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Monsanto Improves its Bottom Line…But Not Agriculture

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The Monsanto Company is raking it in—last week they reported third quarter profits of $937 million. Yes, you read that right: Monsanto’s profit for the three-month period ending May 31 amounted to nearly a billion dollars, up a whopping 35% from the same quarter last year. That raging river of cash flowing in must make it easy for the company to finance a flurry of advertising and lobbying extolling the virtues its products. According to Monsanto’s PR, the company is feeding a growing population, protecting natural resources, and promoting biodiversity.

But the truth is decidedly less impressive, and now UCS is setting the record straight with an ad campaign of our own.

More Herbicide + Fewer Butterflies = Better Seeds?

UCS ads challenging Monsanto's hype in the Archives Metro station (near the U.S. EPA) in Washington, DC. The ads are also featured in stations near the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Capitol Hill.

With a series of three new ads you can see on our website, we’re taking on Monsanto’s claims directly. One of the company’s ads (coincidentally, the one that appeared across the street from UCS’s Washington, DC, office earlier in this year) says their “better seeds can help meet the needs of our rapidly growing population, while protecting the earth’s natural resources.” In response, our ad  points out that the company’s Roundup Ready crops have increased herbicide use by an estimated 383 million pounds and have been associated with an estimated 81 percent fewer monarch butterfly eggs in the Midwest—critical ground along the spectacular annual migration route of these butterflies to and from Mexico.

We’re also using our campaign to take issue with Monsanto’s suggestions that its genetic engineering technology is improving U.S. crop yields (nope, not much) and conserving water (not at all). Instead, as our ads and our analysis behind them show, the company’s products are spawning an epidemic of “superweeds” and crowding out more sustainable alternatives.

Fighting Fire with Facts

We have no illusions that Monsanto’s spin machine will let up anytime soon. After all, as Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott lays out, the company’s combination of glossy ads, high-powered lobbying, and big-time political contributions is paying off with favorable results (at least from Monsanto’s perspective) in Congress. But we expect policy-makers here in Washington to take note of our ads—which will be up all this month on city buses and in transit stations near the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s headquarters, the U.S. EPA, and Capitol Hill. And we hope those decision-makers—who are accountable to farmers and the public to really improve agriculture—will look more skeptically at Monsanto’s claims in the future and give sustainable alternatives a fair shot.

UCS still believes that the truth can be powerful, and you can help us tell it far and wide.

Take a look at our ads, and help us spread the word via Twitter or Facebook. Oh, and if you’re in the DC area, keep an eye out for our ads on Metrobuses. If you spot one and send us a photo, we’ll thank you with a reusable UCS shopping bag!

 

Posted in: Food and Agriculture Tags: , , ,

About the author: Karen Perry Stillerman is an analyst and advocate for transforming the U.S. agriculture and food system to one that produces affordable, healthful foods for consumers; reduces air and water pollution; and builds healthy soil for the farmers of tomorrow. She holds a master's degree in public affairs and environmental policy. See Karen's full bio.

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  • http://www.ucsusa.org/news/experts/karen-stillerman.html Karen Stillerman

    Mary, thanks for reading. You’re right that very little research has been done to determine the health impacts of genetically engineered (GE) foods, particularly over the long term. In part, that’s because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require such testing for new GE food crops.

    UCS believes it is likely that many (probably most) GE crops will be safe to eat. But it is possible that some may not. In its 1992 policy statement on GE crops (http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/Biotechnology/ucm096095.htm), the FDA lists eight categories of potential health risks. Among them is the introduction of new allergens into food, which could post serious risks for people with food allergies.

    Many new technologies carry risks, and it is important to determine whether a technology’s benefits outweigh those risks. In this case, Monsanto’s GE products are associated with environmental risks including increased herbicide use, as we have shown (http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/impacts_genetic_engineering/increasing-herbicide-use.html). Health risks are also possible, but unknown.

    So we look at whether the products have benefits that could outweigh the known and hypothetical risks. As we found in three recent reports–evaluating GE’s record on increasing crop yields (http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/failure-to-yield.html), reducing nitrogen use and pollution (http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/no-sure-fix.html), and helping farmers cope with drought (http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/high-and-dry.html)–they are failing to deliver significant societal benefits.

  • Mary Blooming

    I may be inaccurate on this, but when I last checked no one had ever done a longitudinal study on what effect genetically modified corn and soy beans have on the people who ingest them. Since 82-85% of corn and 92% of soy beans are genetically modified–and corn syrup is the base ingredient in virtually all sodas, puddings, sauces, etc–studying the effects on the human species is long overdue! The honey bees may be affected, yes; but how much of our own increasing obesity, diabetes, etc. may be attributed to GMO’s? The human results may be far more dramatic than the environmental effects because GMO cells within us are not the same as naturally occurring food sources.

  • T. ODell

    @Tony
    Monsanto also does well because it sues people who save seed produced by unintentional pollination from GMO pollen. This is a threat to organic farmers who have no defense against these successful corporate terrorist attacks but to change crops or move to a location isolated from GMO’s

  • http://www.ucsusa.org/news/experts/karen-stillerman.html Karen Stillerman

    Tony, thanks for your comment. I’m so glad you brought up the issue of insecticide use. While you’re right that the use of crops genetically engineered to express Bt toxin (a naturally occurring pesticide) has decreased insecticide use, it’s also true that the decrease has been more than offset by an increase in herbicide use in conjunction with crops engineered to tolerate herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup. When both kinds of pesticides are taken into account, we’ve seen a net INCREASE in pesticide use with GE crops, as this report from The Organic Center shows: http://www.organic-center.org/science.pest.php?action=view&report_id=159.

    Moreover, plant-produced Bt has not been a complete replacement for the broad-spectrum pesticides that used to be sprayed on cornfields. Bt has been highly effective against pests such as corn rootworm, but other insect pests are not so susceptible. In order to control those pests, virtually all corn seed today is treated with chemical insecticides called neonicotinoids. As my colleague Doug Gurian-Sherman has documented on this blog (http://blog.ucsusa.org/genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-real-world-bt-corn-insecticide-use-and-honeybees-2), neonicotinoids have been associated with honey bee deaths and may be a contributor to the recent and widespread phenomenon of colony collapse disorder.

    Finally, it’s starting to look like the trend of decreasing insecticide use with Bt crops may bottom out soon. Recent press reports (like this one, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/08/148227668/insect-experts-issue-urgent-warning-on-using-biotech-seeds) have documented an emerging problem of corn rootworms in Illinois and elsewhere that have developed resistance to plant-produced Bt. If that resistance spreads, it would be a serious (and costly) problem for corn farmers and spell the end of Monsanto’s Bt success story.

  • Tony

    Monsanto is doing well because farmers like their products. There no hiding from these facts.there is zero harm from gm crops. They reduce insecticide use by massive amounts. If you don’t believe it it’s not a religious belief it’s based on facts and I would happy to discuss it.

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