Monsanto’s (Still) Failing Grade

, senior analyst, Food and Environment | February 7, 2012, 12:12 pm EDT
Bookmark and Share

I can see the new Monsanto ad from my office window in downtown Washington, DC this morning. It must have gone up overnight, on a bus shelter facing K Street NW. Below a close-up of rough, work-worn hands, a plaid shirtsleeve, and an ear of corn, the copy reads:

In the hands of farmers, better seeds can help meet the needs of our rapidly growing population, while protecting the Earth’s natural resources.

If only Monsanto were actually delivering those feel-good benefits.

Monsanto's latest ad in Washington, DC

In 2009, my UCS colleague Doug Gurian-Sherman produced Failure to Yield, a landmark report that shattered the myth that genetically engineered (GE) seeds (like those Monsanto produces) are responsible for the large yield increases produced by the nation’s corn and soybean farmers over the past decade and more. In fact, based on two dozen academic studies, our report concluded that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. The GE trait for insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report found, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.

Doug’s findings more or less put the kibosh on a key piece of Monsanto’s ad campaign at the time, which claimed that its “advanced seeds… significantly increase crop yields…”

But the company’s “Earth-friendly” messaging machine has rolled relentlessly on.

Monsanto Fails Again

Now, Monsanto may want to re-write its talking points once again. That’s because today, UCS released a new web-based feature documenting its broken promises of sustainability. Eight Ways Monsanto Fails at Sustainable Agriculture details how—contrary to the messages it repeats through flashy ad campaigns and teams of lobbyists—the company is actually holding back the development and expansion of a truly sustainable agriculture and food system, one that would be good for farmers, consumers, and the planet.

Here’s how they’re doing it:

#1: Promoting Pesticide Resistance. Monsanto’s RoundupReady and Bt technologies lead to resistant weeds and insects that can make farming harder and reduce sustainability.

#2: Increasing Herbicide Use. Roundup resistance has led to greater use of herbicides, with troubling implications for biodiversity, sustainability, and human health.

#3: Spreading Gene Contamination. Engineered genes have a bad habit of turning up in non-GE crops. And when this happens, sustainable farmers—and their customers—pay a high price.

#4: Expanding Monoculture. Monsanto’s emphasis on limited varieties of a few commodity crops contributes to reduced biodiversity and, as a consequence, to increased pesticide use and fertilizer pollution.

#5: Marginalizing Alternatives. Monsanto’s single-minded emphasis on GE fixes for farming challenges may come at the expense of cheaper, more effective solutions.

#6: Lobbying and Advertising. Monsanto outspends all other agribusinesses on efforts to persuade Congress and the public to maintain the industrial agriculture status quo.

#7: Suppressing Research. By creating obstacles to independent research on its products, Monsanto makes it harder for farmers and policy makers to make informed decisions that can lead to more sustainable agriculture.

#8: Falling Short on Feeding the World. Monsanto contributes little to helping the world feed itself, and has failed to endorse science-backed solutions that don’t give its products a central role.

Help UCS Set the Record Straight

Check out the full feature for yourself. And help spread the word by Tweeting or Facebook-sharing your “favorite” way Monsanto fails, from our website.

Posted in: Food and Agriculture

Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.

Show Comments

Comment Policy

UCS welcomes comments that foster civil conversation and debate. To help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion, please focus comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand, and refrain from personal attacks. Posts that are commercial, self-promotional, obscene, rude, or disruptive will be removed.

Please note that comments are open for two weeks following each blog post. UCS respects your privacy and will not display, lend, or sell your email address for any reason.

  • IFP, thanks for your comment, and I’m glad to hear your crops have done well. I think I have been very clear that I am not a farmer. I do not grow food—well, unless you count those jalapeños on my patio (

    But as long as we’re at it, let’s also be clear about this: Monsanto has indeed promised something to me—and to people all across this country who are concerned about important issues like hunger and the environment. You don’t really think the company is trying to reach farmers with those bus ads in Washington, DC, do you? (If they are, they’re really wasting their money.)

    No, since the launch of the company’s “sustainable agriculture” ad campaign in 2009, Monsanto has spent many millions of dollars to persuade people like me—and our elected representatives—not about the agronomic properties of their products, but that those products are solving big societal problems. Trouble is, as we’ve shown, it’s just not true.

  • John

    Why, oh why can Monsanto not be satisfied simply to re-invent the wooden plow? Or, better still, the long-handled hoe. We need to regress agriculture back to its roots: dung and stoop labor! Let’s get back to the good old days when life expectancy was around 50 years. When that perfection is achieved, when virtually everyone of us is grubbing desperately about in our own personal mudhole unemployment will no longer be our primary concern!

    • John, thanks for your comment. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that was sarcasm.

      Or maybe you were being sincere, and you really do want to take agriculture backwards. At UCS, we certainly don’t. We just think that high-priced products (in this case, Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds) that are sold as solutions to real challenges (such as the need to reduce pesticide use) should actually work as advertised. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Do you?

      • Independent Food Producer

        Oh, did your crop not do well last season, is that why you are disappointed? My acreage did just fine. My neighbors on all sides did OK, too. Corn and beans grew just as Monsanto promised; we got our money’s worth – nothing more, nothing less. Msybe your crop failure was due to mismanagement on your part? What was your planting depth? Soil temperature? Population? Plenty of ways for you to screw up, especially if you don’t know squat about real farming. Let’s be clear — you don’t grow food, you’ve never purchased crop inputs, never admired the results…and no agribusiness, including Monsanto, has ever promised you anything. Growers aren’t complaining, only armchair agronomists with an agenda to push.

  • Julia Jorgensen

    Please provide a one-page format of some kind for the complete Monsanto article so that it can be easily saved/printed! It’s really aggravating to have it on EIGHT pages! Thanks.