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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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Monsanto a Water Bully? Not So

Online news

Last week a misleading article about Monsanto appeared in The Guardian, a UK-based newspaper. The article made many inaccurate claims about Monsanto’s water use and our presence on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. The story gained a lot of attention and sparked a heated debate in the comments section, with participants from Molokai refuting Mr. Pearce’s claims. The buzz around the article spread when The Huffington Post featured Fred Pearce’s story. Due to the inaccuracies, my colleagues in the UK office responded to the story. Below you can find the letter we sent to The Guardian and posted to our UK site.

On September 3, 2009, an article was published on the Guardian online website titled “Fred Pearce’s Greenwash: Monsanto? Sustainable? Water bully, I’d say …”

In his article Mr. Pearce made seriously inaccurate and misleading allegations about Monsanto’s crop research and production activity on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, including selectively quoting from a local news article from the island.

Although Mr. Pearce rightly pointed out that Monsanto is the largest private employer on the island, where our crop research and seed production work requires irrigation as does most of the agriculture of the island, he failed to give an accurate impression of the actual situation there.

The Molokai Irrigation System serves Hawaiian Homesteaders as well as non-Homesteaders, including Monsanto. In contrast to the impression given by Mr. Pearce, Monsanto uses approximately 25% of the total water available for irrigation, even though the company occupies some 50% of the agricultural land surface for our research and development and seed production activities there. The remaining 75% of available water is available for others who may need it.

Furthermore, due to recent dry conditions, non-Homestead users (including Monsanto) were required by the State of Hawaii to conserve water by 20%, whereas homestead users were not required to conserve. Monsanto curtailed its operations in order to meet these requirements, including discontinuance of overhead irrigation and reduction of planting. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture subsequently reported that, during fiscal year 2008-2009, non-Homesteader use of the Molokai irrigation water decreased by 32%.

To make his allegation, Mr. Pearce quoted selectively from an article in the island’s newspaper, the Molokai Dispatch, including the statement that “Non-homestead ag-users like Monsanto currently account for 84% of MIS (the island’s irrigation system) water consumption” However he omitted to mention other key facts including the fact that Monsanto reduced it’s water consumption in line with requirements, at a time when, according to the Molokai Dispatch “homestead water use increased 35% in 2007”.

Again in contrast to Mr. Pearce’s allegation, Monsanto has never “lobbied for a new aquifer to be tapped.” In fact, no “new aquifer” exists on the island of Molokai. Monsanto has, however, offered funding assistance to develop operational efficiencies and system improvements in the island’s irrigation system.

In another article, the Molokai Dispatch provides detail of some of the work Monsanto does on the island and on the Monsanto Corporate website we give further details of some of the financial support the company has provided to the community and education programs of Hawaii, including Molokai.

What is especially disappointing about Mr. Pearce’s article is that he made no attempt to contact Monsanto to validate his allegations or allow us to provide balancing facts before publishing his allegations.

He appears to have chosen to misrepresent this case study in order to cast doubt upon Monsanto’s public commitment to work, with others, to help reduce our global demand on fresh water for the production of several major world crops. As the United Nations has stated, agriculture currently uses some 70% of available fresh water.

Through the application of advanced crop breeding science, Monsanto has worked with others to develop crops, such as maize, which use significantly less water per unit of grain production. We believe that such crops will help to meet our publicly stated goals of producing more food whilst reducing demands on resources, including water, by a third by the year 2030.

After four years of successful field trials, our first drought tolerant maize crop has already been submitted for regulatory approval in the USA, and Monsanto is also working with a range of public and private sector bodies to develop water-efficient maize to help small-scale farmers in Africa.

We welcome an informed debate about improving agricultural sustainability and aim to engage in it with as much fact and as little preconception and prejudice as we can.

4 Responses to "Monsanto a Water Bully? Not So"

  1. Bravo for setting the record straight. It is hard to understand why someone from half a world aay would be casting stones at a group (Monsanto employees)that have done so much for the island of Molokai. Pulling snippets from a politically agenda driven local “news” paper shows how little the author actually knows about the island itself.

    Kudos to you Kathleen for this article setting the facts out for us and to the Monsanto employees on Molokai who work under the scrutiny of the local press every day.

  2. Well, I lived in Hawaii for a year, and I know how the GM issue is split there. I am going to go ahead and assume that the people from Molokai writing in to defend Monsanto are employees of the company (as usual) or at least getting some kind of financial compensation (like the folks at UH, who have sold their souls and their islands to Monsanto) except of course Hector Valenzuela and his crew.

    I think that the headline really sums up the opinion of Todd, who wrote the editorial: “Monsanto Could be its Own Worst Enemy
    Using too much water could force the company to downsize.”

    If you read the actual article and are familiar with the situation on poor Molokai, like I am, there is no way you can read it to mean anything other than Monsanto is a water bully. Who cares if there is not another aquifier on Molokai? Your company is still trying to pay for more pumping because you don’t have enough water even with all you use! You guys are really good at splitting hairs, aren’t you? Consumers reading this article away from Molokai don’t care how you get the water, what we are following is the great big pack of lies your company can’t seem to stop telling. Here are some more examples: Lying in South Africa about MON863 and its adverse health effects, stating that Round Up is biodegradable both in New York and in France, telling a reporter from the Washington Post that the “new” Monsanto is not financially responsible for the catastrophe in Anniston, where your awful company dumped toxic PCBs in Snow Creek for years while lying to the citizens about it. I could keep going, but I doubt it would do any good. People at Monsanto are either brainwashed or just completely unethical.

    Here is another telling excerpt from the article:
    “Non-homestead ag-users like Monsanto currently account for 84% of MIS water consumption. Monsanto itself is using almost twice the amount of water of all 209 homestead users combined.”

    THIS ACCOUNT OF THE ISSUE SCREAMS UNSUSTAINABILITY!

  3. Christa said (again):

    “Non-homestead ag-users like Monsanto currently account for 84% of MIS water consumption. Monsanto itself is using almost twice the amount of water of all 209 homestead users combined.”

    Christa, we had this same conversation in another thread, and I still read your tone as very confrontational. I will assume that reading of your tone is again a failure on my part.

    Let’s do a reality check on the numbers above, shall we?

    Let’s assume the 209 homestead users account for all 16% of the remainder after the “Non-homestead ag-users like Monsanto currently account for 84% of MIS water consumption”. In actuality, business and civic users will take SOME of that 16%, but let’s go worst case, for illustrative purposes.

    So, Monsanto is using almost twice that, or less than 32%. Which means OTHER NON-MONSANTO “Non-homestead ag-users” are using MORE THAN 52% of MIS water consumption.

    Taken this way, those numbers don’t look bad to me at all!

    Thank you for the opportunity to clear this up, again.

  4. I think it is also telling that Monsanto operates on 50% of the agricultural land yet uses only 25% of the water available for agricultural use.

    One would assume that to be labelled a “water bully” your percentage ag land utilization and percentage water use would at least have to be on a 1:1 ratio, rather than a 2:1 ratio (personally I’d exect to see complaints rising after you exceed the 1:1 ratio rather than being at it) – is this same accusation being flung at other Ag companies on Molokai? (who, if the numbers are correct, and if it is safe to assume close to 100% useage of available irrigation water (I’d guess this must be close or water shortages wouldn’t be an issue), by definition have to be over the 1:1 ratio collectively)

    It could be argued that Monsanto could have a strong arguement that their operation, based on the good water use ratio, against cutting useage as compared to other users (keeping in mind that when the reduction in useage was required, Monsanto, uncharacteristically for a water bully, complied) however this does not appear to be the case.

    I also feel it takes a certain twisted kind of logic to see evil in attempts to increase the efficiency of the water system (thus providing either more, or cheaper, water to everyone involved) – perhaps monsanto should offer to replace parts of the current water system with older versions, leaky pipes, for an overall reduction in the amount of available water – forcing a reduction in water useage both by themselves, and by everyone else involved.