Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Monsanto Company is a multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation. It is the world's leading producer of the herbicide glyphosate, marketed as its flagship product, Roundup. It is also by far the leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed, holding 70%–100% market share for various crops. Agracetus, owned by Monsanto, exclusively produces Roundup Ready soybean seed for the commercial market. In March 2005, it finalized the purchase of Seminis Inc, making it also the largest conventional seed company in the world. It has over 15,000 employees worldwide, and an annual revenue of $5.4 billion US reported for August, 2004.
A Controversial Company
Monsanto's development and marketing of genetically engineered seed and bovine growth hormone, as well as its aggressive legal and lobby practices have made Monsanto a primary target of the anti-globalization movement and environmental activists. While other chemical and biotech multinationals face similar criticisms, Monsanto is easily the most reviled. Many activists refer to Monsanto's products as frankenfoods, and its most vehement opponents refer to Monsanto as "Monsatan".
Monsanto was founded in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1901, by John Francis Queeny , a 30-year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry. He funded the start-up with his own money and capital from a soft drink distributor, and gave the company his wife's maiden name.
Monsanto's first product was the artificial sweetener, saccharin, which it sold to the Coca-Cola Company. It also introduced caffeine and vanillin to Coca-Cola, and became one that company's main suppliers. In the 1920s, Monsanto expanded into basic industrial chemicals like sulfuric acid.
In 1928, Queeny's son Edgar Monsanto Queeny took over the company.
In the 1940s, it became a leading manufacturer of plastics, including polystyrene, and synthetic fibers. Since then, it remained one of the top 10 US chemical companies. Other major products have included dioxin (in the herbicides 2,4,5-T and Agent Orange), aspartame (NutraSweet), Bovine somatotropin (bovine growth hormone; BST), and PCBs.
In 1947, ammonium nitrate fertilizer made by Monsanto and loaded on the French ship S.S. Grandcamp was responsible for the Texas City Disaster in Galveston Bay. It is considered the largest industrial accident in US history, with the highest death toll.
In 1980, thirty-three years after the accident, which happened during the tenure (1928–1960) of Edgar M. Queeny (1897–1968) as chairman, and twelve years after his death, Monsanto established the Edgar Monsanto Queeny safety award  in his honor, to encourage accident prevention.
In 2001, retired Monsanto chemist William S. Knowles was named a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research on catalytic asymmetric hydrogenation , which was carried out at Monsanto beginning in the 1960s until his 1986 retirement.
Spin-offs and Mergers
Through a confusing series of transactions, the Monsanto that existed from 1901–2000 and the current Monsanto are legally two different corporations, although they share the same name, corporate headquarters, many of the same executives and other employees, and responsibility for liabilities arising out of its former activities in the industrial chemical business.
- 2000: Monsanto merges with Pharmacia and Upjohn. Later in the year, Pharmacia forms a new subsidiary, also named Monsanto, for the agricultural divisions, and retains the medical research divisions, which includes products such as Celebrex.
- 2002: Pharmacia spins off its remaining interest in Monsanto, which has since existed as a separate company: the "new Monsanto". As part of the deal, Monsanto agrees to indemnify Pharmacia against any liabilities that might be incurred from judgements against Solutia. As a result, the new Monsanto continues to be a party to numerous lawsuits that relate to operations of the old Monsanto.
Monsanto is notable for its involvement in high profile lawsuits, as both plaintiff and defendant. It has been involved in a number of class action suits, where fines and damages have run into the hundreds of millions, usually over health issues related to its products. Particularly in the biotechnology area, it frequently takes action against individuals to defend its commercial interests.
In 1917, the US government filed suit against Monsanto over the safety of its original product, saccharin. Monsanto eventually won, after several years in court.
More recently, it lost a series of court decisions resulting in US$700 million in damages being awarded to thousands of residents of an Alabama town that had been polluted over a period of years by Monsanto's PCB byproducts.
On October 13th, 2004, the European plant variety rights on a conventionally-bred strain of soft-milling wheat owned by French company RAGT Genetique were withdrawn at RAGT's request. The strain, called Galatea, was developed by Unilever and purchased by Monsanto in 1998; RAGT purchased the strain from Monsanto in May 2004 along with Monsanto's European wheat and barley business. Galatea is a cross between a European wheat strain and a conventional Indian variety Nap Hal . Greenpeace considers RAGT's withdrawal to represent a victory by Greenpeace over Monsanto and claim that they played a central role by proving that the variety in question was not the cross-bred strain described in the application but was really the traditional strain Nap Hal bred by Indian farmers, despite the contrary text of the application. RAGT says it withdrew its plant variety rights for commercial reasons and Greenpeace played no role in its decision.
Monsanto itself uses the courts aggressively.
Since the mid-1990s, it has sued some 150 US farmers for patent infringement in connection with its GE seed. The usual claim involves violation of a technology agreement that prohibits farmers from saving seed from one season's crop to plant the next. One farmer received an eight-month prison sentence, in addition to having to pay damages, when a Monsanto case turned into a criminal prosecution . Reportedly, according to Monsanto, it pursues approximately 500 cases of suspected infringement annually.
In a high profile case in Canada, which it won at the Supreme Court level, Monsanto sued an independent farmer, Percy Schmeiser, for patent infringement for growing genetically modified Roundup resistant canola in 1998. Mr. Schmeiser maintained that this was accidental. He testified that in the previous year, 1997, he had suspected contamination by genetically modified Roundup-resistant canola along the roadside in one of his fields and hence had sprayed along the field edge with Roundup, whereupon he found that about 60% of the canola survived. The farm hand performing the harvest saved only seed from this contaminated roadside swathe for replanting in the next year, 1998, and presumably this seed was genetically modified Roundup-resistant seed. The court found that Mr. Schmeiser and his farming company (damages were assessed only against the company as Mr. Schmeiser was found to be acting in his capacity as director), "knew or ought to have known" the nature of the seed which was planted in 1998, and that by planting, growing and harvesting it, there was infringement of Monsanto's patent on canola cells genetically modified for Roundup resistance. This finding was upheld at the appellate court level. It had been established in Canada in the "Harvard mouse case" that genetically modified higher organisms such as plants are not patentable in Canada as they do not fall into any of the categories of patentable inventions enumerated in the Patent Act . As Monsanto's patent covered only the genetically modified plant cells but not the genetically modified plants themselves, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the question of whether growing genetically modified plants constitutes "use" of the invention of genetically modified plant cells. It ruled that it does. The case drew worldwide attention.
A widespread misunderstanding of the case is that at issue was the question of accidental contamination, and that a victory for Monsanto would place farmers in jeopardy for contamination of their fields which was beyond their control. In fact, the courts at all three levels noted that the case of accidental contamination beyond the farmer's control was not under consideration but rather that Mr. Schmeiser's action of having identified, isolated and saved the Roundup-resistant seed placed the case in a different category. The appellate court also discussed a possible intermediate scenario, in which a farmer is aware of contamination of his crop by genetically modified seed, but tolerates its presence and takes no action to increase its abundance in his crop. The court held that whether such a case would constitute patent infringement remains an open question but that it was a question that did not need to be decided in the Schmeiser case.
A Disney Link
At Disneyland they include:
- Hall of Chemistry
- Fashions and Fabrics through the Years
- House of The Future
- Adventures Thru Innerspace
And at Walt Disney World they included:
- Magic Eye Theatre
Random Fact: All attractions that they ever sponsored were located in Tomorrowland.
- Monsanto fined for bribery
- Official web site
- SourceWatch on Monsanto
- Hoover's Online: Monsanto Company Capsule
- Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser, Federal Court of Canada decision
- Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., Federal Court of Appeal decision
- Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser, Supreme Court of Canada decision
- Monsanto's part in Disneyland history
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