Monsanto provides products and tools for farmers to improve crop yields. Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John F. Queeny and named after his wife Olga Monsanto Queeny. First an industrial chemicals manufacturer, it later became focused on agriculture. Formerly known as Monsanto Ag, the company changed its name to Monsanto Company in 2000. Bayer acquired Monsanto in June 2018. Bayer stated that it plans to drop the Monsanto name.
In the 1920s and 1930s Monsanto manufactured sulphuric acid and other chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Monsanto established its agricultural division focusing on herbicides in the 1960s. In 1997 Monsanto formed the subsidiary Solutia Inc. for its chemicals and fibers business, which later became a subsidiary of Eastman Chemical Company. The glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup was commercialized in 1976, and later developed genetically engineered crops resistant to glyphosate. Monsanto has bought several seed companies in 2011 had 26% of the market share of seeds.
Monsanto’s first biotechnology product was a hormone for dairy cows called Posilac. In 1996 the first crops produced using biotechnology were Roundup Ready soybeans genetically engineered to tolerate Roundup herbicide and cotton engineered to resist insect damage. Additional crops produced using biotechnology by Monsanto became available in 1997 including canola, cotton and corn. Roundup Ready corn became available in 1998. Roundup Ready products may provide economic benefits to farmers and environmental benefits by allowing no till farming, less herbicide and Roundup is claimed to be less toxic than other alternatives. However weeds can develop resistance and require higher doses of Roundup.
Bt corn and other Bt products from Monsanto are genetically engineered to express toxins derived from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which kill insect pests such as the European corn borer. The Bt toxin is activated inside the gut of insects that eat it. Bt crops, available since 1996, have allowed farmers to use less insecticides.
In a collaboration with Pairwise Plants, Monsanto invested money and personnel as Monsanto’s vice president of global biotechnology, Tom Adams left to become chief executive of Pairwise. Developments coming from the collaboration include gene editing with CRISPR technology to improve foods.
Between 1962-1971 Monsanto was one of the main companies supplying the herbicide later known as Agent Orange to the U.S. military, used to destroy forest cover and food crops used by the enemy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops.
In 2003, Monsanto and Solutia Inc. agreed to a $600 million settlement for residents of Anniston, Alabama over ground and water contamination with PCBs.
In 2017 more than 800 patients were suing Monsanto claiming Roundup caused their cancer. In August 2018, the jury of the Superior Court of California awarded $250 million in punitive damages and $39 million in compensatory damages to former school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson who claimed the herbicide caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
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