As it woos Syngenta, Monsanto mounts campaign to combat critics

As it woos Syngenta, Monsanto mounts campaign to combat critics

© Tom Gannam / Reuters

(Reuters) - As seed and chemical maker Monsanto Co. woos Swiss agrochemicals firm Syngenta , Monsanto also is trying to win over consumers in key international markets, rolling out social media and marketing campaigns.

U.S.-based Monsanto said it has recently launched interactive consumer-oriented websites in China, France, India, Argentina and Brazil, in addition to a lead site launched for U.S. consumers late last year.

Buying Syngenta, which has rejected a $45 billion takeover bid from Monsanto, would extend the St. Louis-based company's geographic reach as well as giving it added diversity in seeds and agrochemicals.

The "discover Monsanto" campaign encourages consumers to "be part of the conversation," ask questions and learn about the company's genetically engineered seeds and its key herbicide products. A corresponding television advertising campaign, underway since November, declares that to Monsanto "food is more than just a meal, it's love."

The outreach effort comes as the company's key products face heightened regulatory scrutiny and a consumer backlash in Monsanto's top market, the United States. Some U.S. states are mulling mandatory genetically modified labeling laws and advocacy organizations are pressuring regulators to restrict glyphosate use.

"Our goal is simply to introduce our company to those who may not know us and invite people to engage in a broader conversation about food," Monsanto spokeswoman Sara Miller said on Thursday.

Monsanto's campaign comes as organic, natural food and wellness companies in the United States are pushing anti-Monsanto messaging this month in a "social media march" across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other websites.

Activists are also organizing a global "March Against Monsanto" for May 23 with events planned in roughly 400 cities throughout North America, Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

One key criticism of Monsanto is its promotion of glyphosate, the key weed-killing ingredient in its Roundup herbicide products.

Monsanto says the long-used herbicide has proven safe and highly effective. But the World Health Organization's cancer research unit on March 20 classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans" after some scientific studies raised concerns about the chemical's health and environmental impacts.

Monsanto's popular lines of biotech crops are genetically engineered to tolerate being sprayed with glyphosate, and U.S. agricultural use of glyphosate has more than doubled in the last decade, according to government data. Monsanto last year sold more than $5 billion of the herbicide.

Sources close to Monsanto have told Reuters that Monsanto is putting together a new offer.

(Editing by Christian Plumb)