Travel expenses within St. Louis and lunch courtesy of Monsanto. All opinions expressed are my own and I am on a continual journey of learning, discovery and inquiry.
When I recently had the opportunity to visit Monsanto, just about everyone I knew was skeptical. They had low hopes and high suspicions about what kind of information Monsanto would be interested in offering to this group of invited bloggers from Illinois in connection with Illinois Farm Families. Admittedly, I had my own concerns, but as I’ve learned, I want to be as knowledgeable as possible to make educated decisions for my family and myself.
I started my journey to Monsanto by actually asking for questions from friends and family on my Facebook page. The amount of opinionated people that posed questions was astonishing, but I knew that even moreso, I wanted to get more information on everything that I could.
We headed out for early morning travel and I was joined by my favorite from Houseful of Nicholes.
She inspires me, pushes me, but most importantly, asks the tough questions also, especially when she has suspicions of her own. One of the biggest takeaways from this trip was that I wanted to see the facility, hear from the employees and see what more I could find out about the elusive GMOs.
Our day with Monsanto started with a tour of the facilities. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and gave us valuable information about agriculture in general, including the little critters that seem to feast on some of these resources.
Don’t look too hard, but insects make up 95% (!!!!) of the biomass on this planet. They could basically overtake us. And suddenly, I was terrified.
Monsanto has specialized areas to test out their seeds. In this particular experiment, seeds have been engineered in different ways to account for weather and bug infestations. As you can see, the modified seeds withstood much more, even after just a week. The long-term effects could mean better use of seeds on particular land, crops not leaving the land barren and the loss of crops being kept to a minimal based on farmer inquiry and concerns and using those to modify the seeds accordingly.
Much of the focus throughout the day was the emphasis on biotechnology. Monsanto appears to use biotech and GMO interchangeably and understandably so. GMO (Genetically modified organism) brings up a negative connotation whereas in my opinion biotech sounds scientific, well-thought out and purpose driven. I was glad I asked for clarification otherwise I think I would have spent much of the rest of the tour in the dark.
The rooftop greenhouses were impressive and the plants were tested under conditions based on countries from all over the world. These unique spaces can be modified to mimic conditions from all over the world and provide beneficial information for creating future seeds that may withstand difficulties.
We then moved to a panel with several Monsanto employees:
Janice Person – Online Engagement Lead
Phoong Tang – US Crop Protection Lead
Donna Farmer – Production Protection and Nutrition
Aster Beyene – Product Stewardship and Lifecycle Lead
The only downside to this conversation was that it was so brief! Much of the talk centered around scientific questions (kudos to the mom brains of the group), but I was hoping to get a bit more information on the practical side of things, particularly as a consumer. Luckily, I was able to talk with a few Illinois farmers as well as additional employees over lunch to get some of those answered.
One of the biggest questions I had was regarding labeling. If GMOs are safe, why is Monsanto against labeling? The response that I received was that they are not against NATIONAL labeling, but instead against STATE by STATE labeling. The difference between the two is that National labeling would be uniform across the board. The standards would be the same. With state by state regulation, companies would then have to modify the product and labels to accommodate all of the different requirements – making this costly and confusing. Janice provided me a link with a bit more about Monsanto’s stance on labeling. I think this would do a bit more justice in explaining their position.
While this answer made sense, I felt that Monsanto could do a better job of getting this specific information out to the general public. My best guess was that if I were to ask the same critics of Monsanto, their resounding answer would be that Monsanto is not interested in labeling in the least. Based on the information I received while there, it seems to contradict that.
The free-flow of information is key and Monsanto admittedly has not always been the best at communicating that information. This was the beginning of a conversation that I think could really open the door to understanding food, where it comes from, the need for biotechnology and how we can work together to bring about real lasting change and world improvement in the agriculture arena.
I look forward to continuing the conversation and plan to continue to ask the tough questions, seek more information and share more about food production in the future. Please know that this blog post is just a snippet of the day and not a full representation of every thing that was discussed, questions that were answered or expertise that was represented.
Please share any questions you may have and I’ll try to get those answered for you as soon as possible. Monsanto is open and willing to engage that conversation.