27 May 1998
Monsanto defends its role in GM crops

By Jonathan Riley

AGRO-CHEMICAL giant Monsanto has defended its involvement in genetically-modified crops, claiming that its vision of the future was more environmentally-friendly than organic farming.

Speaking at a Monsanto conference in London yesterday, Carlos Joly, director of sustainability, said “slash and burn” agriculture – which had led to the destruction of rainforests and widespread soil erosion – was the direct result of the worlds need for more grain.

Mr Joly argued that while GM crops could boost yields, organic farming would lead to a 35% to 44% drop in wheat yields. He said if organic methods were widely embraced by UK farmers, then Britain would have to import 5 million tonnes of wheat a year, or expand its wheat-growing areas.

He said GM crop technology – which had taken off faster than computer technology – now accounted for 50% of all soyabean plantings in the US.

Life science companies such as Monsanto and Novartis are the first to admit that they underestimated the European publics concern over GM crops. GM crops have become an integral part of US agriculture, where their introduction was met with little opposition from consumers and environmentalists.

Ben Gill, National Farmers Union president, said the level of concern here in the EU was largely perceptual. He said science has not been properly represented over the past two years and a dialogue between consumers, producers and biotechnologists needs to be established to expose “the stupidity of some arguments and the reality of others”.

Monsantos public relations exercise was upstaged by Friends of the Earth, who demonstrated outside the conference.

Peter Riley, Friends of the Earth food and biotechnology campaigns director, said GM crop research was getting ahead of itself. He called for a moratorium on GM crops to allow for greater debate.