Monopolist Monsanto Says It Will Cancel Terminator
Writing in the London Guardian, John Vidal reports on the big story of a monopolist's temporary defeat
We forgot to listen, says Monsanto
Crops tainted with GM technology sell at a large discount to real untampered crops. Facing free market trouble, monopolist GM company chief takes blame for public relations failures and pledges to answer safety concerns. Said his company would no longer sell sterile "terminator" seeds.Bob Shapiro, head of the GM company Monsanto, yesterday took personal blame for the meltdown in global public opinion over biotechnology and promised a new dialogue with society.
Looking drawn and troubled, with an important meeting with reportedly upset shareholders ahead of him, Mr Shapiro was conciliatory: "We started with the conviction that biotechnology was useful and valuable but we have tended to see it as our task to convince people that we were right and that people with different points of view were wrong", he told the Greenpeace business conference in London, attended by captains of industry, other GM companies and eco-activists.
"We have irritated and antagonised more people than we have persuaded. Our confidence in biotechnology has been widely seen as arrogance and condescension because we thought it was our job to persuade. But too often we forgot to listen."
Mr Shapiro admitted Monsanto did not have the answers to the public's concerns about safety, genetic pollution, ethics and the power of corporations, but was now committed to engaging in dialogue with society to find solutions. He said: "None of these concerns is trivial. Each is valid and needs examination. We want to participate constructively in the process. It means listening carefully."
Mr Shapiro said Monsanto sought common ground with his critics: "We are listening, and will seek it whenever its available, and will seek solutions that work for a wide range of people."
He added that the company was prepared, as new products were developed, to engage in consultation with people "at an earlier level than we have been doing in the past".
But Greenpeace's UK director, Lord Melchett, accused Mr Shapiro of being a bully. Monsanto, he said, had fundamentally misunderstood the changes taking place in society and people's changing priorities. "The vast majority are not anti science, or Luddite. But they are increasingly aware and mistrustful of the combination of big science and big business. Your vision promotes false promises of easy alternatives via short term technical fixes and increases the imbalance of power between multinational corporations and farmers in the developing world.
"People are becoming more confident in their understanding of what is at stake and more resolute in their ability to resist. There has been an unprecedented, permanent and irreversible shift in the political landscape," Melchett said.
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