It was an early start today, leaving the hotel at 8am for Monsanto, with some nice oatmeal under my belt! The weather was totally foul but David’s instructions were right on the money and so I got there no problem at all. My first meeting was with three people from their communications team. The main point there really was that there’s no real different in how you communicate about scientific issues whether you’re a major international company or a public institution – it’s about the message, the messenger and making it relevant to people. Then I met their Director of Global Public Acceptance, then the coordinator on their side for the Water-Efficient Maize for Africa Programme. After lunch I went out to the Monsanto Research facility and had a really interesting tour there. All of which gave me considerable food for thought.
I think there are elements in Europe which feed into the attitude that have nothing to do with the technology – such as recent food scares and also our different relationship with food – the pride we take in it and the enjoyment we gain from it, which are generally very different to the US. I also think mistakes have been made in the past by the biotech companies by not taking people’s concerns seriously and so not addressing them. But it’s not a black and white issue. As climate change grips, should we really take away the possibility for farmers in drought affected countries to feed themselves? And who are we to tell them what to do anyway? As the population grows and the amount of land to feed them from reduces, should we not use technologies that can increase production per acre? As we’re concerned about the environmental impact of agricultural practices, should we not use technologies that can reduce them? I’m not saying I’ve made up my mind. But the point is that technology is rarely intrinsicly good or bad. It’s what is done with it. And I can see that good can be done with this technology.
Off for dinner with the fellows now, at a Brazilian restaurant. But am in driving karma situation (for all those lifts I’ve had over the years!) No caiparinhas for me which is no bad thing!!