Genetically Modified Mitt

Investigative reporter Wayne Barrett has documented so many Mitt Romney–Monsanto connections that he concludes, “If Romney is elected, this bête noire of environmentalists will have a very old friend in a very high place.”

Barrett, a Nation Institute Fellow, reports in the September 13 issue of The Nation that Bain Capital helped transform Monsanto from a chemical company into the genetic plant producer that Swiss research firm Covalence last year ranked as last in overall ethical performance of multinational corporations.

Monsanto was one of Bain & Company’s first clients. John Hanley, then Monsanto’s CEO, collaborated with Bill Bain to create Bain Capital to keep Romney in the Bain fold, and provided $1 million in Bain Capital startup funding. Romney, in turn, helped Monsanto move from chemical production (which gave the world PCBs) to bioengineering seeds.

Barrett quotes a former Monsanto executive who credits Bain with dumping the company’s literally toxic assets—“the superfund cleanup stuff and the environmental disasters”—into a separate company called Solutia.

Yet Bain and Monsanto sometimes struck out. One Monsanto disaster during the Bain years was bovine growth hormone, which crippled cows and alarmed parents and other consumers until retail outlets banned it from their shelves.

Another former Monsanto exec says Bain focused on short-term gains that were “going to be reported in the stock section of the newspaper.”

With 90 countries monitoring, restricting, or banning Monsanto’s GM seeds—and a Brazilian court awarding $2 billion–plus to soy farmers who sued Monsanto—Bain might have failed to think long-term in the international market.

Electing Romney would provide Monsanto with an additional advantage at home, where his former corporate client is more successful at muscling law-makers and judges. Barrett describes a Romney Agricultural Advisory Team loaded with Monsanto functionaries, including:

  • Randy Russell, who has led Monsanto’s D.C. lobbying team since the company was founded.
  • Chuck Conner, whose national Council of Farmer Cooperatives backed Monsanto’s 2010 push to win USDA approval of bioengineered alfalfa.
  • Tom Nassif, whose Western Growers Association receives annual grants from Monsanto.
  • A.G. Kamamura, the former California agriculture secretary who promoted Monsanto alfalfa after a federal court in the state ruled against it.
  • Katie Smith, a former aide to former Missouri senator Jim Talent, who is executive director of a public relations firm created by Monsanto executives whose founding client was Monsanto.

Should Romney win, look for Monsanto to shape the nation’s Ag policy.