Originally created 05/19/00

Monsanto opens facility



Monsanto Co.'s agriculture division President Cheryl Morley ended the company's dedication ceremony held Thursday under a big white tent off Columbia Nitrogen Road with a toast.

"Got Posilac? Got milk," she said, holding a plastic cup of milk.

Monsanto Co., a division of Peapack, N.J.-based Pharmacia Corp., officially opened the only Posilic manufacturing facility in America. It is the size of five foot-ball fields. The only other one is in Kundl, Austria.

A protein hormone designed to boost milk production in cows, Posilic is given to about one-third - 3 million - of the dairy cows in this country. Every time you pour milk into it glass, some of it probably came from a Posilic-injected cow.

Thursday was a celebration of success, speaker after speaker said. It symbolized the company's triumph over what some scientists said was impossible to achieve. It proved that what they dreamed for two decades could become a reality.

"It's been a long, long road," Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hendrik Verfaillie said. He talked about the struggle to build such a facility and how the company overcame great odds. "We are trying to beat the odds again, not only with Posilac, but with genetically engineered crops. I think the world needs it."

Monsanto, based in St. Louis, merged with Pharmacia & Upjohn in April.

A new company with the Monsanto name will be formed. Belgian-born Mr. Verfaillie will become the new Monsanto's chairman. An initial public offering of stock is expected later this year. Eighty percent of the new company, however, will be retained by Pharmacia.

The changes have created some uncertainty.

The three-facility Monsanto complex in Augusta will be broken up. In addition to the 160-employee Posilac plant, there is a 180-employee pharmaceutical plant and a 230-employee NutraSweet plant.

The pharmaceutical plant, which makes the ingredients for arthritis drug Celebrex, will end up under the Pharmacia banner. The NutraSweet plant is being sold to J.W. Childs Equity Partners II LP. That deal is expected to close as early as next week.

One obstacle Monsanto has tried to overcome in recent years is public concerns about the safety of genetically engineered food. Some groups say the modified crops pose health risks and require further study.

Monsanto says the products are safe and will help feed the world.

But on Thursday, hundreds of Monsanto employees just celebrated. They ate barbecue, played "Gene of Fortune," a carnival-style game of chance, and pet prize-winning cows brought in for the dedication.

And after the speeches and toasts, Ms. Morley took a few minutes to talk to 5-year-old Meridith Franks about the cows her father owns.

"Are these yours?" Ms. Mosley asked the girl, petting a young black-and-white Holsten named Daisy. "Can I take this one home?"

Reach Frank Witsil at 823-3352.

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