Occupy Activist addresses the Monsanto shareholders’ assembly (1 of 3)
Q&A with Occupy Activist and Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto (2 of 3)
Occupy Activist gets face time with Monsanto (3 of 3)
MR. HUGH GRANT: (Inaudible) – proposal requesting a report on certain matters related to genetically modified products. Adam Eidinger is with us today representing the sponsors of this proposal, and I’d like – John Hines (ph), and then I’d like to invite you to present the proposal, Mr. Eidinger.
SHAREHOLDER: Thank you. Good afternoon, I am the coordinator of the Right2Know March for GMO Labeling. I’m here on behalf of Harrington Investments and the Pesticide Action Network. Our resolution for consideration by fellow shareholders addresses serious risks associated with Monsanto’s GMO crops, toxic chemicals applied to these crops and related civil liability.
Our company’s – (hostility towards ?) – environmentalists and organic farming concerns over GMOs is fueling a consumer backlash. The status quo of federal regulations that we successfully shaped without concern for the public’s concept of fairness and environmental stewardship is politically unsustainable.
Since last October, more than 500,000 Americans have signed the Just Label It campaign and citizens’ petition to the Food and Drug Administration. (Inaudible) – as well as – Representative Dennis Kucinich’s Genetically Engineered Right2Know Act – H.R. 3553 – are gaining traction in Washington, D.C. In California, a major GMO labeling ballot initiative is under way for the 2012 ballot. Furthermore, large-scale protests are being planned against this company.
In October of 2011, at least 1,000 people participated in a 15-day, 313-mile walk from New York City to the White House, demanding genetically modified food be labeled. Major organic brands such as Rapunzel, Nature’s Paths, Silk, Nutiva, Organic Valley, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Stonyfield Organic joined groups like the Non-GMO Project, Food and Water Watch, Center for Food Safety, and Organic Consumer Association, among 100 other groups, to educate the public about unlabeled GMO foods they eat every day.
The public was also made aware that the major GE traits are either the – (inaudible) – of insecticides in crops or resistance to weed killer, and that both technologies are rapidly failing in the face of the rise of super-weeds and super-pests. (Inaudible) – studies have taken place – even as the industry, including Monsanto, is moving to breed resistance to even more toxic herbicides, including 2,4-D, the main ingredient in Agent Orange, and dicambia, a potent neurotoxin listed as a bad actor by the Pesticide Action Network.
The failure of these technologies – (inaudible) – a widespread public rejection is imminent. Monsanto should change course and bail out this sinking ship before it’s too late. Doubling down – (inaudible) – resistance to ever more toxic chemicals so more can be sprayed threatens the survival of this company just as much as public health.
There is far too much to speak on in three minutes. In sum, Monsanto needs major reform. You don’t have to be searching for activists using Blackwater mercenaries to know that (we won ?). All you have to do is talk to us face to face. (Inaudible) – infiltration all open the company up to lawsuits. People are going to speak their minds, they’re going to come here, and they’re going to continue to protest because they’re fed up.
Monsanto needs reform and must accept responsibility for the rise of super-weeds, contamination of – (inaudible) – crops, and increasing amounts of unhealthy herbicides sprayed on farms. Against the backdrop of previous multi-hundred-million-dollar settlements related to GMOs, shareholders are rightfully concerned about the prospects of more big lawsuits to come. Thank you.
MR. : Thank you very much for making the trip and joining us today face to face. The proposal, as outlined in the proxy, in contrast to your remarks, is a little bit narrower. So what I suggest is that during the Q-and-A session, we can come back to address some of your other points. Rather, to the proposal before us today in the formal part of the meeting – and again, we can – we can deal with some of your other comments in the Q-and-A session later in the meeting. I can assure you on behalf of the board that we take all proposals from our shareholders very seriously and give this due consideration.
In terms of the particular shareholder proposal as it – as it stood in the proxy, it would be redundant for the information that’s already made and in the public domain – including extensive information provided by our company on our website, but also in external reports prepared and provided to the SEC. We’re very proud of our position as a leader in global agricultural stewardship. And this takes particular attention in the areas of (identity ?) preservation and – (inaudible) – currently under discussion under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership on the AC21 committee.
Coexistence has a long, successful history in agriculture. Farmers know how to do this. And the reality is that – in order to meet the demands of a growing planet – which continues to grow – all forms of agriculture across the entire spectrum can, should, and will – (audio break) – going forward. So, at the end of the day, we believe that farmers should have the freedom to choose the agricultural practices and the technologies that best meet the needs of their farms and their local environments and their fields – whether that’s organic, conventional, or the use of biotechnology traits.
So at this time, within the scope of the proposal itself, is there any discussion related specifically to the shareholder proposal?
SHAREHOLDER: Are you asking me, or are you asking the –
MR. : The entire –
SHAREHOLDER: – entire –
MR. : – the entire audience.
SHAREHOLDER: Appears that there is none.
MR. : We – and we can revisit your other points – (inaudible). Since there are no shareholders voting from the floor today, the floors are now closed, and the results of our voting will be announced later in the session.
MR. : (In progress) – all across the world as well. But it’s going to take time. But thank you.
I would invite additional questions – (inaudible).
SHAREHOLDER: I want to bring it back to this labeling issue. As you know – will Monsanto support labeling of genetically modified food in the coming year? And if not, how much is the company prepared to spend fighting off these initiatives and legislation in Washington?
MR. : Yeah, let me – let me say a few words on the labeling. So if you look at these crops (who are ?) 15 years end almost with biotech GMO crops today, the safety of these crops is – there’s never been products in agriculture more expensively tested than GMOs in the last decade and a half.
If you look – you know, it’s interesting because you look at somewhere like Europe. Europe has just spent $200 million on an expensive review of GMOs across Europe. And the conclusion of that Pew review study is that there is no appreciable difference between conventional crops and biotech crops. So from a safety point of view, I don’t think that there is any argument any longer. Those – I think the safety piece compared to 15 years ago has been very thoroughly studied on both sides of the Atlantic.
We are one piece of the food chain. We’re a seeds company. We grow crops that produce commodities that ultimately end up in processed foods – in food brands and food products. So we’re a piece of this. We’re not the whole piece. And sometimes it’s portrayed as if – as if we were. We follow the labeling guidelines and the labeling laws – (inaudible) – country. And we will continue to support those labeling guidelines.
In the supermarket half a mile from here, there’s an increase of – (inaudible) – on voluntary-labeling programs. And we’ve been supportive of those. So whether of you look for sugar-free, gluten-free, low-calorie, low-trans fat – that’s available. And those aisles are large, and get larger.
And we would support that voluntary piece within that, as we talked about briefly at the beginning. There is an increasing category of GMO-free as well. So we would support the overarching umbrella of labeling. And we’ve also been a supporter for that voluntary program.
SHAREHOLDER: I’m – my question refers to political efforts to change the law, to change the regulations so they would require labeling. Is the company going to oppose these labeling efforts wherever they take place – in the states, in Washington? That’s really the – what the crux of the question is.
MR. : You know, if you – here’s – because it – the challenge that I saw was that, you know, we’re treated as if we are the industry. So we would be absolutely open and willing to engage in a dialogue with our broad industry peers around this issue. But it isn’t – our part in this is one small piece of that challenge. I guess that’d be my first point.
My second point is: Sometimes these debates are framed – and again, we talked about this a bit before we all sat down – sometimes these debates are framed as win-lose. And the win-lose debate is GMOs need to go away. So (in order ?) – and have this – you know, the GMOs should be eliminated, there should be no biotech crops. And on that piece, it seems almost irresponsible as we look at the march from 6 billion to 9 billion to – (ends in progress).
MR. : (Inaudible.) I wanted to say hello before we go – (inaudible). Adam, this is – (inaudible) –
MR. : (Inaudible.)
SHAREHOLDER: Oh, thanks for having me and I – (inaudible) – a dissenting view.
MR. : Yes. (Inaudible.)
SHAREHOLDER: Well, I hope that it will, you know, get you guys thinking about the labeling issue. So you know that even – (inaudible) – if we want to – (inaudible) – it’s a matter of the market – the market functioning properly.
MR. : Yeah.
SHAREHOLDER: And you’re putting in a(n) artificial buffer on consumer intentions when they buy food, because we don’t want genetically modified food but don’t have a choice right now, as you know – except in buying organic.
MR. : (Inaudible) – and there’s certified non-GMO. And they’re starting to buy non-GMO. I mean, that’s good, as well – but again, my agreement is – for something – you know, I don’t mind dissent, but sometimes it’s the fact that – (inaudible) – win-lose. And the win-lose one is sometimes there’s the, as you know, life would be so much better if you didn’t exist – you know, if GMOs went away completely or if the whole world was organic and – and I think, I think that’s kind of on the end of the spectrum there.
(Inaudible) – said, but that’s something that I –
SHAREHOLDER: I mean, I – (inaudible). However, I do think, you know, if it presents opportunities for experimentation, science, technology, biotechnology, there may be some development that occurs through GMOs that you may not want to block out. So I’m not for banning GMOs.
MR. : Yeah.
SHAREHOLDER: Just to be honest – because that’s what you asked me.
MR. : No, right. That’s right.
SHAREHOLDER: That’s my personal view. But I’m for the – (inaudible) – the idea that we can give them substantial equivalents, and that GMOs – I think people – at least for the consumer, you know – I’m more in the marketing world anyway, not the science world – that consumers want to know what’s in their food. They want to have – (inaudible). You know, if you’re proud of your crop, if you think it’s better and superior to conventional crops, then why not just say it on the packaging?
And in Europe, as you know, the GMOs are labeled, and it’s a much smaller market share and there’s more – I think there’s more biodiversity as a result. But, you know, whatever we disagree about, people – there’s a principle of fairness. Like in the marketplace; you should be transparent with what you’re selling. And – one hand, with patenting life, you’re parenting the organisms.
MR. : The genes.
SHAREHOLDER: Yeah, the genes. And you’re also saying that they’re equivalent to – (inaudible). So how can you have it – I mean, answer – how can you have it both ways? Like, how can you say there’s – if you’re saying that – (inaudible) – patent it?
MR. : Well, nutritionally, they’re the same. They’re nutritionally the same.
SHAREHOLDER: OK, then that – you’ve done the studies? You’ve done studies to prove that?
MR. : (Inaudible) – can mention the nutritional studies, but I don’t know about the – (inaudible) – studies.
SHAREHOLDER: I mean, you’ve – (inaudible) – vitamins and everything that – nutrients that are actually – you grind up the – (inaudible).
MR. : (Inaudible.)
SHAREHOLDER: All right, we’re starting.
MR. : We’ll talk later, maybe? We’ll see.