What's in a name?
Bayer won approval for its $62.5 billion purchase of Monsanto in April when both the European Commission and the US Department of Justice approved the takeover.
The merger will create a company with a share of more than a quarter of the world’s non-organic seed and pesticides market.
The increasing control of global agriculture by agribusiness is deeply concerning for everyone involved in food production. According to a recent poll of American farmers, 93.7% of farmers are concerned that the proposed Bayer-Monsanto merger will negatively impact independent farmers and farming communities. Around the world, farmers are expressing reservations over the Bayer-Monsanto merger. Following the merger, the company would control nearly three quarters of the seed of non-organic US cotton, giving them near-monopolistic control, and will increase control over other areas of non-organic farming where the companies are already dominant players, including fertilisers, pesticides and some farming technology.
Given this increasing agribusiness control, it is critical that civil society continue to campaign for more organic and agro-ecological farming, and continue to highlight the negative impact of agribusiness consolidation and the global spread of industrial farming (especially for farm animals). We must continue to spread the positive message of organic farming as it continues to increase all over the world, bringing wide environmental and social benefits.
However, one of the key public engagement tools that organisations have utilized in the past may shortly disappear. Over the course of the company’s 117 years, the name Monsanto has come to represent the iniquities of the chemical industry and industrial agriculture. Activists and organisations have spotlighted the company and its products to demonstrate the damage that industrial agriculture causes to public health, food sovereignty and the planet.
To limit injury to their public image, Bayer announced that they will be dropping the politically-charged Monsanto name following the merger. All Monsanto products (such as RoundUp) will be rebranded as Bayer products.
The move is not a surprise, and perversely may help in the campaigns against the dangers of GM crops and toxic pesticides. It is fairly obvious that Bayer would want to remove the intense negative perception associated with the Monsanto name. If anything, it is an indication of how successful civil society has been in shaping public perception of the company. However, focusing so closely on Monsanto specifically may have inadvertently suited many defenders of chemical agriculture by enabling them to characterise anti-GM and anti-pesticide campaigns as ideological, anti-big business and anti-American. This mischaracterisation of the arguments safely deflected attention from the real problems – the terrible damage to wildlife and human health caused by toxic pesticides and the negative environmental impacts of GM crops.
NPR’s Dan Charles questioned whether citizens who joined Marches against Monsanto will “still march if there’s no Monsanto” to march against. Let’s hope they will march. Let’s hope that they rally against intensive farming that is killing the planet. Let’s hope that they campaign against industrial food systems that impact diet and can damage public health. Because we need to see the wide-spread adoption of a safer, better alternative - organic farming. Hopefully, by dropping the name of Monsanto, Bayer may have helped us direct greater public attention to the real evils of their key products - GM crops and pesticides – and encourage a global shift towards sustainable organic farming.