To the investor, it means a way to play the fluctuations in the agriculture business. Or it refers to an innovative high-tech company whose shares offer a long-term bet based on a certain Malthusian logic: the more people there are on earth, the more we'll need the world's harvests to yield lots of food -- or else.
To many competitors and
-- and, quite likely, the federal government -- Monsanto brings to mind the hard-line tactics of a monopolist, a company that allegedly strong-arms customers into using its seed traits, and forces rivals into licensing agreements that prevent their twining of genes onto those branded by Monsanto. At least that's the contention of
, among others, which has filed a civil lawsuit against the St. Louis agricultural company, alleging antitrust violations.
Monsanto, of course, disputes these characterizations: Its domination of the seed industry, it says, has occurred because of its huge investment in developing genetically engineered crop technologies, and the superior seeds that have resulted.
And to environmentalists and consumer advocates, Monsanto is a corporate goliath that has succeeded in bringing dangerous technologies into widespread use by farmers around the world. Dangerous, they say, because of the hegemony one company appears to have won over the food supply. And dangerous, others claim, because genetically engineered, mono-culture crops could both destabilize ecologies and, ironically enough, wind up harming agricultural productivity.
(One recent worry involves an Alfalfa seed developed by Monsanto, which some say could contaminate nearby crops. A legal injunction has blocked the company from selling the seeds, pending the completion of an environmental impact study. The case is now on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court.)
And then there are the questions concerning stock valuation raised by
. During a conference call to discuss another
, executives admitted that the financial goals they'd targeted through 2012 were, in the end, unrealistic.
That's a lot of controversy for one company. Which brings to mind another question, which we now pose to readers of
: Do the various criticisms of Monsanto -- whether anti-competitive, consumer-oriented or environmental -- impact in any way your desire to own shares of this hotly debated company?
Take our poll below to see the consensus of
, and don't forget to leave a comment regarding your feeling about arguably the world's most conroversial company.
-- Written by Scott Eden in New York
Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, he worked as a features reporter for Dealmaker and Trader Monthly magazines. Before that, he wrote for the Chicago Reader, that city's weekly paper. Early in his career, he was a staff reporter at the Dow Jones News Service. His reporting has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and the Believer magazine, among other publications. He's also the author of Touchdown Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a nonfiction book about Notre Dame football fans and the business and politics of big-time college sports. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.