by Marion Nestle
Jan 21 2011

Eating Liberally: What about those smarmy Monsanto ads?

Every now and then, Eating Liberally’s Kerry Trueman, aka kat, writes an “Ask Marion,” this one titled, “Let’s Ask Marion Nestle: Is Monsanto’s Warm & Fuzzy Farmer Campaign Just A Snow Job?”

2011-01-21-Farmer.jpg

KT: Now that the Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people, too (happy birthday, Citizens United!), Monsanto is apparently out to put a friendly, slightly weatherbeaten, gently grizzled face on industrial agriculture (see above photo, taken at a DC bus stop just outside USDA headquarters.)

This guy looks an awful lot like Henry Fonda playing Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, which seems only fitting since Agribiz may be helping to create a 21st century Dust Bowl.

After decades of boasting about how fossil-fuel intensive industrial agriculture has made it possible for far fewer farmers to produce way more food, Monsanto is now championing the power of farming to create jobs and preserve land. Does this attempt by a biotech behemoth to wrap itself in populist plaid flannel give you the warm and fuzzies, or just burn you up?

Dr. Nestle: This is not a new strategy for Monsanto. Half of my book, Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (University of California Press, 2010), is devoted to the politics of food biotechnology. I illustrated it with a Monsanto advertisement (Figure 17, page 182). The caption may amuse you:

In 2001, the biotechnology industry’s public relations campaign featured the equivalent of the Marlboro Man. Rather than cigarettes, however, this advertisement promotes the industry’s view of the ecological advantages of transgenic crops (reduced pesticide use, soil conservation), and consequent benefits to society (farm preservation). In 2002, a series of elegant photographs promoted the benefits of genetically modified corn, soybeans, cotton, and papaya.

Last year, Monsanto placed ads that took its “we’re for farmers” stance to another level:

9 billion people to feed. A changing climate. NOW WHAT?
Producing more. Conserving more. Improving farmers’ lives.
That’s sustainable agriculture.
And that’s what Monsanto is all about.

That’s sustainable agriculture? I’ll bet you didn’t know that. Now take a look at the Monsanto website–really, you can’t make this stuff up:

If there were one word to explain what Monsanto is about, it would have to be farmers.

Billions of people depend upon what farmers do. And so will billions more. In the next few decades, farmers will have to grow as much food as they have in the past 10,000 years – combined.

It is our purpose to work alongside farmers to do exactly that.

To produce more food.

To produce more with less, conserving resources like soil and water.

And to improve lives.

We do this by selling seeds, traits developed through biotechnology, and crop protection chemicals.

Face it. We have two agricultural systems in this country, both claiming to be good for farmers and both claiming to be sustainable. One focuses on local, seasonal, organic, and sustainable in the sense of replenishing what gets taken out of the soil. The other is Monsanto, for which sustainable means selling seeds (and not letting farmers save them), patented traits developed through biotechnology, and crop protection chemicals.

This is about who gets to control the food supply and who gets to choose. Too bad the Monsanto ads don’t explain that.

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  • Anthro

    I’m not so sure I would object to the industrial version as much if the goals and methods were divided up amongst actual farmers, not agri-businesses.

    Let’s remember, too, that advertising is about IMAGE, not information, something often confused in the younger brought-up-on-television audience mind.

    I went to a lecture recently, presented by a plant biologist, who spoke repeatedly about “sustainable” agriculture. No one could get him to define that term beyond the need to “feed billions”. I’m not denying that the world population is growing, but how does that jibe with the US producing TWICE the needed calories for its population. Is is really a problem of production or one of politics?

  • http://thewaybyelle.blogspot.com Elle (thewaybyelle)

    YES! Everytime I see one of these Monsanto ads, I want to vomit!

    I love the way they try to identify themselves with the American farmer, when in fact, they hold farmers hostage with making them buy seeds. : S

  • Cathy Richards

    Wouldn’t anyone addressing GLOBAL sustainable agriculture be wise to partner with those addressing global population growth?

    If drowning was discussed, Monsanto would be investing in lifeguards. They wouldn’t be training people how to swim. They’d LOVE it if people didn’t know how to swim.

  • Genie

    Marion, you nailed it. This quote:
    Marion Nestle writes: This guy looks an awful lot like Henry Fonda playing Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, which seems only fitting since Agribiz may be helping to create a 21st century Dust Bowl.

    Nailed it.

    I reposed this. http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/newpicoop

  • Cynthia

    I would love to hear Marion Nestle’s take on the advertising phrase “Have you had your Tyson today?”

  • http://www.antioxidants-for-health-and-longevity.com Stan Mrak

    Good News!!! Monsanto managed to win the 2010 spot in the Corporate Hall of Shame, as promoted by Corporate Accountability International.

    They managed to beat out BP and Goldman Sachs.

    http://stopcorporateabuse.org/corporatehallofshame

  • Kim

    Cathy Richards- Love your drowning analogy!

    I happen to have driven past Monsanto’s world headquarters yesterday and it looked as though they had removed their “Monsanto” signage. I’m unsure whether their signage was really gone or it was my subconscious imagining they had removed it in an act of shame. More than likely it was just obscured by snow. I must have been delerious from cold medicine and Hall’s menthol vapors to think Monsanto is capable of experiencing shame.

  • Scott Smith

    Nobody does Agri-smarmy Adverts like Monsanto.

  • http://fooducopia.com/ Tim

    Marion, well done. Our country, needs to be educated on issues “about who gets to control the food supply and who gets to choose.” It’s imperative that the masses continue to speak out against these huge corporations with nearly unlimited funds for advertising. We at Fooducopia value what you are doing and our grateful for you efforts.

  • Everett

    They have indeed hijacked the whole Marlboro man idea. Someone at Leo Burnett should be getting royalties or suing Monsanto for theft of intellectual property.

    Sadly for Monsanto’s goals, but happily enough for us, they will likely now be going the way of Big Tobacco. Wonder when the huge lawsuits will start? Or Monsanto’s having to pay billions in damages?

    The truly sad part is that Monsanto is more dangerous than the tobacco folks as they’re trying to own the entire food supply. When the profit motive literally endangers the whole population it might be time to rethink a few things.

  • http://areyourawyet.blogspot.com Eric Wheeling

    As a Raw Foodist blogger I really appreciate all you do. This is great! “The Cooked Food Conspiracy” is attempting to figure this out from a totally self-educated perspective. Thanks again and keep up the good work!

  • J Law

    In economics, a monopoly (from Greek monos / μονος (alone or single) + polein / πωλειν (to sell)) exists when a specific individual or an enterprise has sufficient control over a particular product or service to determine significantly the terms on which other individuals shall have access to it.

    or

    you are what we tell you or allow you to eat.

  • http://summertomato.com Darya

    HAHAHA, I serious read that as “Improves lies.” Indeed :)

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