Investing in a harsher climate

Sam Eaton Mar 21, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: Companies are paying attention to the way global warming will affect their bottom lines. And today the world’s largest biotech seed company said it’s getting into the game. Monsanto announced a $1.5 billion collaboration with the European chemical giant BASF. Sam Eaton reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.

SAM EATON: Most climatologists will tell you that time is running out for the U.S. government to respond to climate change. Turns out, the same could be true for corporations. But in this case, it’s the ability to cash in on climate change that’s at stake.

Monsanto says its new collaboration with BASF will speed the development of new products. The aim is to create genetically-modified strains of crops — like corn and soybeans — that can produce higher yields and can grow in harsher, drought-prone areas.

Monsanto’s chief technology officer, Robb Fraley, says time is of essence.

ROBB FRALEY: Increasingly, with all the demand for grain with both the food and feed and now with fuel, yield is really key to meeting global needs for both food and energy.

Getting a bigger stake in the biofuels cash cow may be Monsanto’s immediate aim.

But Yale University’s Daniel Esty, who wrote “Green to Gold,” says long-term, Monsanto has its sights on something even bigger — using biotech to mitigate the effects of global warming.

DANIEL ESTY: So we’ve got two strong companies that have biotechnology capacity that see a potential change in the world in the years ahead. Change in rainfall patterns, perhaps additional stress in agriculture across the world. And they’re gonna produce crops that will survive under these changed conditions.

Many environmental groups see it differently. They say pushing biotech crops in the name of climate adaptation would give genetic engineering a greener tinge in name only.

In Los Angeles, I’m Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

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