Monsanto takes a tumble


Poor Monsanto — the mighty and haughty manipulator of Mother Nature has tripped on its own hubris, falling far, fast and hard this year.


The biotech and chemical giant has reaped huge profits by messing with the very DNA of the world’s food supply. During the past couple of decades, Monsanto has become the Frankenstein of agriculture, taking genetic parts of one or more species and engineering them into another. The corporation literally creates a living profit center for itself inside the mutant seed it engineers for corn soybeans and other food staples. Its specialty has been to alter plants so they can withstand heavy doses of an herbicide manufactured by — guess who? — Monsanto.

This kind of techno-gimmickry dazzled Wall Street speculators for a while. Monsanto stock soared to $140 a share in 2008, and in 2009 this darling of investors was named “company of the year” by Forbes magazine.

But farmers have found the altered seed ridiculously expensive and less beneficial than advertised, and the herbicide that Monsanto sells with the seed is not effective because weeds have already developed a resistance to it. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating the corporation’s antitrust activities, and global opponents of genetically tampered crops have been scoring victories in the fight to stop their spread.

Monsanto’s response to this rejection of its crop wizardry has been to double down on wizardry. Its new corn seed, for example, has not one, but eight altered genes in it! But farmers aren’t buying the mumbo-jumbo, and Wall Street has pushed Monsanto’s stock price down by two-thirds. As one market analyst now says, “This may be the worst stock of 2010.”

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