Monsanto, an agrochemical corporation, is well-known among environmentalists, regenerative agriculture aficionados, and the non-GMO movement as one of the most hated companies in the world. Even so, I believe its history is not well enough known. It is necessary for the modern consumer to know the narrative of the dangerous and powerful company whose influence is pervasive in today's economic environment.
Monsanto Company was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny of Missouri, USA. Queeny was a businessman who had previously worked for a pharmaceutical company before quitting to focus on his business full-time. Some of the first products Monsanto produced were food additives like caffeine, vanillin, and saccharin.
Queeny's son, Edgar, inherited the company in 1928, and under Edgar’s leadership Monsanto quickly began to gain popularity, even partnering with and purchasing other companies. In 1936, Monsanto acquired Thomas and Hochwalt Laboratories in Ohio, and began working with chemist Charles Allen Thomas, who later became the president of Monsanto. Thomas was urged by the National Defense Research Company to join the Manhattan Project in 1943, but wanting to stay in Ohio, Thomas opened the Dayton Project, a subsidiary of the Manhattan Project, and Monsanto began conducting research for the development of the United States's first nuclear weapons.
During this time, Monsanto was also manufacturing DDT, a chemical used to protect soldiers against insect-borne diseases during WWII.
The company's next big call to action was during the Vietnam War. The U.S. Armed Forces sprayed herbicides over the jungles and farmlands of rural Vietnam, destroying the forest cover and the food crops of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. The most widely used and most dangerous herbicide used was Agent Orange, and one of its manufacturers was Monsanto. The chemicals in Agent Orange are very dangerous, carcinogenic and long-lasting. Vietnamese, Cambodian and Lao people, animals, and land, as well as U.S. war veterans, still face adverse effects today from the twenty million gallons of chemicals sprayed during the 1960s. These effects include various forms of cancer, birth defects, heart disease, neurological disease, and skin conditions. Agent Orange and DDT were banned in the U.S. during the 1970s.
After the end of the Vietnam War, the demand for chemicals to be used in warfare diminished as passion for peace in the US only grew stronger. Monsanto steered their marketing away from chemical warfare and towards agricultural biotechnology, where much of their legacy stands today. In the coming decades, they developed the infamous glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, purchased more seed and software companies, and continued to rapidly expand their empire. This is how Monsanto made the seamless transition from selling their chemicals as weapons to selling their chemicals as farming tools. The similarities between Agent Orange and Roundup are stark, to say the least, and the public is realizing this as thousands of people continue to come forward suffering from the same health issues as those who were present in Vietnam during the spraying of Agent Orange. Because of this, Monsanto has faced many lawsuits – but the US Environmental Protection Agency has not yet banned the use of glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup, even after glyphosate was qualified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
The use of glyphosate-based herbicides is a direct threat to the health and well-being of the people of the world, especially in places like the US, where the use of glyphosate is not banned or even limited. As consumers, I believe we must know about the history of Monsanto and it’s reach today in the agricultural world. We must hold Monsanto and the government accountable for poisoning the land and endangering the lives of many.
In 2018, pharmaceutical corporation Bayer purchased Monsanto for $66 billion and the companies merged under Bayer's name, while all of their products would keep their subsidiary brand names. This, strategically or not, helps them escape the reputations of their parent companies.
Today, the Bayer/Monsanto empire continues to grow and endanger the health of both us and our soil. To ensure a healthy future for the next generations, we must hold Bayer accountable, change the law to discourage the use of chemical warfare on our soil, and make way for the reintroduction of biodiversity and food sovereignty.