Monsanto makes the case for GM crops

Monsanto hopes new seeds will double yields while cutting energy and water demands.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Biofuels were the main agenda item today at the United Nations food summit in Rome. The U.S. and Brazil are facing heavy criticism for taking corn and sugar cane out of the food chain and using them instead for energy.

Monsanto, the world's number one maker of genetically modified seeds, says it sees opportunity in the global food crisis. The agribusiness giant announced today it's working on a way to double crop yields while using less energy and water at the same time... and oh yeah, spreading the word about genetically modified crops.

Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.


Sarah Gardner: Monsanto says it will try to create seeds that will double yields of cotton, corn and soybeans and require 30 percent less land, water and energy.

CEO Hugh Grant says his company can do it in two ways:

Hugh Grant: One is through improving traditional breeding technologies and the other is through biotechnology that protects the yield from hungry bugs and aggressive weeds.

Biotechnology means growing genetically modified crops, a widespread practice here, but suspect in Europe and Africa.

Whether Monsanto can pull off these commitments is uncertain. Biotech critics say GM seeds haven't significantly increased crop yields so far. Farmers typically use the company's herbicides and pesticides with the company's GM seeds.

Ronnie Cummins is with the Organic Consumers Association.

Ronnie Cummins: What it's done is led to an increase in pesticide use and an increase in chemical fertilizer and, you know, more profits for these companies.

But Cummins does believe there's promise in what he calls the "souped up" traditional breeding techniques Monsanto says it will push.

Carolyn Raffensperger at the Science and Environmental Health Network says Monsanto's commitments aside, a single technology can't solve the global food crisis.

Carolyn Raffensperger: It is not seeds alone. It is weather, it is soil, it is food distribution...

Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant says he expects skepticism about today's announcement, but given predictions of future food shortages, he says "skepticism is a commodity the world can't afford right now."

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

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