"Monsanto Should Halt Genetic Engineering" According to an Editorial in Monsanto's Home Town Newspaper
Monsanto Investing News web page.
MONSANTO SHOULD HALT GENETIC ENGINEERING
by Don Fitz
29 Dec 1998
If Monsanto is in trouble, the St. Louis community takes note. No
one likes she thought of a relative or friend losing a job.
When Monsanto announced in November that it would lay off 2,500 of
28,000 employees, many attributed it to merger problems with American
Home Products. But the company's problems run deeper. The planned
downsizing could symptomize a poor business strategy of focusing on
genetic engineering. It may be time for Monsanto to explore a new
The 1990s have seen an increasing demand for "organic" food grown
without genetic engineering, irradiation, animal cannibalism or the
use of sewage sludge. Greens would like to see Monsanto abandon its
current practices and research organic agriculture.
Natural-farming research would develop the best techniques to grow
a variety of crops in varied ecosystems. Organic farming principles
assume food is grown as close to the consumer as possible. Growing
food on mega-farms assumes large use of fuel and highways for cross-
continental shipping-a process that is not organic. There is enormous
potential for ongoing research on how locally diverse agricultural
production can have the smallest effect on natural species.
This would be a 180-degree turn for Monsanto, which has gained the
ire of environmentalists for creating virtually all PCBs in the U.S.
(widely used in electronic products until their ban in 1976), for
producing the infamous Agent Orange (linked to cancer and reproductive
problems in Vietnam Vets), and for manufacturing pesticides
(responsible for groundwater contamination). Monsanto is a
"potentially responsible party" at 93 Superfund sites identified by
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Monsanto recently sold off most of its chemical divisions, though
it retains production of the herbicide Roundup. The St. Louis-based
corporation now focuses its research on genetic engineering, which it
claims will produce crops with higher yield, tolerance to drought, and
protection against damage by pests.
But European farmers and environmentalists have joined forces
against genetically altered crops. They claim that, in addition to
exposing consumers to unknown food allergies, biotechnology practices
could cause the evolution of "superweeds" or "superbugs" that would be
resistant to chemical control and crowd out crops and native species.
Farmers who do use its patented products find themselves labeled "seed
pirates" if they replant them.
Monsanto's press reports claim that the company hired Pinkerton
detectives to scrutinize 1,800 U.S. farmers. Farmers across the globe
have protested loudly against the "terminator" technology-a seed that
kills its own offspring while providing no increase in food
production. Terminator technology was developed by Delta and Pine
Land, which Monsanto is acquiring. Critics charge that terminator
seeds were developed to bloat corporate profits at the expense of 1.4
billion farmers in Asia, Africa and Latin America who depend on saved
seed. In October the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR-the world's largest farm research network) announced
that it would ban terminator technology from its crop breeding
programs. The terminator rebuke comes at a time when governments are
listening more attentively to criticisms from environmentalists.
Canada has not allowed introduction of the first genetically
engineered product-recombinant bovine growth hormone. Currently,
Canada is examining reports from Consumers Union which suggest that,
in order to receive the 1993 approval for bovine growth hormone from
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Monsanto may have withheld data
showing damaged thyroid and prostate tissue in rats given high doses
of the hormone.
Proponents of genetic engineering downplay the likelihood of
"genetic pollution." But according to British press accounts, the
British government expects to charge Monsanto saying that pollen from
its Roundup-resistant canola test site in Lincolnshire spread to an
adjoining non-genetically engineered canola plot. Many European
consumers rejected genetically engineered products throughout 1997.
In response, Monsanto mounted a 31 million advertising campaign
this past summer. But on Nov. 18, the London Guardian reported that
an internal Monsanto memo leaked to Greenpeace documented that, for
the first time, an absolute majority of British people reject
genetically engineered foods. The proportion of consumers rating
genetically engineered foods as "unacceptable" went from 35 percent in
1997 to 44 percent before the summer of 1998 to 51 percent after the
Additionally, executives for major supermarkets were angered by
what they perceived as Monsanto's high-handed tactics of mixing
genetically engineered soya products with normal ones so consumers
would have no choice.
The leaked British documents came on the heels of a Brazilian
judge's blocking approval for planting Monsanto's genetically altered
soybeans. Brazil has the world's second largest soybean crop and the
opportunity to use genetically engineered varieties during its fall
1998 planting season was missed.
Thus, the failure of the merger with American Home Products was
only one chapter in difficulties of a corporation which has spent
billions in acquisition of seed and research companies.
Some may laugh "Absurd!" at the proposal that Monsanto turn to
organic agriculture. But such a dramatic about-face may be exactly
what Monsanto needs.
Don Fitz is director of the Gateway Green Foundation, which hosted the
July 1998 "First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation: Genetic
Engineering." He is a member of the Missouri Green Party and The
Greens/Green Party USA.