Monsanto and Syngenta stranglehold

SUBHEAD: The possible merger of these two GMO-Chemical giants would threaten world food security.

By Paul Barbot on 6 October 2015 for TruthOut -

Image above: Mashup by Juan Wilson of corporate sign at Monsanto's Creve Couer based headquarters in greater St. Louis. 

There is a corporate monster in the making. If allowed to emerge, it will gain near complete control of one of the most vital elements to human survival: our global food supply. This monster - a conglomeration of two corporate entities, Monsanto and Syngenta - must be stopped for the sake of the planet and future generations.

The companies that would make up this monster conglomeration both want complete control of our food. They envision a world completely inundated with their "patented" genetically modified seeds and saturated in their environmentally destructive chemicals. They seek to put all of their critics and those deemed "in the way" in prison or leave them financially ruined.

They threaten to subvert the democratic process with their "bought" legislators, who are strategically placed inside virtually every facet of the governmental apparatus. And they do all of this while wrapped in the rhetoric of superheroes, sustainability and stewardship.

Fortunately, the behemoth merger is still in its gestational period: Its constituent entities, Monsanto and Syngenta, have yet to fully "consummate" the deal. But when the conglomeration does finally emerge, it will do so with a brand new identity.

And why wouldn't Monsanto and Syngenta want to shed those tired, old skins? Both of their "brands" are mired in criminality, environmental devastation and the exposures of their mafia-style tactics (see Syngenta's transgressions: here, here and here).

Now, before we can even begin to discuss what needs to be done to remedy this predicament that will soon be thrust upon us, we must first take a look at how we've been brought to this seeming impasse.

To do so, it's helpful to look closer at the history of Monsanto, not because Syngenta is innocent of afflicting catastrophe upon the world, but because Monsanto is the greater party in this transaction, and it is Monsanto's crimes and modus operandi that other biotech companies hope to emulate.

Monsanto Plays Dirty
On April 17, 2015, Monsanto's CEO Hugh Grant met with Syngenta's chairman of the board Michel Demaré and CEO Michael Mack to discuss Monsanto's bid to merge with Syngenta - a transaction that would create an unprecedented agro-giant and should have the antitrust alarm bells screaming; this deal would constitute the combination of the first- and third-largest biotech companies in the world.

Syngenta's response to Monsanto, in a letter dated April 30, laid out the company's concerns regarding the proposed deal, which - not surprisingly - never ventured outside of the monetary realm.

Demaré and Mack went on to state that the deal was "grossly inadequate" and that the regulatory process would lead to significant "value destruction" of their integrated crop strategy. They also fretted about the "reputational risk" that Monsanto poses to Syngenta's bottom line.

Syngenta's "concerns" appear to have only been a ploy to garner more for what they have to offer - as evidenced in the results of a survey conducted by Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd, which stated that Syngenta's investors are "overwhelmingly in favor" of talking to Monsanto for an added 5 percent increase.

Outside of the banal aspects of sales negotiations, Syngenta did manage to bring up two very important points of debate. The first is the glaring issue of antitrust laws and regulations that would threaten to shut the whole deal down. As mentioned above, this deal would constitute an unprecedented combination of the world's number one and number three biotech companies.

Secondly, was Syngenta's concern about merging with a company of Monsanto's reputation; given that both companies have practically identical legacies, it is slightly odd that this would concern Syngenta. I suspect that Syngenta's uneasiness stems from the extreme public backlash that Monsanto has deservedly earned as of late.

Looking from Syngenta's standpoint, one would conclude that the company brought up very valid reasons for its initial apprehensiveness about the proposed merger. But it is Monsanto's rebuttal - made in an attempt to allay Syngenta's fears - that should strike fear into people all across the world.

With a level of hubris that one typically reserves for times when a desired outcome has privately been declared a forgone conclusion, Monsanto's CEO, Hugh Grant, easily dismissed Syngenta's antitrust concerns and reiterated his "high degree of confidence" for gaining all the necessary regulatory approvals.

Grant also went on to offer the "highest reverse breakup fee that any company has agreed to." Reverse breakup fees are fines levied on the acquiring company and paid to the target company should a deal be blocked by such pesky things as "regulations."

The $2 billion reverse breakup fee that Monsanto has offered amounts to roughly 25 percent of the company's reported gross profits from 2014. On Monsanto's part, this fee constitutes an "all-in" maneuver.

In the game of poker, when players go "all-in," there are but two possibilities for that action: either they have a hand which they know will win, or they are bluffing and hope the other players don't want to risk calling them on it. This is in stark contrast to how things are played in the corporate world, where a company is legally mandated to consistently make a profit for its investors and shareholders.

The risk associated with an "all-in" approach would come with significant legal and financial ramifications for a company's executives and future in general. With that in mind, there can be only one explanation for Monsanto's "all-in" and that is - to steal a line from the credit card industry - because the company has been "pre-approved."

Given the existence of reports like the 2013 corporate profiling of Monsanto, which shows the extent to which Monsanto has infiltrated regulatory, legislative and educational bodies - not to mention the incalculable amounts of money that it has showered onto Congress - why would the company have any worries?

Everything is going precisely according to plan. And if sheer confidence in the ability to skirt regulations weren't enough to convince Syngenta, Monsanto also wanted to show that it isn't scared to flex its financial muscle and play dirty. Grant, in his rebuttal letter to Syngenta, also went on to imply just how much power and influence Monsanto has over the market by stating,
It is unfortunate that our initial approach to you was leaked to the press shortly before your rejection letter was received by us. The speculation and uncertainty have potentially negative effects on employees in both organizations, and on the value of the combination.
In addition to financial bullying, Monsanto has also openly talked to media sources about a possible hostile takeover, though the company claims this action to be "a ways out." Monsanto's actions reveal just how perverse the quest for absolute power and control can be.

The hijacking of the world's food chain is on full display in Monsanto's dogged determination to acquire Syngenta. Along the way, the agricultural giant is running roughshod over any pretensions to democratic processes and quickly ushering us into the age of the "food führer."

In the hopes of obscuring past infractions and inciting a full-blown case of social amnesia, Monsanto has also proposed to rename the combined company - in addressing Syngenta's final concern - with Grant expressing his desire to "reinvent Monsanto one more time."

Now, I must admit that this proffered rebrand was the issue that originally piqued my interest and drew my ire. How dare this rightly sullied organization attempt to deceive future generations of consumers and farmers by simply changing its mask and hoping that everyone will just forget who it was?

But I have since come to share the same view as Joel Salatin, a well-known organic farmer and author, when he expressed via email, "I guess I'm of the opinion that the folks who hate Monsanto will all know about the change and hate the new entity. When something is this big and in the public eye, the name doesn't mean that much."

He's absolutely right. The great affront at play is clearly the control over government that Monsanto has and the global food monopoly it wishes to create.

So, here we are standing at the precipice of the ultimate battle for our food sovereignty and one naturally has to ask: "What can we do to stop this?" First, we must look at what has already been done.

The Struggle for Food Sovereignty
The groups comprising the anti-Monsanto movement have primarily employed three different tactics in their struggles against the food giant.

The first has been the impassioned call for their members, along with the general public, to "vote with your purchases"; the second has been to move into the political arena in the hopes of stopping Monsanto electorally and legislatively; and lastly, there has been the staging of protests, which have commonly come in the form of marches.

These are three rather distinct tactics, yet common to all is the ideological pathology of deluded deferential dissent - the unflinching deference to and courteous, peaceable appeals for the very system and institutions to solve those problems, which are knowingly outgrowths thereof.

The anti-Monsanto movement's adherence to these three tactics, in conjunction with the full expression of the pathology contained within them, has subsequently led to another commonality: utter ineffectiveness in halting the spread of Monsanto's products and power.

Since 2007, the year the first opposition group arose, Monsanto's net sales and gross profit have both more than doubled, and the company's march toward complete domination of the world's food supply - by controlling its seeds - has not been impeded in any semantical sense of the word.

My intention in pointing out this glaring failure of the anti-Monsanto movement to effect any change is meant to encourage an honest, objective review of the interplay between these movements' tactics and results.

The organizations that stand in defiance to Monsanto have - to their credit - reached millions with their message and sparked people to start engaging the structures of corporate power within our society, but they are simply not taking their actions far enough, not if they want to see their ultimate goals come to fruition.

To stay planted within the political realm, where Monsanto holds all the levers, is to remain impotent. What is needed is the immediate revival of those directly confrontational tactics that were to become the hallmark of the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

These activist groups should be using their vast influence to encourage and stand in solidarity with actions such as those taken by activists in Oregon when they surreptitiously burned 40 tons of Syngenta's genetically modified sugar beets to the ground, or in France where fields were yanked from the earth under the cover of night.
The time for civility is over!

While people are marching around chanting their cleverly worded slogans or pussyfooting in the legislative halls, Monsanto is blatantly consolidating its grasp on the world's food supply. World-renowned environmental activist and anti-globalization author Dr. Vandana Shiva once forebodingly declared:
If they control seed, they control food. They know it and it's strategic. It's more powerful than bombs; it's more powerful than guns. This is the best way to control the populations of the world.
Monsanto's actions clearly indicate that they've taken Shiva's prescient words to heart and twisted them into a new mission statement of insidious design.

The conglomerate that Monsanto wishes to create wants to snatch the building blocks of our food supply away from us. To return the favor in kind, we should start dismantling the building blocks of the very infrastructure that has allowed the company to do so.

If we cannot muster the courage to fight the monstrosity that will soon descend upon us by utilizing the full spectrum of actions that are desperately needed to eradicate it, we will leave a legacy of shame for future generations.

Besides, food fights can be fun! Right?

Monsanto might change name to get Syngenta

By Tim Barker on 8 June 2015 for St. Louis Post-Dispatch - 

As Monsanto intensifies its courtship of Syngenta, emerging details show the Creve Coeur-based agriculture giant is willing to change its name and move its legal headquarters overseas.

The company’s $45 billion offer for its Swiss rival has twice been rejected by the seed and chemical company’s leadership. So Monsanto is changing strategies this week, with plans to take its message directly to Syngenta shareholders in Europe.

Monsanto’s initial approach was rebuffed by Syngenta in May partly on grounds that it failed to address regulatory concerns. On Monday, after its second offer was turned down, a pair of letters offering insight into the negotiations were released by Syngenta. The letters are from Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant to Syngenta’s leadership.

In a June 6 letter, Grant expressed confidence that its proposed merger would meet regulatory approval. And if that proved not to be true, Monsanto offered Syngenta a $2 billion breakup fee.

“Such a fee would be among the highest reverse breakup fees that any company has agreed to,” Grant said in the letter.

He also expressed “personal disappointment” with the pace of the negotiations.

And according to an earlier letter, dated April 18, Monsanto’s proposal calls for the two companies to merge under a new parent company, with its legal headquarters in the United Kingdom.

“We would also propose a new name for the combined company to reflect its unique global nature,” Grant, a native of Scotland, wrote.

The name Monsanto has been part of the St. Louis business community since 1901.

No suggestions were offered on what the new name would be. And it’s unclear whether any of Monsanto’s key executives would actually move to the U.K. headquarters.

Such moves, known as tax inversion, have been popular recently for large companies looking to reduce their U.S. tax burden. And given the size of the deal, the firm is likely to be looking for ways to make it work financially.

The U.S. government has been pressuring the nation’s firms to abandon the strategy. Indeed, Monsanto was singled out by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who recently sent a letter to the company, urging it not to pursue tax inversion.

“As we’ve previously stated, this is not a tax-driven deal,” Sara Miller, a Monsanto spokeswoman, said in a statement late Monday. “If people view our Syngenta proposal as tax-driven, it misses the vision of what we intend to unlock. This is about creating a new company focused on increased innovation and expanded global reach to support farmers around the world.”

Miller said Syngenta had requested a “neutral site as a corporate base” for the combined company in early negotiations. That offer, she added, was not included in the second, more recent letter, and would be subject to “further negotiations.”

“In any scenario, we remain committed to the U.S. and our hometown of St. Louis,” Miller said. “In fact, part of the strategic rationale we see is that a combined company has the potential to significantly add jobs and economic value to key regions in the U.S., including in St. Louis. We see St. Louis continuing to serve as our global ag innovation hub as it does today, helping deliver on the vision and benefits we expect from the combination.”

Some observers have suggested that Monsanto will have to increase its offer by $5 billion or more if it wants to complete the takeover.

But for now, some of its executives are turning to smaller meetings with Syngenta shareholders this week in London, Zurich and other European cities, according to Reuters.

The U.S. company’s Chief Operating Officer Brett Begemann, for instance, is scheduled to meet investors at a Zurich luxury hotel on Tuesday, according to the news service’s sources.

“The objective is to convince shareholders of Syngenta to pressure the company to negotiate with Monsanto,” one source told Reuters.

The person said Monsanto is hesitant go around management with an official offer to shareholders, because it would have to organize the sale of businesses for antitrust reasons without having control of the company.

Syngenta on Monday was dismissive of Monsanto’s second offer, despite the addition of the $2 billion guarantee.

“Monsanto’s second letter represents the same inadequate price, same inadequate regulatory undertakings to close, same regulatory risks and same issues associated with dual headquarters’ moves,” Syngenta said in a statement. “The only change by Monsanto is to add a wholly inadequate reverse regulatory break fee.”

No comments :

Post a Comment