Monsanto is dead, long live Monsanto
By Carmelo Ruiz
The much-detested Monsanto biotechnology corporation will likely change its name this year following its imminent merger with its European counterpart Syngenta. Such a merger would beget an unprecedented behemoth that would control 45% of the world commercial seed market and 30% of the global agrochemical sector.(1)
The US-based Monsanto, which began in 1901 as a chemical company, is currently the world’s largest seed company, with some 26% of the world market. In the 1970s Monsanto invented the systemic herbicide glyphosate. Sold by the company under the brand name Roundup, it is the most lucrative agricultural poison in history. This company dominates the world market for genetically modified (GM) seed, trouncing its competitors by a broad margin. The majority of its GM seeds have been modified to tolerate being sprayed with glyphosate, and are thus called Roundup Ready seeds. This particular use of GM technology allows Monsanto to sell the seed and the herbicide as one integrated package.
Monsanto started buying big into the biotech and seed businesses in the waning years of the 20th century, conducting its first open air GM crop field tests in Puerto Rico and other locations in 1987. It then went on a binge, buying out companies like Agracetus, Asgrow, Calgene, Dekalb and Holden Seeds, and reorganizing into a “life sciences” company in 2000.(2) It became the world’s number one seed company in 2005 when it purchased Mexico’s Seminis for $1.4 billion.(3)
Syngenta, with 28,000 employees in over 90 countries, describes itself as “a leading agriculture company helping to improve global food security by enabling millions of farmers to make better use of available resources”.(4) Founded in 2000, it was the product of a merger of the agricultural businesses of Novartis and AstraZeneca. Novartis was in turn the product of a 1996 merger between Ciba Geigy and Sandoz, back then one of the largest corporate mergers in history, while AstraZeneca came into existence in a 1999 merger.(5)