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Monsanto versus Greenpeace

The big biotech firm Monsanto has come face-to-face with one of its main critics - Greenpeace.

The two organisations have polarised views on the potential benefits and dangers of genetically-modified (GM) crops, which they laid out before a public audience in London.

Read what the Monsanto chairman Bob Shapiro and the Greenpeace UK executive director Peter Melchett then read your reaction.

Background ¦ Your reaction

The Background:

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Two of the main players in the on-going controversy over genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) have held a rare, joint, public discussion on biotechnology.

It took place at a conference organised by Greenpeace UK and involved the environment group's UK executive director, Peter Melchett, and Bob Shapiro, the chairman and CEO of biotechnology giant Monsanto.

Food under the microscope
It was an unusual encounter between two drastically different points of view. But it covered little new ground and offered slender hope of any meeting of minds.

Mr Shapiro, who spoke from Chicago via a satellite link, said he wanted to abandon debate with his critics and to move instead to dialogue.

"The underlying premise of dialogue is that there are both real benefits from biotechnology and also real concerns about its use." The benefits, Mr Shapiro said, were for agriculture, the environment and for consumers.

"Present agricultural technologies are not inherently sustainable or able to guarantee food security. Biotechnology can improve productivity and, for example, reduce pesticide use.

"GM cotton is being harvested in India with the use of several pesticides fewer than conventional crops needed and with yields up by 40%. Biotechnology can help to reduce water use, soil erosion and emissions that add to climate change.

"And GM plants could offer gains to consumers with added nutritional value or with pharmaceutical properties incorporated into them."

Promise of biotechnology

Mr Shapiro acknowledged the concerns biotechnology aroused in terms of safety, environmental impacts, its effects on farmers and consumer choice. But he ended with a robust statement of Monsanto's position:

"We remain fully committed to the promise of biotechnology because we think it can be safe and sustainable, but we will continue in dialogue, openly, honestly and non-defensibly, to find answers for all of us."

Peter Melchett, for Greenpeace UK, said Monsanto's fundamental error had been its failure to understand the way public values were developing.

It was not environmentalists and the media who had turned opinion against GMOs, he said.

"A well-informed public have taken a clear look at what you are offering and have said 'no'. People are increasingly mistrustful of big science and big business. The coming worldwide rejection of GM food shows people acting in line with civilised values and feelings about our relationship with nature."

Peter Melchett said Monsanto came across as bullies trying to force their products on people. Everything about GM foods was bad and the future lay instead with organic agriculture, he added.

Peter Melchett ended by urging Monsanto to stop developing GM crops, to abandon pesticide production and to reject the patenting of lifeforms - to opt for "turning swords into sustainable ploughshares".

Whether debate or dialogue, the encounter between Peter Melchett and Bob Shapiro showed just how convinced each side is of its fundamental morality.

Click here to read Bob Shapiro's entire speech.

Click here to read Peter Melchett's entire speech.

Background ¦ Your reaction ¦ Have your say

Your Reaction:

Click here to read the first comments we received

Why is the GM food debate going on in countries that can already feed themselves more than adequately. If Monsanto claim that GM foods can help feed the world then why don't they put their money where there mouth is and devise crops that can survive drought (wheat genes spliced with cacti?). Starving nations of Africa might be a little more than grateful and Greenpeace may even embrace the idea!
Russell, Australia

Better living through technology?? I don't think so! There has been so many wonderful technological inventions that haven't exactly improved our lives, despite the fact that few of them were even given a Nobel Prize, DDT being one. So no, I don't believe GM foods should be allowed!
It has taken several decades to clean up our act after DDT. Don't want anything like that happen again! The food production in the world presently exceeds the demand for it. Unfortunately it's not produced where it's needed. But GM crops are not answer to that problem.
Kaari, Finland

If the world's population of 6 billion were reduced to a village of exactly 100 people, keeping all existing human ratios the same, 80 would live in substandard housing, 70 would be unable to read, 50 would suffer malnutrition, and only one would have a collage education or own a computer. Earth's overwhelming majority doesn't give a rip about pollution, pesticides, wetlands, wildlife or GM foods. While the world's rich, fat, minority post ignorant comments on a website, precious wildland is gobbled up by subsistence, low-input farming. Makes one wonder just who is "saving the environment".
Pat Tigges, USA

You are all missing the point, yes Monsanto does Genetic Engineering and they test their products prior to being able to pass them on to the General public for consumption. If the people who back Greenpeace had their way, there would be no polio vaccine or any measles, flu or any other type of medication because it is man-made and not all natural.
Think for yourselves, most food has been Genetically altered already through a thousand years of human farming techniques, yes it must be safe, and yes we must do it to ensure we feed the hungry of the world to do less would be criminal.
Paul Devine, United States

I am so fortunate, I live in a town that has a restaurant that serves organic food. That's my choice and I believe that my world family deserves the same opportunity to have organic food in their homes. My response to Monsanto's debate or dialogue is very simple: No GE!
Carol Palma, USA

Waking up sleeping Americans to the fact that Monsanto is an evil empire determined to control the planet's food supply is no easy task. Most of us don't know that Monsanto has sued small dairy farmers for labelling their milk "rBGH free", that they silenced TV news reporters who were trying to report the possible dangers of this hormone, and that a researcher working on the development of rBGH went to work for the FDA just in time to "approve the safety" of the drug she helped to develop. And how can any body think that the patenting of seeds serves anyone but this corporation's bottom line?
Monsanto is incapable of telling the truth on any issue. (Remember Agent Orange?) If they did, they wouldn't be on their way to being at the top of the food chain. I am so very grateful to those of you in the UK who will stand up for your right to choose what you grow and eat. Please, scream louder.... Maybe you can help to wake up the sleeping American giant.
Lisa, USA

Since the BSE crisis the majority of the UK public simply do not believe it when Government or Industry officials state that something is 'safe'. Especially when there is strong independent scientific advice that advocates caution.
The British public do not trust GM technology, nor do most of us believe that those involved are motivated by human and environmental concerns, above those of profit and market share. The mere existence of plans to develop a terminator gene tells us all what really drives Monsanto. I do not trust them one bit, and will be watching what they do, not what they say, when forming my own judgement in this matter.
John McNulty, UK

The public are being led in a crusade against a scientific advancement that would have been labelled as a 'breakthrough' like any new medicine, had it not been for a decision by the media to make GM their latest target for scare-stories and perpetuation of mis-information.
It's possible to selectively breed sterile crops (seedless grapes for example) and it's possible to selectively breed crops with built-in herbicide (experimental rape-seed in Canada, see New Scientist) so any concern voiced about GM foods can equally be a problem that could occur with selective breeding techniques we have been using for hundreds of years. The public need to realise how stupid they are being when they welcome one scientific advancement (e.g. Viagra which has now killed some sixty people) and reject another one, simply because they are being controlled by the media puppeteers.
Nick Grant, UK

Judging by the response to this issue, if Americans want GM food, and think that we in Europe are living in the Middle Ages, so be it. We reserve the right not to have GM food and crops just because the Americans say we should. What arrogance! The same goes for their hormone impregnated beef and milk.
Janet, UK

Why do North-Americans genetic pirates want to impose to other people their GM patents? Monsanto is not a benevolent organisation, they're on business to sell crops and chemical, their GM products were developed with the only one purpose to sell more chemicals and to keep a world monopoly on crops trade.
The use of a single herbicide in some area for long time can sterilise this area for hundreds of years. And nobody knows about effects on human health caused by these products. Every conscious government on this planet has obligation to forbid GM crops on agriculture and do not recognise crops patents. It's a benefit not only for nature and health but also for national independence against these pirates. Independence
Carlos Alberto Sant'Ana, Brazil

I work for Monsanto so I have an interesting seat in this all. I am for producing a better product, BUT I am against forcing people to accept technology. If the supposed majority of the USA people don't care about GM foods - fine, let them eat it. But I want foods labelled so that I, and others who care about what we put into our body, have the choice not to buy the item.
Ellen Svehla, USA

Monsanto means chemicals. Bad for the ground, bad for us. The chemicals used for GM will alter the soil composites in ways not proven. Good for Monsanto profits and very bad for our stomachs and this planet - Keep it up, Greenpeace!
Joan Lisa, USA

Very interesting, informative article. There is certainly an urgent need between companies like Monsanto and the environment community to interact better.
Mustafa Pulat, Turkey

Monsanto is a greedy and dirty operation that has no great vision of the future or love of its employees. I fully and unconditionally support 'Green Peace' because they are dedicated to saving the planet. Many farmers don't like GM foods. They are dangerous to the planet and our ecological system. Support Green Peace. They know what is best for our planet.
Dave Adams, USA

One of the companies now heavily involved in the development of GMO's also developed the defoliant "Agent Orange", used extensively during the Vietnam war. This chemical was claimed to be safe, they had tested it thoroughly and it posed absolutely no threat to humans. They were proved wrong!
Gordon, Aus

"..well educated and well-informed..". Words Peter Melchett uses to describe the general public. This clearly demonstrates his and his group's complete lack of reality. The inevitable fact that GM foods will become as common place as other processed foods is lost on these head-in-the-ground luddites. The sad part is that as we 'celebrate' the planet's 6 billionth citizen and the turn of an arbitrary millennium, we still have to deal with this level of organised ignorance.
Robert Zeps, USA

So GM is all bad and the future is in organic farming I'll bet his Lordship has a picture of his ancestor carrying a red flag in front of a train. As the population of the world increases then food production must increase. This can only be achieved by reducing losses by fungus or insects.
Organic farming is fine for the large nations with small populations but not for high density countries. Personally I am against anything Greenpeace supports after the oil rig disposal fiasco.
John Woodford, France

I have no objection to GM foods, and I suspect that a very large proportion of the European population do not either. I do believe they should be labelled. At present we have a powerful organic farming lobby playing on people fears to make their products seem worth a large price premium. This is despite the increased risk of certain illnesses that these products carry.
Inevitably GM products will need to be fully tested, in much the same way as new drugs are tested. Greenpeace and their ilk are more interested in winning cheap points by stage managed acts of vandalism than they are in understanding the truth. Talk of so-called terminator genes is somewhat premature. Sterility in a plant species hardly makes it the most likely to breed out of control.
Keith Walker, UK

Surprising to see how many respondents have completely missed the point.
This issue is about consumer choice. No-one should be forced to consume the product of a relatively untested technology. There are naive reactions on both sides: and to the gung-ho Americans ... remember atomic energy, the "energy of the future" ? Let us Europeans choose whether we line your pockets at unknown risk to our own health.
Sean Taylor, UK in US

At this time, I do not trust GM crops enough to eat them. But I do believe research into GM should continue. However, I would appreciate having a choice in what I eat. If food was clearly labelled as containing GM crops or not, I think we would soon see what the public thinks by looking at its buying patterns.
Colin O'Brien, Belgium

In response to Lain of the UK, I doubt very much that you have seen enough of the USA to proclaim 'it's too late.' But this is irrelevant to the discussion. If the consumers in Europe do not want to have GM products, then they have the right to say so and the right to choose not to. It shouldn't even be an issue.
Roger D Hall, USA

I was amused to see the word empowerment in the speech of the Monsanto boss. When I heard of the "terminator seed", I thought this is a classic way of dis-empowering the farmers. We hear a lots of comments these days about how unscientific Europe is in not approving of GM food as opposed to USA. I do not know how informed the consumers in USA are, but I would like to know what I am eating. It's not about science and it's not about free trade. It's a question of choice. Selling GM food without any label is the most undemocratic thing that can happen. I am happy that people in Europe are not blinded by so called technology. There is no single frontier of knowledge.
Tridiv, Germany/India

I'm for Greenpeace on this matter. Nobody knows anything about the long-term impact of genetical engineering on the environment.
G. Borchorst, Denmark

To ask for dialogue after trying to feed us GM foods by stealth is a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. I don't want GM foods, Monsanto. If you had done any market research at all before bringing them to market, you would have known that most people don't.
Graham Lenton, UK

I'm happy to eat GM products as far as I doubt they'll harm me. But I DO object to anything which upsets the natural balance of our environment. Even if it hurts humans its our stupid fault for mucking about, but destroying the environment (such as it is) is just nuts. I've been to the USA, no wonder they don't worry too much about environmental issues - its too late for them. But our "backward" country is still beautiful. Don't mess it up any more.
Iain, UK

Peter Melchett's comments are yet again another attempt by Greenpeace to discredit GM foods by liking them in the public's mind with completely unconnected issues. For example, he mentions the disappearance of many birds from the Norfolk countryside - something which occurred before GM foods were even thought of.
Again, Greenpeace fail to mention that GM crops can actually help this problem by decreasing pesticides and herbicides. He also raises the fallacy about organic food. It is totally impractical to think the UK could grow all of its food organically and be self-sufficient. Even if it could, this is hardly a concern to farmers in India - one of the main targets for GM crops - who desperately need to increase their harvests.
David Page, Scotland

I don't accept everything Greenpeace has to say on this matter - but instinct does tell me one thing: Greenpeace are saying what they think and believe. The spokesmen for firms like Monsanto, on the other hand, are saying what they're PAID to say and presumably thinking what they're PAID to think. GM has nothing to do with real problems - it's about greed and profit. There's already enough food to feed the world - it just isn't shared out - and GM isn't going to change that.
John Luby, Scotland

This is classic case of unscientific Greenpeace views of ancient world. The Greenpeace people make me believe that "Flat-earth" unscientific society still thrives in backward nations like England. Monsanto is about better planet, better food through science. If we believed these idiots, millions will be dying of infectious diseases. Infectious organisms are natural as well.
Why discover new ways of treating them. Bottom line is Greenpeace people have no basis. They are making fun of themselves. In 5 years all these idiots will disappear from the scene. Science wins, because it is the right thing to do for the environment. I will not donate a penny to these Greenpeace morons.
Sagar Reddy, USA

We have already heavily contaminated our environment. The air land and sea is irrevocably contaminated by the results our our technological developments over the past century or so. Formerly rare cancers are increasingly becoming common. The food we eat and the water we drink is becoming more and more contaminated. We need to try to reduce any further contamination.
Breeding food plants to be resistant to drenching by powerful herbicides and fungicides can only further poison our environment and our food. Human-kind and plants have evolved symbiotically over millions of years. We break this cycle at our peril. Pollution affects everybody, there are no safe havens. Even the faceless people employed by Monsanto have children and grand-children.
AK Green, Britain

For me the issue is choice. Irrespective of whether GM Foods are or are not dangerous in anyway, if the majority of the British public want them banned from the country, then they should be banned. This is what democracy means.
William Ramsden, England

To live we have to eat. We're running out of space to grow crops and will soon have huge global food wars as a result. Er, don't you think it's better to mess with a few plant genes than exterminate ourselves?
Nick, USA

GM crops that carry the doomsday gene only need to mutate once to cause the whole food chain to crumble. And if that happens the whole human race could disappear.
Doug, USA

Forgive me for making perhaps a over simple observation but isn't genetic modification a natural process at work all around us in the world at large? What are evolution and species adaptation if they're not genetic changes constantly trying to survive more successfully in a changing environment?
Peter Buckingham, UK

The fact that the anti-GM brigade and Greenpeace are more worried about profit than the product betrays the real agenda behind their campaign. The environment has become the new proletariat and the people who, 30 years ago, were 'struggling for the workers' are now 'struggling for the planet'. Both battles are equally bogus. Greenpeace is a mendacious, conniving, politically motivated pressure group whose tactics consist of moral blackmail and moral panics. Technology has vastly improved the lives of people far more than politics. It is for that reason alone that I trust technology far more than anyone does dubious lobbyists with an axe to grind (I don't expect this will get published. Still, it had to be said)
David J.K. Carr, England

Peter Melchett's speech takes an extreme and simplistic position that GM is to be rejected. He backs his conclusion with non-GM scare stories.
Phil Sandine,

God's own supermarkets are here in Austin, Texas, where we have competing grocery chains full of organic foods. I'm also scared blue that somebody's going to put some trigger in a pea or a melon that has a bizarre and unpredictable effect somewhere else in the wild and wonderful web of life. All the same, we owe our lives to selective breeding in agriculture. And hats off to those biotechies. What they do is breathtaking. Just keep it off the dinner table if you don't mind.
Jim Umbarger, USA

Greenpeace has adopted an anti-technology policy that is archaic and, if adopted, would lead to massive social and political upheaval. Inefficiency in farming through the "old fashion" means will result in substantially higher food costs. As a result the poor, who Greenpeace doesn't give a dam about, will suffer the most. Agricultural efficiency through biotechnology means less land needed for agriculture, less broad spectrum pesticide use, better use of fertiliser and water. Greenpeace is constantly suspicious of any big company that may make a buck on a good idea, but remember the people at Monsanto have to eat and live on this planet, so it is doubtful that they would screw things up for a buck, especially when it is their food supply as well. GM food is just a more direct version of plant and animal breeding which has been going on for 5000 years or so.
Marinucci, USA

Monsanto's past record for safety of products is so bad there is no reason to believe anything Monsanto says. In addition, independent reports of GM crops indicates the results are much more mixed then Monsanto claims: Some GM crops fell victim to pests, some required greater or the same use as conventionally grown crops and some yielded less. Monsanta is not altruistic, it and Novartis, etc., are in it for the massive profits they believe possible. They already have a track record of poisoning for profit -- why should anything be different now? In addition, there is no evidence that GM crops have been adequately tested for risks to human and environmental health. WE are to be the guinea pigs, just as we have all been for chemical pesticides. No thank you. Whatever happened to population control techniques?
S Hogg, USA

Local news teams here were reporting lately on the destruction of some GM plants by people they labelled "terrorists." Then proceeded to tell us in a matter of fact way, that most of the corn and soy products we buy at the grocery store are GM and require no labels, this included soy baby formula. I don't think anyone should provide 100% of a babies nutrition in this way before they know for sure what affect it may have. How many new mums using these products are informed, most wouldn't think to even ask! Assuming that they are doing the best for the baby. They are running long term tests for the GM producers without knowing it. Shame on this country (US) for not requiring GM labels.
Pauline, UK in US

I am not entirely opposed to the creation of GM products, and agree in some circumstances it can be beneficial, for example, modern grain crops lack a gene which is present in wild varieties, which helps prevent fungal/mould infections. If this were incorporated in modern grain through genetic modification it would reduce the use of chemicals while being one step up from selective breeding. However, I personally would prefer not to buy or eat GM foods and would like to see real choice offered to consumers. I personally try to source as much food as I can organically but the UK organic industry is still in its infancy. Organic farmers should be given the same financial help that is presently heaped on intensive farmers. A clear labelling system is also needed to allow the public to make informed choices along with more public information from the GM producers about exactly what it is we are being forced to eat. The latter comment shows the fundamental problems with public acceptance of GM technology in that we dont feel we are being given a choice and that faceless multinationals are forcing their products on us. This is the main reason that GM technology has not taken off like it did in the US, British people will not be lambs to the slaughter and it seems recently, increasingly, nor will the Americans
Mike Jay, UK

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