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What happened to Monsanto? 

Chemical producer Monsanto was bought by German company Bayer in 2018. What were the criticisms of Monsanto when it existed, and is Bayer any better?

We recently ran a readers' survey to ask people what brand or company they thought was the worst. Several people said Monsanto, which was surprising because it was bought by Bayer and effectively is no longer a major brand. 

So we thought we'd look into Monsanto and Bayer in more detail, to figure out what happened to Monsanto and whether Bayer is any better.

What is Monsanto (and does it still exist)?

Monsanto, a registered company from 1901-2018, was a producer of chemical, agricultural and biochemical products. It bought up several seed companies in the early 2000s and was a big advocate of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

As legal cases began to stack up against Monsanto because of health issues linked to its products, German chemical company Bayer swooped in to buy Monsanto in 2016. The deal was finalised in 2018 and Monsanto was folded into Bayer’s ‘crop science’ division. In 2020, Bayer ended up paying over $10 billion to settle legal claims related to Roundup. 

Some of these legal claims related to cause health issues allegedly caused by ingredients in Monsanto products – notably glyphosate, found in its weedkiller Roundup, which is still widely sold today by Bayer and has been linked to cancers by several studies.

Top 3 criticisms of Monsanto

Campaigners targeted Monsanto for many reasons. We've summed up three of the major reasons: 

  • its use of chemicals harmful to health and the environment 
  • its powerful industry monopoly 
  • its impact on small farmers 

We explore these in more depth below.

1. Monsanto's use of toxic chemicals

Heavy use of and lobbying in favour of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides and herbicides meant Monsanto was regularly targeted by environmental campaigners.

Monsanto products have been found to be toxic to the environment and human health.

Overuse and misuse of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers have significant impacts on ecosystems and the health of farmers and their communities.

Monsanto’s product RoundUp is the most widely used herbicide in agriculture. Many studies have found Roundup harmful “to the environment and to health” and it may “remain as a residue on edible crops”, according to a 2022 study in the journal Toxics.

There are formulants in Roundup which may be “far more toxic” than glyphosate and that regulators haven’t assessed adequately for safety, according to the study.

A 2021 study in the journal Research Policy claims that Monsanto exerted influence to limit understanding of Roundup’s safety. It says Monsanto made “efforts to distort the scientific peer-review process through ghostwriting, to orchestrate campaigns to retract journal articles, and to influence editorial decisions.”

It also highlights how Bayer, Monsanto’s new owner, has been accused of working to “obfuscate and to undermine research on the link between agricultural chemicals and bee deaths.”

A series of lawsuits emerged against Bayer from 2018 onwards related to Roundup, including people who had cancer and other illnesses

2. Monsanto's monopoly of the seed market

Monsanto was extremely powerful, dominating the seed industry. It was also run by directors closely linked to unethical industries.

In 2007, Monsanto accounted for an incredible 87% of the total world area devoted to genetically engineered seeds. It was the biggest seed company in the world in 2014. Its competitors, such as DuPont, said Monsanto was a “gatekeeper” which had the power to raise seed prices and exclude competition.

Its board of directors reflected this power – for example, they included:

  • Gregory Boyce, chairman and chief executive officer of the world’s largest private-sector coal company (Peabody Energy Corporation)
  • Jon R. Moeller, financial officer of The Procter & Gamble Company
  • Janice Fields, former president of McDonald’s USA.

Directors received extortionate pay rates (one received $15.5m in 2014).

3. The impact of Monsanto on small farmers

Farmers and NGOs have criticised Monsanto for many reasons, including:

  • Genetically modified seeds would blow onto organic crops elsewhere, contaminating crops
  • Monsanto sold GMO strains to poorer countries, but ultimately the quality of the crop was less, meaning the farmers actually ended up losing money by switching to the Montsanto strain rather than making money.
  • Its model of selling genetically modified seeds has been accused of undermining local farmer sovereignty. According to Greenpeace, “Instead of using their own seeds that have been carefully selected over the years, farmers are pushed to use industrial seeds that are expensive and often not adapted to the specifics of the region.”

How ethical is Bayer (which bought Monsanto)?

While Bayer hasn’t publicly expressed regret over its decision to buy Monsanto, the Financial Times called it “one of the most damaging cases of deal disillusion” which left Bayer facing “billions in liabilities from claims that its herbicides Roundup and Ranger Pro can cause cancer”.

Is Bayer more ethical than Monsanto?

Bayer has an ethiscore of 3 – an incredibly low Ethical Consumer rating. It scored worst ratings in the following categories: Animal Testing, Controversial Technologies, Animal Rights, Human Rights, Political Activities, Anti-Social Finance, Palm Oil, Tax Conduct, and unsurprisingly… Pollution and Toxics.

It continues to hold a monopoly over the seed market, named as one of three companies that control “over 50% of the world’s seeds”.

Bayer is a ‘Brand to avoid’ in our vitamins guide (it owns Sanatogen and Berocca).

Exports bee-killing pesticides to “poorer countries”

The website Public Eye published an article in May 2023 which named Bayer among companies exporting 'neonics' to "poorer countries" around the world. Neonics are bee-killing pesticides considered to be a global threat to biodiversity and food security, and use of them is banned in Europe.

Monsanto continues to be heavily involved in genetic engineering and providing biotechnology to farmers.

Larissa Bombardi, a professor of geography at the University of São Paulo, said “we are facing a more cruel and perverse form of colonialism... this chemical colonialism is invisible, it is silent and it has spread in our soils, in our bodies, in our water.” She continues, “pollinators are also dying… This is one of the main threats to our biodiversity”.

Heavy lobbying, excessive director’s pay, and poor tax conduct

Like Monsanto, Bayer continues to be involved in lobbying, and spent $6,430,000 on lobbying in 2022. 65 out of 75 of the company's lobbyists previously held government jobs, according to the OpenSecrets website.

Bayer is a member of the World Economic Forum, American Legislative Exchange Council, and the US Council for International Business. These lobby groups advocate in favour of market solutions that are potentially detrimental to the environment and human rights.

One of its directors was paid 6 million euros in 2022, meaning it lost a whole mark for excessive remuneration under our ratings system. High risk subsidiaries in Curacao, Bermuda, Netherlands and Switzerland also resulted in it receiving a worst rating for Tax Conduct.

Bayer and animal testing

Bayer tests on animals in several areas of its company, and says animal studies are conducted "In the areas of health (Pharmaceuticals division, Animal Health business unit), crop protection (Crop Science division) and in the departments responsible for environmental matters (Currenta)."


Overall, there are an abundance of ethical issues connected to both Monsanto and Bayer, and we recommend finding alternatives to their products whenever possible.