It was announced last week that the poster child for big, evil, corporate greed and toxic chemicals was going to disappear. As Bayer completed their acquisition of the Monsanto, it announced that the Monsanto name would be retired. This should not have come as a surprise to anyone. When you own one of the most trusted brand names in the world, Bayer, why would you hang onto a name that has been vilified by every eco-nut and enviro-wacko organization on the planet?
Not only does this end the 117 year history of Monsanto, but it represents a change in the way agricultural technology will be promoted and opposed in the future. The Monsanto legacy is one of incredible innovation and discovery, combined with corporate stupidity and arrogance. Yet, in the end, what happened on the quiet campus just outside of St. Louis changed how crops were grown and how food was produced and marketed around the world.
The folks at Bayer are hoping to avoid some of the Monsanto mistakes as they continue to drive advancement in the production of agricultural products and services. Bayer top officials have stated they intend to engage with the public to a much greater degree than Monsanto did. “We aim to deepen our dialogue with society,” said Bayer CEO Werner Baumann. If done right, this approach will begin to change the discussion over biotechnology in food production. Bayer has the opportunity to begin to move public opinion to a better understanding of and appreciation for technology in food production.
Anti-GMO groups are calling this the “merger from hell.” Not only will they have to re-print all their anti-Monsanto literature, but also change the whole focus of their campaigns. We are already seeing this subtle shift. Groups like Mothers Against Monsanto are now focusing their vitriolic comments against specific products such as glyphosate. Their focus will be on how evil the product is not on the company that makes it. Some groups are also claiming that the disappearance of the Monsanto name is an attempt to hide the truth from the public. These are the same folks who believe the earth is flat.
The name change is just the first and the least important of the changes that will result from the merger. It is expected that Bayer will divest much of its crop protection chemistry used here in the Mid-west to BASF, leaving Bayer to concentrate on the seed business purchased from Monsanto. The name changes, product changes, and personnel changes that will take place over the next few years will be mind-boggling.
There is an old African proverb that says: when the elephants dance, the ants get nervous. This is a perfect analogy to the situation today as the Bayer/Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta buyouts dramatically reshape the seed and crop input landscape. Company officials say this will foster innovation and better serve the farmer. Critics say it will raise prices and limit product selection. Both or neither may be true, only time and circumstances beyond our control will decide. One thing is for sure: the changes have just begun.
By Gary Truitt