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Government closes Monsanto antitrust probe

(Thursday, Aug. 19, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Jim Suhr, Associated Press, 08/18/04:
ST. LOUIS - Monsanto Co. said Wednesday the Justice Department has closed its inquiry into possible antitrust practices in the herbicide industry, requiring no actions by the agribusiness and biotech giant.

"We're pleased that the Justice Department has closed its inquiry and this issue is now behind us," Hugh Grant, Monsanto's chairman, president and chief executive, said in announcing that the company has gotten written notification of the investigation's end.

In publicly announcing the investigation in March of last year, St. Louis-based Monsanto maker of the popular Roundup weedkiller said the probe involved "possible anticompetitive conduct in the glyphosate-based herbicide industry."

Glyphosate is a key ingredient in Roundup.

Monsanto said the Justice Department had requested information from various glyphosate marketers and distributors. A department spokeswoman on Wednesday declined to comment.

Monsanto spokeswoman Lori Fisher declined to discuss specifics of the inquiry, saying "these things are pretty tightly held matters."

"It was our understanding they were looking at the industry as a whole," Fisher said.

Monsanto shares rose 36 cents to close at $36.46 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange (news - web sites).

Monsanto's Roundup sales have been under pressure since 2000, when the company lost U.S. patent protection for glyphosate. Monsanto has said the patent expiration means the company would face increasing competition to its Roundup herbicides, specifically from generic makers.

Monsanto said it has five to 10 major global rivals to its agricultural herbicide products, with competition from local or regional companies also potentially significant. Given that, Monsanto said it historically has reduced Roundup prices in various markets, in addition to offering discounts, rebates or other promotional strategies to compete.