There are dozens of consumer-focused groups that rally support against biotechnology by lambasting agricultural products companies such as Monsanto (NYSE:MON) and Syngenta (NYSE:SYT). The groups spread fear and accusations to build a rather persuasive message about the reported harm caused by engineered food solutions. Why else would major retail chains (which obviously rely on consumers) ban products containing ingredients from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, from their shelves and stores?
The discussion-turned-controversy may have steered off track recently, but consumers have asked one very important question: why aren't Monsanto and Syngenta more transparent with consumers? This question is actually quite simple to answer, and it doesn't include an ounce of conspiracy or ill-intent.
The harsh truth
Do Monsanto and Syngenta have something to hide from consumers when it comes to their use of genetic engineering? If independent scientific research from across the globe is to be believed (that's the protocol on scientific topics), then the answer is "no." Next question: why aren't the companies more transparent with consumers? Simply put, consumers aren't the customers of Monsanto and Syngenta. The companies sell agricultural seeds, vegetables, traits, and weed control products to farmers, who supply distributors and food manufacturers with their harvested products. Consumers come into the value chain at the very end and well after Monsanto and Syngenta have sold their products.
Think about the following. Look on the shelf of your local supermarket and try to find a single Monsanto logo -- you won't be successful. Then again, do you really care if the corn starch in your cereal made it into the box because it resisted corn rootworm? Do you really care if the soy meal you're consuming came from a seed bag with a Kruger logo or Gold Country Seed logo? Those brands probably aren't even familiar to most people reading this, which is exactly the point. You aren't the customer.
Here's another illustrative example. Take a look at the top of Monsanto's pipeline. Do any of these products look remotely geared toward consumers?
I know what you're thinking, "Finally, peppers that resist phytophthora! Phew!" Sarcasm aside, that's exactly the point. You wouldn't go on a crusade against an Apple supplier when you're upset with a component of your iPhone. Why should Monsanto and Syngenta be in the crosshairs when it comes to food?
You may not like that answer, but it explains why Monsanto and Syngenta haven't made consumer transparency a top priority from the beginning. They're making strides now, but the conversation has become so close-minded that consumers probably won't even take the companies' messages into account. That could soon change as more consumer-facing products are created, such as potatoes that result in healthier French fries and vegetables accompanied by enhanced nutritional benefits including lower calories or fat and higher vitamin and mineral content. Until that day arrives, I think it's a bit unfair to criticize the companies for a lack of transparency.
Maxx Chatsko has no position in any stocks mentioned. Check out his personal portfolio, CAPS page, previous writing for The Motley Fool, or his work for SynBioBeta to keep up with developments in the synthetic biology industry.
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