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Monsanto Tries To Update Its Image

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Recently, while sitting in a waiting room, I casually flipped through Audubon magazine.  Suddenly, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.  What?!  A Monsanto advertisement in an environmental magazine?

Audubon’s mission statement says: “Audubon magazine provides a place where nature enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and socially conscious consumers can discover, connect with, and be inspired by the natural world’s extraordinary beauty and diversity.”  Monsanto—of Agent Orange,  farmer-suing, seed-patenting , genome-tinkering , and crop-spraying fame—is hardly a logical bed fellow.

You can see the ad for yourself, here.  What’s truly infuriating about seeing the ad in Audubon magazine is that Monsanto is clearly targeting the environmental and food justice crowd.  Buzz words like “a changing climate,” “conserve more,” “use…fewer resources,” and “sustainable agriculture” give the illusion that Monsanto is on our side.  They are anything but.

Never one to bite my tongue, I sent Audubon an e-mail:

I was horrified to see a print ad for Monsanto in your magazine.  Monsanto is a foe of the environment, and their advertisement was nothing but propaganda.  Your magazine stands for environmental protection and advancement; Monsanto stands for big business at the expense of farmers, the environment, and health.  The vast majority of Monsanto’s attempts at genetic engineering ultimately increases pollution and endangers the public with unknown health risks.  I urge you to sever your business dealings with Monsanto.

The publisher of Audubon magazine promptly wrote me back:

Thank you for your thoughtful letter regarding the Monsanto Advertisement in Audubon Magazine.

We certainly understand your concerns.  However, we must point out that the item is clearly identified as a paid advertisement, which readers readily recognize as the unendorsed claims of the advertiser.  In this case, Monsanto is offering its views for reader consideration, just as other advertisers offer their products.

As you have clearly noted, Monsanto’s products have raised legitimate environmental concerns.  But the company has also worked with conservation groups—including Audubon—to advance opportunities to improve some farming practices to safeguard birds, other wildlife and their habitat. The ad allows them to present their unfiltered view of Monsanto actions to be evaluated by readers like you along with other information and perceptions. Your direct feedback to the company can help influence future policies.

We appreciate your recognition that advertisements make it possible for Audubon Magazine to bring readers the best in environmental journalism. Our stories (and occasionally our ads) can sometimes be as controversial as they are informative.  We hope you can see the value in that, and that you will continue to support our magazine, our organization and the cause we share.

His response raises some interesting questions about the nature of publishing and free press.  Should Audubon provide an open forum to any company that approaches them for advertisement, even if that company has a history that is contradictory to their mission?  Does Audubon have a responsibility to screen the advertisements themselves to make sure that they accurately represent the company?  Personally, I find it concerning that Audubon has facilitated Monsanto in presenting their so-called “unfiltered view,” but what I would call a “skewed, propagandist view.”

Moreover, the publisher reveals that Audubon and Monsanto have an ongoing collaboration on bird and habitat conservation.  Perhaps some of you already knew that—I certainly didn’t, and it doesn’t sit well.  It appears as though Monsanto, a multinational corporation, can throw a bit of money to appease the environmentalists and seemingly absolve itself from its environmentally harmful endeavors.  That being said, I don’t want to be naïve about the challenges of raising money for environmental causes, especially in a tight economy.  I’m sure that Audubon is glad to have the extra support.  But the question is, should they accept it?

Now, one could argue that Monsanto might be trying to genuinely reinvent itself via its advertisement and habitat conservation projects.  Perhaps Monsanto wants to get the attention of environmentalists and food activists to prove the benefits of genetically modified food in alleviating hunger and food shortages given the realities of limited natural resources.  To be sure, there are some environmentalists who do see the benefits of genetically modified organisms (GMO) as a solution for these major global issues and advocate for their development.  And while that is a legitimate point of debate, it does not rationalize most uses of GMO, which are irresponsibly disseminated into into the environment with potentially devastating effects to ecosystems, farming, and human health.  In my book, Monsanto has struck out far too many times for me to think of it as anything other than a profit-hungry behemoth willing to make a buck at any cost.

You can learn more about Monsanto and GMO through The Center for Food Safety and the Organic Consumers Association.

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4 Responses to “Monsanto Tries To Update Its Image”

  1. Hannah Lee Says:

    Hilla, when Jews face Divine judgement on Yom Kippur, it’s with a full complement of our past year’s deeds, both the good and the bad (and no one is said to be completely evil). So, Monsanto tries to do some good for the environment. You and I can argue about whether it’s enough to make amends for its past (or current) mis-deeds, but it is kapparah, of sorts. I would be more alarmed if Audubon printed editorials in favor of Monsanto. My husband says that the op-ed pieces in the newspapers are the truly honest articles, not disguised as factual reporting.

  2. Hilla Says:

    Hannah Lee, thank you for sharing your perspective. It’s not a black-and-white issue (which is what I think makes it interesting).

  3. Avi Says:

    Hilla: Monstanto and Audubon do make strange bedfellows. I am a bit curious, though, what are these “potentially devastating effects to ecosystems, farming, and human health?” I have not seen any research that indicates that genetic modification affects human health or ecosystems above and beyond what large scale corporate farming does already, but if you have I would be interested in seeing it.

  4. Hilla Abel Says:

    Hi Avi,

    I can provide some information, but it’s a really involved topic that has been written about extensively elsewhere.

    Yes, there have been notable adverse effects from GMO (for example, you can google “Showa Denka tryptophan” or “Arpad Pusztai potato”), but the overall problem is that every genetically modified organisms has its own potential for harm. So just because one causes an adverse effect, doesn’t mean that another organism will behave the same way. What ultimately happens is that human beings and nature end up being the guinea pigs.

    For an analytical overview of the potential concerns of GMO, checkout this article by the Union of Concerned Scientists:

    The link in the article to The Center for Food Safety is also very helpful.

    Finally, I encourage you to watch a movie called “The World According to Monsanto” that you can find here:

    Hope that helps.

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