Have you heard? Monsanto is going on trial in The Hague for “crimes against nature and humanity, and ecocide.” The Organic Consumers Association had the story:
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), IFOAM International Organics, Navdanya, Regeneration International (RI), and Millions Against Monsanto, joined by dozens of global food, farming and environmental justice groups announced today that they will put Monsanto MON (NYSE), a US-based transnational corporation, on trial for crimes against nature and humanity, and ecocide, in The Hague, Netherlands, next year on World Food Day, October 16, 2016.
The steering committee organizing this citizens tribunal — which has nothing to do with the International Court of Justice, a real court located in the Hague — includes Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association, the activist Vandana Shiva and scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini, all of them unrelenting critics of genetic engineering who allegations bear only a loose resemblance to the facts. (See this and this and this.) Somehow I don’t think this trial will end well for Monsanto.
I bring this up because I recently interviewed Hugh Grant, the chief executive of Monsanto, about climate change and GMOs for a story in the Guardian. He told me, among other things, that he wishes the debate about genetic engineering would become more science-based and less polarized. (Good luck with that.) Fortunately, Monsanto has retained the trust of thousands of corn and soy farmers who rely on its seeds and crop protection products.
My story describes how Monsanto now intends to work farmers to help them farm in more climate-friendly ways, and to help them adapt to the threat of climate change. Here’s how it begins:
You have an easy job,” I tell Hugh Grant, the CEO of Monsanto, as we sit down at the W Hotel in New York City. He looks puzzled, so I explain: “I just read on the Internet that Monsanto controls the world’s food supply.”
Grant, 57, jokes that it’s all effortless. The idea that Monsanto controls the world’s food is a canard, but there’s no doubt that it’s a major player in the food chain. The St Louis-based agribusiness giant produced 35.5% of the corn seeds and 28% of the soybean seeds planted in the US in 2014, with sales topping $15.8bn last year.
Success hasn’t been easy: the agriculture business is competitive, and farmers are constantly looking for ways to increase yields, says Grant, who has been with Monsanto for 34 years. “We have to win their business every year.”
It’s true that Monsanto is a big player in the ag biz, but notice that most farmers choose not to buy its seeds. It’s hardly in control of anything.
Whether or not they are customers of Monsanto, US farmers are incredibly productive. While some critics question whether the US should export its agricultural methods to poor countries, Grant notes that
while US corn farmers generate yields of 150 to 160 bushels per acre, farmers in Brazil, Mexico and India get about 100 bushels per acre and those in Africa produce only about 20 bushels. There’s enormous room for improvement in Africa, he says.
I wonder what, exactly, the anti-GMO forces who are going to spend their time and money to put Monsanto “on trial” intend to do for farmers in Africa.
More to the point, I wonder why the anti-GMO forces believe they are in a better position than farmers to know what’s good for them. In a competitive marketplace, where there are no obvious information asymmetries, farmers every year choose to do business with Monsanto. Are they misguided?
Like all companies, Monsanto has made mistakes. Perhaps more than its share. But I honestly don’t understand why this company is so maligned.