Agribusiness giant DuPont, charged by its chief rival Monsanto of being "dishonest, disingenuous and downright deceitful" in a literal food fight over control of the seed business, has accused Monsanto of unfairly attempting to "distract attention" from a public battle over competition in the crop biotechnology business.
In an Aug. 25 letter to Hugh Grant, Monsanto's chairman, president and chief executive officer, Thomas L. Sager, DuPont's senior vice president and general counsel, dismissed allegations by Monsanto earlier this month that DuPont had engaged in covert attacks on its seed business practices.
Mr. Sager said Monsanto was trying to raise "two-year-old accusations that were all proven false," adding that DuPont's right to speak out was "constitutionally protected." He said DuPont would "welcome and encourage broad participation" in a wide-ranging public debate over competition in seed production and biotechnology.
Monsanto and DuPont have maintained high profile positions in the seed industry and each has sought to keep from falling behind. DuPont has recently been concerned that Monsanto had moved to gain an unfair advantage in selling genetically engineered seeds to better protect crops from insects and weeds.
DuPont has provided support for a farm advocacy group called the Organization for Competitive Markets, which has been critical of Monsanto for what it has described as a "virtual monopoly" of the seed business. The group sponsored a conference earlier this month on "confronting the threats to market competition" where Monsanto and other agribusiness issues were discussed.
The Agriculture and Justice departments will hold public workshops on the concentration in agriculture early in 2010.
"All interested parties have a constitutionally protected right to be heard,and Monsanto should not discourage those who disagree with you from participating in this dialogue," Mr. Sager said, acknowledging DuPont's support of the Organization for Competitive Markets "just as we support dozens of organizations whose views coincide with ours."
Earlier this month, Mr. Grant accused DuPont in a separate letter of using third parties to attack Monsanto, activities which he said "were misleading to the public and a serious breach of business ethics far beyond honest competitor behavior."
He demanded a special committee be named to investigate a pattern of covert attacks on Monsanto's business practices by DuPont. He made the request for an investigation by DuPont's independent directors in a letter to Charles O. Holliday Jr., chairman of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.
In May, Monsanto filed a lawsuit against DuPont for patent infringement and DuPont countersued, accusing Monsanto of being anti-competitive. The case is pending before a federal court in St. Louis.
Monsanto spokesman Lee Quarles said the DuPont letter was not responsive to the Monsanto request.
"Unfortunately, this response does not address the core issue raised in our letter - that DuPont is investing in a strategy of attacking a competitor rather than delivering better products for farmers," Mr. Quarles said. "It is also regrettable that DuPont makes no commitment to review legitimate questions about its campaign of defamation against Monsanto."
He said, "The single most important thing in their response is that it further attempts to distract people from the real motives behind all of this - specifically that their product does not work and their continued belief that they can use our product without our authorization. ... We look forward to a trial in court as soon as possible."
DuPont spokesman Anthony Farina said several companies, farmers, nonprofit groups and government authorities are "active participants in the important public discussion about competition in agriculture.
"Our response to Monsanto's latest lawsuit makes clear why Monsanto's business practices are illegal and why Monsanto's anti-competitive business practices hurt farmers, hurt consumers and hurt independent seed companies," he said. "We will not try these important issues through the media and we look forward to having these issues decided in court - where Monsanto initiated this."
The dueling letters are the latest skirmish in a bitter battle between Monsanto and DuPont for control of the crop biotechnology business. Both companies accuse the other of waging misleading campaigns. In 2006 and 2007, DuPont tried unsuccessfully to block Monsanto from buying the nation's largest cotton seed supplier, Delta & Pine Land Co.