Thank you, glad to be with you on what I understand is a beautiful afternoon in London, albeit in this somewhat impersonal hi-tech way, I hope this all works.
I want to express my thanks to the organisers of this event and especially to Steve Warshall and Peter Knight for their courtesy and their willingness to accommodate my schedule.
I've recently been learning about a distinction that I want to share with you that I'm finding useful as I think about the issues of bio-technology and public reactions to them, it's a distinction between debate on the one hand and dialogue on the other, we're all I think familiar with debate, debate in the view I'm coming to understand is a zero sum kind of process, it's a win lose process, it's one in which the protagonists defend their position and attack the positions of their opponents and in which they try to score as many rhetorical points as they can in the process. Dialogue on the other hand is a search for answers, it is a search for common ground for constructive solutions that work for a wide range of people, debate tends to be either or and dialogue tends to be both and.
There's no question in my mind or I suspect in yours that the public discussion of bio-tech up to this point is .... form and characteristics of a debate and a rather raucous debate at that, positions have been fiercely attacked and fiercely defended, there has been no hint of the possibility of common ground or of common interests or of common purposes or of common concerns.
Monsanto and I personally have to bear our share of responsibility for that situation, we started with a conviction that bio-technology was a good technology, was and is safe and useful, valuable, we've been working on it for twenty years and that's the source of that conviction but because of that I think we have tended to see it as our task to convince people that this is good technology, useful technology to convince people in short that we're right and that by extension people who have different points of view are wrong or at best misguided. We've behaved then as though this is or should be a debate and the unintended result of that has probably been that we have irritated and antagonised more people than we've persuaded, our confidence in this technology and our enthusiasm for it has I think widely been seen, and understandably so, as condescension or indeed arrogance, because we thought it was our job to persuade too often we've forgotten to listen.
Now we continue to believe in this technology, we think it can bring important benefits to people around the world and we remain committed to developing good, safe, useful products but we are no longer going to be engaged in a debate we are now publicly committed to dialogue with people and groups who have a stake in this issue, we are listening and will seek common ground whenever it's available and to the extent that it's available and we'll seek solutions that work for a wide range of people. The underlying premise of dialogue is pretty straightforward, in this case it is that there are both real benefits to the use of bio-technology and at the same time there are real concerns about it's use, if you don't believe that there are real benefits then there is no room for dialogue, if you don't believe that there are real concerns there's no room for dialogue, all you can have then is a debate with people yelling at each other and generating a lot of noise and a lot of heat but not generating the kinds of constructive solutions that will work for people around the world.
So I want to talk briefly this afternoon about both potential benefits and potential concerns, I want to start by emphasising that bio-technology is a tool, it consists of the rapidly expanding knowledge that scientists have generated over the last thirty years about biology at a molecular level, at the level of genes and the proteins they express and the effects those proteins have in living systems, and it also consists of a set of techniques that are also rapidly evolving that enable us to translate that knowledge into practical applications in agriculture, in nutrition, in human health, like most tools, like most scientific knowledge itself bio-technology in itself is neither good nor bad, it can be used well or it can be used badly and like any important new tool it creates new choices for society.
Most of the tools that people have used throughout our history since neolithic times have had the same kinds of characteristics starting with fire, which I guess one of our earliest technologies as humanity and coming down to automobiles and television and computers, the technologies of today, they're all tools they all create possibilities for people and some of those possibilities are attractive and empowering and some of those possibilities are less attractive and potentially damaging.
The question for society in the case of bio-technology, as it is in the case of all these other important technologies, is how should it be used, how should it be regulated in order to create benefits for people, to avoid risks and possible abuses of the technology and to make sure that the benefits are distributed widely and fairly and equitably among society.
The benefits which I suspect most people in this audience are familiar with really fall basically into three categories there are benefits for agriculture there are potential benefits for the environment and there are potential benefits for consumers, I'm going to sketch them very briefly without going into any great depth. In agriculture the starting point I think has to be the recognition that the commercial industrial technologies that are used in agriculture today to feed the world, those technologies are not inherently sustainable and they have not worked well to promote either self sufficiency or food security in developing countries and no-one would argue that bio-technology alone is the solution to issues of sustainability in agriculture or food security for the world, but it is as I said a tool, it unquestionably can improve productivity while reducing some of the negative effects of current agricultural practises like excessive pesticide usage.
In recent tests for example in India cotton that was genetically modified to control ...., an important pestive cotton reduced the number of insecticide sprays used by seven, in other words there were seven insecticide sprays that are normally used in the growing season that were not needed at all while producing a 40% increase in yield, in that connection I'd like to quote from an article by Dr Paul Christou who's a scientist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich who says in summarising the results of bio-technology in agriculture so far, he says we've seen up to an 80% reduction in insecticide use in cotton crops alone in the United States as a result of the introduction of insect resistant plants, he goes on and says US DA statistics now clearly show 30 - 40% reduction in herbicide use with herbicide resistant for plants, last week Dr John ...., who's the executive director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Kenya said that in Africa, and I'm quoting, bio-technology offers new opportunities to transform rural agriculture without undermining local ecologies and .... economic landscapes, my point is only that properly used bio-technology can help, it can help decrease water use, decrease soil erosion and decrease carbon emissions into the atmosphere now obviously many other things besides bio-technology have to come into play in order to make agriculture more sustainable but bio-technology can help. I said earlier that there are potential benefits for consumers and let me just list three because there's been very little discussion, that I've seen at least, in the popular media about those benefits. One is that bio-technology can be used to put vitamins in nutrients directly into common grains and vegetable oils, in order to deal with very difficult intractable problems of malnutrition in large parts of the world, bio-technology can be used to improve the qualities of the oil that are found in our crops in order to make them more valuative from a cardio-vascular health standpoint and bio-technology can be used to create novel pharmaceuticals using plants as factories for growing them.
Now for all these potential benefits there are also potential concerns, some are questions of fact but others are questions of beliefs, of traditions and of values, questions like will the food be safe to eat, is the regular trade process that each nation has in place sufficient to give consumers assurance that they can consume these foods without risk to themselves and their families, are the products going to be safe for the environment, how are they going to affect bio-diversity, how are they going to affect other plants and insects and birds, what about outcrossing of genes, what happens if genes do outcross into wild species, will consumers have meaningful choices based on the kinds of information that they want to have, how are the new technologies going to affect traditional agricultural practises, how will it affect rural life, how will it affect organic farmers, will corporations like Monsanto gain too much power over agriculture, which raises questions like what should be patentable and how can society make sure the developing countries have .... access to these technologies. Is this application of science ethically correct, are we playing god and in the end do we collectively have the wisdom to use these technologies well.
I think each of these concerns is valid and I mean valid not only in the obvious sense that because people have those concerns, because the concerns exist they have to be taken account of, I mean valid also in the more sub.... sense that the questions are not trivial and they are not, they don't provide obvious or self evident answers, they require careful and thoughtful examination. We, and I believe the same is true of other companies who are engaged in developing these technologies, we want to participate constructively in the process by which societies around the world try to develop good answers to those questions, to me that means among other things listening carefully and respectfully to all points of view, in that connection you may have seen the public commitment that we made on Monday not to commercialise the technologies popularly known as terminator or sterile seed technologies, you should know that we reached that decision after extensive consultation and dialogue with people and groups around the world who had a variety of points of view, especially in the developing world.
I want to emphasise that we remain fully committed to the promise of bio-technology because we believe it can be a safe and sustainable and useful tool in agriculture and nutrition and human health and in meeting in particular the worlds needs for food and fibre, but at the same time we plan to continue the kind of dialogue and the kind of consultation that led to Monday's decision about sterile seed technology.
As we work to help develop constructive answers to all the questions that people around the world have at the dawning of this new technology we are committed to engage openly, honestly and non-defensively in the kind of discussion that can produce good answers for all of us. Thank you
OK, well Bob I want to start by thanking you very much for being with us today, for agreeing to address our Greenpeace business conference even though you weren't sadly able to come to Europe, and thank you as well for being so blunt with us, nobody is ever likely to accuse you of lacking a clear vision but you wouldn't be human if you weren't wondering how things have turned out so badly, Monsanto made huge efforts to push it's products in every direction with the full support of multi-national food manufacturers, retailers, communications firms, regulators, even governments, yet there's been a massive public rejection of your vision.
You have managed to put Monsanto in the uncomfortable, possibly fatal position of providing the lightening rod for a quite unprecedented, inquackable opposition to GM foods across Europe.
Your company's in trouble on Wall Street, respected financial analysts in your own country published a report entitled GMO's are dead, it seems as if every food manufacturer and supermarket in Britain avoids GM like the plague. The head of the American Corn Growers Association describes your products as an albatross around the neck of farmers.
New scientific concerns surface every week but are ignored by your industry which prefers to try and destruct us all with fresh promises of exciting new products just around the corner, meanwhile in the market-place premiums are now being paid for GM free crops so you could be forgiven for thinking it wasn't meant to be like this and as I say wondering where it all went wrong.
I want to give you a Greenpeace view of where it did all go wrong, I hope this will be a constructive contribution to the dialogue you mentioned, although not a dialogue quite as constrained by pre-conditions as those you mentioned in what you said to us.
The economic and political disaster you've contrived has important lessons for the future of every large corporation and for governments, it's all too easy for the ignorant and short sighted to blame environmental groups and the media for spreading hysteria using emotional arguments and generally stirring up an otherwise happily acquiescent public, this is an argument we hear from a great many people who should know better, it isn't just a weak excuse it's palpable and dangerous nonsense, it obscures the true nature of the situation which is that a well educated and well informed public have taken a careful look at what you're offering and have said no. The rejection is all the stronger because of the conviction that you and other chemical companies attempted to impose GM ingredients on the public by stealth, this caused real outrage.
You made a number of mistakes and you referred to them but the fundamental error was to fail to understand the way public values are developing in Europe and across much of the rest of the world. The vast majority of people are not anti-science nor are they luggite, not is Greenpeace, on the contrary people embrace mobile telephones, we've had several go off today as usual, they embrace the internet, digital television, keyhole surgery and GM medicines and they embrace them with great enthusiasm, Greenpeace promote scientific innovation, we promote solar .... electricity as you heard this morning, ozone and climate friendly refrigeration and air conditioning and the world's first non PVC credit card, made from Monsanto's own bio-degradable non GM plastic.
The people are increasingly aware and mistrustful of the combination of big science and big business, they have a thermal realistic sense of the limits of scientific knowledge and about the genuine unknowns than the scientific and political elite appear to comprehend. People increasingly understand just how difficult it is for governments and regulators to protect the wider public interest in the runaway world of deregulation, free trade and the WTO, in the United States you have for example seen massive public reaction to the dangers of pesticide residues on fruit and to the links between numerous toxic but approved chemicals and breast cancer, in Europe we've had Mad Cow disease, world-wide we've seen chemicals that were fiercely defended as safe, like DDT and CFCs now all condemned. Nuclear technology, originally promoted by scientists and governments as safe, economic and absolutely necessary to human progress and development is now utterly rejected, rightly so as the recent tragedy in Japan and the recent farce and confusion at Cellafield have reminded all of us.
In the face of all this people have learnt to make up their own minds and take responsibility for their own actions and people scorn patronising assumptions based on the premise that they don't know what's good for them, on the contrary people insist that it is their society and their world and they will decide what's acceptable and what is not.
There are of course some people in important positions who place the idea of GM food into a package labelled modern progressive things we believe in at all costs and must support for the sake of the nation, they seem genuinely perplexed and even rather hurt at the outright public rejection of this part of their package, as if we were all somehow being rather ungrateful, yet Amery Lobbins, the author of an important new book subtitled The Next Industrial Revolution, sees things rather differently, he embraces fuel cells, hyper cars, advance materials and technologies of every sort but his verdict on genetic engineering is uncompromising, he says "it's ambition is to replace nature's wisdom with people's cleverness, to treat nature not as a model and mentor but as a set of limits to be evaded when inconvenient, not to study nature but to re-structure it, the transformation of plant genetics is being accelerated from the measured pace of biological evolution to the speed of the next quarter's earnings report".
The movements for equal rights and fundamental human freedoms our ever expanding understanding of scientific knowledge and our growing realisation that we need to act in accordance with the limits the planet places on us are all part of the growth of more civilised human societies, personally I believe another pest of our civilisation is our ability, collectively, to decide whether or not and how to use the power and possibilities that science and technology provide us with, the coming world-wide rejection of GM food shows people acting in line with civilised values and feelings about our relationship with nature. Bob it's great for any business leader or politician to try, as you certainly do, to think in a joined up long term fashion about resource pressures and future human needs, very few do.
Greenpeace has been saying for years that there's a desperate need for more long term thinking, we know, we agree with you that things can't go on as they are but we fundamentally disagree with your vision of the solution. Your vision fails I think because it's highly selective, driven by a blinkered view of the technical possibilities rather than by a balanced understanding of social and environmental needs and realities in the real world, it perpetuates the technocratic top down approach that so often succeeds only by working against the grain of nature, it promotes false promises of easy alternatives via short term technical fixes and it increases the imbalance of power between multi-national corporations and farmers in the developing world. You behave not as a company offering life and hope but as bullies trying to force your products on us, you sue those that oppose you and try and injunct them and anyone they've been in contact with, suppressing the scent not encouraging debate, when you do debate, as your recent UK press ads, as in those ads you get it wrong. I've lived on and off all my life on the East Coast of England in the Norfolk Countryside, as a child a walk to the end of the garden brought me to fields full of wild flowers, insects and birds, we call birds like Sky Larks, Tree Sparrows or Corn Buntings common or garden birds because they were part of everyone's experience, today they are all on red lists, they're endangered or threatened, in the brief half century of my life we've stripped bare the face of our countryside, gone are movement, scent, sound and colour, we are living in the future that Rachel Carson foresaw in her book Silent Spring but I've also seen these things, bees, wild flowers, birds like Sky Larks, I've seen that they can return, have already started, just started to return and I know that this amazing reversal of the destruction we've caused during the second part of this century is threatened not helped by GM technology.
Agricultural GM techniques have been the subject of an immense amount of hype portraying them as the future and even essential for our survival as a species, in reality they represent the past, a past in which over confident technologists out of touch with the values and aspirations of ordinary people have tried to impose solutions on society, a past in which governments and big industries were in bed together apparently incapable of being honest about the limits of their understanding, seeing only what they want to see, looking only for what they want to find and a past in which the contrary view of the citizens were dismissed as irrelevant and their complaints derided as ignorant, emotional even hysterical. I admit life science is a good name but you've applied it to the wrong sort of science, we do need to set about restoring the earth, mending the tattered web of life and building, nurturing, sustaining systems that support life on earth.
Everything we've actually seen of GM food and farming so far is bad and is taking us in the wrong direction, it is the latest and the least acceptable aspect of the industrialisation and intensification of agriculture. A truly visionary holistic life science is solution combining the fundamental goal of achieving agricultural production while sustaining life in all it's rich diversity does already exist, it is directly in tune with public values, it works by making the most of natural processes, it produces food of the highest quality and it brings premium prices for farmers, it's called organic agriculture. Organic agriculture is striking a huge public chord, ask the supermarkets, look at the opinion polls, as an industry it's currently growing faster than computers or telecommunications, the potential is immense precisely because organic agriculture goes with the grain of what people understand to be good for themselves and for the environment. People know what kind of world they want for themselves and their children, they know how they want companies to behave and they know how they want their food to be produced and you Bob, I believe, are blocking that progress.
The unrealised potential of organic agriculture is immense it simply needs the application of the sort of technical skills and resources that are being squandered on GM technology and industrial agriculture over the last 50 years, well we could I suspect argue all day about agriculture, I want to go back to looking at the meaning of the GM debate for industries and for governments. The message is clear, be warned, take .... advances alone, even when presented with plausible sustainable development rationale are not enough, companies no matter how large who fail to go with the grain of the social and environmental values of increasingly sophisticated and self-confident citizens will pay the price, this is the Brants Bar message written in capitals and with each disaster of this kind people generally, and I say Greenpeace in particular, are becoming more confident in their understanding of what's at stake and more resolute in their ability to resist it successfully, there has been an unprecedented, permanent and irreversible shift in the political landscape. The GM politics of the last two years underlies the fact that taking account of public values on environmental issues is now an absolutely central necessity to the world's economic health, to repeat it's necessarily for the world's economic as well as environmental health, governments around the world including in particular our own in the UK continue to ignore or dismiss this essential new dimension, yet the longer this neglect continues the worse the consequences will be for industry, for scientists and for the authority of governments themselves.
I haven't talked a great deal about how the market's reacted to GM foods, I'm sure Dominic Fry of Sainsburys will do that shortly, nor have I talked about the uproar in developing countries against GM technology and especially against the patenting of life form, something which Greenpeace has been opposing for over a decade, I know Sir Hill Shetty will cover those points.
I want to end with a formal public offer from Greenpeace to Monsanto, I think these successive Greenpeace business conferences have shown that we have a long record now of working creatively with companies to address environmental challenges and of course we'd like to do more in this constructive vein. We're not afraid to work with our opponents if they are brave enough to embrace radical change. If Monsanto will stop developing GM crops, get out of producing pesticides and reject the idea of patenting life forms, Greenpeace will work enthusiastically with you to produce a new Monsanto, I hope that this would give us the common ground and the common purpose Bob which you started by speaking of.
We could create the world's first genuine life sciences company based on ecological, organic, holistic principals from Greenpeace we could offer 26 years experience and our staff volunteers and membership, innovative ecological vision and access to Greenpeace's global reach and credibility, swords into sustainable plough shares, do think about it. Thank you.
BOB SHAPIRO RESPONSE
Thank you Peter I appreciate the opportunity. Perhaps surprisingly I find myself in agreement with a fair amount of what Peter Melchett has said. I want to emphasise though a few points in which my perspective would be somewhat different from his. Peter is describing the current state of things as though the votes were in, the issue were resolved and all minds were made up, I think that's emphatically not the case, let me start by saying that from a commercial standpoint, that is from the standpoint of the farmers to whom we market our product, bio-technology has been received with a great deal of enthusiasm, it's been probably the most, not probably it's been unquestionably the most successful launch of any new technology in the history of agriculture and it has grown each year, every year including the current year. More importantly Peter has described what he characterises as a massive public rejection of the technology, that's not my reading of the situation either from the polls that I've read or from the conversations I have with consumers. Consistently over the last couple of years polls in all countries, in all countries and there's remarkable uniformity on this, have shown that consumers in general are appreciative of the potential benefits of the technology and at the same time have questions and concerns about how it's going to be used and their overwhelming need is for more information to help them make up their minds, it happens that just yesterday the Gallup organisation published a poll on this very subject in the United States, a poll we had nothing to do with and let me read you some things about how the American public at least views it and I can tell you from other polls I've read this is not dramatically different from the results that are found in other countries. First of all, and I'll just read to you, only 27% of the US public currently believe bio-technology poses a health hazard to consumers, 53% think it does not and the rest, 20% are unsure. The strongest opposition to bio-technology is levied by lower income and less educated Americans while those with college degrees and high incomes are most likely to be strong supporters, for instance 21% of those with no college experience strongly oppose the technology compared with only 8% of those with a college or post graduate degree. Those most familiar with the issue are also the most supportive, two thirds of those who have heard a great deal of information about bio-technology, 66%, say they support it's use in food production compared to 63% among those who have heard some information, 42% of those who have heard not much and 30% of those who have heard nothing, so my read of the status of public opinion about this is that there is a conversation going on in which the public is interested and engaged but that by and large those who know the most, who have heard the most and who have thought the most about this subject support the technology and don't oppose it. I'll stop there and let's use the rest of the time for dialogue
Thank you, Bob just one thing that Peter raised, Peter called you a bully are you a bully?
If I'm a bully I don't feel that I'm a very successful bully, I agree with Peter's characterisation of the public as well informed or as thoughtful and as capable of making their own decisions about important issues of this kind, I don't think either Peter or I or anyone else is going to bully or intimidate or stampede the public or society and it's institutions into reaching an inappropriate conclusion.
** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed for research and educational purposes only. **
Last Updated on 10/11/99
By Karen Lutz