Minister Asks Monsanto CEO Seven Moral Questions

November 9, 2009

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA – On November 1, 2009 Reverend Nathan C. Walker delivered an open letter to Mr. Hugh Grant, the Chief Executive Officer of Monsanto, asking for a public response to seven moral questions. Monsanto is one of the largest producers of glyphosate herbicides and because of numerous broken relationships has become a controversial enterprise. Walker addresses these controversies by calling interfaith leaders to hold a public forum for Monsanto to publicly answer seven questions, three of which are as follows: (1) How can Monsanto develop a new research model based on open-source biotechnology and invent the wikiseed, where the DNA of the seed would be open to peer-based collaboration and public research? (2) How will Monsanto honor, respect and protect seed sovereignty, defined as the right of people and self-governed states to democratically determine their own seed policies? (3) When are you available to meet with interfaith clergy and bioethicists to craft a twenty-first-century Hippocratic Oath for biotechnology to be signed by all Monsanto’s employees who agree to do no harm? Walker poses these questions because he believes “Monsanto needs a moral leader, not simply for the sake of the company but for the world community.” Contact Reverend Walker at revnate[at] or at (215) 701-9072.


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  • natewalker

    Click here for a complete copy of the sermon, including the footnotes:

    Nov 9, 2009 at 11:08 pm
  • natewalker

    SOVEREIGN SEEDS A sermon offered by Reverend Nathan C. Walker at The First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia on November 1, 2009

    Introduction As the proverb goes, “when we sow our thoughts, we reap our language; when we sow our language, we reap our actions; when we sow our actions, we reap our habits; when we sow our habits, we reap our character; when we sow our character, we reap our destiny.” In this way a thought is like a seed. If sown intentionally, a thought can yield language that opens the heart, opens the mind, and in turn, opens the hand of peace. The purpose of this sermon is to offer a collegial hand of peace, in the form of a letter, addressed to one of the most influential people in the world. It is a letter that intentionally plants a seed: a seed that, if grown collectively, can heal some of the most critical relationships of our time. This public letter, is addressed to Mr. Hugh Grant, the Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer of Monsanto, a multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation that produces over 90% of the world’s genetically engineered seeds , such as soy, corn and cotton. Monsanto is one of the largest producers of glyphosate herbicides and, because of numerous broken relationships, has become a controversial enterprise. A copy of this letter will be sent to leaders of numerous national and international agencies with the intent that the ideas presented here will elicit a public conversation about, not only, our relationship with one another but also our relationship with food. It is urgent that we collaborate in creating a public forum by which we can collectively study one of the most critical moral issues of our time: sovereign seeds.

    Public Letter to Mr. Grant

    November 10, 2009

    Mr. Hugh Grant Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer Monsanto Company 800 N. Lindbergh Blvd. St. Louis, MO 63167 USA

    Dear Mr. Grant, The following letter was publicly read aloud on November 1, 2009 at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, established by Joseph Priestley in 1796. I share the name of our founder to explain that because his discoveries laid the foundation for modern chemistry we pride ourselves using science to guide our spiritual and ethical lives. We are a religious people who believe in responsibly participating in the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part. We are an inquiry-driven people who believe in each person’s free and responsible search for truth and meaning. My letter has seven parts, each dedicated to ask you a moral question about Monsanto’s relationships. The first question concerns farmers; the second, your relationship with consumers; third, your relationship with the media; fourth, your relationship with universities; fifth, your relationship with governments; sixth, your relationship with creation; and seventh, your relationship with your conscience. The letter closes with a simple request that we meet to publicly discuss these questions in person. I will begin with the stewards of the land.

    Relationship with Farmers Your company’s relationship with farmers is naturally strained: humanity has traveled from localized agrarian societies to the three pronged junction of the age of industrialization and the age of technology and the age of globalization. As a result, small farms are being replaced with industrial farms. Natural seeds are being replaced with genetically engineered seeds. Local food production is being replaced with international systems to mass-produce food not only for people with access to that food, but also for the non-human animals produced by those industrial farms. I understand that two of Monsanto’s goals are, one, to genetically modify seeds that will produce plants to withstand the herbicide intended to control area weeds, and two, to genetically engineer seeds that will produce plants that create a higher yield and use less acreage. By patenting the science used to redesign the DNA of a seed, your company legally receives a financial return on its investment. Patent laws protect your seeds from being duplicated, allowing you the legal right to create use-agreements with farmers that prevent them from reselling the seeds or using the seeds from one harvest for the next. This system has led Monsanto to invest over $10,000,000 annually to hire a legal team of 75 attorneys to litigate those who breach your technology agreements, over which there have been at least 138 lawsuits, of which less than a dozen have gone to trial . Critics of these practices perceive Monsanto as creating a chilling effect in the farming industry, aware that most farmers do not have the financial resources to invest in legal representation and therefore prematurely settle. I read about a court that ruled against a farmer who breached an agreement by saving the seeds ; another was sentenced to eight months in prison for destroying seeds ; yet another farmer was sued because the wind pollinated his land with seeds from a neighboring farm . I also read critiques about seeds not producing the yields as advertised , and that the crops are requiring more herbicide , , , and concerns that genetically modified animal feed may be causing cattle and pigs to be sterile . These examples are shared to highlight the tension with your company’s relationship with farmers , leading me to my first question. Throughout human history, farming was a localized craft intended to empower people to feed themselves. It has since become a prodigious global industry requiring farmers to be chemists and entrepreneurs, politicians and legal scholars. From the reporting about your company, it is clear to me that farmers have questions about the science of seeds, they have concerns about business agreements, they have apprehensions about the political process, and they have anxiety about potential litigation. These complexities damage not only your reputation but also the historic role farmers have played in society. How will you help restore farmers’ dignity by making it a dual priority to reconcile your relationships with them and to encourage farmers to study the environmental impacts of these innovations while openly communicating their findings? In doing so, you would collectively restore credibility to a dignified role of farmers historically known as stewards of the land whose self-determination and autonomy can benefit everyone.

    Relationship with Consumers My second question is about your relationship with consumers. It is critical for us to understand whether what we ingest preserves health. We have concerns that we may be participating in a system without full awareness of the impacts of our collective decision, not only for our health but the health of animals and the environment. For example, Canadian, Italian, German and British studies that found genetically modified crop-DNA in the milk, blood, liver, kidneys and intestinal tissue of animals who were fed genetically modified crops , , , , , , , , . These studies raise concerns that consumers are being exposed to this altered DNA by consuming dairy and meat products. There are also several studies that express concerns about the injection of the growth hormone IGF-1 in cattle who are fed genetically modified crops . It has been argued that when consumed by humans the milk produced from these cows accelerate the growth of cells in humans, including those associated with breast cancer , prostate cancer , lung cancer and colon cancers , . However, your own studies show that there is no significant difference in milk labeled as “organic milk” as compared to milk without those labels . Our own state Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff, said “the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is not in a position to” put warning labels on milk because it would evoke fear in the consumer. Whether or not the labels are there, those of us who read these scientific studies are afraid. Without the ability to fully understand what we are consuming, we make the conjecture that genetically modified crops fed to hormone-injected animals have negative impacts on the health of farm animals and humans. This leads me to ask simply, how will you support the creation of a system to label all genetically modified foods so that consumers can understand not only how our food is made but also its impact on our health?

    Relationship with Media My third question is also about transparency, an ethic your company has publicly pledged to uphold. It is my understanding that one of the goals of your company is to increase productivity in order to feed the world’s hungry. However, it is not clearly communicated in the media how much of the food produced is dedicated to those without access to food as compared to how much is grown for animal feed, biofuels and processed foods in wealthy countries . Meaning, consumers are not confident in the authenticity of a slogan that claims to end world hunger. Another example illustrates this same point. Ten years ago, delegates from the countries of Africa, “strongly objected that the image of the poor and hungry from [their] countries” was being used by “giant multinational corporations to push a technology that [they considered to be] neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to [Africans].” They made clear that they did not want to be recipients of genetically modified foods or to have their people be represented in your promotional material. Meaning, they challenged your company to not mislead consumers. And yet, last week a French Court sentenced Monsanto for producing a “misleading” commercial that claimed the herbicide Roundup glyphosate was “biodegradable” and left “the soil clean.” The court said the advertisement, quote, “avoids the potential danger of the product by the use of reassuring words and by misleading the consumer.” This case highlights a chronic strain in your company’s relationship with the media, leading me to ask the following question. What will you do to produce truthful advertisements, to encourage reporters to responsibly investigate stories about your products, and to treat all individuals and groups of people with decency and respect? In doing so, you have the opportunity to rebuild public confidence so they may have trust in your word.

    Relationship with Universities I understand that you have been seeking to rebuild trust with Universities, which leads me to ask the fourth question. In February, a group of influential scientists reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that Monsanto was preventing “university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops.” They say they “must seek permission from the seed companies before researching genetically engineered seeds. Sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published.” One scientist from the University of Minnesota said, “If a company can control the research that appears in the public domain, they can reduce the potential negatives that can come out of any research” . Mr. Grant, the research university plays a unique role in civil society: academic freedom allows researchers to investigate the pressing issues of our time. In doing so, scholars are keepers of an intellectual heritage; they are stewards of our common knowledge, which is betrayed if scholars are legally prevented from producing new knowledge. There is one way Monsanto can transform its image of being a restrictive, closed corporation that seeks to control information: use the open source technology model. How will you follow the lead of software developers who made their source codes accessible and created a transparent process by which innovations were advanced and profits made? The same can be true of open source biotechnology . Imagine the transformation in your company’s image if seed-codes were open to peer-based collaboration and public research. We could all partake in the advancement of the science, ensuring that no harm is done to people, animals or the earth. As the proverb goes, “all of us are smarter than any one of us.” Maybe Monsanto’s next innovation will be the production of a wikiseed ? Imagine an open-source code for the seed that invites scientists from around the world into a peer-based collaboration. Such a business strategy would quell concerns about the privatization of the world’s seeds. After all the seed is the origin of the food chain. In this way, the wikiseed would allow four freedoms : (1) the freedom for anyone to grow any seed; (2) the freedom to study how the seed works and alter it to achieve different results; (3) the freedom to redistribute seed codes so as to help any world citizen; and (4) the freedom to improve the seed, to release advancements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole world community benefits. Public access to the genetic code is a precondition to these freedoms. This leads me to ask my fifth question about your relationship with governments.

    Relationship with Governments Just as there are concerns about the privatization of seeds there are concerns about the politicization of seeds. Citizens of the world are rightfully worried about governments allowing the establishment of an oligopoly, that is, a small number of multi-national corporations controlling the world’s food supply . This is made possible when companies like Monsanto hold seed patents in hundreds of countries. In the U.S. alone Monsanto and DuPont own nearly all the patents on soy seeds. The patent protects your company for 20 years, thereby ensuring that the seed will eventually become part of the public domain; however, these protections for the public do not take into consideration the practice of a company’s replacing one patented seed with another for an indefinite amount of time. For example, a company can distribute to farmers the seeds patented in year one, which is replaced with a new use agreement protecting the seeds licensed in year five, which are soon replaced by new seeds patented in year ten. As a result, the patented seed in year one will become available to the public in year 20 but farmers will be bound by other use agreements on more advanced seeds. I wonder if this business model establishes a de facto breach on patent laws and prevents the most fruitful seeds from being in the public domain. As a result, there is widespread concern about corporate colonization over what gives life, leading me to ask the fifth question. Mr. Grant: How will Monsanto honor, respect and protect seed sovereignty, defined as the right of people and self-governed states to democratically determine their own seed policies ? By doing so, your company would demonstrate respect for three legacies: self-determination, shared access and equal opportunity to grown one’s own food. The purpose is to simply grant all people the right to plant and reap one’s own destiny.

    Relationship with Creation Monsanto’s relationship with creation may in fact determine our collective destiny, the subject of my sixth question. During World War II, Monsanto played an important role in the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb and by the mid-20th century Monsanto became one of the top chemical companies in the U.S., eventually producing DDT and Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War to defoliate the environment . Five years ago, your company and Solutia, a spin-off of Monsanto, agreed to a $700 million dollar settlement because of the environmental damage your companies caused when dumping 45 tons of PCB pollutants and mercury into the local creeks of Anniston, Alabama. These toxins not only contaminated the environment but also the area’s drinking water , , . I respectfully ask, will you ensure that a supermajority of Monsanto’s fiscal and human resources go toward guaranteeing that our vital ecosystems will never again be contaminated? Will you make a public promise to guarantee the world citizenry that Monsanto will spend the next century healing, not harming, the environment; healing, not harming, any animals or humans? Mr. Grant, when can we meet to organize a group of interfaith clergy and bioethicists to craft a twenty-first-century Hippocratic Oath for biotechnology? We could develop an oath based on the principles of biolmedical ethics , such as nonmaleficence, beneficence and justice, to be signed by all Monsanto’s employees who agree to do no harm.

    Relationship with Your Conscience Before you answer, let your conscience be your guide. For the secret to my seventh question is found in the paradox of my preaching philosophy. I believe that no one listens to my sermons; rather they take the opportunity to listen to that which is within and beyond. My aim for crafting this sermon as a public letter is to ask you: will you take this opportunity to listen to the God of your understanding, to listen to your conscience, and to follow your moral compass? Monsanto needs a moral leader, not simply for the sake of the company but for the world community. My prayer for you is simple: may you hold sacred the responsibility to plant ideas that inspire thoughts and actions that cultivate not only your character but also our shared destiny. An ancient parable serves as my closing prayer, dedicated to you: “We pick fruit from trees we did not plant. We draw water from wells we did not dig. This is as it should be, so long as we dig and plant for those who will come after.”


    Reverend Nathan C. Walker First Unitarian Church 2125 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103 (215) 701-9072

    Nov 10, 2009 at 1:07 am
  • natewalker

    NOTES Robin, Marie-Monique (2008) Documentary: The World According to Monsanto, 11 March 2008. ( Retrieved 30 October 2009. The complete film is posted: ( Third World Network Biosafety Information Service, 20 January 2005. ( Retrieved 30 October 2009. According to there have been “138 lawsuits with less than a dozen having gone to trial.” Retrieved 30 October 2009. Monsanto Company v. McFarling [2007], ( Retrieved 31 October 30 2009. Peter Shinkle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7 May 2003. “Farmer who lied in dispute with Monsanto will go to prison” ( Retrieved 30, October 2009. Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser [2004] 1 S.C.R. 902, 2004 SCC 34 See Gurian-Sherman, Doug (April 2009) Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops, Union of Concerned Scientists. For a critique of this publication see PG Economics Limited briefing note: 17 April 2009. Also see Exposed: the great GM myth by Geoffrey Lean as published in The Independent on 20 April 2008. Please note Dr. Barney Gordon’s rebuttal: “Manganese Nutrition of Glyphosate-Resistant and Conventional Soybeans… Setting the Record Straight” as published in Better Crops, 28 April 2008. An international peer-review journal published an article by eight international experts from three continents, claiming that agricultural GMO developers and regulatory agencies have systematically neglected secondary effects of GMOs and pesticides. Calling for a “more serious standardized tests such as those used for pesticides or drugs, on at least three mammalian species tested for at least three months employing larger sample sizes, and up to one and two years before commercialization, for GM food or feed specifically modified to contain pesticide residues. We also call for a serious scientific debate about the criteria for testing significant adverse health effects for pesticides or chemicals, but overall for GM food or feed products, such as MON 863.” Séralini, Gilles-Eric, et. al., “How Subchronic and Chronic Health Effects can be Neglected for GMOs, Pesticides or Chemicals,” Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5:438-443, Ivyspring International Publisher. “Genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton have led to a 122 million pound increase in pesticide use since 1996. While Bt crops have reduced insecticide use by about 15.6 million pounds over this period, HT [herbicide tolerant] crops have increased herbicide use 138 million pounds.” “One study of more than 8,000 university-based field trials suggested that farmers who plant Roundup-Ready soy use two to five times more herbicide than non-GE farmers who use integrated week-control methods.” Visit ( as referenced in Benbrook, Charles. “Evidence of the Magnitude of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1988,” ag BioTech InfoNet Technical Paper Number 1, July 13, 1999 ( Retrieved 30 October 2009. Who Benefits from GM Crops? Feeding the Biotech Giants, Not the World’s Poor.” Friends of the Earth International, February 2009, issue 116. See the interviews with farmers in the documentary Patent for a Pig at ( Retrieved 30 October 2009. Please note, in 2007 Monsanto sold Monsanto Choice Genetics to Newsham Genetics LC of West De Moines, Iowa USA. Monsanto’s rebuttal to this documentary and to Greenpeace, who also claimed Monsanto was patenting pig genes replied as follows, “When Monsanto owned the business, the company performed research work for a patent application related to a specific gene marker for a pig trait, but not for the trait itself, and also a patent application for a unique set of breeding processes, including an artificial insemination method. Monsanto never filed a patent application for a pig gene.” Updated 16 July 2009 at ( For a counter argument to the premise of my position please watch the videos Farmer Choice at ( and Family Farmers at ( and the public statements published at ( and Celebrating the American Farmer at ( All retrieved 30 October 2009. Phipps R.H., Deaville E.R. and Maddison B.C. (2003) Detection of transgenic and endogenous plant DNA in rumen fluid, duodenal digesta, milk, blood, and feces of lactating dairy cows, J Dairy Sci., vol. 86, pp. 4070–4078 Chowdhury E.H., et al. (2004) Fate of maize intrinsic and recombinant genes in calves fed genetically modified maize Bt11, J Food Prot, vol. 67, pp. 365–370. Einspanier R., et al. (2001) The fate of forage plant DNA in farm animals : a collaborative case-study investigating cattle and chicken fed recombinant plant material, European food research and technology, vol. 212, pp. 129–134 Phipps R.H., Beever D.E. and Humphries D.J., (2002) Detection of transgenic DNA in milk from cows receiving herbicide tolerant (CP4EPSPS) soyabean meal, Livestock Production Science, vol. 74, pp. 269–273 Sharma R., et al. (2006) Detection of Transgenic and Endogenous Plant DNA in Digesta and Tissues of Sheep and Pigs Fed Roundup Ready Canola Meal, J. Agric. Food Chem., vol. 54, pp. 1699–1709, Mazza R., et al. (2005) Assessing the transfer of genetically modified DNA from feed to animal tissues, Transgenic Res., vol. 14, pp. 775–784 Agodi A., et al. (2006) Detection of genetically modified DNA sequences in milk from the Italian market, Int J Hyg Environ Health, vol. 209, pp. 81–88. See Submission: Senate Select Committee on Agricultural and Related Industries retrieved at ( on 30 October 2009. Ralf Einspanier (2000) Report on examination to determine plant and Bt-maize residues in cow milk, conducted at the Weihenstephan research centre for milk and foodstuffs of the Technical University of Munich- Freising, 20 October 2000 and 20 December 2000 It was stated that investigative reporter Steve Wilson and Jane Akre “were fired from Fox News” before broadcasting information about Monsanto’s growth hormone, as noted in Fox News Kills Monsanto Milk Story ( and in the documentary The Corporation ( Retrieved 30 October 2009. “High circulating IGF-I concentrations would be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer” as noted in Hankinson SE, et al. (1998). Circulating concentrations of insulin-like growth factor-I and risk of breast cancer. Lancet 351 (9113): 1393–6. “Results raise concern that administration of GH or IGF-I over long periods, as proposed for elderly men to delay the effects of aging (34), may increase risk of prostate cancer” as noted in Chan JM, et al. (1998). Plasma insulin-like growth factor-I and prostate cancer risk: a prospective study. Science 279 (5350): 563–6. “This review summarizes key results in this field and provides a hypothesis concerning the mechanism by which IGF physiology influences risk of common epithelial cancers including those of breast, prostate, lung and colon.” as noted in Pollak M (June 2000). Insulin-like growth factor physiology and cancer risk. Eur. J. Cancer 36 (10): 1224–8. “The increased IGF-I bioavailability may, over time, increase the risk of colorectal cancer.” As noted in Sandhu MS, Dunger DB, Giovannucci EL (2002). Insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), IGF binding proteins, their biologic interactions, and colorectal cancer. J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 94 (13): 972–80. Vicini J, Etherton T, et al. (2008). Survey of retail milk composition as affected by label claims regarding farm-management practices. J Am Diet Assoc 108 (7): 1198–203. Barboza, David (2004) Modified Foods Put Companies in a Quandary, section 1 page 1, New York edition, New York Times, 4 June 2000. Who Benefits from GM Crops? Feeding the Biotech Giants, Not the World’s Poor. Friends of the Earth International, February 2009, issue 116. “Friends of the earth international is the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, uniting 77 diverse national member groups and some 5,000 local activist groups on every continent. With approximately 2 million members and supporters around the world, we campaign on today’s most urgent social and environmental issues.” “Let Nature’s Harvest Continue” statement from all the African delegates (except South Africa) to FAO negotiations on the International Undertaking for Plant Genetic Resources, 5th Extraordinary Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources, 8 - 12 June 1998, Rome Boughriet, R. (2009) “La ‘Montre Verte’ mesure les niveaux de bruit et d’ozone en milieu urbain” 19, October, 2009 ( montre_verte_sfr_morizet_futur_en_seine_7500.php4) Retrieved 30 October 2009. Pollack, Andrew (2009) Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies are Thwarting Research, New York Times, February 20, 2009 Maurer, S. M. (2008) Open source biology: Finding a niche (or maybe several), UMKC Law Review 76(2) I independently thought of this term, however, later discovered that there are websites that use this word but do not have the same meaning. See “The Free Software Definition” at Etc group, “Communique” September/October 2005, Issue #90 Equally disconcerting is the practice of Monsanto former employees currently holding positions in the U.S. agencies; for example, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even with Clarence Thomas who serves on the U.S. Supreme Court. Food Sovereignty is defined in the “Global Report: Agriculture at a Crossroads” (2009) by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) as “the right of peoples and sovereign states to democratically determine their own agricultural and food policies.” Food Security “exists when all people of a given spatial unit, at all times, have physically and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life, and that is obtained in a socially acceptable and ecologically sustainable manner.” See Monsanto’s Greatest Hits Carson, Rachel (1962) Silent Spring, Houghton Mifflin. Grunwald, Michael (2002) Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution: PCBs Drenched Ala. Town, But No One Was Ever Told. Washington Post, Page A01, 1 January 2002. Sack, Kevin (2002) PCB Pollution Suits Have Day in Court in Alabama. New York Times 27 January 2002. AP Staff Writer (2003) $700 million deal announced in Anniston PCBs cases. Associated Press, 19 August 2003. Beauchamp, T. & J.F. Childress (1979) Principles of Biomedical Ethics, Oxford University Press. Unknown source.

    Nov 10, 2009 at 1:08 am
  • Walter Barth, P.E.

    I am awestruck! Rev Walker demonstrates a prodigeous intellect in grasping the many technical, business, political and ethical issues and pitfalls involved in the burgeoning U.S. mass food production industry. The mega-producers are introducing problems and inequities; they are not evil, but their economic reserves, daunting legal prowess, and will to succeed have created oligopolies that are rendering extinct the traditional farmer. And he expresses this in a non-combative manner that has a chance to find a win-win solution.

    This is worthy as any cause I know to gain traction nationwide and become resolved.

    Dec 26, 2010 at 6:25 pm