Are Monsanto Company and GMOs the Victim?

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Agricultural technology has a long history of upsetting consumers. From poisonous insecticides and dead birds to fertilizer runoff, and now genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the companies responsible for advancing farm technology have been at the core of citizen discontent for decades. While it may be difficult to find somebody willing to stand up in support of tree-killing chemicals, maybe it's time to recognize the companies willing to take on the financial risks associated with developing beneficial farm technologies.

Every cloud...
As the saying goes, every cloud has its silver lining. Unfortunately for agricultural technology companies like Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) and DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) , the silver lining, which shines brightly at first has often been quickly overshadowed by the rest of the cloud. Americans have an uncanny ability to praise technology one moment, and shun it the very next. So has been the story of nearly every great advance in agriculture over the past century.

If America wants to retain its ability to bring innovative products and technologies to the market, there will be an inevitable trade-off between required research into product safety and the amount of time it takes to commercialize the product or technology. The case against DDT seems clear in hindsight, but at the time protecting soldiers in WWII from malaria and typhus took precedence over the environmental impacts of the pesticide that were later realized. At the time, the technology was the most suitable solution to an urgent problem, with human lives taking precedence over animal health. What was worthy of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1948 was banned for agricultural use in 1972.

GMOs are caught in a somewhat similar situation right now, albeit without valid scientific studies that show the technology to be especially dangerous. There are several problems, like growing populations and the desire for greater crop productivity, for which GMOs can be argued as a viable solution (or at least part of the solution). Will GMOs cause some long-term detrimental effects on the environment or human health? The answer is yet to be determined based on the definition of 'long-term.' The technology has been scientifically investigated for agricultural use in field tests since the 1980s with only unsubstantiated claims of harm to the environment and far overreaching correlations of health disorder increases with the introduction of GMOs to the market. Over a timeframe beyond the three decades during which GMOs have been developed and tested for agricultural use, environmental and health effects are unknown.

Investors in particular should be aware of the balance between risk and reward. Years of documented increasing crop yields and research and development into seed enhancements that may enable higher field productivity in more susceptible regions of the world, which help ward off starvation, will have risk involved. People have come to accept the fact of financial risks involved with emerging technologies, particularly because they are clearly measurable and understandable. Broader impacting risks that are less quantifiable are received with more trepidation.

What should be paired with the environmental and human health risks of continued development and deployment of genetically modified (GM) seeds are the environmental and human health risks of inaction. A lack of investment into farm technology would ensure yields would not increase, which would have massive implications in food-poor regions of the world.

As climate change increases the frequency of droughts, floods, and other severe weather conditions, a drop in crop yields is a more likely result of inaction. GMOs are the most prominent 'bad guys' currently in the world of farm technology, but fertilizer runoff, biofuel inefficiency, and non-organic farming could just as easily be argued as farm technologies resulting in detrimental environmental and human health effects, and would inevitably take the place of GMOs as the next great evils if GMOs were to be banned.

The takeaway
Since the invention of the automobile, there have been over 3.5 million motor vehicles deaths in the United States. These are human deaths, not bird deaths. Here enters the risk-reward argument that Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and other GMO producers are unjustifiably losing. Until long-term, scientifically valid studies indicate otherwise, these companies are providing a solution to a global problem, and maybe it's time that the financial risks associated with their efforts are recognized.

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Read/Post Comments (19) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 20, 2014, at 11:08 AM, lannit wrote:

    Most boosters of GMO crops never mention the inconvenient collateral damage caused by GMO crops: extensive Roundup herbicide contamination that the USDA has found in air samples, groundwater and rivers, and found by others in the blood and urine of urban dwellers.

    The Roundup Ready trait is found in most GMO crops and allows the crop to resist repeated applications of Roundup. Consequently these crops also have high levels of Roundup contamination when harvested. Recent research has determined that Roundup formulations are far more toxic than its main ingredient -- glyphosate -- alone. If investors are concerned about ag-biotech risks, take a look at this article:

  • Report this Comment On February 20, 2014, at 1:51 PM, Jason1 wrote:

    @ lannit - Interestingly, wheat is non-GMO. So the article you presented was really more of a case for GMO crops. A GMO crop will be sprayed with Roundup very early in the season.. prior to the crop being tall enough to shade out weeds on it's own. It has several months of rain, sunlight & bacterial exposure to break it down. Contrast that with what was described in this article.. wheat sprayed right before harvest to speed up the harvest. You could see which of these two situations would be more likely to leave larger levels of residue in your food.

  • Report this Comment On February 20, 2014, at 2:37 PM, DrKND wrote:

    Monsanto and their ilk are not victims, they are the victimizers! (And this puff piece on the Fool is just the latest round of shots they are firing at the will of the people to label these products so we can see what the consequences really are. They have conducted an open air experiment on humanity's food supply without our consent and without proper controls (It is an experiment!)

    They got away with it for two decades, and now that they've been found out, they are in full-on crisis control mode, working to circumvent or eliminate legal obstacles to their final move (complete control of seeds and the wide and unlabeled distribution of their products) regardless of what people actually want. They have purchased the American government, and employed it to further their interests (not humanity's interests) while promoting the lie that somehow these seeds and crops are to benefit the human race. They have no facts to back up this claim, but the media, also bought and paid for, continues to promote this meme, false as it is.

  • Report this Comment On February 20, 2014, at 3:11 PM, u4iadestiny wrote:

    There's hardly a consensus view among scientists that Monsanto's and industrial ag's methods are safe or even, for that matter, scientific. Yes, even though "science" is used to develop their methods, this science is not extended to the environmental context in which it is used. In other words, it isn't dependable science because it doesn't take the whole into account. This is another piece of GM propaganda from the Fool. Seems like it's popping up like weeds these days.

  • Report this Comment On February 20, 2014, at 3:34 PM, RyanBingham wrote:

    Personally my beef with Monsanto, DuPont, et al is their heavy-handed approach to 'resolving' differences. If a farmer saves seed? Sue him! If a community wants a buffer zone around a test crop? Sue them! If the government wants more scientific studies before approving a pesticide or crop? Sue them! I accept that GMO crops have their place in the world. The masses can afford to eat, albeit frankenfood, but they can eat nonetheless, and the privileged 10% can choose to 'opt-out' and buy organic heirloom foods - but not if these agro-chemical corporations have sued away that choice. When 5 multi-nationals control 80% of the world's food supply, Houston we have a problem.

  • Report this Comment On February 20, 2014, at 3:52 PM, wbbrownjr wrote:

    The problem with genetic engineering is three-fold. First, you don't know the potential unintended consequences. Second, because Mother Nature is more versatile and has the entire world's genomes evolved over millions of years in her "apps" bag, she can and will continuously change the rules of the game. Super weeds that are impervious to RoundUp and antibiotic resistant bacteria are just two examples. Third, as we apply genetic patch after patch to crops in order to address one human-created problem after another, i.e. global warming, invasive species, evovled insects, etc., we may end up with 'foods' that are unusable, unrecognizable, inedible, ugly or all of the above. They'll be resistant to everything including us! I think that working with nature rather than trying to reengineer it is the preferred approach. I think that to do otherwise may prove to be a losing which we're the losers.

  • Report this Comment On February 20, 2014, at 6:00 PM, BobinTexas wrote:

    Monsanto has done an excellent job of shooting themselves in the foot. It started by suing innocent farmers whose only crime was that they were downwind of a GMO planted field. They enhanced that reputation by pretending that farmers are their only customers and totally ignoring the consumer who is the one who actually uses their final product. Some one needs to teach them how to manage PR.

  • Report this Comment On February 20, 2014, at 8:08 PM, 18RC wrote:

    Yet another intellectually shallow article from the Fool...e.g. the statement "environmental and health effects are unknown" and the fantasy of "superweeds" - that's catering to the high school educated investor, not college educated investors.

    College educated investors know all the scare talk about GMO's is bunk and that far more countries are embracing GMO's than the reverse and that Monsanto has nothing to worry about in the way of facing lawsuits over unforseen health effects of GMOs. Therefore Monsanto is a good stock choice. The main factor holding back Monsanto's stock price this year is depressed corn prices. So sales, in the USA, of Monsanto's advanced corn seed technology products could decline 10-20% over last year. Whether or not improved seed sales in other countries will offset declines in the USA is a question I have not investigated in detail.

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 12:12 AM, rndmupnmkmeteit wrote:

    Your a pathetic disgrace pal, if you want to go and work for those ruthless pieces of pure non-GMO crap, then fill out a job application like everyone else.

    This is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to score points with these purveyors of poison just to secure a job or some other personal benefit, or as compensation for services rendered.

    If GMO's are so beneficial and or harmless, why is it Monsanto and their friends spent and continue to spend millions of dollars to lobby AGAINST having to disclose foods that are genetically modified. You would think if they were truly proud of what they've done they would want food products associated with their innovation at every opportunity.

    There has been a number of studies that has come out that shows a direct link between foods that have been genetically modified and the formation of tumours, diseases, and other illnesses. The Seralini study is just one example.

    The fact that there is a law in your corrupt country, paid for by Monsanto and other food lobbyists, which allows Monsanto to claim a retroactive patent on farmer's seeds when seeds have been a naturally occurring entity forever and farmer's don't ask to buy these GMO seeds, they're forced to buy due to contamination of Monsanto's garbage on their land, is beyond an outrage.

    These people are soul-less money-grubbing parasites. Monsanto's Director of Corporate Communications, Phil Angell(how ironic), said it's not their responsibility to make safe products, their responsibility is to make money.

    Monsanto, semi-aside, the fact that the so-called law in your country puts the onus on the government to prove that products are harmful rather than the corporations to prove that they're safe is equally an outrage.

    Any product should be submitted for INDEPENDENT testing by the government, and then approved or not. The fact that they allow companies to submit their own biased results for proof of safety is ridiculous.

    I don't want Monsanto or any other company or industry using me as an unintended guinea pig for them to make a profit. It's a disgusting but very pointed testament to the corrupt vulgar nature of your country in its pathetic worship of capitalism.

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 1:15 AM, Firnatine14 wrote:

    WOW yet another propaganda piece for Monsanto and GMO's by the Fool, how much are they paying you to print one propaganda piece after another for them? I hope a lot sine you are selling any semblance of journalistic integrity you have left

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 8:26 AM, csalerno wrote:

    Poor, Poor, Poor Monsanto. Everyone hates you for beating up farmers who's crops have been contaminated by your product no one wants to eat and if it was identified on a label, no one would buy it either.

    It appears that this publication is a puppet for Monsanto this will be the final article I read and will be unsubscribing.

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 8:33 AM, carmeno wrote:

    Incredible! Sorry but the technological development of the internet does not kill all types of organism, unlike the "technological" advanced poisons called pesticides, that kill all they touch (either sooner or later). I know Motley Food has been trying, week after week, to force us to believe Monsanto and others like it, are our friends, who just want to save humanity but IT DOES NOT FLY. Except with people like Jason1, who apparently missed when a few months ago there was a huge controversy with other countries threatening to boycott ALL American wheat because it came out that, oops, the "technology" had already been developed to create GMO wheat. AND that seed that was supposedly destroyed years ago, was in fact still in storage and somehow managed to walk out on its own from the storage facilities and infected a farm. As to the "save the world from starvation" people, I suggest people actually go to YouTube and watch videos from India to see how the GMO seeds and other "technologically" advanced chemicals REALLY affected Indian farmers. There is even one of a man who was prevented, by people from his village, from committing suicide by ingesting one of the "technological" advanced chemicals he still had left, after losing his 5 acre farm (a huge farm by their standards). Hey, but lets not allow truth to influence us when we are told "they are your friends". Funny, how the best thing that happened was for advanced "technology" GMOs companies to start a campaign to prevent their stuff to be labeled as GMOs because it forced people to take sides. Anyone reading comments anywhere know what most people are choosing. In other words, careful what you wish for.

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 8:51 AM, falconjack wrote:

    This is now the 4th or 5th article put forth by the Monsanto cheerleaders (read Motley Fool) in the last month. If your writers, for they are certainly not journalists, would do any research at all, they would find plenty of information that very eloquently refutes all that they write and by not looking at that side, are completely misleading the readership by not giving a true and honest assessment. What is the quid pro quo for trying to drive up their stock price? Since the inception of the Motley Fool, it has espoused the idea that they were all about integrity. It would appear, at least in this case, that is not the case.

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 10:06 AM, NigelStHibbins wrote:

    The thing is; Nobody will ever go to the store to intentionally buy GMO foods. GMO's are only purchased due to lack of choice, apathy, and ignorance. I happen to look like a (rhymes with stick.) People always mistake me for some redneck cop type and for good reason. I love to request only GMO foods when out to foodie joints, just to watch the hipster wait staff squirm. You have to say it with a strait face. 20 years form now we will all be euthanized for having ingested theses frankenfoods. HOT ON CORN!

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 11:04 AM, klausmager wrote:

    This is a naive assessment of the situation we find ourselves in, collectively. Any exponential growth on a finite planet has to come to an end at some point in time. What we are doing with food in general, from palm oil to corn, GMO's, industrial agriculture, is very disruptive to nature.

    50% of the world's oxygen comes from trees, and that would not be palm oil trees. The rest comes from coral reefs, which are dying at an alarming rate due to Ocean acidification. We have to come to terms with the idea that we have to switch from maximizing yields, forcing nature into producing what is "un-natural", to living in harmony with our environment.

    That is a very big shift in thinking. Agriculture and food production in general are at the forefront of that change. Watch it happen, the only question is will it be planned or unplanned.

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 11:38 AM, yoki wrote:

    Monsanto is the ugly monster of agriculture..they have cause more death and health

    related diseases to every human in this world, even the judges of the Supreme court

    grants them permission to kill us !!!!! And in the time they try to ban guns to keep us

    from killing them....Supreme court judges have a double set of standards

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 12:45 PM, HenryHayne wrote:

    There are a very large number of studies that show that GMO technology is not dangerous, That being said, there the a lot about Monasanto's business practices that could be improved. Every study done by governments, not by the companies has shown no effect different from natural foodstuffs.

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 4:42 PM, hiddenflem wrote:

    Unfortunately the way the system works is that bad substances can be introduced into our food supply without safety tests ever being done...and few people seem to realize that just because something is introduced into our food doesn't mean that it is safe. Look at how long trans-fats lasted in our food supply without anyone even questioning their safety for decades after they were used...and that is a product that we now know dramatically increases risk for heart disease-so much so that it is staggering to think that it went undetected for so long. Is it possible that some genes that are beneficial for plant reproduction and growth are linked to traits harmful for humans? Do we have even a remote clue that this might or might not be the case? No. The studies have NOT been done. Intelligent people are kind of getting fed up with the claims being made here on the MF about GMO safety. It looks to me like you need to hire a scientific editor.

  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2014, at 1:26 AM, eevie wrote:

    Monsanto paid you what? Promised you what? We do not want frankenfoods period. They are a slow kill and you know it. We the people are the victims of industries paying the government to look the other way while they screw us some more with their new tech. Hello? Not all new tech is good. Poisons and genetically altered food guarantee to rid the world of a large percentage of the population. Other countries around the world are banning GMOs as they learn the truth of them.

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Shamus Funk

Shamus is a freelance writer for the Motley Fool focusing on energy, agriculture, and materials. He has his Ph.D. in Chemistry from North Dakota State University. After graduation, Shamus worked at a small biotechnology firm before becoming a professor of chemistry.

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