Stories | April 20, 2018 | Read Time: 5 minutes
Glyphosate: A Product Worth Fighting For
Product controversies exist along a continuum. Many people would place alcohol and tobacco, for instance, at the high end of the spectrum. Inexplicably, in the minds of some, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup® branded crop protection products, is probably not much farther down the scale.
That’s both upsetting and invigorating to me.
I started my career at Monsanto about 25 years ago selling Roundup products. I’ve seen firsthand the good it’s done for farmers, the environment and, yes, our company. I have followed closely the opinions of regulatory bodies around the world that overwhelmingly vouch for the product’s safety profile. So, naturally, it’s troubling that the conversation around glyphosate is still so galvanizing. But that’s also what’s so energizing.
Some products are simply worth fighting for.
Gaining acceptance for a controversial product takes a multi-faceted approach. While any marketer worth their salt knows well the “Four Ps” of marketing, in the case of disputed products, it’s important to add a fifth: Purpose. Layer on transparency and communications and help from trusted voices, and you have a recipe for success.
Connecting to broad-based societal needs helps reframe the conversation around your product. For glyphosate, that’s easy to do. It helps feed the world, combats climate change and saves money for farmers and, possibly, has an impact on food prices at the grocery store.
Nourishing the world—By 2050 we’ll need to feed 2 billion more people using about the same amount of farmland as today. Glyphosate-based products help farmers get better harvests from the land they have.
Fighting climate change—Farmers need to eliminate weeds that compete with their crops for water and nutrients. One way to do that is to drive a tractor over the field and till the soil to dig out the weeds. But that takes fuel and disturbs the soil, both of which release greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Glyphosate-based products enable farmers to control weeds with little or no tillage, dramatically reducing their carbon footprint.
Lowering costs—There’s a reason that glyphosate-based products are the best-selling herbicide in the world. They work well, are affordable and, contrary to what some may say, have a long history of safe use. Monsanto sells about twice as much glyphosate-based products as we did in the 1990s, and at a much lower price. These products save money for farmers. According to a study from the University of Göttingen, farmers could lose up to 15 percent of their harvests without access to glyphosate. That can mean less income for them or maybe higher prices at the grocery store.
Transparency and Communications
People are hungrier than ever to understand the origins of the products they buy, especially food. And, in our interconnected world, they have access to a wealth of information, or in many cases, misinformation.
That’s why it’s so critical to communicate and be transparent about the facts of your product. When there’s science involved, this need is magnified.
A good case in point is the 2015 classification of glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which put red meat in the same category. This made headlines around the world despite being counter to the conclusions of every other regulatory body that reviewed glyphosate. Scientists, the agriculture industry and others endeavored to set the record straight and uncovered numerous improprieties in IARC’s methodologies. The safety of crop protection products is highly regulated, and it takes about 10 years of testing and review before they even hit the market.
The public has a healthy degree of skepticism about the claims of corporations. That’s why enlisting the help of trusted ambassadors is so important. Gaining the trust of these influencers is in itself an exercise in transparency.
Perhaps most famously, after spending time with Monsanto scientists, noted science educator, Bill Nye, reversed his unfavorable opinion about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). We invited him in precisely because of his former stance on GMOs, and his scientific mind did the rest.
One of the audiences most curious about where their food comes from are moms. To reach that important audience, we have engaged registered dieticians and self-described “mommy bloggers” to learn more about the tools of modern agriculture, including pesticide safety. Of course, every visitor to our learning centers, research facilities, farms and production sites won’t instantly change their opinion, but it is important to us that we are openly sharing our story.
Crop protection is a necessary and beneficial part of modern agriculture. You can learn more about glyphosate by viewing this video. And at Monsanto, we have some exciting prospects in our pipeline, including harnessing the power of naturally occurring microbials. Controversy is here to stay. But with the right approach, so too are the products worth fighting for.