The Harsh Truth About Monsanto and Syngenta

Somewhere on a farm far, far away, a farmer plants an engineered seed. Source: Fool.com/ Flickr.

There are dozens of consumer-focused groups that rally support against biotechnology by lambasting agricultural products companies such as Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) and Syngenta (NYSE: SYT  ) . The groups spread fear and accusations to build a rather persuasive message about the reported harm caused by engineered food solutions. Why else would major retail chains (which obviously rely on consumers) ban products containing ingredients from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, from their shelves and stores?

The discussion-turned-controversy may have steered off track recently, but consumers have asked one very important question: why aren't Monsanto and Syngenta more transparent with consumers? This question is actually quite simple to answer, and it doesn't include an ounce of conspiracy or ill-intent.

The harsh truth
Do Monsanto and Syngenta have something to hide from consumers when it comes to their use of genetic engineering? If independent scientific research from across the globe is to be believed (that's the protocol on scientific topics), then the answer is "no." Next question: why aren't the companies more transparent with consumers? Simply put, consumers aren't the customers of Monsanto and Syngenta. The companies sell agricultural seeds, vegetables, traits, and weed control products to farmers, who supply distributors and food manufacturers with their harvested products. Consumers come into the value chain at the very end and well after Monsanto and Syngenta have sold their products.

Think about the following. Look on the shelf of your local supermarket and try to find a single Monsanto logo -- you won't be successful. Then again, do you really care if the corn starch in your cereal made it into the box because it resisted corn rootworm? Do you really care if the soy meal you're consuming came from a seed bag with a Kruger logo or Gold Country Seed logo? Those brands probably aren't even familiar to most people reading this, which is exactly the point. You aren't the customer.

Here's another illustrative example. Take a look at the top of Monsanto's pipeline. Do any of these products look remotely geared toward consumers?

This is just a snapshot of Monsanto's pipeline. Source: Monsanto.

I know what you're thinking, "Finally, peppers that resist phytophthora! Phew!" Sarcasm aside, that's exactly the point. You wouldn't go on a crusade against an Apple supplier when you're upset with a component of your iPhone. Why should Monsanto and Syngenta be in the crosshairs when it comes to food?

Foolish takeaway
You may not like that answer, but it explains why Monsanto and Syngenta haven't made consumer transparency a top priority from the beginning. They're making strides now, but the conversation has become so close-minded that consumers probably won't even take the companies' messages into account. That could soon change as more consumer-facing products are created, such as potatoes that result in healthier French fries and vegetables accompanied by enhanced nutritional benefits including lower calories or fat and higher vitamin and mineral content. Until that day arrives, I think it's a bit unfair to criticize the companies for a lack of transparency.

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Read/Post Comments (18) | Recommend This Article (11)

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 May 05, 2014, at 3:19 PM, area115 wrote:

    First of all, Monsanto is 100% geared towards consumers, since their products literally end up in our mouths. Additionally, once a company campaigns with millions of dollars in advertising to get consumers to vote against GMO labeling they have inserted themselves into the consumer market and are officially fair game. This is like saying the corporations who pay corrupt politicians to further their cause are not responsible or shouldn't be more transparent because they aren't the ones voting with that money. And really, most labeling advocates simply want the words "gmo {insert ingredient} added to the Nutrition label ingredients when applicable. What you're doing in the article is saying giant corporations shouldn't be held accountable for their actions and it's simple wrong.

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 3:26 PM, klausmager wrote:

    This is a very lame article. Monsanto pays plenty of attention to their public image, but manage from the background with their inserted into government representatives instead of engaging the public. They do not care about the public opinion for as long as they can circumvent their will via legislation and regulation. It is an evil group of people hiding behind a corporate veil.

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 4:02 PM, dockofthebay wrote:

    Maxx, I don't see how you can equate Monsanto's efforts to block all labeling as evidence that Monsanto is trying to provide more transparency to the consumer. The company wants to keep us in the dark to the extent that they are working overtime to prohibit any individual state from requiring GMO labeling.

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 5:26 PM, TerryHensworth wrote:
  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 8:50 PM, 18RC wrote:

    Monsanto and Syngenta know the public cannot be taught that GMO's are safe, so there is no use in trying.

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 9:48 PM, NoFarmsNoFoodCT wrote:

    This article overlooks the great pains that Monsanto is taking to monopolize the industrial corn market. Monsanto takes advantage of the fact that corn uses wind to pollinate its fruit (ears). The very few farmers that choose not to buy a treated Monsanto corn seed face a great risk that their corn will be pollinated by a neighboring farm's GMO seed from Monsanto. Once this happens, Monsanto can collect fees from ALL farmers, for using the proprietary Monsanto GMO seed. There are virtually no farms left with non-GMO industrial/feed corn.

    I agree with area511 that we consume the end product of these GMO treated seeds by Monsanto, and therefore should have a say. This argument is like saying that our congressional representatives and senators are not accountable to us, the voters, because we do not meet directly with our representatives. I suppose you think we should sit back and continue to let our government be ruled by lobbyists like Monsanto, since these are the companies that consume most of our government's time!

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 11:52 PM, JimiRang wrote:

    And how much were you paid this one sided article? Are you hiding the fact that even the farmers are crying out and frustrated by the monopoly that these companies have created. They are in consumer products and we the consumers are outraged by these practices. We don't need a less fattening potatoes, we need to eat less. This is an outrage to have to defend a company that is up to no good and just write something this shallow you fools.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 12:55 AM, reality123456789 wrote:

    Bad journalism. Is Maxx Chatsko on the Monsanto payroll? Please do your research before writing. Look into the fertility problems our young children may well face because of GM food. Look into the skin problems in animals eating CM food. Look into the stomach issues affecting millions of people unknowingly hostage to GM foods because the US government refuses to research and address the issue.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 1:14 AM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    Dear Readers,

    There is no disputing that, to date, Monsanto has been a business-to-business company. Consumers are not its customers, which explains why it has not done such a great job engaging them, especially initially. I'm not saying that it doesn't have that responsibility -- it's certainly something we can learn from the GMO debate -- but business-to-business companies typically do not engage consumers. That's something that gets lost in the conversation.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 2:45 AM, Dori61 wrote:

    You insult our intelligence with this facade of an article.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 3:02 AM, eyeforeye42 wrote:

    If the end customer is not people eating their product, then why do they fiercely fight people wanting GMO labeling on food products? Why do people want that anyway?? It is because of the secrecy about the product and lack of independent scientific review. People are worried about having another thalidomide like or worse time bomb in their food supply. Makes me nervous. Any wonder why there is a big natural food movement these days?

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 8:31 AM, geoman4919 wrote:

    I love GMO foods, and now that roundup is loosing the war against pests they are engineering their seeds to be tolerant of agent orange. MMMMM I love the taste of agent orange on my food.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 8:45 AM, jdmeth123 wrote:

    I find it amusing that supposedly GMO's are in everything but researchers can't find any to run their own experiments. I have been seeing these copy-paste " Once this happens, Monsanto can collect fees from ALL farmers, for using the proprietary Monsanto GMO seed. There are virtually no farms left with non-GMO industrial/feed corn" for years.

    Hundreds of millions of acres of non-GMO corn seed is planted in Europe and China. They are freely available to any American farmer who thinks they will produce a more profitable crop.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 3:33 PM, drgnqwn2b wrote:

    Obviously the author of this article has not done his homework on GMOs. I for one DO care about where my food comes from and being that both Monsanto & Syngenta are at the front of the seed line then I DO hold them accountable! They have repeatedly lied about the so called benefits of their products as well as used uncouth tactics to try to persuade the public that their items are safe. People are becoming aware of these companies deceitful practices and are standing up to them in a way that corporations will understand-by hitting them where it counts-on their bottom line!

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 4:49 PM, SPR507 wrote:

    Let's see - you are having convulsions over GMO food products - where's the outrage for GMO medicine? Where do you think new medicine comes from - how did we get all these new antibiotics? Hmmmm... Likewise with wine - how did all these new varieties come into existence?? Where's the outrage over GMO medicine??

  • Report this Comment On May 07, 2014, at 6:14 PM, waterbuffalo wrote:

    We don't need more government regulations!

    Just look for the product that says : "No GMO's"!

  • Report this Comment On May 08, 2014, at 9:22 PM, GETRICHSLOW2 wrote:

    Anything written about Monsanto is sure to generate controversy.

    Nice job on the article whether people agree with it or not.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2014, at 8:27 PM, salbergs wrote:

    I agree with gitrichslow2, It is good article if you look at the big picture and history not the micro marketing driven world we live in. Humans have been engineering plants and food since they moved from a hunting and gathering society. Corn is an excellent example if you care to do your research as it is native to North America and would not have survived to date if humans were out of the process. Who would of thought wheat could grow through snow. There is a world to feed and look up how many go hungry every day. This will get worse as water supply becomes more scarce. The Central Valley in California used to be able to supply the entire US with food, now water restrictions limit AG which might be resolved in the future by GMO's. Most Fool's don't have to worry about their next dinner, others in the US and abroad do and if a bag of beans and a slab of ham that costs less to advanced technology based on past history is not a bad thing. Look back at how genetics and Genes were first discovered through breeding Peas by a Monk. I have no position in the sector but feel blessed when when I go to the local market and have a full selection of food. Globally this is a rare event and folks in the US take this for granted.

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