An authoritative and eye-opening history that examines how Monsanto came to have outsized influence over our food system.
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Publisher
W.W. Norton
Publication Date
October 12, 2021

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.

How I got the story

Amidst investigating Coca-Cola’s caffeine sources for his first book, Citizen Coke, Bart stumbled on the archived records of Monsanto at Washington University in St. Louis. Monsanto was the perfect foil to Coke; whereas Coke was inescapably visible, Monsanto is akin to an omnipresent phantom. It is everywhere, but silent and invisible. Bart knew there was an important story to tell about how Monsanto came to have outsized influence over our food system. With his passion for ecology and environmental preservation, Bart set out to go wherever this story took him to uncover the truth.

Bart Elmore preparing for a interview at Dekalb Vietnam, a wholly owned entity of Monsanto Company.

Bart became a collector of stories, compiling the narratives of former Monsanto employees, local farmers, and individuals affected by the company writ large. He gained access to Monsanto’s top people. Bart uncovered legal documents from previous civil suits against the company, and he traveled across the globe to better Monsanto’s worldwide impact on human health, agriculture, and the environment. 

At the Ohio State University, Bart enlisted the help of some of the top minds in agricultural sciences to contextualize his work, eventually stumbling across the developments in the lawsuit against dicamba which would end in $265 million dollar jury verdict for farmers impacted by the harmful herbicide. From start to finish, this was a story of smoking guns, where decades of agricultural and environmental harm were beginning to show their true colors. 

Seed Money is a unique blend of history and journalism that seeks to hold a corporation accountable for the global environmental damage done over decades. This story reveals the steady regression of Monsanto’s product, as they spent decades promising the future of agriculture while delivering the past, in the form of older, more harmful chemicals.

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.

Praise for Seed Money

Mark Bittman, author of Animal, Vegetable, Junk

"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."

Edmund Russell, President, American Society for Environmental History

“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.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America

"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.”

Catherine Coleman Flowers, founder, Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice

"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."

Edward L. Ayers, recipient of the National Humanities Medal

"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."

Ellen Griffith Spears, author of Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town

"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.’"

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