Monsanto's Recent Indiscretions: Add Them to the List

Jul.11.10 | About: Monsanto Company (MON)

by Jimmy Mengel

Hey Monsanto (NYSE:MON), it's time to pay the piper... again.

In the largest fine ever levied under a U.S. pesticides law, Monsanto agreed to pay the Environmental Protection Agency $2.5 million.

The agricultural giant was found to have been selling genetically modified cotton seeds without labeling them as such. Between 2002 and 2007, Monsanto's seeds were illegally sold in several Texas counties where the seeds are explicitly banned. The seeds — known as Bollgard and Bollgard II — were genetically engineered to produce the insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis [Bt], and Texas officials were concerned that using the seeds would lead to pest resistance.

But that didn't stop Monsanto from bamboozling buyers into purchasing the illegal seeds.

“As a result of this matter, we have implemented new internal review processes to prevent such errors in the future,” said Rob Nixon, Monsanto’s Stewardship Lead.

I find Mr. Nixon's statements to ring hollow. While this is the biggest fine Monsanto has received under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, it is far from its first major legal infraction.

monsanto skull and bones

Here's a quick look at a few of Monsanto's other “errors”:

  • Monsanto's biggest individual fine to date was a $100 million settlement to the family of Wilbur Jack Skeen in 1986. The company was found to be negligent in exposing Mr. Skeen, a worker in the companies Texas plant, to benzene. The exposure eventually led to his death from leukemia.

  • Monsanto was one of the companies named in a $180 million suit for Vietnam War vets exposed to “Agent Orange”. Monsanto manufactured the herbicide from 1965 to 1969.

    The settlement did not include the 400,000 disabilities and deaths that the population of Vietnam suffered from the toxic herbicide.

  • In 1995, Monsanto was forced to pay a Texas Waste Management company $41.1 million for hazardous waste concerns.

  • In 1996, New York's Attorney General hit the company with a $50,000 fine for false advertising of its flagship pesticide Roundup. Claims in question included “Remember that environmentally friendly Roundup herbicide is biodegradable. It won't build up in the soil so you can use Roundup with confidence along customers' driveways, sidewalks and fences... ”

    That's a tough claim to swallow when you consider the EPA warning required on Roundup's packaging: Do not allow the herbicide solution to mist, drip, drift, or splash onto desirable vegetation since minute quantities of this herbicide can cause severe damage or destruction to the crop, plants, or other areas on which treatment was not intended.

  • As recently as 2005, the Justice Department ordered Monsanto to pay a $1.5 million fine for bribing Indonesian officials in order to get its Bollgard cotton seeds approved without having to prove their environmental safety.

So, while its nice lip service when the EPA holds the company accountable for its recent indiscretions, the company's sordid past goes to show that a fine of $2.5 million is toothless.

If it were up to you, what kind of fine would you give Monsanto?

Disclosure: No positions