By Jameson Spivack
Monsanto, the agricultural biotechnology corporation perhaps most known for its controversial genetically modified (GM) crops, has been given the failing grade of ‘F’ for sustainability by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The company advertises itself as dedicated to sustainable agriculture, but UCS believes it does not fulfill these promises. “In reality, the company is producing more engineered seeds and herbicide and improving its bottom line, but at the expense of conservation and long-term sustainability,” says Doug Gurian-Sherman, one of UCS’ Food and Environment Program’s senior scientists.
Monsanto received a failing grade of ‘F’ from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) for sustainability. (Image credit: UCS)
UCS, a respected nonprofit science advocacy group, defines a sustainable production system as one that produces enough food, preserves the environment, and protects farmers’ bottom lines. Reportedly, Monsanto does not satisfy UCS’ criteria for these principles.
Monsanto believes its GM varieties are the key to eliminating world hunger, by altering crops in ways that increase yields. This includes plants, such as the Roundup Ready variety, that are resistant to extensive herbicide use. But according to UCS, there is little evidence that these genetically engineered crops do anything to increase yields, with some studies actually showing a decreased yield, or “yield drag.”
UCS claims there are eight specific ways Monsanto has failed to deliver on its sustainability claims and undermined efforts to promote sustainability:
1. Pesticide resistance: Monsanto’s use of GM crops has increased weed and insect resistance, contributing to stronger pests.
2. Increased herbicide use: By creating crops that are resistant to herbicides, Monsanto has indirectly allowed an increase in herbicide use, which has increased pollution and augmented the effects of climate change.
3. Gene contamination: Monsanto’s use of specialized genes has spread to supposedly non-GM foods, contaminating these crops, often unbeknownst to the farmers.
4. Reduced biodiversity: By emphasizing only a few commodity crops, Monsanto encourages monoculture, which, in turn, leads to biodiversity loss and more pesticide use.
5. Ignoring alternatives: Monsanto focuses solely on GM crops, often times ignoring cheaper, more effective, and more sustainable solutions.
7 Suppressing research: Monsanto attempts to prevent independent research on its own products, keeping policymakers and the public from knowing the truth about its products.
8. Failure to adopt science-backed methods: By focusing solely on GM technology and ignoring solutions backed by science, Monsanto has failed to contribute to alleviating world hunger.
UCS’ sustainable agriculture grading is a reminder of the importance the practice holds for the future of farming. According to the UCS website, “There’s a better way to grow our food. Working with nature instead of against it, sustainable agriculture uses 21st-century techniques and technologies to implement time-tested ideas.”
To read more about Monsanto and sustainable agriculture see: Family Farmers Get Their Day In Court Against Monsanto, Concise and Accessible Roadmap on Sustainable Agriculture, Walmart’s Sustainable Agriculture Strategy: A Model for the Private Sector and Sustainable Agriculture? ,and Promoting sustainable agriculture.
Jameson Spivack is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.