Biotechnology giant Monsanto continues to tout the benefits of genetically engineered crops without seriously acknowledging any risks despite concerns repeatedly raised by farmers, citizen activists and other whistleblowers. Given the desire to satisfy investors and future profitability, it's not surprising Monsanto has only emphasized the alleged positives of its products.
However, one of its shareholders has urged Monsanto to be more balanced by reporting the potential liabilities (that have already been voiced by many).
According to the Santa Barbara Independent, Harrington Investments Inc. (HII) – a self-identified socially responsible investment advisory firm – submitted in August a "resolution requesting Monsanto publish a study on the financial risks and impacts of its genetically modified products."
As a shareholder, HII can propose corporate changes that may then be voted on at shareholder meetings every January. In its press release, HII points out the multi-hundred million dollar settlements relating to GMOs "that may have an adverse impact on Monsanto shareholder value."
Directly implicated in actions harming farmers' livelihoods, the environment, and public health (as mentioned in the press release and frequently brought up on our FIC blog), Monsanto failed to pass HII's rigorous social and environmental screens that determine whether the company can be an investment option for the firm's clients.
In addition to pushing Monsanto to be more open about all of its financial risks (another shareholder pressed the company in 2005), HII has previously raised other accountability concerns. The Santa Barbara Independent writes:
In 2007, HII submitted a binding bylaw amendment attempting to erode Monsanto’s ability to protect directors after they violated their legal or ethical duties in cases that negatively impacted the environment, public health, or human rights. That request was unsuccessful, but HII views its corporate dealings as a tug of war with a little give and, hopefully, a little get.
HII Research and Advocacy Director Jack Ucciferri believes just probing about the risks of genetic engineering will bring transparency higher on the radar screen of fellow shareholders (that, in turn, can hold Monsanto accountable) and "make progress promoting the issue in the bigger picture."
Monsanto will likely oppose the request to detail its dirty laundry, as the agribusiness behemoth has consistently disregarded resistance to its so-called world-hunger-saving crops, and has been a foe to truth-telling in general. But HII’s position helps bring food integrity issues to the forefront that are hard to ignore.
As FIC reported earlier this year, Monsanto lobbied in favor of anti-whistleblower legislation proposed in Iowa. Meanwhile, the company has been infamous for intimidating farmers that it believes have violated seed patents, even inadvertently.
But the threats posed by GE crops continue to be unveiled, including by honest insiders. In a 2006 article posted by Jeffrey Smith (head of the Institute for Responsible Technology and author of "Seeds of Deception"), former Monsanto sales representative Kirk Azevedo explains the ostracism he faced when raising public health concerns regarding Monsanto's GE crops. Proteins produced by the GE crops "can have allergenic or toxic properties, but no one at Monsanto had done a safety assessment on them," Azevedo said.
Despite being ignored, his claims have since been echoed by scientists as "one of the many possible dangers that are not being evaluated by the biotech industry's superficial safety assessments," the article asserts.
It's easy to guess why Monsanto hasn't delved into the dangers posed by its own creations. Such financial risk would mean accepting the fact that GE crops are not a stable investment and would question the technology's viability as the answer to food needs. But if more and more shareholders speak out and buttress the concerns of whistleblowers, Monsanto might have to finally address the risks of GE crops and be held responsible for their impacts on the planet and its residents.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.