What the Whole Foods-Monsanto connection really means


Yesterday, I wrote and posted an article, “Top shareholders in Whole Foods and Monsanto: identical.” I laid out the five investment funds that hold huge numbers of shares of both companies.


This means very little to Monsanto. But to Whole Foods—that’s a very different story.

Suppose, for example, Whole Foods executives suddenly decided the best and most ethical approach to GMO crops is to ban them altogether. Not label them. (I know, it’s a fantasy, but just suppose.)

And suppose Whole Foods led such a movement.

Now, the investment funds that own all that Whole Foods stock could decide Whole Foods was going too far, and needed to be taught a lesson. The lesson could come in the form of unloading WF shares and sending the company’s stock price plummeting.

The message would be: “Look, if you want to label GMOs, it won’t make Monsanto and Dow and the other ag-bio-tech giants very happy, but they can handle the fallout from labeling. If you start to get serious, though, and go for an outright ban on GMO crops in counties across America…that’s a no-no. That’s a violation of the existing order, and we will punish you.”

In other words, if a company is playing in the field of the big boys, the money boys, who buy and sell shares in the millions and billions without blinking an eye, the game changes. The rules tighten. The options dwindle.

The men who came up with the money to back those GMO-labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington? They were doing anti-GMO Lite. That’s the soft approach. That still leaves the majority of farm acreage in America with GMO crops—and genes drifting into non-GMO growing fields 24/7.

But a real movement, with money behind it, to ban growing GMO food? That’s anti-GMO Heavy. That’s going for the throat.

In the world of buying and selling stocks in publicly traded companies, companies are under a ceiling. The CEOs know serious activism of any kind, on any vital issue, can disturb Big Money, the kind of money the giant investment funds use to send the market up…and take it down.

All publicly traded companies willingly sign on to a tacit understanding. They’re “in the stock market.” They’re in that world. They’re in a space where the status quo is respected and acknowledged.

The boundaries are drawn.

That world, in certain respects, resembles one of those Club Feds, where white collar criminals and other Lite offenders are sent to serve out their sentences.

The convicts enjoy many privileges. Within those fences, they can move about with relative freedom. But if an inmate decides to hop the fence and go out into the wider world, and if he’s caught, he’ll find out what a real prison feels like.

In an interview I did years ago with Richard Bell, a financial analyst, Richard put it to me this way: “Imagine that a publicly traded energy company suddenly brought out a device that supplied enormous amounts of energy at a very, very cheap price.

“Among the many punishments that would be heaped on the company, its stock price would go into free fall. It would be taken down, amid accusations of fraud. It would be massacred in the market…”

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