Monsanto, long a lightening rod for opponents of genetically modified (GM) crops, is reaching out to consumers to tell its side of the story.
It’s also encouraging farmers to do the same, Jesus Madrazo, Monsanto’s vice-president of global corporate engagement told the Canadian Global Crops Symposium in Winnipeg April 12.
“I would be the first to admit that Monsanto was not engaged with consumers,” Madrazo said. “The focus was on farmer customers.”
For years, Monsanto communicated with farmers about GM crops, but now realizes the public wants to know about their food, he said.
“I believe there is no substitute for engaging and telling our story. I think we missed the boat with biotechnology… and we didn’t do enough to explain. We thought that science would speak for itself and whether we like it or not science is just not enough.”
Now the company is showing up places nobody thought Monsanto would go, he said. And the typical reaction when they do is something akin to ‘what took you so long?’ he added. While missing the earlier opportunity was a mistake, it would be an even bigger mistake to not engage now.
“We missed one generation,” he said. “We want to make sure we don’t miss the next generation. The next generation is far more caring of the environment. They are really open about thinking differently about technology, if we help them.”
Monsanto also supports a national GM food labelling program in the United States rather than a hodgepodge of state laws.
“This may surprise you but when it comes to labelling Monsanto is completely in favour of labelling,” Madrazo said later in an interview. “We favour labelling and are pro-consumer choice. We just don’t think a state-by-state approach on labelling is the right approach. It will only increase food prices, create confusion with consumers and disruption in trade. We think a federal solution that has a consistent, science-based approach to labelling, is the right path forward to protect consumers’ interest and give the transparency and the information that they need.”
Once the labelling debate is over people can focus on real issues such as food security and climate change, he added.
The scientific consensus is GM crops are safe. Many GM supporters have opposed labelling, believing some consumers would avoid buying food containing GM ingredients. However, many American food companies have announced plans to label foods with GM ingredients. Most North American-produced soybeans, canola and sugar beets are GM, so most North American foods contain GM ingredients.