Monsanto - The Creator of NutraSweet/Equal

Monsanto - Whose Interests Are At Heart?
By Dr. Janet Starr Hull
Illustrations by Lynn Townsend Dealey

Big business - modern humans can't live without them, or can they? Don't forget that most big business has your money in mind.   Unfortunately, your health and wellness isn't always their primary goal, but it is important to learn about the companies that play such influential roles in your lives and the lives of your children.   After all, many of these corporations have reputable backgrounds, and it's everyone's hope that when they realize they may have jeopardized the health of their customers, they will repair any damage done.

So, who and what is Monsanto Chemical Company - the company that first brought us saccharin and then aspartame in the form of NutraSweet/Equal®? Monsanto Chemical Company has recently applied to the FDA for commercial approval of genetically engineered wheat. This will have far-reaching effects on farmers, consumers, and the environment, but whether that's really safe or not is the topic of another article.   For now, let's just say there are great concerns with genetically engineered (GMO) grains products, such as:

  • Organic farmers may face genetic cross-contamination
  • Conventional farmers may lose the freedom to save their seed, as Monsanto will have the right to enforce its patents
  • Farmers may also loose overseas markets because genetically engineered grains aren't accepted in most foreign countries
  • Prices will probably fall, as have already occurred with corn

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. They also are responsible for the creation and distribution of the Bovine Growth Hormone (BST), and have deep-rooted connections to the soft drink industry through the manufacturing of both saccharin and NutraSweet.

Monsanto Chemical Works opened its doors in St. Louis in 1901. In 2001, Monsanto celebrated its 100th anniversary as a business enterprise. So, what are the fine points behind this powerful company and how did it acquire such dominant world influence and diversity?

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. 2

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.

Despite saccharin's cancer "propaganda" in 1981, in 1985 G.D. Searle & Co. purchased Monsanto, taking the company deeper into pharmaceuticals and the sweetener industry. NutraSweet, saccharin's competitor, was now 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.

At this time, G.D. Searle & Co. had succeeded in getting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to finally approve NutraSweet (aspartame) for the second time, and prepared to purchase Monsanto in 1985. When Monsanto sold its sweetener business in 2000, including the NutraSweet brand sweetener, it brought Monsanto $440 million. 2

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 retain the Monsanto name - the company renown for Roundup, the Bovine Growth Hormone, multifarious seed companies, saccharin and NutraSweet.

What's in 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. They have begun posting product safety information for their current agricultural biotechnology products. 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.

After numerous corporate exchanges and company buy-outs, Chicago-based Merisant Corporation is the latest "named" manufacturer of NutraSweet/ Equal. But who knows what tomorrow will bring ...



Posted on April 28, 2006 in Monsanto and G.D. Searle | Link

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