The first time I heard about Monsanto was in 2000 when I was still living the counter-culture hippie dream with my friend Geo. We went to a conference in Boston that told us strange things about a company called Monsanto that created Agent Orange, pesticides like PCBs and Dioxin, and yet somehow was also running farms and producing food. Yummy!
A guy with a huge beard was telling us reverently about seeds, and about how Monsanto was bioengineering new types of crops ("Frankenfoods," they called them) and patenting seeds. This means that if you bought these super-crop seeds from Monsanto, and you grew corn, and your corn grew seeds, you didn't own those seeds. You could be sued for using them. You had to buy each generation back from Monsanto. I thought he was nuts, but in 2009 the conversation has caught up with him, especially in the movie Food Inc.
Anyway, back in 2000, Monsanto was in trouble for creating pesticides that were killing Monarch butterflies in record numbers. I wanted to do my part, so I bought a T-shirt with Monarch Butterflies wearing gas masks.
Now, there is another side, naturally, to the Monsanto hate. In theory, having an efficient system of creating and stories food makes sense. Pooling resources and having leverage looks good on paper. And yes, there are some scary stories about genetically modified crops (or GM crops) spreading their pollen into the air, and turning nearby ORGANIC crops into GM crops forever.
But there are also stories about creating rice with Vitamin A and helping to stop premature blindness in Africa and Asia (although I wasn't able to find anything credible on it on the net).
Living in DC, I also hear a lot about Monsanto. On the metro last month, I saw hundreds and hundreds of teenagers wearing orange shirts, obviously on a class tour from somewhere. I asked them where they were from and they said the Midwest - Monsanto had sponsored to send them all to DC.
I'd also see lots of Monsanto PSAs on the metro. It's a common site in DC to see multinational corporations try their PR campaigns in our subways. Here's one at right.
Their PR folks have pretty secure jobs, I think, because the general public generally does not like these green giants. For example - do a Google Image search for "Monsanto," and see what you get.
Finally, on Flickr I found a pretty cool 1955 installation of Monsanto at Disneyland, of all places.
But should you hate em? Well, start researching on Wikipedia and figure it out for yourself.