New York – This is the end of Monsanto as the world has long known it.
New owner Bayer announced recently that it will nix the brand name as soon as August, when its $66-billion acquisition of Monsanto is completed.
The merger, approved by the Department of Justice last month, will create the largest seed and agrochemical company on earth, uniting Bayer’s pesticide business with Monsanto’s genetically modified crop portfolio.
In the process of amassing that portfolio, Monsanto has become one of the most-hated large companies in the world. Its name is regularly splashed across protest banners and invoked in arguments against the alleged harms of pesticides and GMOs.
The decision to drop Monsanto’s name is part of a wider campaign to win back consumer trust, said Liam Condon, president of Bayer’s Crop Science Division. In a separate statement, Bayer chief executive Werner Baumann said the company would redouble its efforts to engage with critics.
“The more important point now, once we change the company name, is that we talk about what the new company will stand for,” Condon said.
“Just changing the name doesn’t do so much – we’ve got to explain to farmers and ultimately to consumers why this new company is important for farming, for agriculture and for food, and how that impacts consumers and the environment.”
“Confirming the name Bayer is just one step,” he added. “Of course, there needs to be a lot more engagement.”
Bayer executives say it’s too early to predict the exact form that engagement will take.
While Bayer formally acquired Monsanto on June 7, the companies will not actually integrate until Bayer has sold off $9 billion in assets as part of a DOJ antitrust agreement.
Monsanto is a major producer of pesticides and genetically modified crops, selling a package of farm products that has improved yields and cut down on some pest problems. But while that business has made the company popular with many farmers, a series of scandals have damaged its reputation with consumers.
Monsanto has been vocally criticized by environmental activists who question the safety of GMOs and pesticides, by academics who say the company has unfairly swayed science, and by farmers who claim to have been hurt by the company’s tight control of the GM seed supply.
Most recently, Monsanto has faced questions about the safety of its marquee weedkiller, Roundup, and the unintended environmental effects of another product called dicamba.
“We’re extremely proud of all we’ve accomplished as Monsanto,” company spokesperson Christi Dixon said, “and are eager to continue to accelerate innovation in agriculture as we look forward to a future under Bayer.”
But Monsanto’s critics say they’ll be watching, even if the company operates under a new name.
Many were not surprised by the decision to drop the 117-year-old moniker, which is the maiden name of the wife of the company’s founder, John F. Queeny.
“We’ve been expecting that Bayer would drop the Monsanto name because the company has a poor reputation,” said Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of the nonprofit Food & Water Watch, a frequent Monsanto critic.
“But unless they shed Monsanto’s destructive products and business practices too, the Bayer name will become synonymous with environmental and public health disaster.”
Condon said Bayer intends to keep Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis and the names for Monsanto products, including Roundup. He also said the merged company will remain focused on research and development.
There is no evidence that GMOs pose any risk to human health. But the overuse of pesticides, such as the ones Monsanto markets with its GM crops, has contributed to environmental damage and herbicide resistance.