This is a transcript of the Gastropod episode, Monsanto or MonSatan? How—and Why—a St. Louis Startup Became a Hated Herbicide Giant, first released on May 3, 2022. It is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.
CHORUS: Monsanto is the devil, cast him out. We gotta cast him out. Monsanto is the devil! Cast him out.
PODCAST HOST: Glyphosate has emblazoned Monsanto with an aura that makes people refer to them as Mon-Satan.
PROTESTOR: Just say no to Monsanto!
CYNTHIA GRABER: For a lot of people around North America and around the world, Monsanto has become a bad word.
NICOLA TWILLEY: For those of you who are not familiar, Monsanto is the biggest herbicide company in the world. They sell the stuff that farmers use to kill weeds all over the globe
GRABER: We’ve talked about weeds before on Gastropod — and by the way that is indeed what you’re listening to, this is Gastropod, the podcast that looks at food through the lens of science and history, I’m Cynthia Graber.
TWILLEY: And I’m Nicola Twilley. In our first weed episode, Buried Treasure, we told the story of the world’s longest-running plant biology experiment, the Beal Seed experiment. It’s designed to show how long weeds can survive in the soil and the answer is: basically forever.
GRABER: In the episode, we also took a more philosophical and historical look at what weeds are, and how humans have both decided what constitutes a weed and also kind of created them over the millennia.
TWILLEY: That episode we told you that weeds have been the bane of farmers’ lives for centuries. But although weeds were definitely a pain in the arse back when the Beal Seed experiment started in the late 1800s, since then we’ve managed to turn them from a familiar frustration into a truly wicked problem.
GRABER: This episode, we’re telling the story of the dawn of the age of herbicides, the dawn of the chemicals we’ve created to wipe those weeds out all together. Or so we thought.
TWILLEY: It’s a tale that involves contaminated cranberries and the Vietnam War, but also, at heart, it’s the story of a scrappy startup that has become one of the most hated companies in the world.
GRABER: But is Monsanto really evil? Are the herbicides they make toxic—are they bad for us as well as weeds—or are they miracle chemicals, something we truly need to feed the world?