The Bio-(Ch)emical Romance of Bayer and Monsanto

An aspirin and a soybean walk into a room diametrically opposed. The Aspirin emerges victorious with an unprecedented plan for a 66 billion dollar merger with the soybean and no one else was in the Room Where It Happens.

Advancing Agriculture Together

Still awaiting their seal of approval, the Bayer-Monsanto merger is known to be the largest and most expensive merger in economic history. Where the German pharmaceutical group, Bayer, and USAs Agricultural Conglomerate, Monsanto, have agreed to merge at a staggering 66 billion dollar buyout by Bayer. This begs to ask the question, what does this mean for the pharmaceutical and agriculture industry now that they are intertwined and more powerful than ever?

How a Small Town Soybean Became the Big Dog in the Agriculture World

Although seeds are what the company of Monsanto puts out, what their real business endeavors lies with are chemicals. Herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and a million more different kinds of chemicals used not just in agriculture, but food, mechanics, and etc.

John F. Queeny

Before emerging as a global superpower, Monsanto started out in 1901 in St. Louis, Missouri. Owned by John F. Queeny. With only a sixth grade education, Queeny invested in his own business to sell an artificial sweetener from Germany called, Saccharin. He called this company Monsanto Chemical Works, after his wife’s maiden name.

Queeny was in competition with a German cartel in Missouri who was also selling the product. What kept him from going under was a buyer from Georgia, a little company called Coca-Cola. Adding to his own cartel, Queeny began making and distributing sedatives, caffeine, more sweeteners, and other drugs up until World War I when they became totally self-reliant when Europe was at war.

Before World War II, Queeny died leaving the company in the hands of his advantageous son, Edgar Queeny, who brought the company to the status it is today. Extending its claws beyond sweeteners to aspirin, synthetic fibers, rubber fibers, fuel-additives, and more.

“Its safety glass protects the U.S. Constitution and the Mona Lisa. Its synthetic fibers are the basis of Astroturf,” says Donald L. Barlett from Vanity Fair.

Monsanto’s Dark Shadow over American Farmers

As Monsanto’s power and arsenal grew, its hold over the American farm industry did too. By acquiring the means to continue farming in America i.e. pesticides, herbicides, and most notoriously, the patented soybean, they were able to do the impossible, control nature. By creating a soybean able to resist their own pesticides, Monsanto hit the pipeline and was willing to protect it at any cost.

Gary Rinehart is well aware of Monsanto’s patent when he experienced a strange encounter with one of Monsanto’s ‘representatives’ back in 2002. He had told Vanity Fair that the man, “…had proof that Rinehart had planted Monsanto’s genetically modified (G.M.) soybeans in violation of the company’s patent. Better come clean and settle with Monsanto or face the consequences.” Rinehart not knowing why this man was accusing him, he wasn’t a farmer or even sold seeds he was only an owner of a small town general store in rural Missouri.

This was uncommon to many farmers in rural America to experience this kind of harassment from the bio agriculture company. Monsanto’s patent on the soybean remains the only versatile seed to legally exist. For farmers to use this seed they must pay the fee to use the product and use Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup, to kill pests and weeds. Once the seeds do their job and grow, farmers CANNOT re-use/ re-plant the seed which would violate the terms of the patent. They must then buy more seeds and herbicides, all products of Monsanto, who then turns a huge profit.

“Better come clean and settle with Monsanto or face the consequences.”

Not only do farmers reap enormous repercussions if they do not follow the patent for the soybean they can also be attacked if the patent of the herbicide, Roundup, is not met.

Pictured from (Left to Right) Rodney, Greg and Roger Nelson

The Nelson Family Farm in North Dakota know that all too well. Being in a lawsuit from the late 90’s into the early 2000’s, the Nelson Farm was accused of patent infringement by Monsanto. The claim? Monsanto says that the Nelson Farm saved the Roundup Ready soybean seed from their 1998 and 1999 crop, but there was no evidence to prove this infringement because the scale tickets of the finished grown product prove that the Nelson’s had enough seeds to grow and produce for that season. Monsanto claims that it tested their fields for remnants of the herbicide and found none, what they failed to mention was that 40% of the fields they tested did not belong to the Nelson farm.

“…farming doesn’t pay all the bills anymore. The legal bills defending ourselves and other expenses incurred are becoming overbearing. We feel we must continue to fight Monsanto on the principles of our innocence,” said owner of Nelsons Farm, Roger Nelson.

The Merger to Launch a Thousand Ships

Monsanto and Bayer’s relationship did not start in the beginning of 2016, but much earlier than that. In 1954, when Edgar Queeny went into power of Monsanto, Bayer and Monsanto created a joint venture, Mobay Chemical Corporation, to create synthetic fibers and herbicide agents. More notably, Agent Orange, a herbicide used by the U.S Army during the Vietnam War. It was a form of herbicide warfare that the Army used against the Vietcong to destroy thick forests and was found to cause health issues for veterans and the Vietnamese people.

Not a stranger to chemical warfare, Bayer was known as a large producer of chemical gasses during World War II. They were a part of an industrial complex, IG Farben, the chemical cartel that made the Holocaust happen. Being brought to the Nuremberg Trials, Bayer was accused of financing crimes against humanity with their production of the Zyklon B Gas that killed millions of Jews in concentration camps during World War II.

The Farben-Haus in Germany (Sansculotte/German Wikipedia)

Back to 2017, the Bayer-Monsanto merger strikes a lot of fear and uncertainty into the hearts of farmers, governments, and humanity in general. When asked about the future of the two companies and what that means for sustainability and agriculture Bayer-Monsanto sent,

“Dear Ms. Wahid,
 Thank you for your email and your interest in our company.
 Even though we’d love to help you further with your article, please understand that we cannot discuss any detailed questions at this point…
 The Bayer AdvancingTogether-Team.”

They were able to send me to their public pages regarding any FAQs, but unfortunately nothing specifically answered my questions. Which is understandable since the merger is still not finalized and approved.

Predicting the future actions of these companies with dark pasts, it is hard to imagine that the world could benefit from them merging.

“The question remains: do these mergers produce public benefits?” says E. Melanie DuPuis, PhD, a professor of Environmental Sciences at Pace University, “From a theoretical perspective, some take the Schumpterian view, positing that mergers create synergies among scientists, as well as greater efficiencies in administration and therefore more funds for R&D.” In an article DuPuis wrote back in October 2016, she states the concerns of National Farmers Unions who feels that this merger will, “…result in fewer choices for farmers, higher prices, and less innovation,” according to the head, Roger Johnson.

Currently, President Donald Trump is in favor of the merger, confirming that the company has promised to provide billions of dollars to U.S. research and development as well as providing thousands of jobs for the American people. A high stake promise from a merger with much controversy.

To be put simply, no one really knows what to think or how to react to this merger. Farmers are scared an Oligopoly will form out of this, the government is baited by jobs and capital, and climate change activists are worried that sustainability and Global Warming will be thrown out the door if this merger happens. What we can predict though about the future actions of these companies all refers back to their pasts and whether advancing together is the right step forward.