Monsanto Dives Into GM Wheat

I blogged last week about GM wheat: Biotech’s Real Customer: Will GM Wheat Producers Repeat Monsanto’s Error?

Now this week comes this press release, from Monsanto: Monsanto Company Invests in Developing New Technologies for Wheat With Acquisition of WestBred Business

Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON) announced today it is expanding its strong seeds and traits portfolio to include wheat. The company has acquired the assets of WestBred, LLC, a Montana-based company that specializes in wheat germplasm, the crop’s seed genetic material. The investment will bolster the future growth of Monsanto’s seeds and traits platform and allow farmers to benefit from the company’s experience in drought-, disease- and pest-tolerance innovations.

“The U.S. wheat industry has come together to call for new technology investment, and we believe we have game-changing technologies – like our drought-tolerance and improved-yield traits – that can meaningfully address major challenges wheat growers face every season,” said Carl Casale, executive vice president of global strategy and operations for Monsanto. “Through WestBred, we’ll be able to deliver advances in breeding and biotechnology to deliver a step-change in yield while creating a springboard for new partnerships and collaboration opportunities that create additional value for farmers….”

Two points worth noting:

1) Monsanto’s plan seems to focus on engineering relatively-uncontroversial traits like drought-tolerance. According to the press release, “the company’s plans do not include further development of the first-generation Roundup Ready® trait in wheat.” (Roundup tolerance has been criticized for its potential to allow farmers to use more of the herbicide, something that raises obvious environmental worries.)

2) The press release is 100% focused on farmers and the wheat industry. Nothing in the press release shows any indication that Monsanto considers consumers — the people who will end up eating the wheat — to be a significant stakeholder. So maybe my question should be: Will Monsanto repeat Monsanto’s error? Of course, it’s possible that this isn’t an error at all; maybe Monsanto is (now) powerful enough, and GM is well-enough established in North America, that Monsanto knows it can ignore consumers as stakeholders. But at very least you’d think they’d be careful about sending what might be an unpopular message.

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About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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