Technological innovation is important for the sustenance of the continuously growing population of Earth. It is what had kept the planet from falling into a sustenance crisis predicted by Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798, who stated that the land would not be able to sustain the population at its existing growth rates. The introduction of genetically-modified crops, fertilizers, pesticides, and other technologies managed to drastically increase agricultural effectiveness and facilitate healthy population growth.
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Technological advancements, however, are not without flaws. A line has to be drawn when agricultural chemicals, though effective, become dangerous to the main stakeholders, which are the customers and the employees. Agricultural companies are sensitive to public backlash, and any news of their products being dangerous can potentially shut down the entire business.
This paper will cover the Monsanto weed killer case, which started in 2016 and caused a major outcry in the agricultural, scientific, business, and public communities. The Supreme Court ruled out that Monsanto’s prime product, the Roundup weed killer, is cancerogenic. This historical decision has far-reaching complications for all of the stakeholders involved, including the workers, the customers, the government, the agricultural sector, and the company itself.
It may reshape the industry by affecting prices and effectiveness of food production, and serve as a precedent for launching investigation into other products of similar nature. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the stakeholders involved in the case, the media portrayal of the situation, and the potential aftermath of the case for the industry as a whole.
There are many stakeholders involved in this crisis, with varying degrees of investment into the situation. These stakeholders are the business firm itself, the employees, the customers, the suppliers, the government, and the stockholders and creditors. Tertiary stockholders include non-government organizations and competitor companies. All of these stakeholders have different stakes, depending on how much the Monsanto crisis affects them.
Primary stakeholders, by definition, are those whose welfare and livelihood are directly affected by the product and the decisions made around it. Secondary stakeholder groups, while also involved and having an interest in the process, do not have as much of an influence on its outcomes. Tertiary stakeholders are those who are indirectly affected by the situation and its solution. Based on these definitions, stakeholders for the Monsanto weed killer case are as follows (Majeed, 2018):
- Monsanto. The company is accused of selling a potentially cancerogenic product en-mass to over 130 countries all over the world. Should the Supreme Court decision stand and the appeal rejected, Monsanto will suffer a loss of reputation and experience a financial downfall. Monsanto Bayer’s obligations saw a 10% decrease the next day after the court decision.
- Employees. Individuals directly working with Roundup and receiving exposure to a potentially cancerogenic product have high stakes in this case, as not only the truth will determine the amount of risk they are being exposed to, but also serve as a precedent for receiving compensations. Mr. Johnson’s case prompted over 5000 cancer patients to also file lawsuits against Monsanto.
- Customers. Monsanto potentially affects millions of people who consume agricultural products with traces of the chemical compound. If Roundup is determined a cancerogenic substance and is subsequently banned or restricted from use, fruits and vegetables will become safer for consumption. However, they will also become more expensive, as Roundup is a cheap and very effective weed killer.
- The suppliers. In this case, agricultural companies using Roundup are considered the suppliers. If Roundup is banned, they will be forced to rely on other, less efficient weed killers, which is likely to increase prices and decrease their total output.
- The government. Public outcry and scientific evidence will prompt the government to raise bans, which would prompt an increase in prices, poverty growth, and a potential investigation into other products of a similar nature.
- Stockholders and creditors. If Monsanto is sustained as guilty and the ban on Roundup and similar products is not lifted, they lose money.
- Non-government organizations. Various activists could use the situation as a banner to promote ecological friendliness, corporate responsibility, and other left-leaning ideas, as the situation will serve as proof of corrosive corporate greed.
- Competitors. The situation for these stakeholders is ambivalent. The removal of Monsanto from the market as a result of a scandal could give them room for advancing other products. They could potentially advertise these products as cancer-free and eco-friendly, to gain more attention. On the other hand, their own weed killers, fertilizers, and pesticides might come into scrutiny.
As it is possible to see, there are many conflicting interests in this equation. As it stands, it looks like Monsanto is going to lose its public face, as a hint of foul play alone is enough to cause damage to the company’s public reputation (Anderson, 2014). During legal investigations, more allegations regarding the company suppressing undesirable scientific research and promoting journalism that supported the company’s agenda came up (Levin, 2018). The Supreme Court allowed the use of scientific evidence in order to motivate its decision. The two major issues concerning all stakeholder groups are as follows:
- Is Roundup potentially cancerogenic?
- If Roundup is potentially cancerogenic, are the risks negligible?
Both left wing, right wing, and neutral mass media channels have been providing reports and analytical statements regarding the issue. Although there is an effort to remain objective, the choice of titles, imagery, choice of quotes, and general article tone suggest that the media leans towards the plaintiff’s point of view rather than that of the accused. The article published by Reuters provides a cursory overview of the issue without citing evidence presented by both parties (Bellon, 2018). The article published by BBC News offers a complete story.
According to BBC (2018), Monsanto’s case is supported by studies investigated by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), whereas Mr. Johnson’s case relies on the evidence provided by IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer). The article published by The Guardian tells only one side of the story, meticulously citing the findings by the IARC while ignoring the statements made by EPA (Levin & Greenfield, 2018). The Scientific American states the same, though, to their credit, the article was published six months before the EPA report (Cressey, 2015).
Scientific evidence remains contradictory. As it stands, the main documents for either side remain the EPA, and the IARC reports. EPA reports were published in 2015. In the scope of this paper, US and New Zealand accounts came to similar conclusions, that glyphosate (the active compound of Roundup) is unlikely to be cancerogenic (Rowland & Middleton, 2015; Temple, 2016). These conclusions were drawn because the studies proving the contrary were lacking in number, had small control groups, and did not report statistically significant results.
IARC, on the other hand, sustained that there is sufficient evidence to declare glyphosate to be potentially cancerogenic (IARC, 2016). Large-scale studies, like the Agricultural Health Cohort Study (AHCS) did not indicate any affiliation between glyphosate and cancer. Therefore, the verdicts of EPA and the IARC were based on interpretation of the results from various smaller studies. Both sides are likely prone to interpretation bias.
Based on the research and evaluation of the materials presented above, there are several conclusions to be drawn:
- There is no conclusive evidence of glyphosate being cancerogenic, the evidence presented to the supreme court on both sides uses the same sources but differs in their interpretation.
- Monsanto is already suffering losses due to public outcry. Roundup will likely be removed from production or rebranded to avoid recognition.
- The media was united in its position on the issue. Attempts to independently investigate the provided evidence were made with the scope of supporting an agenda. Exposure of the case dealt a massive blow to Monsanto’s reputation even before it was declared guilty.
The treatment of the Monsanto case shows the power of the media to influence nearly all stakeholders in the equation. There were allegations against Monsanto for “silencing researchers,” but that claim needs to be proven in court. Whether or not the compound is as dangerous as it is claimed to be, the company’s public image is already ruined. Once glyphosate is proven or disproven to be cancerogenic by large cohort studies, it would be possible to see if the amount of negative exposure was justified or not. In either scenario, regulations against weed killers and pesticides are likely to increase, which would cause agriculture product prices to grow.
Anderson, L. (2014). Why does everyone hate Monsanto? The Modern Farmer. Web.
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BBC. (2018). Monsanto weedkiller case: Bayer shares tumble after payout. BBC News. Web.
Bellon, T. (2018). First trial alleging Monsanto’s Roundup causes cancer goes to jury. Reuters. Web.
Cressey, D. (2015). Widely used herbicide linked to cancer. Scientific American. Web.
IARC. (2016). Glyphosate. Web.
Levin, S. (2018). Monsanto ‘bullied scientists’ and hid weedkiller cancer risk, lawyer tells court. The Guardian. Web.
Levin, S., & Greenfield, P. (2018). Monsanto ordered to pay $289m as jury rules weedkiller caused man’s cancer. The Guardian. Web.
Majeed, A. (2018). Application of agrochemicals in agriculture. Benefits, risk, and responsibility of stakeholders. Journal of Food Science and Toxicology, 2(3), 1-2.
Rowland, J., & Middleton, K. (2015). Glyphosate: Report of the cancer assessment review committee. Web.
Temple, W. (2016). Review of the evidence relating to glyphosate and carcinogenicity. Web.