An Organic Farmer Walks Into Monsanto…And This is What Happened

Rob bio photoBy Rob Wallbridge, Songberry Farm, Bristol, QC.

The story of how I came to be touring Monsanto starts back in late April and a blog post where I questioned the current tenor of the GMO debate. It caught the attention of Janice Person, a Social Media Director for Monsanto, who commented, “if you ever want to see what we do at Monsanto, I would love to arrange a visit.” As luck would have it, I passed through St. Louis on the first of August, and Janice was true to her word, arranging for a personal guided tour of their research facility.

It’s probably fair to say that both Janice and I experienced some trepidation as the date approached. Having completed Ontario’s Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program with existing and future employees of Monsanto, I didn’t see Monsanto as the devil incarnate, but I certainly wasn’t above criticizing them, and I do have a history of butting heads with certain of their employees. On the other hand, Janice and I had interacted over Twitter with civility, and in the weeks leading up to the visit, it seemed I was mostly raising ire from the radical anti-GMO side for refusing to buy into their fear-mongering.

I’d say that I arrived open-minded but skeptical. I expected that we’d be coming from radically different perspectives, and I was prepared to listen to theirs (how else could I expect anyone to listen to mine?). I was also prepared for the “hard sell” — lots of promotional propaganda. What I ended up getting was quite different, and four months later, I’m still digesting it.

Reading the Seed

The first thing I’ll say is that it’s very difficult for someone with an interest in agriculture, and especially seeds, not to be impressed with the scope, power, and potential of the research taking place at Monsanto. Even if that “someone” is philosophically opposed to much of what they are reported to do with that information, and even if that someone has been steeped in all of the anti-Monsanto rhetoric that’s out there. A scientist friend described the equipment found in the labs as “drool-worthy”. Having spent more time in fields than labs, I wasn’t immediately impressed with the sight of the machines, but once their capabilities were explained, I began to understand.

The “chipper” for example, is a machine conceived, developed, and built by Monsanto. It has the ability to take single seed, analyze the shape, manipulate its position, then remove a tiny chip from it, without damaging its germination potential. Another ($800,000!) machine can then analyze this chip’s genetic code and identify sites of interest. Meanwhile, chip and seed are still matched, so if a chip is found to have desirable characteristics, that exact seed can be planted. Instead of planting a whole bunch of seeds, waiting for them to grow, and then observing or testing for desirable characteristics, the selection can happen before the seed even hits the ground.

Janice noted that developing such a technology and investing in these machines could only be economically viable for a major crop like corn, but now that it was operational, they had been able to use it on several minor crops as well, including large-seeded vegetable like squash and cucumbers. This, of course, has nothing to do with genetic engineering — it’s simply being able to “see” the resulting plant before waiting for it to grow. It’s like using a computer instead of paper and pencil to perform advanced mathematics: the answer is exactly the same, the only difference is how long it takes to figure it out!

For better or worse, like it or not, a company the size of Monsanto is able to invest in this type of technology and is therefore able to advance crop variety development that much quicker. The volume of data that this technology can generate is mind-boggling, and our tour guide noted that many of the new hires at Monsanto are in IT (Information Technology). From here one or two things really matter to most people: the first is the question being asked, or the goal of the search: be it higher-yields, disease resistance, nutritional qualities, or herbicide tolerance. The second is the technology used to answer it: conventional breeding or genetic modification.

Technology

The current debate around biotechnology seems to be obsessed with the second issue rather than the first — with the “how” rather than the “why”. In my opinion, this is unfortunate because it distracts us from important discussions about the long-term sustainability of agriculture. Instead, we focus on a technology whose opponents believe makes a clear and distinct departure from traditional methods of plant breeding. Exploring the reality behind this perception and its implications is far more than I can cover here, though I hope to explore it further in the near future.

For now, let me say that visiting Monsanto dispelled much of my trepidation about the technology of genetic engineering. This photo literally shows genetic engineering happening. (Obviously, this is a small-scale demonstration of what actually takes place on a much larger scale in the development of new varieties.)

transformationThe seeds in these petri dishes are growing in a medium inoculated with a gene fragment that includes an Agrobacterium virus (the same thing that causes the burl on the tree pictured in the photo behind Dan). A certain (tiny) percentage of these seeds will be “infected” by the agrobacterium and successfully incorporate the desired trait into their own genome at a desired location. Once this is determined, variety development will proceed the same as it does for any other breeding program.

Holding these petri dishes in my hand, after having toured the labyrinth of hallways, offices, labs, growth chambers, and greenhouses of the research facility, made me marvel at how such a small thing, how one step in such a complex process, could generate so much fear and controversy. For me, what Monsanto is doing with this technology is much more interesting to explore.

Racing the Bugs

What Monsanto is best known for, of course, is their glyphosate-tolerance trait (RoundUp Ready) and the insect-killing Bt technology. Bt is obviously a big focus of tours at Monsanto, too, judging by the displays, videos, and information panels we viewed (see the above feature image).

Given the use of Bt in organic agriculture, it was also a hot topic for discussion among the three of us. We had talked a lot about various aspects of the technology, and the tour was wrapping up, when Dan finally worked up the nerve to broach the subject: “Why do organic farmers hate Bt crops so much, when they use it themselves?” I explained that from my perspective, they are very different applications: organic farmers use Bt sprays as one part of an integrated pest management approach, applying it only when necessary to affected crop areas. Genetically-modified Bt crops, on the other hand, are expressing the toxin in every cell of every plant throughout the growth cycle of the plant. Regardless of any environmental impact, this is still a recipe for resistance to a pest-control option that organic farmers have successfully utilized for decades, I explained.

With respect to farming, I’m not paranoid about genetic engineering and GMO crops, but I’ll continue to respect my customers’ choices and continue to abide by the organic certification standards I agree to follow

Both Janice and Dan admitted that this was a valid point. Earlier in the tour however, Dan had explained, while showing us the related labs and equipment, that Monsanto is aggressively seeking new insecticidal proteins like the Bt toxin to incorporate into crop varieties.  Their answer to the problem of resistance, which he reiterated during our later conversation, is to continue to find new proteins, or combinations of proteins, that will counter resistance and protect against a wider range of pests. The advances in the genetic screening technology we had viewed earlier made him confident that they would continue to be successful in this arms race against crop-munching insects.

Seeking Acceptance

As the tour wrapped up, Janice asked, “will organic agriculture ever accept GMOs?” At that point, I was quick to raise my hands and remind them that I could only speak for myself. The obstacles, I said, were huge. The first and most obvious would be developing traits that were attractive to organic farmers, and overcoming scientific objections: these would be the easy ones. Consumer acceptance would be absolutely essential, and once again, even if both organic farmers and consumers were comfortable with the product and the process, many of them object to the corporate concentration and control in the GMO seed market, not to mention a particular dislike for Monsanto itself! Given all this, I shrugged, it would be hard to imagine that happening, but I’ll never say never.

In recent years for example, I’ve been able to grow tomato varieties bred (using traditional methods, of course) to resist late blight. These varieties (as well as many others I grow) are protected by patents which stipulate that I can’t save and sell seeds from the plants I grow

Later, over a quick drink and bite to eat before my flight, I asked Janice how she responded when people brought up the less savoury aspects of Monsanto’s history. There are two sides to every story, she reminded me, but more importantly, people need to realize that the company took a new direction in 2000. This was interesting: I had always cynically regarded the shift as a “re-branding effort” or what one website calls “an attempt to try and escape its past.” But my tour had shown me a company very much focused on crop breeding and biotechnology. Later, Janice confirmed to me that while the company is working on improving some of their current herbicides, Monsanto has not been researching new active ingredients for years. The bulk of their eggs appear to be in the crop breeding basket, so to speak, although they are also investing heavily in agronomics and precision farming, including their “Integrated Farming Systems” platform and their acquisition of Climate Corporation.

Sustainability

“Are our definitions of sustainability converging?” asked Janice. Is Monsanto’s new focus more sustainable from the perspective of an organic farmer? It’s a challenging thought.

On the one hand, most farmers — organic, conventional and everything in between — welcome crop varieties which have been bred for disease resistance, or tolerance to environmental conditions (drought, wetness, cold, heat, etc.). In recent years for example, I’ve been able to grow tomato varieties bred (using traditional methods, of course) to resist late blight. These varieties (as well as many others I grow) are protected by patents which stipulate that I can’t save and sell seeds from the plants I grow. In my mind this is fair; I want the people who breed these plants to be fairly compensated for the work they do so that they can keep developing new varieties for me to grow!

On the other hand, a single-minded focus on seeds and traits as the answer to our challenges is problematic. There are other means to accomplish these same goals, and to my mind, they bring additional benefits. Building soils high in organic matter and aggregate stability, for example, will give the crops growing in them tremendous drought tolerance. At the same time, these soils will not be prone to erosion, and will be able to supply higher levels of a broad range nutrients, resulting in higher quality food for people and animals alike. Experience and research also demonstrates that crops grown in healthy, living soils will be more resistant to pests and disease, further reducing the need for expensive, potentially harmful inputs.

Of course, soil health is not a simple, short-term, off-the-shelf solution. Which creates a double-edged sword: farmers can’t buy it and see immediate results, and farmers don’t become reliant on companies to sell it to them, so corporations are much less likely to invest research dollars in this area (they only survive if they have products to sell!).

Balancing Choices

In the end, it’s about balance, choices, and responsibility.

With respect to farming, I’m not paranoid about genetic engineering and GMO crops, but I’ll continue to respect my customers’ choices and continue to abide by the organic certification standards I agree to follow. I’ll continue to focus on flavour and nutrition in my seed choices, but I’ll also test out new varieties that may prove to have useful traits. I’ll do my best to avoid getting trapped on a treadmill of relying on purchased inputs, but I won’t be afraid to invest in the health of my soils and crops.

When it comes to Monsanto and biotechnology in general, I’m going to recognize that there are issues that need to be addressed, particularly with respect to certain elements of the technology, certain applications of it, and the concentration of power and resources that often accompany it. But I’m not going to demonize the technology of any of the people or companies involved with it. I’m going to engage in respectful, informed discussions of these and related topics, but I’m not going to tolerate unscientific fear-mongering.

How about you?

 

Rob Wallbridge is an organic farmer in Western Quebec, Canada. He is also a father, extensionist, writer, speaker, and rabble-rouser. He advocates for high-quality organic food and informed communities in agriculture and beyond. He strives for balance in all things and is always happy to answer questions and engage in intelligent conversation. Rob tweets as @songberryfarm and explains what can’t be conveyed in 140 characters at his blog, The Fanning Mill

 

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51 Comments

Janice Person

I have to say, I am with Rob. Fear mongering is not for me at all and I really think it has no place in food and agriculture.

It was my honor to host him as a guest and potential customer. We sell seed to farmers with a wide range of production practices, including organic and appreciate his willingness to share his experience with others.

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SmilodonsRetreat

Janice, is there some documentation of the new direction that Monsanto is moving in? I haven’t read much about it (I generally run in the peer-reviewed research circles), but I’m curious.

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Sandy

This seems to be either barely disguised advertising or a simpleton who has been hoodwinked (no particular insult intended as we have all been hoodwinked at some point)

Left out of the article is Monsanto’s publicly stated intention of controlling 100% of the world’s food which, in truth, has been left here, freely for the picking, by the Original Maker.

Left out of the article is the intention, not to improve food or make anything to do with health and nutrition count, but to sell more Round up and its like.

Left out of the article is the fact that the GMO food imitations are not only MuCh LeSs nutritious but downright unhealthy for creatures which can and do develop tumors, weakened and/or damaged organs, infertility and other teeny little problems.

This seems nothing more than a thinly disguised advertisement.

If Monsanto’s products were so wonderful, why would it seek to hide them rather than loudly offering them side by side with Mom Nature’s produce?

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Cal tillis

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is no benevolence ingredient. Monsanto has demonized itself by blatantly displaying both of these traits in it’s legal agenda. McDonald’s has also offered an open-door policy, But what would happen if we let them feed the world?
The human gut and nature’s genome are a delicate symbiosis. We all are what we eat. Monsanto is playing Frankenstein as a blind surgeon on the building blocks of humanity. They are invading the building blocks of us all. I we say no to them sticking it in us, our kids, our world, & the do it anyway, it’s worse than rape. It’s an invasion, it’s an attack, it’s evil. What they do at their plant can’t legally justify their methods or license them to be accepted as anything but playing god for profit.

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murray_1337

If you are so against fear mongering why does your company along with the GMA fly into states such as California and Washington and spend millions of dollars on fear mongering campaigns against labeling? Even when foods contain dyes that must be listed on the package and yet you philosophically disagree with disclosing foods have been genetically modified. You people are your own worst enemy. Your resistance to labeling is the primary driver for the anti-GMO movement.

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Alex Brands

Nice article. I would like to point out that Agrobacterium is not a virus, but a bacteria.

Also, the passage “A certain (tiny) percentage of these seeds will be “infected” by the agrobacterium and successfully incorporate the desired trait into their own genome at a desired location.” implies that the trait is targeted to a specific locus in the plant’s genome…..this is not the case. the transgene is incorporated more or less randomly (some loci are more or less likely to than others to receive the transgene), the the researchers can screen several lines to determine the location, and pick one with a desirable location.

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A. J. Tarnas

“Their answer to the problem of resistance, which he reiterated during our later conversation, is to continue to find new proteins, or combinations of proteins, that will counter resistance and protect against a wider range of pests.” Fighting pests is not an arms race. Should not approach this ecological relationship like a competitive, zero-sum game. Monocropping is the primary problem, pests are the symptom. Monsanto: Please focus your technological genius and resources on planting and harvesting equipment for broadscale perennial polyculture, not on (de facto) breeding of pests immune to more and more exotic toxins.

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SmilodonsRetreat

Actually fighting pests is an arms race. Recent research revealed in Richard Lenski’s long term evolution project (20+ years and still running) show that there’s not a point at which a a bug is “as resistant as it’s going to get”.

In another experiment (look up Darwinian Evolution on a Chip), evolution resulted in a 90 fold increase in an RNA’s catalyzation rate… in less than 72 hours.

So, yeah, it pretty much is an arms race, with no conceivable limit.

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A. J. Tarnas

Lab results designed to simulate combat have little to do with evolution in a larger ecological context, where competition is only one selection pressure, and biochemical toxins are not the most important selection weapon.

SmilodonsRetreat

I don’t totally disagree. But don’t think that competition (inter and intra) isn’t an important mode of evolution. Especially, in an environment like a farming or our bodies, where the prior difference comes from toxins.

A. J. Tarnas

Competition is important. I’m just saying Monsanto could treat it as one of many selection forces, and develop crop technology not centered on pest toxins, as the side-effects of this (breeding pests that can take out all nearby non-Monsanto genetic stock) could be rather unpleasant, and the upside of developing polyculture cropping machinery would be enormous (plant once, harvest for 20 years).

mem_somerville

Why do you think it’s different in non-crop or non-monoculture systems? I assure you evolution hasn’t stopped in the untouched fields and forests anywhere. They will have to fight pests, and pests will change strategies, too.

Or if you have evidence that evolution can be stopped, it would be interesting to see that.

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A. J. Tarnas

Evolution is not all about selection in competitive situations. The consensus right now is up in the air, and I put my money on cooperation and non-competition, in many diverse forms, being more important ecological factors. It’s obviously not possible to explain an entirely new paradigm in one thread like this, but we could take the less complex case of IPM: exists and works because expectation for perfect harvests are lowered, crop diversity is much greater, pests are engaged on multiple fronts (many of them being physical and spacial) rather than just their immunity to toxins. These strategies are easier to implement and pay bigger dividends in a polyculture — in a monocrop, you have a huge uniform feedstock that a single pest can rapidly infest and render much less valuable.

mem_somerville

But not a single one of those strategies is a done-deal. I know some plants have evolved to combat mechanical weeding. An interesting temporal case is the malaria bed nets. Some mosquito populations are changing biting times to avoid bedtime. So instead you could be racing several different resistance problems at the same time.

It’s not fair to say these are “easier to implement” or “pay bigger dividends” if farm staff labor and land use are important to consider. And I think they are.

August Pamplona

Anything which potentially increases land use should be considered anathema to sustainability.

A. J. Tarnas

“Land use” is too vague. Maybe people should stay out of wild lands, but there are probably none left. And certainly agricultural and urban lands, and all the land on the margins of these uses, need to be “gardened”, nurtured into top performance as functional parts of the biosphere. There is a lot of degraded land in the world, either that people recently abandoned after monocrop yields fell below a profitable threshold, or where we pillaged in the past and the land still hasn’t recovered or is recovering very slowly. There are places where land will revert to microbial and geologic processes and not recover a robust plant, animal, fungal community until centuries have passed — unless we step in intelligently.

All of this land could be brought “back into production” in a way that regrows the old forests, grasslands, or wetlands (ecosystem restoration) and also provides a valuable human crop. Competitive or exclusive use of every volume of land, water, or air — this is not the top driver of the biosphere. Since spatial and resource use can be shared (and improved) cyclically through time to the advantage of dozens of species, we can often “have our cake and eat it too”. There’s a enough geologic bedrock and free sunlight to go around.

A. J. Tarnas

I’m not advocating “done deals”. Applying selection pressure along a half dozen parameters in your local field, and supporting the surrounding ecosystem (most pests spend most of their lifetime on the margins or in transit to the “host”) so that it can do its part in pest management — I think this is a much more prudent way to “breed” pests (because that’s what any host/crop does) and to protect crops (the food sources we must all share). You can pick out instances of evolved “resistance” to every technique in isolation. But using many techniques simultaneously buys farmers (orchardists, I should say) time on the scale of centuries.

And again, pests are, from one perspective, an indication of deficiency in the crop ecology and an attempt by the soil to “heal” itself — not a sign of “chinks in the armor”. Most weeds and pests have biochemical value on their own as well. This is all far beyond the monocrop philosophy of “grow one thing, suppress all else”.

I am paying attention to every cost in the system. Land, labor, machinery, debt, ecosystem services, soil, water above and below, genetic stock, insurance, commodity valuation, processing, logistics, food chemistry — perhaps monocropping takes less mental bandwidth? But polyculture can match or kick butt on every other point. Monocropping is for 1-5 year time scales. If you plan on working your land for longer, you probably need to be in the polyculture, agroforestry, pasture cropping, aquaculture, timed grazing, stacked-and-zoned-yield business — or else everyone else suffers from your lack of carbon sequestration, loss of genetic diversity, depletion of aquifers, soil/water/mineral run-off, microclimate regulation. At a most basic level, monocropping is just a very wasteful use of sunlight (can only absorb so much of the available sun) compared to polyculture or timed succession monocropping.

Nathan Kringle

I agree with your view that innovative machinery that allows for the mechanization of polyculture systems would be an important step towards their widespread acceptance. However, I think that saying that Monsanto should be focusing on this task instead of plant breeding is a step in the wrong direction. It would be like saying that Ford should build better roads. CNH, John Deere, or Claas would be much more likely to produce new machinery than Monsanto or Dow.
That’s not to say that Monsanto couldn’t or shouldn’t play a role in enabling polyculture systems, its just more likely that role would come by way of improvements in plant genetics. For example, a small number of cattle farmers in my area have begun planting sunflowers mixed in with corn in order to make a silage that is closer to a complete, balanced ration and also diversifying the risk inherent in monoculture. One of the problems with this planting system is that it does not offer very many options for weed control, especially for no-till farmers. Most herbicides are targeted towards killing either grasses (which corn is) or broadleafs (which sunflowers are). Perhaps a GMO sunflower that is tolerant to a broadleaf herbicide or a GMO corn that is tolerant to a grass herbicide would allow for more weed control options in multi-crop systems. GMO crops wouldn’t need to be limited to just pest control options to have a role in improving polyculture systems. For example, Monsanto is currently seeking approval of an alfalfa that is GM to produce less lignin, thus having a longer harvest window. This could help to give hay producers more options of which grasses and forbs to plant in combination with alfalfa to produce hay. Currently, they options are limited to those crops whose harvest window matches the fairly narrow one of alfalfa.

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A. J. Tarnas

Guess I could disagree with you here on two angles. First, I’d say Ford definitely should build better roads! Some degree of vertical integration helps every enterprise, and the R&D doesn’t have to remain proprietary to pay off in the future for the company footing the bill. So yes, Ford should definitely be doing geopolymer research, 100-years road construction techniques, road conditioning through vehicle use, and looking at how cars can improve the space they travel through, rather than depreciate infrastructure — cars turn a lot of fuel directly to waste heat, and that fuel could do much more useful work on its way to low-grade entropy.

Second, Monsanto’s market position is askew: they are providing a single narrow technique (genetic modification) to solve too many problems, that are better solved in multiple other ways simultaneously. They have the people, equipment, and market to make connections with robotics, machinery, on-farm chemical processing, all forms of fermentation, and extremely fine-grain wireless field diagnostics.

On the subject of multi-species silage you are bringing up, there are many (Colin Seis, Joel Salatin, Land Institute, Rodale) who have built their family income on pasture cropping and silage polyculture without getting anywhere close to genetic modification. But Monsanto could definitely still help here: there are probably more than 100 plants that go into a balanced animal diet. Monsanto could do the sequencing and simulations that establish how those plants, fungi, and microbes take raw materials (sun, bedrock, air, water) and provide balanced mineral cycles and animal nutrition, especially since what an animal eats is actually first “digested” but the gut microbiome. And I’d put my money on the idea that if you don’t replenish and support that microbiome with a polycrop, you are not raising fundamentally healthy and complete animals.

Your suggestion of moving from one silage crop to two is pointed in the right direction, but the step from two crops to a dozen, and then from a dozen to a hundred — long way to go. And that long way is paved with useful “weeds”.

David Hobson

“These varieties (as well as many others I grow) are protected by patents which stipulate that I can’t save and sell seeds from the plants I grow. In my mind this is fair; I want the people who breed these plants to be fairly compensated for the work they do so that they can keep developing new varieties for me to grow!”

This is not quite accurate. Canada does not have patents on plants, while it does allow patents on trans-genes that are in biotech plants. Your tomato plants are protected by Plant Breeders Rights, not patents. Currently in Canada, these rights allow you to save your own seed to replant in your own fields, but not resell saved seed to others. However, the government recently announced that they are reforming the PBR system to UPOV 91, broadening the scope of breeders rights. Also, note that many bio-tech engineered plants have not been “improved” through GE technology, but merely are adding a GE trait (pesticide resistance or Bt, for example) into a cultivar developed through traditional breeding. Farmers pay a lot for that one trait, but for all the other benefits that came to the plants through traditional breeding there is no compensation to those breeders. Effectively, this creates a level of enforced ownership above and beyond plant breeder’s rights.

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Paul

When I read the following quote many thoughts about Monsanto’s not so pretty past came to mind.

“I asked Janice how she responded when people brought up the less savoury aspects of Monsanto’s history. There are two sides to every story, she reminded me, but more importantly, people need to realize that the company took a new direction in 2000. This was interesting: I had always cynically regarded the shift as a “re-branding effort” or what one website calls “an attempt to try and escape its past.”

I think the last phrase “escape it’s past” sums up what Monsanto is really trying to do. I think we all need not to forget that some of Monsanto’s sins of the past were criminal and to this day not one Monsanto executive has ever been tried & put in jail for what they did. Everyone certainly knows about what Monsanto did in Anniston Alabama. When monsanto knowingly dumped toxic PCBs next to a poor black neighborhood all because they couldn’t afford to lose one dollar of profit. Even in the year 2000 Monsanto was still trying to deny what they did so they didn’t have to pay out any compensation fees to victims of the people who had been exposed to a known cancer causing chemical. Yep Monsanto tried their best to Weasel their way out of that one. Obviously Monsanto didn’t want bad press or their stock prices to take a tumble so Mobsanto did their best to keep the whole ordeal quiet.

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A. J. Tarnas

My understanding is they are now a totally new company that spun off many divisions of their previous formation. Something as huge and violent as Monsanto should probably have to go through a sort of criminal “truth and reconciliation” when it goes through a transformation, but I’m not going to fault the current employees of Monsanto for being evil just because they kept the name of the evil past. They get to prove themselves again. They’re not doing a great job in my eyes, but they’re not murdering people anymore as far as the internet knows. Now they’re just pursuing dangerously narrow-minded food technologies, but they serve a narrow-minded agricultural world, so what’s new.

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Paul

I think what upsets and turns so many people off about Monsanto is the fact there has never been any criminal prosecution for their past wrong doings. Yes it’s true you can’t blame the current Monsanto employes but everyone that works for that company has to be aware of their criminal past. I think the thing we need not to forget is that real life people got sick & died from Monsanto’s toxic chemicals. People who had families & who had hopes and dreams just like the rest of us do. Justice needs to served and Monsanto needs to answer for their crimes, even if it was 40 some years ago! If Monsanto really want to turn over a new leaf why don’t they change their name or make some sort of a public apology for their past wrong doings?

A. J. Tarnas

Can’t tell you why they kept the name, or why the people who were behind the crimes — though few are with Monsanto any more — why they haven’t been tracked down. Surely many are still alive. It’s beyond me. Perhaps an internet witch hunt and shame campaign can stand in for “truth and reconcilliation”. I’d sooner live and let live, but I wasn’t directly affected.

Paul

In order to prosecute these people one would half to produce the evidence against them. I highly doubt the Monsanto employees involved will ever come and turn themselves into the authorities. Maybe they don’t have a moral Conscience or otherwise they would have turned themselves in by now.

Camarelli

You speak as if Monsanto was the only company with a bad past. The problem here is this implacable focus on one sole company, when you probably ignore all the rest. Ansul company also selled “evil herbicides” – Agent Blue – for the army to spray them in Vietname. They now work solely with fire extinguishers and kept the company’s name. Therefore I ask: where’s the rage? Where are those people demonstrating against Ansul, asking for their CEO’s heads or even calling for a ban on fire extinguishers?
What about all the other companies that built arms, facilities and products to suply an army that burned everything with napalm in Vietnam and even dropped 2 nuclear bombs in Japan?
If you’re really searching for justice, you’re focusing too much on a single company, still buying goods from others also involved on the war effort, some even more directly.

Donald Lewis

I started Organic Farming in 1950. For three years I did both Organic and Chemical together and two simple experiments that convinced me that organic was superior. In 1953 I changed completely to Organic and no more chemicals of any kind. In 1958 I won many awards over the chemicals users in Vermont and New England. My logic was instead of fighting the insects and the diseases in plants after the are infected look for the reason why. I have been very successful in controling both by how you prepare the soil and care for it after wards.

The conventional way in Farming after World War Two was do not save the cow manure as it is to costly and time consuming. Use chemical Fertilizer instead. I am not a scientist but a believer that or fertile soil was built up over millions of years for all life to live by. The three most important actors to keep us alive is AIR- WATER and FOOD in this order. In the past there was no man made chemicals used that changed any of the Masters creation. The Fertile Soil is the Life Blood of the Earth and all Food comes from the Soil —- Food and Health in this Order —.. Organic is Living or has Lived and is recycled to keep life on Earth Healthy and continuing. This is the organic way. The use of chemicals to grow our Food has an effect on our water and our air. This is just one major problem with our health today..

When man started inserting chemicals into this process it upset the natural balance of natures law of survival. This is my view and as I say i am not scientific. I stopped using chemical fertilizer when it killed the earthworms the best visible enhancer of the soil. I used herbicide one year and it did a job on the weeds. My home made sprayer put to much on around the end of the rows as I turned to go back. I had quarter moon shaped area that nothing grew after that. MY logic why would I put such a potent toxic chemical on my living soil. Never used any again and won hay awards of 99.7 and 99.5 out of 100 points in the farm show for three years in a row. Had no weeds in my hay. Would not Judge it any more because they said I was cheating. I guess I cheated when I won the 1958 New England in Winter Green Pastures Contest over Hundreds of Dairy Farmers. Best roughage the healthiest herd and most 4% milk equivalent per man in New England. .

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Rob Wallbridge

That would have been rather difficult, considering that Monsanto does not manufacture neonicotinoid pesticides…

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Jbone Gonzo

I know they don’t make them. However Monsanto, along with Bayer, Syngenta, BASF et al, say the pesticides are not responsible for colony collapse. I guess the subject never came up on your visit…

Roy Smith

Not only that. Monsanto, Bayer and their other GMO cohorts are trying to overturn the current EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. All the while buying bee top research facilities and promoting “bee health” (see ironic poster in photo above). The misinformation Monsanto and Bayer are spewing on bees is propaganda in it’s purest form. Can’t wait to see the new DNA patented nicotinic resistant “roundup bees” they’ll be selling us in a few years.

Fast forward another 10 years when big agra and big pharma merge and become one industry dominated by a monopoly.

The TPP trade deal is going to let them have free reign. Once Brazil accepts the suicide seeds, the devils at Monsanto Head Office will be cracking open the Champagne.

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/dec/12/brazil-gm-terminator-seed-technology-farmers

disqus_VQshywv2e8

Where neonicotinoids were banned in certain countries, the bee problem did not decline. Neonics do not appear to be the cause. You can link just about anything to the bee issue if you really try. There are likely a number of things that have led to CCD. Viruses, parasites, possibly other agrochemicals we use, and various other issues likely all play various roles. Like most issues, you can’t just blame on one single thing, there are usually many culprits that lead to issues all in their own small ways. The link to that Canadian study has been pulled, but here are 2 articles from Scientific Beekeeping that go into this in more detail. Regardless, blaming Monsanto specifically for anything having to do with neonics is silly.

http://scientificbeekeeping.com/neonicotinoids-trying-to-make-sense-of-the-science/

http://scientificbeekeeping.com/the-harvard-study-on-neonicotinoids-and-ccd/

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Manuel Castrillo

certainly openness to listen and dialogue leads us to hope in search and build bridges for a better future, especially in a world where resources and environmental, climatic and other conditions are pushing us a better handling we have it and how we do it. the orientation of groups like berkshire must therefore see its true transparency. the freedom of a farmer working his seed not be financial because an industry research – although this generates rights – much of it gone has been by ancestral practices and no one charged for enhancement of crops or seeds. the crossroads between the organic and transgenic crops, can generate improvements to crops and soils. the consumer’s perception is almost always manipulated and be truthful and timely information is almost zero, so, marketing is the all-pervading influence on this perception. the issue also happens, of course, by political sieve, with many interests of medium and the lack of awareness and solidarity. still can’t believe you will reach a base Ethics allow to raise the binomial trade – power.
Manuel Castrillo

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Keith_Cassady

As a forester, I’m familiar with and willing to use both glyphosate and Bt in their own place and time. Like you, I’m not wary of the chemicals per se. I have a variety of concerns we’ve all heard before (repeated application, inactive ingredients building up in the soil, etc) but here’s the one I’d really like to see addressed in your next article:

I’ve gotten the impression from my training is that Bt is a special thing, a minor miracle in the control of caterpillars. There are different strains, var. Kurstaki is what we use in forestry, but I don’t know of any other unique options if Bt fails. If some caterpillar pest develops resistance, my impression, which may be completely wrong, is that we don’t have much to fall back on unless we want to go back to the stone age and start hitting it with carbaryl again.

If you still have friendly contacts at the company, I’d love to hear what they have to say. Not least because I may someday want to use anything they come up with as an alternative. We don’t have the budgets to come up with our own pesticides for forestry, we just have to adapt whatever comes out of the ag sector. I’m worried that switching Bt strains won’t be enough to get around resistance, but hopeful for another tool in the toolkit that I might someday use myself.

As others have said, a good article. More in-depth thoughts on the common concerns given your new perspective would be appreciated: applying glyphosate and its inactive ingredients every year forever doesn’t strike me as a minor detail. Looking forward to your next writing.

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John R

OK, so Monsanto is accelerating resistance to widely available BT, but their strategy is to develop new proprietary toxins that will only be available in their GMO seed. ie. Exploiting and using up a common widely available tool and replacing it with a proprietary one. Bad boys…..

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@RebeccaNesbit

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences – it was so thought-provoking that I went for writing a whole blog post about it.
http://gmfromthefence.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/enlightening-discussions-between-an-organic-farmer-and-monsanto/
I was interested in the comments below about whether Monsanto employees responsible for unethical behaviour should be put on trial. It seems that Monsanto has paid many fines – but is it the case that individuals haven’t been imprisoned? If someone offers a bribe as part of the company, it is interesting to think who is liable, the company or the individual, or both.

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Steve Knightly

This article should be called “An Organic Farmer buys shared in Monsanto…And This is What Happened”.

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Bill McLean

Maybe Mr. Wallbridge USED to be an organic farmer. Not likely now judging by this article.

Might be a good idea to get the Monsanto field testers and lawyers into his garden and genetically test his harvests.

He’s got a lot of friends at Monsanto. I’m sure he won’t mind.

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Samar

I know Monsanto is the worst of worst company in universe and needs to be shut down. I plan to never be associated with them and would be great if they were never at any career fairs! There is nothing wrong being blacklisted by these greedy, evil and inhumane corporations. How can one feel compassion for Monsanto Execs?

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Nancy

So, how much did you get paid from Monsanto to have ‘your point of view’?? I avoid GMOS at all costs and am buying much more organic and non gmo foods. I feel better too.

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Tom Ford

Organic pushers benefit from the GMO lunacy that’s for sure. But GMO labeling of food is a goring right all over the world except for North America where Monsanto’s lobbying power holds strong.

Stan McNaughton

Wow. You’re almost as bad a Monsanto as John Entine. Monsanto appreciated every little bit of propaganda from people like you.

I suppose you’re against GMO labeling as well?

They are throwing hundreds of millions of dollars to lobby against the GMO labeling movement.

You’re advertisement is very much appreciated by Monsanto head office. The check is in the mail. Use the money wisely Monsanto shill.

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Carlo Larson

Gee, if Monsanto is so nice and pure in their intentions and GMO’s are all so good for us as they say, why is Monsanto challenging Vermont’s recently passed GMO-labeling law under the First Amendment, claiming that it forces them to “speak” against their will.

You’re a sellout and have done the devils work. It’s not the science, it’s how they screw everyone with it.

An “Organic farmer” walks out of Monsanto with a fat paycheck.

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Ken McCallister

Well they’re trying to buy Syngenta now in an effort to outright control the worlds food supply.

So getting Rob Wallbridge to bend over came cheap.

Drink a glass of roundup for your bosses. Monsanto slave.

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Ed Marquez

Getting an “Organic farmer” to do PR for them is clever on Monsanto’s part.

This article really isn’t aging well though is it.

Roundup weedkiller can ‘probably’ cause cancer, WHO warns

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/roundup-weed-killer-can-probably-cause-cancer-warns-who-10124812.html

Looking forward to the future retraction by the writer.

Then again, Monsanto already got Wallbridge to sign a gag order when they paid him for selling his soul.

Robert Olegun

Why is this Monsanto PR piece still online? Garbage article by a garbage “organic” farming fake. Especially in the context of the latest Monsanto coverup.

You’d think the author of the article would have sense enough to recognize how dumb he was when he wrote this and issue a retraction.

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Shaun Haney

Robert this is not a monsanto PR piece at all. Rob is a legit organic farmer in Eastern Canada that is very involved in the organic production industry. Stop assuming and start learning.

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