Agrochemical giant Monsanto has spent the past year going state to state, trying to convince agricultural departments to ban "hormone-free" labels on milk.
It was a cynical attempt, in many people's eyes, to limit consumer information about artificial hormones, called rBST, used to unnaturally boost the milk output of cows. Use of the hormones is banned in Europe, in Canada, and in any milk labeled "organic" an increasingly popular product among consumers watching out for their health and the health of the environment. "rBST-free" has become a statement against industrial farming, even if the label doesn't always mean it. To consumers, it means cows weren't made to pump out milk at unnatural rates, which could mean they are less susceptible to disease, less in need of antibiotic treatments and all-in-all producing more healthy milk.
Now, Monsanto has announced it wants to sell its rBST business. Like other agricultural chemical and technology companies, Monsanto has been profiting handsomely on the uptick in corn planting following the ethanol boom; it's sticking to its main business providing genetically modified seeds that farmers have to, by contract, buy each year, rather than save for future planting.
The seed scheme and back door political lobbying are among the efforts that earned Monsanto a reputation for corporate bullying.
Monsanto's decision to abandon perhaps its most controversial product comes months after Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, announced it would stop selling milk from cows treated with rBST. It comes as the Organic Trade Association and others have successfully pushed back, on behalf of consumers, against Monsanto's state-by-state anti-labeling campaign.
It's hard to imagine the next owner of the rBST business being as successful as Monsanto in keeping such a controversial product on the market. When Monsanto bids good riddance to rBST, so may the supermarket dairy aisle.
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