Seed Money: Monsanto's Past and Our Food Future
(Norton, Oct. 2021)
An authoritative and eye-opening history that examines how Monsanto came to have outsized influence over our food system.
Monsanto, a St. Louis chemical firm that became the world’s largest maker of genetically engineered seeds, merged with German pharma-biotech giant Bayer in 2018―but its Roundup Ready® seeds, introduced twenty-five years ago, are still reshaping the farms that feed us.
When researchers found trace amounts of the firm’s blockbuster herbicide in breakfast cereal bowls, Monsanto faced public outcry. Award-winning historian Bartow J. Elmore shows how the Roundup story is just one of the troubling threads of Monsanto’s past, many told here and woven together for the first time.
A company employee sitting on potentially explosive information who weighs risking everything to tell his story. A town whose residents are urged to avoid their basements because Monsanto’s radioactive waste laces their homes’ foundations. Factory workers who peel off layers of their skin before accepting cash bonuses to continue dirty jobs. An executive wrestling with the ethics of selling a profitable product he knew was toxic.
Incorporating global fieldwork, interviews with company employees, and untapped corporate and government records, Elmore traces Monsanto’s astounding evolution from a scrappy chemical startup to a global agribusiness powerhouse. Monsanto used seed money derived from toxic products―including PCBs and Agent Orange―to build an agricultural empire, promising endless bounty through its genetically engineered technology.
Skyrocketing sales of Monsanto’s new Roundup Ready system stunned even those in the seed trade, who marveled at the influx of cash and lavish incentives into their sleepy sector. But as new data emerges about the Roundup system, and as Bayer faces a tide of lawsuits over Monsanto products past and present, Elmore’s urgent history shows how our food future is still very much tethered to the company’s chemical past.
"Elmore’s substantial research and outstanding attention to detail makes this investigation of the Monsanto chemical and agribusiness corporation riveting from start to finish.…Combining elements of the film Erin Brockovich, Robert Bilott’s Exposure, and Patrick Radden O’Keefe’s exposé of the Sackler family, Empire of Pain, Seed Money is a galvanizing achievement that will leave readers deeply impressed, impassioned, and infuriated."
― Booklist (starred review)
"Comprehensive and thought-provoking, this is an essential history for understanding the impact of a major player in modern agribusiness."
― Publishers Weekly
"An astute, evenhanded history of a business often portrayed, with good reason, as a villain."
― Kirkus Reviews
"If you want to know just how Monsanto became so reviled by the sustainable food movement, this gripping tale of greed and corporate power tells all."
― Mark Bittman, author of Animal, Vegetable, Junk
"A timely, powerful, and totally engrossing book. Through stories of farmers, chemists, entrepreneurs, workers, patients, lawyers, and judges, Elmore recounts a devastating history of how chemicals have seeped into almost every cranny of the national and global food supply. We will not fix our health until we fix our food; fixing our food, as this book makes clear, is a tale of politics and power."
― Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
"Seed Money illustrates the danger of placing profit over people and how not protecting our environment from dangerous chemicals threatens the health and welfare of all of us."
― Catherine Colman Flowers, founder, Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice
"I expect this will become the book on Monsanto."
― Edmund Russell, President, American Society for Environmental History
"A book of immediate relevance and enduring significance. Elmore’s powerful narrative uncovers evidence long hidden in corporate vaults, reveals the global consequences of decisions made in distant laboratories and boardrooms, and finds connections among science, agriculture, technology, politics, and business never seen before. This is history that matters."
― Edward L. Ayers, recipient of the National Humanities Medal
"A fast-paced and vivid account of the global threats to food production and public health from the agrochemical industry’s widely marketed herbicides―a must read for all who wish to better understand the workings of ‘scavenger capitalism.’"
― Ellen Griffith Spears, author of Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town