Monsanto "a risky investment"/GMOs unfit for consumption (23/3/2007)

1.Is Monsanto Going to Seed?
2.GMOs unfit for consumption

GM WATCH comment: This article (item 1) warning against investing in Monsanto comes from "the world's premier multimedia financial education company".

The "Motley Fool" provides an independent voice on investing and finance, for which it has won awards. And here their investment advisor warns that Monsanto is a lot riskier than some investors might want to believe. Her own preference is for "investments with less bad mojo than Monsanto".

EXTRACTS: ...given the big risks pertaining to possible regulatory changes and stepped-up oversight -- not to mention signs of increasing consumer backlash -- Monsanto strikes me as a risky investment. (item 1)

"Monsanto's analyses do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny," the French professor said. "To begin with, their statistical protocols are highly questionable." (item 2)
1.Is Monsanto Going to Seed?
By Alyce Lomax
The Motley Fool, March 23 2007

Many people like to consider Monsanto part of the brave new world of biotech. However, the company has long been shrouded in controversy, and there could be more in store.

Several recent news headlines referring to its genetically modified products should give investors some reason to contemplate the risks that face this company.

Consumer sentiment against Monsanto's artificial-growth hormone, Posilac, seems to be increasing. Not only have many dairy co-ops notified their farmers that they want an increasing supply of rBST-free milk, but Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) recently said it was also bowing to consumer pressure and discontinuing the use of dairy produced with the substance.

Monsanto's latest 10-K disclosed: "We believe low milk prices and some processor requests for 'r-BST-free' milk are limiting our future sales" of Posilac. While Posilac doesn't represent a significant chunk of Monsanto's overall business, it's an interesting change in tune for the company.

Also, a federal judge has blocked Monsanto's genetically modified alfalfa, ordering that sales of the seed be halted and banning planting of the crop after March 30. The judge stated that the manner in which such crops have been approved by regulators has been a "cavalier" approach. Yep, the lack of an environmental impact statement before approval does sound pretty cavalier. (In fact, it's more than cavalier -- this actually violated the law, according to the judge.)

And, of course, environmental activist organization Greenpeace said recently that data shows that a strain of Monsanto's genetically modified corn has shown toxicity in rats, and some researchers have said GM potatoes are linked to cancer in the rodents.

These are the kernels of a controversy with no easy answers -- but I've got one that is simple enough for the way I feel about it: Monsanto's too risky for my money.

Critical masses

Fans of genetically modified crops contend that there is no scientific evidence that the practice yields crops that are any different from conventionally grown ones. And of course, the blessing of regulatory agencies like the FDA and USDA gives more credence for their standpoint.

Critics aren't so sure about the safety of genetic modification. They contend that not enough time has elapsed for them to truly know what the ultimate implications might be in terms of the environment or human health. Some believe that the influx of GM corn and soybeans has contributed to increased allergies in our population. (Soybeans and corn are in a lot of processed foods -- for example, high-fructose corn syrup is an extremely prevalent sweetener and preservative because of its low cost.) Some contend that perhaps these foods may contribute to cancer.

Last but not least, the ease with which genetically modified crops can cross-pollinate into conventionally grown crops could endanger genetic diversity. And many fear that since Monsanto has patents on its technology, it could force unwitting farmers to pay up if its strains show up in their crops even by accident.

Meanwhile, Europe has historically been very averse to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in its food supply. There's also the organic movement, which is gaining increased interest in the U.S., too -- and certified organic foods, by definition, do not include GMOs.

When consumers don't comply

Monsanto and its fans seem to sniff at the lack of scientific discrimination in some consumers' distaste for some of these products, calling it the effect of deceptive marketing. However, I find that an ironic stance in the grand scheme of things. First of all, Monsanto may be dismayed, but it probably shouldn't be surprised that consumers react to its products with distrust. (Monsanto's already a poster child for left-wing scrutiny of big corporations, although companies like Halliburton share the spotlight.)

The manner in which genetically modified crops have been introduced into the American food supply doesn't exactly elicit confidence. I get frustrated when I see references to the U.S. as a market that's open to genetically modified foods -- if by "open," one means "greeted with open arms by corporations and regulators," then sure. Surveys last year revealed that many American consumers didn't even know GM foods were already on grocery shelves, and I can only imagine that many still don't.

Corporations haven't been amenable to labeling their products as containing GM ingredients; if there was every reason to believe that these crops are safe, the right thing to do would be to label them as such and launch public education campaigns, perhaps. Given the stealthy way these crops have been introduced here in the States, is consumer distrust that surprising?

As for the regulatory argument, history shows that sometimes time will tell. Merck's Vioxx was approved by the FDA, and it was a common medication until deadly side effects came to light. Evidence that the company went out of its way to hide the risk of cardiovascular problems associated with the drug gave lawsuits credibility. And of course, how long did the tobacco companies insist there was no proof there was anything risky about their products?

Even if the only reason for a consumer backlash against a technology like genetic modification or cloning is that consumers deem it distasteful, unnatural, or suspicious, that's just part of the risk of the marketplace, isn't it? It's unreasonable to force consumers to choose a product that doesn't appeal to them. Whole Foods Market is a good example of a company that has capitalized on many consumers' decisions to switch to organics (it has advocated for labeling of GM ingredients, too). Obviously, there's plenty of demand for such choices. Companies that sniff about consumers' unscientific approach risk sounding like they're all about sour grapes.

Corporate culture shock

Last year, I wrote a commentary about Monsanto, wondering if maybe there's something unsavory in its corporate culture, given its history of controversies -- not to mention what appear to be cozy relationships with high-ranking government officials and regulators. I doubt consumers can be blamed for wondering if this is a company where the unspoken motto is the Machiavellian "the end always justifies the means."

Perhaps critics' fears about GMOs will prove unfounded, but given the big risks pertaining to possible regulatory changes and stepped-up oversight -- not to mention signs of increasing consumer backlash -- Monsanto strikes me as a risky investment.

Of course, regardless of any of these news headlines, investors remain excited about Monsanto's possibilities and seemingly unfazed by negative headlines or criticism of some of its business practices. It's not like any negativity has made it a beaten-up value -- Monsanto shares are up 26% this year alone, and its P/E is 42; over the past five years, its shares have appreciated 235%. And of course, it would be remiss not to mention that there are ancillary trends at work here, such as the interest in corn-based ethanol. Also, Monsanto just announced a partnership with BASF to develop more genetically modified crops, notably for the hot biofuel area, which CEO Hugh Grant described as akin to connecting a "fire hose" to the company's pipeline.

Fire hoses sure can come in handy -- sometimes, of course, to put out fires. Do what you will, but this Fool prefers investments with less bad mojo than Monsanto.

For related Foolishness, see some commentary from last year:
*There's a genetically modified conundrum at hand.
Catching up with Monsanto's interesting history.
Whole Foods Market and Starbucks are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. To find out what other companies David and Tom Gardner have recommended to subscribers, take a free 30-day test drive.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Whole Foods Market and Starbucks. Merck is a former Income Investor pick. The Fool has nothing to hide -- it's got a disclosure policy.
By Dan Mariano
GMOs unfit for consumption
The Manila Times (Philippines), March 21 2007
The work of press agents consists of not just getting the media to carry news favorable to their clients, but also to suppress information inimical to their business. Jargon in the traditional newsroom has an aptly descriptive phrase for it: "Kill story!"

One story that has suffered down play-as of this writing-comes from a scientific study, which found that genetically modified (GM) corn approved by Philippine authorities shows signs of toxicity to mammals. The giant agribusiness multinational Monsanto markets the GM corn in several countries, including ours, for animal feeds, food processing and human consumption.

That the issue has a direct bearing on public health should be apparent. Yet many major news organizations failed to give it the prominence it obviously deserves-if they ran the story at all.

The study, written by a panel of three scientists in France, showed that laboratory rats fed with GMO corn Monsanto (MON) 863 YieldGard Root­wom displayed kidney and liver toxicity.

MON 863 is corn genetically manipulated to produce its own insecticide called "modified Cry3Bb1" to kill rootworm insects in the soil. It contains gene coding for antibiotic resistance.

Entitled "New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity," the study was published in the scientific journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology (www.springer­link.com/content/1432-0703).

The study analyzed results of safety tests submitted by Monsanto to the European Commission (EC) when the company was seeking authorization to market MON 863 in the European Union.

Although data showed significant health risks associated with the GMO corn, the EC still granted licenses to market MON 863 for consumption by both humans and animals.

The incriminating data were obtained by Greenpeace following a court case, and was passed on for evaluation by a team of experts headed by Professor Gilles Eric Séralini, a governmental expert in genetic engineering from the University of Caen in France.

"This case is especially significant to the Philippines right now in the light of the Bureau of Plant Industry's claims [last] week that they enforce stringent regulatory systems for the approval of GMOs," said Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia genetic engineering campaigner.

MON 863 was approved in several countries around the world and in the Philippines by the BPI in October 2003. "However, the approval of a GMO is not a guarantee of its safety," Ocampo said.

According to Greenpeace, the genetic manipulation of organisms is dangerously unpredictable. No GMO has ever undergone long-term testing.

“The MON 863 case is the first time that a GMO product authorized for use as food for humans and animals has been shown to have adverse effects on internal organs,” Ocampo said. “It is a clear warning of the inherent risks of GMOs.”

MON 863 was approved by the EC, despite opposition from a majority of EU member states, which raised concerns over the GMO’s safety.

Séralini’s study validates these concerns. As the study points out, “with the present data it cannot be concluded that GMO corn MON 863 is a safe product.”

At a press conference with Greenpeace in Berlin last week, Séralini also questioned Monsanto’s analyses of MON 863, which was used as a basis for its approval.

"Monsanto's analyses do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny," the French professor said. "To begin with, their statistical protocols are highly questionable."

Greenpeace demanded the complete and immediate withdrawal of MON 863 corn from the global market and is calling on governments to reassess all other authorized GE products and review current testing methods.

The environmental group also sought a moratorium on the approval of GMOs for human consumption.

In the Philippines, 25 GMO food crops-including corn, soybean, sugar beet, alfalfa, potato and cotton-have been approved by the BPI for direct use in food, feed and processing. The BPI has also permitted four GMO corn crops for propagation.

If this is the first time you got wind of this news, then the GMO propagators' PR gremlins have obviously been hard at work. 


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