The Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON) is a U.S.-based multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation. It is the world’s leading producer of the herbicide glyphosate, marketed as "Roundup".. Monsanto is also the leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed; it provides the technology in 90% of the genetically engineered seeds used in the US market. It is headquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri.
Agracetus, owned by Monsanto, exclusively produces Roundup Ready soybean seed for the commercial market. In 2005, it finalized purchase of Seminis Inc, making it the world’s largest conventional seed company.
Monsanto’s development and marketing of genetically engineered seed and bovine growth hormone, as well as its aggressive litigation, political lobbying practices, seed commercialization practices and “strong-arming” of the seed industry have made the company controversial around the world and a primary target of the alter-globalization movement and environmental activists. As a result of its business strategies and licensing agreements, Monsanto came under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department in 2009.
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. His father in law was Emmanuel Mendes de Monsanto, wealthy financier of a sugar company active in Vieques, Puerto Rico and based in St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies. The company’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 of that company’s main suppliers.
In 1919, Monsanto established its presence in Europe by entering into a partnership with Graesser’s Chemical Works at Cefn Mawr near Ruabon, Wales to produce vanillin, salicylic acid, aspirin and later rubber.
In its third decade, the 1920s, Monsanto expanded into basic industrial chemicals like sulfuric acid, and the decade ended with Queeny’s son Edgar Monsanto Queeny taking over the company in 1928.
The 1940s saw Monsanto become a leading manufacturer of plastics, including polystyrene, and synthetic fibers. Since then, it has remained one of the top 10 US chemical companies. Other major products have included the herbicides 2,4,5-T, DDT, and Agent Orange used primarily during the Vietnam War as a defoliant agent (later found to be contaminated during manufacture with highly carcinogenic dioxin), the artificial sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet), bovine somatotropin (bovine growth hormone (BST)), and PCBs. Also in this decade, Monsanto operated the Dayton Project, and later Mound Laboratories in Miamisburg, Ohio, for the Manhattan Project, the development of the first nuclear weapons and, after 1947, the Atomic Energy Commission.
Monsanto began manufacturing DDT in 1944, along with some 15 other companies. This insecticide was much-welcomed in the fight against malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. The use of DDT in the U.S. was banned by Congress in 1972, due in large part to efforts by environmentalists, who persisted in the challenge put forth by Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring in 1962, which sought to inform the public of the side effects associated with DDT. As the decade ended, Monsanto acquired American Viscose from England’s Courtauld family in 1949.
In 1954, Monsanto partnered with German chemical giant Bayer to form Mobay and market polyurethanes in the US.
Monsanto was a pioneer of optoelectronics in the 1970s. In 1968 they became the first company to start mass production of (visible) Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), using gallium arsenide phosphide. This ushered in the era of solid-state lights. From 1968 to 1970 sales doubled every few months. Their products (discrete LEDs and seven-segment numeric displays) became the standards of industry. The primary markets then were electronic calculators, digital watches, and digital clocks.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Monsanto became one of the most important producers of Agent Orange for US Military operations in Vietnam. Agent Orange caused an immense damage to health, also for US-soldiers, not at least by genetic modification.
In 1980, Monsanto established the Edgar Monsanto Queeny safety award in honor of its former CEO (1928–1960), to encourage accident prevention.
Monsanto scientists became the first to genetically modify a plant cell in 1982. Five years later, Monsanto conducted the first field tests of genetically engineered crops.
Through a process of mergers and spin-offs between 1997 and 2002, Monsanto made a transition from chemical giant to biotech giant. Part of this process involved the 1999 sale by Monsanto of their phenylalanine facilities to Great Lakes Chemical Corporation (GLC) for $125 million. In 2000, GLC sued Monsanto because of a $71 million dollar shortfall in expected sales.
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.
Throughout 2004 and 2005, Monsanto filed lawsuits against many farmers in Canada and the U.S. on the grounds of patent infringement, specifically the farmers’ sale of seed containing Monsanto’s patented genes. In some cases, farmers claimed the seed was unknowingly sown by wind carrying the seeds from neighboring crops, a claim rejected in Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser. These instances began in the mid to late 1990s, with one of the most significant cases being decided in Monsanto’s favor by the Canadian Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote in late May 2004, that court ruled that “by cultivating a plant containing the patented gene and composed of the patented cells without license, the appellants (canola farmer Percy Schmeiser) deprived the respondents of the full enjoyment of the patent.” With this ruling, the Canadian courts followed the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision on patent issues involving plants and genes.
As of February 2005, Monsanto has patent claims on breeding techniques for pigs which would grant them ownership of any pigs born of such techniques and their related herds. Greenpeace claims Monsanto is trying to claim ownership on ordinary breeding techniques. Monsanto claims that the patent is a defensive measure to track animals from its system. They furthermore claim their patented method uses a specialized insemination device that requires less sperm than is typically needed.
In 2006, the Public Patent Foundation filed requests with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to revoke four patents that Monsanto has used in patent lawsuits against farmers. In the first round of reexamination, claims in all four patents were rejected by the Patent Office in four separate rulings dating from February through July 2007. Monsanto has since filed responses in the reexaminations.
In October 2008, the company’s Canadian division, Monsanto Canada Inc., was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers by Mediacorp Canada Inc., and was featured in Maclean’s newsmagazine. Later that month, Monsanto Canada Inc. was also named one of Manitoba’s Top Employers, which was announced by the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper.
In January 2010, Monsanto was named company of the year by Forbes.