Monsanto Meltdown
Excerpted from the BioDemocracy News #42
of the Organic Consumers Association

Despite heavy advertising and PR greenwash, despite a cozy relationship with the White House, Monsanto's image, profits, and credibility have plunged. Its aggressive bullying on Frankenfoods, its patents on the Terminator gene, its attempt to buy out seed companies and monopolize seed stocks, and its persecution of hundreds of North American farmers for the "crime" of seed-saving, has made Monsanto one of the most hated corporations on Earth.
Monsanto will likely soon be broken up, with its parts sold off to the highest bidder. The New York Times reported 1/14/03, that "With its stock price low, Monsanto is considered a takeover target. by investment banks. and could be bought and sold off in pieces." On December 19, Monsanto shocked the biotech industry by forcing the resignation of its CEO, Hendrik Verfaillie, a 26-year veteran with the company. The sudden move came as Monsanto reported losses of $1.75 billion for the first three quarters of 2002, despite cutbacks, including layoffs for 700 employees. Monsanto's stock has fallen nearly 50% since January 2001.
But Monsanto is not the only Gene Giant downsizing. Last year, biotech giant Syngenta closed down its plant genome lab in San Diego, terminated its controversial research partnership with the University of California in Berkeley, pulled out of its planned collaboration with the Indira Gandhi rice research institute in India, and canceled its contract with the John Innes Center in the UK.
Major transnational corporations in the food and life sciences sector are unlikely to shed any tears over Monsanto's demise. It's no secret on Wall Street that Monsanto, in its present form, has become a major liability for transnational food corporations and the biotech/pharmaceutical giants, who are much more concerned with the potential for hundreds of billions of dollars in sales from biotech drugs, nutraceutical foods, and nanotechnology, than the declining fortunes of agbiotech crops, whose total sales in 2002 were $4.25 billion.
One of the major reasons for Monsanto's decline, besides the growing worldwide opposition to its GE crops, is the growing resistance of weeds to Monsanto's flagship product, Roundup herbicide. Roundup, up until now the top-selling weed killer in the world, making up 50% of Monsanto's sales and 70% of their profits, has recently begun to lose its effectiveness against major crop weeds such as mare's-tail, waterhemp, and ryegrass. GE Roundup-resistant soybeans presently account for more than 75% of all the soybeans planted in the United States and Argentina, as well as the majority of rapeseed or canola in Canada. According to a recent report by Syngenta, herbicide-resistant superweeds will soon reduce the economic value of farmland on which Roundup Ready soybeans are grown by 17%. Forty-six percent of farmers surveyed in Syngenta's study said that weed resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, is now their top concern.
According to industry experts, Monsanto has no alternative in the pipeline once glyphosate starts to fail. Syngenta, which also sells herbicides containing glyphosate, has criticized Monsanto for encouraging its customers to overuse the relatively cheap herbicide, as well as for not warning farmers to avoid mono-cropping, growing the same Roundup Ready crops, year after year, on the same plots of land.
Leading scientific critics such as Dr. Michael Hansen and Dr. Charles Benbrook have warned for years that weeds would inevitably develop resistance to GMOs. The reason for this is that GE herbicide-resistant plant varieties are designed to be able to survive heavy doses of the companies' broad-spectrum weed killers, which in turn cause resistant strains of these weeds to survive and eventually predominate. Similar warnings have been leveled at the use of Bt-spliced crops, which are engineered to express high doses of a soil bacteria called Bt. Now that Bt crops such as cotton and corn have been commercialized on millions of acres, major insect pests such as bollworms, bud worms, beetles, and corn borers are also expected to become resistant to Bt over the next 5-10 years.
The shaky bottom line for agbiotech is that almost 100% of all Frankencrops today, the so-called "first generation" GE crops, are either herbicide-resistant or Bt-spliced. Once these genetically engineered traits lose their effectiveness, which is now happening, the first generation of biotech crops will be dead, period. Here's a toast to the speedy breakup and demise of Monsanto and the other Gene Giants. RIP. In future issues of BioDemocracy News we'll look at the so-called second, third, and fourth generation of Frankenfoods and crops, including the absolutely frightening advent of nanotechnology, or "atomtechnology."



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