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5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Monsanto

Photo credit: Flickr/Dodo-Bird

This article was updated on Oct 6, 2014.

Few companies bring out a stronger opinion than Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) . While the company calls itself a sustainable agriculture company, its foes call it pure evil. That begs the question, is this company simply misunderstood? Let's take a quick look at five facts that few people probably know about the seed giant.

No. 1: Monsanto had sweet beginnings
In 1901 John Queeny had an idea. He wanted to start a simple business to manufacture the artificial sweetener saccharine here in America. The goal was to supply his customers with a sweetener that would do the same job as sugar but at a lower cost. It was that initial motivation to help customers do more with less that has endured at the company he founded and named after his wife.

No. 2: The one customer that changed everything
Monsanto didn't find success right away. In fact, if it wasn't for the one customer that bought its entire production run in 1903 and 1905, the company might not have survived. That big customer was Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) which at the time was experimenting with saccharine to sweeten its beverage product.

No. 3: The molecule that changed farming forever
In 1970 a young Monsanto chemist named John Franz made a discovery that changed farming. He discovered a molecule called glyphosate, which is now the active ingredient in Roundup herbicides. It allowed farmers to kill almost every weed that had plagued them for as long as people have been farming. The find landed Franz in the National Inventors Hall of Fame and enabled Monsanto to continue helping customers do more with less.

No. 4: The problem of population
The world's population is growing, and with it there are more mouths to feed with less arable land on which to grow crops. In fact, the world's farmers must produce more food in the next 50 years than their forebears produced in the past 10,000 years. Toward this goal, Monsanto's goal is to double its core crop yields by the year 2030. That is no small task. It's one Monsanto will only accomplish through a combination of breeding, biotechnology, and improving farm-management practices.

No. 5: Corn's transformation
While most can get behind improved breeding and farm management, it's the biotechnology aspect that worries us. Giving plants beneficial characteristics beyond what can be done with traditional breeding sounds like science fiction, with fears of Frankenstein lurking behind the process. While only time will tell if that proves to be true, Monsanto primarily uses biotechnology to speed up the breeding process. For example, it took 10,000 years for teosinte to become what we now know as corn, while scientists needed just 15 years to develop an insect-resistant corn. That's why Monsanto views biotechnological advances as a critical part of its goal in helping farmers. It's an expensive process, which is why the company makes so many headlines to defend the intellectual property it has developed. 

Final thoughts
Monsanto has grown from its sweet humble beginnings to one that is not always known for doing sweet things. That being said, the company has still done a lot more good that it often gets credit for. Maybe someday we'll look back and see all of the improvements to farming that were only made possible due to the hard work and dedication of Monsanto throughout the years. 

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Read/Post Comments (15) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2013, at 10:59 AM, prginww wrote:

    The world's population keeps growing because of the unsustainable practice of injecting barely sustainable food into 3rd and 4th world regions. Let nature take its natural course. The land naturally can only support a population that it can provide for. Why the hell are there so many people living is desert areas? In nature there would be few, but we continue to inject aid, food, medicine, then you get a population growth that's 100% dependent on that. Not on the natural land.

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2013, at 11:31 AM, prginww wrote:

    her name was Monsanto ? anyway , i hear Ted Bundy was a really nice guy too , but no one is inviting him over for dinner . a supreme justice , also a former attorney for Monsanto , ruled in favor for Monsanto about the pollen . has to do with patent infringement. TRademarked pollen lands on your crop . creeps from Santo have already pulled some of YOUR vegetation . the lab confirms YOUR crop has trademark GMO . now Monsanto lawyers threaten with lawsuit , destroy your crop , you can not save seed , buy our high priced seed , and use are chems , or we drag you through the courts . 1 person successfully beat the lawsuit . he is no longer a farmer .

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2013, at 11:40 AM, prginww wrote:

    Mathew may get paid a little from the stock he owns but he is getting paid directly big time for this piece. Monsanto is a terrible company that is ruining the diet of developed world and degrading the food quality of the developing but hey the guy named the company after his wife, awwww

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2013, at 11:45 AM, prginww wrote:

    I wonder how much Monsato paid for this (there is not other way to call it) publicity.

    Saying that Monsanto will cure world hunger is a lie, a twenty years old lie. They cannot because hunger is not only dependant on food production but can be cause by poor food conservation, economics (Western countries inundated poor country with their cheap subsidized products, killing local food production)

    The key to feed world population is educating women (educated women have less children), stop wasting food (the ONU estimate that 40% of the food produced ends in garbage dumps) and (this is going to upset some of you), eat less meat.

    One or two vegetarian meals per week won't kill you, it may even be good for your health.

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2013, at 12:00 PM, prginww wrote:

    Not one of these 5 facts about Monsanto has any benefit to humanity or the environment to begin with. If anything this article is simply trying to put a flattering spin on a company that has been responsible for untold suffering and harm. GMO crops have never outproduced conventional crops, and frequenlty they produce less than conventional crops, so their clain of feeding the world is a lie. GMOs have created new protiens in once familiar food crops that are undigestable and cause serious allergic reactions. The only reason GMOs were ever approved is because of Monsanto's deep pockets and the corrupt revolving door between the FDA, USDA, and Agribusiness. GMOs make people ill, but that's OK for Monsanto because they own a lot of stock in pharmacutical companies so it's a win-win for Monsanto and their associates. Someday I hope Monsanto and the rest of the biotech corporations are made to pay for their crimes, including the harm they cause and the cleanup of the environmental mess that their malfeasance has caused.

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2013, at 12:06 PM, prginww wrote:

    I bet you won't find any Monsanto products on the food counters of any Monsanto execs! They know better. Invariably they use all organic food stuffs to feed their families. @Motley Fool, shame on you for your support of Monsanto, they are not what I consider to be in the interests of humanity at all! Quite the opposite!!

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2013, at 2:45 PM, prginww wrote:

    You left out,

    The company also formerly manufactured controversial products such as the insecticide DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange, and recombinant bovine somatotropin. Or didn't you think that this history of the company fit in to your story?

    When you genetically modify a plants gene to include a pesticide it won't wash off of the plant, because it is part of the plant. And no matter what you tell me I can not see it as being a good thing to consume.

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2013, at 3:00 PM, prginww wrote:

    These comments are so typical of the hysterical left. Why are Progressives so anti progress? You can do a search on fracking or vaccines and get the same kind of crap. Suspicion is not evidence. I don' t confuse opinion with data. These things have been tested and retested and the results are never enough. Let me ask all this question. How come while we live in the most litgious society ever there are no law suits? If fracking, vaccines and GMO's are so harmful where are all the trial lawyers?

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2013, at 3:28 PM, prginww wrote:

    Well...not sure of the purpose of your article and I'm trying to be fair. Seems like you're extolling the virtues of this company from the M.F. point of view. If so, you should be fair and mention that their farming discovery glyphosate has been ruled as carcinogenic. It's in Roundup and most farmers and landscapers use it and it eventually ends it up in our water. No mention that they have powerful lawyers on boards or in the government FDA & USDA so when bills come up they get the green light. If anything gets to the Supreme Court they have former Monsanto lawyer Clarence Thomas to cover for them. Bill Gates backs them.

    They have all the right pieces in place to never have the word 'NO' be spoken to them when they want something.

    Nothing is said about Monsanto being involved with Blackwater in infiltrating activist groups who are opposed to the biotech giant - which is some pretty evil thinking knowing Blackwater's background and Monsanto's thinking of controlling our food source.

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2013, at 11:28 PM, prginww wrote:

    I've had my suspicions for some time now. This article validates them. I would N E V E R follow ANY of your recommendations again. You've been bought and sold.

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2013, at 6:54 AM, prginww wrote:

    The more articles I see about Monsanto, the better I feel. The heat is on.

    Now it is time to start leaning on a couple of the other companies that are systematically desroying the very fabric of the worlds DNA.

    And this is only the beginning.

    Look where Monsanto has a portion of there money going. (This list leaves out all of the colleges that are funded to promote their agenda)

    Global seed giants include Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON), which has invested in crop bioengineering company Evogene Ltd. (TASE:EVGN), Syngenta AB (NYSE: SYT; SWX: SYNN), DuPont (NYSE: DD) and its subsidiary DuPont Pioneer, and Bayer Cropscience.

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2013, at 7:44 AM, prginww wrote:

    That should help us feel "better". They started with a substance that has been linked to numerous devastating medical conditions. LOL And, then it gets worse. While WWII was going on England "discovered" that their people could grow much of their own food by using backyards and land that was idle in their cities and towns. A couple of decades later Cuba "discovered" they could feed their people by growing food in backyards and land that was idle in cities and towns. Now that our economy is so bad people are "discovering" they can feed their families (and still have a bit to sell) by using their backyards. Do I notice a trend here? Add to that the fact that poor people in places like Africa are discovering, with the help of organizations like Heifer International and Oxfam International, that they can restore the land and grow food to feed their families and communities without having to use the chemicals and proprietary seeds, promoted by Gates and Monsanto. In other words, there are other and much better ways to reach the same goal with out the savior company.

  • Report this Comment On October 15, 2013, at 7:13 AM, prginww wrote:

    Thanks for the post, Matthew. While I personally don't like Monsanto f

  • Report this Comment On October 15, 2013, at 7:16 AM, prginww wrote:

    *for a variety of reasons, I believe its good to have balanced coverage of companies. This fits nicely with other recently published articles which lean a bit more toward the "controversy" you mentioned.

    As for everyone else, please calm down, respect the author, and use basic grammar. It's the internet, not the Wild West.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2016, at 10:27 PM, prginww wrote:

    Great article! None of the complaints against Monsanto have any scientific proof or validity. Adolf Hitler said “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” People that hate Monsanto are these, they tell lies about the company that are just not true and they are huge lies. Look at their wild statements with no backing. People love to find a boogieman to hate, an escape goat for their frustrations and personal weakness. The sorry thing is the general population just follows along like the Germans followed Hitler, they were fools just like the anti Monsanto people that hate the good that Monsanto provides.

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