Enterprise & Society
Publication Date
November 7, 2017

Monsanto’s transformation from a chemical firm to a biotechnology business in the 1980s and 1990s reveals that an increasingly small corporate cartel gained dominion over petroleum refining byproducts and that this concentration of ownership had profound implications for the future solvency of Monsanto. As the price of petrochemical feedstocks rose, Monsanto, a company that made 80 percent of its products from fossil fuels, began to pursue an alternative path to profits. In short, concentrated corporate ownership of critical natural resources forced some companies in the chemical commodity production business to pursue radically new ways of generating cash flow. This was especially true for scavenger capitalists such as Monsanto, firms that had historically made their money by scavenging raw material stockpiles produced by booming commercial industries. For firms invested heavily in commodity production but lacking proprietary claims to critical natural resources, the key was finding new ways to make money without depending on fossil fuels. For Monsanto, biotechnology offered a way out.

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