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Friday, November 21, 2014

Strategic CSR - Monsanto

At the significant risk of provoking the wrath of a fair number of you (yet again J), I wanted to round-off our week's look at GMOs by stating that I continue to be fascinated by Monsanto. I am fascinated by the science and technology behind the company's innovations; I am also fascinated by the activists who push back against Monsanto—many of whom are no doubt persuaded by the science behind climate change, but not by the science behind GM foods (see: Strategic CSR – GM Foods; see also this article from The Economist).
As I have said before, there is insufficient land in the world to satisfy our growing food demands solely via organic production methods. While national governments play a huge role in policing food production (making sure it is safe and sustainable, and minimizing waste), it is hard to escape the conclusion that firms like Monsanto need to be included as part of the solution to satisfying the nutritional needs of the world's population.
Given this, the article in the url below, which is an interview with Monsanto's president and COO, Brett Begemann, reminded me of my interest in the company (along with an extended profile in Bloomberg Businessweek over the summer). Here are some highlights:
"The world's largest-grossing seed seller ranks between one and 15 on any list of the world's most-hated corporations. The annual 'March Against Monsanto,' world-wide protests against genetic modification, drew an estimated two million people in some 400 cities last year."
"The use of biotechnology has skyrocketed since GM crops were first commercialized in 1996, and more than 90% of all acres planted with corn and soybeans are now GM crops. These crops, typically fed to livestock and used as ingredients in other foods, are in nearly 80% of the products on grocery-store shelves."
"In 2011 farmers earned $19.8 billion added economic benefit from GM crops, according to a 2013 report by the U.K.-based PG Economics."
"In 1996 Monsanto commercialized its first GM crop, a herbicide-resistant soybean seed."
"'The biotech-derived products that we eat are the most highly tested and regulated components in what we consume,' Mr. Begemann says. A new seed must be reviewed by the Department of Agriculture. Then there's a voluntary check from the Food and Drug Administration. If the GM seed includes insecticides or pesticides, as most do, the Environmental Protection Agency gets a look. It takes about $100 million to get one seed from discovery to market. Crops that are bred conventionally, on the other hand, undergo no government testing. None."
"In a recent poll for The Wall Street Journal by the market-research firm Nielsen, about 60% of 1,200 consumers said they had heard of GMOs, and roughly half said they try not to eat them. The most common explanation was it 'doesn't sound like something I should eat.'"
"One irony is that GM crops help the environment by reducing pesticide use. Thanks to fewer sprays and less tillage, GM crops in 2012 reduced world-wide carbon emissions by 26.7 billion kilograms—the equivalent of taking 11.8 million cars off the road for a year, according to a 2013 report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications."
"By 2050 there will be nine billion people on earth, and they will want dinner. GM crops are not a panacea, Mr. Begemann reminds me many times, but 'just one of many tools' that farmers should be allowed to choose."
Have a great weekend.
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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Meet Mr. Frankenfood
By Kate Bachelder
August 23-24, 2014
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final