KNUTSON: Monsanto tries to build trust
ST. LOUIS -- If you're a baseball fan as I am, you know that St. Louis is home to the Cardinals. You know they're one of the most consistently successful, best-run franchises in big league baseball. The Cardinals might not be your favorite team -...
ST. LOUIS - If you’re a baseball fan as I am, you know that St. Louis is home to the Cardinals. You know they’re one of the most consistently successful, best-run franchises in big league baseball. The Cardinals might not be your favorite team - like me, you’re probably a Twins fan - but you respect them.
If you’re an agriculturalist as I am, you know that St. Louis is home to Monsanto. You know the company is successful and well run, a major player in global agriculture. But that’s where the agreement ends.
To its supporters, Monsanto deserves respect. They see it as a cutting-edge leader in helping farmers increase yields to feed a hungry world.
To its critics, Monsanto is an evil empire, a company that puts profits ahead of people. The critics, its biggest ones anyway, regard Monsanto as a place where really bad stuff happens. The company’s work in genetically modified crops is particularly controversial. Ever seen a science fiction movie where misguided researchers at a high-tech facility inadvertently create rampaging dinosaurs, marauding zombies or crazed mutants? Whatever the plot gimmick, the common theme is, something awful happens here.
I recently toured Monsanto’s big research facility near St. Louis during a National Press Foundation fellowship on the Future of Food and Agriculture. I was one of 20 journalists from across the country selected for the four-day training event, which included the Monsanto visit. We met and asked questions of company scientists and executives, including Hugh Grant, its chairman and CEO.
For the record, I didn’t think awful things happen at the facility before I visited it. I don’t think that after the visit.
My views on Monsanto are the same: It’s an extremely well run company, albeit one that makes mistakes, with dedicated employees. The company, and its employees, want to make money, but also want to be a force for good.
Monsanto’s mistakes? High on the list was failing to educate the public about genetically engineered crops before the company introduced its Roundup Ready products two decades ago. I asked Grant about that. You can read his answer - and a great deal more about the company - in Agweek’s Aug. 8 cover story on my trip to Monsanto.
Another Monsanto mistake was being defensive and secretive about its work. That’s fostered suspicion and distrust in the general public, and downright hatred among its worst critics.
Monsanto clearly recognizes the need to improve its public image, and is working to do so. Part of the effort was bringing in me and the other journalists during the National Press Foundation event.
Monsanto’s overarching message: We’re educated and experienced. We have good intentions. We’re working hard to help farmers and consumers worldwide.
The company’s biggest critics will never buy that. Will the general public? I don’t know the answer. Drop me a line and share your thoughts.
Well, St. Louis was awfully muggy. I didn’t get to a Cardinals game, despite staying in a hotel next to their downturn stadium. And my trip both to and from St. Louis was complicated by multiple delayed and cancelled flights.
But I’m happy to have been part of the National Press Foundation event. I learned more about agriculture, and I can better serve Agweek readers. I’ll put up with a whole lot of mugginess - and even interminable waits at airports - to do that. Would’ve been nice to see a Cardinal game, though.