PR DAILY – BEKI WINCHEL -Monsanto’s name will soon be gone, and Bayer hopes that the move will be a firewall between it and the controversial brand.
On Monday, pharmaceutical and pesticide giant Bayer said it plans to close its $60 billion purchase of Monsanto on June 7. Bayer announced its first step is to retire Monsanto’s 117-year-old (and very infamous) brand name.
In a press release in its corporate newsroom, Bayer announced:
Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name. The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio.
The move is meant to help Bayer distance itself from continuing controversy and protests in response to Monsanto’s products and business practices.
Around the turn of the 20th century, [Olga Monsanto] married a man named John Francis Queeny. He named his artificial sweetener company after her. And over decades, that company expanded from the sweetness business into agri-chemicals, where it began to dominate the industry.
These days Monsanto is shorthand for, as NPR’s Dan Charles has put it, “lots of things that some people love to hate”: Genetically modified crops, which Monsanto invented. Seed patents, which Monsanto has fought to defend. Herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup, which protesters have sharply criticized for its possible health risks. Big agriculture in general, of which Monsanto was the reviled figurehead.
In its release, Bayer addressed the acquisition with words such as “sustainable” and “innovation”:
“Innovation is vital to produce more healthy, safe and affordable food for a growing population in a more sustainable manner. The combination of the two businesses will allow us to deliver more innovation faster and provide solutions tailored to the needs of farmers around the world,” said Liam Condon, Bayer Board Member and President of the Crop Science Division. “Going forward, our teams in the labs and in the field will be able to take a much more holistic approach to innovation as we address the enormous challenges we face in agriculture.”
Similar language was used on social media as well as the text and video on Bayer’s PR website for its acquisition of Monsanto. Even the name frames Bayer’s PR statements: www.advancingtogether.com.
We’re creating a leading innovation engine in agriculture with the acquisition of Monsanto expected to be closed on June 7. Read the full press release: https://t.co/8oWuJpYUFl pic.twitter.com/awDW39EZB0
— Bayer Crop Science (@Bayer4Crops) June 4, 2018
— Bayer AG (@Bayer) June 4, 2018
Near the bottom of Bayer’s press release, its chairman of the board of management, Werner Baumann, addressed the challenges they face in taking on a company with such a negative brand image.
Bayer is fully aware of the heightened responsibility that a leadership position in agriculture entails. The company will continue to further strengthen its commitment in the area of sustainability. As a leader, Bayer is fully committed to upholding the highest ethical and responsibility standards, strengthening access to health and nutrition, and further reducing its environmental footprint. “We will apply the same rigor to achieving our sustainability targets as we do to our financial targets,” said Baumann.
Bayer is also committed to further enhancing stakeholder engagement. Baumann said: “We aim to deepen our dialogue with society. We will listen to our critics and work together where we find common ground. Agriculture is too important to allow ideological differences to bring progress to a standstill. We have to talk to each other. We need to listen to each other. It’s the only way to build bridges.”
However, being “fully aware” of the challenge and ditching a negative moniker is only the beginning of a long road to repair Monsanto’s reputation.
Monsanto has long been targeted by environmental activists for its pioneering role in creating GM crops and the deadly herbicide Agent Orange, used by the US in the Vietnam war. The company, which was founded in St Louis, Missouri, in 1901, has been described as an “example of American corporate evil”.
Bayer’s chairman, Werner Baumann, promised the company would engage with campaigners, who have described the takeover as a “marriage made in hell”.