If Monsanto Loses Its Name, What Will Opponents Oppose?

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The Wall Street Journal remains in the hip pocket of the agrochemical giants.

In the story below, the supposedly conservative news organization makes fun of those who worry about the poisons being poured on our farmland, because thanks to genetic modification, many of our crops are immune to the poisons that once killed them along with the weeds.

According to WSJ, those who think that the ubiquitous use of these carcinogens which are showing up in our food, harming wildlife and habitat, and destroying the fertility of the farmlands on which we depend for the food we eat are nuts.

WSJ maintains their objections to the practices are based solely on the company’s name not the impact of its toxins. No wonder no one trusts the media.

NOTE: This post initially appeared at WSJ.com on October 25, 2016

Bayer is offering $57 billion for Monsanto, and that means Billy Talen has some fiery new songs to write.

The co-composer of such tunes as “Monsanto is the Devil” and “Climate Change Blues,” Mr. Talen was hard at work on a recent Sunday night on a mournful-sounding composition called “The Merger Song.”

“Are we planting aspirin this spring?” Mr. Talen softly crooned, as other members of his choral group swayed along. “What does Monsanto-Bayer bring?”

Environmental advocates such as Mr. Talen have invested years, even decades, writing chants, printing T-shirts and composing songs to jab at Monsanto Co.—or “Monsatan” as some call the company—for the chemicals and genetically modified seeds it produces.

Monsanto’s September agreement to sell itself to Bayer AG, if approved by regulators and shareholders, is widely expected by analysts and investors to result in Monsanto’s name being minimized. Bayer executives said it is too early to say what names it will use.

Activists worry the new nicknames they themselves are kicking around for the combined entity, such as “Baysanto,” may not have the same ring, and some are changing their campaigns’ names, writing new tunes and rethinking their slogans.

“As a target, it’s going to be hard to replace,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, director of sustainable agriculture at the Center for Food Safety, which advocates for labeling genetically engineered food ingredients.

In the Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York on the recent Sunday, “The Reverend Billy Talen,” as he calls himself, although he isn’t ordained, presided over the “Church of Stop Shopping,” an anti-consumerist environmentalist collective.

In a pompadour and white polyester suit, Mr. Talen, who said he makes his living off speeches, performances and donations, was rehearsing a cappella with his choir to hammer out the merger-song lyrics the group hopes to perform at rallies and other events around the U.S. and Europe.

Monsanto has long been a target of activists who claim genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and associated pesticides are harmful to humans and the environment. GMO proponents reject such assertions, citing scientific research. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has concluded GMOs are safe to eat.

“We’ve seen really clearly that when we have the opportunity to talk with people about the work we do, people can begin to understand the value of modern agriculture,” saidJesus Madrazo, Monsanto’s head of global corporate engagement. “A small number of people may never be interested in having a dialogue.”

A sale to Bayer would remove an annual rallying event for anti-Monsanto groups—the shareholder meeting. Some groups buy stock to gain access and personally berate Monsanto management.
Adam Eidinger, a founder of protest group Occupy Monsanto, was arrested at the 2014 meeting after blocking Monsanto’s suburban St. Louis headquarters with cars sporting giant fiberglass sculptures of grinning corn, sugar beet and soybean plants to represent GMOs.

Occupy Monsanto is discussing whether to change its name and may shift focus to agencies that regulate GMOs.

Mr. Eidinger said he is pondering a cowboy motif, modeled on HBO’s “Westworld” series. “We’re getting a posse together,” he said. “We’re going to go after the lack of protection from the EPA, the USDA and the FDA, and totally focus on government agencies.”

Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Juli Putnam said the FDA doesn’t regard GMO crops to present any unique risks. The EPA said the USDA regulates GMO crops and that EPA scientists evaluate risks of pesticides, including some natural toxins produced by GMO crops, to protect public health and the environment. The USDA declined to comment.

The Organic Consumers Association, which for years has spearheaded a “Millions Against Monsanto” movement and arranged marches against the company, in September rolled out a new slogan, “Billions Against Bayer.”

The old name referred to the group’s roughly one million social-media followers, saidAlexis Baden-Mayer, the group’s political director. For now, she said, “billions” refers to what she said is 2.5 billion impoverished food-production workers globally, including small-scale farmers.

The group probably will update its slogans and T-shirts lambasting Monsanto, she said, though Monsanto will “represent industrial agriculture for a long time.”

Activists have fitted cars with fiberglass sculptures, such as this one shown in 2012, to campaign against Monsanto and call for genetically modified food ingredients to be labeled.
Activists have fitted cars with fiberglass sculptures, such as this one shown in 2012, to campaign against Monsanto and call for genetically modified food ingredients to be labeled. PHOTO: CESAR MAXIT
Bayer executives are hoping for a reset based on positive feelings they say consumers have toward the Bayer-aspirin brand. Werner Baumann, Bayer’s chief executive, in a September address extolled Bayer’s “absolutely stellar reputation,” while lamenting Monsanto’s “very, very bad” image in Germany due to GMO mistrust.

Bayer spokesman Christopher Loder said: “Together with Monsanto, we look forward to open and meaningful dialogue with any group interested in working together to sustainably advance the next generation of farming.”

Anti-Bayer protester James Cook hopes the Monsanto deal will bring more allies his way. A beekeeper in Barrett, Minn., Mr. Cook in June loaded a flatbed truck with cartons containing 2.6 million dead bees, which activists stacked in front of Bayer’s U.S. agricultural headquarters near Durham, N.C.

The bees, deceased of what he said were natural causes, symbolized bee deaths that activists pin on insecticides Bayer makes. The Monsanto deal, he said, “is going to bring a lot more people together.”

Bayer said its insecticides, used at recommended levels, aren’t a threat to bees.

Mr. Talen’s Stop Shopping church knows it may have to move behind its traditional lyrics, such as these in “Monsanto Is The Devil,” the fourth track of its latest album:

“Monsanto is the devil, and the devil must be slain;

“The seed she’s not a logo, can’t kill her with your name…”

For the new merger song to carry the church into the Bayer era, Nehemiah Luckett, the Stop Shopping Choir’s music director, helped compose what he called a “haunting” melody.

The idea of a lower profile for Monsanto under Bayer’s ownership, he said, was “scary.”

Conveniently, Mr. Talen and many other Monsanto-haters have also protested the German company for its insecticides and other chemicals.

“Monsanto and Bayer have been our two devils, and suddenly the two devils are marrying each other,” he said. “We have to sing about this!”

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