Monsanto not totally evil after all

Monsanto's name is said, in certain circles, with a sneer of hatred and disgust not even reserved any longer for "Satan." No. Monsanto (MON) is worse than Satan; after all, Satan never sued a farmer for growing crops he didn't even want to grow, that merely wafted onto his fields, spawn of Monsanto's genetically-protected progeny.

If I hadn't already suspected inflammation with regard to House Bill 875, just one of a number of food safety bills soon to be considered by Congress, the e.e. cummings quote would have yanked me back to my senses. In an interesting response to the brouhaha over the Bill -- one that has one grassroots organization screaming that it would criminalize organic farming -- Monsanto's latest salvo in the War Against Monsanto, Bradley Mitchell, director of public affairs, quoted the poet: "The Cambridge ladies live in furnished souls / Are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds," he said in a bit of a rant about how the users at OpEd News won't even let him comment. Poor guy. But the real news is this: perhaps Monsanto isn't the epitome of evil, after all.

OK, let's get one thing straight: despite his poetic soul and obvious degree in English literature, Bradley Mitchell runs snotty. While the pitch by Monsanto to get into the social media debate (largely already decided in favor of organic, sustainable, non-GMO agriculture, and against Monsanto, but it can't hurt to try, right?) smacks of desperation, there is nice rhetoric. Monsanto's blog is populated with little characters courtesy of SP-Studio (yes, SP as in South Park), glossy iconic photographs, and lots, and lots of snotty defensiveness. Monsanto's Twitter account is full of happy news about how great genetically modified foods are for improving nutrition (debatable) and links to defenses of Monsanto's technologies.

At the heart of this is the accusation -- by the quite-slanted Campaign for Liberty -- that Monsanto (and Tyson, ADM, and others) is behind one of the many food safety bills being put before Congress. The bill, which is unlikely to pass, doesn't criminalize organic farming, as many alarming headlines read, and in fact doesn't do much of anything but create bureaucracy. (It would, in my opinion, be a net negative for our food system, but that's another story.) And what's more: it appears that Monsanto truly has nothing to do with it. The connection between Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Monsanto is tenuous at best -- her husband used to work for a consulting firm that did work for Monsanto. I'm guilty, too, as my absolute best business school friend used to work for a consulting firm that did work for Monsanto. (I think her job consisted of creating market strategies for Roundup, but of course she can't tell me the specifics. Darned confidentiality clauses.)

According to Nonny Mouse at Crooks and Liars, just the sort of web site that is used to regaling us with the misdeeds of big corporations, "Monsanto, as bizarre as this may sound, is an innocent party in this fiasco. . . I've been having a lively email discussion with a representative of Monsanto, Mr. Bradley Mitchell, who read my original post, as well as the responses of our C&L readership with a great deal of interest. Mr. Mitchell describes himself as a 'social liberal, fiscal conservative', who gardens, cans food, and buys locally grown produce, firmly believing 'in supporting the local economy, preserving open spaces, and most of the other things buying local produce supports.' . . . Not exactly how I imagined Satan's minion, frankly."

Monsanto, not Satan's minion? Is it true? But there's that snottiness again. In a debate on another web site, another Monsanto blogger, Chris Paton, went so far as to follow an attacker back to Facebook to find a gotcha moment: "And i'm not terribly inclined to be real serious answering Jill's questions after she posts tweets like "LOL, Monsanto's got a blog! Let's give 'em enough comments to make it a PR liability"." He also outs himself as making far less than $60,000, one commenter's guess, prompting another one to zing, "sell out high. You're doing corporate work for non-profit wages."

And then, out of the blue, Monsanto's reps say something like this: "the UN says that by 2050, we are going to need to double food production in order to feed the world, and we going to have to do it in the face of climate change and increasingly scarce resources such as water. Whether you are for biotech or against it, a lot depends on our ability to work together. Rumors and mudslinging won't help." That's almost... sweet. And peaceful.

Well, Monsanto, if you'd really like to enter the debate, I suggest that you spend less time following attackers for signs of their disingenuity, and investing less effort in sounding witty and ironic. It's not helping your image any. Although you might just count the "not Satan" judgment as victory and leave it at that.

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