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Monsanto and Genetic Engineering

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Monsanto and Genetic Engineering covers Monsanto and its genetically engineered crops.

History

Discovery of Glyphosate Tolerance Gene

Monsanto first began talking about creating "Roundup Ready" (Glyphosate Tolerant) crops in the early 1980s, although the first such crops (Roundup Ready Soybeans) did not actually premier on the market until 1996:

"One day in the early 1980s, not long after Robb Fraley arrived at Monsanto, he met with two veterans of the company's pesticide business. One of them suggested a project for Fraley's team of genetic engineers. The company, he said, had found some bacteria that appeared to survive in the presence of Roundup, Monsanto's new herbicide. Why didn't Fraley and his gene wizards somehow find the gene responsible for this and splice it into plants? Plants that could similarly tolerate doses of Roundup could open up vast new markets for the herbicide. If farmers could plant Roundup-tolerant soybeans, for instance, they could spray Roundup on those fields, killing all the weeds without harming the crop.
"Fraley, according to one of the Monsanto veterans, reacted with scorn. "If all we can do [with biotechnology] is sell more damned herbicide, we shouldn't be in this business."...
"Yet within a few years Fraley was singing a very different tune. Roundup tolerance became the project that bankrolled Monsanto's pursuit of genetically engineered crops... It was the project on which Fraley built his career within the company."[1]

By 1982, Monsanto was already working on creating Roundup Ready crops. So was Luca Comai, a scientist from Calgene (a biotech company that Monsanto would later acquire).[2] In the summer of 1985, Monsanto successfully created petunia plants tolerant of small amounts of Roundup "but not to the amounts that farmers typically spray on weeds."[3] In October of that year, Comai's team published their own work in Nature.[4] Still, neither group produced anything that could be commercialized.

By 1989, Monsanto was closer to their goal. Then they hit a breakthrough, with help from an unexpected source. Monsanto's Luling, LA plant manufactured Roundup and released glyphosate residues into its waste ponds. There, in the ponds, were bacteria that had naturally evolved resistance to glyphosate. They had been discovered by Monsanto's waste cleanup division, which hoped the bacteria could somehow help them clean up the environment. But ultimately, the group working on genetic engineering heard about them and found that it worked better than anything else they had tried to create Roundup tolerant plants.[5]

1989: The Deal With Asgrow

In 1989, three companies struck a deal: Agracetus, Asgrow (then owned by Upjohn and later acquired by Monsanto), and Monsanto.[6] Up until this point, Monsanto had trouble transferring genes into the most valuable crops on the market, corn and soybeans, using its existing method of genetic engineering. Agracetus offered a new method, called a gene gun. In hopes of using it on soybeans, Agracetus had approached Asgrow, a leading soybean seed company. The two approached Monsanto because they needed a gene worthy of engineering into Asgrow's soybeans. Monsanto gave them free access to the Roundup Ready gene.[7]

1992: The Deal with Pioneer

"By 1992 [CEO] Dick Mahoney and others at Monsanto had run out of patience with their biotechnology project. The word came down to Fraley and his associates: Back up your theories with some commercial deals or shut down most of your program."[8] In an effort to meet that challenge, Monsanto met with the seed company Pioneer, the giant of the corn seed industry, which also sold soybean seeds. (Pioneer was later acquired by DuPont.) At the time, Monsanto calculated that Roundup Ready soybeans were worth up to an extra $15 per acre to farmers, and they wanted to keep 75 percent of the extra money farmers would spend on seeds - giving only 25 percent of the increased profit to the seed companies. They also wanted the words "Roundup Ready" printed on the bags of seeds.[9]

The negotiations set the stage for a long term rivalry between the two companies. Pioneer "wanted the rights to Monsanto's genes; they just didn't want to pay much money for them." Late in 1992, the two companies made their deal. DuPont paid a one-time payment of half a million dollars for the rights to use Monsanto's Roundup resistance gene in its soybeans forever. Monsanto's profit would come entirely via the additional sales of Roundup it would gain.[10]

1996: Introduction of Roundup Ready Soybeans

Roundup Ready soybeans were commercialized in 1996 by both Asgrow and Pioneer Hi-Bred. Leading up to their release, in 1995, Asgrow set up field demonstrations and let farmers spray the fields with Roundup. Asgrow sold every bag of seed it produced - enough to cover a million acres - and could have sold more.[11] Monsanto successfully renegotiated its deal with Asgrow to allow Monsanto to charge a separate "technology fee" for each bag of seeds sold, licensing farmers to use its genes within the seeds and banning the farmers from replanting saved seeds in the future.[12] At first the technology fee was $5 per acre of soybeans and it later rose to $6.50 per acre. Under their deal, Monsanto returned most of the technology fee to Asgrow and then enforced its ban on saving seeds. Monsanto attempted to do the same with Pioneer, but Pioneer refused.

At the time when farmers planted the first Roundup Ready soybeans in the U.S., neither Japan or the EU had yet agreed to allow imports of the genetically engineered soybeans. As a full half of the U.S. soybean harvest was exported at the time, this was a big deal - and American farmers had unknowingly taken a big risk by planting Roundup Ready soybeans. However, the EU announced its decision to grant the GE beans permission on April 3, 1996.[13]

Development and Introduction of Other Genetically Engineered Crops

After the initial release of Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996, more genetically engineered crops followed:

List of Monsanto's GMOs

GMOs Sold Commercially

Alfalfa:[18]

Canola:

  • Genuity™ Roundup Ready® Canola GT73

Corn:[19]

Cotton:

Soybean:

Sugarbeets:

GMOs Deregulated but Not (Yet) Commercialized

In addition to the genetically engineered seeds sold commercially, Monsanto has developed several GE traits that have been deregulated (legalized) in the U.S. but are not sold commercially to farmers. These include:

Monsanto acquired Calgene, which was the first to commercialize a GMO in the United States with its Flavr Savr Tomato in 1994. The tomato failed and was withdrawn from the market. Still, by acquiring Calgene, Monsanto gained its Flavr Savr tomatoes. Additionally, Monsanto created its own "fruit ripening altered tomato," which was deregulated in the United States.

Monsanto also acquired DeKalb, and thus acquired DeKalb's Bt corn variety DBT418 and its Glufosinate Tolerant Corn variety B16, which it never brought to market.

GMOs Not Yet Deregulated

Monsanto has petitioned the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to deregulate the following GMO crops:[20]

Controversies

Anti-Competitive Behavior

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 60.
  2. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 63.
  3. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 65-66.
  4. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 67.
  5. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 68-69.
  6. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 82-84.
  7. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 151.
  8. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 112.
  9. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 113-114.
  10. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 120.
  11. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 151.
  12. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 152-154.
  13. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 163-164.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Monsanto - Company History, Accessed August 1, 2012.
  15. Tadlock Cowan and Kristina Alexander, "Deregulating Genetically Engineered Alfalfa and Sugar Beets," Congressional Research Service, January 25, 2012.
  16. Geertson Seed Farms v. Johanns, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
  17. Monsanto empire hungry for sweet corn, Pesticide Action Network, August 9, 2011.
  18. Product Safety Summaries, Accessed August 15, 2012.
  19. Product Safety Summaries, Accessed August 15, 2012.
  20. Petitions for Nonregulated Status Granted or Pending by APHIS as of July 25, 2012, USDA, Accessed July 25, 2012.

External resources

External articles