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Monsanto On the Move

Green this, eco that, but take note: Monsanto Company announced today that its latest quarterly profits nearly tripled. Your wellness shoppers will find it ironic that the increase was due, in large part, to the strength of its herbicide business, which includes the popular RoundUp brand (the other growth area was corn seed).

Many consumers have placed Monsanto in their pantheon of corporate villainy. It’s the giant, faceless conglomerate, casting its large, very dark shadow over American agriculture. The list of crimes cited by activists is short but significant: Monsanto pioneered genetically modified corn and soy plants; created recombinant bovine growth hormone (rGBH); and has asked federal regulators to ban “hormone-free” labels on dairy products.

Yet, here it is, flush with cash and raising its forecast for 2008 upwards of $0.20 a share. This is coming off a stellar 2007, when the company’s stock price more than doubled, from $52 per share to almost $112 by the end of the year.

We’re not going to pretend to know why this is. All sorts of factors are at work. However, a recent story in Business Week described a critical strategic change after Hugh Grant took over the CEO’s office in 2003. After years of deflecting public criticism over its products and activities, Monsanto began focusing on four commodity crops, including corn and soybeans. The industrial-grade products were suitable only for processing plants, and far removed from supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. Consumers no longer had all this GMO news in their faces, and the opposition began to quiet.

As a result, the Grocery Manufacturers Association reports that, up to 70% of all processed foods made in the United States today contain GMO commodities.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you have to admit that Monsanto deserves credit for playing smart.