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Beyond the Rows is a Monsanto Company blog focused on one of the world’s most important industries, agriculture. Monsanto employees write about Monsanto’s business, the agriculture industry, and the farmer.
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Blogs – Hardly Shoddy Journalism

Blogging for Monsanto
The other day I was in a meeting with two colleagues of mine, talking about blogs. One of them was in Public Affairs, like me. The other was from a different department. My colleague from the other department could not understand why anyone would read a blog and take any of the information as truth. He called blog writing “[shoddy] journalism” and “didn’t know anyone that read blogs”. As someone that works in social media for a living, this got me a bit amped. I work on Monsanto’s social media efforts daily with different projects including our Twitter account, among other things.

While what he said caused me to immediately go on the defensive, it also caused me to put myself into his shoes. The baby boomer generation, like the one my colleague is a part of, was raised on traditional media. Therefore, he is not as familiar with blogs and twitter, etc. as members of younger generations that grew up on it, including mine.

As a member of the Millennial generation, I would like to believe the majority of us caught on quickly to Web 2.0. I can understand why he may not automatically trust bloggers, I or others my age don’t always believe every blogger either. I learned that critical thinking goes right along with participating. My colleague was correct that some of what is written can be shoddy journalism. Unfortunately, when it comes to blogs, not every person is going to be reputable and check his or her facts when writing about a topic. When it comes to the more interactive internet, reading multiple blogs and fact checking are often a part of the process of ensuring what you are reading is true. Because it is so easy to publish something that may not be the truth, readers must form their own opinion.

One of the reasons Monsanto According to Monsanto started was because there were so many inconsistencies and, in my opinion, outright libelous things being said about Monsanto, particularly in the blogosphere. What better way to address what is being said then to respond using the same medium?

It’s important to note that while what we write is opinion, it is based on facts that we often cite in our posts. Anything you read here is straight from the horse’s mouth, not hearsay or rumor. If it takes reading a few blog posts to trust me or the other writers, that’s fine. I would do the same thing, too. What I wouldn’t do, is call this blog shoddy journalism.

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22 Responses to "Blogs – Hardly Shoddy Journalism"

  1. I think you’re taking the right approach and a courageous one. More companies should.

    Anyone who wants to lump blogs and bloggers into a category doesn’t know what they’re talking about. They probably don’t even have personal experience with them and are basing their comment on hearsay.

    Blogging is just a mechanism. Even the traditional media are using it today (talk about shoddy journalists).

    Marketers are having trouble with the openness of online communications since they no longer have any control over what’s being said, by whom and who’s listening. So why not join the conversation. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll reach everyone you want any more than traditional media ever did but it does provide you with a channel that will reach and influence people who are talking about you.

  2. What did your colleague trust as “non-shoddy” journalism?

    I cant think of much out there in the way of journalism which doesnt put a slant on any given story – one of the areas in which blogs differ from the conventional media in this respect is that if you make an erroneous statement in a blog someone is most likely going to call you on it, whereas in most any other form of media I can think of any response to misrepresented or made up facts either wont be heard, or will be heard so far removed from the original statement that the connection between statement and correction is hard to make.

    As with any form of journalism blogging is, in my opinion, only as shoddy as the journalist.

  3. Blogs, like any source, are as good or as bad as the people behind them. There’s a lot of garbage out there, but that holds true for any medium. Some blogs are CNN, some are Rock of Love Bus.

    The most important part of blogging, imo, is the interactivity it provides over traditional communications means. Companies today have to listen to what their customers are saying, because there are so many options out there and people expect a level of openess and responsiveness that is unprecedented. Blogs are one way to provide that.

    • Jennifer,

      Great comment. I completely agree with you. One of the things I am looking forward to in this blog is learning what we should talk about based on comments like yours. The thing I like the most about social media is the great interaction that we get through the blog and Twitter. These are the places that great conversations take place.

  4. Does it ever annoy you, Jenniferwhatnot, as it does me, that companies that provide blogs, email contact, and comments sections on their websites sometimes (or often, in my experience, but I’ll try not to take it as universal)seem to have trouble using them? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve made a polite enquiry about an issue pertaining to content I’ve read or seen, or a labour issue I’ve read about, and received nothing back. I completely agree with you that blogs and other online interfaces potentially allow for interaction and responsiveness, and accountability to consumers, but we must make sure to follow up and demand it, not just congratulate the company for its ‘openness’. Kind of like when coporate responsibility statements became popular. They didn’t have to correspond to anything that really happened. We need to be vigilant to make sure the same is true of so-called ‘interaction’.

  5. Perhaps if you looked at why “there were so many inconsistencies and, in my opinion, outright libelous things being said about Monsanto, particularly in the blogosphere.”
    Monsanto has not got a good track record and denying it will not make that go away.
    GM crops are being promoted using Monsantos mantra “imagine”. You need imagination to believe the ridiculous promotions about it because the cold hard fact is that it costs more and gives the farmer less.
    What I object to is that we want to continue to grow and market a GM-free product but Monsanto has designed the coexistence plans that prevent that option being available. How convenient to write the rules where non-GM farmers must try to prevent contamination and even pay for it.
    In West Australia the early warnings of the yet unsigned agreement with Monsanto details how non-GM farmers have our canola tested and we will face a “significant fine” if it is found positive which is only 0.5%. These positive tests are then given to Monsanto where they can charge royalty fees for a product we did not want in the first place.
    If Monsanto truly wants a better reputation, perhaps they should accept the liability for any losses their product causes rather than profit from introducing their unwanted self replicating patented product.

  6. Julie, in what sense is there a cold hard fact that Monsanto seed cost more and give the farmer less?

    There are many names for a farmer with such poor business sense to invest in such technology (trucker, policeman, salesperson, essentially any career other than farmer…)

    If Monsanto products did not offer value to farmers then the company would cease to exist pretty quickly – unless somehow the agricultural world operates under completely different parameters to the rest of the world of commerce.

  7. This post seems to be more about rhetoric and journalism than actual science which might reassure consumers. Tell me, can you show me scientific evidence that the Roundup my neighbor sprays on his lawn won’t end up running off into the river nearby or eventually into the food chain?

  8. Mike P, per worries about glyphosate ending up in the food chain, the article “Comparison of the effect of Roundup Ultra 360 SL pesticide and its active compound glyphosate on human erythrocytes”

    cites :-

    “Glyphosate: a unique global herbicide.”

    as a source claiming “glyphosate does not bioaccumulate in tissues of animals or agricultural crops”

    which should cover any fears that glyphosate is likely to accumulate or concentrate as per heavy metals etc in food chains.

    Also “ACCUMULATION OF 2,4-D AND GLYPHOSATE IN FISH AND WATER
    HYACINTH”
    compares glyphosate and 2,4-D accumulation in fish and in water hyacinth concluding that disappears within 3 days in water and does not bioaccumulate in the same way that 2,4-D does (2,4-D being a far more scary chemical to bioaccumulate anyway as it is proven to be toxic to humans – unlike glyphosate which is safe.

  9. Thank you Ewan,
    If you check what has been promoted for GM canola in Australia:
    1. Higher yields yet there is no reason why yields should be higher and the only independent yield comparisons show that it does not yield higher at all.
    2. Economic reports showing an advantage due to higher yields but for some reasons no additional costs. When costs are integrated, even the fictitious high yield profits are negated.
    3. An agronomic advantage of improved weed control is offered but RR only offers a non-residual control from 2-6 leaf stage which does not control our worst weeds radish and ryegrass. Because of this problem, Treflan needs to be applied pre-emergent which controls grasses and there is no post emergent option available with radish. There is however a long term residual control offered with non-GM varieties of TT canola.

    But yes, “somehow the agricultural world operates under completely different parameters to the rest of the world of commerce.” For some bizarre reason the GM companies are allowed to bring in a patented product which will contaminate our consumer preferred non-GM product. All the costs and liabilities for GM contamination rest on the non-GM grower which means it will be too difficult and too expensive to market as non-GM.
    In an extraordinary arrangement that has yet to be signed by CBH (our storage and handler), non-GM growers that register a positive test (0.5%) are to be fined a “significant” amount and these test strips retained for Monsanto who can then deduct their user fee from our canola payments under the end point royalty system.
    We don’t want to grow GM canola but should not be adversely impacted by it.
    Enough of an explanation? Are you game enough to put this in its unedited entirity on your blog site?

  10. The statement:

    “The baby boomer generation, like the one my colleague is a part of, was raised on traditional media. Therefore, he is not as familiar with blogs and twitter, etc. as members of younger generations that grew up on it, including mine.”

    is ageism. Kathleen needs to do a diversity refresher course.

    Because her colleague was from a different generation he “is not familiar with” blogging.

    Rather than blame his generation Kathleen might have credited her colleague with having some valid reasons for seeing blogging as something other than journalism.

    For example, journalism is a process of conveying news that includes proof readers and editors. Blogging on the other hand, is often one person writing what is on their mind with little or no oversight. Compare the webster definition of journalism with the definition of blog.

    Kathleen illustrated her colleague’s point in the very blog that tried to justify blogging and in the process publicly stereotyped baby boomers.

    Since this blog appears in a website entitled “Monsanto according to Monsanto” should we assume this is also a company attitude?

  11. Thanks Julie. I’d like to correct some of the inaccuracies you have listed.
    1. Higher yields: We surveyed 92 of the 108 growers who grew GM canola in Vic and NSW in 2008. You might be interested to know that
    • 100% will grow again
    • 93% of Roundup Ready growers rate their weed control as “excellent”
    • 95% of Roundup Ready crops were higher than or equal to Triazine Tolerant crops in terms of oil content
    • 97% of Roundup Ready crops had higher than or equal to Clearfield oil content
    Of 59 farms that grew both Triazine tolerant and Roundup Ready, Roundup Ready yielded 1.16t/ha with a Gross Margin of $272.35 compared to Triazine tolerant yield of .95t/h and Gross margin of $179.47 t/h.
    These are benefits the growers directly experienced.

    WA growers WANT AND DESERVE the CHOICE to grow GM canola. They want the opportunity to compete in a global market. A market that is worth an estimated $157 million to Australian growers annually according to Dr Rick Roush from his report “Canola and Australian Farming Systems” (2003-2007).
    The Australian Regulators have said when they approved GM canola that “there is no difference between conventional and GM canola”. Informed and educated consumers also understand this despite efforts to dispute the facts by some groups.

    CBH have been segregating dozens of different grains successfully for years. This is business as usual for them-as it was for Victorian and NSW grain handlers-with no incidence of contamination or segregation in 2008.

    Farmers are business people and want the best technology to enable them to grow and provide food for a booming world population. If Australian growers don’t continue to innovate, it could go the way of many of our once booming industries (like textiles, clothing and footwear) overseas and out of our local control costing jobs and livelihoods making Australia further reliant on imports and impacting our balance of trade. WA farmers DO want the choice-that’s what they have asked for and in 2009 they will have the opportunity to see the technology first hand and make informed decisions. These are the facts.

  12. You seem pretty smart and appear to write well.
    Why are you wasting your talents here?
    How about writing for a company that makes a good product/service, not a dangerous one?

  13. After working in the Ag Chem business for 30 years in the US Midwest, I have experienced many growers using Non GMO soybeans and now GMO soybeans. Many growers are still in business and are profitable due to the Roundup traits anabling them to kill weeds. In the 80’s and 90’s, growers spent $40-$50/acre on herbicides and still could not control weeds. They won’t scout fields in a timely manner and spray proper sized weeds, thus causing less than ideal results. Many growers don’t like tech fees, but they have forgotten what weed control was like before RU soybeans. I’m hearing many more growers in the Midwest saying they want to now plant non GMO beans due to Monsanto raising tech fees. I feel it’s safe to say that 25% of growers are capable enough to manage weed control in Non-GMO acres. I just priced out a herbicide program for a grower that totaled $45/acre and comprised of a Pre + planned post weed control plan. Everyone thinks they will put the tech fee in their pocket, but in essence they are trading dollars, with poorer weed control the result. Honestly, a Pre herbicide is now required under Roundup due to weeds becoming more tolerant to the Roundup chemistry, but that is a much better option than relying on post herbicides. The use of Roundup crops has let grower size in acres grow much faster than normal. If growers would learn to market their crops better and “lock in” profits, it would help their bottom lines much better than being a so-called victim of Monsanto. The next couple of years will demonstrate if Non-GMO soybeans can be more profitable to the growers.

  14. Thanks Honi,
    Just to fill in the blanks regarding your supposed corrections as they are misleading.

    Firstly, while some GM supporters may “WANT and DESERVE the choice” as you claim, non-GM farmers want and deserve to maintain our choice to avoid selling as GM and paying for GM contamination we do not want.

    Roundup Ready canola only gives resistance to glyphosate from 2-6 leaf stage which is too late for ryegrass control and too early for radish control, which are our worst weeds.

    The first independent performance trials were done by GRDC and it was found that Roundup Ready canola yielded rather dismally, particularly in the drought affected trials of Victoria where three of the four GM varieties were in the last runners. This was quite expected as GM does not increase yield, it only offers chemical resistance but they should have yielded better as the roundup ready gene was inserted into the proven highest yielding non-GM hybrids and compared to, in some cases, experimental non-GM varieties.

    Last year the most pro-GM farmers wanting GM grew GM but I have heard from farmers over east that some that grew GM were dismally disappointed. Remember they were promised yields of around 30% more.

    I put out a report documenting Mr Weidermanns supposed comparisons as he was one of your most vocal supporters of GM canola in Australia. He is also strong in the Victorian Farmers Federation who has always pushed GM on farmers and trying to dictate policies from the top down rather than grassroots up.

    He compared triazine tolerant varieties but forgot to look after them properly. For some bizarre reason he failed to apply triazine when the crop was planted and only put on a half rate long after the latest time to spray would be. Of course the weed control would be dismal if you don’t apply the necessary weed control at the right time.

    Those that publicly compared Clearfield had weeds that were resistant to the chemical Clearfield varieties are resistant to so naturally weed control would not work.

    Dr Rick Roushe has a vested interest as he is working with Monsanto’s technologies free of charge in exchange for confidential deals and has the potential to stake a claim in gene sequences to profit in future alliances.

    The OGTR regulation is more of a public relations exercise as they do not test the varieties concerned, they rely on information from Monsanto. Monsanto did not do health testing on the oil which is the part consumers eat but did find an increase in liver weights of 17% in their GM canola meal which was ignored because FSANZ has no authority over stock feed so it escaped regulation.

    The costs are extraordinary though and if Monsanto was to claim any outperformance figures, they should claim how much they charge farmers to use this technology.

  15. Whoever can answer these questions,

    Do me a favor and ask your grandparents if they ever heard to so many food allergies? Then ask yourself if Monstanto’s genetically modified food is good for you. Some people say their children died from GMO’s. Lastly, the public overwhelmly wants Monsanto to label their food as GMO’s. So why not label? The age of delaying, and denying of needed public information should be over for Monstanto.

    No GMO’s = Virtually no food allergies

    GMO’s = Greater risk of anaphylactic shock

    By the way, do you know what a phytonutrient is?It’s basically nutrients in food that science says is good for the body, but the scientists just don’t know how. So, now we know that science is not 100% capable of figuring out food in relation to the metabolism, and nutrition in the human body. So, my last question is how can Monstanto say 100% that it’s genetically modified food is not harmful?

    Thanks,
    Bob

    • Bob,

      Yes, I do know what phytonutrients are. Your definition is a bit simplistic and inaccurate regarding the scientific understanding of phytonutrients . For more information, I would refer people to the USDA Web site at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/dec99/stage1299.htm

      Biotechnology has the potential to be used to increase the level of phytonutrients. While no product has been commercialized to date to my knowledge, USDA researchers have used biotech to increase the levels of the phytonutrient lycopene in tomatoes.

      On the allergy front, my wife’s grandmother actually has a serious allergy to seafood. She grew up in Nepal and never ate anything but organic food (by default, not choice) until probably the late 70s. She has likely never consumed GM food as she never left Nepal and I don’t see anything in her diet that is likely to contain GM.

      As to allergies, there is no evidence to link allergenicity to currently approved GM crops.
      There is evidence to suggest that the reporting of allergies is increasing in some countries and geographic areas. This is likely due to several causes:
      • There has been an increased interest in food allergies. Unfortunately, there are no stable diagnostic criteria for testing for food allergies and food intolerance. Together, these two factors have probably resulted in an increase in reporting of allergies. Therefore, rates of allergies may not have actually increased as much as it would appear.
      • Increased prevalence of allergies is in some cases well documented. These are likely due to the fact that the consumption of some foods has increased in certain geographic areas. For instance, in the U.S., the use of soy-based infant formula has increased in the last 10-20 years. You need to be exposed to a substance in order to develop an allergy to it, and historically not as many people had been exposed to soy, particularly as infants, as they are today. Any increase in infant soy allergies is likely due to increased consumption of soy.
      • There is also evidence that better household hygiene and reduced early exposure to allergens and infections may be partially responsible for increasing rates of some allergies. This has been called the “hygiene hypothesis”. Because exposure to certain allergens is removed or greatly reduced during infancy and early childhood, the immune systems may develop an improper or exaggerated response, which results in allergies later in life. Supporting evidence for this theory includes the fact that children on farms have lower rates of asthma than non-farm children, and children born into a household with a pet are also less likely to develop asthma than children in a home where a pet is introduced later in life.
      Assessing the allergenicity of introduced proteins is a required component of the safety assessment of GM crops. There is no single test that can be used to determine if a substance is an allergen. Consequently allergenicity must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

  16. A simplistic question from a layperson. As I understand one of the reasons given for introducing GM crops is that they need less pesticides since they have an inbuilt mechanism to ward off pests.This is mostly meant for the most prevalent pest.What about the others that could attack the crop? Also he use of the mandatory herbicide. Is’nt that again polluting Nature and causing toxicity? How would you rate it’s safety? I personally do not see the need to kill everything except the standing crop;but then I come from a culture where many of the so called weeds are used for medicinal and dietary purposes,so we are not as paranoid about weeds as some of the others seem to be!

  17. Nandi – for Bt crops there is a general reduction in pesticide useage (generally of the most toxic pesticides, particularly in the case of Bt cotton in India if I remember correctly) however other pests may still need to be controlled with the use of other pesticides (there are a few articles linked on various blogs showing reductions in overall pesticide useage on Bt crops)

    The use of ‘mandatory’ herbicide is actually not as bad as you portray it – the herbicide resistant crops produced by monsanto (currently roundup ready – crops resistant to glyphosate) allow farmers to predominantly use glyphosate in place of other herbicides (glyphosate generally being a less toxic option than a lot of other commonly used herbicides – there are articles linked somewhere on these blogs showing how the ‘environmental quotient’ – ie the total environmental damage – of roundup useage is significantly lower than other herbicide systems) – although other herbicides do still need to be used to reduce the risk of weeds developing herbicide resistance.

    Paranoia about weeds isnt necessarily the reason herbicides are used – weeds compete with the crop planted thus reducing yield, in commercial agriculture in particular there isn’t really an economically viable method by which to multi-crop (use weeds as something useful) and I’m not 100% sure how many weed species would be amenable to this (I’d guess it varies between geographical areas) – in order to maximize yield ideally you want all your fertilizer input to go towards growing the crop you want, in order to do this you need to get rid of any other plant that would exploit this resource (even organic agriculture gets rid of weeds, although with a more limited arsenal at their disposal) otherwise you’d most likely be just as well off not applying any fertilizer in the first place.