Union of Concerned Scientists Gives Monsanto an ‘F’ in Sustainable Agriculture

Science Group’s New Web Feature Documents Eight Ways Monsanto is Taking Agriculture in the Wrong Direction

Published Feb 7, 2012

WASHINGTON (February 7, 2012) – The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today published a new web feature documenting how agribusiness giant Monsanto Company is failing to deliver on its promise to make the U.S. agriculture system more sustainable. 

A sustainable system would produce an adequate supply of food, safeguard the environment, and protect farmers’ bottom lines at the same time. Monsanto, UCS says, fails this three-pronged test.

“Monsanto talks about ‘producing more, conserving more, improving lives,’ but its products are largely not living up to those aspirations,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with UCS’s Food and Environment Program. “In reality, the company is producing more engineered seeds and herbicide and improving its bottom line, but at the expense of conservation and long-term sustainability.”

Monsanto’s public relations campaigns trumpet that its products, such as its genetically engineered Roundup Ready seed and herbicide system, will lead to an agricultural future that minimizes environmental pollution, addresses global warming, and feeds the world. The truth is decidedly less impressive, according to UCS.

UCS explores eight ways that Monsanto has failed to deliver on its sustainability claims. The company is undermining efforts to promote sustainability by:

1. Fostering weed and insect resistance. Monsanto’s RoundupReady and Bt technologies lead to resistant weeds and insects that can make farming more difficult and reduce sustainability.

2. Increasing herbicide use. Roundup resistance has led farmers to use more herbicides, which threatens biodiversity, sustainability and human health.

3. Spreading gene contamination. Engineered genes have a bad habit of turning up in non-genetically engineered crops. When that happens, sustainable farmers—and their customers—pay a high price.

4. Expanding monocultures. Monsanto’s focus on a few commodity crops contributes to reduced biodiversity and, as a consequence, to more pesticide use and fertilizer pollution.

5. Marginalizing alternatives. Monsanto single-minded focus on genetic engineering fixes may come at the expense of cheaper, more effective solutions, such as classical crop breeding and ecological farming methods.

6. Lobbying and advertising: Monsanto spends more than other agribusiness companies to persuade Congress and the general public to support the industrial agriculture status quo.

7. Suppressing research. Monsanto thwarts independent research on its products, making it more difficult for farmers and policymakers to make informed decisions that could foster more sustainable agriculture.

8. Falling short on feeding the world. Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops have done little to increase crop yields. Regardless, the company stands in the way of proven, scientifically defensible solutions.

“Crop breeding is cheaper and more productive than the genetic engineering that Monsanto aggressively pushes. And proven ecological farming methods, ignored by Monsanto, rely on fewer pesticides and fossil-fuel-based fertilizers,” noted Gurian-Sherman. “But some of these practices conflict with the agricultural model that generates the company’s profits.”

How has Monsanto been able to burnish its undeserved reputation as a sustainability leader? In large part, by spending tens of millions of dollars annually to influence the public and policymakers.

Monsanto spent $8 million lobbying members of Congress and federal officials in 2010, for example, and more than $400,000 more in political contributions in that year’s election cycle. At the same time, it spent $120 million in advertising.

“The undue influence of companies like Monsanto result in food policies that encourage less diversity, and an over-reliance on herbicides and insecticides,” said Karen Perry Stillerman, senior analyst with the UCS Food and Environment Program. “As the farm bill is currently being debated in Congress, now is the time to prioritize sustainable agriculture alternatives to genetically engineered crops in our food policies.”