With Friends Like These, Monsanto Doesn't Need Regulators...Does It?

A quick look at the company's board of directors shows how tight it is with big food and big business.

Monsanto's Board of Directors Shows How Tight it is With Big Food and Big Business

(Design: Lauren Wade)

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor. He has written for The Awl, The New Inquiry, and elsewhere.

The fight over GMO labeling isn’t the first regulatory battle Monsanto has engaged in over the course of its 112 years in business. From PCBs to DDT to Agent Orange, the chemical company turned ag giant has manufactured numerous products that ended up all but disappearing—if not being banned outright—following high-profile public debates about environmental and health concerns.

Despite defeats for grassroots movements trying to have genetically engineered foods in California and Washington labeled, recent progress on state-level GMO labeling laws suggests that the tide is shifting against genetically engineered foods. Polls show that most Americans want to know if their food has been genetically altered. But despite the small steps made by some food corporations, the food industry—and corporate America on the whole—is still decidedly on Monsanto’s side regarding genetic engineering.

You don’t have to look much farther than the boardroom to see how deeply entrenched its ties to the rest of the food industry are: Janice L. Fields, a former president of McDonald’s USA, and C. Steven McMillan, a former CEO of Sara Lee Corporation, both sit on the board of directors. Other board members have ties to Procter & Gamble, Lockheed Martin, and Microsoft.

As a report from Food and Water Watch pointed out last year, the board’s connections—past and present—to big food and big business has helped build a friendly audience, in business and in government, for its products:

Monsanto’s board members have worked for the EPA, advised the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and served on President Obama’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations. They presided over multiple universities in various senior positions, including South Dakota State University (with whom Monsanto has a significant research agreement), Arizona State’s Biodesign Institute and Washington University in St. Louis.... The prevalence of Monsanto’s directors in these highly influential positions begs a closer look at how they’re able to push the pro-GE agenda within the government and influence public opinion.

But it's not like PCBs, DDT, and Agent Orange are contributing to the company’s bottom line any longer. For every regulator’s blind eye, there’s the eventual backlash and downfall. 

Still, it helps to know who goes to bat for Monsanto.

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