Monsanto vice president says GMOs essential to feeding world’s population, but protesters fear impacts
Sep 20, 2012
By Dan D’Ambrosio
The appearance in South Burlington of a Monsanto vice president to address the annual conference of the Vermont Feed Dealers and Dairy Industry associations sparked a protest Thursday morning by Rural Vermont in front of the DoubleTree Hotel on Williston Road.
Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont, said her organization is concerned about the health and environmental effects of the genetically modified seed Monsanto produces.
“We say ‘no’ to that,” Stander said. “Genetically engineered crops and seeds do not represent sustainable agriculture in our view. Rural Vermont holds very strongly that what we need is an earth-based, sustainable, locally based food system. Not giant corporations dictating what we can eat and what we can buy without knowing what we’re getting.”
James Tobin, vice president industry affairs for St. Louis-based Monsanto, was invited by the feed dealers and dairy farmers associations to talk about sustainable agriculture, an invitation he said he was happy to accept.
Tobin spoke to the Burlington Free Press after he addressed the joint conferences. A reporter for the paper was asked to leave the private meeting before Tobin talked.
The Vermont Feed Dealers and Manufacturers Association provided a printed statement about its 70th annual meeting and conference, which said in part: “We are proud of the diverse line-up of speakers that will provide insight on global, national and local trends challenges and opportunities that impact Vermont agriculture. Our organization recognizes the need to produce food needed to feed a growing global population in a manner that reduces agriculture’s carbon foot print, protects our environment and enhances water quality.”
The statement also said, “We respect the right of individuals to express their democratic right to free speech and as an organization are open to all ideas that help to provide safe, nutritious and affordable foods to an increasingly hungry world.”
In his interview with the Free Press, Tobin said one of the goals Monsanto has set for itself is to double the average yields of corn, soy, cotton and canola by 2030 to keep up with worldwide demand.
Doug Flack, a Rural Vermont board member who attended Thursday’s protest, called Monsanto a “disaster” for farmers, saying the genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, they produce are spread by pollen and by bacteria.
“So GMOs end up in the soil, they end up in our gut bacteria, they’re going to alter the whole course of the biological world,” Flack said.
Flack, who has a livestock farm on about 160 acres in Fairfield, also objects to what he sees as Monsanto’s overzealous protection of its patented seeds.
“Corn GMO genetics spread easily on the wind,” he said, meaning genetically modified plants and seeds can wind up on the land of farmers with no intent to grow them.
Tobin said he didn’t talk to anyone from Rural Vermont, but that he is “very proud” of the work Monsanto does for farmer. All of its projects concerning seeds and plants are subject to approval by federal agencies before being allowed onto the market.
Farmers do have to sign a contract for the patented seed they get from Monsanto, agreeing to use it for one commercial crop and not to save it, or use it for something else, according to Tobin. He said the protection of the intellectual property Monsanto’s seed represents — or the seed produced by any of the company’s competitors, such as DuPont and Dow — is essential to encourage continued investment in improving seed for higher yields and better resistance to disease and drought.
Andrea Stander says the assurance that government agencies are monitoring the effects of genetically modified seeds rings hollow to her.
“We’ve all become lab rats in a huge experiment without our permission and without our knowledge in many cases,” Stander said. “That’s what we see as not sustainable.”