Digest: Monsanto blog launched, more food news from White House

New media = new image?: Monsanto has been a punching bag in the blogosphere for years. We should know. Now, the biotech giant has not only launched an ad campaign aimed at food's "thought leaders," it's digging into its deep pockets to fund a new Facebook presence, Twitter stream, and a blog, Monsanto According to Monsanto. (St. Louis Post Dispatch) Our favorite post has to be "Monsanto - We're Just Like You." Yeah, just like us — if we worked at a company that coerces states into passing laws limiting milk labeling to protect its growth hormone market, that intimidates farmers, and that has polluted communities around the world.
Update: Monsanto's social-media director has responded to this blurb in the comments section.

Has ObFo bugged the White House?: How else could L.A. blogger Eddie once again scoop everyone in announcing that Sam Kass has been named the White House Food Initiative Coordinator? Perhaps she's just the best-connected food-pol blogger ever. As she points out, this means the First Lady apparently wants to make food issues a formal policy platform, with Kass to play a big role. (Obama Foodorama)

Paging Dave Murphy! Your 15 minutes have been extended to a starring role: Over at Grist, equally wonky Tom Laskaway weighs in on last week's much-debated Times piece about whether the food movement has come of age. He zeroes in on its historic (and often accurate) portrayal as a fad, a "self-help rather than a social movement." But now it's got political power, says Laskaway, thanks in large part to the big Iowan dude behind Food Democracy Now (recently profiled in the Post).

Anti-terror = pro-terroir: Local farmers are changing the frame and arguing that supporting local food should fall under the government's homeland security efforts. Regionally produced food offers security against tainted imports like melamine-laced Chinese milk powder, and having a functioning local food system will be critical in the event of a terrorist attack. Apparently, the government agrees: homeland security officials are working with major grocers to create a strategy for distributing local food in the case of emergency. Can't they do it before then, too? (Norwitch (CT) Bulletin)

SOLE food is so … scary?: Eddie reports on how haters are finding Michelle Obama's sustainable food-related activity unpalatable (Obama Foodormama). Meanwhile Jill gets her hands on a letter promoting conventional (aka chemical) agriculture that Mid America CropLife Association sent to Michelle Obama, then forwarded around with this message: "The White House is planning to have an "organic" garden … great idea, [but] the thought of it being organic made Janet Braun, CropLife Ambassador Coordinator and I shudder." (La Vida Locavore)

Maybe it's just the F in HFCS to blame?: ScienceDaily.com reports that Johns Hopkins researchers are thinking that fructose is metabolized differently than glucose by the brain, in such a way that it may increase food intake and by extension, obesity. (Press release here; Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications paper here.) Maybe high-fructose corn syrup ain't just like sugar after all. We're sure the Corn Refiners Association will stop by within seconds to put us straight.

Traceability becomes a value-add: Most food manufacturers and distributors cannot identify the suppliers or recipients of their products despite federal rules that require them to do so, federal health investigators have found, reports one New York Times piece, while another a few days later in the Technology section touts how small, cutting-edge small food companies like Stone-Buhr flour are using the Web to connect consumers to the farmers who grow their products.

Accountability is good too: Cargill Meat Solutions, the second-largest beef processor in North America, as adopted video monitoring at all its beef slaughterhouses. (Meat & Poultry)

Washington is buzzing … about the first-ever White House beehive. Charlie Brandts, a White House carpenter for 25 years, is now the First Beekeeper. (US News blog)

Poultry growers say regulations are crap: Chicken producers in the "Delmarva" peninsula — many of whom raise birds for large companies like Perdue and Tyson — are sounding alarms as the deadline nears for them to apply for EPA permits and monitor their discharge of poultry manure into waterways. But environmentalists say it's crucial: the region turns out far more manure than it can deal with. Last year Delaware, which alone produces nearly 250 million broiler chickens a year, subsidized the transport of nearly 110,000 tons of chicken manure to other farms and — interestingly — to a Perdue-owned organic fertilizer plant in order to lessen the impact on the environment. (Delaware News Journal)

Maine dairy down the tubes?: Retail milk prices in Maine haven't budged much in recent months, but the state's dairy farmers have seen their income drop by half. Now, due to budget cuts, a state subsidy program that helps dairymen and -women weather the worst price downturns may get the ax. The number of dairy farms in the state has dropped from 2,000 to 331 since 1980—could this be the end of Maine's dairy industry? (Kennebec Journal)

Which one is Lee Marvin?: The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture  checks out the Environmental Working Group’s updated Dirty Dozen list, in which the EWG ranks conventionally grown fruits and vegetables based on their pesticide residue. (CUESA's Weekly E-letter)

Planting ideas: Plant pathologists tell policymakers they need more information (that is, research) to be able to identify the best ways to avoid pathogens in the food system. (American Phytopathological Society news release)

That's not what we thought "plumping" meant: Industrial poultry producer Foster Farms is launching a consumer awareness campaign to inform shoppers how other companies practice "plumping," or injecting fresh chicken with unusable saltwater. (Meat & Poultry)

Wooly bellies: The curly-haired, luxuriously fatty Mangalitsa pigs of Hungary are back in style, particularly among U.S. chefs. There's only one American breeder of Mangalitsas, Heath Putnam in Auburn, Wash. (who Ethicurean readers may remember from his cantankerous Wooly Pigs blog). (New York Times)

Bon appetit! Marc Gunther investigates the Low Carbon Diet launched two years ago by Bon Appetit Management Company, which operates cafeterias for Target, eBay, MIT, and many other corporations and institutions. It's "pretty simple. You eat less beef and cheese. You throw away less food. And you try, when possible, to eat locally grown food." (Huffington Post)

The Senate Budget Committee defeats effort to cap farm subsidies at $250,000; Vilsack says fight's not over yet (Reuters)

41 Responsesto “Digest: Monsanto blog launched, more food news from White House”

  1. Cynthia1770 says:

    Hi,
    Thank you very much for the link to the abstract on HFCS.  I am firmly convinced that our health woes are directly related to the
    excess fructose  that  our bodies are forced to asssimilate when ingesting HFCS, especially HFCS-55. The CRA hawks that it is just 5%
    different from sucrose. This is patently misleading.  HFCS-55 is 55%
    fructose:45% glucose. When you convert that ratio  you arrive at
    55/45= 1.22. That means in every can of soda, compared to glucose, there is 22% extra fructose. The CRA can't change their math.

  2. Chris Paton says:

    It’s amusing that everyone thinks we launching a big budget PR effort to fund a facebook presence (free), twitter stream (free), blog (practically free).   The reality of it is that a small group of employees, (Yes, PR people, imagine that, communications people communicating!), who thought we should be part of the online dialog.   The anti-Monsanto crowd seems to feel threatened by this.   We felt it was important to start offering counterpoints to some of the more factually challenged assertions about us being spread online.   We’re working on addressing them one by one, as we can.   Some, like the milk labeling story and claims we harass innocent farmers, have already been addressed.   Overall, our goal is to challenge misinformation, and if our critics are interested in trying to resolve the issues between us instead of name calling, we welcome the dialog.  If you spend any time at our blog, you’ll see that we stand by this by allowing all comments that don’t violate our fairly lenient policy. If you don't want to hear what we have to say, that's fine too.  It's not like we're intimidating or coercing websurfers to read our blog.
    Chris Paton
    Social Media Manager
    Monsanto Company

  3. Bonnie P. says:

    Hi Chris: I'd like to respond to your comment point by point.

    It’s amusing that everyone thinks we launching a big budget PR effort to fund a facebook presence (free), twitter stream (free), blog (practically free). The reality of it is that a small group of employees, (Yes, PR people, imagine that, communications people communicating!), who thought we should be part of the online dialog. The anti-Monsanto crowd seems to feel threatened by this.

    Facebook, Twitter, and blogging may all be free, but the staff time devoted to them is not. I would guess that a dedicated Social Media Manager like yourself commands at least $60,000 a year, plus the time spent blogging etc by other staff members. And then there's the new advertising campaign that Brandweek reported was aimed at "thought leaders" who read Michael Pollan's work, which I would argue is part of the same effort. That kind of exposure doesn't come cheap: a full-page, four color ad in the New Yorker is $117,000 for a one-time appearance, and that doesn't even count the fees for creating the campaign. So, while a million bucks might be pennies to a company that netted $2 billion last year, you can kind of imagine that yes, it feels kinda threatening to the "anti-Monsanto crowd," whose efforts are entirely on a personal, volunteer basis.

    We felt it was important to start offering counterpoints to some of the more factually challenged assertions about us being spread online. We’re working on addressing them one by one, as we can. Some, like the milk labeling story and claims we harass innocent farmers, have already been addressed.

    "Addressing them" is an interesting way of putting it. Are you saying that Monsanto did not fund an astroturf effort, as reported by the New York Times, aimed at coercing legislators into changing labeling laws to protect its failing Posilac market, which it eventually gave up on and sold to Eli Lilly? And as a side note, the post you link to concentrates on how "there is no laboratory anywhere in the world that can tell the difference between milk from a cow that has been treated with Posilac and milk from one that hasn’t been treated." However, it doesn't address the fact a vet can often tell the difference between a cow that has been treated with Posilac and one that hasn't. Here's the Drugs.com veterinary information for use of Posilac:

    General Health. Cows injected with POSILAC may require more therapeutic drug treatment for mastitis and other health problems.

    Cows injected with POSILAC may experience periods of increased body temperature unrelated to illness. To minimize the effect, take appropriate measures during periods of high environmental temperature to reduce heat stress. Use care to differentiate whether increased body temperature is caused by illness or use of POSILAC.

    Cows injected with POSILAC may have more enlarged hocks and disorders of the foot region.

    POSILAC treatment may reduce hemoglobin and hematocrit values.

    Those are serious concerns for people who try to eat ethically. By banning labels that say "Produced without the use of rBST or rBGH," state legislatures like Kansas's are reducing consumers' freedom of choice.

    As for the perception that Monsanto harasses innocent farmers, I remain unconvinced by the post you link to that it's an inaccurate one. It states that "Monsanto does become aware, through our own actions or through third-parties, of individuals who are suspected of violating our patents and agreements. Where we do find violations, we are able to settle most of these cases without ever going to trial." Is it publicly disclosed anywhere how many cease-and-desist letters Monsanto sent out last year? Or how much it collected in these settlements from farmers? Isn't it likely that farmers settle because it's obvious to them they could never fight the legal team of a billion-dollar conglomerate…even if they were innocent, and had been framed by shady private investigators, like the protagonist in the Vanity Fair article we linked to above?   

    Overall, our goal is to challenge misinformation, and if our critics are interested in trying to resolve the issues between us instead of name calling, we welcome the dialog. If you spend any time at our blog, you’ll see that we stand by this by allowing all comments that don’t violate our fairly lenient policy. If you don't want to hear what we have to say, that's fine too. It's not like we're intimidating or coercing websurfers to read our blog.

    We may resort to satire on occasion, but we try not to rely on name-calling to make our points. However, I don't think these issues are "resolvable." Monsanto's entire business model seems to me to be built on an inherently unsustainable array of intellectual-property rights that should never have been granted, antitrust practices that should someday be prosecuted, and products that have added no aggregate value to the world's food supply — only polluted, contaminated, and ultimately degraded it. And no advertising or social-media campaign is going to change that.

    But hey, thanks for stopping by.

    Bonnie Azab Powell
    Cofounder and editor, The Ethicurean

  4. To the social media manager from Monsanto: You forgot one aspect of the budget. What's YOUR salary?

  5. Amy says:

    I am encouraged by the fact that Monsanto has decided to chime in on the discussion through social media and blog about "common misconceptions".  Although the response and the blog posts are clearly from a Monsanto viewpoint and lack objectivity, they atleast recognize they have a problem.   Whether they decide to use their enormous economic engine to address the problems ethically with the bigger picture in mind or  continue to drum up reports and spin data to support their actions remains to be seen.  Since you are listening, Monsanto, do the right thing and be honest with yourselves and the rest of us and revise your practices to be humane and fair.

  6. Chris Paton says:

    Bonnie: In kind, I’d like to respond to your comments.

    Facebook, Twitter, and blogging may all be free, but the staff time devoted to them is not. I would guess that a dedicated Social Media Manager like yourself commands at least $60,000 a year, plus the time spent blogging etc by other staff members. And then there’s the new advertising campaign that Brandweek reported was aimed at “thought leaders” who read Michael Pollan’s work, which I would argue is part of the same effort. That kind of exposure doesn’t come cheap: a full-page, four color ad in the New Yorker is $117,000 for a one-time appearance, and that doesn’t even count the fees for creating the campaign. So, while a million bucks might be pennies to a company that netted $2 billion last year, you can kind of imagine that yes, it feels kinda threatening to the “anti-Monsanto crowd,” whose efforts are entirely on a personal, volunteer basis.

    I’ll have to bring your salary analysis to my HR person. I’m apparently not getting paid enough. To you and the other commentors concerned with my salary, it’s less than Bonnie theorises, way less than an ad in the New Yorker and it’s sure as heck less than Michael Pollan. But even at that, this is a small portion of my job.

    Myself and the other team members in my area who are starting to participate in the blogosphere, twitter, facebook, etc.. are doing so in addition to their regular workload. It does indeed take some man(and woman) hours to do so. Even more as we’re starting to attract attention for even showing up to the discussion and the cyber-pile-on starts up. I don’t dispute that Monsanto has spent a good chunk of change on the ad campaign, but I’m not responsible for that, not involved with that, and wish I had a fraction of a fraction of that budget for what I personally think is a more useful effort, engaging our critics in a dialog to see if we can’t make some progress.

    Yes, many people are spreading the good word out of their own sense of right and wrong, but the folks who are helping sell that message to you are collecting paycheck too. Michael Pollan, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Jeffrey Smith, the Organic Food industry all are selling you something. Fear. And it sells like hotcakes.

    The wonderful thing about social media is that it’s a level playing field. It doesnt matter how much money i get paid, or how much money ethicurian makes in a month. It’s all a matter of words, thoughts, facts and opinions. If you dont think i’m credable, if you dont think i’m telling you the truth, no amount of money i can spend can change your mind.

    “Addressing them” is an interesting way of putting it. Are you saying that Monsanto did not fund an astroturf effort, as reported by the New York Times, aimed at coercing legislators into changing labeling laws to protect its failing Posilac market, which it eventually gave up on and sold to Eli Lilly? And as a side note, the post you link to concentrates on how “there is no laboratory anywhere in the world that can tell the difference between milk from a cow that has been treated with Posilac and milk from one that hasn’t been treated.” However, it doesn’t address the fact a vet can often tell the difference between a cow that has been treated with Posilac and one that hasn’t. (cut for length)

    Those are serious concerns for people who try to eat ethically. By banning labels that say “Produced without the use of rBST or rBGH,” state legislatures like Kansas’s are reducing consumers’ freedom of choice.

    Here’s one of the dangers of me even stepping foot here. I’m not an expert on every thing Monsanto may or may not have done. If I make a comment one way or another about lobbyists, funding, cow health issues, etc.. it can be torn apart by people. What I do know, and what is posted in the article that you may have missed, is that as I understand it, Monsanto’s efforts around dairy labeling were to ensure that labels were factual and fair. We were against labels that said “BST Free” because all milk has BST in it. And labels that claimed they were from cows that weren’t treated with rBST, all we asked was that they included on that label language clarifying that “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows” That way people concerned with the welfare of the cows could know, but without the implication that milk without that label was somehow less healthy.

    As for the perception that Monsanto harasses innocent farmers, I remain unconvinced by the post you link to that it’s an inaccurate one. It states that “Monsanto does become aware, through our own actions or through third-parties, of individuals who are suspected of violating our patents and agreements. Where we do find violations, we are able to settle most of these cases without ever going to trial.” Is it publicly disclosed anywhere how many cease-and-desist letters Monsanto sent out last year? Or how much it collected in these settlements from farmers? Isn’t it likely that farmers settle because it’s obvious to them they could never fight the legal team of a billion-dollar conglomerate…even if they were innocent, and had been framed by shady private investigators, like the protagonist in the Vanity Fair article we linked to above?

    The protagonist in question is addressed directly here. This is a tough area for us. As part of a company, we’re held to a higher standard about what we say publically. In the current climate, If I were a farmer who had been caught, even if I lost the court case and was guilty as sin, I could still make a good living traveling the world on the dime of activist groups and well meaning people like yourself, speaking about how I was a poor innocent who was destroyed by the big bad monsanto.

    I’m unsuprised that you’re unconvinced. Anyone who speaks ill of Monsanto is automatically a hero in the eyes of many activists, with their stories cheered and repeated without ever being scrutinized or questioned. Anyone who speaks against those heros are frequently dismissed as a shill or flack.

    We may resort to satire on occasion, but we try not to rely on name-calling to make our points. However, I don’t think these issues are “resolvable.” Monsanto’s entire business model seems to me to be built on an inherently unsustainable array of intellectual-property rights that should never have been granted, antitrust practices that should someday be prosecuted, and products that have added no aggregate value to the world’s food supply — only polluted, contaminated, and ultimately degraded it. And no advertising or social-media campaign is going to change that.

    I apologize, i wasn’t referring to you direcly with the name calling comment. The Ethicurean has at least been civil in their reporting on issues around Monsanto. That can’t be said for many other sites online. I commend you for being committed to speaking out for what you belive. I’m just disappointed that people cant belive that i’m saying what i actually believe. My paycheck doesnt buy my beliefs or my soul. If i belived that Monsanto was guilty of the things i read online on a daily basis, you couldnt pay me enough to be a part of it. Heck, i could make better money by quitting, making up a couple good conspiracy stories, and going on tour speaking to concerned citizens around the world about the evils i had seen working in the belly of the beast.

    But hey, thanks for stopping by.

    Thanks! I feel so at home already.

    Chris

  7. Chris,

    We all eat. We all care about nourishing our family, our friends, and our neighbors.  Where we differ is in our definition of nourish.

    To me, 'nourishing' includes food that was raised with respect for the hands that sowed it, the farmers.

    I know too many farmers who have been put of business because of Monsanto; whether through your 75 strong legal team investigating for patent infringement (fyi: pollen can drift over to neighboring fields with 10-50mph winds that we have on a daily basis) or through your triple-stacked varieties and exponential price increases. 

    And about being "just like us," I also know people employed by Monsanto; I know their proud parents.  (I've even given cows POSILAC shots.) You aren't an evil person, Chris.  Yes, we know you have a mom too.  However, you must know that the company you represent has set forward a chain of events that has led to death: of seeds, of land, of people, of culture.

    As an aspiring farmer and advocate of SOLE food, I hope you'll read the volumes of information now circulating at the grassroots and tops about Monsanto. You may be surprised to find yourself an Ethicurean.

  8. Bonnie P. says:

    Chris, thanks for your follow-up reply. I'm going to see if anyone else would like to take on its various points before responding.

    Note to all would-be commenters: I have my hall-monitor hat on and I will not be approving comments coming through the system that consist entirely of personal attacks and insults like the one I just deleted. Chris has been brave enough to sit down at a dinner table in rather hostile territory. If you can't make your point politely, or you don't in fact have a point to make, please don't talk with your mouth full. It's unappetizing to the rest of us.

  9. Donald says:

    Thanks Bonnie for your well thought out and objective response to Chris Patton's post.  We as critics, need to investigate and justify to the fullest our arguments and you did a hell of a job.  Thanks for representing our movement and putting forth the time and the effort to not only defend our points but to empower your readers with well researched knowledge.  With that said,  keep up the great work.

  10. Chris Paton says "My paycheck doesnt buy my beliefs or my soul. If i belived that Monsanto was guilty of the things i read online on a daily basis, you couldnt pay me enough to be a part of it. " Monsanto has a 100+ year history of polluting the planet, destroying lives, and covering up its illegal and/or unethical activities. Their actioins are widely reported and well-known, it's not difficult to do a little research and find reputable sources that document this (just a few easy ones: http://cli.gs/TVaDq0 ; http://cli.gs/h9vzQB ; http://cli.gs/4bsn2W ). If Chris doesn't believe the "things he reads online" about the company, maybe he isn't trying very hard to find the truth.

  11. Tom Philpott says:

    My only advice to Chris is: "sell out high." You're doing corporate work for non-profit wages. You need to be chipping off a bit more of that $2 bill in profit.

  12. 1. As a member organization of the Mid America CropLife Association, how do you feel about MACA's assertion that Michelle Obama's organic garden made them "shudder." I understand your politically-correct statement that you feel that organic can be compatible with GM, or can exist side by side, or whatever, but how do you feel about such a high profile endorsement of organics by the White House? Does that make Monsanto shudder too?
    2. What was your role in killing the Montana seed bill last week? I would think that if you aren't in the business of intimidating and suing farmers then the bill wouldn't be a threat at all to you.
    3. How many sustainable food activists have you sent your lawyers after? I can name one. Why do you do this? If you're not the bogeyman, would you mind calling off your dogs and let activists participate in democracy as is their right?
    4. What was your involvement in forming AFACT - American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology - a group that has gone around the country trying to ban rbGH-free labeling on dairy?
    5. Why do you sponsor or contribute resources to misleading studies about your products, such as this one (sponsored by Cornell, with a Monsanto employee working on the study) or this one (sponsored by Monsanto)?
    6. What was your role in preventing the 2 reporters at Fox News from reporting on rbGH? Did you also have a hand in getting them fired?
    7. Recently we saw a headline that biotech companies prevent independent research of their GM seeds. What is your participation in this?
    8. Why did you sue a Canadian farmer when his fields became contaminated with your GM canola genes? As one blogger put it on DailyKos, this is like a computer hacker suing you for stealing their code after your computer gets a virus.
    9. What about the threatening behavior of your "seed police"? For example, in the Vanity Fair article "Monsanto's Harvest of Fear" or in this article, this article, or this article.
    I'd love to pick on Syngenta, Bayer, and other biotech companies instead but most of the bad stories that reach my ears tend to be about Monsanto. Why is that?

  13. Oops, I forgot a question. Here.

    10. Why did Monsanto sue a Maine dairy because it labeled its milk as free of artificial growth hormones?

  14. cheeseslave says:

    Monsanto, producers of:

    Saccharin
    DDT
    Agent Orange
    aspartame
    PCBs
    rGBH
    RoundUp
    genetically modified seeds

    You can try to spin it as much as you want, but that list speaks for itself.

  15. Bonnie...your mission statement says "To chew the right thing! Which to us means to seek, savor, and spread the word about SOLE food — sustainable, organic, local, and ethical edibles. And to pick on the bad guys."   so I guess I picked to hard....you invite to the discussion claiming a shill is here...then you insult me with your passive agressive double speak. 

    My question was legit and direct.....except for possibly the word meathead.  I understand your desire to promote you blog and encourage critical debate. 

    I would like to know of the values and ethics chris brings to the TABLE...inquiring minds, that ole chestnut??

    Kind Personal Regards
    Michael

    ps.. looking forward to your apology, and seeing how you would ask Chris about shill character and shill ethics..

  16. Bonnie P. says:

    Hi Michael: Picking on the bad guys means picking on Monsanto the company. I deleted your comment because it was entirely a personal attack on Chris. There is a difference.

  17. I know why you deleted my post but I see you are not correct enough to apologize.....

    I tend to disagree....that there is a difference....as a representative of monsanto (not a normal blogger)  he IS Monsanto...and since corporations have been granted and excercise "personhood"  but can never interact like you and I in our communities and society....It is up to the shill to explain his or her justification or rational for their contradictory roles as a member of our community. 

    this is not a fluffy feel good issue..."hey lets sit around eating melba toast politely discussing the nuances of our future subjection to Monsanto"  I dont think so.....this is serious stuff .....let the shill answer some hard hitting questions.  He gets paid to have thick skin....

    ps...I watched your hog butchervideo....whats that guy charge you to do that??$$

  18. ummm almost forgot..errr I did foget

    here is a sample from our neck of the woods on Monsanto methods

  19. Bonnie P. says:

    Hi again Michael: I am sorry I deleted your comment without explaining to you why I was doing so and inviting you to resubmit it. And while you make an interesting point about corporations' "personhood" justifying going after the people who work for them,  I think it distracts from the goal of holding the company accountable for its sociopathic behavior. (Yes, I saw "The Corporation" too.)

    Jill, above, has asked some very hard-hitting questions. I would much rather see Chris answer them — and one about the seed legislation tyou link to, had you turned it into a question — than address whether his parents raised him to be a shill. Who cares? There are thousands of people like him working for Monsanto, all of them making their own justifications of why they do so.

    P.S. I hate Melba toast.
    P.P.S. One-Shot Johnny charges $45 per hog slaughtered.

  20. Chris Paton says:

    Sorry for the delay getting back.

    Once again, I want to thank Bonnie for setting down some rules and trying to help keep this civil.

    I can sit here all week and play the guy in front of the firing range. That's not really going to do anything but give many of the posters a feeling of satisfaction that they've taken on the man.  I'm not a subject expert on every one of these questions and i'm going to point most of them to responses we've been working on over the past year to finally get our side of the story out there.

    As i read through the comments posted here, it's clear that many posters are jumping on their favorite 'evil monsanto' story.  I'll do my best to point you to what i understand to be the truth.

    Amy:
    I appreciate the comments.  Just like many companies, we're trying to figure out the right way to participate in the social web.  I personally have been pushing, along with my team, to try to step away from all the shiny corporate pr fluff that companies have been pushing out for decades.  To be honest, it's an uphill battle.  I firmly belive that we do need to have open, honest conversations like this one.  I know I'm not going to change a lot of minds. Even the good things we're doing now, and have been working on for some time will be dismissed by many of our critics.  But we need to try.  Hopefully we can find a way to do things better.  But as a flip side to that, maybe we can find a way to help some people understand that there is a lot of deliberate misinformation out there about us, and that we're not the evil power hungry monster that many would like you to belive.

    Debra:
    I also know and work with farmers.  Every year over 250,000 US farmers voluntarily purchase seed from us.  They're not idiots.  They buy our products because they provide them with value, through reduced inputs, pest management, yield and quality traits.  If our products didnt provide them with the value and performance they need, there are plenty of other people to buy seed from.   I know people online like to claim that we own all the seed.. tell that to Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow, BASF, and all the independent regional seed dealers out there.  Looking at a recent investor presentation on our website, in 2008 our branded corn had 36% of the market, soybeans 29%. Hardly a lock on the market.

    As for pollen drift, I've yet to hear of an actual case where we've sued a farmer for pollen drift contaminated fields.

    Charles:
    Good to see your name in the debate again.  Charles is one of those folks i mentioned who get paid to be a PR guy for the other side.  Since he couldnt be bothered to post an actual question, just links to old news stories, i've got some links back..

    Okay, i dont have a link for PCB's yet.  I wish i could give an answer on that one.  Follow up research to that 7 year old news article would document the huge cleanup effort, funds to help with community restoration efforts, and a lot of work and money to try to make things right on the part of Solutia (the part of old Monsanto that is the decendant of the business that was in Anniston.), current Monsanto, and Pfizer.
    Your second link was to a 2005 story about a fine for bribery in Indonesia.  That i do have a link for.  If you read the story or our position on it, it's clearly document that this was discovered by our own internal audits.  That we found the problem, reported it to the SEC and Department of Justice like we were suposed to. Paid the fine, agreed to programs to help ensure that it wouldnt happen again.   We found the problem, we reported it, and took steps to prevent it in the future.  I'm not sure how this demonstrates that we're covering up anything or being unethical.
    Third point.... 10 years ago a pr agency helped organize a counter demonstration?  Charles, have you never organized a demonstration?  Do groups you work with not "work behind the scenes" to get people out for your movements?

    Tom:
    Thanks for the salary review.  I've forwarded it to my boss.

    This is getting crazy long.  I'm going to break here before i move on to the next posts.

    P.S. Melba toast is bland, but harmless.  I prefer Captains Wafers.

  21. Chris,
    Thanks for addressing our concerns. I'd just like to say that many of us aren't picking our favorite evil Monsanto stories out of the news - these are stories from our own lives that affect us personally. Two of my friends, for example, have had Monsanto's lawyers chasing after them. It's not fun when an activist has to abandon a project because they need a legal opinion (which they can hardly afford) before speaking. Another one was hanging out in her state capital when a Monsanto lobbyist charged in and demanded that a bill establishing an organics advisory council absolutely made NO reference hinting that organics might be better than "conventional" ag.

    Is it OK to seek profit? Of course. And of course we understand Monsanto doing what it's in its best interest. No matter how much anyone might vilify prohibiting farmers from saving seeds, I think we all understand that farmers entered into such an agreement willingly. However, it's the nasty tactics of Monsanto that we oppose in addition to anything else. I think what strikes people in the articles describing farmers getting busted for seed saving (even when - as you say- they were guilty as sin) is the voracity and the intimidation with which Monsanto goes after them.

    I have my own problems with biotech and GMOs in general, which I've written about in detail on my own blog, but those aren't specific to Monsanto, nor are they anything to do with these nasty tactics we're all picking on here. I've attended a BIO conference before and I recognize that many of the people involved in biotech are well-meaning - even if I think they are wrong. For me, understanding where I stand on GMOs took about 3 years of research about agriculture and ecology. I can accept that not everyone understands the bigger picture and perhaps they think they are helping. But a well-funded corporation going after an activist with no budget at all? Pathetic.

  22. Chris Paton says:

    Jill:
    1) I'm not a member of MACA
    2) I had no role. I've never been to Montana.
    3) I dont have any lawyers. Unless you count the guy at Traffic Law Center.
    4) I had no involvement.
    5) I dont.
    6) I had no role in this. In 1997 when it supposedly happened, i was a temp working on fixing powerpoint slides.
    7) Once again, I have no participation in that.
    8) I've never sued anyone.
    9) I dont have any police, seed or otherwise.
    10) If you had read the comments above, that were here before you posted, I already answered that one.

    Before i get accused of being evasive, i did actually answer the questions she asked. 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"

    Before i get to Cheeseslave, let me digress a moment on a point that gets completely ignored. Monsanto Company (NYSE:MON) that exists today is NOT Monsanto Company (former NYSE:MTC) that existed up until 1999.   I'm working on a blog post laying all this out in copious detail so it is very clear, understandable and well referenced.  But the gist of it is that Pre-1999 Monsanto was split into Solutia for the chemical business, the ag business was spun off in 2000 and everything else became part of Pfizer.  We just lucked out in getting to keep the name.

    Okay, back to the discussion at hand.

  23. Very funny. And yes, I did tweet that. But I don't have to make things up about Monsanto to give you a PR liability. All I need is Google. It's all there.

  24. Chris Paton says:

    Bonnie,

    To Michael's defense, on your facebook page you did invite people to chime in with the shill.  Not exactly the language that inspires thoughtful discussion.

    Here's a fact i stumbled upon trying to make sure my answers were accurate.  In 2007, Organic food sales were estimated at $20 billion.  In 2007, Monsanto's net sales were $8.3 billion.  Just thought that was interesting  fact i hadn't seen before.

    Signing off for the night.

    Chris

  25. M J Barger says:

    Chris ....cmon now!!  above you stated that you never heard of a case where Monsanto sue over pollen drift..??? 
    Response to debra#21
    "As for pollen drift, I’ve yet to hear of an actual case where we’ve sued a farmer for pollen drift contaminated fields."

    Monsanto vs Schmieser case was ruled on in 2004 by the canadien supreme court is very well known, although you guys sued over patent infringment the underpinnings of the case centered on pollen drift.  I find it hard to believe you never heard of this case(now you have),  or are you just getting cute with your words.

    Jill....wow! you ramp up my perspective...thanks!

    Melba toast goes great with tapenade....yum

  26. Chris Paton says:

    MJ:
    Mr. Schmeiser may claim that his fields were contaminated by pollen drift, and that he didnt plant it and that he didn't want it in his fields.  That's just not true.  Unfortunately for our discussion about it after the fact, Monsanto's legal team decided that they didnt need to address how he got the seeds in order to prove their case.  But even the Canadian Supreme Court didn't buy his claim that they got there by blowing in. 

    From the trial court and supreme court judgement...
    "…tests revealed that 95 to 98 percent of this 1,000 acres of canola crop was made up of Roundup Ready plants. …The trial judge found that “none of the suggested sources [proposed by Schmeiser] could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality” ultimately present in Schmeiser’s crop."

    The findings of three levels of Canadian courts and his own testimony contridict the story he now tells as he travels around the world on someone else's dime.

  27. M J Barger says:

    You are all over the place with your comment and the facts...my point centered on your fancy footwork regarding knowledge of pollen drift>>>>but anyhoo...we can go back to the concept of patents, who owns life and all that.....I just want to nail your shillness on gaming us....(only because my xbox is broken)

    Judge Andrew MacKay commented in his opinion, "the source of the Roundup resistant canola . . . is really not significant for the resolution of the issue of infringement."  For infringement purposes, it was irrelevant that the only reason Roundup Ready Canola was found on Schmeiser's farm was because of pollen drift.  He was not found guilty of brown bagging or improperly buying or stealing Monsanto seed , those highly publicized allegations were dropped at the actual hearing stage due to a complete lack of evidence. 
    It may be irrelavant to the court in terms of patent infringment that in fact the origin of any genetic material that replicated itself and contaminated...er...polluted surrounding land. 

    and you should come to Montana ill take you on a Dick Cheney style bird hunt....(with out the beer)??

  28. Ali B. says:

    Chris, I'll offer up my own perspective. What burns me up about Monsanto that they've spent so much money, and time, and effort, trying to take away my choice as a consumer.

    I know that rBGH is now (and only very recently) Eli Lilly's problem, but you guys (yeah, I know YOU were busy with those powerpoint slides, but you're the one that's having this conversation, so please have it) spent years and lots of money trying to make sure that I didn't have a choice in how my milk was produced.

    Whatever my reasons for wanting milk that was produced without rBGH — whether for the health of the cows, my choice about who gets my money, or simply that I'm an idiot and a fool, and I'm willing to grant that this is a possibility — I should have the right to choose that option. Even if your company doesn't consider my reasoning legitimate, even if you think that I'm wasting my money. That's a free market. If a dairy company wants to tell me how their milk was produced, and I want to know, then that's a private transaction, occuring in the context of a free market And you guys tried to take away my ability to engage in these private transactions. Again, and again, and again, on a national level, and in state after state as a state, the company that funds your salary tried to take that right away. As a consumer, as a citizen, as a parent, it's hard not to resent that.

    I'm not an expert on the other issues; mostly, I'm a mom, as well as a concerned citizen of a rural community that has lost a tremendous amount of agriculture and the lifestyle that goes with that. But it's worth saying that having had my own experience (having to fight to even be allowed to know  how the dairy products that feed my kids were produced), it's hard to consider Monsanto any kind of friend to the consumer.

    That's what you're fighting out here, Chris; not a bunch of fools who are susceptible to fear mongering — or at least not simply that — but a bunch of people who have seen things, and in some cases experienced things directly, that just didn't seem right. Your job — as a bridge between the company and this community — is a tough one. Your success or failure depends not on simply on whether we listen to you, but also whether your employer listens to you. If they don't, if they don't actually rethink some of the strategies they have used in the pursuit of endless booming quarterly earnings statements, then this whole social media effort really isn't much more meaningful than "the shiny corporate pr fluff that companies have been pushing out for decades."

    Finally, there may be a handful of people in the sustainable food world making money. But remember, they're not just up against Monsanto, they're also dealing with the Cargills and ADMs, the Smithfield Farms, the IBPs and the Tysons, the ConAgras and the CocaColas, and so many, many more. I wouldn't exactly classify Monsanto as an underdog here.

    For the record, I'm not getting paid to have this conversation. Also worth noting that the Ethicurean doesn't make any money, and no one is paid to run it.

  29. Bonnie P. says:

    Hi everybody:

    I've been following this comment thread with great interest. But since I don't get paid for blogging, let alone for commenting, I've had to prioritize my current paying work.

    Chris — or should I call you Topher? — thanks for continuing to show up. Yes, I did call you a "shill" on the Ethicurean's Facebook page. From M-W.com: shill: 1 a: one who acts as a decoy (as for a pitchman or gambler) b: one who makes a sales pitch or serves as a promoter. That's not inaccurate, is it? You are paid to promote Monsanto's products through ensuring a positive image for the company. And as you mention, you are also on the communications team.

    However, I don't think you're being a very effective communicator here. Maybe you shouldn't get that raise after all. Your answer to Jill's questions in your comment #23 is insultingly disingenuous. You seem to be saying, "Hey, I'm just a guy who works for a big company — one that may have happened to do a lot of bad stuff around the world before I got here, but wait! We're not like that anymore." However, you are a paid spokesperson for the company. if you want to speak just as Chris Paton, or Topher Paton, then you should be prepared to field questions about your personal motivations for working for Monsanto. Just like an employee of a tobacco company, for example.

    MJ Barger, you walked right into Paton's little trap, one that he baited with his pollination comment. I am quite familiar with the Schmeiser case, and unfortunately he is not the perfect martyr for the anti-Monsanto cause that we would like him to be. I have thought about writing about this before, but I didn't feel like inviting the shitstorm that will probably rain down on my head just from posting this comment.

    Most people think that Monsanto sued Schmeiser for growing Roundup-Ready seeds that had blown into his canola fields without his knowledge. This is not in fact true. If you read the actual court documents for his case — here are the judge's reasons for his finding for Monsanto in 2001 and here are the ones for the 2004 decision; which corroborate the chain of events — Monsanto sued Schmeiser for deliberately saving and replanting these seeds. Schmeiser's defense was two-pronged. He essentially denied in the face of a fair amount of evidence that he had in fact identified the seeds and chosen to segregate them from his own, then save and replant them the following year, then sell the canola from them.

    From Section 40 of the 2001 filings:

    Despite this result [confirming the plants were Roundup-Ready ones] Mr. Schmeiser continued to work field 2, and, at harvest, Carlysle Moritz, on instruction from Mr. Schmeiser, swathed and combined field 2. He included swaths from the surviving canola seed along the roadside in the first load of seed in the combine which he emptied into an old Ford truck located in the field. That truck was covered with a tarp and later it was towed to one of Mr. Schmeiser's outbuildings at Bruno. In the spring of 1998 the seed from the old Ford truck was taken by Mr. Schmeiser in another truck to the Humboldt Flour Mill ("HFM") for treatment. After that, Mr. Schmeiser's testimony is that the treated seed was mixed with some bin-run seed and fertilizer and then used for planting his 1998 canola crop.

    NOW…the second prong of Schmesier's defense is, I think, the important one, even though it's not the one he is celebrated for. It's on the basic validity of the laws that uphold Monsanto's patents. Schmeiser argued (in the judge's words) that:

    The defendants further asserted at trial that Canadian Patent No. 1,313,830 is, and always has been, invalid and void because:

    (a) the alleged invention is a life form intended for human consumption and is not the proper subject matter for a patent; it is self-propagating and can spread without human intervention;

    (b) the patent was obtained for an illicit purpose of creating a noxious plant that would spread by natural means to the lands of innocent parties so as to entrap them with nuisance patent infringement claims. I note that no evidence was adduced and no argument was directed at trial to the alleged illicit purpose;

    (c) if infringement is found the plaintiffs would in effect obtain a patent for a plant, which it is urged is not possible in Canada in light of the Plant Breeders' Rights Act which provides for protection of new varieties of plants.

    I think Schmeiser was trying to make some very good points here. The right to save and replant seeds is fundamental to the history and growth of agriculture. That a corporation was granted intellectual property rights over a plant that it cannot seem to control, and others that it can "turn off" from being saved at all, is one of the saddest and biggest mistakes the US Patent and Trademark Office has ever perpetrated, one that was rubber-stamped for safety by the FDA. I highly recommend Denise Caruso's book "Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet" for a jaw-dropping history of how the government colluded with industry to fast-track the approval of genetically modified seeds, without any sort of systematic, cross-disciplinary risk analysis or public debate. Claire Hope Cummings' book Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds" makes an excellent case for why the ability to save seeds is so important, and what we have lost by handing over such control to Monsanto and its like. (Full disclosure: Yes, those links go to Amazon.com, where the Ethicurean will receive a small percentage of the sale should you buy anything. I have gotten exactly two Amazon gift cards from such links since we started doing them, for a total of less than $50, which has gone to pay hosting fees.)

    But back to Schmeiser. Because he seems in fact to have been guilty of deliberate patent infringement by his actions, the courts have so far declined to consider the higher issues his case presented. I think it will take a large group of say, organic farmers, deciding to challenge these patents and their intellectual-property basis en masse in a class action suit. In my opinion, we need to go back to the drawing board on genetically modified seeds, from so many standpoints. They were never thoroughly tested on any kind of long-term basis from a public and ecological health perspective — and no, Monsanto's own trials do not count. They are clearly a threat to non-GMO crops, from both unwanted cross-pollination and from the rise of "super-weeds" as shown. They are an ecological disaster that it may be too late to undo, that in the case of Roundup-Ready seeds Monsanto has perpetrated on the world simply so it could sell more herbicide.

    And that, Chris, is just one of the reasons why people hate with a visceral passion the company that signs your paycheck, no matter what size it is.

  30. M J Barger says:

    The schmieser case in my opinion is a distraction from much more important aspects of monsanto's degratory influence. Bonnie, although I admire and glean important insight from your post, I hardly feel duped by Chris....I suppose I could have been more precise in my attempt to out Chris for feining ignorance of pollen drift legal issues.....yes I know Percy was not sued for pollen drift ...but it was a major element of the case and a catalyst for subsequent discussion  in all circles. 

    as far as im concerned schmieser was an idiot for growing GMO crap..for any reason.....and monsonto patents on life are invalid

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it ...Topher!!

    back to my home remodel task...will check in

    damn its snowing here...im ready for spring

  31. Bonnie P. says:

    MJ, that is my point exactly. I think the Schmeiser case has become some sort of rallying point for Monsanto's legal (and illegal) intimidation of farmers and its a distraction from bigger current issues. Unfortunately, it's sunny here and I would far rather be starting my garden (yes I am very delinquent) but I am stuck frantically editing a magazine issue about the plight of seafood instead. We all have our crosses to bear. Thanks for participating in the discussion even though I was rude and schoolmarmy to you at first. I am now officially sorry for that. ~Bonnie

  32. M J Barger says:

    hey Bonnie

    ty for the kind works(pinkies up!) I wanted to share with you...if you havnt already--- since you seem to have a depth of wisdom and knowledge---this is a video of swede rick falkvinge primarily about copyright issues and the internet, but there is some good info on patents......i enjoyed it  and think it adds some pertinence to some of the later posts and our monsanto buddies....am thinking you may concur!

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2541736281918823479&hl=en

  33. I'm not here to defend Monsanto as a company, but I thought I'd chime in on one interesting point about Percy Schmeiser - after arguing in court that Monsanto didn't have the right to patent 'life', he turned around and argued that Monsanto didn't have the right to destroy his seeds - violating his rights as a "plant breeder." But breeding canola requires special equipment which he did not have, not to mention the contradiction where he first claimed that life could not be owned, and then claimed that he owned life.

    I would also like to add that patenting plants goes all the way back to 1929 with the first Plant Patent Act. As a concept, it did not originate with genetic engineering.

    <em>"I think it will take a large group of say, organic farmers, deciding to challenge these patents and their intellectual-property basis en masse in a class action suit."</em>

    In order to have a class-action lawsuit, you have to have a group of people whose rights have been violated. But not a single organic farm has ever lost its certification in the US as a result of genetic engineering. It is sad that organic agriculture is seen as the polar opposite of genetic engineering - the two approaches are natural allies, not enemies.

  34. Dang, why don't html tags work here?

  35. Bonnie P. says:

    Thanks for the comment, IM. I didn't know that about the Plant Patent Act. Guess I have more reading to do.

    And the stupid HTML tags are supposed to work — something went wrong when I upgraded the blog templates. I also can't seem to make the comment size bigger, so y'all can stop asking.

  36. M J Barger says:

    Did Chris decide he was in over his head?

  37. Chris Paton says:

    No, not over my head, just busy.

    You can call me Topher if you want to. That’s what my friends call me. At work I go by Chris, I'm not trying to play a fast one there. it's all my name. Chris/topher. Whichever you prefer.

    There is a ton of misinformation about Monsanto on the internet, much of it pretending to be fact. For a long time we let that go unchallenged. We're just now trying to start to correct that, to get some small semblance of balance.

    Monsanto participating in the blogosphere is a very new thing, and it took a lot of work internally to get to a point where i can even come here in a somewhat official capacity to try to start a dialog with our critics.

    Honestly, yes, I’m just a guy who works with our web team and internal communications teams. I wasn’t schooled in PR, I'm not here to sell you anything. I'm not promoting our products, that would be wasting my typing. I'm not promoting all the good things we do, because i know that i have zero credibility with you at this point. I'm just trying to join the conversation. Let you know that you are being heard (and not in a big brother is watching you way).

    You think we're evil, we think that we're not. Things that happened in the past.. I can give you corporate approved statements all day long, but that wont get either of us anywhere. I' m not asking for your forgiveness or your love. I can tell you that Monsanto now is a different company than 10, even 5 years ago. Internally there is a big difference in how things are done, and the expectations of how we behave as a company. And following on that we're trying to get better at explaining ourselves outside the company walls.

    We're working on getting other people inside Monsanto to join in the online conversation. People who are scientists, experts, and hopefully people who can maybe change the way we do thing, or maybe explain more fully why we do things the way we do. But as you can imagine, or just see above, right now the Internet is a scary place for anyone admitting to being a Monsanto employee. As long as the reaction is what we see above, most of those people aren’t going to be willing to come participate. If we can get past the misinformation and the dogpiles and name calling we might be able to have a real productive dialog between concerned citizens and people at Monsanto who are trying to do good things. Honestly, ask yourself if I had been the one to explain the points that Inoculated Mind made about the origin of plant patents, would you have found it as interesting, or would you have dismissed it out of hand?

    That’s why I’m here, to try and get to a point where we can address the real issues, and get past the fear mongering and blind distrust. I guess that’s what I’m selling. So are you interested, or is it more fun to play “Stone the Shill”?

  38. M J Barger says:

    Chris are you trying to play the pathetic victim?  "stone the shill"? get over it and respond. 

    as far as "you think we are evil, we think we are not" statement.....cmon the only evil person to fully embrace their evilness happened to be a movie character named Dr.Evil (I love that guy!!) but the real mass muderers,Hitler,jim Jones , violent criminals and monsanto all spin the same bull shit...."I am the victim" or "we are doing these things for your own good"

    Now here you come to defend Monsantos honor....dispell the internet disinformation....undo the bad deeds of the "old Monsanto".....you need a better campaign than....."we are just like you"  No my friend!! You are not...just like ME....you work to further the agenda of a company that will harm and destroy my freinds, my family, and ME....in the name of corporate profits and greed. 

    That is how I view it Chris....we are enemies!   lets see if your social pr fluff can change that reality!

  39. Chris, in answer to your question - yes, I organize demonstrations all the time (I'm an organizer, not a p/r flack - as if your link to the Monsanto-sponsored "Activist Cash" website has any credible information). Which is why I found it odd and troubling that Monsanto paid poor African Americans from a DC-area church to "demonstrate" in support of Monsanto. I've never paid anyone to pretend to be protesters- why did Monsanto feel it needed to?

    Chris also says that that "Pre-1999 Monsanto was split into Solutia for the chemical business...We just lucked out in getting to keep the name." He tries to claim that Monsanto's misdeeds are all in the past, and is no longer responsible for the problems they've caused. That's what the company tried to tell the WashPost in 2002 - when the Post reported on the company's ONGOING attempts to avoid repsonsibility for cleaning up Anniston, AL, the town their operations destroyed (and where they conducted a decades-long cover up operation). But again, Monsanto got caught in a lie - as recounted here http://www.slate.com/id/2061506/ . Chris, can't you come up with a better story?

  40. Carey Michelle says:

    Damn, I am late.  This is great.  I am really glad Charles was able to link to the Washington Post correction about the lie it was told by the reps at the "New Monsanto."  I posted this information on Monsanto's blog (I know it is counterproductive posting there), but nobody bothered to respond to it.    They also would not respond to the fact that (according the The Guardian) the company's current CEO was the one in charge of the region that included Indonesia during the time of the bribes.  Did they promote him for his awesome handling of the situation there?  And which one would that be, the actual bribes, or the investigation and reporting of them?