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.