Framing Science

If you read the NY Times or WPost in print, you’ve probably noticed over the past 6 months the regular full page ads that have been placed by Monsanto. Similar to the nuclear energy industry, Monsanto is seeking to re-frame and re-position food biotechnology as a “middle way” technology needed to adapt to climate change.

For example, one recent ad running at the NY Times headlines: “9 billion people to feed. A changing climate. NOW WHAT?” In smaller print the ad continues with these themes adding to it a narrative wrapped around social progress with the beneficiaries farmers and people:

Experts say we’ll need to double agricultural output by 2050 to feed a growing world. That’s challenge enough. But with a changing climate, the challenge becomes even greater. Providing abundant and accessible food means putting the latest science-based tools in farmers’ hands, including advanced hybrid and biotech seeds. Monsanto’s advanced seeds not only significantly increase crop yields, they use fewer key sources–like land and fuel–to do it. That’s a win-win for people, and the earth itself.

Producing more. Conserving more. Improving farmers’ lives. That’s sustainable agriculture. And that’s what Monsanto is all about.



  1. #1 humorix
    May 12, 2009

    It is true that to condemn a standing ground of olive trees during more than 10 years, it is long. But, if trees are planted in small containers and stored in a corner under cover, it is better. When they are too voluminous they are transplanted. Or plant salads between trees.

  2. #2 Jane Smith
    May 12, 2009

    Greenwashing is spending more money on advertising that something benefits the environment than it actually does. Like hotels placing little placards in every room saying help the environment by not asking for new linen everyday. It isn’t that damaging to the environment, but it certainly helps their profits.

    Monsanto and such companies are needed to feed the billions, but what they are doing is not necessarily sustainable in the usual sense of the word – good for the environment.

    One could argue that it is sustainable as in many people would die of hunger otherwise. Clearly this gets complicated and both sides can argue their points. Profit is a strong motive in shaping a person’s world view; hunger probably stronger. Until living in harmony with the environment becomes profitable and sustaining in the sense Monsanto uses the word nothing mcuh will change.

  3. #3 Drake
    May 12, 2009

    This is all assuming that “to double agricultural output by 2050” is, in itself, something sustainable.

  4. #4 memory foam
    May 25, 2009

    Another problem with Monsanto’s statements is that they have not even been able to deliver on their promise of increasing food output through GE foods. It has not been shown that ‘biotechnology can help’. That, added to the potential environmental and health risks makes big emphasis on GE foods a mistake.

  5. #5 Sharon Astyk
    December 17, 2009

    So far, there’s no real evidence that GMOs do produce increased yields – and some that suggests that they actually contribute to the ongoing loss of farmers by increasing farmer costs, and thus, vulnerability to a bad year or a price collapse. GMO investment is largely in trying to increase yields in the already high-yielding rich world, rather than where they would do the most good. Monsanto’s priority is not feeding the world – if it is, it is going about it quite bizarrely.

    Sharon Astyk

  6. #6 DNLee
    December 17, 2009

    I’ve always been conflicted about Monsanto. On one hand, crop production does need to be increased, pests do need to be eliminated to increase yield, GM crops for drought and pest resistance are needed. To not do so (if everything else remains the same) condemns people to starve.

    One of problems with Monsanto is that they provide a solution (albeit, a very dirty, grimly one at times) to problems few others are even willing to tackle. Monsanto’s power could be hobbled IF the general public became more proactive — grew more produce locally, ate less meat, purchased more meat, poultry and dairy locally, support local farmers, eat seasonal produce only, got back in the kitchen and cooked, conserved water, stopped polluting the air, water, and soil.

  7. #7 MemeGene
    December 17, 2009

    Agreed with memory foam and Sharon – while Monsanto and other biotech industries keep pointing to the use of GM to increase crop yields or stave off malnutrition, the vast majority of GM crops developed and grown now have traits that promote more interventions. Roundup Ready crops are resistant to Roundup, a very toxic herbicide, and allow farmers to use that chemical more often on their fields, not less. Other genetic modifications relate to making produce more attractive to market, such as the failed FlavSavr tomato, not to make them tastier or healthier.

    Science aside, the AP report on Monsanto’s business practices posted by Casaubon’s Book shows that this company is taking advantage of every legal and economic loophole they can to set up a dangerously impermeable position in the future.

    One key concept in biology is the strength of variety and heterogeneity. We should see that in our food production and our corporate landscape as well.

  8. #8 MemeGene
    December 17, 2009

    Also, to mitigate the negative effects of climate change like drought and temperature increase, why not look to native crops or local varieties of plants that are more suited to the conditions? It’s like how people in Arizona can spend lots of money and use ridiculous amounts of water maintaining green lawns or could have a very attractive garden of native cacti and succulents at a mere fraction of the cost and upkeep because those plants developed to handle the local climate.

    Vandana Shiva made some good points in her talks on Golden Rice and malnutrition. She emphasize that instead of developing rice with vitamin A, native foods that were already part of the Indian diet would supply ample vitamin A if their (less commercially lucrative) cultivation were supported.

    We should be smarter about our stewardship of crops and not work harder.

  9. #9 Jan Brass
    December 18, 2009

    Like with many corporations, Monsanto is doing a mix of good and evil. The AP story linked to above says their scientific developments are helping farmers, but also driving small farmers out of the industry.

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