Three and a half years ago I wrote of the likely demise of anti-agriculture’s favorite corporate villain, Monsanto. Bayer and Monsanto at that time were engaged in merger talks. I speculated that modern agriculture opponents — many of whom had made their fortunes portraying all things Monsanto as bad — could ultimately lament this high-profile name disappearing. Given recent events, I thought it would be a good time to provide an update on “Villain Quest.”
Going back to that original column, I remember asking readers which ag company would become the new villain when the Monsanto name faded from view. According to this poll, 36% of respondents believed whatever company ended up buying Monsanto would inherit the villain label. So, Bayer would become the new Monsanto.
That’s not to say that Bayer hasn’t taken some hits among modern agriculture opponents over the past few years. However, I have yet to witness the wholesale protesting by scores of demonstrators that seemed to be a hallmark of Monsanto’s time as villain. Perhaps it’s harder to hate an ag player such as Bayer when that company also helps cure consumer headaches and protects consumer-grown roses from white flies.
Of course, the real reason Bayer has seemingly been spared from the villain role among critics is the fact that many of them have tried very, very hard to keep the Monsanto name alive in the public sector. Indeed, amid all the news about trial verdicts going against glyphosate this past year, the business press has regularly identified Bayer as the plaintiff. However, when a quote appears in one of these stories from a protest spokesperson, the word “Monsanto” normally gets name dropped, as if the company still exists. In this case, the Monsanto name is acting the role of a classic comic book villain, seemingly killed off for good in one issue only to rise again a few issues later.
Another reason why I bring up this agricultural villain talk ties back to a conversation I had at the PACE Advisory Council meeting in October. The PACE group, which consists of many of the ag market’s key decision makers and observers, has met annually for the past 25 years to talk about industry trends, needs, and challenges. Obviously, this year’s group had a LOT to discuss, including an hour-long debate on the glyphosate issue.
As a side note to this, one participant said he had recently witnessed a protest rally that had targeted another large agricultural company, Cargill, as the new agricultural villain. On one hand, I can see the logic behind this — Cargill, as one of the world’s largest privately held companies, is involved in agriculture but doesn’t share much information with anyone about its internal workings. On the other hand, Cargill dabbles in such areas as grain sales, high fructose corn syrup production, and salt mining. None of these activities would seemingly rank high on the list of “evil plots to destroy the world,” according to most ag opponents. (Indeed, the PACE representative reported only seeing “about a dozen” protesters at this “down with Cargill” rally.)
So, for now it appears the Villain Quest will continue without a clear candidate as the next “kingpin of bad agriculture.”