The biotechnology giant Monsanto says that it’s ‘improving agriculture, improving lives.’ Do you agree?
Monsanto is a chemical company. Some of its efforts to improve agriculture involve agrochemicals and genetically modified (GM, genetically engineered, GE) seeds to be planted where those chemicals are to be used. Monsanto’s range of weedkiller-tolerant Roundup Ready crops and its range of pest-killing Bt crops are widely grown by farmers on the North American continent. That’s one of the main reasons why Monsanto is the world’s most hated company.
‘The current debate around biotechnology seems to be obsessed with… the “how” rather than the “why” [of crop breeding]. In my opinion, this is unfortunate because it distracts us from important discussions about the long-term sustainability of agriculture…
‘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.)… [many] varieties… 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.’
Does Monsanto represent sustainable agriculture? You can make up your own mind.