May 29, 2013, 9:31 a.m. EDT
Commentary: Is this corporation saving the world, or ruining it?
DENVER (MarketWatch) — Monsanto Co. may have just planted as much ill-will and suspicion as it has at any point in its controversial corporate history dating back to 1901.
Organizers of “March Against Monsanto” boasted protests in 436 cities in 52 countries on Saturday, calling attention to the alleged dangers of genetically modified foods and a corporation that may have taken its influence in Washington one step too far.
For many protesters, it comes down to this slogan: “Either mankind will stop Monsanto or Monsanto will stop mankind.”
For Monsanto, it comes down to saving the 9 billion people expected to populate the planet by 2050.
Monsanto is the company that allows farmers to grow more food with less land, water and energy. But it is also the company that brought us products we now know were far more dangerous than advertised, including the insecticide DDT, the toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs, and the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange, which poisoned our own soldiers with dioxins. Monsanto also brought us saccharine — sweet, yet artificial, and known to cause cancer in laboratory rats.
But that is the past. In 2000, after a series of mergers, acquisitions and spinoffs that helped contain mounting liabilities, Monsanto became a totally new company intent upon bioengineering the planet. If its latest products prove dangerous in the future, well, maybe Monsanto can reinvent itself again.
The problem Monsanto is trying to address is real: There are more people than ever and they all want to eat. The problem protesters are trying to address is real as well: We have no idea what this food will do to us or our planetary evolution over time, so it should at least be labeled.
For most people, parsing the science and all the highly politicized rhetoric is daunting, which is why this debate hasn’t quite resonated with the mainstream public, yet.
If you go to Monsanto’s website, you’ll see so many boasts about “preserving the planet,” “sustainability,” and “social responsibility” you’ll think they belong to the Green Party. The company talks about supporting human rights, feeding the world’s poor, being a steward of the environment and saving everything from polar ice caps to the rain forest.
If you look up what protesters are saying, Monsanto is all about its “Frankencorn.” As one protester’s sign put it: “Still wondering how the zombie outbreak started? One word: Monsanto.”
Here’s a colorful sampling of the back-and-forth, culling quips from both sides:
Protester: “If you’re so proud of your products, why don’t you label them?”
Monsanto: “People will … prosper, through healthier diets, greater educational opportunities, and brighter futures fueled by more robust local economies.”
Protester: “If bees die, we die.”