Speak out to avoid GM mistakes, urges Bayer

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Bayer says the debate surrounding genetically modified crops is over in Europe.

“To be honest, I think that battle is probably lost,” Adrian Percy, global head of research and development with Bayer, told delegates attending Bayer’s AgVocacy Forum.

Bayer is set to become the world’s largest seed technology company if it is successful in its attempt to acquire Monsanto.

Percy said countries such as France and Germany will not budge on their anti-GM stance, so there is no point continuing the fight.

However, he believes it is critical that the scientific community get out in front of new technologies such as gene editing and quell consumer fears before they arise.

“There are really incredibly interesting new technologies that are becoming available, and it’s very important we use agvocacy in Europe,” he said.

“The debate in Europe is going to be a difficult one because people are entrenched at this point.”

Percy said seed technology companies failed to pitch the benefits of GM crops to consumers when they were introduced, and that was a huge mistake.

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“We convinced farmers that this was a great technology that would help them in their fields, but we didn’t always reach out to consumers in the same way.”

He said the message should be that tools such as gene editing improve sustainability by helping produce more food on less land.

Percy is encouraged by the “massive push” in the scientific community to adopt and promote technologies such as gene editing. Bayer is working with the 5,000 scientists in its CropScience division to help educate the public.

“We’re trying to enable our people. We’re trying to find different ways to story tell,” he said.

David Hollinrake, vice-president of North American marketing for Bayer CropScience, said the biggest threat facing the company is the misinformation that its seeds and chemicals are unsafe.

He wants farmers to speak out in support of the technologies they’re using because they are the most trusted voice in agriculture.

“It’s about helping farmers raise their voice and do it in a passionate, powerful way, such that we can overcome the opposition,” said Hollinrake.

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Bayer has had its agvocacy program in place for three years, and it has had little impact.

Hollinrake said consumer research shows about 20 percent of Americans are concerned about biotechnology and eating GM food, which is the same amount as when the program was launched.

However, he said it takes time to build a movement, and he believes the company is on the right track.

More than 1,000 farmers have taken Bayer’s four-hour agvocacy training program, which equips them with facts about biotechnology and chemicals and how to engage with consumers through social media. Another 10,000 growers have pledged to join Bayer in becoming agvocates.

Robert Fraley, chief technology officer with Monsanto, said transparency and public discourse will be crucial when introducing new products that come out of the Bayer- Monsanto merger.

“Certainly, if there’s anything that we’ve learned from our experience with GMOs, is we know that good science by itself is not enough,” he said. “It has to be accompanied by great communication and a transparent relationship with the public.”

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  • I honestly think (and earnestly hope) that Adrian Percy is wrong. After all Europeans import loads of them, grow some of them and eat millions of meals containing them. The only difference is that some European countries do not grow them (whilst others do). So why should the battle be lost?

    • Derek Michael Wright

      It is because of the political atmosphere. The regulatory process in the EU is very discouraging. The concept of commercializing a GMO in Europe is laughable. In Germany, my plant breeding professor actually laughed in my face when I asked if his department did anything GMO related. the university did lots of GMO research, commercialization is just never an option anyone would bother to consider.
      most europeans are completely unaware of the GMOs in their food system. yes they have labeling, but all of the GMO products, such as meat fed imported GMO grain, or cheese produced with enzymes from GMO microbes, are exempted from labeling law. so they dont see any labels and assume they are not there. it’s all politics 🙁

  • richard

    How could two companies complicit in war profiteering ever hope to cast a clean image on an increasingly educated and discerning public? What has become obvious in the past twenty years is that “feeding the planet” is pure corpspeak…..that the resultant “grow more get less” consequence is failing….. and that throwing even more technology at issues that are at their roots, the result of technology run amuck, aint working……. Perhaps instead of trying to indoctrinate growers to indoctrinate consumers, the perpetrators should consider that no amount of propaganda will ever convince intelligent people that there is any motive at play here other than “shareholder value”…. Assaulting the environment for even more commodity to feed the cheap bad food paradigm, is not a metric for progress in any world I welcome….

    • RMG

      Wow, you figured out that corporations have shareholders. The conspiracy has been unmasked!

      When you talk about “war profiteering”, are you talking about Agent Orange? Monsanto, among other companies, was *directed* (ordered) by the government to produce it, and given the specifications. It was JFK who signed off on each individual bombing mission to drop Agent Orange, although scientists increasingly were warning about cancer, and there were those with objections on ethical grounds. If you want to really protect people, read some history and share accurate facts. We’re talking about lives and livelihoods. You can’t just whine that by golly, someone’s making money somewhere, and farmers should follow YOUR gut intuition that profit = bad = death.

      • Harold

        Richard did not say that shareholders were a conspiracy or neither did he mention Agent Orange. What do you mean by “sharing accurate facts”; to follow in your lead? He did in FACT say “assaulting the environment” and could this just be the “war profiteering” that he was referring to? I’m sure that everyone knows that shareholders “pull out” when there are no profits, and as Richard says,”is any motive at play here other than shareholder value”, is not his attempt to expose a conspiracy; he was only contrasting values

    • Harold

      Well said Richard. What always screams out in their corporate reporting is their total denial of a “war” lost to an opposing educated “army”. They will never claim that their opponent was too educated to accept them. Their held position is that their “foe” can only be robotic in thought. They continue in the same position towards the future’s new technology, whereas they hope to pre-program farmers and consumers (robots) by using a Bayer’s four-hour agvocacy training program. (give you your question and your answer and have you believe it is your own) They assume that Bayer will be the public’s only “mind input source” for all knowledge, and that this necessary to combat a robotic uneducated public. It doesn’t seem to occur to Bayer that France and Germany and others, had their own questions but they also had the answers. Are we the public expected to believe that France and Germany did not even look at Bayer’s “Science Flyer”? It seems like Bayer’s reported 5,000 scientists, (this is where we are all supposed to get star-struck) were no match to the scientists of France and Germany. . Of course, this all illustrates how “money talks” and its BS walks. Perhaps they could use a Hollywood endorsement.. Couldn’t hurt.

      • richard

        Read Bertram Gross, “The Friendly Fascist” for a little added insight into the dubious world of corporate “newspeak”…. And watch yourself for the onslaught of low level ad hominems…..never really saying anything…..always directed at your right to speak inconvenient truths…..

        • SageThinker

          Read also the classic “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays, and look into Richard Berman and his propaganda efforts for industry profits.

  • I agree with this from Derek Micahel Wright but just because the political atmosphere is as it is that is no reason to give up. After al look at Sonoma County (USA) and their refusal to treat milk; the numbers of TB victims was horrific!

  • Rob Bright

    Pretty funny that Bayer thinks gene editing is not genetic engineering. Funny little sleight of hand propaganda they tried to pull there…

    • Denise

      Doesn’t sound quite so invasive. To arrogantly go where no man has gone before and to not fully understand the repercussions of their bold and reckless experimentations on nature and people is backfiring on them, thirty some years later. They have lost the respect and trust of the general public they once had.