Opponents of genetic modification won’t have Monsanto to kick around any more, but will they set their sights on a bigger company?
Groups opposed to genetic modification and corporate control of seeds need to find a new target for their vitriol.
Bayer announced that Monsanto will cease to exist as a company name now that it has successfully concluded one of the largest takeovers in the history of agriculture.
The moniker has been around since 1901 when Monsanto founder John Queeny named the company after his wife Olga Monsanto Queeny.
It has since become one of the most hated names in the corporate world.
Monsanto has been called the world’s most evil corporation and is the subject of protests, documentaries and publicity campaigns aimed at bringing down the 117-year-old firm.
In the end, it was simply absorbed by a bigger player, forming the world’s largest seed technology and pesticide company.
Jan Slomp, first vice-president of the National Farmers Union, thinks Bayer made a good decision in ditching the controversial Monsanto name.
“From a business perspective that’s a smart move because friend and foe read a lot of baggage in that name,” he said.
But he does not see it as a setback to activist groups that they are losing the focal point of so many campaigns.
“The anger is there long enough that this is not going to go away,” said Slomp.
Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, said it is immaterial that the Monsanto name is disappearing.
“It’s a mistake to think that it’s Monsanto that galvanized people into action. It was corporate control over seed and how it was being used,” she said.
“Those concerns do not rest on the rise and fall of Monsanto. Those concerns and questions are tied to the future of farming.”
Trish Jordan, spokesperson for Monsanto Canada, said activist groups tend to single out one company to pillory because having an enemy is good for fundraising.
“In order to advocate their position, they need to have a bad guy, they need to have a foe on the other side,” she said.
Jordan believes Monsanto became the target because it is an innovator that is often first to market with new technologies.
“When you’re a leader you can often be attacked by others,” she said.
Monsanto has never been able to shake its tarnished reputation for some of its past activities such as being one of the companies that manufactured Agent Orange for the United States military during the Vietnam War.
“Some of those legacy issues have hung around and that’s what people grasp onto,” said Jordan.
In 1999, Monsanto changed its business model and become strictly an agriculture company but that hasn’t stopped the controversies.
There was a lengthy patent infringement court battle with Bruno, Sask., farmer Percy Schmeiser.
And recently there was the determination by the World Health Organization that Roundup is probably a cancer-causing chemical, followed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluding it is not carcinogenic.
The company contemplated changing its name on more than one occasion to distance itself from the lingering controversies but determined it would be too costly.
Bayer chair Werner Baumann appeared to be offering an olive branch to activist groups in a recent press release announcing the US$63 billion takeover would be completed on June 7.
“We will listen to our critics and work together where we find common ground. Agriculture is too important to allow ideological differences to bring progress to a standstill,” he said.
But he may be facing an uphill battle.
March Against Monsanto, an international grassroots movement that has co-ordinated annual protests against the firm since 2013, has no spokesperson but an article published on its website suggests Bayer will be the new target.
“Bayer seems hell-bent on continuing down the same path as Monsanto, therefore, it is now time to start our March Against Bayer,” wrote the article’s author Nick Meyer.
He said Bayer has a history that is as challenged as Monsanto’s and referred to the German firm as a “former Nazi war machine collaborating company.”
“A whole new fight has now begun,” said Meyer.
“The next step is to continue to raise awareness so that we can mobilize to support organics and help defeat the new Bayer machine the same way we did with Monsanto.”