It's a formula that seems to be working to chip away at the coal industry: What you can't beat, financially isolate.
But for Jeffrey M. Smith, executive director at the anti-GMO nonprofit Institute for Responsible Technology, the target isn't an ailing, polluting industry. It's Monsanto, the pesticide and bioengineering firm once dubbed the world's "most evil corporation."
In an open letter to investors, obtained by The Huffington Post on Tuesday, Smith said weak sales of biotech-corn seeds and other financial headwinds have left Monsanto vulnerable. He cited as proof the company's announcement earlier this month that it planned to cut a total of 3,600 jobs.
Now, it's worth noting that Smith has made a career for himself standing against Monsanto. Since founding his nonprofit in 2003, the author has railed against genetically modified organisms -- specifically fruits and vegetables engineered to grow bigger or avoid pesticides. Advocates like Smith say GMO foods are unhealthful and badly regulated. But the jury is still out on the health effects of eating genetically engineered food.
Still, the business world is beginning to prioritize companies' missions over their profits. Monsanto may see itself as an agricultural giant helping to feed the world's growing population; but in doing so, the company has become notorious for being litigious, secretive and combative with critics who question its products or seemingly unscrupulous practices.
Reached for comment, a Monsanto spokeswoman said: "The rumors and misinformation in Mr. Smith’s letter are intended to generate confusion and concern for consumers. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Smith continues to perpetuate these myths about our business, including the safety of our products. As consumers ourselves, product safety is always our top priority."
While Smith's letter should be taken with a grain of salt, it does raise serious concerns about Monsanto, its future and the influence it has over the way most Americans eat.
Here are Smith's warnings to companies and investors considering financial ties to Monsanto:
Monsanto Company’s core business is at risk of collapsing based on technical, scientific, and market trends. Their recently announced plan to cut 16% of their global workforce is just the beginning. Monsanto not only faces declining revenues, they have accumulated unprecedented liabilities that may be passed on to investors and business partners. Here are eight reasons to stay clear Monsanto:
- Sales of Roundup herbicide and Roundup Ready genetically engineered corn, soy and cotton constitute 90% of Monsanto’s revenue. Scientific evidence points to significant health impacts of these products on humans.
- For example, the World Health Organization declared Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen. Since that announcement in March, 2015, several countries, cities, and retail chains worldwide have banned or severely limited the use of glyphosate products. As of October 2015, at least 700 personal injury non-Hodgkin lymphoma lawsuits were pending against Monsanto.
- Monsanto’s liability may persist long into the future. Not only can glyphosate be detected for decades in many types of soil, GMO contamination self-propagates in the gene pool and cannot be fully eradicated.
- Numerous livestock farmers who switch to non-GMO feed report improved livestock health and increased profits. If these claims are validated, Monsanto could lose its biggest GMO market and become liable for extraordinary cumulative losses from an entire industry.
- Monsanto’s GMOs—designed to either kill insects or tolerate Roundup herbicide—are failing in the field; as of 2010, superbugs and superweeds are becoming resistant on over 300 million acres worldwide.
- Consumer rejection of GMOs in the United States is prompting food brands to eliminate GMO ingredients and label products “non-GMO.” This same trend kicked GMOs out of Europe in 1999 and is now approaching a tipping point in the US, as 58% of consumers are looking for non-GMO products.
- Monsanto’s success has been propped up by enormous political clout, especially in the United States. Politics is unstable; it shifts with elections and current events. As the non-GMO movement gains momentum and product safety is questioned, political support may wane, further eroding Monsanto’s fortunes.
- Monsanto’s negative reputation adds political and economic instability. Referred to as the “World’s Most Hated company,” their unpopularity was illustrated when hundreds of Moms Across America groups nationwide, and more than 2 million people in 52 countries internationally, took to the streets to “March Against Monsanto.”
Combining liabilities for human, animal, and environmental health, Monsanto’s legal exposure may far surpass the $206 billion Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry and 46 US states in 1998. Protect your investments. Steer clear of financial entanglements with Monsanto.