seeds Inc., Corn States Hybrid Service Inc., and Corn States International. The mad science continues as they work to develop more agrochemicals. They come into 2 billion dollars in revolving credit and pursue more seed acquisitions. In fact, they look to get rid of Equal and NutraSweet, their artificial sweeteners, and focus on agriculture. Monsanto merges with Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc., and they become Pharmacia Corp, but the agricultural portion of the business has kept Monsanto’s name. With so much expansion, in 2003, Monsanto could account for 90% of genetically modified seeds planted that year.
One of the things Monsanto did with their bioengineering technology, is they made their seeds immune to their infamous herbicide, Roundup. The idea being, that they could hose down the area with Roundup, and everything dies, but the seeds flourish. Unfortunately , just like overuse of antibiotics creates super bugs, overuse of herbicides creates super weeds, challenging Monsanto to go back to their lab, and throw together more chemicals.
Monsanto is currently trying to bring biotechnology into the wheat industry. They are still in the pharmaceutical industry and are marketing drugs to treat Parkinson’s. They are working with GM to create pickup trucks that use Ethanol-based E85 fuel. They are getting more and more into bioenergy.
Should We Be Concerned?
I’m a very open-minded person. I have the mindset that not everything natural is good for consumption, and not everything unnatural is bad for consumption. I believe science can better our world. However, Monsanto’s history is all over the place. The only thing truly consistent is the production of artificial and modified things. It seems like mad science experiment after mad science experiment. I don’t want all of those chemicals in my food, and I see no reason t deplete the nutrients in the soil when farmers are able to grow crops without all of those toxic chemicals. I can’t afford to buy everything organic, but for that same reason, I have two container gardens full of vegetables.