As the headlines of their corporate misdeeds pile up, the Monsanto name is becoming even more synonymous with shady dealings and the obfuscation of science, all at the expense of public health. Will the company’s recent mega-merger with fellow seed and pesticide giant Bayer erase Monsanto’s track record? Bayer seems to think so, as they made the decision to drop the Monsanto name completely post-merger. But we’re not too worried.
Monsanto in the spotlight
After decades spent dodging regulators and burying scientific findings that could hurt their profits, Monsanto is finally facing their day in court. Or rather, many days in court. Earlier this summer, the company lost the first of more than 4,000 lawsuits brought against their flagship weedkiller Roundup.
The public has been paying attention, as Bayer shares plummeted following the court defeat, even though the merger process hadn’t completely wrapped up yet.
And as it turns out, Bayer and Monsanto have actually been on the same page of the industry playbook for years. In fact, Bayer deserves special recognition for their own style of spreading misinformation.
Bayer’s class-act deception
Bayer’s corporate record book definitely isn’t clean. The pharmaceutical and chemical company best known for aspirin has spent time and resources protecting their brand through “greenwashing.” Bayer and many other corporations have perfected this PR strategy, spreading misleading information to promote themselves as champions of sustainability.
Minnesota bee advocates went head-to-head with Bayer’s greenwashing efforts in June, when vigilant organizers noticed that a Pollinator Week event, hosted by local blogger The Faux Martha, was co-sponsored by Bayer’s “Feed a Bee” program.
The event centered on making wildflower boutonnieres and planting flowers to help combat pollinator declines. But Bayer is the leading producer of neonicotinoid pesticides — a key driver of pollinator declines, in addition to other factors like disease and habitat loss. Bayer hosting this pollinator party focused on a problem they’re no doubt contributing to was a prime example of greenwashing.
PAN and partners rallied to expose the event’s corporate sponsorship and shut the event down, sending Bayer a strong message that their “bee-friendly” distraction tactics aren’t welcome in our neighborhood.
Everybody’s doing it
Bayer’s not the only one selling their corporate mismanagement as leadership. A few more top greenwashing offenders:
- The Safe Fruits and Veggies program claims to help consumers make informed food choices, parroting language that PAN and partners use when talking about the risks of chronic pesticide exposure. Yet their “pesticide residue calculator” is actually a clever spin campaign from various produce industries masquerading as a helpful tool for consumers.
- After Dow Chemical and DuPont merged in 2017, the company announced a rebrand, unveiling the new name “Corteva Agriscience.” Corteva comes from the words “heart” and “nature,” a supposed homage to the corporation’s commitment to consumer health and well-being. Puh-lease.
- In the wake of last week’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, many are calling on the state to “walk the talk.” California’s economy is still securely tethered to extractive industries, especially oil—which makes any flashy leadership on climate action look a lot like greenwashing.
In a world of low corporate transparency, the burden falls on all of us to recognize dangerous greenwashing campaigns and boldly call them out. Spotting greenwashing takes persistence and a critical eye. Dig deeper into vague advertising claims, and be on the alert for industry-funded research. Ask yourself: does this showy sustainability plan distract from the core purpose of the company? Is an industry selling regulation or enforced cleanup as voluntary? You’ll start seeing greenwashing everywhere.
The good news? We know we’re doing something right when industry starts copying our tactics. Our fearless organizing for a food system that benefits everyone is only building momentum. It’s our job to keep corporations from using that power to boost their profit margins.