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Bayer Can Drop The Name Monsanto, But Can’t Erase The Hate

The German pharma giant wants to do a bit of 'rebranding,' after the mega merger with the U.S.-based agro-giant. But anti-Monsanto sentiment is bound to remain no matter what it's called.

Sowing the seeds of hate
Sowing the seeds of hate
Elisabeth Dostert

MUNICH — Bayer is dropping the name Monsanto. What's surprising about this is not the move itself, but the speed with which the new owners are getting rid of the old name. Apparently, for the German multinational, things just couldn't go fast enough. After all, for its critics, the U.S. agro-multinational is the epitome of evil. Over the years, it had acquired names such as "Evil Incorporated," "Monsatan" or, in reference to its work in genetic engineering, "Mutanto." Perhaps no other company on Earth has attracted as much hatred as Monsanto.

So the name will disappear. And then all shall be well, right? It's not that simple. Any coming attack will now be directed with full force against Monsanto's new owner, the German multinational Bayer. And the blows will be coming from many places.

There are, for example, the class action lawsuits filed by cancer patients in the United States who blame their disease on the active ingredients glyphosate and dicamba. Such legal disputes can drag on for years and the outcome is completely open. What's more, Bayer will not, under any circumstances, discontinue the genetic engineering business — on the contrary. Crop protection products and genetically modified organisms are one of Monsanto's core competencies. The core business remains, and so will the criticism.

He is confident that Bayer is the better brand.

But the attacks might also come from within. Despite everything, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann is certain of his eventual victory. He is confident that Bayer is the better brand and wants to impose his corporate culture on the Americans. But what if that doesn't work? What if the takeover of Monsanto ultimately fails because of cultural barriers? Many employees identify with "their" company through its name. Baumann is giving Monsanto employees no time to say goodbye to their old name and get used to the new one. The chief of the Leverkusen-based company is acting like a conqueror, and that's a mistake.

He could have taken his time. He could have waited to be able to better assess whether the integration was really successful. But by taking over Monsanto, Bayer is endangering its own reputation. In other words, it may be rid of the name, but it won't be rid of the hatred anytime soon.

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