Monsanto is all over the news these days as the target of the hot debate concerning GMO health safety. I bet you didn’t know that Monsanto Chemical Company, the creator of NutraSweet®/Equal®, was the company that first brought us saccharin.
Yep – Monsanto owned and produced BOTH saccharin and NutraSweet/Equal (aspartame), at the same time, over several decades.
Monsanto’s background is most attention grabbing and diverse. Monsanto Chemical Company is a leading provider of agricultural products and incorporated “solutions” for farmers. They make Roundup®, the world’s best-selling herbicide, as well as other herbicides. Monsanto produces leading seed brands, including DEKALB® and Asgrow®, and they provide farmers and other seed companies with biotechnology traits for insect protection and herbicide tolerance. Ah – GMOs.
Monsanto is also responsible for the creation and distribution of the Bovine Growth Hormone (BST), and has a deep-rooted history in the soft drink industry through the manufacturing of both saccharin and NutraSweet/Equal.
So, you can see that Monsanto is at the core of many controversial chemicals affecting our modern world.
Monsanto Chemical Works opened its doors in St. Louis in 1901. This year, Monsanto celebrates its 113th anniversary as a powerful business enterprise.
After thirty years in the pharmaceutical industry, John Francis Queeny, still an employee of Meyer Brothers Drug Company, sank his savings and monies borrowed from a Chicago soft drink supplier into a new company to produce products for the food and pharmaceutical industries. He named the company after his wife, whose maiden name was Olga Monsanto. The corporate papers were filed on Nov. 29, 1901.
In 1902, Monsanto gained its reputation manufacturing saccharin, the company’s first product. In 1903 to 1905, their entire saccharin output was shipped to the growing soft drink company in Georgia called Coca-Cola®.
In 1904, Monsanto introduced caffeine and vanillin as products for the escalating soft drink industry. Initially, vanillin was produced by extracting a chemical from cloves that were purchased from the Sultan of Zanzibar who insisted that the leftover spices be returned to him. Cloves had an important religious significance in the cremation of bodies, so there was importance in shipping them back to Zanzibar instead of disposing of them as waste in the United States.
By 1915, Monsanto’s sales surpassed the one million dollar mark. Two years later, the company began the production of aspirin. Monsanto remained the largest U.S. producer of aspirin until the 1980s.
In 1917, the U.S. government filed suit over the safety of saccharin. Filed at Monsanto’s request as a test case, the suit was dismissed in 1925, ending the government’s unsuccessful attempts then to prove saccharin harmful. In 1981, saccharin was again questioned as a carcinogen, but no conclusive scientific proof was ever presented. In 2001, the cancer warning was removed from saccharin products as saccharin was shown, once again, to be safe for human consumption.
In 1985 taking the company deeper into pharmaceuticals and the sweetener industry, Monsanto purchased G.D. SEARLE & CO. Donald Rumsfeld followed Searle as CEO and President of Searle between 1977 and 1985. He played an instrumental role in the acquisition of G.D. Searle & Company by Monsanto.
Now NutraSweet, saccharin’s competitor, was owned and marketed by the same company – Monsanto.
World War II brought Monsanto and the American government closer together as Monsanto became involved in research on uranium for the Manhattan Project, which led to the first nuclear bombs. Later, Monsanto operated the Mound (Ohio) Laboratory as a nuclear facility for the Federal government until the late 1980s, and their Dayton Laboratory was used as a research facility for nuclear-based and other government-funded projects.
Monsanto was in the petroleum business by 1955, having acquired Lion Oil primarily to provide themselves petrochemical raw materials. Lion Oil also put the company into the fertilizer business, and brought to Monsanto hydrocarbon technology, oil and gas reserves, and a retail gasoline business. The refinery and service stations were sold in 1972.
In 1977, Monsanto established a joint petrochemical venture with Conoco Oil Company at the Chocolate Bayou plant. They were eventually bought out and the money from the acquisition fueled their drive to acquire a pharmaceutical company.
In 1982, Rumsfeld had succeeded in getting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to finally approve NutraSweet (aspartame), which had previously been denied FDA approval, and engineered Monsanto’s purchase of GD Searle in 1985. When Monsanto sold its sweetener business in 2000, including the NutraSweet brand sweetener, it brought Monsanto $440 million.
By 1998, Monsanto started buying seed companies and genetic laboratories.
In December 1999, Monsanto and Pharmacia & Upjohn announced plans to merge the two companies. Monsanto and Pharmacia & Upjohn completed their merger on March 31, naming the new company the Pharmacia Corporation. The agricultural operations within Pharmacia retained the Monsanto name – the company renown for Roundup®, the Bovine Growth Hormone, multifarious seed companies, saccharin and NutraSweet®.
What’s Monsanto’s Future?
The company has formed a wheat industry advisory committee to provide advice and counsel on how best to bring forward biotechnology products in wheat.
Along with Round Up, they are marketing with widespread availability the drug, L-DOPA, used today for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
And, they have placed the first U.S. corporate order to General Motors for pick-up trucks that use ethanol-based E85 fuel, part of a larger initiative to focus new research to enhance the use of bioenergy.
Today, Monsanto is in the middle of one of the most critical issues affecting the planet – the safety and denaturing of GMOs.
After numerous corporate exchanges and company buy-outs, who knows what tomorrow will bring…