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. SEED MONEY 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, SEED MONEY 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, this urgent history shows how our food future is still very much tethered to the company’s chemical past.
While investigating how Coca-Cola sourced its ingredients for his first book, Citizen Coke, Bart learned that Coke bought most of its caffeine from a then-fledgling firm from St. Louis called Monsanto. He soon stumbled on the archival records of the Monsanto Company at Washington University in St. Louis and got a big break when Monsanto gave him permission to access those records. He spent nearly a decade pouring through company files.
But early on, Bart realized if he was going to get this story right, he was going to have to leave the archives and talk to the people inside and outside Monsanto that were intimately enmeshed in the history he was writing. He gained access to Monsanto’s top people and also spoke to a key company employee over encrypted phone who had disturbing stories to tell. Bart filed Freedom of Information Act requests with government agencies, scoured the National Archives, and flew to watch a jaw-dropping court case unfold whose outcome still threatens the future of Bayer. He interviewed the lawyers involved in the multimillion-dollar litigation still ongoing against Monsanto/Bayer and talked at length with scientists at the National Academy of Sciences and the USDA as well as with farmers on the ground who work with Monsanto chemicals and seeds. He then set off across the globe, to Vietnam, Brazil, and beyond, to better understand Monsanto’s worldwide impact on human health, agriculture, and the environment. He camped out at Superfund sites and ventured into Monsanto's corporate offices in distant lands. And he came back home, to Ohio State University, where he enlisted the help of some of the top minds in agricultural science to contextualize his work.
Seed Money is thus a unique blend of history and journalism that uncovers how Monsanto's past is now shaping our food future. It's a story that should matter to everyone who cares where their food comes from and whether we will be able to feed a growing population in the years to come.
This is not simply a story of corporate villains heedlessly destroying the planet, though the book does uncover unethical corporate practices that affected people's health. In many cases, it is actually a story of good people who took on important jobs inside the firm who made small but consequential decisions that had wide-ranging effects on our global environment. A timely narrative, Seed Money is a cautionary tale for the twenty-first century consumer and for the people working in firms who are shaping the future of our food system.
"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 (2019), and Patrick Radden O’Keefe’s exposé of the Sackler family, Empire of Pain (2021), Seed Money is a galvanizing achievement that will leave readers deeply impressed, impassioned, and infuriated."
"Elmore paints a damning portrait of a corporation that was slow to investigate the dangers of the chemicals it sold and attempted to discredit the work of the scientists who had the temerity to reveal those dangers."
"In his new book Seed Money: Monsanto’s Past and Our Food Future, Bartow J. Elmore has delivered the definitive historical account of a firm with a momentous history and an afterlife that makes it as relevant as ever. An environmental and business historian at Ohio State University, Elmore wrote Seed Money for a non-academic audience—in clear, brisk prose, with an eye for the telling anecdote."
"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."
“I expect this will become the book on Monsanto. Elmore has done a mountain of original research, ranged far and wide to gather data, and synthesized it into a compelling story. Anyone interested in biotechnology, or the relationship between corporations and the environment in general, cannot afford to ignore this important book.”
"Timely, powerful, and totally engrossing. We will not fix our health until we fix our food; fixing our food, as Seed Money makes clear, is a tale of politics and power.”
"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."
"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."
"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.’"