GENTECH archive 8.96-97
Monsanto's Brave New World:
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- Subject: Monsanto's Brave New World:
- From: E.Stein@em.uni-frankfurt.de
- Date: Sun, 20 Oct 96 23:26:59 +0200
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Some information on Monsanto, the company that tries to force the
European as well as the US consumers to buy and eat its genetically engineered
soy bean "Roundup Ready" (unlabelled) in fall of this year ...
I found the article under
Eckart Stein , E.Stein@em.uni-frankfurt.de
Business Ethics Magazine:
Interview: Robert Shapiro, CEO of Monsanto, Co.
Monsanto's Brave New World:
Can we trust the maker of Agent Orange to genetically engineer our
Monsanto's CEO speaks out.
by: Mary Scott
Issue: January/February 1996
Last July, five hundred Monsanto Co. employees convened at Chicago's Westin
Hotel for the
multinational's first-ever "global forum," a rare and powerful event where one
of the world's
largest chemical companies talked openly about ecological issues. The message
that moved the
audience to a rapturous state was best summed up by biologist Peter Raven, who
Every natural system on earth is in decline while population, consumption, and
accelerating, he said. "Life itself on our planet will become untenable.
Monsanto is in a unique
position to contribute to the global future. Because of your skills, your
dedication, and your
understanding, you are equal to the challenge."
Monsanto's challenge is to improve the world, while increasing corporate
earnings. The St.
Louis-based manufacturer of chemicals, agricultural products, and
pharmaceuticals is now
directing its vast resources to develop more efficient and sustainable food
To reach these ends, it has plunged headfirst into the uncharted waters of
foods. And after ten years of work, it now holds the leading position in this
field, having developed
a hormone that, when injected into cows, increases milk production; potatoes
and cotton that can
grow without the use of pesticides; and tomatoes that are biologically altered
to ripen slowly.
Monsanto and its investors expect this to be the company's burgeoning growth
NutraSweet, perhaps. The company's two most profitable categories (each with
profit margins of
about 21 percent in 1994) have been agricultural products such as its
herbicide, Roundup; and
NutraSweet, which includes NutraSweet brand of aspartame and the fat
With the expiration of Monsanto's patents on Roundup and aspartame, the
company hopes that
biotechnology will help create a new wave of stellar-performing products.
Yet resistance abounds. To some, biotechnology is today what nuclear power was
in the 1960s
and 1970s-a dangerous game that fools with Mother Nature.
Add to that the negative image of a "chemical company" with an admittedly
checkered past, and
you end up with the question: How can the nation's fourth largest chemical
products have historically harmed people and the environment, now be trusted
with one of
science's newest, potentially dangerous tools?
Enter Robert Shapiro, Monsanto's ceo. He explains that the company's true
intentions are to help
the world feed itself once its population more than doubles in the next thirty
addresses the company's past mistakes; and chats personably on just about any
subject related to
Shapiro is excellent at presenting Monsanto as a chemical company that has
cleaned up its act.
Examples include the Monsanto Pledge, which is printed-among other places-on
the back of
employee business cards and commits the company to "Reduce all toxic
releases," and "Work to
achieve sustainable agriculture." According to its annual report, the company
projects and invested more than $100 million to reduce air emissions of toxic
chemicals by 90
percent worldwide since 1987. Monsanto also exceeded by two years the epa's
voluntary goal to
reduce releases of seventeen potentially harmful chemicals. The list of
positives continues. But it
floats atop a list of controversies past and present.
The firm was a major producer of Agent Orange, the military term for a
combination of herbicides
which was available commercially throughout the 1950s and 1960s. More than one
million pounds were used to clear jungles during the Vietnam War. Soldiers
exposed to Agent
Orange who suffered severe health problems now blame the herbicide. Monsanto
manufactured pcbs-the chemicals which have been proven to cause cancer and
Roundup non-selective herbicide, the most profitable product in the company's
chemicals into the ecosystem. And its sugar substitute, NutraSweet, has been
challenged by food
activists who question the chemical's safety.
Yet, the product that is most responsible for Monsanto's controversial
headline news during the
past several years-and the one that best demonstrates the conflict inherent in
vision-is the bovine growth hormone (bgh), the company's first biotech
progeny. Also known as
bovine somatotropin, or bst, the hormone is injected into a cow's pituitary
gland every two weeks
to replicate a naturally occurring hormone-increasing milk output by up to 25
The food and Drug Administration (fda) approved bst in November 1993, after
nine years of
government investigations and consumer scrutiny. The approval-and Monsanto's
bst under the name Posilac-made milk the first food the government allowed to
be made using
genetically engineered techniques. Monsanto has diligently fought off all
attempts to have the
government require that milk from bst-injected cows be labelled. Monsanto also
lawsuits and threats of lawsuits to prevent dairy farmers and retailers who
want to identify their
milk as bst-free. Dairies from a few states have done so, nonetheless. But
they're prohibited by
law from shipping milk with such labels across state lines.
According to Doug Groh, an analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co. in New York,
Monsanto, whose 1994
revenues topped $8.27 billion, has invested more than $1 billion to develop
Posilac. John Stauber,
co-author of Toxic Sludge is Good For You and director of the Center for Media
& Democracy in
Madison, Wisconsin, says such a lofty investment can be justified by the fact
considers Posilac the pioneer that will precede dozens of other genetically
products it plans to introduce in the years ahead.
But opponents have waged an intense campaign criticizing bst on two fronts.
First, such groups as
Jeremy Rifkin's Washington, D.C.-based Foundation on Economic Trends, continue
the product's safety, both for cows and for humans, as well as its alleged
benefits. Others claim
that the hormones and increased milk supplies will lead to further reduced
prices, and drive even
more small family farmers out of business.
Considering that America has an abundant supply of inexpensive milk (the
right now spends about $1 billion each year buying surplus milk that is used
to make butter), and
that milk consumption per capita has declined, many wonder why Monsanto
devoted so much
time and resources to a problem that doesn't seem to exist? This sentiment is
when considering the product Monsanto sought to "fix." "It's ironic they
picked milk," says Mark
Kastel, director of governmental affairs for the Wisconsin Farmers Union in La
"It's one of the freshest, unadulterated products available and has a fuzzy
particularly among mothers. The dairy farmers are incensed that Monsanto
tarnished this image."
Shapiro takes a more global view of the issue, noting, "It may be that today,
people say we have
plenty of food. But look what is happening with our world population, which is
expected to double
in size in thirty years. There is a need for agricultural productivity and
increased dairy products.
We will need to double production if we want to feed all the people who will
be joining us."
Yet two years since Posilac's commercial introduction, Monsanto has yet to
investment on the product's development.
One year after Posilac's February 1994 launch, the company reported it had
sold or given away
fourteen million doses. This computes to about 5.4 percent of all cows in the
U.S., according to Ron
Cummings, director of the Pure Food Campaign, which is sponsored by Rifkin's
Economic Trends. Other sources, however, report much higher usage. The
guide Hoover's Handbook Database reports the product has been used by 30
percent of the U.S.
Monsanto has not released sales numbers on Posilac since February 1995, but
indicate sales could be weak or down. In October 1995, industry magazine Dairy
a poll of four hundred dairy farmers who had used Posilac in 1994. About 40
percent of the
respondents said they no longer used the hormone; and 87 percent said they had
no intention of
ever using bst. The poll says the main reasons for avoiding the hormone
philosophical opposition to the idea (34 percent); fear that the drug harms
cows (23 percent); and
concern that bst won't improve profits.
Another reason why many farmers have no interest in injecting their cows with
bst is the fact that
consumers don't want genetically engineered foods.
The public also favors labeling. "We've argued strongly for government
mandatory labeling, but
the fda left it up to the states," says Jean Halloran, director of the
Consumer Policy Institute in
Yonkers, New York.
State agricultural and health departments have prevented any product that
moves across state
lines from being identified as bst-free. Why? "It's pure economics," says
Halloran. "No one would
buy a product if it was labelled as being genetically engineered." Halloran
adds that, in her opinion,
Monsanto's actions "tamper with people's fundamental sense of order and trust.
It removes the
consumers' right to know, and the farmers' right to tell."
Others offer less austere opinions. "The challenge is that we are speaking
says Gary Hirshberg, founder of yogurt maker Stonyfield Farms in Londonderry,
"We talk about living within the earth's means; large corporations, like
Monsanto, talk about
expanding those means, the notion of better living through technology."
Perhaps. But Shapiro confronts the issue not only as a businessman, but as a
person with genuine
compassion for both people and ecology.
A 57-year old lawyer and former law school professor who served in government
Carter Administration, Shapiro is not the type one would expect to lead a
company. He dresses casually at work, sometimes without a suit jacket. He
drives a Jeep
Cherokee, enjoys scuba diving, and is an avid reader of history books. He
speaks fondly of his two
twenty-something children, who perform in a Chicago alternative rock band. And
he admits he is
anxious about the recent birth of a third child.
In his one-year presidential tenure, Shapiro-who came to Monsanto by way of the
pharmaceutical maker G.D. Searle, which he joined in 1979-has pleased analysts
savvy business moves. "He's decentralized the company, taken out a lot of
layers of management,
and has made each separate unit responsible for its own return," says analyst
Groh of Merrill
He has also charismatically faced some of Monsanto's biggest critics.
Before speaking at the annual Business for Social Responsibility conference in
Robert Shapiro took time out to discuss with Business Ethics Monsanto's
challenges and future
direction. Yet, it was clear to this writer that Shapiro spoke in two voices.
sustainability, he sounded hopeful. It was obvious he spoke from the heart.
Yet, when responding
to questions about Posilac, he reworded the queries, and provided the
Wall Street investors would want to hear.
His interview with Senior Editor Mary Scott can be found in the
- Copyright 1996 Business Ethics Magazine; 612/962-4701 or