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Organic farming ‘not the most sustainable solution,’ says Monsanto chief

FRANCE 24 | Brett Begemann, President and COO of Monsanto in Paris during COP 21, at a side event organised by WBCSD

Monsanto, the world's GMO leader, says high productivity agriculture is the best solution for the environment and sustainability, a position criticised by many environmentalists at the climate talks in Paris.


Monsanto, the leader in genetically modified seeds – also known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) – is participating in the climate talks in Paris. Despite its “evil corp” reputation in the media, the company says it wants to fight climate change.

The multinational announced its intentions to reach carbon neutrality by 2021. To do so, the company believes in the use of biotechnology to create climate-resistant seeds along with tools to absorb more carbon in the soil.

But Monsanto’s strategy fails to convince many NGOs and green activists. More than 350 civil society groups say the corporation is trying to hijack the negotiations in Paris, with “green-washed false solutions”.

FRANCE 24 talked to Brett Begemann, Monsanto’s president and chief operating officer, in Paris, at a side event organised by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a CEO-led organisation.

FRANCE 24: Monsanto pledges to become carbon neutral on all operations by 2021. How are you going to do that?

BRETT BEGEMANN: The first thing that people need to recognise is that all crops use carbon dioxide to grow. If you are using high-tech agriculture, you can actually grow crops that can actually consume more carbon than they produce, including all the inputs that go in.

So using those systems with our farmers and teaching farmers to grow crops that way, with basically no till – or conservation tillage practices that many of them are already using today – along with smarter decisions driven by data, we can actually create a carbon sink growing plant that we use for food production today.

F24: The world's largest peasant farmers' movement, La Via Campesina, has accused Monsanto of trying to push an agribusiness agenda under a green mask. They say GMOs mean more pesticide, not less. What's your response to them?

BRETT BEGEMANN: People will say what they want to say. We believe that climate change is real. We’ve had our own scientists studying that for years, and we’ve been looking for alternatives. We have opportunities to work with farmers around the world to grow crops in a better way that actually reduces carbon. And we think that that’s a good thing and we’re going to continue to work on that.

F24: A recent study by the Washington-based NGO, Food & Water Watch also finds the goal of reduced chemical use has not worked out as planned...

BRETT BEGEMANN: Biotechnology is one tool, it’s not “the” tool, it’s “a” tool that the farmers can use in their toolbox. But it’s really clear that biotechnology has substantially reduced the use of pesticide for cotton, that used to get sprayed 15 times to getting sprayed a couple of times, to corn that used to be treated multiple times to being treated singular time, so it means huge reductions in pesticide use along with biotech crops. So that’s part of what biotech brings in the reduction of carbon.

F24: Monsanto also breeds more conventional and even organic seeds. Why? Could it be that you see future trends moving towards organic seeds rather than GMOs?

BRETT BEGEMANN: I don’t see organic getting a lot larger, there’s a market for it and we’ve participated in that market for a long time. I think…[there is] this nexus coming together [that] the best thing to do for climate change is increase the productivity on the land we already use for agriculture and using technology to drive up productivity reduces greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and discourages from taking new land or cutting down trees.

That goes against what many people think. They think of organic as being the most sustainable. Actually, low productivity agriculture or organic is not the most sustainable solution. It’s not the best for green house gas. High productivity agriculture is actually the best that we can do for the environment and for sustainability.

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