The Bayer Monsanto merger has gone through, what campaigners have dubbed the ‘marriage made in hell’ got the blessings of EU and US regulators. And on day one Bayer made the announcement that it’s going to continue selling products like Roundup under the established brand name but it will ‘retire’ the name Monsanto.

Mad Men’s Don Draper couldn’t have come up with a smarter move: Monsanto has – literally – become a toxic brand – ditching the name and starting with a clean slate makes perfect sense. Play it right and we will soon forget the ‘contributions’ Monsanto made to all our lives. Monsanto brought us Roundup, a glyphosate based herbicide which the WHO cancer research agency IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) concludes is likely to cause cancer1. And Monsanto brought us seeds which have been genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate or a combination of glyphosate and dicamba2, a volatile chemical that was used to defoliate rainforests during the Vietnam War. Genetically engineered crops neither benefit human health nor the environment but they are fantastic for Monsanto – now Bayer – which gets to sell not just seeds but the herbicides to go with them as a must have ‘crop system’. Farmers pay the ultimate price – in India for example: Genetically engineered Monsanto GM cotton only gives you (weather permitting) a good yield if you apply the prescribed amount of herbicides, fertilizer and water – none of which poor farmers can afford. Since the introduction of GE cotton in India, tens of thousands of farmers in the ‘cotton belt’ have committed suicide – many of them by drinking Roundup.

These are just a few examples of the Monsanto legacy Bayer wants us to forget.

Only the blackened skeleton of what’s left of the old Union Carbide plant serves as a reminder – if you happen to travel to Bhopal and look for it.

Bayer doesn’t have to look to India, it just needs to go a few decades back in time and look at its own history.

Here’s a quick reminder of some Bayer history you are unlikely to find in the glossy company brochures. Bayer is a German chemical and pharmaceutical company founded in 1863. In 1925 Bayer and several other German chemical companies merged to become I.G. Farben, and Bayer re-emerged as ‘Bayer’ again only after World War II. Why Bayer wants you to forget the I.G. Farben merger? I.G. Farben not only produced Zyklon B, the poison that was used in Nazi gas chambers, the company also used slave labour, from concentration camps like Auschwitz, as well as prisoners of war – at least 20,000 workers died at that one plant alone, the death toll may have been much higher. After the war I.G. Farben was put on trial in Nuremberg.

Sure, it’s history, the Bayer company of today is not the I.G. Farben of the Nazi era. But returning to the name ‘Bayer’ does not alter historical facts either.

Companies get to choose the brands they want to keep. Ben & Jerry’s still carries the name of its founders even though it has been part of Unilever for ages by now.

And companies get the right to ditch a brand. Bayer, in the end, will make the Monsanto name go away.

But we, the public, keep the right to remember who brought us GM seeds and peddles poison. Because changing a name doesn’t change history.

[1] It is important to note here that IARC did not conclude glyphosate to be carcinogenic but the commercial formula of the herbicide which has glyphosate as an active ingredient. Herbicides like Roundup contain surfactants and other additives and it is the combination that is far more toxic than glyphosate on its own.

[1] Last year farmers in the US who planted glyphosate and dicamba resistant soybeans and cotton (Monsanto Xtend crop systems) caused damage on 3.1million acres of soybeans through dicamba drift. And that’s just soybeans.


Marianne Landzettel is a journalist writing and blogging about food, farming and agricultural policies in the UK, the US, continental Europe and South Asia. She worked for the BBC World Service and German Public Radio for close to 30 years.

Follow her on twitter at @M_Landzettel
Images (c) and used with kind consent @M.Kunz

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