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What I would have shared in Harper’s Magazine’s Weed Whackers article if they had asked

Monsanto scientist Donna Farmer explains what she would have shared with Harper’s magazine on their “Weed Whackers” article about Monsanto, glyphosate, GMOs and the Monarch butterfly.

I’m a scientist at Monsanto and I have spent a good portion of my professional life studying and talking with folks about glyphosate, the primary active ingredient in several important weed killers.

We talk frequently with journalists who are trying to learn more and write about glyphosate. Frankly, when I started working, I never thought I would end up doing television interviews about a pesticide, but I am happy to do it. We’re not experts on everything, but we do spend a lot of time studying our own products, and we know people have questions. And, we’re easy to find – we put an email address and phone number for reporters right on our homepage. That’s why it’s strange when someone writing about our products apparently isn’t even interested in talking with us to learn more.

That’s what seems to have happened recently at Harper’s magazine. In mid-July, an assistant editor at Harper’s emailed us to say they were finalizing a story that included some serious allegations about glyphosate. Turns out they were putting the finishing touches on a story that had probably been worked on by a writer for months. The assistant editor listed some of the assertions the story included. And, even though the story had likely been in the works for a long time, we had about three-and-a-half hours to respond because the story was almost finished and ready to go to print.

I am glad they at least reached out at the very last minute. And, I’m glad we saw his email in time. We were able to quickly get some information to address key issues raised in the article. But, as a scientist dedicated to gathering facts, it’s hard for me to understand why a writer would not try to get as much perspective as possible about such an important agricultural product.  The writer never attempted to contact us during all the time he spent working on the story. Never requested an interview with a technical expert at Monsanto.  Instead, that Harper’s assistant editor sent a blind email just a few hours before the story would be finalized.

In a subsequent email, the Harper’s assistant editor did apologize for contacting us on such short notice, and thanked us for our help. I really do appreciate that. But if the freelance journalist himself had actually contacted us while he was developing the story, I probably would have ended up being the one to talk with him. And here’s some of what I would have liked to share with the writer who wrote the story.

  • Glyphosate-based herbicides are among the most thoroughly tested and evaluated in the world. Their 40-year history of safe use is supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health, crop residue and environmental databases ever compiled on a pesticide. The U.S. EPA reviews extensive toxicological and environmental data before approving any pesticide for use. The EPA classifies glyphosate in its lowest carcinogenicity category.  No regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate to be a carcinogen.
  • Monarch butterflies need a weed called milkweed to survive. But for farmers, weeds like milkweed compete with crops. Glyphosate is sometimes one of the tools famers use to protect their crops from weeds. That’s why Monsanto is working with experts on monarchs. There’s no reason agriculture can’t coexist with monarchs and many organizations, including us, are supporting efforts to increase the amount of milkweed in places other than farms. You can learn more about collaborative efforts to help the Monarch butterfly here.
  • The Harper’s assistant editor asked if we see any conflict between our own work on GMOs, and efforts by our partners to support biodiversity and conservation. The answer is absolutely not. GMOs are one of the best tools we have for slowing the conversion of wild lands into agricultural use. Which, in turn, is critical to defending biodiversity and conserving natural ecosystems. GMOs also help reduce the need for tillage by farmers and protect topsoil.

Whether you’re writing an article for Harper’s, or a consumer who has questions about food or agriculture, we want to answer people’s questions about us and our products. If you have a question, please: just ask. One place you can do that is discover.monsanto.com/conversation.

2 Responses to "What I would have shared in Harper’s Magazine’s Weed Whackers article if they had asked"

  1. Thank you for this blog post. About two years ago, I decided to try and understand bio-engineering and the claims being made about its harms. Rarely did anyone write about its contributions to the world’s food supply or counter the “frankenfoods” mythology that has emerged in social media. Your commentary about the way you were treated by Harpers leads me to believe that glyphosate is probably the most misunderstood product in the world. I hope that more people will break from the pack and do some research to understand this and other bio-technologies.

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  2. Donna…this is a classic journalist technique. Particularly with freelancers who are working for pay per story. They have their story already written. Then the editor says, “Well did you contact the other side?” And then the writer says, “Oh darn…I didn’t” So in a last minute attempt to cover off all sides, they call Monsanto for comment, pretending that they haven’t already written their story. Good for you for pushing back. They know it is wrong, but often journalists are under pressure and have to follow up at the last minute to finish off a written piece. Thank you for what you do Donna…you are one of the best sources I know at Monsanto when I am challenged with questions about glyphosate and its safety. Thanks for always being there for me.

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