The Monsanto Apologia - Understanding that Trust is the Key
A Shift in Communication
Arguably no modern company has had a worse experience in communications than Monsanto. Its failure to understand the forces created by its approach to communications lead to its corporate death
Many of the principles raised in the Monty example are highlighted in this dramatic confession and re-commitment by Monsanto’s new CEO. Note the human tone and his recognition that in the end they would only be judged by their actions.
Having worked closely with Monsanto for three years, I can confirm that everything he says is true about their arrogance and their obsession with control..
If Verfaillie is really speaking from a place of truth – then you are witnessing an example of an organization being transformed by the need to be truthful and to be open.
Remarks by Hendrik A. Verfaillie
President and Chief Executive Officer
Farm Journal Conference
Good afternoon. I'd like to thank the Farm Journal for providing me with
the opportunity to talk with you today. And I'd like to thank you, our
customers, or, I hope, our potential customers, for buying our products. I
happen to believe that Monsanto has some great products - but without
customers willing to buy our products, customers willing to try new
technology and customers who are willing to become our partners in a
dawning era of agriculture, I could not be here today.
As you may know, Monsanto is a new company. After the merger with Pharmacia
earlier this year and our initial stock offering last month, we are making a
new start as a company completely devoted to agriculture.
And we are doing this at a time when a shift in society - a shift that
started perhaps 40 years ago - is approaching full maturity. That shift has
been a movement from a "trust me" society to a "show me" society. We don't
trust government - and thus government rulemaking and regulation is
suspect. We don't trust companies - or the new technologies they introduce
into the marketplace. We don't trust the media - or the news they bring us
each day. And so it goes with all institutions.
It is not my intention today to talk about this shift in society. But it is
my intention to talk about what this shift means to my company, making its
new start, and what it means to you as our partners in agriculture. And what
I believe it provides the opportunity for us to do.
To do that, I'd like to tell you a story.
It's a story about a new technology - a complex technology - a technology
that is the result of what we believe is the most cutting-edge science in
the world today. A complex technology that is used through a package that is
as old as agriculture - the seed.
What this technology can do is amazing. This technology protects cotton
plants against the bollworm - an insect that can cause millions of dollars
in damage each year.
It protects corn plants against one of their greatest enemies - the corn
This technology reduces the need for chemical pesticides - with a five
percent reduction already achieved in the last five years. That means there
are literally millions and millions of pounds of pesticide that have
already been eliminated from the environment as a result of farmers using
We see evidence that this technology allows wildlife to coexist with
agriculture - and even to flourish alongside agriculture.
This is a technology that reduces farmer costs, and increases the ease and
efficiency of the critical work they do - that you do. Sixty percent of the
economic benefits of insect-resistant cotton accrue to the cotton grower.
Soybeans growers in Iowa have reduced the cost of production by between $6
and $11.50 an acre.
This technology increases your crop yields, in some cases dramatically
so. It is a technology that has been adopted by farmers faster than any
other agricultural technology. As an agriculture company, we are focused on
the farmer - on providing products that help farmers produce more and earn
a better return on their investment. This rapid adoption was a signal that
this technology was delivering on its promise.
As significant of a difference as this technology is making for farmers
today, its potential for tomorrow is even more promising.
This technology is could play an important role in increasing the
productivity of existing land under cultivation and reducing the need to
turn more land over to agriculture.
This technology will enable us to deliver many aspects of health care and
disease prevention through our diets. Just one example is "golden rice" - a
rice that may cure millions of children of night blindness by providing
needed Vitamin A in their diets.
This technology holds tremendous promise for helping farmers in the
developing world improve their productivity and economic security. It
could play a critical role in increasing food security and alleviating
world hunger and malnutrition - a problem faced every day everywhere by
more than 100 million people.
This technology can help us conserve the soil, retain moisture, mitigate
the effects of drought, and protect wildlife.
Everything that we have seen leads us to believe that this is truly a
remarkable technology, with truly remarkable benefits for growers and
consumers, for food processors and suppliers, for developed and
developing nations, for the well fed, and for the hungry. And this is
not a theoretical case for benefits - the benefits are happening right
now. They are real.
This technology, of course, is biotechnology.
I'd like to tell you a second story.
This is a story about a company more closely identified with this
technology than any other.
This is a story about a company that didn't always represent this
technology the way it should have.
This company did do many things well.
It got the science right - no small achievement in and of itself. The
science is solid, and it's world-class.
This company got the safety studies right. Thousands of studies, receiving
some of the most intense regulatory scrutiny ever, clearly established the
safety of the products of the new technology.
The company understood this new technology could transform the
marketplace - and that the future, including the immediate future, was
in the integration of chemicals, traits and seeds.
The company received product approvals in the United States and other
countries. Excitement and momentum began to build.
I would like to be able to say that with all of the benefits of the new
technology, with all of that solid science, with all of the safety studies,
with all the knowledge and understanding of agriculture, I would like to be
able to say that this story ends with "and they lived happily ever after."
But that, of course, is not what happened.
The company - my company, Monsanto - had focused so much attention on
getting the technology right for our customer - the grower - that we
didn't fully take into account the issues and concerns it raised for
We thought we were doing some great things. A lot of other people thought
we were making some mistakes.
We were blinded by our own enthusiasm.
We missed the fact that this technology raises major issues for people -
issues of ethics, of choice, of trust, even of democracy and
We didn't understand that when it comes to a serious public concern, that
the more you stand to make a profit in the marketplace, the less
credibility you have in the marketplace of ideas. When we tried to explain
the benefits, the science and the safety, we did not understand that our
tone - our very approach - was seen as arrogant. We were still in the
"trust me" mode when the expectation was "show me."
And so, instead of happily ever after, this new technology became the focal
point of public conflict, the benefits we saw were jeopardized, and
Monsanto became a lightning rod.
Fortunately, there is a third story to tell.
As we tried to understand what had happened, we realized that we needed to
hear directly from people about what they thought, what their concerns were
and what they thought we ought to do.
About a year ago, many people from Monsanto started to meet with people
outside the company. We met with scientists, with activists, with
government regulators, with farmers, with consumers, with food
manufacturers and processors, with academics, with news media, with
associations and foundations that provide help and aid to developing
countries, with friend and foe alike. We said to them, help us
understand what has happened.
And we listened.
We heard the concerns about Monsanto, about the way we acted, and the
concerns about the technology. Even our friends told us we could be
arrogant and insensitive.
We then asked, what can we do?
One direct and immediate result of those conversations was our decision
not to pursue developing technology to create sterile seeds. It was a
glaring example of what so many people feared about the technology and
the control of a multinational corporation.
There were other results.
People told us to show how biotechnology could help people, and we
responded with help for creating virus-resistant cassava, a major food in
developing nations; with support for golden rice and placing our rice
genome research in the public domain. In fact, our web site for the rice
genome averages 2,000 visits a day - and the research is freely available
to scientists everywhere.
Because people told us that not enough information on our products was
available to them, we started to work within an industry association, the
Council for Biotechnology Information, to make more information about
biotech widely available to the public.
We reached out to parents, to dieticians, to doctors, to teachers and
others. Instead of speaking at people, we started discussions with people.
We learned that many, many people - in fact, sizeable majorities - saw
value in the technology, even if they were unsure about how it was being
We started thinking about why people were concerned.
We continued to listen very closely. We continue still.
More importantly, we have heeded what others have had to say, and we are
We have reached a crossroads in the debate about biotechnology. Our
experience in developed and developing countries alike has demonstrated to
us and many others that this technology is safe and valuable, and that it
offers benefits too important to ignore. Our experience has also taught us
that people have legitimate concerns about this technology, and it's our
responsibility to resolve those concerns.
If we are to close the gap between those who believe in the benefits and
those who have concerns, then something has to change.
Because we are a new company, we have the opportunity to change - to change
our behavior and our actions - and to be measured on how well we do it.
We have decided that the "something" that must change is us. And so we are
knowingly and deliberately choosing a different path.
In 1990, Monsanto announced the Monsanto Pledge - a statement of
environmental responsibility. We achieved virtually all of what we
pledged to do.
But one principle for which we still have work to do applies directly to
the issue of biotechnology: That principle states simply, "We will work
to achieve sustainable agriculture through new technology and new
Today Monsanto is a new company, solely devoted to agriculture. And we have
developed a new pledge, to help us fulfill our promise for sustainable
agriculture. This new Monsanto pledge includes the following five elements
- dialogue, transparency, respect, sharing and delivering benefits.
a.. We commit to an ongoing dialogue with all interested parties to
understand the issues and concerns related to this technology.
a.. To this end, we commit to create an external Biotechnology
Advisory Council from a range of constituencies with an interest in
biotechnology to meet, discuss, advise and help us make decisions.
b.. And we commit to involving our customers to help us make
decisions about the development, use and stewardship of new agricultural
a.. We commit to transparency by making published scientific data and
data summaries on product safety and benefits publicly available and
accessible, and we commit to working within the rigorous, science-based
regulation as required by appropriate government agencies around the
a.. We will make both Monsanto research and external research by
universities and other institutions available through the Internet and
other public venues.
b.. We commit our support for a mandatory pre-market notification
process for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review of all
biotechnology products in the United States.
c.. We commit to work toward the establishment of global standards
for the quality of seed, grain and food products.
a.. We commit to respecting the religious, cultural and ethical
concerns of people throughout the world by:
a.. Commercializing commodity grain products only after they have
been approved for consumption by both humans and animals;
b.. Not using genes taken from animal or human sources in our
agricultural products intended for food or feed;
c.. Never commercializing a product in which a known allergen has
d.. Using alternatives to antibiotic resistance genes to select for
new traits as soon as the technology allows us to do so efficiently and
effectively in a manner that has been proven safe; and,
e.. Underscoring our commitment not to pursue technologies that result in
sterile seeds. Many of these are things we are already doing today, but we
believe it is important to reiterate them publicly.
a.. We commit to bring the knowledge and advantages of all forms of
agriculture to resource-poor farmers in the developing world to help
improve food security and protect the environment.
a.. To this end, we have created a dedicated team within Monsanto to
facilitate technology sharing and agricultural development
collaborations with public institutions, non-profit groups and local
industry around the world.
a.. We commit to work for and deliver benefits for farmers
commercially as well as environmentally.
a.. Environmentally, we commit to develop technology that directly
contributes to a vision of abundant food and a healthy environment by:
a.. Using biotechnology to promote integrated pest management
(IPM) and reduce agricultural inputs, such as we have seen with the
reduction of pesticides in the United States;
b.. Working with growers worldwide to double the use of tillage
practices that conserve soil and moisture over the next five years; and
c.. Ensuring that all of our products and practices protect
wildlife and beneficial species.
b.. Commercially, we intend to launch new genetically improved commodity
crops in the United States only after they have received full approval for
food use and animal feed in the United States and Japan. We hope also to
extend this intention to Europe as soon as it has established a working
We're able to state this intention as long as there are
science-based regulatory systems that make timely decisions. If the
regulatory systems are not functional, we cannot allow the breakdown to
deny U.S. farmers the choice of new technologies.
This, then, is the New Monsanto Pledge for today's new Monsanto Company.
It is our commitment to you, as our customers. It is our commitment to
your customers. It is our commitment to everyone who cares about feeding
We also recognize that we have to do more than talk about these
commitments. We have to do them. This is something that we will report on
so that we are held accountable for our commitment and our progress.
All farmers have the right and responsibility to choose safe technologies
that make them more efficient, their crops more productive, the environment
healthier and better protected. All of us have the right to food that is
safe, nutritious and plentiful. And all of you have the right to expect
Monsanto to behave honorably, ethically and openly.
This is the story we at Monsanto have chosen to tell, and to live. And we
welcome you to join us, and be our partners, in living that story.