Monsanto is a name that is synonymous with Big Agriculture and, more importantly, genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The company's Roundup herbicide, which is used almost exclusively around the world, has been blamed for the development of resistant superweeds that are filling up farmers' fields in the U.S. and abroad.
And speaking of farmers, Monsanto is also synonymous with the term "lawsuit" -- as in the company protects its licensed seeds the way a mother and father protect a child. More than a few farmers have been hauled into court for reusing Monsanto brand seeds from one year to the next, in violation of the company's trademark.
But what Monsanto is known best for is its creation of GM foods and crops. There is hardly a hectare or acre of soybeans or corn whose seeds have not come from the GMO labs at Monsanto.
Changing the agricultural game is what Monsanto does. ... So it's not particularly surprising that the company is introducing novel strains of familiar food crops, invented at Monsanto and endowed by their creators with powers and abilities far beyond what you usually see in the produce section. The lettuce is sweeter and crunchier than romaine and has the stay-fresh quality of iceberg. The peppers come in miniature, single-serving sizes to reduce leftovers. The broccoli has three times the usual amount of glucoraphanin, a compound that helps boost antioxidant levels. Stark's department, the global trade division, came up with all of them.
"Grocery stores are looking in the produce aisle for something that pops, that feels different," Monsanto exec Kenny Avery told the magazine. "And consumers are looking for the same thing."
Crossbred, not genetically modified
If they are correct, they will know soon enough. Because Monsanto is set to introduce Frescada lettuce, BellaFina peppers, and Beneforte broccoli -- and nary a one of them has been genetically modified (also planned for introduction into U.S. supermarkets: a type of melon, a watermelon and an onion).
The Big Ag giant created all of the vegetables using a tried-and-true natural technique -- crossbreeding, which is the same "technology" that farmers have been using for hundreds of years to optimize their crops and yields.
"That doesn't mean they are low tech, exactly. Stark's division is drawing on Monsanto's accumulated scientific know-how to create vegetables that have all the advantages of genetically modified organisms without any of the Frankenfoods ick factor," Wired reported.
And as some cities and states -- and food chains like Whole Foods -- consider laws and changes in current business practices to require GMO labeling of foods, such requirements won't apply to Monsanto's new breed of "super" vegetables. That's because, despite being developed in a laboratory environment, they are nonetheless as natural as what you would find at a farmers' market. If you kept them pesticide-free and transported them less than 100 miles, you could actually label them organic. Here's how the veggies were developed:
-- Beneforte broccoli - Derived by crossbreeding commercial broccoli with a strain that grows wild in southern Italy (price will be around $2.50 a pound);
-- Bellafina bell peppers - These will be essentially bite-sized, to reduce waste. They were derived through the selective breeding of plants with smaller and smaller peppers (price estimated to be about $1.50 per three-pepper bag);
-- Melorange - This was derived by crossbreeding cantaloupe with European heritage melons containing a gene for a fruity, floral aroma (price should be around $3.00 a melon);
-- Evermild onion - This sweeter, less tear-inducing strain was developed by crossbreeding individual plants that have lower levels of pyruvate, which affects pungency, and lachrymatory factor (price should fluctuate between $0.70 and $2.00 a pound).