The Undercurrent delves into the world of mass agriculture to ask how one company has such control over food supply. The name Monsanto was once synonymous with Agent Orange, but today it’s the dominance of the widespread herbicide Roundup which helps keep the company on top. But is the World Health Organisation’s claim that Roundup ’probably’ causes cancer, cause for concern? And what about the company’s stance on patenting which sees farmers in developing countries unable to hold on to seed? Guardian Australia has joined forces with The Undercurrent – an online news show billing itself as an antidote to the five-second soundbite – for a four-part series over June and July. Brisbane creators Jen Dainer and Dan Graetz say it is the show they wish existed – so they created it themselves
• Right of reply: Monsanto responds to the Undercurrent video
The managing director of Monsanto Australia & New Zealand accuses the Undercurrent of inaccurate and damaging statements in its film about Monsanto and Roundup, which was first published on the Guardian
Last week the Guardian published a video called “Why are we being fed by a poison expert: Monsanto and Roundup” on its news website, under the science and agriculture banner. While the video was at times humorous, the content contained errors regarding Monsanto, the ethics of our people and the safety of our products.
Some of the statements made in this video are incorrect and damaging not just to Monsanto, but to farmers and the important role they play in feeding and clothing the world’s rapidly growing population.
Although there are several inaccuracies that we think deserve to be corrected, I want to directly address a couple of the most inaccurate claims made by this video.
Firstly, the safety of glyphosate and any of Monsanto’s other agricultural products is a matter we take very seriously. As consumers ourselves, the safety of our products is of paramount importance to all who work at Monsanto.
Glyphosate has recorded over 40 years of safe use and has been the subject of over 800 studies all of which have confirmed its safety. Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used herbicide and is currently registered for use in more than 160 countries.
The video incorrectly portrays the recent assessment of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on glyphosate as if it were the settled opinion of the World Health Organisation (WHO). IARC is one of four programs within the WHO that have reviewed the safety of glyphosate and their classification is inconsistent with the assessments of the other programs. Two of the WHO programs – the Core Assessment Group (in 2011) and the International Programme on Chemical Safety (in 1994) – both concluded glyphosate is not carcinogenic.
The Australian regulatory agency responsible for the registration of all agricultural and veterinary chemical products, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), concluded in 2013 that it has no data suggesting that glyphosate products registered in Australia and used according to label instructions present any unacceptable risks to human health, the environment and trade. The APVMA states: “The weight and strength of evidence shows that glyphosate is not genotoxic, carcinogenic, or neurotoxic.”
The video also completely disregards the involvement of regulatory agencies in setting limits for residues of glyphosate and other pesticides in food and water. It omits any mention of regulatory review or science-based limits and would have the audience believe the presence of pesticide residues in food and water is completely unregulated and harmful to human health. This is plainly wrong.
Secondly, to the extent that the video suggests genetically modified food is unsafe, that is not scientifically supported. GM crops are the most scientifically tested food in human history and questioning their safety only undermines decades of independent research and the integrity of the world’s most sophisticated regulatory systems, including Australia’s Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.
GM crops have a 20-year record of safety and almost 2,500 independent, global scientific reviews and approvals of genetically modified organism (GMO) crops have verified their safety. Globally, GM crops have been found to be safe for growing and importing in more than 60 countries including the European Union.
In the most comprehensive study of GMOs, the University of California, Davis, examined 29 years of livestock feeding studies from both before and after the introduction of GM animal feed representing 100bn animals and concluded that GM feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GM feed.
To assert there are outstanding health concerns around GM foods is not supported by science or evidence.
Finally, the video also references farmer suicides in India. Tragically, farmer suicides in India began long before the introduction of GMO cotton in 2002. The International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington DC found that, if anything, suicides among farmers have been decreasing since the introduction of GMO cotton.
We love to participate in balanced discussion and informed debate on food and agriculture. But the public deserves balanced reporting, especially when it comes to topics as important as the safety of food production. Unfortunately, misinformation only polarises the debate and adds to confusion and fear.